Posted by: pendrops | August 26, 2007

to catch a thief


“If you can at all prevent it, do not chase after thieves when you are clad only in a leotard. It is unseemly.”

Nancy Drew in The Scarlet Slipper Mystery

* * *

I can’t just let this happen, I thought as a shifty woman in large sunglasses and a long frumpy Donald Duck t-shirt slipped a DVD from a nearby shelf into her oversized purse. I had been working on the final pages of my novel when I glanced up and caught this woman in the act.

In true Nancy Drew form, I watched for several seconds while the thief moved toward the music section and grabbed more DVDs from the end-caps she passed. When she disappeared around a corner, I grabbed my mini notepad and followed, my senses piqued.

Purple headband, large sunglasses, brown hobo bag, three CDs and one DVD in hand, stale scent of body odor, oily hair, I noted as I passed her and entered the ladies restroom.

Back in the café a few minutes later, I heard the screeching anti-theft sensor near the door. The woman was standing next to it, moving quickly away as a paying customer walked through the door. He turned and held his book and receipt up for all to see as the klepto headed back into the store.

I have to do something, I told myself, leaving my table again, this time to find a manager, because that is so what Nancy would do.

“Um, that woman, the one by the sensor when it went off, I’ve been watching her,” I whispered to the manager. “She put some DVDs and CDs in her bag.”

The manager nodded silently and immediately gave the alert via her in-store communication device.

For the next several minutes, every store employee and I watched the woman move throughout the shelves. She picked up countless items, hastily setting them down as she bee-lined for the exit, calculating her getaway. She attempted three more escapes, setting off the sensor every time, before a manager finally searched her bag.

“They didn’t find anything?” I said to the café worker a few minutes later. He, too, had watched the whole thing go down and had insider information thanks to his in-ear transmitter.

“But I watched her put all that stuff in her bag. She kept setting off the alarm. How could they not find anything?”

He shrugged, looking out the window as the woman walked to her car. “Happens all the time,” he said, rolling his eyes and returning to his post making lattes and microwaving cookies.

I returned to my table, outraged that this woman got away and frustrated with the nonchalant staff. But, the more I thought about it all, the more I got a sad feeling about this woman’s life. Her desperate grasping pointed to something I couldn’t quite put my finger on…something like sickness and fear.

But why do people do stuff like that, I kept wondering. I can’t be sure of all the reasons, but with my best mystery-solving skills, I have come up with a few “maybes.”

Maybe I’m not so different from this woman, with all my own desperate graspings. Maybe none of us are so different as we navigate our own worlds of unspoken pain and fearsome phobias. Maybe the only difference between a thief and the rest of us is that we cope in more acceptable, and legal, ways.



  1. I’m glad to see you are still a good detective.

    This took me back to the little store in Bartonville when I saw the ‘Red Cheeked’ lady stuffing items unpaid in her coat. I know your Mom remembers her too, scary.

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