Sitting at one of the desks was Tiffany, holding a stuffed Dumbo and looking at me like a deer in the headlights.
The officer at the desk explained to me that Tiffany had been caught shoplifting jewelry from one of the shops. As he described what they had witnessed, Tiffany nodded at questions when asked if the details were accurate. He went on to explain to her that she was being released into my custody, and if she were ever caught stealing again, she would be permanently banned from entering Disney World. I think that got her attention. We left the security complex without speaking and emerged once again into the flower-filled alley.
I explained briefly to Lynn what had transpired and then turned to Tiffany.
“You’ve ruined your night, but you’re not ruining mine. You will follow us ten feet behind for the rest of the evening while we enjoy the rides and attractions. You will not speak to anyone else at all. Do you understand?”
Tiffany nodded, and Lynn and I headed out with her following apace at a distance. Word spread fast. Girls from the pep club kept appearing from behind pillars and kiosks, staring and whispering. I had to tell one that Tiffany was off-limits; after that no one else appeared for the rest of the evening. Lynn and I had a good time for the next hour or so while Tiffany stood silently at the entrance to each of the rides, holding Dumbo in her arms.
Around 9:30 Lynn and I decided we were done and headed for the bus. I told Tiffany to stand by the bus while we waited for all of the girls to arrive. They drifted in, already knowing that Tiffany was to be left alone. (Let me tell you: you want word to get around quickly? Tell a teenage girl. It’s faster than light.) As more girls arrived at the bus, they began to cluster and chatter about the Topic of the Evening. I strolled around, listening without being obvious. It was enlightening.
Apparently, all of those necklaces, bracelets and rings that Tiffany wore every day had been stolen from the mall behind the school. She was wearing a fortune in gold. I guess she just wanted a similar souvenir from Disney. I filed the information away and walked up to the bus door, announcing that it was time to board.
As the girls lined up to get on the bus, it struck me that the stuffed Dumbo that Tiffany was carrying was probably stolen too. I figured if I tried to take it, she would protest if she’d paid for it. She approached the door and took the first step.
“I’ll take that,” I said as I removed Dumbo from her grasp. She looked at me silently and then continued on to her seat. Great. Now I had a stolen stuffed animal. What was I going to do with the thing?
The long ride home was uneventful—thank you very much—but as we neared the school parking lot and the waiting cars, I told Tiffany she had to tell her parents what happened. I would be checking on her.
What a night. I gave a brief synopsis to Abe and went to bed.
The next day was Sunday. I slept in and waited until after lunch to make the call I did NOT want to make. Her mother answered the phone.
“This is Birdie Brown, the pep club’s sponsor. Did Tiffany tell you what happened at Disney World last night? Oh. Do you have time to see me? I’ll be right over.”
We all sat in the Florida room of Tiffany’s upper middle class home. As I ended the story, I told her parents what I’d overheard the girls say about her jewelry. Tiffany’s mother interjected, “Not my little girl!”
Stepdad had a different reaction. “Oh yeah. I believe it.”
They thanked me for my trouble and I left what was one of the lowest moments of my young professional career at the time. I gave Dumbo to Goodwill. I did not renew my sponsorship of the pep club the following year.