Normally I’d be in a bigger hurry, and would have just shoved the money back into my wallet.Actually, I was in a hurry. My friend and I were heading north on a baseball game road trip and we’d pulled off the highway to refuel: get gas and coffee. The party in line for coffee in front of me, which included a couple of kids that were orbiting the adults like satellites, had a large and complex order, which may very well have been individual selection of the myriad of donuts which were being placed into a box that looked like it could hold a sheet cake. The adults were somewhat apologetic and overly grateful to the girl behind the “place order” counter, and I found myself thinking, tick tick tick, the mental equivalent of tapping my foot.
They moved aside and began congregating at the “pick-up” end of the counter. I placed my order, thanked the girl as she handed me my change, dropped the coins in the tip cup, and stood in line again, behind the sorry-yet-appreciative group.
Since I was standing still, I took the time to look at the money and receipt I was holding. In one glance I knew something was wrong. I fanned the bills as I would a cribbage hand. I was missing $5. It was simple to calculate that in my head: thank you 7th grade summer math packet for keeping my skills sharp.
I looked at the receipt to be sure I wasn’t overcharged. It itemized the coffee, the amount I’d paid, and the amount of change I was due. No, not overcharged, just short changed.
I pivoted to face Place-order Girl again. She was already waiting on the next customer. I waited. “I got the wrong change,” I said when she glanced at me. I held up my receipt and the bills. Momentarily, the girl from the pick up window had finished making my coffee, and since the “much-obliged” people ahead of me were still gathering their wits and children, she brought it to me at the other end of the counter. I thanked her, but did not leave. She asked, “Are you all set?”
“No, I seem to be missing $5,”and indicated that I was waiting to talk to her colleague, who was just wrapping up with the next order.
Without looking at my receipt or opening the cash register, Pick-up-here Girl handed me a $5 bill.
“Oh, uhm…thank you so much,” I hesitated, then smiled at her and then her colleague before I turned around.
And as I walked away, I realized that I was deliberately short-changed.
I told my friend when I got back to the car.
“How can that be? I am sure there are cameras all over the place.”
“Whoever’s looking at the film footage must be in on it, then.”
Silence, then, “You think?” my friend answered as we maneuvered back onto the highway.
“Yeah, I do. The girl didn’t have to open the register to get the money out. She didn’t even look at my receipt. It wasn’t even the girl who originally waited on me. Those two are definitely working together. They’re probably all in on it.”
“You could be right.”
My friend continued, “Most people are probably just passing through, and wouldn’t bother to go back for small change…”
“…well, yeah, especially since they’d be on the other side of the highway when they turned around.” I finished the thought.
“Hmmm, I continued. “With the amount of business that place does, a dollar here, five there. That could really add up. They could probably more than double their wages for a shift – a dishonest day’s work for a dishonest day’s pay.”
“If they ever get caught, they’ll never get a job handling money again.”
“Never mind the risk, their integrity is worth what, $1.00? $5.00? They’re stealing change today, what are they going to be stealing tomorrow?”