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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Checkout (06/09/11)

TITLE: Cash, Customers, and Crooks
By Patricia Protzman


The summer of 1966 was a memorable time in my life. I was dating a handsome young man from church, my youngest brother was born, and I landed a part-time cashier’s position at a large department store. I learned how to ring up purchases on the cash register, count back change to the customers, and handle returned merchandise. Most of the patrons were honest but some of them had less than honourable intentions.

From my perch at the cash register, I observed a teenage girl slip a bottle of nail polish and a tube of lipstick in her coat pocket. When she brought me a cheap pen to ring up, I asked her if she intended on paying for the items in her pocket. She giggled, placed the products on the counter and said, “Oh yeah, I want these, too.”

One evening in the woman’s department, I admitted an elderly female into a dressing room to try on three dresses. Stepping away from the register a minute to check on the price of a sweater for another customer, the door squeaked open. I glanced up to see the petite senior peek out then make a beeline for the front door lugging an overstuffed shopping bag.

I dropped the sweater, checked the room, and ran after her. “Ma’m, please wait.”

“Yes …?" She asked innocently.

“Where are the three dresses you took into the dressing room?”

“Oh!” She gasped. “I’m so glad you reminded me. I put them in my bag and meant to pay for them but I’m afraid I forgot.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” I replied, escorting her to the checkout counter. Later, the supervisor said she had tried this same scheme once before.

On a hot, July afternoon at closing time I waited on the last three customers. An ominous-looking man approached the counter wearing a black, hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses. As he handed me a folded piece of paper, I noticed a large, jagged scar on his right thumb. The note read, Put the money in a bag and give it to me. This is not a joke.

“Move!” He snarled, pointing a gun at me from his sweatshirt pocket

With trembling hands, I opened the cash register drawer and stuffed the greenbacks into a paper bag. The robber grabbed the bag and sprinted toward the exit. I stepped on a floor button to lock the door and ran toward the front of the store yelling, “I’ve been robbed, someone call the police.”

Two policemen, who often dropped by at closing time, were talking to another cashier.

“I was robbed.” I panted, pointing to the back. “The door is locked . . . he’s still in the building . . . he has a gun.”

The officers instructed me and the other employees to get down on the floor and stay there until they returned. With their revolvers drawn, they headed toward the rear of the store.

In minutes, I heard voices and scuffling. Footsteps approached our huddled group.

“We found this person hiding in the shoe room with a bag of money but no gun. He denies having one. Can you identify him as the robber, Miss?”

I faced a brown-haired, blue-eyed man who returned my stare. “I think so. He was wearing sunglasses and a black hooded sweatshirt.”

Then I remembered the scar on his hand.

“Let me see his right thumb.”

The officers swung the handcuffed man around. The scar was in plain sight.

“Yes, he’s the one.”

The older officer took my report, commenting on how smart I was to lock the door. The younger man transported the crook to the police station.

Before I left that afternoon, the store’s general manager arrived. During my conversation with him, he questioned me on the robber’s age.

“He was middle aged, about 28.” I replied.

The manager almost fell out of his chair laughing. What is so funny? I wondered. When I turned 28 years old eleven years later, I understood why he had laughed.

In September, I returned to high school as a senior. My goal of attending business school following graduation never came to fruition. God had other plans for me. I married the handsome young man, birthed three children, and graduated as a registered nurse in 1977. My brief experience as a cashier 45 years ago left me with priceless life skills that I have applied in my roles as wife, mother, and nurse.


Based on a true story.

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This article has been read 314 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Cheryl von Drehle06/17/11
nicely written slice of life story. It is always fun to revisit memories (of our own or others) and see how they have impacted our lives. Good job.
Laury Hubrich 06/18/11
I'm impressed how quick thinking on your feet you were as the story went on:) Great skills for a nurse, mother, and wife, for sure! Love this story - and I like how it turned out to be a love story and true at that! Ahhhhh SWEET!
Beth LaBuff 06/18/11
I was amused at the 28 - middle-aged line too. But I know I felt that way when I was in my teens. (quite a few decades ago). :) I also worked in a department store, with similar experiences. (except for the gun-point one :) ) You've made this completely engaging and your title is perfect!
Leola Ogle 06/18/11
A cops & robbers, adventure, and love story all rolled into one. I loved it. Good writing! Keep it up! God bless!
Noel Mitaxa 06/19/11
Very well-written, at least that's what my geriatric 62 year old brain thinks.
Linda Goergen06/20/11
I really enjoyed this read…I agree with Laury, I too was impressed at such quick and wise thinking at an early age! I like the little bit of love story thrown in too! This sneak-peek/ slice of life was entertaining and left me with a smile!
Edmond Ng 06/22/11
An interesting read!