It was still early so the place was quiet. Donna and Paul were on the tills, just a couple of customers each. The supervisor’s door was open and when I got nearer I could see Marion counting change into the till drawer sitting on her desk. She heard me coming and peered over the tops of her glasses.
You better do the call, I said.
Woman down at the deli.
Meat and a jar of coffee.
I seen her.
She lifted the phone from its holster on the wall and said, Mr Summers to the canteen please, Mr Summers to the canteen. The voice echoed in loud static through every room in the building. I stood outside the office and watched for who’d be coming first. It was a surprise when the door to the upstairs area opened, and Stevie and his assistant Jim stepped onto the shop floor.
That a security call wee man? Stevie said.
Aye. Woman down there with steak and coffee stuffed in her jacket.
Definitely, I said. Unless she’s dropped it in the last couple of minutes.
She a junkie or what? the boss said.
I don’t know.
Eh, I don’t know.
I thought you seen her?
Look don’t fuck about, Jim said. If you seen her you’d know. Does she look like a daft wee lassie trying to do some shoplifting, or does she look like a junkie?
Eh, she looks more like a junkie, I suppose. But she might not be. I dunno. I only seen her for a second.
Fine, Stevie said. And where the fuck’s Pedro?
You want me to go find him? Jim asked.
Nah, if it’s just one woman we should be OK. There’s three of us eh.
You up for this wee man?
Aye, I mean, Peter’s in, so he’ll be here soon anyway.
Stevie laughed, He can deal wi her when he turns up then. But this is my shop, I’m not letting some fucking thief get near a door. Let’s go.
You first, Jim said, poking me in the back. Find where she is then give us a signal.
Aye, nod your head or something, whatever the fuck. Just make it obvious.
I went into the aisles. Donna was watching as I went past, going along by the soap powder and the bleach. I turned into the centre row and saw Stevie and Jim creeping after me. There was a special offer display of crisps, so I pretended to tidy it and glanced down at the deli. I started to think she’d got to one of the exits, but then she was there, she was right there, coming on into the same aisle. She smiled at me then peered into the shelves on the far side. The jacket was zipped up to the neck, her hands deep in the pockets. I smiled too, and went round the corner. I didn’t say anything, just pointed. Jim jogged down to guard the far end, the coins jingling softly in his pockets. Stevie went the other way. The heels of his shoes clicked off the floor tiles. I saw in her face she knew it was too late to run.
Madam, have you got some of our merchandise in your coat there?
Give the stuff to me and leave, and we’ll say no more about it.
I’ve no got anything.
Madam, we saw you on the cameras. Return the merchandise please.
I dunno what you’re talking about. She nipped past him, going towards the checkouts. Stevie started walking after her, quickly.
Madam, he said in a loud voice, I’ll have to ask you to stop and open your coat..
She went through the check-out where Paul was sitting, pushing past a family with a full trolley.
Madam! Stevie shouted. She had a clear run at the door. Just as her hands were coming out the pockets, Stevie reached and grabbed the hood of the anorak. There was a crash. Glass and coffee granules all round their feet. The woman twisted to free the hood. He kept his hold, and she hit him, reaching up and slashing her hand across his face. His eyes were wide, white and staring, as they both spun around together, her pulling against him, his outstretched arm, and it was only when we saw the blood running down his cheek that Jim rushed her and grabbed that hand so it couldn’t swing again. I moved forward not sure what to do. I was on her back with my arm round her neck when her legs gave way and we fell. Something whacked me on the mouth and there was a taste of blood.
Grab her fucking ankles!
I threw myself on them and used my weight to stop them moving. She wriggled for about another minute, but we had her.
Get off me! Get the fuck off!
Shut up, Stevie said down to her. Jim, check they pockets.
Jim felt around inside and the woman bucked, trying to get away from his hands. He brought out the packet of steak, a blue foam tray with cellophane over it, and dropped it on the floor.
That’s not mine, the woman said. I never had that! That wasn’t there.
