Gethyn’s heart was racing but the training had kicked in. ‘Keep the subject under observation at all times. Observe her failing to pay for the item or items. Follow her out of the store. Then and only then, apprehend her.’
He observed her picking up one or two more items and putting them in her basket, but not the tin of dog-food he had seen her push down the front of her coat. He observed her passing through the supermarket checkout and paying, but not for the dog-food.
But what if he had made a mistake? What if somehow she had paid for the dog-food, even though he had had his eyes fixed on her the whole time? But he had to follow through. She had stolen the dog-food, and this was his chance to impress. On his first day!
What if it was the wrong old woman altogether? What if, without realising it, he had taken his eyes off her for a second and some other old woman, an old woman without a tin of dog-food, had taken her place? His subconscious was recognising something strange about her. Something about her gait, was it? Or that permed white hair, so perfectly white, like the Queen’s. And those wrinkled stockings. Surely it was all pull-on slacks and sensible, flat shoes nowadays?
She seemed to have put on a turn of speed now that she was heading for the exit. Free and clear, thought Gethyn, or so she thinks. This is it, he thought, wishing himself anywhere but here but determined to do his duty.
He followed her out through the automatic doors and down the covered way with all the higgledy-piggledy trolleys in it. He nearly fell over one in his haste and his horror. He tapped her on the shoulder and she turned, with a perfect imitation of surprise.
‘Mad…madam, please, I…’ This wasn’t going right. What were the proper words, now?
‘Madam, I am a Loss Prevention Associate…’
The woman cupped her hand to her ear. ‘A what?’
‘A Loss Prevention…a store detective, madam. I have been observed you in this store and have reason to believe that you have exited the premises with a tin of dog-food for which you have not paid… for.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, young man – I’ve paid for all my shopping. Look, here is my till receipt.’ She pulled it out of one of the plastic bags and waved it at him.
‘For what’s in your basket, yes, but I have reason to believe that a tin of dog-food has been concealed down your…down your…down the front of your coat, madam. Hand it over to me please.’ What if he had got the wrong woman?
Slowly, with trembling hands, she pulled out a single tin of Good Boy dog food and handed it to him. Then she burst into trembly, old-lady tears. Boo hoo.
Oh, my God, thought Gethyn.
And now she was pointing at something with mottled, old-lady hand. In the distance, on the far side of the car park, he could just about see a dog, tied by its lead. It looked like a some kind of whippet. And Gethyn could guess what she was going to say. The dog was hers and it was hungry and her pension just wouldn’t stretch… She couldn’t bear not to feed her little doggie, the light of her life he was, and so… She would never shoplift on her own account. It was just for the sake of her poor, hungry little dog…
When she finished telling him about the dog Gethyn turned and walked back into the store, fishing around for some sort of cover story. If anyone asked him he would say he had got it wrong. There had been no crime committed. It was his first day and, over-eager to make his first ‘capture’ he had followed an old woman out of the store: a mistake, his mistake, but after all, better safe than sorry.
He was quite pleased with the story. He was wondering whether there was somewhere he could sit down for a minute or two without being spotted by the security cameras. His legs had turned to jelly.
The old lady watched him go; then, straightening up, she walked briskly around the corner and into the delivery bay. Out of sight she whipped off the white wig and reached beneath a disordered mane of auburn hair to retrieve a miniature radio microphone. ‘Did you get all that, Mr Price?’
‘Loud and clear, thank you Eirlys. And that’s the third fail this month. Wherever would we be without your talent for amateur dramatics?’
Inside the store the tannoy was doing its work.
Gethyn Thomas. Gethyn Thomas. Gethyn Thomas to Human Resources. Now, please!
(To be concluded)