“Anything I can help you find? ” inquired the chubby female clerk wearing a cheesy red uniform vest complete with “Hi! My name is Amy, How can I assist you? ” BS name-tag. Right away I recognize this this to be the limited dialog that clerks are required to resort to when they feel certain shoppers are suspicious, to remind them they’re being watched I suppose. I replied smiling, “No, my buddy’s in the bathroom, just looking around thanks. ” the act starting to make me a bit queasy. “Alright then” she creaked, an undertone of distrust. From there I’m left to my own devices, or so they would like me to think.
However I know otherwise as I’m using the very same tools that insurance managers and loss prevention employ – namely strategically placed fisheye thief catching mirrors – to keep an eye on the store walker who, after that terse conversation, started following me. Interacting with people who have an inkling that I’m up to no good while cradling nearly $150 worth of stolen goods in my coat, (just under the federal limit mind you) brought on strong feelings of sickness mixed with a rush of adrenaline… maybe I was getting too old for this shit.
After skirting my tail, I head for the back entrance which has posted up what looked to be a normal run of the mill alarm system. However having worked this place over several times before, I knew that this was simply cosmetic and no longer functioned properly. My best guess is the store was too broke to repair it, in part due to klepto jack-asses like me and my crew. Most likely they allowed this skeleton of a system to stay standing in hopes that it would deter those that didn’t know any better. In fact most of the security equipment in this place was for show.
From the dozens of shaded domes mounted in the ceilings where maybe one quarter of them actually held security cameras, to the magnetic tags – or bugs as we coded them – that had no activated strips in which to trip the alarm systems that did work. Their security measures were as false as my attitude towards clerk Amy, only I felt I was better at hiding the fact. ?This was my hobby. I started at a very young age, six, maybe seven years old and only because I hated being told that I couldn’t have candy or toys that seemed to me within reason.
The usual excuse always came back a whining “Because we don’t have the money, Craig” despite the fact we always seemed to have enough for coffee, cigarettes and booze. It was at that young age where it seemed straight forward enough to me take the item of my simple fancy, slip it in my pocket, and – most importantly – try not to be seen doing this. It wasn’t until a few years into my “hobby” that I was finally discovered in the act by, of all people, my little sister, Melissa. We were on our way to school when I suggested a stop at a small grocery mart, where she made a bee line for the freshly made donuts.
While she was busy ogling the poignant sweets, I went to work finding fruit roll-ups to procure. As I started stuffing the box of snacks into my brothers’ oversized, hand-me-down, blue-green Dolphins starter coat, my sister caught up, discovering me in mid-theft. She asked “Why are you taking that? ” wide eyed and confused. Hushing at her “Because I wanna share some with my friends, and you know how Mom and Dad are about money! ” I pleaded quietly, the cashier’s too busy dealing with the morning flood of coffee and newspaper sales to notice.
This line of reasoning seemed well enough for her and she agreed not to tell anyone, the deal sealed by sharing some of the spoils. I thought that would be the end of it… turns out I was wrong. Over the next few weeks she wasn’t just stealing shit left and right, but bragging to me about it! It was no surprise to me when later that month my parents had to pick her up from the local mall security center, having been caught shoplifting Barbie accessories. Even worse, she dragged a friend of hers along for the ride and, after being caught red handed, tried to frame the poor girl she brought along as the evil master mind behind it all.
Though I felt raw about leading my little sister into my bad habit, I still thought to myself “better her than me”. At the time, we had just moved into a newly built Habitat for Humanity home in a strange sort of raffle for low-income families. Though it was nice to live in a new house, one of the downsides was that one could hear everything that was happening in every other room, which left the feeling of having little to no privacy. It was excruciating to hear punishments that either of my siblings might receive, like say in the case of my little sister getting caught shoplifting.
From down in the living room, my mother and I attempted to focus on The Andy Griffith Show though I couldn’t help overhear the post punishment conversation between my father and sister. “What were you thinking!? How many times have we told you that taking things is wrong!? ” he yelled, my sister still sobbing from the hot ass-whopping she’d just received. He continued the inquisition “What made you think you could even get away with something like this, huh?!? ” she answered near yelping “Because I saw Craig take something from the store! I slammed my eyelids together hard hoping it would make me invisible, though I could feel the scorching glare from my mother who was eaves-dropping on the conversation as well.
After my own hot ass-whopping, I was ordered to gather up all things I’d stolen. Though I didn’t give them everything, what I did pile up was still a pretty impressive haul, namely cheap toys like yo-yos and Gak; I’d be damned if I was going to give up my Sega games, it was no picnic acquiring those gems. It didn’t take long before I felt safe enough to get back in the saddle, my only lesson being a stricter discretion toward my parents finding out. Oh yeah, the crew I mentioned earlier.
While there were always a few lame duck part-timers that came and went the main trio consisted of Dustin B. , code name “D”, Walter R. aka “Strangler” the muscle, and me whom they had dubbed “Slyde”, or “Sly” for short. This was actually based on some form on confusion as Slyde was what I had named my “customized” coat for all intents and purposes. The customization of the coat was simple: cut holes out at the bottom of the pockets enabling me to hide cargo all the way round the back with the insulation fluff, some of which I had removed to avoid looking too lumpy as I added new items.