Stevie was looking at me so I glanced back. He grinned and rolled his eyes. The fat at the side of his face and neck quivered slightly as he wrestled with the woman’s flailing arms, trying to keep a hold of her wrists. There was sweat on his forehead, blood running from the two scrapes on his cheek. The stubble on that side of his face was a really dark shade of red where it had run down his face. It was sliding down his neck and forming a blob at the top of his collar.
Marion, he shouted.
Aye, she said and slowly came some way toward us.
Phone the polis.
Naw! the woman said, and tried to fight her way out. I was just clinging onto the legs. Jim was whispering to Stevie but I couldn’t make it out. I looked at the legs. Dirty grey trainers and wee whiteish socks with lace round the top. Her loose black trousers had rode up a bit, and her ankles were dainty white, wee buds of black hair sprouting through dry-looking skin.
Och boys, a voice said. I turned. An old lady with two half-empty carrier bags was standing, watching. Yous shouldn’t have to deal with that.
We’re sorry for the disturbance, Jim said.
Don’t be silly, the old woman said. Is she one of they Romanians?
Am I fuck, the woman said.
Keep that mouth shut, Stevie said, giving her a shove back against the floor.
Ah! You can’t fucking hurt me like that.
Terrible, the old woman said, shaking her head. Terrible what yous have to put up with. She wandered away.
Marion stuck her head out of her room. That’s them phoned.
The woman tried to heave Stevie off her chest. He smiled.
One unhappy punter we’ve got here eh Jim boy?
Aye, we’ll no be asking her to fill out a questionnaire.
You fat fucking wanker, get the fuck off.
Naw, Stevie said in a low voice, Tell it to the polis.
I looked along the check-outs. Paul and Donna were watching. So was Karen from the kiosk. Some customers were staring, others just going about their business. Donna smiled and gave me a wee wave. The woman’s body underneath me, rising and falling with every breath. Stevie was panting quietly, regularly. The automatic doors rolling open, rolling closed. The polis would get here soon. The floor felt very cold on my bare elbow. Jim had opened her jacket to see if she had any more jars or packets, and there was a slice of flabby white skin visible between black sweatshirt and black trousers. It wobbled when she tried to move.
You’re hurting me, she was saying.
Paul served an old couple, who turned and came right past us to leave out the side exit.
What’s happened here? the old man said.
Shoplifting, Stevie said.
Oh, ya silly lassie.
I didn’t do anything.
You’re only making it worse, the old lady said. Carrying on like this. Look at ye.
Aye, Stevie nodded his head.
Aye, the husband agreed. There’s something needing done, I know that much.
You’re telling me, Jim said.
I couldn’t see the woman’s face anymore because of Stevie’s ankle, but I thought I heard her gasping for breath. What it must feel like to have three men on top of you, to be pinned down, not able to move your own arms and legs. And what the shop must look like from so low down, having to turn sideways to see. I was near her feet, and our management team was hunkered over her chest and shoulders. The middle bit of her heaved slightly every now and then, and she was flexing her fingers. I watched them. I would not forget this. Her nail varnish was all chipped away, hardly any of it left, just some wee red specks.
The couple kept looking down at her. Nobody spoke for a while. They wanted to wait and see what happened when the polis turned up, have a story to tell on the way home. I could hear the beeps of things being scanned through a till. Eventually the old man said, Aye well, we’re away up the road.
Bye now, said Jim.
The two of them shuffled off, muttering to each other. I started to feel a laugh coming. Not like usual, where a laugh just happens, coming out your mouth at the same time something strikes you as funny. This was something else. I could feel it in my stomach, a sort of tremor. It kept going, building, forcing its way upwards, and I was putting my face to the side and biting on the sleeve of my shirt to try and stop it. This seemed to work. I was breathing heavy, letting it pass. Jim turned to look at me, then he was facing the front again. He maybe thought I was crying. Some minutes passed. The tills kept beeping and the door kept on rolling. I still had the bit of sleeve in my mouth. It was leaving me now, the laughter, it was dying away in my throat in a series of strange wee noises that I couldn’t tell if anyone else could hear. I put my head down and tried to concentrate on holding the woman’s legs straight. Then I looked to the ceiling. The security camera was turning slowly, scanning the floor. Stevie would have us all in his office to watch it later. We always did that when there’d been action on the floor. The laugh was gone now. It was away. A hand touched my shoulder and I jumped. It was old Mr Patel, one of the regulars.
