Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Grape Thief

The Grape Thief


     When the S.W.A.T. team smashed in his front door, Martin Fletcher was at first shocked,  then terrified and totally confused. Before he could even get out of the shower he was thrown to the floor, handcuffed, wrapped hastily in a towel and on his way to a prison cell where he would live for the rest of his life. The state had no death penalty so executing him wasn’t an option, although everyone that followed the case felt it was what he deserved.

    For twenty-four years Mr. Fletcher had been the produce manager at the local big name supermarket. He ran a “tight ship” as he referred to the way he did his job. His biggest complaint was with the way many customers felt it was OK to sample the fruits and vegetables before buying… especially the grapes. It seemed as though every customer that passed the stand where the grapes were displayed would look them over, pluck one from the bunch, sample it and then move on, never buying any.

    He had posted a number of signs warning the customers to please refrain from sampling the produce. He’d even started to threaten people with arrest for the “theft of goods not purchased but consumed!”

    He was famous for his angry comments directed at people that would sample the wares. He had become much more confrontational when faced with a customer’s wanton disregard for his signs. It seemed even the threat of arrest didn’t curtail their outrageous, if not criminal, behavior. More than once he had remarked to his co-workers. “They get me so mad that sometimes I just want to kill them!” 

    His temperament led to a confrontation that almost cost him his job and pension. On a particularly bad day he witnessed a customer walk up to the grape stand and sample not one but two grapes before turning to continue shopping. She did it even while standing next to his sign that threatened violators with arrest for theft if they sampled products without paying.

    From three stands away in a voice loud enough for others to hear he ordered the customer to stop. He rushed towards her and began berating her for “stealing the grapes” despite the clear warning on the sign. He chastised her in a loud, angry tone in front of dozens of customers. 

    “I am so sick of people like you who think my department is a place where you can eat for free! Didn’t you see the signs?”

    Instead of reacting like someone who should be offering an apology the lady turned on him with equal aggressiveness 

    “How dare you talk to me that way? I don’t who you are but I have been a loyal customer and stock holder of this market for 27 years. I never buy grapes without sampling at least one grape. Never have I been so humiliated and treated so rudely. I’ve just moved to this town and I’m new to this market but I can tell you this, you are being a complete moron and I think you are seriously overreacting. And, for the record, these grapes suck!”

    Over the years he had become accustomed to people just slinking away meekly to his policing in the produce department. This time the woman was challenging his rules regarding sampling the goods. He decided then and there that his signs were meaningless if he didn’t back them up with action. He called her a thief and had the police called. He insisted they arrest her for shoplifting. The police were reluctant but Mr. Fletcher insisted so she was taken to the local police station, given a citation and ordered to appear in court. Fletcher felt she was dealt with properly and that his actions were fully justified.

    Fletcher soon learned he had picked a fight with the wrong customer that day. She had money and a good lawyer. The judge listened politely to Fletcher’s complaint. When Fletcher was done he felt he had presented a solid case against the woman he had come to call the Grape Thief. He was genuinely surprised when the judge smiled and tossed out the complaint and she was free to go. She followed up her encounter with some well placed letters to the corporate office. Fletcher was called into the store manager’s office for a hearing with a corporate representative that could result in his losing his job and pension.

    Fortunately and with no explanation, the woman didn’t come to the meeting to present her side of the story. Fletcher had been an excellent employee for twenty-four years so the corporation went easy on him. He was removed from his manager position and had his pay cut but kept his pension. He was put on a two year probation. If he got into any arguments or received any complaints he would be dismissed with no severance package or pension. 

    After the meeting the lady was rarely seen in the store again. The few times she came in he would run to the back of the store until she left. Even after everything she went through she still stopped and sampled the grapes.

    Fletcher would sit sullenly and plot her death, killing her in a thousand different ways. His hate for her was a burden he never could free himself of. He kept a journal where would give voice to his hate and plots of revenge. He wanted to kill her and every customer who ate the grapes freely.

    About a year into his probation a number of people in the area died in a wave of mysterious deaths. It took months to discover the cause. Investigators found that all the people had one thing in common. Shortly before their death each victim had shopped at the same supermarket. They all had bought some grapes. When questioned by the investigators almost every person pointed the finger of suspicion at Martin Fletcher.

    Autopsies showed that the same drug had been used to kill them all. Succinycholine was a drug that was almost undetectable in most routine blood screens. An anonymous tip led the police to search the supermarket. When the police searched the employee’s lockers they discovered a small vial with the same poison in Fletcher’s locker. They confiscated all the grapes in the store; after testing them many of the individual grapes contained large doses of Succinycholine.

    When they searched Fletcher’s home they discovered his journal that detailed many ways he intended to kill all the people that sampled his produce.

At his trial the prosecution had a parade of witnesses who testified as to Fletcher’s angry, over-zealous and borderline insane reactions to people who sampled any produce; especially the grapes. All of them had witnessed his outbursts and heard the threats. Individually, each witness’ testimony was about their personal experiences with Fletcher. He might have had a chance at beating the charges if it was just them.

    Unfortunately for Fletcher the prosecution had a star witness whose experience was witnessed firsthand by several of the witnesses called to support her testimony. The older woman, the long time loyal customer and stock holder, the one that Fletcher had insulted, humiliated and had arrested for stealing two grapes took the stand and, in a tearful voice, described his tirade and his death threat..

    She was well-spoken, articulate and a witness whose story the jury totally believed. She was in the courtroom when the jury came back with the guilty verdict. Fletcher’s eyes met hers as he was led from the court and she simply gave him a small smile. It was then that Fletcher finally realized the mistake he had made.

    Many credited her with being the one that helped bring a monster to justice and saving many other lives. No one ever learned just how many lives she sacrificed to get the man that had called her a thief; A “Grape Thief!” The best thing was knowing that Fletcher would spend the rest of his life in a cell.

    It took almost two years to exact her revenge. She worked at a medical supply company and had an extensive knowledge of the drugs used in medical centers.  Getting her hands on the Succinycholine was easy enough. She wore a variety of wigs and dressed in ways that would disguise her appearance. The public restrooms were at the rear of the supermarket just steps away from the employee lockers. The names made it easy to identify Martin Fletcher’s locker. She went to the supermarket almost every week and went to the grape stand. She would always sample them and usually buy a few bunches.

    Over two years, when she was disguised, when Fletcher was hiding in the back of the store, she would leave some grapes as a gift from Fletcher to all the rest of the Grape Thieves.

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