Monday, July 25, 2011

Beach Tale: "A Thief Amongst Us" a self-sleuthing short story

          Sand soccer.  Summer doesn’t get any better than that, with teams of three field players (no goalies) running and kicking the ball through the rutted sand while parents cheered wildly from the sidelines.  It was a whole different game than that played on the pitch where the ball would roll across the sloping field.  In sand soccer, you had to lift the ball into the air and send it towards the goal, then struggle after it, the soft, rutted sand giving very little purchase.  It was hard work, and not just for players, but spectators too.  Everyone sweated under the hot, midday sun.  But the advantage sand soccer had over traditional was the venue.  The Atlantic Ocean crashed just yards from where the kids played.     
          We had 100 teams from 15 states in attendance, all of them hot and sweaty and whiney and hungry and flocking to the concession stands, where it was my job to keep everyone happy.  Only with three volunteers MIA (word is they couldn’t find parking anywhere within 10 miles), we were short staffed.  With eleven us working in a stifling hot 20x20 tent, we were also short-tempered.
          I had six volunteers taking orders and handling the cash drawers, and four more volunteers manning the food stations, handing up the hot dogs, cold wraps, fresh fruit, water, sports drinks and the ever popular lemon ices as the orders were called back.  The frenetic activity could be described as pandemonium.  As volunteer coordinator (a thankless task, to be sure) there was no other option than for me to roll up the sleeves of my beach cover up and help out. 
          Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that my position as league board member puts me above grilling hotdogs or digging wraps out of the cooler until I’m ready to keel over from heat exhaustion, but I was supposed to be observing today. You see, over the past few months of running concessions at the field, the cash deposit at the end of the day had sometimes been short. Hundreds of dollars short. The sad truth was, someone was stealing from the soccer league concession stand, and I was determined to collar the thief.   I figured someone was stuffing cash into their pockets, and my plan had been to observe the suspects today. 
          By virtue of an intricate spreadsheet prepared by my 4th-grade daughter, I’d been able to cross reference which volunteers had worked on all of the occasions that money had been missing. I had narrowed the pool down to four regular volunteers. Three of them were volunteering this shift. The fourth was enjoying a spur-of-the-moment vacation to the Bahamas.
          “Changing a hundred,” Gemma Anderson called from cash drawer one. It was the policy to announce whenever big bills were coming in so that the supervisor--today that would be me--would know to check the cash drawer for sufficient change. On a slow day, the purchase of a $2 hot dog with a $100 bill could really put the drain on the cash supply. With the lines currently 10 people deep, making change for a Benjamin was the least of my worries.
          “Seven hot dogs and four lemon ices on three,” Kelli Jones called from her position at the table. She’d graduated from Beach High last year but had yet to find a full-time job. She’d recently joined the ranks of the concession volunteers to keep herself busy. It hadn’t escaped my notice the money started disappearing shortly after that. But her outfit of yellow polka dot bikini and crocheted cover up, I don’t see how she’d sneak fistfuls of dollars out of the stand without someone noticing.
           “Two turkey wraps and two apples,” Gemma called again, her voice rising above the cacophony in the concession tent. This boisterous woman was Celia Anderson’s grandmother, a high-energy woman who didn’t look a day over 40. Rumor has it she was actually 72. Her husband had recently passed away and Gemma volunteered for every concession opportunity as a way to keep connected with other people. I couldn’t run the place without her. But I couldn’t rule her out of the suspect’s pool, either. Her husband had let his life insurance policy lapse.
          “We’re out of ketchup,” Dan Meriwether called. I abandoned my post long enough to grab two bottles from the supply cooler, remove their foil liner, and slap them on the table for the customers to use. Dan smiled his thanks, the corners of his eyes showing lines that I hadn’t noticed before. Since he’d been laid off from his management position at a local retail company last year, he’d thrown himself into his children’s lives. Not only was he the soccer league VP, but he also coached two youth sports team per season and volunteered at the food bank every Friday. He was generous with his time, and used to be equally generous with his money. I’d heard he was now a regular customer at the food bank where he volunteered.
          We kept up the frenetic pace until four o’clock that afternoon, at which point I asked all the volunteers to empty their pockets before they left. No hidden wads of cash. So if everything balanced, that would point the guilty finger towards the Bahamas-bound Anna Davidson.
          I took custody of the three cash drawers. Armed with tally sheets of the day’s sales and summary of food stuffs left (not much, it had been a very good day), I snuck off to the league-rented d hotel room just a few steps off the boardwalk.  I wanted to prepare the bank deposit myself. The hotel’s air conditioning was an added bonus.
          I checked, and then double checked then triple checked the deposits.  We were more than $400 dollars short from the calculated $9,500 income.  As I glanced at the stacks of cash spread out on the bed, I realized who the thief amongst us was.   And if you were paying attention, you probably know, too. 
          To see who the thief was, click on the “read more”

SOLUTION: Gemma Anderson stole the money. Four times she’d called out “Changing a hundred,” and yet there were no $100 bills in the cash collected. Her modus operandi was to take a $20 from someone she knew then give back change for a hundred. Nobody would question wads of money being passed to a friend, and Gemma wasn’t carrying any of the cash out herself.

3 comments: said...

Very good. You stumped me. I enjoyed reading this.

Nina Pierce said...

I haven't looked yet, but it was Dan and the ketchup. He stashed the money there. That's my guess.

Nina Pierce said...

Well bummer, I didn't get that. *sigh* Guess I'll have to try again on your next mystery. I love reading them.