Late Sunday night at the Cumberland Farms in Cornwall, New York, just south of here. Moira Betz, 20 years old, assistant manager, working the register. Her mother, Jacqueline, beside her behind the counter, helping out.
Customer comes to the register, man with what turns out to be about a hundred dollars worth of groceries. Moira and her mom start ringing him up.
Moira doesn't like his looks. Doesn't like it that he'd been in the store shopping aimlessly for 30 minutes and now he's the only customer left in the place. Like that's what he'd been waiting for.
He'd bothered her so much, hanging around like that, that she'd become afraid he was there to rob them. She even thought of pushing the button, the Panic Button, behind the counter that would have brought the cops in a hurry.
She didn't do it.
She told the newspaper reporter later she'd been afraid the guy might have had a gun and he'd have panicked and used it if he suddenly saw all those red lights flashing outside the store windows.
Situations like that, you tell yourself you're being paranoid, letting your imagination run away you. You go on as if nothing's the matter, hoping for the best. More often than not, things work out fine, and you were wrong to be worried.
Still she was shocked when the guy pulled out a knife.
Waved it at her and her mother. Gimme all your money!
They gave it to him. Everything that was in the drawer. Got away with $257.
$182 more than Cumberland Farms thought he should have been able to get away with.
Thursday an executive from the company fired Moira and her mother.
Company has a policy. No more than $75 in the register drawer at any time. Moment the count goes a penny over, you're supposed to pop it in the safe, I guess. Seems impractical and unworkable. Store gets busy, you get a line of customers, even if you can keep track of how much you've got in the drawer, you can't stop ringing people up to count up and count out and drop it it into the safe every time it looks to you like there might be more than 75 bucks in the till.
In practice the policy has to be "Whenever you get a free moment and you see there's a lot of money in the drawer, take out everything but 75 dollars and put it in the safe." Which means that from time to time during the day there's going to more than 75 dollars in the register and it's going to happen that during one of those times something bad might happen that's going to make you wish you'd had the chance to empty the register before. Like a robbery.
So maybe what it was was Moria had gone too long without doing a transfer. There's a log. Maybe the extra cash had been piling up in the drawer all night long. She had plenty of chances to put the money in the safe.
But you'd think. You've got a 20 year old girl working at eleven o'clock at night in your store, your convenience store---it's not unheard of, convenience store getting robbed late at night; in fact, that's why you have the no more than 75 dollars in the register rule---a thug wanders in, quite possibly a thug high on something makes him stupid enough and desperate enough to risk serious jail time for what even in his wildest dreams he can't believe is going to be more than a few hundred bucks, threatens the girl with a knife, this girl who even though she's assistant manager you're not paying a royal salary, she's lucky she takes home in a week as much as is in that drawer at the moment, she could have been hurt, she could have been killed, she could have died protecting your money---suppose she had followed the rules, suppose there was only 75 dollars in the drawer, and suppose the thug with the jones and the knife wanted more than that and didn't believe her she couldn't open the safe?
You fire her?
Of course you do. Who is she anyway? Peon. Working a shit job at shit wages? She was worth anything to anybody she'd have a real job, she'd work in an office, she'd be like me.
She's lucky we kept her on this long.
Maybe it didn't happen that way. Maybe there's more to it. Trouble is the company won't explain itself. Their spokeswoman couldn't, or wouldn't, confirm or refute Moira's version of why she and her mother were fired.
Me, I'm inclined to believe Moira. I've worked my share of shit jobs for shit wages and I've known a few managers and regional managers who cared far more for company rules than for the people they paid minimum wage to follow those rules.
One time, back in college, when I was working as an usher at a movie theater, friend of mine was behind the candy counter during a rush when all of sudden a girl on the other side of the counter, boosted herself up on the glass, reached over, and put her hand in the cash drawer.
My friend saw it. She lunged for the girl's hand. My friend was five feet nothing. The girl had about 8 inches on her and 50 pounds. My friend pulled the girl over the counter. They fell to the floor together and wrestled around. The girl socked my friend in the nose, pulled herself away, hopped back over the counter, and ran from the theater with a fist full of bills but not as much as she'd have gotten if my friend hadn't fought her for it.
My friend's uniform was torn. Her nose was bloody. She was all over sticky from the spilled popcorn butter and soda on the floor behind the counter. She was crying. Our manager, who was a good guy, took her in his arms. He helped wipe her off, calm her down. "Go in my office and get yourself together, ok?" He reached in his pocket and pulled out a 20 dollar bill, "Then you go out, buy yourself some dinner, have a nice glass of wine, on me."
Nice story. Except it happened that the district manager was there at the time.
"Make sure she makes a count of the drawer first," the district manager said. "We need to know how much was taken."
"I'll do it," one of the other cashiers volunteered.
The manager said fine and told my friend once more to go clean up, relax for a bit, then go have dinner.
The district manager chimed in, "Clock out first."
Company policy. No paid dinner breaks. My friend, she didn't clock out, spent a whole hour eating her meal, might have taken the company for $3.25 she hadn't earned.
Fighting off a thug trying to rob the company? All in a day's work. That's how she earned the $3.25 she made this past hour. What more does she want?
For crying out loud.
She's lucky she had the job.