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      Wrapped In Gray
Chapter One

    Well, well, well, if it isn't Anna. The second I first laid eyes on her I knew she was trouble. This was a while ago-at a different store actually. See, the security company I work for rotates guards from store to store. After a while, a lot of people know who you are, and what you're doing, so you become ineffective. Anyway, when I first met Anna-who, by the way, is a terrible shoplifter, not even a challenge for me, really-I knew that we would be seeing a lot of each other. She's one of those compulsive thieves, pure trouble through and through. I busted her three times at that store, and at least twice here. In fact, she probably has to rotate stores as well, because after a while, all of the employees and security know her and what she's up to.

Here she was again, making a typically pathetic attempt at getting something for nothing. As always, she was a little too concerned with who was and wasn't watching her. Her clothes were too baggy, (even taking contemporary style in to consideration,) and she had her hands jammed way down into her pockets. You're regular, non-thieving customer doesn't have anything to be worried about in a grocery store. It's one of the most comfortable and familiar places to be, besides your own home. If a person's a little too cautious, like they accidentally deposited a load in their shorts and they're walking like they're trying to keep it from falling down their pant leg, then you know that they're up to something.

I ducked behind a magazine rack so that she didn't spot me. She meandered through the deli. You see, the key to capturing your basic shoplifter is to avoid eye contact. At the least, you have to make the thief believe that you're nothing more than the run-of-the-mill shopper. And since Anna and I were already acquainted with one another, the rules had changed a bit. She was giving me one hell of a time, because her eyes were darting all over; cautious danger receptors. Sometimes it's almost easier to catch a seasoned thief, because although they're quite adept at stealing, they're also familiar with the eye game, and avoid unnecessary eye contact. Sometimes they even get a bit too confident and don't even bother looking around when they go for the prize.

But Anna was giving me quite the professional workout. She pretended to look at a loaf of bread, and then began considering the frozen meat section. Anyone familiar with the grocery business knows that frozen steak fits nicely down the front or back of your pants, and at four ninety-eight a pound, who could resist? I mean, if you're going to risk stealing, you might as well eat steak.

I was standing about three quarters of the way down the aisle from her, fake-browsing the hot dog buns. I could see pink blotches forming on her cheeks, even from a distance, and her forehead was starting to glisten, nervous sweat. Out of the corner of my eye, I could tell that she was looking around for me, or any sort of security or employee, waiting for the right moment to make her move. But I was camouflaged nicely between a stand-up display for potato chips and the end of the aisle.

Suddenly, Anna grabbed a package of steak and began stuffing it down the front of her pants. She was so absorbed with her thievery that she didn't bother worrying about anything, or anybody, else. Patiently, I waited for her. It's always best to spring unsuspected on the sticky-fingered patron so as to avoid long, sprinting chases, and subsequent tackling and/or wrestling maneuvers. I've been whacked in the female-friendly area more than once or twice during a foot chase, and that's about all it takes to make you avoid that joy if at all possible.

So I waited at the end of the aisle, looking at the orange juice that was on sale-hmm, three for a dollar-but really waiting for her. Soon, I heard her oversize pants swiftly swish-swishing my way, and after about five seconds, I sprung out from behind the display, had her hands behind her, and was firmly and discreetly escorting her to the back room. Amazingly, she gave me little struggle-she didn't even try to cause an embarrassing scene. (Which is another lame ploy suspects attempt to get you to let them go.) I don't think that any of the legitimate customers realized what had even happened; a text book apprehension.

I took her back to "the cage," which was a small room, a large closet really, adjacent to the lunchroom, with a small table and chair and a doorway that actually had no door. For some reason, shoplifters aren't usually cooperative enough to cough up the evidence and make it easier on everybody involved. The usual procedure was to call a store employee back over the P.A. system, (someone of the same sex as the perpetrator,) so that they can search the alleged thief. This way the thief can't cry physical or sexual assault, since there are two of us; two testimonies against one. Legal considerations like this must be addressed, because the next thing you know some crook cries foul, and you end up in court. For catching somebody shoplifting. Quite a legal system we have, but I just do my part and let them worry about theirs.

