Calling Doctor Weirdo Mystery – The Introduction of a New Hero
Episode 12 – Gas Change Money Grifters
It had been a cold winter . . . a mostly unhappening, boring weekend except for the fact that Russia had invaded Ukraine and the price of gas was climbing as ex-president Bush claimed when we were younger. We had one snow flurry that dropped seven or eight inches and some cold days, but otherwise nothing. We hadn’t seen Jack in some time, but it was starting to feel like an adventure had to be just around the corner.
As with most other things . . . things happen when least you expect them. Rose and I were waiting for the fog to rise. Sitting at the breakfast table with the morning newspaper, we couldn’t even see the water of Puget Sound, much less Vashon Island.
Our crank doorbell rang and we knew an adventure was in the making.
Soon we were munching on fantastic Pao’s fritters and sipping wonderful coffee. Like meeting strange dogs on the local dog paths at the Dog Parks, we were catching up with Jack, who never really tells us anything about himself; however, he finally got around to our next adventure.
“When you buy gas and fill your tank, do you every forget to collect your change?” I thought for a second or two and then responded. “Not that I know of; however, there have been times when it was really cold outside and I was anxious to climb back into a cozy car with the heater going. I have thought about it.”
Jack nodded and said “I’m guessing in normal times it might happen more regularly; but now with the price of gas going up, people are pretty much tuned into the costs and happy to get money back when the tank is full and the pumps stop.”
Rose spoke up and said, “Jack if you need a few bucks, we can certainly afford to lend you a buck or two.” Jack looked at Rose . . . and you could tell he didn’t think the comment funny . . . or as funny as we thought it was.
Jack continued: “I think there is a little shell game being run.” I interjected a tiny joke, “I didn’t know Shell Gas was still an oil company.” Jack put his head down on the table and said, “Oh, God, I’ve missed your humor, well, maybe kinda.” As Rose and I laughed at Jack, a memory crept into my mind. I nodded my head and said, “About a month ago I was buying gas at Safeway and looking over their cookies. I always check out their cookies at the gas station. They don’t sell the same ones inside at the store.” I was next in line, but had not been listening to what was going on behind my back. The guy in front of me was looking for his change. He had a buck and a half due him from his pump. The attendant informed him that the change had been given to a previous customer. The clerk said, “Sorry for the mix-up but I gave him the change.”
Jack nodded his head. “I think more of this is going on with money getting tight – things happen then. Anyway, a friend has asked for some help, some quiet help.” On that note, Jack was off to God knows where and didn’t leave instructions. Just like always, Rose and I were to take care of the problem, even if there wasn’t any problem. It was our job.
Rose and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. Rose spoke first, “I’ll check out the internet for any mention of small change scams going on around gas stations.” I agreed and said, I’ll go see what kind of cookies are still available. I drove up to the little shopping mall and noted that there was an old green Volvo in the staff parking slot. The Volvo was the classic station wagon that had room for a couple of dogs in the wayback and still drove like a regular car.
I went in the store front picked out a few cookies and looked over a copy of The Tacoma News Tribune and one of the Tacoma Weekly while Joe finished with a customer. I broached the subject of small change. Joe said, “Never really thought about it. Some people forget to get their change, and some people can’t be bothered. We don’t keep track; we’ve got enough to do.” I nodded my head and paid for the cookies and took a copy of the Tacoma Weekly because it was free.
Back home Rose had nothing to report. We sat at the table nibbling on cookies and leftover fritter crumbs. We shrugged our shoulders and started putting together a plan. After an hour or so we had the plan. It wasn’t a great plan, it wasn’t even a good plan, but it was a plan. Rose would keep watch via various parking spots around three gas stations that had constant customers. She would sit in the back seat of our Pacifica, which had smoked windows so she couldn’t be seen with her binoculars scanning the gas buyers. I would visit gas stations within a five miles radius, buying five or ten bucks of gas from each one and keeping a sharp eye on purchasers of gas and the other food goodies available inside. At first, I enjoyed eating the various hotdogs and sandwiches; but then, fearing a weight gain, I switched to nibbling instead of devouring.
