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archive:stories:bookem3
                        B O O K   E M
                      Volume 1  Number 3
    Author: Caroline Kent    E-mail: release@ix.netcom.com
  Copyright (c) 1995 by Caroline Kent. All Rights Reserved.
   "Shhh!  Be very quiet.  Now listen . . . what DON'T you

hear?" One can hear the gentle rustling of pages turning, whispered voices discussing the content of books, a muffled cough, and soft footsteps pattering throughout the store.

   "Hear it?  You don't, do you?  There is no screaming,

shouting, whining, or crying. No one is running, jumping, racing or playing tag in the aisles. There is no one, absolutely no one in this store under the age of 18. Ding, dong the kids are gone. The noisy kids, the you-can't-get-rid-of-them kids . . . "

   "Excuse me," interrupts a customer. "Could you keep your

voice down? This IS a bookstore, you know."

   "I'm sorry," I reply with a smile. "I was just remarking how

lovely the atmosphere was in here since the children went back to school." I begin humming my little ditty again.

   "It appears that not all the CHILDREN are gone," he remarks

sarcastically as he saunters off.

   I wiggle my finger at him.  "Not even you can spoil my mood 

oh-crabby-customer." I pick up a copy of "Curious George Goes to School" and flip through the pages.

   "Right now, all of the little tykes are seated at their

desks with one eye on the teacher and the other on the clock." I glance at my watch. "Tsk, tsk," I giggle. "They've got at least two hours to go. By that time, my shift will be over and I'll leave the bookstore without having the pleasure of hearing one ear piercing, bloodcurdling scream today. Darn! I don't know how I am going to survive . . . "

   "HI!"
   The sound of a CHILD'S voice scares me, causing me to bump

into the life-size, inflated tyrannosaurus rex standing next to me. "What was that?" I glance quickly in both directions, hoping it was just a figment of my imagination.

   "What's your name?"  asks the voice, closer this time.  I

feel a tug on my apron.

   I close my eyes and say a prayer. "No, no, please let it be

just a bad dream. Maybe it's just a 30-year-old midget." Slowly, I open my eyes and see my worst nightmare in the shape of a six-year-old boy.

   Quickly I shut my eyes again.  "You're not real.  I'm

hallucinating. I've been working too hard. The pressure is getting to me. When I open my eyes again, you'll be gone." I open my eyes and see "Freddy" eyeing the inflated dinosaur. "Is that a real dinosaur?" he asks heading toward the prop which is part of the promotion for Michael Crighton's new book "The Lost World," the sequel to "Jurassic Park."

   I throw myself in front of the dinosaur and try to distract

the beast . . . that is, the child not the dinosaur.

   "Dinosaur?  What dinosaur?  Dinosaurs are extinct, you know. 

We have quite a lovely selection of books on dinosaurs that will explain exactly how it happened. Let me show you where they are." I start to physically drag the child away from the display.

   "Can I ride him?"
   "Can you ride . . . no, you most certainly cannot! This is

not a toy . . . hey, get down off of there!"

   "Wheeee! Faster, faster!"  He kicks his heels into the side

of the dinosaur.

   "You're going to break him," I admonish trying to pull the

boy off the dinosaur's back. "Where's your mother? If you were my kid, I'd put you over my knee and . . . "

   "Is Richard bothering you?"  
   I turn and see a petite, blonde woman standing with her

hands on her hips.

   She shakes her head. "Boys will be boys. Come on Richard,

it's time to go."

   "But mom!"
   "No but's.  I think you're upsetting this nice young lady."
   I smile at the lady while silently reviewing my knowledge of

curse words.

   "Oh, ok," Richard climbs off of the dinosaur but not before

giving him a final kick. Air begins to hiss out of dino's right side and slowly he starts to shrink.

   As I futilely begin blowing air back into the dinosaur, all

memory of "the customer is always right" disappears.

   "What's the matter with parents today?" I scream while

sealing the fifty minute holes with tape. "Kids today have no respect for the property of others. If I had done this when I was a child, I'd have been taken behind the barn for a switching. In my day, it wasn't called child abuse. It was good old-fashioned discipline. That's exactly what your child needs." I grab the closest tool that I can find which happens to be a yardstick.

   "Where did he go?" I snarl, with hatred in my eyes.  
   The boy is hiding behind his mother who is desperately

trying to calm me down.

   "Please, don't hurt him.  He's just a little boy.  I'll pay

you for any damages." She opens her purse and pulls out a twenty.

