Irene and I are domestic to the point of depravity; we are at the mall buying socks together. She wears scratchy socks, and for this I am giving her a hard time, you must have no nerve endings in your feet, and she rolls her eyes and sighs, yes, it's true, I don't. At least I don't have to worry about stubbed toes, and at this very instant she whangs her foot into the corner of the display case, and it takes her the better part of a minute to convince me she's not joking about the pain. On our way out, we quite nearly run into Andy, who is not really looking where he's going. Andy! I say, and he starts, then breaks into a mousy grin. He and Irene go through the gentle negotiations of two absent-minded people meeting for the second or third time, and we start off down the mall together.

What brings you out in the light? I ask Andy, who blinks. He's on his way to the record store, which sounds perfectly delightful, so there we are, we do the usual browsing-the-shelves dispersal thing. Irene parks contentedly in the World Beat section, and I go over to check on Andy back in Rock. He has a couple CDs in front of him. He spots me and jumps a bit, checks his six, and visibly relaxes. He moves his hand over one of the jewel-box-holding plastic containers, does some some sort of mystical manipulation I can't follow, and the jewel-box bursts free. The cover disappears under the rack. Care to explain, Mr. Five-Finger Discount? I ask. Andy spins a plastic dojiggy around his fingers, then pockets it. Step one?, he says, and I parrot him: step one?. He nods, then continues: I've proven I can do it. That just leaves the source tags. But that I can do in two stages. Grab a few from the stock bin, and I'll set off the alarms going out, but I'm clean. Then, next time, I'll set off the alarms going in, so they'll wave me through when I leave.

I'm a bit stunned. Granted, I've wondered about this kind of stuff a bit, but it's strange to be in the presence of such a callous thief. So you found the hole in the protocol, sure, but don't they pay us enough you could maybe buy the CDs? Andy looks hurt, his shoulders fold in and forward, his neck contracts. No, no, it's just a proof of vulnerability. I'm white hat. So. To which there is not much to say, and then Irene comes over, so I don't need to say it, whatever it might have been. Time is getting on, time just for a quick dinner before Irene needs to get to her Tai Chi. The two of us are a public embarassment, kicking each other under the table and engaging in quick-draw contents going after the pepper at the same time. I tell her about Andy's little adventure, and she swallows and says, he's lonely. I ask her how she can tell, why she thinks this, and she laughs that laugh again. You guys, honestly. You were exactly the same way, I could see it above you like a cloud. I tilt my head and smile. But not any more? And she tilts her head and smiles too, No. Off like a light, and she flicks her nose like a light switch, and seeing that gesture I know she is right.