Christmas shoppers are scattered about the main floor of Rich’s department store like a herd of cats, carrying a multitude of shopping bags of all sizes, clad with glossy graphics and bold logos from Rich’s and neighboring stores throughout the mall. Red and green ornaments the size of industrial wrecking balls hang from the ceiling throughout the store. Larger than life nutcracker soldiers guard entrance ways and stacks of boxes wrapped like presents accent every corner of the store. In the center of the main floor between the escalators stands a majestic Christmas tree reminiscent of the famous Rockefeller Plaza tree bulging with with presents, toys, ornaments, candy canes and angels. Dean Martin’s “Let it Snow” softly croons from the P.A. system on every level.
At the fragrance counter stands a blonde socialite wearing a double breasted leather coat, burgundy blouse, designer jeans and black equestrian boots sampling a swab of Casmir. A fragrance specialist dressed in a white lab coat, green turtleneck and black slacks anxiously lines up more perfumes on the glass countertop before her glamorous customer. A gorgeous, curvaceous, caramel complexioned sister in her 30’s with thick, curly black hair meticulously inspects her royal purple Donna Karan dress as she poses in front of a 3-way mirror in the Young Misses Apparel.
On the ground floor a frail, liver spot-encrusted guy dressed like a country club mainstay test drives a king-sized mattress in the bedding department, and a Fine China sales associate shows off her finest crystal to a young buppie couple in housewares. In Men’s Apparel the tailor, a debonaire brother, tugs at the inseam and sleeve length of a his customer’s new suit while standing in front of a full length mirror.
As a plain clothes, loss prevention detective one can’t simply walk a beat like a uniformed mall security guard or you’ll stick out like a sore thumb to thieves who are watching you just as closely as you’re scanning for them. Dressing like an off duty cop or a military veteran on leave is also an easy giveaway as tactical fashion gear gives the hint that you’re five-o. My choice of what I like to call retail camouflage is my favorite beat up brown leather jacket, brown hiking boots, ripped, faded jeans and a black t-shirt. Nothing says shopper like a dude with a retro 80’s look.
Surfing through Emporio Armani dress shirts, and Canali suits that will never be anywhere near on sale provides a perfect cover me to hide in plain site from any would-be unsuspecting shoplifters, but down here on this middle class-crushing world called the United States, making mental pictures of these ridiculously priced threads only serves to help me find similar, more affordable brands at TJ Max on pay day. “Trone, call on line one.” Vicki, one of the seasonal sales associates manning a nearby point of sale inconspicuously motions me over to her register with the phone receiver. Being called to the phone while on the floor is never a good sign. “Keep an eye out, my man,” Kimetria says over the phone. “Frank just called from the Galleria location. The Nautica chicks just hit them.”
Kimetria is my eyes in the sky that works behind the scenes from a remote spot we affectionately call The Bat Cave—-A small office hidden deep in the bowels of the store. She spins strategically placed 360 degree zoom lens cameras mounted behind smoked glass, and globe-shaped domes located all over the store. The Bat Cave is a small, DEFCON 1 kind of space dimly lit in an amber hue as not to create a glare on the monitors. The walls are clad with a series of monitors of all shapes and sizes that reveal dozens of different angles and viewpoints throughout the store. Two of the largest monitors serve as the main feed where fraudulent transactions and shoplifters are recorded in the act of carrying out the crimes they’ll incessantly deny until the tape shows otherwise.
Kimetria, better known as “Trinie Trie” is my ride or die chick——A streetwise, comical, pragmatic kind of sister with a personality that’s a cross between Stony from “Set it Off” and Josie from “Love Jones.” She’s easy on the eyes but we’ve been cool since college when we were art majors burning the midnight oil in the studio knocking out graphic design projects.
“Yeah, I kinda suspected they would be going on another spree before the Christmas rush cleans out anything worth buying.” I said to her.“These chicks ain’t no joke,” Kimetria says. “Frank said he had eyes on them the whole time but they were so quick they grabbed an armful of baby clothes, ran out the door into a blue Impala, and got halfway out the parking lot before he could get to them.” This is what happens when we’re spread too thin yet a store detective is still expected to handle over 2 million square feet of property single-handedly.
With stores having easy access points that are hard to cover and working double shifts, and constantly being at the ready to work random hits makes this job damn near impossible. Still, it’s more exciting and fulfilling than wearing a mall cop uniform and mindlessly patrolling around with no real authority. At least here we have the power to apprehend shoplifters, charge them, and interact with law enforcement.
This gig will be a distant memory, though, when I finally get to move down to Palm Beach and start teaching in the fall. A perfect opportunity to reinvent myself and start a new life instead of living under the shadow of the Bender family name in this small town environment that is Birmingham, Alabama where the national pastime is live a vacuous existence in the same tired, simple-minded, capricious social circles.
