Throughout the history of God’s green Earth, a select few have had the title of Hero thrust upon them, if only for a brief moment of time. But we are all heroes, the narrator says. We may be quick to disagree with this idea, but somewhere, someone thinks so of us. Harvey has never once considered himself as such, but only as one who desperately wanted to be.
After placing the call to the police, Harvey got back into his car and sat still for a long period of time. Typically, he might have enjoyed the hushed silence that now lay before him, with its absence of day sounds and its normal bustle of confusing humanity, but the nightmarish ordeal he had just endured would not allow that comfort to come.
He lifted the curled shape of Fearless and laid him gently on his lap, and slowly began stroking his rounded back. The kitten did not stir. Harvey’s heart still raced.
Scattered across the empty parking lot, a number of tall poles, each set upon their sturdy cement bases, cast eerie circles of diffused light below. Across the highway, the rows of white buildings watched him unsmilingly. The complete absence of traffic on Route One only helped to enhance Harvey’s state of mental turmoil.
What would possess a man to risk his own freedom by assaulting another? What drove such a man?
What did I do to cause this thing? Did I overstepped some bounds? All I ever wanted was to get along. And things were going so well. Had I been unreasonable somehow?
Bart would have throttled the man, right from the start.
“I want my refrigerator, and I want the damn thing now!”
Bart is tall. Bart is brave. Tall men never seem to be afraid. If only I was taller.
Fearless changed his position, and slept.
What should I do next?
And what will I do now?
He soon drove south for a half-hour, trying to escape the ghosts in his mind, before finally turning and going west for another mile. Then there, parked beneath the gloom of an oak, one which grew close to a darkened row of town homes, he closed his eyes and tried to rest. The shadows of the long night began to slowly fall away as daybreak came, taking the fears with them. But before the kitchen light on the other side of the street came on, and without bothering to disturb the peace of his good friend Les, or of his wife and their family, Harvey started his Vega and drove back to Alexandria.
And as the sun rose on the way, so did Harvey’s rage.
He did stop by and file a report with the police before going in to work.
Self-assured Bart McKay guarded his turf with a passion. He absolutely loathed thieves, and nothing gave the man greater pleasure than to thwart one, or for total satisfaction, to bring the perpetrator to justice, if and when necessary. Bart never mentioned his outside life at all; store security was what he seemed to live for.
But beyond that, he was an excellent listener when it came to his crew.
He sat calmly back as Harvey told his story, and after Harvey arrived at the end of it, Bart asked,
“So when do you go to court?”
Harvey fished out a copy of the report and read the assigned date.
“Six weeks from now. Okay. Where you plan on staying in the meantime?”
Harvey could only shrug.
“I don’t know, Bart. I’ll figure something out.”
Fearless meowed from Harvey’s lap, and Bart said with a smile.
“Well, do something with that damn cat first. And if you need any help with anything, you let me know.”
Harvey looked at the floor and said thanks.
“I mean it. I don’t want to lose a good man.”
After making a place in the floorboard where little Fearless could get to his food and water, Harvey lowered the windows enough to give good circulation, and then he locked the doors and returned inside, and he went straight to the windows overlooking Cosmetics.
Around ten o’clock he called Bart.
“I think I got something.”
“You think? What is it?”
He had seen three women who had gathered around a revolving display stand, turning it and looking at tiny gold and silver necklaces. One of the women took a gold one of the rack. She turned to one of her friends, who then leaned over to see it better, and that one nodded her head.
The first woman then did the most suspicious thing. She looked around.
The other two kept spinning the case slowly while the first one, to what seemed to Harvey’s eyes, began twirling the necklace while she looked to either side. The coast was clear. He read that to be what she was thinking, for in a flash, she stopped twirling, caught and clasped the chain in her palm. Then just as quickly, the hand went to the opened black purse hanging from her shoulder.
“I know she’s got it, Bart. I just know it!”
