Bait and Switch

What you noticed most about Arni when he entered the grocery store from the parking level was his limp. He struggled to pull a cart free, tossed his canvas shopping bags in the basket, then back bent and shuffling, slowly made his way to the deli.

“That Black Forest Ham on special is my wife’s favourite,” he told the clerk. “I’ll take–”

“Sold out.”

“Sold out? But it’s the first day of the sale.”

“Gone by ten this morning. We’ve got another brand if you’d like?”

“Same price?”

“A bit more.”

Arni shook his head. It was the same with the green grapes, yogurt and ground beef featured in the flyer, all sold out with competing brands at least double the price. Marge was going to be disappointed. He’d taken over doing the shopping after her stroke and when the specials she found in the store flyers didn’t materialize he felt responsible.

They could order their groceries, but Marge chaffed at the delivery fee and felt the store appointed shopper was told to pick less than perfect fruits and veggies and chose products with “best by” dates that were soon to expire. Substitutions were offered for out-of-stock, but like today, they often weren’t comparable in quality or price.

It looked like dinner would be chunky soup again. He picked up two cans, then headed for the bulk food aisle and filled a small bag with Licorice Allsorts not bothering to secure it. Marge was diabetic and even having them in the house made him feel guilty. He popped two in his mouth, chewing as he headed for the self-checkout.

Passing the meat counter, he checked out a package of two nicely marbled ribeye steaks. Was this must be a mistake?

“Excuse me,” he said to a young man stocking the meat cooler. “Is this correct?”


“No wonder grocery stores are showing record profits,” Arni said.

“It’s not us,” the employee said. “It’s the suppliers, the increased cost of transportation and inflation.”

“And yet grocery stores are making record profits.”

“Ground beef is on sale,” the employee said as if the two products were similar.

“It’s sold out.”

The young man shrugged.

Arni picked up two packages of steak. At the seafood counter, the price of a sockeye salmon was just as exorbitant, and previously frozen not even fresh. He picked up two of those as well, then ate a few more Allsorts on his way to the produce area.

There were no grapes, but there were fresh papayas – at a price that was not only unrealistic but unconscionable. He picked one that wasn’t bruised and put it in the cart.

At the self-checkout, he scanned the soup and paid with his credit card. Then he scanned the other items but rather than paying he cancelled the order. He packed the soup in one bag, the other expensive items in another and left the candy in the cart. When the clerk was busy, which was always since she was tasked with handling six self-checkouts, the customer service desk, aluminum can recycling and incoming telephone calls, he picked them up and headed for the exit.

He’d never stolen anything but today he felt justified. He and Marge had worked hard, paid taxes been solid citizens their entire lives. The first years into retirement they were okay, they even had enough to go on that Alaska Cruise Marge always dreamed about, but after she had a stroke there were renovations that needed to be done, additional medical expenses, homecare and a wheelchair lift-van. That depleted most of the savings but with their pensions, they were still able to make ends meet.

Then inflation sent prices soaring.

They’d cut everything including the cable package with Marge’s favourite shows. He’d laid off the Vietnamese landscaper who cut the grass every two weeks and was doing it himself – as well as shovelling the snow in the winter despite the arthritis in his back.

They could sell the house but the thought of moving after forty years in the same place was overwhelming. Besides, where would they go? This was their home, their neighbourhood, and “familiar “was becoming increasingly important.

Arni was angry most of the time and today’s bait-and-switch tactics made him angrier. He and Marge deserved to have an extravagant meal once in a while.

The uniformed security guard was coming toward him. Should he abandon the bag with the unpaid expensive items? Don’t look guilty. He nodded, she smiled and walked on.

As he approached the elevator to underground parking, the surveillance camera situated high on the wall in the corner glared at him like a malevolent Cyclops. Arni began to sweat despite the chilly air conditioning. His heart raced and his mouth was dry.

Like everyone else, he’d broken a few laws: occasionally exceeding the speed limit and, when he was younger, taken side jobs, he was a finishing carpenter, without reporting the extra income to Revenue Canada. Then there was that extravagantly priced piece of Inuit art Marge had bought on the Alaska shore excursion they didn’t declare. Despite these transgressions, he’d never been charged with anything and considered himself honest. This would all change if he was arrested for shoplifting.

Only a few more steps. Once in the elevator with the door closed, he’d be safe. He’d tell Marge he convinced them to make substitutions. She would never imagine he stole it. They’d have a great meal and he’d be ahead a few bucks.

What was the penalty for shoplifting? Jail time? A hefty fine? Being his first offence and an old man, the court would probably take pity on him, but how humiliating would it be if the story of his arrest appeared in the community newspaper? What would their friends (the few still alive) say? A criminal record would restrict him from travelling, not that they could afford it anymore – unless Lotto 6/49 came in. He still managed to come up with three bucks for the weekly ticket – a small price for hope.

He stopped at the elevator and pushed the button. A woman with a cart full of groceries joined the queue. A beefy guy with a shaved head, wearing Dockers and Henley sidled up. His small canvas bag had a baguette sticking out of it. He could very likely be an undercover loss prevention officer ready to arrest him the moment he stepped into the elevator.

This is what he had to go through so Marge would be proud of him, so she wouldn’t be disappointed and despondent as she was so often now. He wanted to take one of the chunky soup cans and whack the sneaky LPO right on his bald head – twice! The rage stole his breath, and made him feel dizzy. 

“Are you alright, sir?” the suspected LPO had walked up beside him. “You look flushed. Let me get you one of those chairs by the window.” The beefy, bald guy brought the plastic chair. Arni put down his bags and allowed himself to be guided into it.

The elevator pinged, the door opened.  

“Here’s the elevator,” Arni said.

“It’s okay.” His Samaritan smiled. “I’ll get the next one.”

Arni took some deep breaths. “I feel better. Thank you.”

“No problem.”

The elevator was back. Three people exited and the beefy bald guy got in. “Take care,” he said as the door closed.

When the next elevator arrived, Arni reached down for his grocery bags, hesitated, and then picked up only one.

“You forgot one of your bags,” said a woman holding the door for him.

“Not mine.”

The door closed. Arni heaved a sigh of relief. That was close. His entire life could have been ruined.

When the door opened at the parking lot level Arni stepped out only to be confronted by the beefy bald guy who’d just previously come to his aid.

“Excuse me sir. I’m the store’s Loss Prevention Officer”. He flashed an identification card. “I need to check your bag for unpaid merchandise.”



Rod Raglin

Rod Raglin is a Canadian journalist, photographer and self-published author of 13 novels, two plays and a collection of short stories. His short fiction and poetry has been published in several online publications and aired nationally on CBC radio. He’s been a prize winner in Vancouver West End Writers’ Poetry Competition.  He lives in Vancouver, BC, where he is the publisher and editor of an online community newspaper. Rod recommends the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 - 21:03