Perhaps I should get new client chairs for my office, big, well-padded recliners, although they would clash with the décor of the book-lined room in the unused warehouse. This thought was sparked by the man currently sitting in my office, a distinguished, graying man in a very expensive suit. Just looking at him made me feel like a slob, which I probably am.
“I’m Steve St. Laurent and I own the Beau Brummell Men’s Store.” That explained the clothes.
Was he considering me for the first part of a before-and-after ad?
“How may I help you?” I asked apprehensively.
“My store has become the target of theft and vandalism. It’s not the kind of crime the police will, or can do anything about. I hope that maybe you can help.”
“Do you have anyone you suspect?”
“Well, since it happens frequently, it is not likely a customer, but all of my staff seem trustworthy. I hired them myself.”
“How many staff do you have?”
“Four, two men and two women. The men are efficient and likable, the women are beautiful and charming.”
We decided that, although I was totally inexperienced in sales work, I would join the staff, allowing me to investigate, but that created a problem: clothes. Employees of a clothing store should be well-dressed, but my meagre wardrobe was not expensive or fashionable, so the next morning at eight o’clock, an hour before the store opened, I arrived to be outfitted suitably (if you’ll forgive the pun) right down to underwear and socks, although these seemed unnecessary because the customers wouldn’t be seeing them. Mr. St. Laurent said I could pay for them out of my wages. I wished that I had inflated my fee. Each time I passed a mirror, I looked at my reflection, hoping to see a distinguished gentleman; instead I saw something that looked more like the picture Darwin’s opponents produced of an ape in a tuxedo.
The first incident of vandalism I noticed was a sign, “Men’s wear”: someone had removed the apostrophe and shifted the s to the right, making it read “Men swear.” Later I saw another sign: “Sale 50% off” which now read “ales 50% off.” These solecisms interested me linguistically, but I doubted that they would seriously affect sales. My four fellow-salespersons seemed to be reasonably intelligent and fairly literate, even though they were products of the current educational system which aims for high graduation rates over high standards.
During a coffee break, Elizabeth (“Call me Libby”) told me that one of her duties was to tell potential buyers how good they looked in whatever they were trying on.
“Sounds simple,” I said.