As Soft Drink Pilferage Rises, Some Turn to Higher Power

BOSTON.  It’s noontime on Federal Street, a curious three-block byway that despite its short length is home to some of Boston’s most powerful financial and professional institutions.  “With all the bankers and lawyers and such, it oughta be a great location,” says Manny Drachma, owner of a busy lunch counter.  “But instead I got to deal with the refill ‘free riders,'” he says as he makes finger quotes of scorn in the air.

“If you want another dish of unflavored Jell-O gelatin, you’re going to have to pay for it.”

Drachma is referring to the practice, common among parsimonious New Englanders, of buying a drink cup to be filled at a fountain dispenser, then filling it more than once before leaving a restaurant despite signage that prohibits the act.  “It ticks me off,” says Georgios Papadapolous as he scowls at a prim woman who stealthily approaches the lemonade dispenser.  “If I went to a lawyer’s office around here and asked for another copy of something, don’t you think they’d charge me extra for it?”

The woman who attracted Papadapolous’s suspicion starts to refill her cup, but is nabbed in the process and escorted to the cash register, where the owner rings her up.  “You got to eat lunch pretty early in the morning around here to fool me, missy,” he says as the woman digs in a purse to come across with an additional $2.50.

That “collar”–in fast-casual lunch parlance–is the result of a new approach to soft drink “shrinkage”  from unauthorized refills: a team of innocent-looking undercover lunchroom cops–Sister Mary Joseph Arimathea and Sister Mary Clarus–who wear the grey, white and black habits of the Little Sisters of Inventory Loss Control.

” . . . and don’t try to boost no Jumbo-Sized Diet Coke on me, girls.”

“Those two are the tops,” says Bob Duffy, a security guard at a “rent-a-cop” private security firm who retired last year on doctor’s orders because of the stress.  “They earned their stripes telling kids to go back and finish their fish sticks in the mean cafeterias of Boston’s parochial schools, so they’re not gonna be fazed by a fancy suit or a Rolex watch.”

“You hold him–I’ll hit him.”

The two got their start as a tag team wrangling a rough crew of boys at Holy Name Grade School in this city’s Dorchester neighborhood.  “We were outnumbered, like Davy Crockett at the Alamo,” Sister Mary Clarus recalls with disgust.  “For some reason those twerps thought that would make a difference,” laughs Sister Joseph Arimathea, known to those she subdues as “Sister Joe” for her no-nonsense approach, modeled after Sgt. Joe Friday of the “Dragnet” television show.

 “He starts mouthin’ off so I stuffed his Caesar salad down his freakin’ pie hole.”

The two excuse themselves to return to their work of undercover surveillance and Clarus nudges Arimathea when they see a repeat offender get up from a chair and make his move.  “It’s Chapman again,” she says, referring to a man whose office is around the corner on Summer Street.  “He actually thinks we’re going to fall for the ‘I have a tray in my hand so this must be my first drink’ trick,” Arimathea says as the two take off in opposite directions in order to catch the perp in a “pincer” move.

“He must think we just fell off a turnip truck or somethin’.”

“Excuse me,” Clarus says, her voice tinkling like hippie wind chimes as she takes her place in line behind the suspect.  “Can I get a root beer?”

“Sure,” the sixty-something lawyer replies as he turns, smiling down on the beatific countenance of the nun.  Before he realizes it, Arimathea has swooped in and pulled his right arm behind his back in a hammer lock.

“Ow!” he screams, “my rotator cuff!”–and falls to the floor.  Clarus moves in, whips heavy-duty plastic handcuff ties around the man’s wrists, and takes a seat on the small of his back to prevent his escape.

“You cheap . . .” she begins, but is cautioned by Arimathea, who stops her as several diners pull out cell phones and begin to record the encounter in the hope of selling film to a television broadcaster as evidence of police brutality.  “Remember, Sister,” Arimathea says, “you can burn in hell ’til the end of time for one venial sin.”

“You’re right,” her partner says.  “You cheap dingleberry,” she begins again, then reads constitutional rights to the man who is groaning beneath the weight of Arimathea.

“You have the right to remain silent, except for whimpering like a hurt puppy,” she says, reading from a plastic card of her own devising modeled after the “Miranda” warnings given by police to suspects under arrest.  “You are not entitled to a lawyer ’cause you already are one.”

Available in KIndle format on as part of the collection “Fun With Nuns.”

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