“I’ll be back up in the office in a minute to relieve you.” I tell Kimetria before hanging up. “Yeah that’s cool,” she says. “I need to check the ladies fitting rooms anyway to make sure there aren’t any stashes waiting to be picked up.” She says.
One of many shoplifter’s favorite moves is to stash merchandise in strategic spots out of camera view, so they can double back later when they think the coast is clear. Some are even bold enough to walk in a dressing room with an armful of clothes and walk out empty handed. Either the clothes are in the dressing room or they’re wearing the merchandise on under their own clothes.
Time to slide by Belinda’s register up in women’s formal wear. Her smile, with those luscious, thick lips that she keeps glossed are like a hot, glazed Krispie Kreme doughnut. Those lips alone will put steam in any man’s stride. Just a week ago, I strategically positioned myself right outside of the orientation room and introduced myself to her as she walked out with a crowd of newly hired sales associates. Now we’re taking our lunch breaks together in the food court like a couple, which is weird since I’ve never bothered to engage her beyond the mall. But tonight that is all about to change.
Something about chicks like her, though. So beautiful and flawless they look out of place like an in a crowd of average females. Women like her could be anywhere like on the cover of Vogue, a magazine ad or a T.V. commercial but they’re mixed up right amongst the plain Janes working mundane retail and fast food jobs. Something intriguing yet simplistic about them. Is she just a pretty face or is she quietly working a plan to become a budding actress or an R&B singer?
Walking up beside her I can get a wonderful unobstructed view of her Player’s club body from behind the counter. An olympic goddess hairdo with porcelain smooth, caramel skin, hazel eyes, thick eyebrows, dimples like a 1 month old baby, perfect softball-sized breasts, a tiny, almost cartoonish waist, and a booty shaped like a Harley Davidson gas tank, finished off with muscular 100 meter dash, track star thighs and tiny feet. All of this delectable perfection accentuated by a 100% cotton, form-fitting brown with tan stripes, two piece tracksuit. Just as she finishes bagging up her customer’s purchase she flashes a smile that could melt a stick of butter straight from the refrigerator.
She notices me out of her peripheral as her customer leaves. “Hey Trone, what’s up?” She says as we make eye contact. All is right with the world, a warm sensation takes over my body as I close in to take in her intoxicating perfume. “Hey man, how’s the detective life going?” Traci, Belinda’s co-worker and confidante bounds up to the counter with an arm-full of unfolded clothes. She’s an attractive, happy-go-lucky sister with a cool disposition. She’s actually down with our union instead of being one of those bitter, tag-a-long, third wheel types that like to get in between a good thing out of spite.
“Sup, Traci, how’s it going?” I say. All the while Belinda maintains eye contact glancing at Traci for a moment to look at her mountain of clothes. “Nothing much brother. Just getting ready to fold these clothes so, I can clock out on time for once.” Traci glances at Belinda and gives her a smile. “So, where are you two going tonight?” Traci says.
“Gurl where do you think you’re going?” Belinda says with a cute little smirk. “You know we’re starting another one of them everything must go sales tonight.” Traci’s jaw drops as she completely forgot the store is having a three day weekend sale to get rid of the extra inventory they built up for the Christmas holidays. “Awww damn! That’s right!” She says with total shock.
“You know Club H2O will be jamming tonight,” I wittingly hinted. It would be the perfect scene for us to get away from shop talk and actually get into deeper conversation. “Your man is picking you up from work isn’t he? We could all go together.” I suggested to Traci, hinting at the idea that we could double date and have the time of our lives. “Yeah! That would be cool!” Traci says.
I glanced back at Belinda to read her reaction. “What do you think? You down?” I asked her with the most charming smile I could bestow. “Oh yeah, I haven’t been to H2O yet,” she said with an agreeing smile. “I heard their buffet is the bomb!” She says. Traci breaks out in a little jig dance to celebrate the coming get down. Belinda gives a sexy little chuckle as she looks at me to see my reaction to Traci’s celebratory jam. “You so crazy!” says through her sexy little chuckle.
“Back to the grind. I’ll see you ladies later.” I said as I walked away back toward the Bat-Cave. They both chimed in with an “Okay,” and started folding shirts and pants. As I walked down the center isle I spotted a shady dude out of my peripheral on the other end of women’s apparel with a dress wrapped over his shoulder. I quickly cut a right turn into a sea of dresses pretending not to notice him. As soon as I’m out of his sight I slipped around the opposing isle and zigzagged through the handbags where I could position myself to be standing just out of his view to his left.
My heart is racing as maintained a laser lock on this dude to check him out. He’s a wiry, light-skinned dude in his late teens, early 20’s dressed like a small-time, wannbe rapper in a baggy Fubu gear and tan Timberline work boots. This does not look like the kind of guy that would be out shopping for his girl let alone date a chick that would wear the kind of clothes he’s holding.