Learning to Read

Submitted into Contest #10 in response to: Write a story about someone who is unexpectedly wise.... view prompt

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 I didn't know Sean long, but he always seemed super serious to me. I had just started out working loss prevention at the big box store and I was joyful and exuberant. I found out later that the cashiers thought of me like a big dumb puppy. They weren't really too far off the mark either. I took to my job like the worlds coolest game of hide and seek. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But it was always fun. I got to crawl around on the floor in a store or peek through shelving or even sometimes hide inside racks of clothing! I'm not making that up, it's every bit as cool as when your kids do it. And I get PAID for it! On the other hand Everybody who saw Sean work said that he took his job like a religious calling. He kind of wore his different hoodies each day like a monk's cassock so maybe there was some similarity to a religious frock or uniform. You could almost picture him counting the rosary as he strolled the aisles head down looking perpetually distracted.

Loss prevention is a game of numbers really. When stores account for how much security they need, the amount of "shrink" reduced factors in heavily. Shrink is inventory 'shrinkage' caused by product vanishing without a recorded sale. It happens when stuff "Just falls off the truck" or "Got mislabeled for a much lower price" or in the case of Sean and my job, "It must have fallen into my pocket". Saving the box store lots of recovered products or shrink reduced keeps the management bonuses high. And MY game could continue.

When we worked as I team I learned that I was the distraction the suspect saw, yes we called them that even if we SAW them pocket something, Sean was the shark that blended into the background so fully that even if you spotted him, he never seeming to be taking notice of what others were doing. Still he had numbers no other loss prevention guy in the state could match. Only the guy who trained me even came close. And that's because his store had the state of the art camera systems that could almost track you everywhere. But even his numbers were about two thirds of what Sean did monthly. 

  But I never described Sean to you. He was 6'3" black and had a shaved head. The coolest scar adorned the left side and back of his head. Most people never saw it because he wore the hoods up every day. He had an easy smile and never spoke loud. I've seem him move quickly but never flat out run. Still he was so fluid and graceful when he wasn't on the sales floor that you would be pretty fair to guess he was probably on the swim team at his school. I don't swim. I'm a dumpy Caucasian guy with a few years of junior college under my belt. My hair was a bit messy back then but that was because it was just always in need of a cut. 

  After a few months in the store my numbers started to look really good. I rarely sat in the office, watching the security camera feeds. I prowled the sales floor relentlessly. I had a good number of stops, or arrests. And a bunch of deterrences. To get those you had to subtly convince people not to steal. Anything from a simple shake of the head when the kid if front of you notices you while slipping a candy bar into his pocket or flat out whispering 'There's a camera over your head' to the lady pulling the tags off a blouse. The store loses nothing, except maybe a replaceable tag here and there, and you don't ruin somebody's future over a stupid impulse that they would regret forever after. The paperwork is a headache to fill out too because my big box store ALWAYS prosecutes if I make a stop. 

  Box store corporate did a statistics review. They posted which stores were most profitable, which had highest and lowest shrink. Sort of like report card day for store managers. We finally edged out my mentor's store. Bragging rights were huge that month. Sean and I celebrated with something we almost never saw. Snacks in the camera room. 

  'Pretty good work rookie. You might beat me soon.' Okay sue me, Sean never said that but we DID share one of his favorite snacks. Fancy root beer over pretty good big box ice cream cups. 

  'You know, I like you,' Sean said. (Yeah that part was real)

  'Cool thanks.' I didn't know what to say to that, but I knew Sean didn't talk much so I wasn't gonna just talk over him.


  ' I like you cause you remind me of myself starting out'

  Root beer float giddy, I swear I don't even LIKE root beer but this stuff was good.

  'You were a chubby white kid growing up?'

That got a laugh. And I couldn't even prove it because he didn't do it anywhere near a recording camera. Guess you'll just have to take my word for it.

  ' No I was eager to prove myself. I like that you never asked me why my numbers are always so good'

   It's true. I never did. Thinking back everybody working for big box had asked him at one time or another. I figured if he wouldn't tell them he would never tell me.

  ' I'm gonna tell you.' he said. sliding back the knit skull cap and drawn hoodie that had become his own personal nun's habit

   ' It's because of this.' He lightly tapped the scar at his temple. Okay now I was interested.

   'It's because I learned to read people,' he paused slightly, 'And because of what happened when I didn't' 

  'I did start out like you. I chased shoplifters around the store and played games about it. Nothing wrong with that,' he continued. 'But you need to read people, not what's in their hands'.

'A few years ago I followed a shifty guy in a track suit through the stores. He had the tells a person gets when he's about to do something. He was in CDs one minute and movies the next. Seals were popped, tags pulled. Items vanished. He was GOOD. I didn't even know how he stripped stuff so fast. But I saw the wrappings so I knew the stop would be good. I got caught up watching hands. Nobody I saw was that quick empty handed.. I got ready to pull him out once he passed the inner doors' what I didn't know was that he knew I was behind him. Maybe he picked me out as I was watching his hand tricks, maybe he was drug paranoid. Either way once we passed the first doors I put my hand on his shoulder. ' 

  Mandy's still got the tape, I saw it once. Once was all I could bear to watch. He painted that vestibule with my blood.. Box cutter I only saw later at the trial. If I hadn't flinched, this, ' he traced the scar on his face and head.

'Would have gone here' again he traced this time across his jugular..

 'The one time I watched it I saw what I needed to know. It was on his face. He meant to kill to get away. That determination was on the tape earlier when he walked in the store. I hadn't seen it in his hands it was on his face the entire time. For some people this ain't no game.'

 'If you want to get good here you gotta do what these other guys don't do. Learn to read.' 

October 10, 2019 03:21

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1 comment

Sadia Faisal
06:38 May 26, 2020

nice story, also like my stories if you like them and send me me feedback if you would like and please follow me.


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