"Hey, would you hold the baby?" asked the young mother. She wanted to take a look at the baked goods we had spread out on the folding table in front of the K-Mart. That was a good thing, since we were hoping as many people as possible would buy from our bake sale, which was a fundraiser for my church youth group.
I was surprised by the request, but I willingly reached out to take the car seat she was holding, which contained a beautiful, chubby-cheeked, curly-haired infant. I cooed and jabbered at the smiling face, eager as always to spend some time interacting with a baby.
The young mother surveyed the cookies, brownies, and muffins laid out on display. Apparently she found something that appealed to her, for she began digging through her purse for spare change to make a purchase.
Just at that moment, our attention was caught by the wail of sirens coming closer and closer. As the police car screeched to a stop just in front of us, a harried-looking man in a rumpled button-down shirt tucked (more or less) into a pair of dress slacks bustled out of the K-Mart. He was the very image of the lower-level store manager we assumed he was. He rushed up to the police officer who had stepped out of the patrol car.
Those of us gathered around the bake sale table (several young adolescents like me and our youth group director) could not hear what the store manager was saying to the officer, but we could clearly tell he was chattering excitedly, accompanied by wild gesticulations (including pointing fingers) and frequent glances in our general direction. We watched the exchange between the store manager and the officer with mounting curiosity.
We were not kept in the dark for long. In just a few minutes the two men headed toward us. The officer began to question the young mother whose baby I was still holding in its car seat. "Where did you get the car seat?" "When did you purchase it?" "Do you have a receipt?" The mother had initially looked calm and confident, but soon enough began to look more and more apprehensive and defensive. She began to stammer and lost most of her aplomb in the face of the policeman's questioning.
As my friends and I watched in slack-jawed disbelief, the police officer pulled the woman's arms behind her and slapped a pair of handcuffs on her wrists, apparently unsatisfied with her responses to his questions. He walked her to his patrol car and matter-of-factly installed her in its back seat.
The store manager, noticing our very obvious astonishment at the proceedings, and probably feeling quite smug, finally told us what we were dying to know. He explained that the young woman had strolled into the store sometime earlier with her infant, but without a car seat. She had shopped her way casually to the baby goods section of the store and neatly slid her baby boy into one of the car seats featured in a display. She then nonchalantly continued with her shopping, eventually exiting the store and stopping to patronize our bake sale.
Her sweet tooth proved to be her downfall, as it gave the store manager time to summon the law to the scene before she had made good her escape with her infant ensconced in the purloined car seat. . .The very infant in the very car seat that I was still holding in my arms.