Theft is a part of the retail world. I worked at Heath/Zenith for almost ten years, and a fair number of things vanished on us over the years there. We were not in a bad neighborhood, but we weren't far from Detroit, which meant, though we had excellent protection from the Eastpointe (then, East Detroit) and Harper Woods police (we were right on the boarder), but still, our products did their fair share to fuel the local drug trade.

The Color Video Card

Shortly after I started at the store, we had an interesting machine on display, a Heathkit H-89, with an external color monitor and color video card. It was sitting on a display near the door (ok, not the brightest idea) running its silly graphics demo.

Now, understand: This graphics card was totally unsupported by application software. You could write software to do whatever you wanted, but there was absolutely no practical use for it. We knew it. We didn't try to sell it. It was our Corvette on the lot -- you bring 'em in to look at the toy, you sell them what they need. We honestly couldn't figure out why anyone would ever buy this $400 card that did NOTHING.

One day, the boss noted the machine wasn't running the demo, and sent me over to find out why. After a little investigation, I realized the card was just plain missing, and mentioned it to the boss.

It took the two of us a while to realize this was just plain idiotic. No one at the store had removed it (why?) so obviously someone had opened the machine and stole it (again, though, why?). While they had stolen the card, they left the cables that ran to the back of the machine. We scratched our heads, and were relieved we could at least tell the factory we had managed to get it out of our inventory...

"Show me"

Not too long after the above event, it was a Saturday morning, there were just three of us at the store -- the manager, me and our TV tech, who was in the back. We were starting our early-morning stuff, including processing our corporate e-mail (hey, not bad for 1982!). A man walked in, and started talking with us about our products. The discussion was very strange, he told us he was comparing our H-89 line with the newly released DEC Rainbow systems. This was strange in that our H-100 line was a much closer competitor to the Rainbow than the aging H-89. We even stated that outright. But no, he was interested in our H-89s. He asked to see the insides of the machine, and being ever the show offs, we quickly popped open the cover on our e-mail system (remember, this was the days of floppy disks. When we were done doing the e-mail, we pull the disks and take them into the back, and the machine became a floor demo again) and gave him a tour.
"What's this card?", he asked.
"That's the 16k RAM upgrade to bring the system to 64K RAM", I explained.
"How about this?"
"That's the soft-sectored disk controller, which operates these drives over here"
"And that?"
"That's the hard sector disk controller, which operates the internal drive"
And so it went, with us showing him and identifying every part in the machine. Believe it or not, this wasn't unusual at that time, people wanted to know what was in their computers. There were only a few signs that something was strange -- the comparison of radically dissimilar, basically non-competitive machines, and his curiosity about things he didn't seem to be too knowledgeable about.

When the manager decided I had things under control (I was there for less than two months at that point, probably more like one month), he left me to do some paperwork in his office. This was all taking place in roughly the middle of the store.

At this point, the phone rang, and I excused myself to go get it. The caller asked me to check to see if we had a particular item in stock, so I went to the back, checked, and returned to tell the caller we did have it. The man I was talking to was now at our counter, which was all the way to the back of the store, and thanked me for my time. The manager had headed back out to the computer, and the man left.

I walked over to see what Dave was apparently puzzled over -- the e-mail machine was locked solid...absolutely unresponsive. Now, again, this is 1982, this just didn't happen then like it does now -- when a computer hung, you had a broken computer, and you fixed it. So Dave is trying to figure out what is wrong with this computer. He opened the cover to see what I had screwed up, and didn't see anything wrong. I looked...and pointed to one end of a cable that wasn't going anywhere. And the spot where the soft sector card had been a few minutes earlier.

Dave and I looked at each other. We looked at the screen...we verified that what was on the screen couldn't have got there if we hadn't booted from the external floppy drives...which HAD to have been attached to the soft-sectored controller card. It *was* really there before, and it *was* really not there now.

Dave made a run to the door, but the guy was gone.

What apparently had happened was this:
The guy was just filling an order for a soft sectored disk controller. This was a highly desirable part, and very expensive, about $600 if my memory serves me correctly. It allowed you to use a 5.25" floppy drive with a 600k capacity, instead of the machine's stock 100k capacity floppy. For reference, the brand new IBM PC had a 320k disk drive -- it was actually a step backwards in technology.

His customer had told him where the card was in the computer and how to remove it. He came into our store, opened up a machine (not a particularly shocking event, again...this WAS Heathkit, after all!), saw the board, and grabbed it. Problem was, the machine he opened had that idiot color video card in it in the slot normally occupied by the soft-sector controller card. He hands this card to his customer, who probably laughed and said, "What is this junk?" So, a couple weeks later, he returns, has US show him which card he is after...and waits until we are distracted, and grabs it. He then had the nerve to walk further into the store to say good bye to us and thank us before leaving with the card under his coat.

