The mall was jam packed with holiday shoppers. Christmas music from the likes of Perry Como to Elvis to Brad Paisley and the latest rapper blared out in no particular order. With only three shopping days left before the big day, last minute shoppers were scurrying all over from one shop to another. The line of young kids waiting to tell Santa the list of toys they wanted, no it was more like demanded, to see under the tree was staggering. It was the best time of the year.
I was standing just inside the entrance way to Jordan’s Jewel Factory, one of those large chain stores that clog up space in most of America’s malls these days. In jewelry stores it’s not unusual to see beautiful young women. If they are not rich and buying the diamonds, they are looking and wishing they could. Hoping to find some kind of satisfaction by just looking at the necklaces, rings, earrings and other accessories. That in itself is a common occurrence. What was uncommon happened when my eyes caught the attention of this one young woman. Yes, she was beautiful. That was obvious even from the distance between us. However, I was more interested in how quickly she picked up a particular necklace, slipped it into her coat pocket and dashed out of the store disappearing into the crowded mall. She did it with such precision, grace and speed that the employees behind the counter didn’t realize the necklace was gone until it was too late.
She didn’t quite disappear. I moved quickly myself following her as soon as she left the store. I caught up with her as she was heading toward the mall exit. I gently placed a hand on her arm.
“Excuse me a minute, miss,” I said.
She froze, but kept her back to me.
I walked around her so I could face her directly.
“We need to have a little talk. Could we just walk over to the side here so we are out of the way.” I said.
“I don’t talk to men I don’t know,” she said with a chill in her voice that would have given Frosty the Snowman a shiver down his spine.
“Well, I think this time you will.”
Her eyes were darting around until she found what she was looking for. “There’s a security guard right over there. I have no problem calling him over if you don’t leave me alone right now,” she said.
I followed her eyes and sure enough there was a security guard standing by the crowded food court. He was looking right at us.
“Miss, we just need to have a little talk,” I said, “No need to…”
Before I could finish, she waved the security guard over. In a moment the six foot two or so guard was between us.
“Everything okay here?” he asked.
Before she could get another word out, I said, “It’s okay, Damon. This young lady and I are just having a little talk.”
She looked at me and then at Damon.
“Yes. I’m sorry… I just.”
“Thanks Damon,” I interceded. “If we need you, I will give you a call.”
With that, Damon moved on walking slowly away from us and back toward the crowded food court.
“You’re a cop?”
“Retired cop. Now I’m head of security here at the mall,” I said.
“What do you want?” she said.
“I was in the jewelry store at the same time as you.”
“So,” she said, keeping her cool.
“I saw what you did.”
“I didn’t do anything!” she said defiantly.
I managed to steer her away to one of the few spots in the mall where there wasn’t a crowd of Christmas shoppers. I stared at her for a moment. She was only about twenty-three or so, very attractive with shoulder length brown hair and green eyes.
“You don’t look like the typical jewel thief,” I said.
Her face remained frozen. She was still trying to tough it out.
“What are you accusing me of?”
“Why don’t we just drop the pretense? I was there. I saw everything. Just empty your coat pocket, the right one specifically.”
She was trapped and she finally gave in to the inevitable. She pulled the necklace out of her pocket. I took it from her.
“Nice.” Must be worth a couple of hundred bucks,” I said.
“Seven hundred,” She said.
I smiled. “I see you do your homework.”
“Let’s see some I.D.,” I said.
She pulled out her wallet from her handbag and handed me her driver’s license. I put the necklace in my pocket for safekeeping and examined her license.
“Julia Ross?” I asked. I pulled out my cellphone and snapped a photo of the license. I then handed it back to her.
“Look, I’m sorry, really sorry. Isn’t there some way we can make this go away?” she said. “We could go somewhere quiet, somewhere private, my car and…”
“Miss Ross, or is it Ms. Ross. I am a married man with two beautiful kids. In thirty-five years of marriage, I never, not once, cheated on my wife.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say anything to upset you.”
“Do you have a record?” I asked. “Don’t lie because I can easily check it out and I will. Remember I have a photo of your license.
“No, no, I don’t. I have never been in any kind of trouble.”
I smiled. “You know, I’m not surprised. I was watching you for a while in the store and you’re pretty smooth. You must have gotten away with plenty of good stuff in the past. You just knew when to make the snatch and split without anyone noticing. That is, except for me, of course. I am pretty good myself at my job.
“I know…couldn’t we just let this go? Just this one time,” She asked.
“You’re young and you have got your entire life ahead of you,” I said. “A criminal record could really screw your life up.”
“I’m really, really sorry,” she said.
“I don’t like people stealing stuff on my watch. It pisses me off. Especially at this time of the year. Families are out there shopping. Looking for the right gift. Working their way through the crowds. That’s why I’m out here. As head of security, I’m usually not out here pounding the beat so to speak. But the holidays bring out more lowlife’s and crooks than usual so I put myself out here too. Another pair of eyes for the holidays.”
She was shaking a bit now and on the verge of tears. “I’m so sorry, please…”
“Well,” I sighed, “as it stands now, no real harm has been done. I got the jewelry back, so therefore you didn’t steal anything which means I have no reason to arrest you.”
She looked up at me in shock. “Really? Oh, God, thank you so much.”
“I guess I am getting soft. Maybe it’s my old age. Maybe it’s the holiday season, I don’t know. I just don’t want to see a pretty young thing like you get in so much trouble that would ruin your life.”
Oh, thank you so, so much!”
“You’ve got to promise me something though,” I said.
“Anything, anything. What is it?” She said.
“You’re not going to do this anymore,” I said.
“Yes, yes, I promise. Never again,” She said.
I knew that was a lie. Once a thief, always a thief.
“And if you do it again… do it somewhere else other than my fuckin’ mall!”
She looked at me. A bit in shock. Not sure how to respond.
Merry Christmas,” I smiled.
“Merry Christmas,” she smiled back and took off through the exit door and out into the snow.
I felt good. I gave the kid a break. Why not, it’s the holidays. Hopefully, she takes my advice and stops her little crime spree or at least stays away from my mall. I looked around at the crowds. Yep, it was only three days before Christmas and the place was packed. Frank Sinatra was now on the sound system singing, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I put my hands in my pockets. That’s when I remembered I still had the necklace. I smiled and thought, yes it will be a merry little Christmas. The wife is gonna love this!
A Merry Little Christmas Gift is part of my new collection of short stories that will be published as an e-book in 2017. Keep an eye out for further details.