D was the first to join my group and a sort of protege. He’d say things like “You never know when you’ll be in a position to have to steal stuff, like if the government falls! ” and considered my rabble rousing to be more of a hidden art form. We’d play games of risk with one another, upping the stakes to hone our skills. Strangler wasn’t really a thief, more of a muscle guy. He wasn’t into games of risk, but he’d happily beat the living shit out of anyone who might get in our way. A perfect crew for what we were doing. ?We had codes for everything, bugs and spiders for mag-tags and stickers, hawks and Tony’s for cameras and walkers.
We even had codes to let each other know what was to be bought (purchased) and what was to be stolen (buy) while still speaking in laymen’s terms. In my home state of Michigan, thankfully, one could wear a coat for nearly eight to nine months out of the year, and no one would consider it suspect. Though when dealing in the art of theft, you’ll need more than a custom coat to get by. I had put together a base set of five rules through my tenure, which I regularly preached to my fledgling group: 1) Never go on a run alone. Sometimes you might need the muscle to help you out of a bind; this was Strangler’s territory.
In one particular incident, a well-built bald white guy came from, what seemed to me nowhere, placing his hand on my shoulder, “Sir, I’d like to talk to you about the items in your coat”. The next sounds heard were a shopping cart being revved up to ramping speed, Strangler behind the bar. The large man having no time to react, literally went head over heels into the cart, and off into the sunset. His ride was only cut short by a parked van he crashed into mid lot, where he and the cart crumpled over in a sad heap. We had a good laugh about it as we jaunted away. ) If you frequent a place, at least buy something to make it look a bit less shady.
There’s nothing more obvious than your ugly mug walking into a place and never buying anything. After the third or fourth occurrence, they’ll stop to search you on principle alone (This is Detroit). 3) If you’re going to steal something, act like you’ve been there before. There’s nothing more hideously obvious than someone who looks around to see if they’re being watched. Also, the occasional outburst by local crazies or crotchety old men – any form of sudden distraction really – was a quick and easy pass to get the hell out of dodge while the gettin’s good. ) Get off the grounds as soon as possible!
Store walkers are legally obligated to stay on company property, which led to another obvious conclusion: don’t hit a place up if it already has actually law enforcement on the premises, na mely because real pigs don’t have such limited jurisdictions, and probably because they’re already there for some other fool who’s been caught. 5) Lastly and to the point, don’t steal more than the federal limit. It’s not like it was difficult or unthinkable, just more risk than what it’s worth to my thinking.
This was shoplifting 101 and I was the head instructor. It was a few years into our chaotic campaign when all my concerns were to be quantified; when new-bird Marty R. hit the scene. Though we’d known Marty for years (due to the fact that I was dating his younger sister), we were apprehensive to have him join our little club because of his garish nature. He was a tall sum bitch, at least a full nine inches taller than me, and I was six foot myself at the time. Big knarley knuckles, rail thin from a ridiculously high metabolism mixed with malnutrition, and bright Irish red hair earned him the code name, “Red”.
There’s a saying that red heads are either drop dead gorgeous, or butt ass ugly, Red here was the latter. Aside from being really tall, he had a pension for the dramatic which meant he always spoke loudly, attracting attention. If that weren’t enough, he also tried to sport a mo-hawk that was supposed to be dyed atomic red, but came out neon pink. He had done well enough on his first few excursions, though as I tended to do with all newbies, first timers got the benefit of being surrounded by us young punks ready to throw down as they got the chance to exercise their sticky fingers.
Not to mention, first timer’s targets happened to be large places where we had little issue with security, and where there were several other casual shoppers to take focus away from us. This was particularly effective on busy shopping days like Black Friday, one of my personal favorites. ?Red and I had stopped in a larger chain for nothing more than a two liter of soda for the troops back at one of our crash sites. Now not every visit to a store is made to pilfer items, because as the saying goes, ‘it’s not a party if it happens every night’.
Red being the new guy wasn’t really hip to this idea yet, and was still very anxious to take what he could, as if there were no tomorrow. As I sleepily moved to the cold drinks at the back of the store, and not from the wall of tepid soda they displayed for chumps and out-of-towners up front, Red informed me that he was going to use the rest room, where vagabonds like us would normally go to clean up a bit. It may have been the way he said it, but I instantly got a bad feeling. Realizing that I had just woken up to take on this small task for the group, I shook off the vibe and told him to meet me outside in our usual spot when he was done.
Sometimes, I hate it when I’m right. Red took it upon himself to yank a few items without me knowing, a wallet, a crappy ten dollar watch, and a fake gold necklace/locket combo for some girl he was crushing on. From this, he might as well have broken rule number one in not letting me know his intentions. As I stood waiting in the check-out line cold pop in hand, I noticed Red making his way out trying to look as though he hadn’t taken anything, a sure distinction to my eye. I had the mind to drop the pop and run over to him: not so much to help him, but rather to chew him out for being such a chud.
