D. E. Larsen, DVM
Our first weeks in Enumclaw, Washington, were busy. Our move from Colorado had been an experience, but that was in the past. I was busy establishing myself in a busy veterinary practice. Sandy was active with the girls, trying to make the house a home.
After just finishing school on borrowed money, our funds were somewhere between limited and nonexistent. And it was another two weeks before my first paycheck. But Sandy was doing well managing the meager funds, and it looked like we would not starve.
“I asked Jack for an advance on our first paycheck,” I said as I was changing out of my clinic clothes.
“What did he say?” Sandy asked. “We really need to go to the grocery store. My shopping list is getting pretty long.”
“He just handed me a couple of hundred dollar bills and said he would try to remember them when they did payroll,” I said. “They are in my wallet on the bed.”
“Great!” Sandy said as she absconded with the two bills. “You can go with me and the girls when we go shopping after dinner. They have a nice hometown grocery store on the far edge of town. We were there earlier today, but I didn’t have enough money to buy much.”
Dinner in our house was still a time for everyone to sit down together and talk about the day’s events. But the dinner was a little skimpy, from my view. Sandy was doing a masterful job of stretching a near-empty pantry. Tonight, we had spaghetti with just a bit of hamburger in the sauce.
“We are down to our last pound of hamburger,” Sandy said. “So I planned to use half of it tonight in the spaghetti sauce and the other half tomorrow with a box of hamburger helper. Then, before you came home with some cash, we would be down to tuna casserole.”
“If we pick up ten pounds of burger tonight, we should be able to stretch it out to payday,” I said.
After dinner, we washed the dishes, and I called Ralph from the field behind the house. All I had to do was shake the jar of Pet-Tabs, and he would come running.
Amy gave him his Pet-Tab, and I spooned his last bit of canned cat food into his dish. I took a whiff of the can before depositing it in the garbage.
“If things get bad enough, we could always resort to cat food,” I said. “This doesn’t smell too bad.”
“We are not going to raise these girls on cat food,” Sandy said.
We loaded the girls into our station wagon and drove through Enumclaw’s downtown to the grocery store. The kids had their routine down already when we arrived at the store. Dee rode in the shopping cart seat, Amy hung on the front of the cart, and Brenda helped direct it down the aisles.
“Can we each pick out a box of cereal like you said this morning?” Brenda asked.
“Yes, we can buy cereal tonight, and it’s a good thing,” Sandy said. “I don’t think that last box of frosted flakes would fill all the bowls in the morning.”
After the cereal aisle, we turned the corner and ran into Ed.
“Hi, Ed,” I said. “Do you work here?”
“Oh, hi, Doctor Larsen,” Ed said. “Yes, I am the assistant manager.”
“That’s great, but what are you hanging around in the aisles for, aren’t you supposed to be doing more important stuff?” I asked.
“These two old guys rip us off for a couple of bottles of wine every time they come in here,” Ed said, motioning to a couple of old bums looking over the wine collection. “I call them Red, the one with red hair, and the skinny one, Skelton.”
“If you’re watching them, they surely can’t steal anything, can they?” I asked.
“It doesn’t seem to matter how close we watch them. They always manage to stuff a bottle into those trench coats they wear.”
We left Ed to his surveillance and pushed the cart past Red and Skelton. It was apparent that they spent more time with the wine bottle than in the shower.
Sandy went down every aisle, filling the cart to almost overflowing.
“You know we have to make those two hundred dollars last for another couple of weeks,” I said.
“We are fine. This won’t even take one of those bills,” Sandy said.
As we were leaving the checkout counter after spending eighty-four dollars, Ed was upfront watching Red and Skelton as they walked across the parking lot.
“Ed, just a suggestion, but if you put a coat rack at the door and require those two to hang up their trench coats when they come into the store, it might solve your problem,” I said.
“That’s a good idea,” Ed said. “I will bounce that off the manager in the morning.”
We loaded the girls into the car first then I placed the grocery bags in the back.
“How do you know Ed?” Sandy asked.
“He was in the clinic with a puppy yesterday,” I said. “He seems like a nice young man.”
“Can we have a puppy?” Brenda asked.
“You will have to do with Ralph for now,” Sandy said.
A couple of weeks later, Ed came to the clinic for a couple of things for his puppy.
“Say, Doc, I want to thank you for suggesting the coat rack,” Ed said. “Red and Skelton grumbled at first, but they hang their coats up now, and our losses from the wine inventory moved to zero almost overnight.”
“That sounds great,” I said. “Probably makes your job a lot easier.”
“Oh, yes, I was spending five or six hours a week just watching those two,” Ed said.
A week later, I was in the grocery store with Sandy and the girls, doing some shopping. We were standing at the checkout, waiting our turn. The lady ahead of us was buying three bottles of wine.
The light was just right for me to get a good look at the bottles. One of the bottles was only half full. I pointed to the bottle.
“Did you notice this?” I asked the lady.
“Did I notice what?” she asked.
I picked up the half-empty bottle and handed it to her. Her mouth fell open.
“Oh my gosh!” she said. “How did that happen?”
The clerk looked at the bottle.
“Just a moment, and I will get Ed,” the clerk said.
Ed came and picked up the bottle. He looked at me, shaking his head.
“Red and Skelton,” Ed said.
“I like to watch Red Skelton, but what does he have to do with my half-empty wine bottle?” the lady asked.
“That is s private joke,” Ed said. “We need to get you another bottle. And I need to check the inventory.”
I went with Ed to the wine aisle. Looking through the bottles, they seemed okay until we looked at the bottles on the back of the shelf. Bottle after bottle had been opened and partially consumed.
“Those two bastards,” Ed said. “We stop watching them, and they just come in here and drink the wine in the store. No wonder they don’t complain about the coat rack anymore.”
We took the lady her bottle of wine, and Sandy finished checking out.
“I hope you can solve that problem,” I said to Ed as he passed with a cart full of half-empty wine bottles. Some with only a little missing, but most were half full.
“I’m afraid what the final count will be,” Ed said. “The manager will hit the roof when he sees this in the morning.”
Ed dropped by the clinic in the morning to thank me for finding the problem and update me on the situation.
“We got the chief of police to ban them from the store,” Ed said. “The manager wants to take them to court, but you can’t get blood from a turnip. I think he is going to be satisfied with the ban. The thing I worry about is how many bottles did we sell before the problem was noticed. I pulled three shopping carts full off the shelf last night. We emptied the shelves and checked every bottle. How could they drink that much wine and still walk out of the store?”
“Practice, I would guess,” I said. “A lot of practice.”
Photo by Rana M on Pexels.