Sally Hardaway loved to shop. From delicate pewter figurines to the latest fashions in clothing, acquiring new things was her life. There was one thing Sally loved shopping for above all else: women who were careless with their credit cards.
Everything Sally wore, and most of the nice things in her apartment, had been purchased with stolen cards. She didn’t think of it as stealing, really. It was more like a hobby for her. One item per card, and then the plastic went into the nearest trash can.
Sally eyed the crowd of customers carefully on a busy Saturday, searching the mass of humanity for just the right victim. Huge red banners hung from the ceiling of the store, blaring the word ‘Sale’ from above. Bins of merchandise were surrounded by hordes of wild buyers. The crowds reminded her of a public television special she had seen the night before on sharks caught up in a feeding frenzy.
A tall, heavyset woman in her early fifties pulled herself from the mass of shoppers around one bin, holding a gaudy, gold handbag high above her head like a prized trophy. Sally watched closely as the woman approached a nearby sales desk with her credit card extended outward like a supplication to the gods. It took her five minutes to attract one of the sales people’s attention, and another five to complete the transaction. Sally watched the credit card closely, seeing the woman slip the plastic haphazardly into the front pocket of her coat.
Swiftly, silently, she made her way through the crowds until she matched the woman’s pace step for step. One bump later, and Sally felt the cold, sharp edges of the woman’s credit card in her closed hand. She walked out into the brisk afternoon air feeling light on her feet. The card snatches always gave her a pleasant jolt.
Sally fought the urge to look at the cardholder’s name until she was safely out of the store. Two blocks away, there was a jewelry store she had always wanted to go into, but had never had a card at the right time to make a purchase. Sally never used a stolen card at the same store twice, a precaution she felt well worth the trouble it took to come up with new shopping prospects.
She glanced at the card. Bernice Etheridge.
God, where did people get their names. She looked at the back of the card, and saw that Bernice’s signature was a hasty scrawl in blue ink. Ducking into a convenient donut shop, she used the time it took the waitress to bring her a fresh donut and some coffee to practice the signature in a book she carried for just that purpose.
Sally quickly leafed through the previous entries, remembering each purchase the individual cards had brought her. She knew the book would be rather incriminating if she ever got caught, but Sally couldn’t bring herself to throw it away.
Bernice Etheridge. Bernice Etheridge. Bernice Etheridge.
After three tries, Sally could sign the woman’s name better than she could herself. The sweet topping of the glazed donut smelled like ambrosia to her as she ate. She thought about what bauble she would purchase with the card. Something nice, maybe a braided gold chain. Sally reminded herself that the purchase would have to be under the limit for the shopkeeper to check the card’s authenticity. She was careful, a fact that had kept her above suspicion since she had started playing the game eighteen months ago.
Sally walked out of the diner with a jaunty step. Once inside the jewelry store, she quickly made her purchase, a fine gold chain that would match her gold-knot earrings perfectly. She handed the credit card to the sales lady, and waited impatiently for the woman to return from the back with her receipt and purchase. After two minutes, Sally suspected that somehow, she had been found out. She abruptly pivoted away from the counter and hurried out into the street. Straight into the arms of a large, heavyset man.
“Let me go. Who do you think you are?”
He squeezed her arm tightly. “Back in the store, miss.”
She tried to fight him, but couldn’t manage to break his grip. Once inside, the man called out to the sales clerk, “It’s all right, Elizabeth, I’ve got her. Call the police, will you?”
Sally tried to fight the shaking sobs that threatened to escape. “Why are you calling the police? I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ll sue you for false arrest if you don’t release me this instant.”
The man just grinned down at her, still gripping her arm. “You picked the wrong store to shop in today, lady.”
Sally felt her face flush. “I didn’t shoplift anything. I promise you.”
The man just shook his head. “Oh, you’ve acted like a real angel in here. But next time you try something like this, look closer at the store name.”
Sally looked up at the sign over the door and felt her knees go weak. She managed to cipher out the backward letters until she could read the name: Etheridge Jewelers.