I’m working the day shift at the Silver Bullet Bar. It’s a busy Monday lunch hour. Every table is occupied, the bar is full and we have a line of people waiting for tables. Mondays are often busy because there are a lot of people, consultants mainly, who fly out to client offices Monday and return later in the week.
One thing I enjoy about the job is people watching. I never get tired of watching the variety of people in the airport and in the bar though as I said, most of our customers are businessmen.
I’m not a fashionista, I’m pretty oblivious to fashion trends but I’m always surprised how dressed up women get when they go to the airport. I once did a search on “airport fashion” and was astounded by the number of articles and photos that featured various celebrities at airports dressed in expensive clothes carrying bags which cost more than a car.
Here’s one thing I know as someone who works at an airport. Airports are relatively safe because so much security was put in place after 9-11 but that doesn’t mean there isn’t crime. DIA like every airport is constantly worried about crimes like car theft and baggage theft. So many people move through the airport every day and there are always people looking for opportunities to relieve someone of their property. Yes, there are guards and cameras but there are also some very clever thieves looking for careless, trusting people. Huge crowds of pedestrians, chaos, and distractions make it easy to steal wallets and expensive bags.
Occasionally when I’m at work, a customer can’t find their wallet or purse. 99% of the time they’ve just misplaced it. A man put his wallet in his backpack instead of his pocket or a woman left her purse in the ladies room. But sometimes it’s more. Today, while I was filling drink orders I heard an angry argument rising over the general hum of conversation.
“My jacket was on the back of my chair!”
“Maybe you left it in that store where you bought the newspaper.”
“I was wearing the jacket. How could I leave it in the store!! I remember some lady even complimented me on it.”
It was a couple in their 30’s. The woman was standing and yelling at the man. Her face was flushed and I could see she was very upset.
She stalked over to the bar and asked me in a loud, angry voice, “Did you see a black leather jacket laying around here?”
I said I had not and I felt bad for her. I always feel bad for people who lose things in the airport because it’s so huge and it’s easy to misplace things.
I noticed, too, the woman was extremely well dressed. She wore tight jeans, expensive high heel black boots a beautiful silk blouse. She was also wearing a gold wedding band, an engagement ring with an enormous diamond and what looked like a very expensive watch. Definitely someone who paid attention to what celebrities were wearing. The man I assumed was her husband was still at the table studying his phone.
The woman returned to the table, said something to her husband, and stalked out of the restaurant, I assumed to try to backtrack and find her jacket.
After paying the bill, the man left his business card with the receptionist and asked her to please call him if the jacket showed up.
Later, during my break, I told Maya about the incident.
It’s the grandmothers Maya said.
There are three grandmothers who are stealing expensive things in the airport.
I assumed by “grandmothers” Maya was referring to older women.
How do you know this?
I see them. They are in the airport all of the time. They act like they are passengers or people waiting for their family. They look normal. They’re very nice and friendly. They never do anything that makes them look suspicious but I see them taking things. They’re very good at it.
What did you see?
I saw one of them bump a man when he walked by. She smiled at the man and apologized and said she should pay better attention to where she was going. When she bumped the man she took his wallet out of his back pocket. The man didn’t notice at all.
I saw another grandmother go to a store where they sell silver jewelry. She talked with the woman behind the counter for a while. She asked the woman to show her some necklaces. When the woman went to talk to someone else she slipped one of the necklaces in her bag. People are very busy and distracted in the airport, it’s easy to steal things if you’re clever.
I need to say something to security about this! You need to tell me when you see things like this.
I’m sorry Clara. I see so much but I don’t want anyone to notice me.
I understand Maya but you can tell me and I’ll tell security. It’s important that they know about these things.
I told someone in Security and they told me, not surprisingly, that yes they were aware there was an uptick in thefts and shoplifting though they were were surprised that the suspects were polite elderly women. Security almost always assumes it’s some kind of gang activity and they tend to watch teenagers who don’t look like typical passengers.
