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)

The lady vanishes

I did try to run away once. I ran away to the Recreation Ground and sat beneath some horse chestnut trees in the rain. From beneath these same chestnut trees, some years later, I was to remove a conker and grow it in a pot for my Brownies gardener’s badge. We measured it with a knitting needle. Basically, I think Mum grew it. I lost interest in things pretty quick.

Anyway, I sat under these horse chestnuts in the rain and a woman came and spoke to me, and then she went away again. And I wondered why Mum hadn’t come looking for me. She must be beside herself by now.

I waited a lot longer. She still didn’t come. It kept on raining. Eventually, being five or six or so, and having no idea what to do next, I went home. There didn’t seem to be much of a reaction one way or another. Didn’t bother to run away again.

Occasionally I have wondered – if I did run away – supposing I’d done something dreadful, or someone had accused me of doing something dreadful although in fact I hadn’t done the dreadful thing – where would I go? Of course, nowadays the disappearing act would have to involve twelve cats. I couldn’t run away and leave them.

I looked up a website – it seems to be full of these really serious men who practice something called prepping. I had been under the impression prepping was for nuclear apocalypse or similar, but these seem to be prepping for all manner of desperate scenarios, including having broken out of prison or having murdered someone, to avoid going into prison.

There’s all sorts of suggestions. I could dye my hair red and shave off my beard, or grow one if I didn’t have one. Both of those are no-no’s. I’m allergic to hair dye and the beard bit, well… testosterone deficit. I could bulk out my face with cotton-wool. Really, it doesn’t need bulking out any more.

(This reminds me of a sales event I perforce attended last Friday during which, as a species of bonding exercise, a man salesperson and a lady salesperson tried to outdo one another in the matter of stuffing their cheeks with marshmallows. The lady salesperson won, if you call looking grotesque and having to vomit soggy marshmallows into a bin sack in front of everyone afterwards winning. The man salesperson didn’t try very hard.)

I should – apparently – ask to stay the night with someone I used to be close to but have rather lost contact with, like an occasional sex partner, who would be unaware of any current… murders or whatever. Close to, Huh! Occasional sex partner, Huh!

One chap was quite specific. He would, he said, travel to Central Bosnia, where he has in-laws. He would go to a place called Gore Turbe, close to Travnik… This is all very well but, didn’t he just tell everyone where to look?

So maybe I ought to keep my secret destination to myself. In any case, it seems to me there’s an easy enough way to be invisible. Travel to a strange town, with your worldly goods in a shopping bag rather than a suitcase. Be over fifty and female. Sit around in a shopping mall or occupy the corner of a park bench. Shuffle anywhere crowded or even anywhere not – down a windswept street, on a station platform – and pause occasionally to shift that heavy bag onto the other shoulder. Sit by the window in a coffee shop, watching the rain and wearing a preoccupied look.

Don’t worry, no one will see you.

passport

A Poem Can Bloom In The Middle Of The Road

A poem can change the colour of her hair

And dress up kinda tarty;

A poem can wear an unfashionable hat

And push a bomb in a basket.

 A poem can make you believe she’s a song

Crooned by some pretty kid;

A poem can paint himself on a wall

And be worth four million quid.

A poem can spill out her heart on the news –

Doesn’t have no help, no food;

A poem can wade to you from a boat

With all his children drowned.

 A poem can bloom in the middle of the road

Or climb up your garden wall;

She can build a nest in your guttering

Or be anything at all.

paint