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David A. Schwinghammer

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Books by David A. Schwinghammer
Turning Forty
By David A. Schwinghammer
Posted: Monday, December 21, 2009
Last edited: Tuesday, July 24, 2012
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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Recent stories by David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Little Crow
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter One
· Black and White and Red All over
· Calliope's Revenge
· All the Good Stories Are Taken
· Mengele's Double, Chapter 9
           >> View all 71
A woman shoplifts a John Grisham novel by mistake and is grilled by a store detective.

Turning Forty

When Amy Lee left the drugstore, she felt a hand clutch her elbow. “Could you come with me, Miss,” a gravelly voice announced. Amy Lee turned to look up at a man who could have portrayed a thug on the Sopranos, and then she realized what she must have done and she felt the blood rush to her face and scald like the times she’d put her hands in hot dish water.
She followed him through the revolving doors and down the aisle, past the cash registers, every eye seeming to dissect her figure. Flat chested, child-bearing hips, a mole on her chin that looked like a mole, rather than a beauty mark. She tried to shrink down into her clothes as she shuffled along, being led like a dog on a leash. What had she taken? She had a lot on her mind recently, what with her mother’s illness and turning forty, she couldn’t seem to focus on anything.
“May I have your purse?” the gravelly voiced man said.
“Certainly,” she said. “What is it? Do you think I stole something?”
He led her into an office, not more than a closet actually. A small desk, a computer, a telephone, a squat file cabinet with two drawers.
The man pulled out a chair for her, then sat on the edge of the desk. He was really a quite ordinary looking man, not a mafia henchman after all. Grey, double-breasted suit. Grey hair, parted in the middle. He was maybe fifty.
“You forgot to pay for this,” he said, showing her the copy of the latest John Grisham novel, clearing marked as belonging to the store.
“Look, sir. This is a big mistake.”
“That’s what they all say, lady.”
“But I’ll pay for it.”
“You had your chance, before you waltzed past the checkout counter.”
“I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m a church-goer. I believe stealing is a sin. I’ll pay you more than what the book is worth. If you’ll just let me go.”
He scowled. “That would be a bribe, ma’am.” With that he reached over and turned on the computer, then found her billfold in her purse, where her drivers’ license was clearly visible, and punched in her name. “Amy Lee Fortune,” he said. “It’s going to be your bad fortune if you have a record.”
“I haven’t. I swear,” she said in a voice that sounded as though she’d just taken a breath of helium.
A list of names appeared on the screen, white against green, and the man ran a finger down the list. “You lucked out, lady,” he said. “Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m sure you must realize that we can’t just forget about this. What you need to do is to convince me that this was a one-time only type thing and that it will never happen again. He got up off of the edge of the desk, pulled up a straight-backed chair and they sat knee-to-keen. “Go ahead, shoot.”
She didn’t know what to say. She’d never been the complaining type. If she got a parking ticket, she paid it. If a store clerk gave her incorrect change, she never said anything. If a man broke up with her, she figured it was all for the best. She never even asked why if he didn’t offer a reason. “What do you mean?” she said.
“Tell me how you think this happened.”
“I was looking for something to read. And then I remembered I left the water sprinklers on. You know the price of water in the city is outrageous. I guess I forgot to put it back. I like Grisham, don’t you?”
“He the one wrote that movie with Julia Roberts in it?”
“I don’t think he’s a screen writer.”
“Oh, I don’t read much. Fall asleep when I try. Anyways, you’re gonna have to do better than that. Anything else weighing on your mind?”
She didn’t want to tell him about her dying mother. Probably dying mother. It was none of his business. She didn’t want to tell him she’d been sad because she’d just turned forty and had no prospects of ever getting married. And so she lied. “I . . . I
haven’t been sleeping very well lately.”
He lit a cigarette, offered her one. She’d never smoked before, but she took it. He lit it, she drew on it and blew out without inhaling as she’d seen some of the girls do at the office. “Gonna have to do better than that,” he said. “I’m running out of patience.”
Who was this guy, the Grand Inquisitor? “Okay, if you must know, I just turned forty and it’s been really, really bothering me. There, if you’ll check my license, you’ll see. I’m sure that sort of thing doesn’t bother you men, but with us . . .”
He inspected the plastic card, squinting just a bit. “Hey, you’re right, you did just turn the big four-oh. You’re wrong about us guys, though. We’re just as vain as you dames. See this hair? It’s a wig. I’d take it off for you, but it would take me an hour to get it back on.”
She looked up at him. It really was a hair piece. She could see it now. She’d hadn’t noticed before because she never really looked at anyone. She tried to imagine what he must look like bald and decided he’d still be handsome. “It looks nice,” she said.
“You think so?” he said. “Look, if you’ll pay for the book, we can forget about this. I’ve been a store detective for thirty years and I fancy myself a pretty good judge of character.”
On her way out of the store, she let out an audible sigh of relief, and on the way home, she ran a stop sign and almost hit a parked car. Her hands would not stop shaking, and to top things off, she had left the water sprinklers on!
That night around news time a bouquet of roses arrived, signed “Cliff”. She didn’t know any Cliff. The next day she got a box of candy, also from Cliff, and the day after that he called.
“This is Cliff,” he said. “You really liked the wig, huh?” 

Dave Schwinghammer's novel, SOLDIER'S GAP, is available on 

Web Site: Mystery Writer  

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