by Steve Cushman

I was loading this old lady’s groceries—hamburger meat, frozen waffles, honeybuns, and a suitcase of Pabst Blue Ribbon—into her trunk when I looked over and saw this fat guy with a Bucs hat walk by with a full cart of un-bagged groceries. He tossed them into the back of his station wagon, and something told me he hadn’t paid for a damn thing.

Just drive away, I thought, so I can pretend I hadn’t seen what I’d seen, but of course the greedy fucker headed back inside with a little pep in his step, even turned to me in my blue Albertson’s button up and smiled. Smirked really.

The smile had done it for me, so I ran up the stairs to Manager Rick’s office, which was positioned with a wide window where you looked down into about 75 percent of the grocery store, like a king looking out over his property and people. I knocked hard three times, having learned my lesson last week after catching Rick and a cashier, Cally, a sophomore from FSU home for the summer, making out on his desk.

“Who is it?”

“Steve,” I said.

“Who?”

“We’ve got a shoplifter,” I said.

In a second the door opened. “Where?”

We walked to his window and I pointed out the guy, wearing white shorts and a black T-shirt, lime green flip-flops and that Bucs’ hat, tossing item after item from the meat counter into his cart, like this was a damn free buffet.

When I told Rick what I’d seen in the parking lot, he asked, “Why didn’t you say something to him?”

“I was helping someone else. Customer service is our #1 priority,” I said, echoing a sentiment he expressed every month at our staff meeting.

He smiled at me, knowing I was fucking with him.

“He’s going down,” Rick said.

“Should we call the police?”

Rick laughed. “We are the police.”

“Well, not really,” I said.

“The Albertson family has worked hard for this grocery store. I work hard. You worked hard, so the thought of some asshole coming in here and stealing from us, from the Albertson family, is bullshit.”

He pulled a small handgun from a desk drawer and slid it in an ankle holster.

“I don’t think we need a gun,” I said, stepping back.

“I’m assuming you were never a Boy Scout,” he said. “You gotta be prepared.”

“He’s heading out the door,” I said, from my position at the window.

“Shit, let’s go.” I followed him down the steps and out the side door. “There he is,” Rick said.

What happened next was a thing of beauty. Rick could have yelled hey stop or what are you doing? But no, not Cowboy Rick, which is what I called him after this incident.

He ran full speed at the guy, head down, dress shirt pulling free from his pants, dark hair in the wind, and yelled something I couldn’t make out and then he was in the air like a defensive end flying for a running back about to hit the End Zone. I don’t think the guy even saw him because when Rick hit him in the left side, high up on his arm, the thief and his overstuffed cart, went down fast, spilling groceries across the parking lot.

After the police came, and Rick and the fat guy headed to the ground floor assistant manager’s office, I loaded the stolen groceries from the back of the guy’s car into a cart and brought it back inside.

“Damn,” Shelly said. Shelly was this beautiful blond cashier who rarely talked to me. She always wore a cute pink hairband that slayed me for reasons I never understood. “That was pretty badass.”

I smiled at her, then pushed the cart down the aisle and restocked the things the shoplifter had tried to steal. After restocking, I went back to bagging because I didn’t know what else to do.

“Where’s all the stolen food?” Rick asked, a half hour later when he reappeared.

He looked as good as new now. I’m sure he went up to his office and smoked a cigarette or two to catch his breath. I hoped he’d put the gun away, but I wasn’t going to ask.

“I restocked them.”

“Did you inventory what he stole?”

He laughed when I shook my head. He waved me toward him and I followed him up the stairs. Once we were in his office, he shut the door and sat behind his desk.

“In the future, when this happens, please inventory the groceries, so we can see what charges to press. The amount of groceries can sometimes push this up beyond a simple misdemeanor.”

“Makes sense,” I said.

As I turned to leave, he said, “Did you see me fly?”

“It was pretty badass,” I said, and we both laughed.

He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a Beaver Hunt issue of Hustler magazine.

“Only slightly used,” he said and winked. “The model on page 52 worked here last summer.”

I folded the magazine in half, planning to walk it to my locker. “Thanks,” he said. “For telling me about that guy. Some of these knuckleheads would’ve let it slide.”

I thought about saying something else, but could think of nothing, so I walked out into the hall, toward the break room. I don’t know why but I threw the Hustler in the trash and walked into the bathroom and cried as hard as I had the night my father left.  Maybe from exhaustion or maybe because when I drove home I wouldn’t be able to tell my father what had happened.

After washing my face and hands, I made myself a peanut butter sandwich with the staff stock in the break room. And when I say it might have been the best peanut butter sandwich I have ever had, you have got to believe me.

 

Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash