I hope everyone had a good week. Mine was great! I attended the Crowder Quill awards ceremony on Tuesday evening and discovered I won an Honorable Mention with my short story “Clean Heist.” While I’m honored with my award, the fact the college’s theatre department turned my story into a play is worth more to me than any certificate or ranking could ever be. Those young actors did a marvelous job with my story, and I’ll never forget the magical experience. My family and I enjoyed my play and the others presented that night so much that we’re still talking about it.
“Clean Heist” was published in the 2021 Crowder Quill, which is available on the college campus. I expect the magazine to be available online at some point in the future, but I don’t know that for sure. If you have a chance to look at the magazine, I highly recommend you do so. It’s full of wonderful stories, poems, nonfiction, and art. I think seeing all of the art is my favorite part of the book. Such talent is represented between the covers of the publication that it takes my breath away.
I originally wrote “Clean Heist” for a contest held by my Sleuths’ Ink Mystery Writers Group last year when I was home from work due to our company shutdown. I think we can all relate to this story on one level or another given what we’ve lived through during the past year. It’s one of my favorite stories I’ve written to date, and I’d like to share it with you today. Please enjoy “Clean Heist” with my good wishes. I hope it brings you a smile or two.
By Margarite R. Stever
Monica pushed her buggy down the aisle of the big box store and searched for canned goods on the sparsely stocked shelves. The pandemic had gone to people’s heads, and there was hardly any food left at the store. She sighed as she reached for the last can of green beans, still there because it was hidden behind the hominy.
She studied her nearly empty buggy. Unable to find toilet paper, paper towels, or hand sanitizer, she’d be forced to make another stop. She smiled at the generic laundry soap she’d scored. A few weeks ago, she wouldn’t have even noticed it. Things had changed, and she was grateful to have snagged it from the almost empty aisle.
After paying for her meager purchases, she drove to the next store. She was about to open the door of her minivan when a news story on the radio caught her attention. Someone had been breaking into tractor trailers and stealing supplies. Another truck had been hit the night before, and authorities were looking for a blond white male in his thirties driving a blue Chevy minivan. No license plate number was available.
Hair standing up on the back of her neck, she started her vehicle and drove home. She frowned at an unfamiliar old Honda parked in the street in front of her house. She looked around, but she didn’t see anyone. Careful to be as quiet as possible, she took her groceries inside.
Voices carried through the floor vents from downstairs, drawing her attention. “I can’t let you have it for less than fifty, dude. This is choice product right here.” He laughed before continuing. “I guarantee you won’t find this high-quality product anywhere else right now.”
Suspicion darkening her thoughts, Monica crept down the stairs to the game room and peered around the corner. Her boyfriend, Greg, stood with a man in rumpled sweatpants and an air of desperation in front of a huge stack of boxes. She squinted, trying to read the markings from her vantage point.
She felt dizzy as the letters became clear. The largest cache of Purell Hand Sanitizer she’d ever seen was taking up nearly half of her basement game room. Shaking her head to clear it, she marched into the room.
“Greg, who’s your friend?” She leveled her best glare at the man she loved.
“Monica.” He looked around, focusing on anything but her face. “I didn’t know you were home.”
“Obviously.” She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes further.
Their nervous guest cleared his throat. “Listen, I don’t need any trouble. I have five kids. I can’t find this stuff anywhere. I need it, man. Have you ever tried to keep a toddler’s hands clean?”
Greg straightened his shoulders. “Fifty dollars a case. Take it or leave it.”
Before Monica could say a word, the man thrust a wad of cash into her boyfriend’s hand and dashed out the basement door to the back yard, clutching a case of Purell.
Greg slid the money into his pocket and turned to her. “I’m doing business here. You’re always bugging me to get a job and help with bills. Well, this is my part-time job.”
“Where did you get all this hand sanitizer? And why?”
He avoided her gaze. “It’s a business opportunity. That’s all.”
“Where did you get the money to pay for it?” She studied him. “You did pay for it, right?” When he didn’t respond, she pressed. “Please tell me you didn’t steal a bunch of Purell.”
He laughed long and loud, his eyes wide with a crazed gleam. “It was a clean heist. I saw a Target truck in the lot with nobody in it. The trailer lock wasn’t very good. It opened easy. I had to hurry, so I only swiped the good stuff. It didn’t take any time at all to load it in the van. I was gone before anybody even knew I was there.”
“You did what?” She clenched her fists to keep from throttling him.
“Babe, Target’s insured. They won’t be out anything. I saw an opportunity to make some money and took it. You should be proud.”
She shook her head, trembling in fury. “You stole something that people desperately need from a truck heading to a store where people buy supplies. You think I should be proud? You used my minivan? My house? Oh, no. This stops now.”
She fished her cell phone from her back pocket and dialed the police. Greg shoved her to the floor and ran outside as the dispatcher answered.
“I’ve found the guy stealing stuff from big trucks. I have a whole bunch of the stolen property in my house. You should send someone over before he comes back.” Choking back a sob, she told them where she lived and to have the officer come to the basement door.
Monica opened the door after a firm knock. “Good afternoon. I’m Officer Black, and this is Officer Sutton. I understand you have something you’d like to show us.”
Wiping a tear from her face, she pointed to the Purell. “My boyfriend just told me he stole this stuff from a Target truck last night. It’s probably not his first time, either. He used my van to do it, too.”
Officer Black took her statement while his partner searched the house. His radio crackled, and they heard Officer Sutton announce he’d located the suspect hiding in a closet and taken him into custody.
“It looks like he snuck back into the house and was waiting for us to leave. Good thing we got here when we did.” Officer Black flipped his notebook closed and slid it into his shirt pocket with his pen. “My partner has Greg secured in the car. He’ll stay there with him. We’ll send someone to collect the Purell soon. It’s evidence.”
She nodded, feeling hollow inside.
“Do you plan to continue to allow him to reside here?”
“No,” she whispered. “I can’t trust him.”
“You should change your locks as soon as possible.” He patted her shoulder. “Calling us took courage. It was the right thing to do. Try to take comfort in that.”
Nodding, she walked him to the door and locked it behind him.
Staring at the boxes of stolen goods, she asked the universe, “Why in the world didn’t he steal toilet paper instead? Risking jail time for that makes much more sense.”
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