After this I began looking more sharply at the older women I saw at the airport. In particular, older women who kept showing up but weren’t employees.
This wasn’t easy. For one thing the sheer number of people in the airport makes it difficult to pick any one person out. And after business people, the most common passengers are retirees who are traveling for pleasure. Lots of old retired baby boomers taking those trips on their bucket lists, visiting grandchildren, and going to warmer places during the winter. There are also people who like to go to the airport and watch the plane. These are mostly men but I’m amazed by the number of people who are aviation enthusiasts. If I didn’t work here I would never ever go to the airport. I find it stressful.
Still, I often had time on my hands when the bar was quiet or I was on break and I began to stake out spots where I could observe people. Initially I watched around the Ladies rooms. I reasoned that these women would sometimes need to heed nature’s call and they would inevitably use one of the many Ladies room located throughout the airport. But again, there are over 50 ladies rooms in the airport many of which required me to go through TSA to get to and I didn’t have time to wait in line.
Then I remembered what the woman who lost her jacket had said, that she was at one of stores where they sell things that passengers often buy: newspapers, drinks, snacks, and magazines. And that Maya saw one of the grandmothers at a jewelry store. It was easier to sit and watch people in stores and more interesting to actually go into stores and browse.
So I began positioning myself near these stores and shops and I looked for familiar faces. It took me a surprisingly long time to find a possible suspect because I’m not in the airport every day and the number of people moving through the airport.
I noticed an older woman, probably her 70’s, standing in line at Starbucks. The first time I saw her she was dressed in a track suit and athletic shoes. She looked like so many other retired women I saw in the airport. Well-groomed and carrying what looked like a sensible carry-on bag. It was tan, made of some kind of lightweight material like nylon and had a dozen zipped pockets on the exterior.
I watched as she got a cup of tea and a scone and sat at a table to eat. Like most people she seemed to be checking her phone for messages and occasionally pecked out a reply. I wouldn’t have given this woman another thought except I saw her again the next week. This time she looked a bit more well to do wearing a nice pair of jeans and a leather jacket. Instead of the nylon carryon she had a medium-size leather purse. Although it didn’t have any obvious markings I knew it was a very expensive purse; perhaps not as much as a car but I would bet it cost close to my monthly rent.
I went up to her and in what I hoped was a friendly, casual way said, “That is such a beautiful bag! I’ve been looking for something like that forever! Would you tell me where you got it?”
The woman smiled at me warmly and said, “Thank you. I bought it in Europe at a small shop.” She named the designer and said I might be able to buy it online.
I noticed that she spoke with a slight accent. Probably Eastern European but not Russian. She spoke almost aristocratically, well, what my idea of aristocratic was. Her inflection was almost British. I am by no means an expert when it comes to accents but if I had to guess I’d say the accent was Polish or Hungarian.
I made a few notes on my phone and promised I’d mentioned this to Maya.
A week or so later I spotted grandmother #2. Like grandmother #1 she was an older lady, nicely dressed, and I saw her in the Tattered Cover one day and at a pricey pastry shop another day. Grandmother #2 had dark brown hair and was wearing a dress, a cashmere sweater, and expensive sandals. Again, she was well dressed but not in a way that would draw attention. She could be any of the number of retired passengers I saw everyday in the terminal. While she was waiting for her order at the pastry shop I heard them call “Lena” and the woman walked up to collect her food.
I added this to my notes.
When I shared this information with Maya, she agreed, yes, these were the grandmothers. I wondered if I should share this with security but other than what Maya told me, I had absolutely no evidence. I didn’t think security would take me seriously. They were still looking for obvious gangstas.
I wondered if I would make a good detective. It required so much patience to solve a crime and there was nothing glamorous whatsoever about the work. Still, I was sure these women were up to something and if they were the culprits, I wanted them to be caught. I thought there was something, well, predatory about the way in which they took advantage of peoples trust. These weren’t poor kids trying to make a buck. These were intelligent, well-organized women and they were running a con.
Copyright © Judy Murdoch
Lizard Girl – 8