Nightmare in the morning: Thank you to the Austin Police

This is the stuff of nightmares. At least, it is the stuff of nightmares I’ve had. Yesterday morning I had to open the place where I’m working part-time to fund my studies. All seemed normal when I unlocked the front door. My cashier and I went inside, re-locked the door, and started doing all the ‘opening’ things that must be done. My cashier left the office to install her till and I continued doing opening stuff in the office. I was just about to leave the office and traverse the cavernous dark space to do other ‘opening stuff’ in the far, dark reaches of the building. I’d just gotten up from the computer when there was a soft, but frantic, tapping at the office door and “mrph le mmrrrrr!”

I couldn’t understand a word my cashier was muttering on the other side of the door. I did get that the low muttering sounded urgent and frantic. I jerked open the door to see Tonya standing there, white as a ghost and, literally, shaking from head to foot. “Someone’s in here with us!”

I reached out, jerked her inside the office, and slammed the door, all the while thinking, “No, she’s imagining things.”

The place is, after all, damn creepy in the early morning and after the doors close at night. The lights are on a timer and they go off about half an hour before the closing procedures are completed and don’t come on again until official customer entry time in the morning, so you have to run around in areas that are semi-dark and in areas that are so dark you can barely see your hand in front of your face. I took a deep breath and didn’t need to ask more because she was already giving forth in frantic whispers: “I was going to the checkout with my till and I heard a really loud sound. Things fall all the time but this was different. It was loud. It was like someone ran into or knocked over something big. I saw a shadow.”

“A shadow?”

“Yes. I was going toward the checkouts. I heard the noise and looked. Toward the back, I saw a shadow of, like, someone walking the other way. Coming to this side, toward the office. Is the window bullet-proof?”

The office door locks automatically. There is a large, NON-bullet-proof window looking out at the front portion of the store. But, yo, the wall between the office and the store doesn’t come anywhere close to reaching the ceiling. It can, and has been, easily breached by managers who left their keys inside on numerous occasions.

I was already dialing 911.

It took less than 3 minutes for the first police unit to arrive but it felt like an hour.

As I sprinted to unlock the door for the first arriving officers, I felt a right idiot. We were going to open late. If it turned out to be nothing, I was going to be in deep sh*t with the powers that be, none of whom I could reach on the numbers we had for them.

The police asked us to wait outside and, once a couple more squad units arrived, they went in with guns drawn. They cleared the building. No one was in there. Then I asked about the seals on the emergency exit and loading doors. One of the police said, “You mean the door at the back down that long corridor? The seal is broken but there’s no telling when that happened.”

Oh, but there was. Whoever closes has to check all the door seals and log the time they checked to make sure that it was intact. It is checked again in the morning and, in fact, I had just been about to go through the dark building to check the seals when Tonya came rushing back.

I went back there with the police. Sure enough, it had been checked, though I was pissed off to see it had been checked 2 hours before closing instead of after the building was cleared of all customers. The seal was not only broken but it had kept the door wedged slightly open. The officer showed how he could go in and out of it. Hang on a minute! The door is alarmed and the alarm should have been screaming when the door opened at time one and it should still be screaming. We checked the alarm and someone had cut the wires.

Someone had definitely been in the building overnight. Tonya had not just been jumping at shadows, the shadow she saw had been a real shadow. Someone had been in the building with us. Someone had been coming toward the office where I had been and, when the cashier raised the alarm, made a U-turn and bolted for the emergency exit on the far side of the building.

The creepiest thing of all was when we reviewed the security camera footage. Whoever had been in there knew the layout of the building and knew where the cameras are located. The cameras are triggered by motion. We could see the front camera click on and record the evening crew exiting and locking the front door. We could see the security guard for the business next door doing his pace across the front again and again during the night. There was me and Tonya unlocking the door and entering. The next camera clicked on just as we approached the office door. The office camera clicked on when we came inside. The camera in the cavernous stockroom never clicked on. The camera trained on the aisle that is most-pilfered in the middle of the store never clicked on. Stupidly, there are no cameras at the back of the store where there are aisles and aisles and plenty of places to hide. There are no cameras on the far side where the emergency exit is located.

Thank G-d my cashier did not second-guess the bump in the dark and the shadow because I had just been about to go back into the camera-less dark reaches where someone was lurking.

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