“Meet me in the foyer.”
And Bart hung up.
They had to wait quite a while, too. The three women took their time before they left, strolling around and laughing, and during that period of time, Bart leaned over and told Harvey in a low voice,
“Let me handle this one.”
The three ladies made the approach to the inner doors.
The first one, the one with the black purse, pushed open a door and held it for the other two. Bart stood passively leaning against a plate glass window at one side of the foyer, and he stared as if he were bored, but he looked right at the woman in question.
She let her door go and turned around, and then she saw his gaze fixed on her face. She hesitated for a second, but only for a second. She then stared angrily right back, and she kept staring at him as she marched out past one of the automatic outer doors. And then, as the door began to close behind her, she threw back her head and cackled loudly.
Bart hadn’t budged an inch, nor had Harvey, but when the door eased shut, he went and stood next to the sidelight window, and he kept watching the trio intently, who all kept looking back over their shoulders and slapping each other’s hands as they headed for their car.
Bart turned finally, as the car slowed to turn south on Route One and disappear into traffic. Harvey looked dumbfounded, but he didn’t say a word.
“I know they had it too, Harvey. But it’s only a two-dollar item, and trust me -- they will be back.”
“What do you mean, it’s just a two-dollar item? They stole it!”
Bart got that look that said you don’t get it.
“We can’t be absolutely certain they had it. Plus, we have two law-suits going against Zayre right now; both parties are going for twenty grand apiece, and both for false arrest.
People do that. They pretend to steal, and then turn around and sue when they get stopped. It’s a good way to get a free meal-ticket. And most likely, those cases will both win. I won’t risk it for that, not over some cheap costume jewelry.”
And here Bart got a smug look of confidence on his face.
“And the thing is -- thieves always come back. We’ll get their sorry asses eventually.”
It was a standing rule at Zayer to prosecute anyone who committed a felony. Items totaling less than one hundred dollars was considered to be a misdemeanor, and if the person caught had offered no resistance, such as fighting or trying to escape, they were most often sent away with a warning, along with the one-year ban.
In cases where the dollar amount exceeded one hundred, the police would automatically be called, and the person led away in cuffs to a waiting squad car.
Harvey decided that what Bart had said made sense, but still…
Maggie came in at two, and she could not believe her ears what Harvey told her.
“Well, where are you going to stay at, hon?”
Just before Harvey clocked out that day, she came over and told him.
“Look. I just called Robby. He said no problem -- you can crash in our living room for awhile. And you can even bring Fearless.”
Bart asked Harvey point-blank the next morning,
“You guys got a three-way going there or something?”
Harvey just laughed.
“Are you kidding me? Maggie’s okay, Bart, but she’s not my type.”
“Okay, look. Amos is taking a job down at Midway in a couple of days. He just got hired on as a constable there, so if you want, I can move you to evenings. That way, you two can ride in together, or whatever it is you too like to do.”
Harvey ignored his joking remark, but decided to go ahead and make the switch.
“Start in three days, then. You need overtime, let me know.”
Harvey told Maggie the news later, and she seemed pleased.
Around three, and while he pushed a cart through Fabrics, he heard a pleasant and most-familiar female voice on the sound system. She spoke slow and very business-like.
“Taylor to phone three. Taylor to phone three, please.”
He arrived quickly at the window upstairs to find Maggie with her face pressed to the one that over-looked Record and Tapes, and she had an arm out, beckoning him over hurriedly.
“Take a look at this fool down here.”
He squeezed in next to her while she leaned back to give him a better view. Below, a young man in his early twenties had a pocket knife out. In one hand he held a blister pack containing an eight-track tape, and while two teen-aged boys stood by and looked on, he showed them how to slice the excess edges off with the blade.
After doing the first one, he handed the trimmed-down object to one of the boys. The kid shifted the tape down inside of his waistband, Maggie whispered.
