Monday, August 22, 2011

Beach Tale: "Show Me the Money", a self-sleuthing short story

            I’d taken the introductory class in Forensic Accounting at the local university, not because I was looking for a career switch, but because I thought it would help me add an element of expertise to the suspense novel I was secretly writing.  When Uncle Bud had problems at The Beach Buggy, his gas station/convenience store, he called me for professional advice and I jumped at the chance to put my new skills to work. 
            “Dory, honey,” Uncle Bud said. “I can’t figure it out.  Just about every day, the cash in the drawer is about a hundred dollars less than it should be, according to the daily sales reports.  Someone is stealing from me.  I’ve added an extra person to the shift to keep an eye on things, and have even made employees lock their purses and wallets in their cars then I made them empty their pockets at the end of their shift.  Nobody is carrying cash out of the station. I hope you can help me figure out not only who is stealing, but how they manage to do it.”
            I hoped I could figure it out, too.  Uncle Bud and Aunt Lucy were good people who were struggling financially after a bad car accident left Aunt Lucy unable to work.  They couldn’t afford to lose $3,000 a month.           
            That night I went to their house and we went over the books, looking at them from every angle, creating spreadsheets to analyze the data to see if we could spot trends, maybe isolate an employee who worked every day the drawer came up short.  Then we watched security tapes until our vision blurred.  Guess what we came up with?  A great big fat nothing.
            “I have an idea,” I offered.  “How about I take your inventory next week and I’ll watch what’s going on and see if I can figure out how somebody is stealing from you.” 
            Uncle Bud agreed. 
            First thing Monday morning I set myself up to count the inventory of The Beach Buggy’s beach necessitates, which gave me a clear view of the raised platform where the cashiers stood.  I sorted through suntan lotions and beach towles while customers clad in little more than beach cover ups and flip flops came and went in a steady stream. Needless to say, there were a lot of distractions, but I did my best to keep an eagle eye on the employees and the gas pumps. 
            “Give me five dolla’s worth,” an elderly man with stained yellow teeth asked, sliding a dog-eared five-dollar bill across the counter.
            “That won’t get you more than a gallon,” Timmy, the cashier, said.
            “Ain’t that the truth!  But I only need to get to the dialysis place and back.  I don’t run all over creation like I used to.”
            The man went out to pump his gas and Timmy logged the sale in the computer terminal, tucked the money in the cash drawer and set the pump to cut off when it reached the sales limit.
            As the day went on, I concluded most people paid for their gas at the pump with a credit card.  Only a few came in to pay cash, mostly elderly people.  And when they paid cash, it was often only $5 worth, a sad reflection on the tough economy. 
            By the end of the day, my back ached, my feet hurt and my eyes were tired from staring at the tiny print on the inventory sheet.  I was no closer to figuring out how someone could steal from Uncle Bud.  Prepared to admit defeat, I gathered my things.  As I stood on the platform next to Timmy, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the elderly woman toddling back to her large, gas-guzzling vehicle.  She, too, had only purchased $5 worth, just enough to get her to visit her husband’s grave, since today was his birthday.  He would have been eighty-three. 
            I continued to watch her while until she got in the car and drove off.   It took me a moment to process what I’d seen, and as I did, I realized how Timmy was taking Uncle Bud for a ride. 
           Can you figure it out?  Click read more to see the solution. 
Solution:  When Dory watched the elderly lady pump her gas, she thought it took an awfully long time to pump what amounted to a little more than one gallon.  Dory figured out Timmy had taken the $5 but had entered $50 as the pump cutoff point, enabling the woman to get more gas than she paid for.  Once the suspicions were turned over to the police, they discovered three of the employees had sold the “Fifty-for-Five” program to members of the retirement center across the street.  For $20 a month, the customers could get $50 worth of gas for only $5 every time they stopped by The Beach Buggy and paid for their gas with a $5 bill, the top right corner of which had been folded down.     

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I figure out the solution; sometimes I don't. This was one of those times I had to read the solution. I really though this was a clever little scam.

Where did you learn all these scams? If you made them up all by yourself, I'm wowed.