I was pulling a cage of frozen food when I thought I saw something happen. A woman standing at the hot beverages section. I dragged the cage into the pet food aisle so it wouldn’t block peoples’ way, then took something off the shelf. A packet of dried pig’s ears. I went round into the next aisle as if I didn’t know where to put it. The woman wasn’t there. I walked on a bit further, and saw her looking about for a second, then moving her hand into one of the pockets in the big black anorak. She didn’t see me. I stared in at the shelves for a second. I threw the pig’s ears in among some tins, and walked away to the checkouts.
It was still early so the place was quiet. Donna and Paul were on the tills, just a couple of customers each. The supervisors’ door was open and when I got nearer I could see Marion counting change out into the till on her desk. She heard me coming and peered over the tops of her glasses.
You better do the call, I said.
Aye. 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 in there somewhere with steak and coffee hidden 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. 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?
Eh, well, aye. 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 anywhere 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.
Right, I said. I went back into the aisles. Donna was watching as I went past, going by the soap powder and the bleach. I turned into the centre 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, right in the same aisle. She smiled at me. The jacket was zipped up to the neck, hands in the pockets. I smiled too, and went back round the corner. I didn’t say anything, just pointed. Jim jogged down to guard the far end, the coins jingling away 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 now and leave, and we’ll say nothing more about it.
I’ve not got anything.
Madam, we saw you on the cameras. Return the merchandise please.
I dunno what you’re talking about. She nipped past him and walked towards the checkouts. Stevie went after her.
Madam, he said in a loud voice, I’ll have to ask you to stop and open your coat.
She went straight 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 of the pockets, Stevie reached out and grabbed the hood of the anorak. There was a crash. Glass and coffee granules were 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. It was only when we saw the blood running down his cheek that Jim rushed her and grabbed the arm 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 the 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.
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.
I looked at Stevie’s fat stubbled face. There was sweat on his forehead, blood trickling out from two scrapes on his cheek. It was sliding down his neck and forming a blob at the top of his collar.
Marion, Stevie shouted.
Aye, she said and she came toward us.
Phone the polis.
Naw! the woman said, and tried to fight her way out. I held 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 the dry-looking skin.
Och boys, a voice said. 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 back. Is she one of they Romanians?
Am I fuck, the woman said.
You shut your mouth, 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 and said, 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.
Keep your mouth shut please, 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. Customers were staring, other ones just going about their business. Donna smiled and gave me a wee wave. The woman’s body was rising and falling with every breath. Stevie panting quietly. The automatic doors were rolling open, rolling closed. The polis would get here soon. The floor felt cold. Jim had opened her jacket to see if she had any more jars or packets, and a slice of flabby white skin was 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 a 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. What the shop must look like from so low down, turning 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. Her nail varnish was all chipped away, hardly any of it was 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 the tills. Eventually the old man said, Aye well, we’re away up the road.
Bye now, said Jim.
The two of them walked away slowly. I felt a laugh coming. I couldn’t stop it. I put my head down and tried to focus on holding the woman’s legs straight. Then I looked up at 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 some action on the floor. A hand touched my shoulder and I jumped. It was old Mr Patel, one of the regulars.
Oh sorry son, sorry, I did not mean to startle 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 kind of busy here Mr Patel. I nodded down at the woman.
Yes yes that’s fine son, you do what you have to do, but you tell me where it is, I will go find it myself.
It’s been switched over to the other door sir, Stevie said, Near the butchery.
Oh right, I see, Mr Patel said, Thank you sir.
No bother at all.
He walked in 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 onto the price of every crate.
Where the fuck have you been? Jim shouted right in my ear.
I saw the baldy head of Peter, the security guard, coming in the kiosk door. He saw us, dropped his bag and ran over.
I was out on my break wasn’t I.
Good timing, Stevie said. Look at my fucking face.
Jesus, Peter said. What happened? He looked down 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 be told 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 you wouldn’t believe how vicious they get. Took me ten minutes to restrain a junkie once. Just a wee fella he was, but he was mad wi 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 it.
Coffee? You’re going to the slammer for some coffee granules? Ya daft cow. What, 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. He was breathing heavy. Let’s put 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.
You fucking bastards, she said, Fucking bastards.
Jim and Peter pulled her arms back. I noticed Stevie had wrapped his tie around his hand and then he hit her with it, clubbing his arm off the side of her head. I stepped right in front of the door so nobody could see in the glass panel.
The woman moved down into a sitting position.
So you can tell your junkie mates, Peter said, This is what you get if you try this shite in our fucking shop, alright? You understand?
I took a glance up and saw Stevie 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 went back through the door 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 me. 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 back into the aisles to find it.