He began working on the second one, so the two pairs watched and waited.
The younger of the two boys looked around nervously.
The second one gazed on hungrily as the man turned the pack in his hand, trying to start his second cut through the clear, thick plastic. Suddenly his knife slipped and he dropped the tape to the floor. It landed flat on its side, and the noise it made caused the first boy to jump.
The second one’s eyes grew large as the man stuck his thumb up to his lips and winced, and then the man doubled over, squeezing his cut thumb. The two boys began backing out of the section, and before they turned and ran, the pilfered tape came out and was placed back on the counter.
Harvey and Maggie had to sit back to keep from laughing hard as the man stood below them, alone, looking around and swaying back and forth in pain.
“Oh, man, that serves him just right! This is rich! Just wait till Bart hears about it.”
Bart tried to stop a sixteen-year-old boy who had concealed several eight-tracks under his shirt, but the boy panicked and ran. Bart chased the kid all the way out to Route One where he collared him and hauled him and his loot back inside the store. While he sat and filled out the incident report, the teen sat in one of the stiff-back chairs, angrily banging his head on the wall behind him. Bart kept looking up and shaking his head as he wrote. Only when he slid the form over to get the boy’s required signature did the rhythmic pounding cease, and as he leaned forward to take the pen from Bart, he moaned,
“My coach is going to kill me.”
Bart raised an eyebrow and asked why.
“Because I’m on the Track Team at my high school, that’s why.”
The young man appeared even more remorseful when he added,
“And some old man was able to catch me.”
He scribbled his name at the bottom of the paper, leaned back and resumed bumping his head on the cinder blocks while Bart dialed the number for the police. As the phone rang, Bart laid a hand across the mouthpiece and told the boy as he sneered,
“You tell your coach that it was a forty-two-year old man who caught you, and that he was wearing cowboy boots at the time.”
The last day Amos worked, he and Bart pursued and caught three teens who ran and hid in an underground storm drain, far from the store. All but the one who got away returned to the store after an hour-long chase, all muddied and wet to the knees, and only two wore big smiles.
People steal for many reasons.
A ten-year-old crammed her tiny, pink purse with dozens of tubes of differing shades of lipsticks.
“I just wanted them.”
Two girls, both teenagers, carefully buttoned three blouses apiece over the shirts they had worn in, and then tried to walk out the door.
“They were all so pretty.”
Another teen, a boy, took a pair of sunglasses.
“My friend dared me to.”
(Bart reminded him not to forget to remove the tags, next time)
Each and every shoplifter caught had to give an answer to that final question listed on the incident report, which was, “Why did you steal this/these item (s)?”
The more-popular answer always sounded the same.
“I don’t know why.”
Only once did Harvey ever let a man go without filing a report. He had nabbed this person as he left the store, after concealing a single bar of soap, which he had wrapped with a cheap, white wash cloth. This man had given up easily as soon as Harvey had stopped him.
He had then wordlessly allowed Harvey to lead him back into the office, and he had sat there quietly for the duration, humbly giving up any information that Harvey had requested.
He never once complained. He did not try to justify his actions. He offered no excuse up front. He sat up straight during the entire interview, but with shoulders drawn and head bowed in shame.
When Harvey read the last query aloud, the man paused for a time before admitting the honest truth, and then he said almost inaudibly,
“I needed them.”
Others shoplift for the sheer thrill. And to some, the excitement becomes their uncontrollable addiction.
Some use the system to make instant cash.
A woman picked up a new portable television set from Appliances and took it straight to the service desk. She then began to complain when she could not get her refund.
“But it don’t go with my décor.”
The service desk personnel are kept busy dealing with a wide range of customers, and they generally do their jobs well. Most problems get resolved and most people are made happy.
“But ma’am, we have to have your receipt. When did you purchase this item?”
The woman’s jaw jutted out.
“I lost it.”
“I want to speak to the manager!”
