Click play below if you’d prefer to hear me tell this story, rather than reading it.

It was the summer of 2003.  July or August, I believe.  I was working at the Rockingham Mall, in Salem New Hampshire, at the Cambridge Soundworks store.  This was back before they went electronic only and had retail store locations.

The job was incredibly boring.  I barely made any money working there, and most of the days we just hung out with employees of the stores around ours, watching baseball on one of the big screen TVs in the store.  That was the summer that a co-worker, Josh, introduced me to “Family Guy”.  This was the summer after Fox had canceled it. Josh had picked up the DVDs and we blew through them over the handful of months that I worked there.

One Sunday night, shortly before closing, a trio of guys around my age came in.  This was 2003, so I was almost 24 at this point.  Okay, so maybe they were a little bit younger than I was.  It’s tough to tell all these years later.

Anyhow, they came into the store and wanted to buy a bunch of expensive speakers.  Given that Cambridge Soundworks was a fairly high end boutique, we had a few speakers that were in the multiple thousands of dollars each.  Along with a subwoofer around the same price.

They didn’t want that high end stuff, though.  They wanted a pair of $600 speakers, and a matching subwoofer, as well as a 6.1 receiver — which was the best we had at a time.

The other guy I was working with — Brian, maybe? — helped them out and began ringing them up.  The entire time they were in the store, which was maybe 10 or 15 minutes, they seemed very nervous.  They kept looking out the front of the store — which was all glass — looking anxious.

The leader of the group handed over a Discover card, which Brian swiped through the machine.  It didn’t process properly the first time, so he tried it again.

It failed a second time, so he put it down on the counter and said he’d try again after he entered all of their details into the computer.

“Whatchu need my name for?” he asked, irritatedly.
“For your warranty. The speakers have a lifetime warranty.” Brian responded.
“Nah, I ain’t need dat.” (I know this sounds incredibly racist, but this is what he said and how he said it.)

Meanwhile I was standing back and noticed something weird about the card that he had presented to Brian.  Something didn’t look right about it.  When it came time for Brian to run the card again, I offered to try, citing “better luck” with the credit card machine.

As soon as I picked it up, I knew it was fake.  The weight was off, the numbers weren’t raised, and the printing on the front and back was pixelated.  It was definitely a fake card.

I don’t remember how I explained it, but I managed to duck down below the counter with the card in hand.  Brian must have been distracting the would-be crooks.

I pulled my Discover card out of my wallet and called the number on the back.  I pressed zero as many times as I could to get a person on the phone as quickly as possible.

“I believe I have customers in my store that are trying to use a stolen credit card.  They are unaware I’m on the phone with you.” I said as soon as someone picked up.
“Can you give me the card number they’re trying to use?” the Agent asked.

I read the digits off and he then asked “Is the customer a white gentleman in his late 60s?”
“He most definitely is not,” I said.

The Agent then conferenced in the Salem police and explained the situation.

“Sorry,” I poked my head up from below the counter. “I’m still trying to get your card to go through, sir.”

At this point all three of them got really nervous.

“Take down a description and the card number,” the dispatcher from 911 told me. “But let them leave the store with the merchandise. Officers are on the way.”

I stood up, smiled and said “Okay, you’re all set.  I think our card reader is just getting old.  Brian, just have them sign the slip and help them load up.”
“There a backdoor?” one of the secondary thugs asked.
“No, but we’ll help you load up.  Just pull up to the doorway.” Brian said.
“Nah, you got a cart? We’ll take it. Bring it back.” the head thug interjected.

I nodded to Brian to just let them do whatever they wanted to do.

A few minutes later they came back with our dolly, thanking us and making a right out of the store heading back into the belly of the mall.  The entrance by our store was just off to the left, so they’d have parked right outside.

Not even a minute later, four Salem Police Officers came into the store and asked for the description of the criminals and which direction they went.

Literally — not even kidding — as I was telling them what they looked like, they three walked back by towards their car.  Arms full of merchandise from one of the other stores.

“Thanks,” one of the Officers said, running out of the store behind the trio.  “Stop! Police!” he yelled.

The other Officers followed quickly.

Once things had calmed down a bit, I called our store manager, Rick, to let him know what had happened.

“Will we get our merchandise back?” was his only question.

Moments later Brian and I saw the criminals run back through the mall, passing our store and heading to the right.  The Officers followed shortly behind them.  To say that the 7 of them were hauling ass would be an understatement.

It took about ten minutes after we saw them go running by, but the Officers were victorious and walked all three thugs past to the left in handcuffs.

One of them nodded to us through the window.

Only one of them came back to the store shortly thereafter.  He asked if one of us could come down to the police station after the store closed to make a positive identification on the criminals as well as our merchandise.  As you know, I’m sort of a geek, so I volunteered.

It wasn’t as cool as I’d hoped it would be.  The woman at the front desk was expecting me and buzzed me through to the waiting area where the Officer who had come into our store came to greet me.

“Thanks for coming down,” he said.
“Glad to help.  I knew something wasn’t right.”

He walked me down a long hallway to a room with one of those two way mirrors.  Another Officer walked in groups of lookalike thugs, and asked me to pick out the one that looked familiar.

I had no trouble picking out the three guys I’d seen just an hour ago.

Once I identified them all, he walked me down to a room where they were keeping all of the items they’d recovered from the trio’s car.  In addition to the items from Cambridge Soundworks, there were dozens of other items, maybe even hundreds; purses, DVDs, stereos, clothes, food, wallets, belts.  You name it, these guys bought it.

I picked out the items that were from my store and marveled at the piles and piles of other stuff in the room.

“I’d guess about thirty grand worth of stuff,” the Officer said.
“And this is all from tonight?”
“Yeah.  One of them cracked almost immediately once we separated them.  They did this every Sunday for the past few months and then sold the merchandise on eBay.”
“Seems like a lot of work. Why not just get a job?” I laughed.

The Officer shrugged and made a move towards the door.

He thanked me for my time and let me know that once the merchandise was no longer “evidence” that we would get it back.  If that happened, it happened after I no longer worked there, so I don’t know if it ever happened.

I never followed up on the case and don’t know what came of those kids, but I imagine it wasn’t a hug and free popcorn.