Monday, January 25, 2010

Memory Remix: #14 - What’s Love Got to Do with It?, Part 4

I slowly closed the small drawer where my checkbook had been resting innocently less than a minute ago, and glanced around the store, listening for movement. But before I even had a chance to fully investigate, my inner sense told me that the store was completely empty except for myself.

You get this specialized ESP after you’ve worked in a store long enough, especially if your hours are spent on the midnight shift. You just know. You can be clear in the back of the store, changing out the mop water with the sink faucet running full blast, when suddenly you get this feeling that you have a customer. And 90% of the time your gut is right. You stroll out into the main part of the store, and there’s some yahoo clutching a wrinkled five-dollar bill and wanting a Klondike bar.

So how did this happen? If there really wasn’t anyone hiding in the bread aisle, ready to pounce on me with a vicious stale Danish, how did they pull it off? The only possibility was that someone knew exactly where to look, knew exactly when to race in, and knew exactly how much time they would have before I finished screwing around with the milk in the walk-in.

Which meant that someone had been watching me, hovering just out of sight and calculating the dirty deed. Right then, that bothered me more than the theft itself, the concept of some unknown person making plans in the dark while I walked around in the store, clueless about the impending assault.

I was really starting to hate this store.

Because there I was, once again contemplating whether or not I should call the police and report a crime against me. This just wasn’t a healthy way to live one’s life, having to involve civic authorities on a regular basis. Why wasn’t I working in an office building, where the most tragic thing that could happen would be someone swiping my stapler?

But really, I SHOULD call the police, right? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Something about needing that police report just in case the criminal did something mind-boggling with my checks, and I was suddenly responsible for covering the cost of a vacation home in Bermuda. You hear stories. I didn’t want to be a story. I didn’t even want to be a footnote. I just wanted to live a simple life and maybe have sex every once in a while.

Just then, another person with her own sense of ESP rolled into the parking lot and got out of her squad car. Office Justine ambled into the store, fiddling with some new high-tech piece of gear that she had apparently just been issued and was still not familiar with the inner workings of the gadget. She finally sighed and plunked that thing down on the counter for future fiddling, and looked at me.

“Okay, who took what?” (See, she’s good.)

“I don’t know. And my checkbook.” I tried to look pitiful and in need of sympathy, because MY extra senses were telling me that I was about to be made responsible for my loss. Not only did that prove to be the case, but Justine got right to the point.

“Your checkbook? How’d they do that? You do something stupid?”

Sigh. “I left it in this drawer here and stepped away for FIVE SECONDS and now it’s gone. Just happened.”

Justine studied the drawer briefly. “Why the hell did you leave it there? There’s not even a lock on that thing. Why didn’t you just stand there and hand it to the next person that walked in?”

I quickly decided that I did not care for Justine at that particular point in my life. “I didn’t think anybody would take it. Not when the cash register is right THERE, and there’s no lock on THAT thing either. You just hit the ‘No Sale’ button and you’re in.”

She just looked at me. “That’s nice. Why don’t you put that on a brochure and hand them out in the parking lot? Better yet, why don’t you just take the tray of money and set it on the sidewalk out front? Huh? Save a lot of time, don’t you think?”

I was no longer smiling and just looked at her. She was smiling a tremendous amount and just looked at me. “Why are you enjoying this so much? Slow night?”

She picked up the gadget thing, jiggled something for a few seconds, then chunked it back down on the counter. “Might be getting transferred. Down south. Might happen pretty quick.”

“Isn’t that good? Better part of town and all.”

She poked at the gadget with one finger that had never seen a manicure in it’s life. “I like it just fine right here. I like the people around here. Good people. Most of ‘em, anyway.” Then she kind of glanced at me and then became very interested in a magazine on a rack to her right.

I was smiling again, but I kept it on the down low. Justine wasn’t the greatest when it came to expressing emotions. But I understood exactly what she was saying. And who she was saying it to.