Oh sorry son, sorry I didn’t mean to frighten you.
Eh, that’s ok.
I was just wondering where you’d moved the Tennents to, you know the special offer stuff?
I glanced at Stevie.
I’m a bit busy here Mr Patel. I nodded down at the woman.
Yes yes that’s fine son, you do what you have to, just tell me where it is and I’ll go get it myself.
It’s been switched over to the other door sir, Stevie said, Near the butchery.
Oh, I see, Mr Patel said, Thank you sir, thank you.
No bother at all.
He walked between two check-outs and off in the direction of the meat chillers.
Bloody hell, I said.
I’ve never known a Hamilton Accie that was so into his lager, Jim said.
It’s so he can punt it in his own shop, Stevie said. The fly bastard. He’ll stick a fiver on the price of every crate.
Where the fuck have you been? Jim shouted right in my ear.
I saw the bald head of Peter the security guard, coming in at the kiosk door. He saw us, dropped his bag and ran over.
I was out on my break wasn’t I.
Nice timing, Stevie said. Look at my fucking face.
Jesus, Peter said. What happened? He knelt down to look at the woman.
The wee man there, he spied her nicking stuff. So we asked her to put it back and she tried to do a runner.
Is that right?
No, the woman said. Is it fuck.
Stupid woman, Peter said. Cops phoned?
Aye, five minutes ago.
So she fought back did she?
She did aye, Stevie said. The polis’ll get the full story.
It’s the smack, Peter said. Gives them fucking super-strength. You think they’re going to be easy to take down, but it’s the viciousness that gets you. Took me ten minutes to restrain a junkie once. Just a wee fella he was, but he was mad on the smack.
It was a struggle, Stevie said, We wereny expecting it, that was all.
The woman moaned. My arms, she said.
What was she stealing? Peter said.
You see that jar of coffee? Jim nodded at the mess on the floor. Somebody had put a ‘Wet Floor’ sign in the middle of the bits of broken glass.
Je-sus – you’re going to the slammer for some coffee granules? Ya daft cow. What, was your man no in the mood for tea the day?
The three of them laughed, and the woman rolled her body suddenly and tipped us all to one side. She scrambled the other way, and she could’ve made it if it wasn’t for the smashed jar. She slid on it and stumbled. Stevie flattened her again, and Peter and Jim got there too.
That’s it, Stevie said. His face had gone a weird colour, as if there was no blood left in it at all. Get her in the back office.
Sorry about this everybody, Marion was saying to the customers, The police will be here soon, never mind it.
Stevie had one arm and Jim got the other. Peter had his hand on the back of her neck. She was thrashing about but they got her through the door. I followed in. The corridor was empty.
You, Stevie said turning round, Stand by that door.
I went back and leaned against the frame.
In front of it you soft cunt.
You fucking bastards, she said, Fucking bastards.
Jim and Peter pulled her arms back. I noticed Stevie had wrapped his tie round his hand and then he hit her with it, clubbing his fist into the side of her head. The next one went right in her stomach. I made sure I was right in front of the door so nobody could see in the glass panel.
The woman had moved into a kind of sitting position against the wall.
You can tell your junkie mates, Peter said, This is what happens if you try this shite in our fucking shop, right? You understand?
Stevie was kneeling next to her.
She’s alright, he said.
Ok, I’ll wait wi her in the office, Peter said, There’ll be no more trouble.
Jim put his hand on my shoulder. Back to work fella, he said.
I did as I was told. Through that door and into the shop. Marion was nowhere to be seen. Paul and Donna were busy beeping through customers’ items again. I waited for Jim to approach. I wanted to be outside. The automatic door slid open and some fresh air came in. When my eyes opened Jim was there, shaking his head.
I’m away out to wait on the polis. If they ever get here that is. Too busy giving people fucking speeding tickets. Never about when you need them eh?
I stood for another minute getting the breeze from the door. Then I remembered the cage I’d been pulling was all frozen stuff, and went into the aisles to find it. ●