32 Rock Tuff, P.I.: The Malefactor in the Mall

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“My name is Ness, Bruce Ness, but because I always seem to be working, friends call me ‘Busy’.”

Busy Ness. I liked the pun.

“What is your work?”

“I’m the manager of Blandsville’s Many Marts Mall. You’ve probably shopped there.”

“Of course,” I said, stretching the occasional sandwich and soft drink in the Mall food court to ‘shopping’.

“We’re having some trouble I hope you can help us with.”

“I will if I can. What is your problem?”

“A pickpocket is stealing wallets and purses, and he’s good.”

“Or she’s good,” I added to save Mr. Ness from the wrath of the gender-obsessed. “Or do you mean bad, as in skillful?”

“Yes. Our store detectives tried to catch him – or her – but with no success. A couple of police detectives even spent a day trying.”

“He or she stole his wallet from one and his badge from the other.”

I could guess who the two detectives were: Les Trade and Greg Son, my bêtes-noires, red-faced again.

I promised to try to help Mr. Ness,and the next morning I was at the Mall as soon as it opened. Because I would be there all day and any good thief would observe my omnipresence, I brought a large shopping bag with articles of clothing so that I could change my appearance: caps, Bermuda shorts, sweaters, tee-shirts with clever sayings (“My wife is very sick – of me” and “In gambling, unlike voting, you have a chance of winning”).

After I had walked the length of the Mall a couple of times, I decided to sit in the food court and watch, so I ordered a coffee at Tom Morton’s – or tried to.

“Small, medium, large, or herculean?”

“Medium, please.”

“With or without sugar?”

“Without, please.”

“With or without cream?”


“With or without cinnamon?”


“With or without maple syrup?”


I began to wonder if you needed a Ph.D. in chemistry to make Morton’s coffee, but finally the inquisition ended and I had my Styrofoam cup of coffee with, I hoped, plenty of caffeine and I sat at a small table to observe.

A good percentage of the people were seniors, many with canes and walkers, but there were also some teenagers (skipping school, I wondered). Most carried the almost obligatory cellphones or i-pods, talking or texting, oblivious to their surroundings. Two bumped together hard and the phones flew, one into a pool of water, the other to the terrazzo floor where it shattered. The owners, I thought, could now find out how good their insurance coverage was, if they had it.

A moment later a woman screamed; “My purse! My purse has been stolen!” The thief must have cleverly used the distraction of the human collision to steal the purse. I cursed myself for being so unobservant.

It would be unusual for a man to be carrying a purse, so I speculated that the thief could well be a woman.

Security guards tried to calm the victim down and question her, but the purse was never recovered. Rock Tuff fails again. I resolved to be more watchful.

I finished my coffee, which might have been better with maple syrup, changed tee-shirts in the washroom, and resumed walking, reading the signs in store windows: “Our fishing equipment has allure;” “Tool’s [sic] for the handy person;” “Our shoes’ [sic] are good for the sole:” and “Ladie’s [sic] dresses half off.” The apostrophe must be the most misused piece of punctuation currently in English. A “sic” joke.

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The Malefactor in the Mall

Gary E. Miller spent 29 years trying to teach English at several high schools in Ontario. In 1995, he made his greatest contribution to education by retiring. He now spends his time in rural Richmond, reading voraciously and eclectically, and occasionally writing stories and poems which do nothing to elevate the level of Canadian literature.
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