Then she was all professional again. “I’ll go get the paperwork. Let’s write up this checkbook thing.”

“And I’ll go throw on some fresh coffee. Extra strong. No sugar, of course.”

“Never any sugar.” She slipped out the door.

Justine left a bit later, after my financial risk had been minimized with a time and date stamp. She reminded me at least three times to call the bank first chance I got. I swore and promised. She also told me to look around really good when I detailed the parking lot. My checkbook might not be that far from home.

And she was right. As I was lugging huge plastic sacks of trash to the bin behind the store, I found my checkbook lying on the lid of the bin. Which was kind of odd. The bin was inside a little walled area with a gate. You really wouldn’t know what was in there, unless you scoped it out or were maybe familiar with how these stores were organized. A faint little bell went off in my head, quiet enough that I couldn’t quite place what the bell was saying, but I definitely heard it ring.

All of my blank checks were still there, the numbers matching up with where I had left off with my scribbling in the register. All of the odds and ends that gather in your checkbook, like a lint trap for phone numbers and business cards and receipts, were still there. The only thing missing was the loose cash I had tucked in the book. Which had been about sixty bucks, because we had just gotten paid and that was usually what I allowed myself to receive as cash back when I cashed my paycheck every week. Kind of a sizable chunk for me to lose at the time, but not the end of the world. Lesson learned.

The faint bell in my head turned into a fire alarm a few days later, when the store manager called me one morning to say that corporate was investigating our store. There was money missing, but with the mess of paperwork that we filed every day (nothing was computerized then), it wasn’t clear who was to blame. We all had to take polygraph tests.

What? How could they even think it was me? I tried to get the scoop from the manager. “You know I always balance. Always. I’ve never had to call corporate.” (You had to do this if you were ten dollars over or under on your shift balance sheet.)

“I know you balance. Most of us balance. We all have to take the test. Everybody, me included.” There was an undercurrent to his voice, something odd. I didn’t know if he was telling me not to worry about it, or that I should be REALLY worried. I’m sure he couldn’t come right out and say it, but whatever message he was sending was not clear.

I hung up the phone, and that’s when I understood the warning bell that had faintly tolled on the night of the checkbook incident. Someone who worked AT my store had done this. That would explain how it had happened so quickly. It was someone that knew my habits, knew that I kept money in my checkbook and that I usually put the checkbook in my drawer, and knew how long it took me to do something like re-stock milk.

And they had come back after their shift to take my money. A lousy sixty bucks. And then they stupidly threw the checkbook into an area that only the employees would know contained the trash bins for our store.

Of course, this was all speculation on my part, but I suddenly felt like I was in a very twisted episode of “Murder, She Wrote”, just without the bit where somebody actually dies. And the bit where Angela Lansbury is involved. Or the bit where we figure out who the killer really is. But other than that, TOTALLY the same thing.

Anyway, I had to take a polygraph test. Prior to this, I hadn’t really thought much about such tests. I knew enough to understand that some people were not fond of these tests, because of the potential for false positives or whatever they are called, and the fact that professional liars can be very convincing. But I really didn’t care either way.

This all changed on that fateful morning.

Now, I’m sure things have improved since then. But at THAT time, the whole polygraph experience was so unsettling that you could easily be accused of lying about the most mundane things, like what day of the week it happened to be or whether or not a yellow balloon was, indeed, yellow.

I have a nervous nature anyway, so when I arrived in the corporate offices and was given directions to the Polygraph Room (they actually had a room dedicated to such a thing?), I was already on edge. The mere fact that you were being required to take the test made all the office workers view you with suspicion, so as you proceeded through all the Checkpoint Charlie’s in the place, your nerves were further shot by all the people who refused to look directly at you. The intimidation factor was at red alert.

So I get in this creepy room, and the first thing you notice is the chair where you assume that you will have to sit. It looks like an electric chair, where hungry people got fried for stealing chickens during the height of the Great Depression. All kinds of wires and monitors and high-voltage lines hanging off of it.