   Taking a deep breath, I consider whether I would get more

satisfaction out of taking the money or beating the child. Just as I am about to accept the payment, the delinquent peers around his mother and sticks his tongue out at me.

   "I  got you now, you . . . you . . . CHILD!" I grab him,

flip him over my knee, and prepare to spank him.

   "Excuse me, Caroline." Bettina, our newest recruit taps me

on the shoulder.

   "Not now, Bettina.  Can't you see that I'm busy?" I raise my

hand again and aim for the target.

   "Guess what I did?" Bettina continues, as if I hadn't

spoken. "Guess, guess, guess?"

   I pause and look at Bettina.  Richard squirms off of my lap

and he and his mother make a bee-line for the door.

   "Damn," I curse and give Bettina a look that could kill. "He

got away." I shrug my shoulders. "He's lucky this time. But if he ever shows his face in this town, er, bookstore again . . ."

   "You still didn't guess," Bettina interrupts.
   "OK!" I say, turning my attention to Bettina.  "What did you

do? Or should I be afraid to ask?"

   "I snuffed her out," Bettina says with a smile.  
   "You snuffed her out," I repeat with a shake of my head. "Am

I supposed to understand what the HECK you are talking about?"

   "The secret shopper," Bettina explains. "She may have looked

like an ordinary customer but I was on to her when she paid for her $10.00 book, gave me a hundred and told me to keep the change. Can't pull one over on ole Betty. No siree."

   I glance around the store. "I didn't see anyone in here but

that woman and her tyrannical tot."

   "Wasn't he just adorable?" Bettina sighs. "As soon as I

found out that he belonged to the shopper, I gave him a big lollipop and told him he could eat it in the store and . . . "

   "Stop," I interrupt. "Go back. What did you just say?"
   Bettina thinks for a moment.  "I said that he could eat it

in the store and . . . "

   "No, no, no," I yell. "Before that."
   "Oh, you mean the part about him being the secret shopper's

son? Wasn't he cute?"

   I leave Bettina rambling about the sweet attributes of the

child and race to the window. The woman is sitting on a bench outside the store and is writing furiously on a pad. She spies me and smiles nastily.

   "I'm doomed, doomed, doomed," I cry leaning my forehead on

the pane.

   "Wasn't I clever?" Bettina asks, waving to the lady outside.
                         It's a Secret
   Do you have a gut feeling that your sales associates goof

off the minute you walk out the door? Is the phone always busy when you call the store? Are customers complaining about the lack of service? You can answer these questions by renting a disguise from your local costume shop and spying on your help.

   An easier method is to hire the services of a secret

shopper. A secret shopper is basically a professional snoop. He or she will walk into a designated store, pretend to be a customer and check to see if the employees are doing their job correctly.

   A secret shopper's dream is to catch an employee stealing. 

If Joe Clerk is taking money out of the register and putting it in his pocket, he'd better have a good excuse because a shopper just might have his actions documented. I don't think "the bill was torn and the tape was in the office" will win many brownie points from the boss.

   A clerk can't assume that he or she is safe because the only

person in the store is a nice, little-old-lady who looks like someone's grandmother. Shoppers come in a variety of ages and the seasoned folks are the ones to watch out for. Older people who lived through the depression strongly believe in the work ethic. To them, spending more than five minutes in the bathroom is considered slacking off.

   Luckily for us hardworking Americans who believe that a

little fun goes a long way, secret shoppers tend to give themselves away by asking unusual questions.

   "If I buy this $5.99 book can I write you a check for a

thousand dollars and get the difference in change?" will probably set off a warning signal in Dora DoLittle's brain.

   Shoppers will stare at a name badge in order to remember a

clerk's identity. If a customer pulls out a pencil and starts writing down "Balthasar Mehailescu" you can bet it's not because he wants to put you in his will.

   Shoppers love to test a clerk's patience. 
   "I'd like a list of every book that was ever written with

the word "the" in the title. Could you alphabetize that for me in descending order by author? Try and hurry because I only have fifteen minutes." Shoppers especially love to pull this routine at closing time just to see an associate squirm.

   To avoid getting a bad report, a sales associate should try

to be nice to everyone. You'll never get a negative write-up from a shopper if you always smile and sing a happy tune. Of course, they might question your sanity.

   I remove my head from the window pane and trudge over to

where dino lies in a shrunken heap. I swoop up his remains and stuff them into the trash can.

   "I need a break," I announce to Bettina, who is making

gurgling noises to a baby in a stroller.

