“A shoplifter’s life is a very hazardous one,” thought Molly as she slipped the silk shirt into her shopping bag. She couldn’t be sure why she was taking the shirt, but it had felt so smooth and delicate in her hands as she caressed it on its hanger, and its obvious expensive quality only added to the temptation to take it. Perhaps Eddy would like it, she thought to herself as she slipped away from the display of shirts towards the front door. Eddy was her boyfriend and Molly’s mind began to wander as she tried to picture him wearing the silk shirt.
“What was I thinking!” Molly thought to herself as the image of a silk-chested Eddy disappeared and her thoughts returned to mundane reality.
“He wouldn’t be seen dead in such a shirt,” she thought. She could just imagine what he would say if she even suggested he should wear it .
“What d’ya think I am, a shirtlifter or somethin’?” She smiled to herself. Eddy was fond of using words such as ” shirtlifter.” She sometimes wondered about his frequent protestations of machoness, and thought that he did protest too much if the slightest doubt about his sexuality was raised.
Molly gathered her thoughts and concentrated on leaving the store without attracting attention to herself. It was an automatic door, and Molly had to adjust her step as the door did not open when she had anticipated. A moment later the doors slid noisly open and the combination of a brisk breeze and the onrush of the sounds of the outside street scene gave her a jolt that dispeled any remaining flighful daydreaming.
The street was crowded with shoppers coming and going from the myriad of stores, children playing boisterously, street traders shouting overtures to passer-bys. An old lady, surrounded by a ragtag group of dogs, played an accordion, much to the amusement of a group of pre-teenage boys who were standing close to her laughing and mocking. Molly paused for a brief moment then turned and walked off down the street.
Her mind began to wander again. The sounds and sights around her seemed to fade from reality as she moved away from the store. She was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she didn’t hear the footsteps approaching quickly from behind her, or the sound of someone shouting in her direction.
The hand that gripped her shoulder was a firm one. It startled Molly, and she gave a sudden gasp of fright as she spun round to see whose hand it was. Her heart was racing and her thoughts were wandering violently out of control.
The face that greeted her was that of a young, spotty-faced man, barely, she thought, out of his teens.
“Excuse me lady,” were his first words to her,
“Okay lady, the games up,” he continued.
“A bit melodramatic,” she thought to herself.
“We saw you take the shirt,” he continued, “You’ll have to come back into the store.”
Molly glanced at the man’s hand, which was still resting on her shoulder, and her nervously removed it.
“I don’t want any trouble,” he remarked, “just come back to the store so we can sort this out.” Molly said nothing, but she did nod in acceptance of his suggestion.
As they walked back to the store, in contrast to when she had left it a few moments before, the sounds of the street were all too apparent – or more accurately, the lack of sounds. People were staring at Molly, some with contempt on their faces, but most with apathy etched on their expressions. Children and adults alike were swapping glances and comments among themselves. Only the accordion player seemed to be ignorant of the scene.
A shop assistant was standing in the store’s doorway, but Molly and the young man simply walked past her and through the open door. Molly glanced over her shoulder to check on which direction she should go. The following man gave an almost undetectable glance toward a door at the rear of the store and the two antagonists proceeded towards it.
The judging eyes continued to stare in Molly’s direction, but she just stared ahead and continued to make for the door. The door was made of metal and had a small numeric keypad just beneath the handle. The single, frosted window in the centre of the door rounded off the impression of a strong, important doorway. Molly stopped in front of the door. The young man moved in front of her and typed in a few anonymous numbers of the door’s keypad. The door made a quiet click and he pushed it open and both Molly and the guard walked in. The door gently closed behind them and made the quiet click again as it locked.
Another idenitical door was facing the pair as they went through the door, but Molly was ushered, instead, down the corridor and through a normal-looking door into an almost barren room. The only pieces of furniture were two wooden chairs and a table, which stood naturally between the chairs. As the young security guard closed the door behind them, Molly moved to a chair and sat down.
The security man hadn’t spoken since they were out in the street, and he maintained his silence in the room, except for one comment to Molly to the effect that the store manager would be along shortly. The man stood by the door, his arms crossed across his chest and his stare fixed firmly on her. Molly sat impassively in her chair, aware of the young man’s gaze, but content to ignore it for the present.
She had placed her bag on the floor beside her, first removing a cigarette and a lighter from it. She glanced up at a red and white No Smoking sign, then lit the cigarette. She could sense that the young man was contemplating saying something, but she lent back in her chair, puffed on the cigarette, and the guard thought twice and remained mute.
Molly was relaxed now. The shock of being confronted in the street had subsided as she realised what had happened. This situation was not new to her and she would be damned if she was going to let a spotty-faced kid in a cheap uniform and with a superiority complex get her down. Her mind was wandering again, and soon she was no longer in the simple room but in her own complex imagination, safe from the prying eyes of a man barely out of kindergarten.
Molly frequently retreated into the safety and comfort of her imagination. She used it as a means of escape, a way to remove herself from mundane existence, into a place where anything could happen, and nothing could hurt her, and she only emerged out if when, metaphorically, a hand gripped her shoulder.
The next metaphorical hand to grip her shoulder was that of the store manager, “a more mature and authoratative-looking figure,” she thought as his entry into the room disturbed her daydreaming. He was in his forties, had short dark hair and wore a pair of silver-rimmed glasses. He looked at Molly, then faced his young colleague.
