Pam was thrilled. It was her first shift at the cosmetic counter at Max-Well's Pharmacy. She had just completed a ten-month program in cosmetology at the local college, graduating at the top of her class. Max-Well’s had been known to recruit from the program, and Pam was their first pick. She didn’t even have to apply; they called on her! Now here she was, in her pale pink smock, ready to make every woman in Cedar City beautiful. Her goal was to be made head of the department. From there... Well, the sky was the limit. For Pam, the future looked very bright, indeed.
Even though she knew the Max-Well’s cosmetic department inside and out – she’d spent more time there than anywhere since she was old enough to wear make-up – Pam dutifully followed Courtney, her ‘shift sister’ through the mandatory orientation.
Courtney, bored and unimpressed with Pam’s high grade, made it clear that Pam was the new kid on the block and that she wouldn’t be getting any special treatment. In fact, when the orientation ended, Courtney made Pam dust all the shelves and polish all the mirrors. It was tedious work, not an ounce of the glamour that she had anticipated. Just dust and window cleaner fumes for a full eight hours.
The cleaning seemed endless. Every day Pam showed up for work and every day Courtney found something else for her to clean. In the first week, Pam broke four fingernails. She should have been applying them to the hands of her new clients, not having her own ripped off. But the cosmetic counter sparkled in a way that Pam, at least, could be very proud of.
On her fifth day, Pam noticed a new lipstick display in the back room. Deciding to take initiative and hope to win some points with Courtney, she set it up while Courtney was on her lunch. It seemed fairly straightforward. The clear plastic display case was ready to go. All she had to do was enter the stock into the inventory control program on the computer, label the testers and load the stock into the display. There were only a dozen each of nine colours, it wouldn’t take long. By the time Courtney returned from lunch, not only would the cosmetic counter shine, it would sport the attractive new display case.
Pam used the procedure manual to guide her through the process of entering the stock into the computer. Just to be sure that she was on the right track, she scanned a few samples of the product into the point of sale terminal and was pleased to see that she had done it right. Surely this would prove to Courtney that she was capable of more than keeping the glass counters streak free. She finished five minutes before Courtney was due back. And Courtney never returned early from her breaks.
Just as Pam had put the last lipstick into the display, a woman approached the counter. “Good afternoon,” Pam greeted the woman. “Can I help you find anything?”
“I’m just browsing,” the woman said. She moved away from Pam, but paused at the new lipstick display. Pam smiled at her, then got out the glass cleaner and started looking busy so Courtney would have nothing to complain about. The woman hovered around the display until Courtney came in, then quickly moved away toward the toy section.
“Hi, Courtney.” Pam chirped. “Did you have a nice lunch?”
“Yeah, great. You better get going. You only have forty-five minutes left on your lunch.” Courtney walked behind the counter and disappeared into the back room to put away her purse.
Pam, deflated and disappointed, retrieved her own purse from the back and walked quickly down the mall to the food court where she grabbed a ready-made sandwich and a can of diet cola. She sat on a bench to eat and people watch. Half-way through her stale and uninteresting lunch, Pam saw the woman from the cosmetic counter leaving Max-Well’s wearing a new pair of sun glasses. Her large purse appeared to be bulging. Pam didn’t think that it was that full at the cosmetic counter, but a good-looking guy walking by distracted her from pursuing that thought.
She finished her cola and checked her watch. There was just enough time to run over to the shoe store and pay for the mules she’d had her eye on for the last week. She felt she deserved a treat for surviving her first week with Courtney. But she’d have to hustle. She didn’t think that Courtney would be too forgiving if she was late, in spite of the fact that Courtney had tacked fifteen minutes of it onto her own lunch.
When Pam returned to Max-Well’s Pharmacy, Courtney was waiting for her. And she didn’t look very happy.
“So,” Courtney sneered, “what did you do while I was having lunch?”
Pam couldn’t help but look over at the lipstick display. “I thought you might have noticed,” she said. “I put that new lipstick display out for you.” She tried to sound upbeat, but the look that Courtney was giving her had her blood running cold.
“Oh, I noticed, all right. I also noticed that seven of the lipsticks are missing. I don’t suppose you sold them, too.” Courtney’s tone was accusing.
Pam went over to the display. There were several gaping holes where product was supposed to be. Where product had been only three quarters of an hour ago.
“Um, no, Courtney. I didn’t sell any. There was a lady looking at them, though.” Pam gulped. She couldn’t believe that the woman had stolen seven lipsticks right out from under her nose. She felt terrible.
“You let some shoplifter steal them. Weren’t you watching?” Courtney spat.
“I... I was cleaning the counter. She just looked at them for a few seconds. I didn’t see her touch the display at all. I’m so sorry, Courtney. I really didn’t see her take anything.” Pam was trying not to cry, but it was a losing battle. She knew she was in trouble and she could see her dream dying before it even got off the ground.
“It’s your job to prevent theft,” Courtney hissed. “You’re fired.”
Could Courtney even do that? Pam just stood there, crying and apologising.