Off to one side is a man sitting at a machine that is connected by various cables to the death chair. I notice that he is fiddling with knobs on this machine, while he studies a graph that is being produced on a roll of paper that is spooling on to the floor. I also notice that he has incredibly greasy hair that has simply been brushed back away from his face, rather than being washed like it should have been for the last several years. And the body odor coming off of him that I can feel like an invisible wall? It took my breath away.

“Please have a seat,” he says, as I’m imagining that he probably has fungus growing on his body.

Well, the only available seat is the death chair, so I steel myself and gingerly lower my ass into the thing, fully expecting a bolt of electricity that will turn me into ash and bone.

Greasy Man clicks something that causes his machine to quit spooling, wipes his sleeve across his dripping nose in yet another example of how disgusting a human being can be, and then approaches me as I quiver at the terminus of The Green Mile. He attaches something to my right index finger, something else to my left wrist, straps yet another thing around my neck so that something dangles down and he affixes it to my chest over my heart, and finally grabs this flexible tube, which appears to be breathing organically on its own, and wraps it twice around my stomach.

“Just relax,” he mumbles, before returning to his station on the Starship Enterprise.

How in the HELL am I supposed to relax in this condition, with enough wires, tubing and electricity attached to my body that if I cross my legs in the wrong way I might send all known satellites spinning out of orbit? Real easy for YOU to say, Stinky Grease Man.

He turns his little machine back on, and the spool of paper starts dripping on the floor again. “I’m just going to ask you a few questions to set a baseline reading. Don’t think about the answer, just respond with the first thing that comes to mind.”

Don’t think about the answer? What the hell does that mean, don’t think? Don’t you WANT me to think about the answer so that I can say something that makes sense? Because otherwise, my answer is going to be “screw you, and please wash your hair.”

My thoughts of hatred do not deter him in any way, so at least I understand that he is not psychic. “Please state your full name.”

“Brian. Gregory. Lageose.”

Even with all the torturous devices affixed to various parts of my body and thereby hindering my functional abilities, I can clearly see the spindly printing needle that is making the seismographic line on his paper, and right after I answer I watch the needle shoot to the top of the page with alarming velocity and power. The needle makes tiny whipping movements in this position, with such agitation that it finally tears the paper and causes the whole machine to shut down. A small red light blinks on to indicate that we have a showstopper, all of the various appliances roped around my body emit beeps of displeasure, and the lights in the room actually dim.

“Oh my,” says Greasy Man. “Something seems to be amiss.”

Amiss? Well, I would think so. I simply said my name, and now we have a rolling brown-out sweeping across the county. And this is the part where I’m supposed to relax?

Greasy Man then heaves himself up, wanders over, checks all of the connections to me, to his machine, and to the national power grid in general. He doesn’t find anything worth any commentary, since he only emits a few grunts and a couple gushes of body odor, then returns to the Starship. He reloads the paper supply in his oversensitive machine, checks the printer cartridges, then unsnaps the needle printer from its frightened position at the top of the chart, forcing the needle back down to baseline.

“Let’s try this again,” he says.

“Okay,” I say.

“Please don’t speak unless you are responding to a question.”

Oh really? Is that how we’re playing this? Fine. At this point, my overwhelming hatred of him is nearly equal to my anxiety-attack level of discomfort with this whole situation. I have done nothing wrong, but corporate incompetence has led to me being a guinea pig in some twisted attempt to find the person who actually HAS done the wrong. Game on.

“Please state your full name.”


There’s a flash of sparks and the room goes dark.

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  1. Nice post. It sucks to have something personal taken. Not even the monetary loss but the fact that someone came into your space, specifically to take something from "you."

  2. My opinion, if you shall agree is those test are a complete violation of privacy; and hear horror stories of how it negatively affects ones' spirit for the rest of their entire life. It isn't bad enough that someone takes something from you by not having the decency to at least ask!