Time for Plan B, continued

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.

‘Yes?’

‘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.

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)

Time for Plan B

Well, I promised myself I’d start writing short stories again and that’s what I’ve done – started writing one. Not, exactly, finished writing one. I think that might take another two posts.

Thing is, I know what the story’s about. I know how it’s going to turn out.

I just have to write the damn thing.

This reminds me of Ex. He was an artist and the paintings he did were large, in oils, and detailed. A ‘short’ painting might take six weeks, a longer one six months. I have no idea how we survived financially since it never occurred to me to ask and he wouldn’t have told me anyway. Maybe he was waiting tables or doing night shifts at Tesco when I wasn’t looking.

He used to say an awful lot of things – but one of the things he used to say while he was still bothering to say anything at all, was this – that he knew before he ever bought the brushes (a complete new set of brushes to every painting) exactly what the painting was going to look like when finished. The in-between bit – that six weeks or six months – was just a drag for him, like painting by numbers. He never wanted to be an artist. He wanted to fly aeroplanes in the RAF and shoot at other aeroplanes.

There is an element of that with my stories. I know what’s going to happen in them, I just wish I could farm the writing of them out to some willing drudge or other.

By the way, this is not going to be a story about a shoplifting dog although shoplifting – also South Wales and uncomfortable uniforms – do play a part in it.

TIME FOR PLAN B

(by me)

In the Pet Food aisle Gethyn slipped a finger inside the collar, trying to ease it away from his neck. At the start of his training he had been asked for his uniform size. He didn’t know his anything size. The last time he had had new clothes his Ma had bought them for him, and he’d forgotten how many years ago that might have been. Time disappears, rough-sleeping.

So they’d measured him, including his neck. ‘Stand still and don’t fidget, young man.’ He’d tried to stand still as she tightened the mustard-coloured tape-measure around his neck. Its edges were scratchy. So was the collar.

He hadn’t quite understood the need for the uniform. Surely if you were trying to catch shop-lifters you needed to be inconspicuous. Was anyone going to shop-lift in front of a man/boy in a uniform? They told him to begin with he would have Mainly Deterrent Value, but that once his probation was up and he’d put in a year or two he could be considered – considered – for an upgrade to plain clothes.

Gethyn fastened his hands behind his back as he’d been taught and pasted on the lofty, all-seeing, all-knowing expression he rehearsed in front of a mirror under the cruel strip-lighting of the long room above the High-Flier Fitness and Sauna Complex, Splott.

He’d learned many other things in that room – all the different ways shop-lifters attempted to shop-lift things and all the little ‘tells’ by means of which an experienced Loss Prevention Agent could catch them in the act such as an unseasonably sweaty brow or an excess of fiddling.

‘Lifters often attempt to disguise their intentions by excessive casualness…’ said Bob the Instructor and former plain-clothes officer in the Cardiff Heddlu.

‘…making a big show of tapping and fiddling and examining the article as if trying to decide whether to purchase it. A legitimate shopper, ironically – you know what ironically means, gentlemen? – wastes very little time inspecting, though behaviour patterns vary slightly between the sexes. A man tends to know what he wants. Inside the store he locates it, he grabs it and he sweeps it into his basket. Job done. A woman probably doesn’t know exactly. She is more just enjoying the shopping. But she won’t on the whole fiddle – no, she will stand at some distance, thinking. She might move up the aisle a bit and then move back, engaged in a feminine struggle to make up her mind. But she doesn’t want to look too eager – she will play it cool – and then she’ll grab it and sweep it into her basket.’

Gethyn had learned a lot of stuff like this during the course, and all paid for by Work for the Homeless. He was very lucky. He knew he was very lucky. He was a very, very lucky young man indeed and was being given a second chance. He’d quite enjoyed the studying, actually, and being forced to think again. He’d been really interested in the Psychology of Theft. He’d appreciated being indoors, out of the everlasting Cardiff rain. He’d really appreciated all the food, the burgers and the chips – mountains and mountains of chips – the mushy peas, the cups of hot steaming tea… Another reason why his collar was tormenting him now.

He’d even enjoyed the stationery they gave him – the black and blue Bic biros, the block of file-paper with pale blue, wide-ruled lines and four holes that magically coincided with the silver rings inside the royal blue plastic folder they’d also given him.

‘Keep all your stuff together, see,’ said Bob the Instructor. ‘Your written notes and all the hand-outs we shall be handing out to you.’ Gethyn had even liked the handouts. He appreciated things that were planned, sensible and in order, and not like his life had been for the last…few… years.

But now he was In Situ. Now he had been Deployed, and Deployment was a whole different kettle of fish.

And just as he was thinking that, about kettles of fish and so forth, he saw an old woman lift a can of dog-food off the shelf, bold as brass, and shove it down her coat.

(To be continued)

 

‘Write a short story every week.

It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row’

(Ray Bradbury)

(Not possible for Ray Bradbury, that is.)