“She was seen putting a silk shirt from Menswear into her bag, and was monitored while she was still in the store,” the security guard began as his superior listened carefully.
“Did you see the incident yourself?” enquired the manager.
“No, sir, it was Gayle Moffat on Till Six who saw it. Her Till looks straight down the aisle in Menswear.”
“I see, please continue, what happened then?” the manager requested.
“Yes, sir. Anyway, she was monitored until she left the store, by which time I had been notified. I left the store with Gayle, who pointed out the lady to me. I then ran after her and brought her back to the store.” The guard’s description was simple and to the point and Molly listened with curiosity as the older man continued the conversation.
“Did you explain to her why you were stopping her?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, and she came back to the store, no problem like.”
“Did she say anything to you?”
“Not a word, sir, she just came back with me.”
The manager nodded to the guard and moved over to the table and sat down opposite Molly.
“Okay, you know why you’ve been brought here, perhaps we can start by finding out your name?” The manager’s voice was quiet and restrained but was nevertheless still authoratative.
“Molly,”my name’s Molly Maquire.”
“Alright, Molly. My name is Brian Thompson, and I’m the manager of this branch. I am going to have to look in your bag, for the silk shirt and any other items from this store.”
“Please yourself,” suggested Molly as she picked up the bag and placing in on the table, “but you won’t find any shirt or anything else for that matter.”
The manager didn’t respond but simply took the bag and placed it on his lap. One by one he removed items from the bag, and having established they belonged to Molly, he placed each one on the table in front of her. This continued until the bag was empty and a small selection of personal items, including a purse, a keyring shaped like Ireland which held a solitary key, and a half empty packet of cigarettes, sat in front of Molly. The manager looked up, surprised, and spoke to Molly.
“Okay, where have you hidden the shirt. You were seen taking it, so where did you put it.”
“I’ve already told you, there is no shirt. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The manager, if he had had his way, would have searched Molly there and then, and Molly was sure both he and the guard would take great pleasure in doing so, but Molly knew they couldn’t search her, and they would have to wait for the police to arrive.
“You might as well hand it over now before the police arrive. It won’t look good if they search you and find the shirt hidden.”
“I’ve told you once, I don’t have any shirt,” insisted Molly.
“Suit yourself,” said the manager as he stood up and began pacing the room. After a few seconds he returned to his seat and sat there staring at Molly as she replaced her possessions back into her bag.
It was a few minutes before a knock on the door disturbed the silence. The door opened and a young woman came in, looked at Molly, then told the manager that the police had arrived. The manager told her to bring them in, and the woman disappeared down the corridor, returning a few moments later with a policeman and policewoman. She showed them in, introduced them to the manager and then left, closing the door behind her.
The manager stood and went over to the police officers, “Hello, I’m Brian Thompson, the branch manager,” explained the manager, and then gesturing towards his subordinate, “and this is one of our store detectives, John Lacy.” The policewoman remained by the door, but the policeman sat down in the seat vacated by the manager, placing his helmet on the table, and introducing himself to Molly.
Before he could say more, the manager spoke again.
“This is Molly Maguire, and she was seen taking a shirt from our Menswear department. She was monitored in the store and detained upon leaving. We have searched her bag, but found no shirt. She refuses to hand it over, and we suspect that she has it hiden on her person.”
The policeman listened, then explained to Molly, “Okay, Molly, the situation is that we can search you here, with your consent, and establish if you have any stolen items on your person, or we will arrest you on suspicion of theft, and then take you down to the station where we can search you without your consent. The choice is entirely yours.”
Molly thought for a moment then told the policeman, “You can search me here, but as I’ve told these two I have nothing of theirs.”
The policeman nodded to the policewoman, who moved over to Molly and asked her to stand up. She briefly explained the procedure, then began her search. The search completed, she glanced at the policeman and shook her head. The policeman then searched her coat, and even checked her bag again, but nothing was found.
The policeman turned to the manager and asked, “Are you sure she was seen taking a shirt, and if so was she monitored from that moment on until she left the store?”
The manager looked at the gurad, who stuttered and tried to explain that she had been seen, but that she was not monitored for every moment. The manager turned away in disgust, and angry that he had been misled by his subordinate.
“So! If she did take a shirt, she could have put it down at some point before leaving the store. Is that what you’re saying?” he asked of his colleague.
“Well, erm, yes Sir,” replied the guard nervously.
The manager fumed, “Then how do you expect us to prove that she was planning to steal the item, and was not planning to buy the shirt, or that she changed her mind and put it onto a shelf?”
“But she was seen taking the shirt, sir,” justified the young man, his pride hurt.
“So you say, but then you said she was monitored until she left the store.” The manager paused, then turned to Molly and told her he was sorry for the trouble, and that she could leave. He then turned the policeman and offered an apology for wasting their time.
Molly stood up, picked up her bag and without saying anything walked from the room, smiling at the young security guard as she left the room. She walked slowly down the corridor and into the store, passed through the Menswear section in a defiant gesture to those left in the room and out of the store. The manager escorted the police out of the room, and walked to the entrance with them, apologising again for their wasted journey. The manager glanced at Molly walking away from the store, and returned inside the store.
Molly looked over her shoulder, then changed her direction towards a rubbish bin, picked out of it a small carrier bag and smiled. Continuing down the street, she opened the carrier bag, looked inside to see a crumpled silk shirt. She placed the carrier bag quickly into her shopping bag, and tossed a few coins into the accordion player’s tin as she walked off to the next store.