The man stood outside the store window, shifting from foot to foot. I’d have probably gone right by him, but as I passed he looked me straight in the face, sending a chill up my back. So, instead of walking away, I found a place in the shadows and watched him.
He wore a black golf shirt with a Nike swish. His black slacks were neatly pressed, but scuffs covered the toes of his dark shoes. As he paced in front of the store as if waiting for something or someone, his left foot dragged. Maybe that was where the scuffs came from. He kept pushing dark hair out of his eyes. A girl passed him by without so much as a glance. She wore the flip-flops and short shorts. He turned away from her. Why look me in the face and ignore this young girl with long flowing blond hair?
After an interminable twelve minutes, he entered the store. I crept to the side window to get a closer view. A saleslady approached with a big hopeful smile. He jerked away as if he might flee, but she persisted. Probably learned that in Sales 101.
Peering inside, I could make out the blurry image of the saleslady as she crouched down to open a box of shiny objects. When she bent, his hand slipped around and grabbed something. He pocketed it so fast I’d have missed it if I’d blinked. Gasping in surprise, I nearly collapsed into the window. So neat. So fast.
While I recovered from the shock of having witnessed a theft, the man exited the store. He hurried in the direction downtown. With his hands tucked in his pockets and his head lowered, he wove along the street between moms with kids, students with backpacks and cyclists. I followed closely behind. What did he plan to do with his ill-gotten gains?
My friends would ask me why didn’t I go inside the store and raise the alarm. What were you thinking, watching, witnessing and doing nothing? No wonder we pay so much money for our trinkets. Thieves get away with it and it’s all the fault of people like you.. Yes, my friend, Rose, would give me such a lecture. But, I never intended to tell Rose about this. Not if I could help it.
Instead, I raced down the street, avoiding other shoppers and site-seers with the sole purpose of finding out what this strange man was up to. My watch read two-fifteen. I had missed the coffee date with my cousin. She’d forgive me. I’ll make up an excuse about traffic or something equally lame. I couldn’t think about her now. I had to see where this man led me. My curious nature would never let me rest otherwise.
Moments later he entered the parking deck. He was going to his car. Darn! Once he got in a car, I’d lose him for sure. My car was parked here as well, but on the top level. His was probably on the first level. It was impossible to imagine we’d be parked close enough for me to follow him.
He entered the elevator. The light flashed up to level 4. I raced up the stairs like a madwoman. Huffing and puffing, I reached level 4 just as the elevator doors opened. I caught a glimpse of his black form walking over to a red Kia. I made a quick turn and hightailed up to the fifth level to retrieve my car. Then I plowed down to the exit, round and round, hoping, praying. Perfect. The red Kia was just in front of me, waiting to pay. The Universe was on my side.
Mr. Thief drove slowly, obeying all the traffic rules, making it easy for me to keep him in sight. Nonetheless, I stayed one car back, not wanting to risk him seeing me. Maybe he’d remember me from the street? A shiver ran through me. What would he do, this thief? Stop his car, jump out and murder me? Absurd.
The light changed. We moved down the road. Thoughts filled my head. Had the Universe wanted me to witness this travesty? Everything seemed to be falling into place. Don’t be stupid. Rose would say to me and tell me I’m being melodramatic.
We turned into the parking lot for the Hermitage Nursing Home. This made no sense. Why not a pawn shop? Didn’t thieves go to shady shops on busy street corners with flashing neon signs to hock their merchandise. Not to a nursing home. Maybe he worked here? Maybe he was some sort of klepto and couldn’t help himself? Maybe he had no intention of hocking the stolen article? He pulled into a parking place a few steps from the entrance. I chose one farther away. From my rearview mirror, I spied him getting out of the car.
Once I got inside, he’d disappeared. Several corridors went right and left. Which way?
I approached the information desk where a girl of about twenty had her head buried in a People magazine. Her eyes filled with wonder when she finally spotted me as if I’d fallen from the moon. “Can I help you?”
“The man who just came in. He dropped a five-dollar bill in the parking lot. I ran after him, but I missed him. Do you know where he might be?”
“Oh, that’s Jerome. He’s visiting his mom. Comes every day at least once. Want me to give it to him?”
I hesitated. She noticed. “Well… I guess it won’t hurt for you to go down to room 212. It’s the last room on the right, down that corridor.” She pointed the direction.
I moseyed away as if I had all the time in the world. Once out of her view, I picked up my pace. Muffled conversation came from room 212. Mr. Thief was talking very loudly. Apparently his mom had hearing issues.
At the door, I peered inside. Mr. Thief perched on the edge of the bed containing an attractive woman with cottony white hair.
“You shouldn’t have, Jerome. I know how much this place is costing you.”
“But, mom, it’s Christmas. I wanted to give you a little something.”
“Just having you here is enough. But, I do like bracelets. You know how I like bracelets. Remember when your dad gave me a diamond bracelet—of course, I didn’t know it wasn’t diamonds then. It wasn’t till later. Remember? After he died and left nothing but bills and debts. I tried to sell the bracelet and found out it was worthless. I flushed it down the commode.”
“I remember, Mom. You told me that story. I wanted you to have a real diamond bracelet before it was too late.”
She hugged him. “This is the best gift ever.”
I backed away from the room, my heart racing.
In my car I didn’t wait for Mr. Thief, a.k.a. Mr. Nice Son to emerge. Instead I started my car and drove home.
Joan Curtis is the author the award-winning novel The Clock Strikes Midnight and the newly released mystery series e-Murderer. Take a look at the book trailer for The Clock Strikes Midnight.