“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?”
“With or without sugar?”
“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.