We work in threes or fours, changing partners all the time. Sometimes I keep watch, other times I am the distraction, and now and again, when Beenie feels like trusting me, I get to be the bag man.
Today, I get the duffle bag, Beenie and Dave are on distraction duty, and Slim is our eyes. I’m focused and I’m buzzing, partly because of the rush you get when you are working and partly because Beenie has dished out the smarties to keep us sharp.
Today we are working Twelve Trees. It’s huge – two hundred and six stores all in one building and spread over three floors. Four entrances at street level and three to the car parks, means that we have a good chance of escape if the shit hits the fan.
It’s 10am and the first job of the day. We are in Milton’s Department store and about to hit the perfumes. Slim has eyeballed the security and we only have two to get past. It’s the usual routine, Beenie and Dave are going to cause trouble while I fill the bag and Slim keeps watch.
First things first. Slim picks out a nice baseball cap from a display, close to the perfumes. He wanders over to a cashier and pays for the cap, smiling and chatting with the girl as she removes the security tag. I am standing by the perfume displays, waving little smelly bits of paper under my nose as I circle the stands.
Slim wanders back to the baseball caps and waits at his station. He gives me a nod and turns to locate Beenie and Dave, who are standing nearby. They exchange the barest of glances, then Slim gives me a sneaky thumbs-up. Pay attention here, because now we are ready to go.
“Hey!” says Beenie in a loud voice, “those are my jeans!”
People are looking around to see what all the fuss is about and there is a slim woman in a jacket and skirt, watching them with a slight frown, which is a good thing, because it means she isn’t watching me.
“Your jeans?” yells Dave, “have you paid for them yet?” The woman is nodding to a tall guy in a blazer who is making his way over to my partners. This is Slim’s cue, and he doesn’t miss a beat. He takes the baseball cap out of the store bag and switches it for an identical one from the display. Now why would he do that? I bet you’re thinking, well, watch and learn boys, watch and learn.
Dave and Beenie have cranked it up a notch now and are pushing and shoving each other, arguing over the last pair of jeans in that size. Everybody and his mum are watching now,
waiting to see if their row is gonna turn into a fight. This means it’s my turn now, I yank open the chord on my duffle bag, take a quick look around to make sure no-one is looking at me, and start shovelling perfumes off the display and into my bag. Dior, Givenchy, and Calvin Klein go in, but none of your cheap crap. We have to knock them out at half price, so the cheap ones just won’t do.
Dave and Beenie are putting in an Oscar-worthy performance, and the two security bods are trying to keep them apart and calm things down. The perfume girls are watching the row and are totally oblivious to me, helping myself behind them. The bag is full now, maybe thirty perfumes in all, both men’s and women’s.
I yank the string tight, closing the bag and give Slim a nod, it’s crucial now that our timing is perfect. We both head towards the door, parallel, but not together. We pass Dave and Beenie who have to keep things going until we are out of the store and out of sight. At the entrance, there are two large, painted metal scanners, one on either side of the wide store opening.
We pass through them at exactly the same time, me on one side and Slim in the middle, in plain view. The alarm goes off, a piercing two-tone Klaxon that is impossible to ignore, but I keep walking. Slim doesn’t, he stands just outside the store in the middle of the mall looking as guilty as sin, clutching the brown paper store bag.
A uniformed mall security guy appears from somewhere, an oversized walky-talky in his hand and tells Slim to wait. Meanwhile, their job done, Dave and Beenie calm down, shake hands and leave the store. As the store security come out to talk to Slim, I can’t resist watching it all from the mall entrance.
Slim is producing the receipt for the cap. it’s all a big mistake, he says. The cashier forgot to remove the security tag, he says. Look, I have a receipt, he says. The Security staff are smiling now. Slim is smiling too, and over by the mall entrance, free and clear with our stash on my back, I am smiling too.