The Mysterious Case of the Missing Newspapers
I don't know what's more pathetic: that a man who is capable of paying for a newspaper is stealing one, or that the same man uses up $2 worth of gas to steal something he can buy for $1.
It tickles me down to my toes to be pondering that question, because it means I have found the answer to a bigger question, one that has been vexing my husband and me. For years, Patrick and I have wondered: Who in the world is pitiful enough to steal newspapers from a nonprofit?
It was two Sundays ago that I learned the surprising answer. But I get ahead of myself.
The story starts in 2006. That's when my husband began working at the Moore County Chamber of Commerce. About a month after starting his job there, Patrick noticed that issues of The Pilot were always missing on Monday mornings. The Chamber's newspaper subscription is for 15 copies; the nonprofit subscribes to that number so they can hand out complimentary papers to tourists and people considering relocating here.
Sometimes, only two or three copies were missing, but during the recession, when the theft was at its highest, Patrick would come to work on Monday morning to find the thief (or thieves) had taken all but two or three. That someone would steal newspapers intended for public good got in my husband's craw.
"Welcome to our community," Patrick would say sarcastically over Monday night dinner. "We'd like to give you a newspaper, but someone has stolen them all."
Two weeks ago, fate put us in the path of the newspaper thief. After church, Patrick said he needed to stop by his office to pick up some work. He, Isabella and I were idling in the Chamber parking lot while Patrick looked over a file when a car crept in.
It was nice, clean and new-looking, and its driver eyed us before swinging around and pulling right back out on to U.S. 15-501. A moment later, Patrick finished reading, closed up the file and drove the car to the intersection of the parking lot and highway. Lo and behold, the same car was moving toward us, its turn signal indicating it was turning back into the Chamber.
Was it my imagination, or did the driver flinch when he saw our car? It definitely wasn't my imagination that the turn signal stopped blinking and the car kept going straight.
"Patrick," I said, an instinct filling my gut, "I think this is one of your newspaper thieves."
Because it was Sunday and we had nothing more pressing on our minds than filling our bellies, Patrick and I looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, "Let's wait and see if he comes back."
Patrick is a little devious. He backed the car up so it wasn't visible from U.S. 15-501. He and I giggled at the absurdity of it, both the absurdity of our stakeout and at the idea that this man was a newspaper thief. He was wearing a Pinehurst Country Club golf shirt, for heaven's sake. People driving around in nice cars and $70 leisure shirts simply don't go around stealing newspapers.
Humph. Shows what I know, because within three minutes, the same man in the same car was driving toward us, his car in the center lane and his blinker on to turn. The suspect was just about to swing left into the lot when he spotted us. He gunned the car and sped past.
Did we leave? Oh, no. We were having too much fun.
The suspect took a little longer coming back this time, but come back he did. Once again, he signaled to turn (at least this thief is a safe driver) and then headed straight once he saw us.
This time, Patrick pulled out right behind him; the would-be burglar turned off U.S. 15-501 shortly, and I waved heartily as we drove by him.
Patrick and I laughed uproariously. After things quieted down in our car, Isabella, who had been silent during most of our stakeout, asked the key question. "Why would someone steal a newspaper?" she asked us.
Why, for the excellent news and feature articles, of course. And maybe the coupons.
We may never know the reason, but thieves be warned. A friend of ours recently received his private investigator license, and he's just chomping at the bit to do some video surveillance at the Chamber.
Contact freelance writer Melanie Coughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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