However it was too late, the horrible scene I’d sought to rally against unfolded before me, as if I was given a front row seat. After the fact, I could only guess that this store had some idea about our group and its past debauchery, since they used three Tony’s to surround and take Red away. I wasn’t ready, we weren’t here on a mission, we were here for fucking soda! I felt like screaming at him, the mix of helplessness and anger at his dishonesty keeping me anchored to the floor as I looked on, holding the building express line up.
As he was ushered past, he looked at me with those sad sorry eyes, where all I could do was look back, mouth agape. This moment also felt like a strong message for yours truly, the Tony’s eyes staring at me, warning “You’re next hot shot”. Unfortunately, this wasn’t Red’s first offense and he was later sentenced 2 years for what amounted to less than $30 worth of merchandise. Now Marty wasn’t much of a fighter, and considering his height coupled with the fact that his hair had mistakenly come out neon pink, brought a whole other hellish dimension towards the thought of time in jail for him.
Yes, this was a sad day for our company indeed, but an affirmation of the rules I had laid down to begin with. I scorned the others with the story, probably because I wasn’t able to yell at Red, or more likely out of shame that I wasn’t able to do something about it myself. ?Some time has passed and I’ve all but stopped stealing. I might yoink a pack of batteries here and there, or occasionally walk out on a check if the server makes me wait too long, but these trifles are rare. Recently, I landed a position in loss prevention for a small chain of stores; the irony of this never fails to cheer me up.
I even tried to stay in decent shape for the job by making it a point to run/jog in, or maybe old habits of being ready for a chase die hard. I was assigned a new store where they were going through the normal jargon, giving us the cue codes for theft in progress, blind spots to patrol, and all the other dirty little secrets I would have killed for back in the day. As I was being briefed by my new manager, I realized just how much of a royal prick he was, just from how he thought so much lesser of people that resorted to stealing.
The more he talked, the more I indulged a day dream of feeding his pretentious ass to Strangler and how that would pan out. My first shift was painfully uneventful, right until the last hour as I started to get in the mindset of what to do once I was free again. It was at that time when Mr. douche-bag manager busted in to the surveillance room, like he was hopped up on too many energy drinks. “Look alive ladies, we got some kids in the liquor isle, and I’m damn sure they’re gonna grab something.
They’ve been casing it for a while, looking all sorts of suspicious, so let’s get out there and NAB ‘EM! trying to be all team player, as if we were all supposed to put our hands in or something. To be honest, this was the part of my job I hated most, seeing new jacks like this give my former hobby a go in the worst way. Ducking their heads about, apprehensive yet obvious about whether or not they’re going to put an item in their jacket. Sure enough, scoping out these scrubby teens through a large fish eye mirror, I saw firsthand one of them squirrel a fifth of whiskey into his windbreaker, and make his way for the exit. Panic was written all over his face as he wrangled up the other two snots with him, simply disgraceful.
The worst of it was when they neared the exit. We didn’t even have time to start in on our usual spiel before it suddenly turned into a free for all, the three of them sprinting off in unison. The two “friends” that the holder came in with, bolted in the exact opposite direction, leaving the actual target on his own. I’m not sure if they did this thinking they’d fool us with misdirection, or if they just ran out of fear; my guess was they got scared and bailed. At this point, I’m not the only one giving chase; two other Tony’s and the dick-head manager were also trailing.
The manager was the first to go down, no surprise, tripping on his own stupid shoe-laces not even 20 feet from the entrance, biting off a piece of his own tongue as his chin smashed against the asphalt. One of the Tony’s was a fat guy and gave in shortly thereafter, claiming “I’m gonna see if the manager’s O. K. , you guys keep going! ” pathetic. Two down, two to go, and we’re gaining on him.
This kid must not have known the perimeter rule, because he cut around heading for the back of the store, towards the receiving docks. Since e insisted on staying on the grounds, as far as I was concerned it was still game on. Thanks to my daily regimen, I felt as though I could run like this forever! Primal instincts kicked in, I felt as though I were a lethal cheetah closing in on its prey. It was about the time we were rounding the docks that the defeatist thumping footsteps of the other Tony sounded, signaling his dropping out of the chase no more than 70 generous yards from the door. Never mind all that, I was about to end it, he was going down, this kid was mine!
I reached out grabbing at his shoulder, my hand getting a taste of slick fabric from his blue wind-breaker, when something clicked. I stopped chasing and let him go. I didn’t even bother to gloat out loud that I could have caught him if I wanted, it didn’t even seem important anymore. I stood there watching him continue to run for his life as I caught my breath. I contemplated the awesome story that the kid would have to tell all his friends – the ones he presumably stole the fifth for – and to call out his two accomplices for bitching out the way they did.
Thought flooded me near the point of tears as I recanted my own misguided youth, and the thrill of getting away from a near miss as he had just encountered. If I had brought him back, I would have had no say in his punishment, and I’m sure they would’ve done to him the same as they did to Red. I no longer wanted to be responsible for the incarceration of others this way. I strolled back acting more tired than I actually was giving the staff some bullshit excuse as to how the kid eluded me; I mean, what the hell did they know, right?