We saw no giant scam spree, but as usual Rose had a feeling. After a few more days Rose had more than an inkling. She had begun to recognize a man and a woman. We guessed they were working as a team. There were no alarms going off, there were no scufflings over errant refunds, but there was a feeling we were on the right track. We don’t compare notes daily, but ideas and possibilities gather and begin to nudge us from those “what ifs.” You don’t always need a gun for a stick up!
Rose announced one afternoon, “Scott and Marie.” My head snapped to attention and I looked at Rose and said, “Scott and Marie?” She didn’t know the two, but gave them names so we could have faces with names to help us target and concentrate on our probable bad guys. They wore several different jackets and clothing. They parked one of two cars they drove and moseyed their way to the pumps. They only did it at the busiest times for fill ups, so there was a constant changing of customers. They watched and targeted their quarry. One would stay close to the office door while the other would send a hand signal for the pump number. If the owner of the car looked like they would cut it close at the office, the rear guard would ask for the customer for directions. If the cashier asked for the receipt, it was always “Oh, I left in the front seat.” Rose gave me a disk of her photos and described their change of clothes . . . sometimes just a hat or a jacket . . . always non-descript. Looking carefully at Scott and Marie and closing my eyes I could see them at several different gas stations I had visited. I had even brushed up against one as I added mustard to a hotdog at the cash-only station.
Although there are gas stations in Ruston, we had not seen evidence of change disappearing into the pockets of Scott and Marie, but I thought I would visit my friend Gary from the Ruston Police and just inform him of what was going on in the nearby neighborhood. Rose and I live in Tacoma, but only a block or two from Ruston.
Whenever I visit with Gary, I drive my three-on-the-floor classic GTO. Gary recognizes the car and drools over it every time we meet. I drove past the Ruston Police station (it’s not large) and drove back home. Soon Gary was knocking on our door (not everyone uses the crank doorbell). Gary loved the information, but didn’t think the scam was being run in Ruston. Rose asked him, “If this happened in Ruston would it actually be against the law?” Gary thought about it and said, “Not that I know of, but there might be something there as a confidence game. People are being ripped off that’s for sure.” Rose nodded her head and said, “What if a law enforcement officer shared the news with their community as a good deed. Would that benefit the population and the office . . . or the officer?”
Gary sipped his coffee and dunked his cookie before speaking, “You haven’t met my fiancé, Barb, yet. We hit it off well when we met a couple months back. She’s pushing me to leave Ruston and seek a larger pay check. I love Ruston and deeply love Barb . . . marriage is in the future, but we’ve not really discussed it. I have been thinking of greener pastures. Bringing good news that helps people and at least chastises money grubbing highway robbers might help pave my way up and out.” Rose interjected, “How about a drive-along with the two of us? I’m gotten a feel for their routine.”
Two days later we fired up the Pacifica and the three of us went shopping for money-grubbers. I drove with Gary in the passenger seat and Rose in the back seat like Captain Horatio Hornblower at the wheel of his frigate and pointed out how Scott and Marie worked the gassers. Soon Scott and Marie were getting free money, sometimes as much as ten or twelve bucks for nothing. After about twenty minutes Gary said, “Jimmy Oxford . . . his name isn’t Scott. It’s Jimmy Oxford. I recognize him from the old Ruston Casino. Marie is Candy. She was a hostess. Jimmy and Candy had several scams going on there. Very similar . . . bilking the money from those who work for it. Let’s strike a blow against their fiefdom of crime.
The grifter duo made the news and was too large a story for just the local papers. We made sure Gary got the accolades, the praise, a small bonus, and a job offer from a slightly larger community, but still in the South Sound. Jack was of course thrilled. He passed on the news to those who look up to him . . . and need to keep looking up to him. Jack gave Rose a hug, me a handshake, and a little bonus to boot.
c. 2022 Don and Peg Doman