“Thank you. Thank you very much” Ed said to the young man in the hoodie that held open the pharmacy door as he drove his power chair through it. “I appreciate it”. The young man just nodded.
Rolling through the aisles, Ed happened upon the young man again. He appeared to be shopping, but not really. He would pick up an item, stare at it a minute, and put it back , all the while looking around him. Ed recognized the signs immediately. He was a retired detective who had been disabled by a gunshot wound. He was not stranger to perpetrators and their agendas. He had seen similar behavior several times before. There was no doubt in his mind that this young man had an agenda.
It didn’t take too long to pick up the few things he needed and soon Ed was rolling toward the checkout. While passing the end of an aisle, he again saw the young man and, although his back was to him, it appeared that he was stuffing something under his sweatshirt. It quickly became apparent why he was here.
On impulse, Ed turned his wheelchair away from the checkout and instead stationed himself in front of the door, watching the young man approach. For a moment, they just stared at each other, while the look on the young mans face grew anxious.
“Out of my way man” he ordered, but the wheelchair never moved.
“I don’t want to have to hurt you, but I will” he said while sliding one hand into his jacket pocket.
Ed stoically remained in place, staring directly at the young man. “Don’t do this” he said softly.
The young man became more edgy, his eyes darting left and right, looking for a way out.
“I’m warning you man. Move, or I’ll move you myself.
Again Ed remained motionless, while continuing to stare at the threatening figure in front of him. Suddenly, in one quick motion, the man grasped the wheelchair and tried unsuccessfully to move it himself.
Ed struggled to remain composed. Again, in a quiet tone, trying not to draw attention to them said “I can’t let you do this.”
The young man stood there, and slowly the bravado began to slip away, replaced with a look of desperation. Becoming defensive, he said “Why you doin this man. You don’t know me. You don’t know nothin about me.” His elevated voice caused other customers to glance their way, so he quickly lowered his voice saying “Don’t make me mess you up man”.
“I don’t really think you would do that” Ed said. If you were going to do that, you would have done it already. So here is how I see it. If I let you go, I will have to report you to the store management who will report you to the police. I can give them a very good description. I’m an ex cop, so I know where this can lead. I don’t want to see that happen to you. It’s not worth it for whatever you have under your shirt. I’ve met a lot of thugs in my life, and I don’t see that in you. I see a guy that is up against it and has decided to take matters into their own hands. ” Unless I miss my guess, you are stealing out of desperation. You just can’t think of another way. Am I right?”
Again, the young man shifted nervously, looking around for an alternative, and finding none, said almost pleadingly “Don’t mess with me man. I’m warnin you.”
“Drop the tough talk” Ed said. You’re not who you pretend to be. Look, I’ll make you a deal. Give me whatever it is you were trying to lift and I’ll pay for it. Then you can go your way and I’ll go mine. What do you say”.
For a long moment, the two men just stared at each other, sizing each other up. Finally, in almost a whisper, the young man said “You’d do that”?
“Yeah, I’d do that” Ed replied, holding out his hand.
Slowly the young man withdrew a package of baby formula from under his sweatshirt, the look on his face a combination of relief and confusion as to what was happening here. “My baby needs this” he offered almost apologetically.
“Wait here. I’ll be right back” Ed said as he headed for the checkout, returning shortly with two bags, one of which he silently handed to the man.
Without speaking further, the two men exited the store. Upon reaching the parking lot, the young man turned to Ed and said “I owe you man. I didn’t really want to hurt you”.
“I knew that” Ed replied.
“How” the man asked.
“I met the real you when you walked in and held the door for a guy in a wheelchair. That’s all I needed to know”.