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The Two-Person Rule

by Mark T. Shirey


They had been planning to do this since last Christmas.


John and Star stood around the Salvation Army kettle at the north entrance of the largest store in the Mall, ringing their bells. They could see their breath like silvery smoke in the cold mid-December Central-Pennsylvania air, and they kept saying "Merry Christmas" to the shoppers going by.

"Did you hear about the latest Krugerrand?" John said to Star, over the bells.

After a long pause, and a few "Merry Christmas"es, Star said, "Another one?"

Their conversation was slow, to fill the few hours they'd be out in the cold.

John nodded for a few seconds and said, "Yeah, last week, in a kettle in Columbus. Whoever does it isn't just making a donation, they want it to make the news."

After another long pause and another "Merry Christmas", Star said, "And the value of those coins keeps going up - must be worth over a thousand dollars now."


John reached down to pick up the last dollar bill that had been dropped in the kettle. It was lying in the small depression of the shiny, red lid. He folded it and stuffed it in the slot.
The first Salvation Army kettle, in San Francisco in 1891, was actually a crab pot on a tripod left unattended for passersby to donate anonymously. Later, they introduced the uniformed Salvation Army bell-ringers and the crab pots were exchanged for kettles with no lids. After some thefts, the kettles eventually got lockable lids with small slots for donations. There was also the "two-person rule" - the kettle had to be attended by two volunteers who later counted the money together. The military-like uniforms eventually went away, at least for the bell ringers - they wore red, full-length aprons. Today, John and Star’s aprons were put on over heavy winter coats.


John owned a neighborhood pub and tended bar. He did the Salvation Army gig partly to make up for a misspent youth, spent on the other side of the bar. The Salvation Army would not approve of his occupation if they knew. There were many things about him they would not like. This morning, he was glancing left and right fairly often, along the length of the mall’s north wall, scanning the vehicles and people, as if waiting for something.


Star had been called "Star" since she was a local ice-skating champion as a little girl. She lived with her parents, went to church every week and volunteered for many charitable opportunities like this one. She only knew John from the Salvation Army and hadn't seen him since last Christmas, when they had twice been bell-ringers together. She looked past an approaching couple with Macy's bags, to the armored truck pulling up to the curb behind them.


The Dunbar Security truck had a red-and-white color scheme which looked nicely seasonal, and almost matched the Salvation Army kettle and Macy's bags. Inside the truck, Mark and Jen went through a little checklist, very quickly.

"Time?" Mark said.

"Right on schedule," said Jen.



"Two. Empty. One each."


They got out simultaneously, one on each side of the cab, slamming the doors, each with a gray duffle bag bearing a dull-red Dunbar logo. Their uniforms were dull-red and gray as well, not really Christmasy. Their guns were black, not Christmasy at all. It was company policy to work in teams of two, share the work, and keep an eye on the other person. This would be especially important when they returned to the truck with the bags full of holiday cash. Jen nervously fell into step with Mark.


John and Jen made eye contact briefly as she and Mark approached, and there was the slightest of nods between them. Star said "Merry Christmas!" to the couple with the Macy's bags who reached the kettle first. The woman with the Macy's bag turned, drawing John and Star's attention to the gun-toting guards with duffle bags. The man with the Macy's bag ignored the others, quickly bent over the kettle and then continued walking. His partner caught up with him and they smiled at each other, confident that they would not be remembered and that no one had seen the gold coin go in.


Just like they planned.