Amazing. That's all I can say. The guy had serious guts. And possibly a weapon.

How the ...

A lot of our computers came in very large boxes. One person could handle 'em, but you knew you were moving a big computer around.

One day, we noticed that the box containing a big, but by then quite unpopular computer had vanished off the sales floor. No idea how, but someone had seen it and picked it up and walked out the door with it. Oddly, it was probably not going to have sold until we deeply discounted it well below cost, so no tears were shed, though we got a good talking-to by the manager over how we were unattentive enough that we let that huge box go out the door without noticing.

After Hours "sales"

The store wasn't in a bad neighborhood, but it was near Detroit, and one could jump through three jurisdictions in just a few minutes of fast driving.

The local police were VERY responsive to our alarm bell, when it went off, they would not wait for a call, they would race to respond, and sitting right on the corner of two cities, we were told they had pride over who would be at the store first. Unfortunately, they never got there quite in time, usually by the time the alarm had gone off, they were already out with product in hand.

A favorite was Apple LaserWriter printers -- they would throw a large rock through the window, run in, grab the printer and be out before the alarm timer had gone off (the glass break and doors were all on the same circuit, so there was a non-trivial delay between a break in the alarm and the alarm going off so you could run in back and turn it off.

After the first time a LaserWriter was stolen, the manager bought a lot of aluminum bar stock and put it across the windows and doors. A few months later, another LaserWriter went out through the window, we had screwed up by half an inch -- there was literally just half an inch of space more between the bars more than the smallest dimension of the LaserWriter. We don't know if they had measured this out or just got lucky.

After that, we upgraded our alarm system. Unfortunately, the alarm company replaced our old bell alarm with a modern siren. While the police would race to the store when they heard the bell, the siren sounded like a car alarm, and they ignore those because of the number of false alarms. They outright told us, "We heard your alarm, we thought it was a car alarm, so we ignored it until the call came in". Ooops.

The new alarm had glass break sensors and motion sensors. The glass-break was sound activated -- the sound of glass breaking could be detected would trigger the alarm. There were sometimes false signals -- something dropped in the store just right and the glass alarm would go off.

With the new alarm system was an alarm monitoring service. The service wanted a few people to call in case the first person didn't answer right away (this was before cell phones were at all common). After a bit of discussion, we decided I should be second on the alarm list, as I was the second closest to the store. I did point out that one of my coworkers lived literally next door to me, and thus, she was technically about 100ft closer to the store than I was. The boss said, "I thought about that, but the police won't enter the store until someone from the store is there, so I asked myself, who would I rather see shot, you or C? The answer is you, I'd much rather see you shot"

One winter night, the glass break detector went off, the alarm company immediately called the alarm contact person, but there was no motion he assumed it was a false trigger, but while he was on the phone with the alarm company, quite a while after the glass break happened, a motion sensor a long way away from the glass break went off. Police were called. In that case, a bunch of laptops were stolen, some from the sales floor, but to our horror, then went through the back of the store to exit, and they found the service rack and stole a few repaired customer machines, too.

A few of us were called in to evaluate the damage and the lost machines, and there was a lot of puzzlement why the motion sensor near the glass break sensor didn't detect them. Then I had an idea...I put my coat back on just as if it were a cold day, hat and gloves. I proceeded to walk from the broken window, around the display tables, and to the back without ever setting off the motion sensor. The motion sensor was a thermal device, and my coat and hat hid enough of my body heat to not trip the alarm. Well, that mystery solved.

One evening, when leaving the office while a couple people were re-arranging some metal shelves, just as I stepped into my car, two police cars came zooming up, and blocked my car from leaving. Turned out the hammering on the steel shelves set off the glass break detector, the alarm hadn't been set, but the monitoring company called the police right away on their own, after the last event. The police were very excited to see someone coming out of the store at that instant, and I was very much having to explain who I was and why I was there to several officers very disappointed they hadn't caught the perps.

Really, officer?

One day, a Detroit policeman walked into our store with a laptop of the type we sold, he was looking for a power pack for it. I basically said, "stolen, huh?", but he was very defensive.

    "What makes you think someone wasn't down on his luck and just pawned it off?"
    "Well, they would get more for it with the power supply. And ..." I flipped the machine over, "They wouldn't have ground off the serial number"
Pretty sure that was NOT one of Detroit's finest we had there that day.

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