   "Isn't she cute?" Bettina says, offering her finger to the 

infant's outstretched hand. "I would love to have one just like her."

   "I'm going next door to buy a Coke," I announce abruptly as

Bettina continues to make baby noises. "While I'm gone, do you think that you could manage to speak to the customers using ADULT WORDS?"

   "Sure, boss, anything to make you happy," Bettina replies in

a Mickey mouse voice.

   I groan and walk out the door.  As I round the corner of the

building, a red van pulls into the last available spot in the parking lot. A man in his middle thirties wearing khaki pants and a white polo shirt gets out and walks toward the restaurant across the street. Quickly, I copy down the license plate number and rush back into the store.

   "What's wrong?" asks Bettina as she sees me grab the phone.

"An accident, a fire, what?"

   "There's going to be plenty of smoke alright when Mr. Khaki

Pants discovers that his van has been towed." Frantically, I thumb through the pages in the phone book looking for the local towing service's number. "I'm getting tired of people abusing our parking lot," I announce to everyone within hearing range. "The sign clearly says, "For Bookstore Customers Only. "These leeches are going to start towing the line." I laugh. "Get it? Towing the line!" Half of the people in the store leave while I turn to dial the number.

   "Tom's Towing Service. How can I help you?"
   "There's a red van in my parking lot that I'd like you to

remove as quickly as possible. It's parked right in front of the building under the "We Tow" sign." I read the license plate number to him.

   "I'll be there in ten minutes,"  Tom replies and hangs up

the phone.

   "Yes," I say and clap my hands.  "Perhaps this day won't be

a total bomb after all." As I station myself in front of the window, the phone rings.

   "Get that, will you Bettina.  I don't want to miss the start

of the show." Bettina who had been peering over my shoulder reluctantly leaves to answer the phone.

   "If only the man had asked permission, he might have

prevented this. Or at least offered me cash . . . "

                     Reserved for Bribes
   On a busy weekend folks will do anything to park in our lot. 

They'll come in and buy a 25-cent postcard to become an instant "bookstore customer." I even get bribed. I had a couple who was getting married at a chapel down the street. The guests had used all the parking spaces at the church and they begged me to allow them to park at our store long enough to exchange vows.

   "I'll pay you five dollars if you let me park for half an

hour," the desperate groom offered.

   The honorable thing to do was refuse the money and allow the

couple to park in our lot. I made him sweat . . .

   "Well, we're kind of busy tonight and your occupancy could

cost us a 35-cent newspaper sale."

   "Look. We're really desperate. It's pouring rain and my

fiancee's got her wedding dress on," the man pleaded on bended knees.

   Being the decent person that I am, I relented. "You look

like a nice couple so I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to let you park here for free provided that you and all your guests buy a book after the ceremony."

   It gives me a warm feeling inside when I help my fellow

human beings.

   Bettina hangs up the phone and returns to the window just as

the van is being hooked up to the tow truck. She taps me on the shoulder

   "Hey, Caroline."
   "Not now, Bettina.  I'm busy."  I wipe the window with my

apron to get a clearer view.

   Bettina taps me on the shoulder again. "It's about that

phone call. Our new district manager is coming today and I think that you should know . . ."

   "I KNOW that the district manager is coming," I interrupt. 

"Why do you think I'm towing this van? I want to show him that I'm on top of things." I smile to myself as Tom starts the tow truck and prepares to exit the parking lot.

   "The district manager is going to be so proud of me," I say

hugging Bettina. "Finally, something went right today." I notice that Bettina looks a little disturbed.

   "What's wrong?" I ask putting an arm around her shoulder.

"Oh, I know. You feel left out. Don't worry. I'll put in a good word for you with the district manager."

   "It's not that," Bettina assures me. "It's about that phone

call earlier."

    "I interrupted you and I apologize for being rude.  Go

ahead and finish what you were telling me. You have my full attention."

   "You won't get upset, will you?" Bettina asks uneasily.
   "Me? Upset? That word is not in my vocabulary," I say

confidently.

   "Ok," Bettina replies taking a deep breath. "That call was

from Sarah at the downtown store. The new district manager was just there and she wanted to describe him to us so that we'd be on the lookout."

   "Go ahead," I prompt as Bettina hesitates.
   "She said that he was a good-looking man in his middle

thirties. He's wearing a white polo shirt and khaki pants and he'll be driving a red mini-van and . . . hey? Where are you going?"

   "WAIT! COME BACKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!" I yell to the driver of the

tow truck as I chase down the street after him.

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