My friend Claire works in a small business part-time and had a frightening experience recently.
The store owner, Claire's boss, had been alone in the boutique on a Saturday in May. A man came in wrapped up in a scarf and trenchcoat and hat, even though it was a warm day. He kept looking around, and once they were alone in the store, he walked up to the cash register, pulled out a gun, pointed it at the owner, and demanded the money in the caisse. Trembling, the store owner turned it over to him.
It wasn't much money-- about 400 euros.
The store owner went to the police immediately and they were reassuring. This kind of thing never happened twice. They took down all the details anyway.
On Monday, the store owner told the other employees about the incident. That same day, a second employee was in the store alone and the same person came in. The hat, the scarf, the gun. This time, the robber got about 200 euros.
Claire worked on Wednesday.
"I was angoissée," she said. "Two policemen were hiding in the office, and there were more in cars outside. We were all sure the man would come back. And when no one was in the shop, he did. J'ai eu mal au coeur [I felt sick] when I saw him come in, dressed exactly the same-- the trenchcoat, the hat, the scarf wrapped around his face. He looked around to make sure we were alone, and then he came up to the cash register and pulled out a gun. 'Give me all the money!' he said.
"I gave him the money-- it was only about €140. The policemen had told me to make sure to give him the entire cash drawer so that they could get fingerprints.
"The police had told me ahead of time that it is not safe to intervene during the robbery. A robber is very nervous during a robbery and could become déstabilisé and fire. But when he gets away, and thinks he has succeeded, he feels an immense relief and breathes freely. This is when he relaxes and you can catch him.
"He walked out of the store and they arrested him. He was a franco-français, with big money problems-- owed alimony, and had two children-- and lived right across the street!"
"Did you feel safe, knowing the policemen were there?" I asked.
"Not really, no," said Claire. "Yes, it felt good to know that they were there, but when you are looking down the barrel of a flingue, you feel very alone.
"The worst thing, though," she said, "is that because the prisons are overcrowded, the man was immediately given a two-year sentence, with one year in jail, and one year for community service, and they let him do the community service first. So my boss was at the cash machine only a few days after the arrest, and saw this same man. Luckily the police had warned her he was free-- they were disgusted by this. He actually came up to her and said, 'Je voudrais m'excuser, Madame*....'"
*I would like to excuse myself