The girl picked up her phone and dialed Mr. Conroy.
Bart stood and leaned on the counter with his chin resting on one hand. He had a knack for looking bored. He turned to the woman to offer some idle chat.
“Hey, that’s a nice little TV there. My wife got my kids one just like it.”
The woman gave Bart an annoyed look, and then turned the other way while she tapped her fingers and waited.
As soon the girl behind the counter was free, Bart asked her for an application form. She smiled and handed him one. He took out a pen and started filling it out. Mr. Conroy then approached the counter.
“Yes. How may I help you, madam?”
In less than two minutes, the girl behind the counter counted out just over a hundred dollars to the satisfied woman. In less than two seconds after signing for the cash, Bart felt tickled to arrest her.
He told us later,
“I’d been watching her for over an hour.”
Around nine-thirty at night, the crowds start to thin. Harvey sat in one of the windows, trying to keep from nodding off, when he heard the announcement blare twice.
“Taylor to the service desk!”
He cleared the stairs in two leaps.
The girl behind the counter pointed to the doors. Her eyes were huge and worried.
“A customer came back in and said someone outside was laying out there hurt.”
Harvey trotted to the foyer and out into the cool night air. The parking lot held maybe a dozen or so cars. At one near-by parking spot, a lone cyclist was busy securing a large, white Zayre bag to the back of the motorcycle. Harvey glanced left and then right. Thirty feet down the sidewalk a stilled human form lay on its side. Harvey ran the length to find Maggie curled in a fetal position, and she moaned lightly.
She moaned again as she hugged her torso and rocked, but her movements were barely noticeable.
Oh my God! She’s been stabbed!
Harvey kneeled down and shouted her name one more time.
Her eyes fluttered, but she didn’t respond right away.
“Maggie! Maggie! What happened?”
She took a short breath, and then another, and then in snatches of words she gasped,
“That son of a bitch…
In the stomach.”
Harvey looked around. The man on the bike had one foot on the ground and the other on his kickstand, but he was fitting his helmet on.
“Who did, Maggie? Who?”
She could hardly move, but she pointed a finger at her head.
“A black guy. He was wearing a thing...on his head.”
Harvey saw the man wearing the helmet rise to start the engine.
“What did he take? What did he steal?”
She held up three fingers with her eyes squinted shut.
Harvey seem to leap the forty feet in three giant bounds in order to reach the side of the man on the bike. And then, without tact or guile, he forcefully demanded to see inside the man’s bag strapped on the back. The fellow leaned away from Harvey and froze, and then he instantly complied.
It was when Harvey was pawing through several pairs of the man’s brand-new socks, a new shirt and a few other items that he happened to notice the light color of the man’s hands.
The poor fellow never even got an apology. Harvey took off and dashed to the end of the sidewalk, passing Maggie where she lay trying to get her breath. He ran around the side of the building. To his left stood a tall fence; too tall to climb. In back, a high brick wall enclosed the store’s dark side, and he saw no one. When he returned empty-handed, Maggie was sitting up, hugging her knees.
“No, I’m alright, really. Just give me another minute.”
After she recovered, Harvey wanted to know the whole story.
“Oh, the guy had balls, I’ll tell you that.”
“What do you mean?”
“He was huge. And he didn’t even try to hide -- he carried the tapes in his hands and walked right out the door. I would have called for backup, but he was walking fast, so I ran out after him.”
Harvey helped her stand to her feet.
“Then, when I got outside, I saw him almost down at the corner, so I hollered at him to stop plus I held up my badge.
He just turned around and looked, and then he started coming back, and hell, he was smiling at me too.
But then, when he went to hand me the tapes like a good boy, he keeps that big smile plastered on his face, and the next thing I know, he slugs me -- right in my damn stomach!”
Bart let her know the next day he was certainly relieved that she was okay, but then he laid into all of his people about the rules again.
“Always go out in pairs when you make a stop, damn it!”