Anyway, I was about to call someone over the P.A. system, when Anna made the inevitable plea. This was unusual for her, because she always just sat there and glared disdain at me, and sighed like it was all beneath her. But most of your perpetrators will attempt a last-ditch appeal; make a play for some sympathy. Cater to your emotions, turn on the tears. Depending on the mood I'm in, sometimes I'll give the fallen citizen a chance to present their argument, many of which have been delivered in such an eloquent manner that they would impress the most prestigious professor of the finest law school-or your local con artist. It can be quite entertaining, on occasion. Sometimes I'll just let them start, then quickly tire of the whole hopeless prospect and tell them to shut up. Sometimes I just let them blab away and don't listen at all.

Well, I was in one of those gracious moods, and she was-did I mention? -Quite attractive, so I decided to let her state her case.

"You really enjoy your work, don't you?" she asked. I just stared into her blue eyes, waiting for the futile argument. "I mean, you must really feel good when you go home at night,"she continued, "you know, after triumphing over evil and all." Insults, I'd heard them all before. She continued. "It must be nice to have everything all laid out for you. You don't even have to think: it's just pure mindless, sightless, emotionless robotics. A perfect specimen for the computer age."

She was starting to get me riled up a bit, in the way that only creative insults can: complex, but quite succinct. Of course, I had to shoot my breath's worth of response at her; after all, I've countered arguments from a variety of the slyest tongues-and there's a lot of time to think about those sorts of things when you're staring at baked beans for hours on end. I've always considered myself sort of an amateur philosopher. Well, I've read a lot of books anyway.

"Now Miss," (I find that being polite is a fine method for throwing an intellectual opponent,) "I'm simply here to perform my assigned duty. That is, to keep the products of this fine establishment from finding their course into the pockets of light-handed individuals such as yourself." She didn't seem impressed with my effort-maybe my speech didn't come off as quite spontaneous enough. She just stared at me blankly. I wondered about the meat that must have been thawing in her pants, at the very least freezing her sensitive areas, and was glad she hadn't stolen a bag of ice cream bars, because by the time the police arrived my only evidence would have been an empty bag, and a sticky pair of ridiculously over-sized pants. But as I said, I wasn't about to go exploring on her person, for obvious reasons. Not that I would've minded. Instead I ventured on.

"You see," I began again, in a less grandiose manner, "certain people don't see it as fair that they should spend long hours slaving for what few dollars they can earn to be able to eat, while less motivated citizens feel free themselves, as it were." She continued to stare blankly at me while I delivered my half-rate civics lesson. After about ten seconds, I was beginning to tire of her defiant silence. So I gave it to her straight. "Simply put, we have laws that say you can't steal anything that doesn't belong to you."

"I'm well aware of the law," she replied, "although I'm afraid that I can't quite agree with it entirely. In fact, I can disagree with many of its points, principles, and the origins of its philosophies, and the intentions of its creators, and especially with many of the modern interpretations and applications." She stopped to take a breath, and I could tell that this wasn't the first time this speech had been delivered. "In that light, I find it hard to behave in accordance with our laws, in fact I'm in such disagreement with our laws that I try to avoid obeying them as much as possible." Just then she stood up and did a my-underpants-aren't-fitting-well-at-all jig, which allowed the illegally procured beef to slide out of her pant leg and spin moistly across the floor. "In fact, I have absolutely no time for legal conventions of any sort."

I was beginning to take a liking to her, which I accounted to her looks, and I began getting the same bittersweet, distasteful feeling that I used to get when I would give some cute girl in high school my homework to copy; the guilty possibility of compromised principles. But I held firm to my convictions.

"Anna," I told her, "you have to understand that the laws which people like myself enforce are here for the good of everyone."

"You seem more like a cop that's shy of danger to me," she responded. "Standing around, looking for some easy "collars." How many kids did you bust for stealing Mentos today?" She was back to the insults. But she was good at it though, I'll give her that, because I was starting to become a bit perturbed, even though in my mind I was comfortable and confident with my place and duties. It also crushed any slight chance there was of me letting her skip out of there minus handcuffs.

"Honey," I said, "if I was capable of respecting someone for stealing something on principle, you're about as close as anyone has gotten. Unfortunately," I continued, "I'm incapable of that." I had tired of the game, so I followed procedure: I picked up the phone and dialed the night manager, and instructed her to phone the police.

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