The Red Pepper Caper

By Larry Teren

The knock on my door came with authority. I had just put away the groceries having returned from the fancy supermarket. You know- the one with the newfangled self-checkout machines.

I answered from inside the apartment while looking through the peephole. There were two guys in the hallway. One shouted, “open up- it’s the police!”

Reluctantly, I opened the door and let them enter. One was tall, about six feet off the ground and broad shouldered. The other was skinny and about five inches shorter. The tall one was just wearing a uniform shirt and pants, no tie. The skinny guy was in full regalia including cap along with a gun in a holster. He exhibited a nervous, twitchy behavior.

Now that the three of us were ‘eye to eye’, I started the conversation. “What’s this all about, officers?”

The shorter one jumped in, “you know very well, Buster.” The taller one quickly tried to calm the situation and said to his partner: “Barn, let me do the talking.”

At that point I asked to see some identification. They both pulled out badges and identity cards that read ‘Mount Pilot Supermarket Investigators’. I said, “you guys aren’t real cops, are you?”

‘Barn’ put his hands on each side of the belt holding up his pants and hitched up his slacks. He said, “maybe I am, maybe I’m not. You got to have respect for the law. Respect.”

The taller one spoke. “You see, sir, the computers at the supermarket spit out a discrepancy listing indicating that you marked the wrong item in one of them there self-checkout machines.”

Before he could say another word, Barn jumped in, “that’s a 502. Cuff him, Ange.”

Ange replied, “Barn, will you let me do the talking. Now just relax. Sit down on this good man’s couch.” Barn rolled his eyes and said, “oh, brother”, turned and walked over to the sectional couch in the living room and started to thumb through the high school annual on the coffee table.

Ange continued, “I’m sure there is some kind of explanation. We need to know it for the record.”

I explained to him that I had gone to the store as I always do on Monday to buy whatever I have a craving for the next few days until I go to a different store either on Thursday or Friday. On Monday, I decided on fresh vegetables. Usually I get a green pepper if they are on sale for 1.00 each (some sale, huh?). Once in a great while the red peppers are on sale as well. This past Monday the red peppers were also 1.00 each. I put one in the shopping cart as well.

As usual, I only have about ten items in the cart and using the self-checkout lane is usually a much quicker event than waiting in the regular checkout lines. The thing is, though, that it only goes fast if all the items in the cart have bar code labels on them. The self-checkout machine immediately recognizes the item, its description and price. When an item doesn’t have a bar code label, you need to look up the item to find the correct code in order to price the product.

There was no bar code on either the red or green peppers. It was easy, however, to search for the green pepper price because it was on the first selection screen of common items without bar codes. I pressed my thumb on the picture of the green pepper on the computer screen and indicated a quantity of one. However, there was no quick select option for the red pepper. I started to scan through the items alphabetically by the letter P. Nothing for red pepper. I then tried R. still nothing.

I was hit with a dilemma. I knew that the red pepper was priced the same as the green pepper because the shelf label in the produce section indicated so. But I also knew that the store wanted accuracy in processing a sale in case an item had to be returned as well as for replenishing the appropriate stock.

I also did not want to hold up the line that was forming behind me. I looked to the right and then to the left as well as over my shoulder. I then decided to just thumb it in as a green pepper. I quickly finished processing the rest of my items, paid the total displayed and exited the store. Yes, I felt a little guilty but no one got cheated.

Barn put down the annual in disgust and shouted, “Mr., you got to respect the law. You knew you had a red pepper but still thumbed it as a green one. Because of you, our stock boy put out another green pepper when it should have been a red pepper. And let’s not forget our computer system sales analysis. If everyone did like you did, we would not know the truth about what you like to buy. We’d be ordering more green peppers instead of the just the right amount.”

Barn lowered his voice. “It’s not just the money, Mister. It’s everything.
barneyfife When I put on this uniform, I’m sworn to uphold the truth about what our customer’s purchase. If you don’t think that means much, I suggest you just take your business elsewhere.”

Ange jumped in, “now, Barn, I told you to sit down and relax.” Ange looked at me and said, “look, Mister, Barn means well. Don’t take it personal. I’m sure it was a mistake and I’m sure it won’t happen again.”

Ange then noticed something I had on top of the bookcase. He said, “boy, that’s one mighty peculiar thing. What is it?” I explained that it was a horn.

He continued, “well, I just love musical instruments. Right, Barn? Do you mind if I blow it?” I told him to go ahead. He tried but ended up not getting any sound out of it and instead coughing. He reluctantly put down the horn. Ange shook my hand and said something about no hard feelings. Barn sneered while giving me a quick glance.

When they were both out into the hallway, as I was closing the door, I’m sure I heard Barn say, “Boy, Ange- he sure don’t look like his high school picture anymore. No sirree. I guess some of us are just lucky, huh?”

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