Ralph slipped through the heavy wooden door and stepped inside the spacious central gallery. Glancing up and to the left, he confirmed that the light on the surveillance camera was still off. Neither was there any sign of a security guard, whether uniformed or undercover. The book store was simply begging to be robbed.
One thing that concerned him was the absence of cash. Four checkout desks dominated one end of the main room. The odd person handed over a few coins or the occasional banknote, but the overwhelming majority of people paid only with plastic. Ralph watched as a tall redhead strolled nonchalantly up to one of the desks, handed over her book and waited while the girl behind the till swiped her card and printed out a receipt. Then, without even waiting for a plastic bag, she walked straight through the front door and out into the street.
The previous afternoon, while sipping an overpriced espresso in the store's pitiful excuse for a café, Ralph had discovered that the premises were not entirely unprotected. As an elderly man stepped between the two pillars by the entrance, a piercing screech arrested everyone's attention and sent one of the attendants scurrying after the mortified culprit. To Ralph's surprise, the man was barely chastised for his infraction. The girl merely accompanied him to the desk and waited while the elderly gent fished out his wallet and handed over a card.
Ralph's first thought on encountering the slack security in the store was to pilfer the more expensive books, lifting a few at a time and selling them cheap to other establishments. But the magnetic sensors by the main door had made him rethink that strategy. He decided instead to hold up the store at gunpoint, take whatever cash was available, and fill his rucksack with books. Moreover, with a false moustache and tinted sunglasses, no one was likely to recognise him. It was in many ways the perfect crime.
"This is a stick-up! Put your hands where I can see them."
The look of bewilderment on the clerks' faces was so perfect, Ralph wished he had a camera.
"Open the tills and put all the money in this bag."
Confused, terrified, the three younger woman stared at the portly matron who was evidently their supervisor. In a show of vexed frustration, the middle-aged woman picked up a metal cash box from the desk and dropped it noisily onto Ralph's open bag.
"Take all you want," she growled. "Can't be more than three pounds fifty in there."
Ralph of course didn't believe her. He threw back the lid and looked in horror at the miserable takings. Such a pittance would barely pay for his bus fare home.
"How do you people make any money?" he asked. Then, before anyone had a chance to reply, he pointed at a nearby book rack and demanded, "Hey you, with the hideous earrings and the fake tan, fill this bag with those books."
With a snort, the matron stopped her. "May I," she insisted, "see your library card? In any case you are not allowed to take more than nine books at a time."
"My card? I... I don't have one."
"Then fill out this form and I shall issue you one."
Shifting the pistol to his left hand, Ralph accepted the offered pen and reluctantly began to fill in his details. Being a canny crook, he gave a made-up name and address, but he was taken by surprise when the woman demanded some form of photo id.
"Thank you, sir. You may now help yourself to any nine books of your choice."
"You mean that I can take the books home with me? I don't even have to pay for them?"
"Indeed so. That is a benefit of bring a member of the city library. Now, if you would just let me swipe those books, you can be on your way."
Five minutes later, Ralph walked out the door with a rucksack full of the biggest books he had been able to lay his hands on. He had even sneaked an extra three volumes that Attila the Hun hadn't noticed.
Inside, the girl with the earrings looked in awe at the senior librarian.
"Sheila, you're not going to let him get away with that, are you?"
"Certainly not," she replied primly. "Dial 9-9-9 and ask for the police. Our young buccaneer was so delighted with his plunder, he forgot to ask for his driving licence back."
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