Just then, Pete Jackson, the pharmacist and store owner came up to the cosmetic counter. He stopped next to Pam and put a gentle hand on her arm. “Pam, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
Pam sniffed loudly and confessed her sin. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Jackson. I’m afraid that some lady stole a bunch of lipstick while I was manning the counter. I didn’t see her take it, but she must have. She was the only one anywhere near the display. I’m so, so sorry. I’ll turn in my smock and leave.”
“Hmmm...” said Pete thoughtfully. “What did this lady look like?”
“Um, well, she was blond. Quite pretty. And she had a huge, green handbag. That’s all I can remember.”
“I see,” Pete said. “And you’re sure she took the lipstick?”
“Courtney said she did. I had only just finished the display right before Courtney got back from her lunch.” Then she added, “at ten after one.” Courtney glared at her.
Pete looked at the senior cosmetician with a raised eyebrow, who looked quickly away. “Well, I doubt very much that the blond lady with the green purse was the one who stole the lipstick.”
“Of course, she did,” Courtney snapped. “Who else could have taken them? Pam said she was the only one around.”
“She wasn’t the only one,” Pete said. “You two come with me.”
“I have to look after the cosmetic counter,” Courtney said by way of excuse.
“Don’t worry about it, Courtney,” Pete said. “Jenny will take over for a few minutes.” He gestured for Pam and Courtney to precede him to his office.
Courtney seemed to panic. “Really, Mr. Jackson, I think I should stay here and see if Pam let anything else get stolen.”
“I’m sure Jenny can take care of that. Now, please, come into my office.”
Jenny arrived at the counter. She patted Pam’s shoulder, but gave the agitated Courtney a cold shoulder. Courtney watched her closely, then dashed into the back room. “I have to get my purse,” she said.
Pete waited patiently next to the sniffling Pam.
When at last they arrived in the office, their boss asked Pam and Courtney to take a seat. He then sat down behind his desk and looked at the two cosmeticians. One had mascara streaked down her face. The other was chewing on the inside of her cheek. Both of them were staring at the floor.
“So, Pam, why don’t you tell me what happened,” Pete prompted. He handed the distraught young woman a box of tissue that was gratefully accepted and utilized.
When Pam could finally speak, she told him about doing nothing but clean the cosmetic department since she started and not even being allowed to serve any customers, except when Courtney was on lunch or break. She explained about wanting to impress Courtney and show her that she was capable of something more than dusting and polishing. Then she told him about coming back from lunch and being fired by Courtney for letting the lady with the green purse steal the lipstick. Pete listened without interruption. Every now and then he shot Courtney a serious look.
“I see,” said Pete, when Pam finished her story. “Is that about right, Courtney?” he asked.
“No one asked her to put out the lipstick, Mr. Jackson. That’s my job. She shouldn’t have touched it. She doesn’t even know how to enter the inventory. She probably screwed that up too.” Still she made no eye contact.
“Well, let’s just see,” Pete said. He punched a few keys on his computer and brought up the inventory list. It took several seconds scrolling through the vast list before he found what he was looking for. Turning the monitor so Courtney could see it, he asked if it looked okay to her. Courtney barely glanced at it. She merely nodded and hugged her purse close to her chest.
Pete leaned forward and clasped his hands in front of himself on the desk. “That lady with the green purse is my wife, Pam. She didn’t steal the lipstick.”
“Your wife? Oh, Mr. Jackson, I’m so sorry for accusing her. I didn’t know who she was.” Pam’s tears started all over again.
“There’s no reason why you would know who she was, Pam. And you didn’t accuse her. Courtney did.” Pete let the silence bloom between them for a few minutes. “This isn’t the first time that product has been stolen from the cosmetic counter. Lately quite a lot of stuff has gone missing. Just yesterday – while you were on your lunch, by the way – four bottles of expensive bath salts were taken.”
Courtney’s head snapped up. “What are you talking about? Nothing was stolen yesterday.” She almost shrieked.
Pete ignored her. “And the day before that a number of eye shadows and mascaras were taken.”
“Mr. Jackson,” Pam said, horrified at the implication, “I assure you I didn’t take them.”
“Oh, I know you didn’t,” Pete said. He punched some more keys on the computer and turned the monitor so that both employees had a clear view.
A grainy, black and white picture of the cosmetic counter was visible. For a few seconds nothing happened. Then a figure appeared. A female figure. A female figure in a Max-Well’s cosmetic counter smock. The figure looked around and then snatched four bottles of bath salts off a shelf and stuffed them into a large purse.
Pam was shocked at what she was seeing. She looked at her ‘shift sister’ with a mixture of horror and disbelief.
Courtney was escorted out of the store by mall security after they had found the seven lipsticks in her purse. (Along with a bottle of perfume and a tube of moisturizer.) Pete Jackson decided not to press charges, but he banned her from ever entering his store again. Her photo was circulated among the other businesses in the mall and her humiliation was complete.
And Pam did become the head of the Max-Well’s Pharmacy cosmetic department. Eventually.