The Friendly Book Salesman

St. Louis Missouri was boasting of their downtown Renaissance just at the time I arrived to do a live radio talk show broadcast. I was doing the show from the beautiful Clarion Hotel.  It’s located right at the foot of their main street, on the great Mississippi River, overlooking the St. Louis Arch.

We visited most of the great historic spots in the center of town, including the great Union Station with all of it’s built in shops and hotel.  One of a kind!  Another unusual and convenient attraction for travelers was a downtown campground for motor homes and travel trailers. It was located on the main street in the center of town, where everything was within walking distance.

Just a few blocks from the downtown campground was a large department store.  I’m not sure of the store’s name, but St. Louis folks will recognize it by description.  The owners apparently purchased the building across the street from the site of their structure, and built a suspended overhead walkway. It rose several stories above the street, connecting the two buildings. It was our first time to see this type of thing in the USA.  My wife and I were intrigued and decided to go shopping.  It was indeed an exciting building, much like a mall, and a shoppers delight.

While browsing, we stopped in a well-known bookstore.  I selected a book to buy and took it to the clerk at the cash register. He seemed to be interested in where we lived and expressed an interest in Philadelphia, where he had relatives.  With no other customers in line behind me, our conversation was longer than usual. He was indeed very personable and a good looking young man, about 20 years old.  We finally concluded our business. With a big friendly smile, he handed me a bag with my book saying, “Everything is in the bag, including the book and your receipt.” We shook hands and left the bookstore in the department store mall.

After about an hour of shopping, we headed back to our motorhome, just a block or two up the street.  When we arrived at the campground, an attendant asked if we were the Millers.  Rather surprised, I said, “Yes, is everything alright?” He said a police officer at the department store where you were shopping is trying to find you. Here is a number to call.

How in the world would anyone know I was there, especially in this campground, in this city, halfway across America from our home?  I wasn’t even supposed to arrive until tomorrow. I called the number and a woman police officer answered.  I identified myself and she asked if I had a niece to whom I had given my Master Card, and authorized her to shop in the store with no limitations.  I reached for my wallet and found that I did not have my Master Card.

It seems that having been engrossed in an extended friendly conversation with the clerk, I overlooked getting the card back. He had conned me with diversionary small talk and I neglected to ask for the return of my card.  After we left the store, the clerk took a bathroom break, made contact with his girl friend, gave her the card and told her to charge as much as she could, as soon as possible, then get out of the store, quickly.  When making the charges, the credit card company recognized the inordinate charging that did not fit our profile.  They rejected the charge, advising the clerk to call security, which they did.  The police arrived, apprehended the girlfriend of the bookstore clerk.  Police checked with Master Card officials and examined my latest charges and found the campground where I made my most recent charge. It was my campground. That is how they found where I was staying.  Wow, great tracking and police work.

The girl confessed to the police about her boyfriend passing the card to her.  They looked for the book salesman at the bookstore but he had disappeared, vanished. It seems that the friendly book salesman was on release work time from the local prison. The con failed.  He was now a fugitive.  The teenage girlfriend was now going to jail.  I got my card back from the police station, which was coincidentally adjacent to the campground where we were staying.

Two lives were now to be wasted as a result of a con job, probably learned in a jailhouse seminar.    That is where criminals learn to be more efficient.  Pity.