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Ramsey Rules
Author: Jo Goodman




Tripping the Light Flamingo. My Rodeo Rose. Burning Blush. Ramsey Masters picked up a fourth bottle of fingernail polish and turned it over to examine the label. Peachy Keen. Really? Couldn’t anyone just call it pink and be done with it? Whose job was it anyway to come up with these names? And how did you get that job? What sort of title came with a position like that? Nomenclature Designer. Executive in Charge of the Naming All Things. Hmm. Maybe she would look into it, but first…

She glanced sideways at the pair of girls giggling over a selection of lipsticks a few feet away. They were oblivious to her presence, which was the way she liked it. She chose two bottles—Tripping the Light Flamingo and something called Perky Pimen-toes— then made a quarter turn toward them.

“Hey, girls,” she said. Ramsey held up the bottles, dangling each by its black cap between her thumb and forefinger. To further draw the girls’ attention, she gave the bottles a hand bell shake. “What do you think? The Flamingo here?” She lifted her left hand. “Or the Pimen-toes?” She waggled the bottle in her right hand.

The girls stared at her. Ramsey thought she detected horror in their eyes. Or was it pity? “What?” she asked. “Not right for me? I’m too old for pink, is that it? Yeah. Probably am. Thirty next birthday.” She returned both bottles to the rack and looked at her nails. They were cut short, buffed, and covered in a clear lacquer to give them shine. She showed them to the girls who were starting to turn away. “I should keep it simple, huh? No fuss.”

The girls gave her identical shrugs. The taller of the pair was a blonde with blue-green streaks that might have looked like peacock feathers if peacock feathers faded. She had a pale oval face, a rather pointed chin, and blue eyes that rested narrowly above high cheekbones. Her friend (it was difficult to imagine they were sisters or even related) sported neon blue streaks in hair so black it could only have come out of a bottle. She had an abundance of curves and, given the taut tee and booty shorts that hugged her hips like a sprayed-on tan, was either confident or clueless about showing them off.

Ramsey estimated their ages in the thirteen-fourteen range. They stood in each other’s space, but their stance was more protective than militant. She knew now that her first impression had been incorrect. They hadn’t stared at her with either horror or pity. She had made it about her when it was actually about them. What she had seen in their eyes were fear and shame. Yes, they were young. Probably here on an internet dare, called out by someone on takeit.com or stickyfingers.bus where you could post snaps of your latest haul.

The girls likely thought they were up to the challenge. Miss Ample Curves could hide a couple of tubes of lipstick between her boobs, maybe a mascara wand or an eyebrow pencil as well, but Miss Faded Feathers had no cleavage and she hadn’t thought to wear a bra. Body-type was immaterial as they each carried a designer bag the size of a mini-van.

Amateurs. Ramsey considered what she wanted to do.

“I saw you looking at the polishes earlier.” She lifted her chin to indicate Miss Ample Curves. “What color did you choose?”

Miss Ample’s lips parted a fraction as she sucked in a breath before her mouth snapped shut. She shook her head.

Ramsey thought the girl did a credible job of feigning confusion. She shifted her gaze to Miss Faded Feathers. “You had a preference for the blues, I thought. Sky’s the Limit. Velvet Night. Tough call. Probably why you lifted both of them.”

Miss Faded Feathers pulled the strap of her bag so it hugged her body. Her eyes widened but she wisely said nothing.

Ramsey sighed. “Here’s what we can do, girls. My supervisor’s on a lunch break. I figure that gives us fifteen minutes for you to follow me to the office where you’ll empty those bags. You’ll return what belongs to the store and keep what’s yours. I’ll take down your names, addresses, and phone numbers—your parents’ phone numbers—and then I’ll escort you outside. You find your way home and do not return for six months. If I see you again before then, you won’t like what happens.”

Miss Faded Feathers frowned deeply. “But my mom shops here. She makes me come with her even when I don’t want to. What about that?”

“Your problem, not mine.”


“Is your mom here now? I can page her, explain the situation.”


“That’s what I thought.” Ramsey’s gaze swiveled to Miss Ample Curves. “Are you here with family?”

A long pause, then, “My dad brought us. He’s helping my little brother pick out a bike.”

Ramsey looked pointedly at the girl’s oversized bag. “Did you offer to put it in there?” When the girl’s cheeks flushed a spectacular shade of pink, Ramsey knew she’d driven the point home. “All right. Let’s go. Office is at the front of the store.”

It took less than fifteen minutes to inventory the theft: six bottles of polish, two mascaras, two compacts, a box of cleansing wipes, Satin Midnight hair dye, a three pack of neon bright no-show socks, a pack of elastic hair bands, one pair of sunglasses, and a roll of zebra print duct tape. Ramsey had catalogued most of their booty in her head since she had been observing them for a while, but the duct tape was a surprise. Always good to have a surprise, she thought, and could barely keep from smiling when she watched it fall out of Miss Faded Feathers’ bag and roll across the table. She caught it before it dropped to the floor and set it down hard enough to make the girls flinch.

After using her phone to take a photo of the friends with their confiscated haul, Ramsey walked them outside. They made straight for the bright yellow metal bench in the shadow of the big box store and sat down. They hung their heads and didn’t speak. Ramsey figured they’d stay that way as long as they thought she was watching them. It was overkill. She knew they were more embarrassed than sorry. Whether that was enough to keep them from stealing again, Ramsey could not predict. She hoped that it was at least enough to keep them from trying it at a Ridge store, especially this Southridge store.

Ramsey was leaving the office used by the store’s loss prevention specialists for holding a shoplifter just as Paul Shippensmith was returning from his lunch break. He purposely blocked her exit when he saw she was carrying a plastic yellow shopper’s basket and swinging it a tad too nonchalantly. He held out a hand, palm up, and gave her a look that was a little amused but mostly exasperated. She set the basket handle in his palm. He pawed through the contents and then returned it to her.

“How old was she?” he asked.

Ramsey held up two fingers.

“Two? She was two?” Where most men had eyebrows, Paul had black wooly caterpillars. Now these most distinguishing features wiggled as they climbed his forehead in disbelief. “What is she? A shoplifting savant?”

Now it was Ramsey’s turn to be a little amused but mostly exasperated. “No. There were two girls. They were both thirteen. Don’t worry, I read them from the riot act script. Well, mostly from the script. They’re sitting outside waiting for their ride. You probably passed them on your way in. Where did you go for lunch anyway?”

“The Sports Grill. And don’t change the subject.” Paul stood eye to eye with Ramsey but in contrast to her slender sylph-like figure, he was a tank, broad and solid and immovable. He gave her no ground to pass. “What do you mean you mostly read them the riot act?”

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