Jaci Stephen: 'Here I was being told to keep my nose out - I, the only proper witness'

Way Out West
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The Independent Online

There are many times I have wanted to resort to violence while waiting to be served in Vodafone; but in Beverly Hills' AT&T phone shop this week, a man really did threaten to come back and shoot everyone.

I was standing in line patiently, waiting to make my own complaint, when I suddenly found myself starring in Beverly Hills Cop.

The clearly violent suspect (I am sooooooo Hollywood now), was in his 70s, quite well dressed, speaking with a German accent, and wearing a hearing-aid. He was also shouting very, very loudly. They had been happy enough to take his money, he screamed, but now they wouldn't help him.

The assistant was nonchalant, to say the least. She never even looked at him, didn't seem to be listening and, as his voice escalated, just fingered his receipt.

Then she called the cops.

Oh, yes. They really don't mess around in Beverly Hills. I know this, because I went out in my pyjamas one night to track down noise from a very loud party. The culprit turned out to be the nearby Beverly Hills Hilton, which was having a "pool party". As it was well past midnight on a Monday evening, I thought I was justified in wanting a good night's sleep. So I called the cops. Apparently, it's the only way you get things done here. If you ever want to get anyone off your back, you just say: "I'm calling the cops." Not only is your botherer gone within the first five seconds, the cops arrive within the next five. I could hear the Hilton draining the pool even as the sirens arrived.

It was the same when Vodafone called the cops. There they were. Instantly. Quicker than you could say "free talking minutes". But my war criminal (naturally, I had built up a little story around him, in which I had made a citizen's arrest on a Goebbels-type monster hiding in the Hollywood Hills) had fled.

The cops started asking the assistant questions. How old was he? She reckoned 70s; no, 60s, contradicted the male assistant. Weight? She reckoned 190lb. No, no, no, said the male: 160.

They were hopeless! Whereas I, who had been watching the whole scene, had taken in every detail. As I would in the UK, I felt it my citizen's duty to add my two-penn'orth.

"Was he bigger than me?" the very plump cop asked. Yes, said the assistant. "No, no he wasn't," I chirruped. "He was actually quite slight ... And nowhere near 160lb even ... And ... "

"We're askin' THEM," said the cop. I was crestfallen. In the UK, the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker would, by now, all have gathered from neighbouring shops, each to give their own account of what they had heard (or not) or seen (definitely not).

Yet here I was, being told to keep my nose out: I, the only proper witness, who had taken in every single morsel of the man, and who, for goodness sake, as a writer, did this for a living.

The cops weren't like this in the movies, where witnesses were forever stepping over barriers they had been told not to cross, in order to fill the cops in on missing bits of information that might prove useful. Next thing, they were dating the cop.

The assistant went on to say that the man had said he would come back and shoot a couple of people; then, that he would definitely come back and shoot her. What had been his complaint?, the cops asked.

Wait for it: the phone his friend had bought the day before did not have Bluetooth and was incompatible with the equipment in his car. Oh, ye gods! Hand me that Magnum.

I thought I had better apologise to the cops for what was clearly a breach of criminal etiquette. "I'm really sorry," I said, "but I saw it all when nobody else was looking ... "

"That's fine, ma'am. We're askin' THEM."

They just weren't getting it, were they?

I skulked away, but had one last try at helping the Beverly Hills cops with their enquiries.

"And he had a hearing aid in his right ear!" I whispered conspiratorially on my way out, just in case the man's name, address and phone number in their hands was not enough to lead them directly to him. "Hearing aid, right ear," said my cop to his partner. Ha! Result.

Instinct tells me that next time, I should keep my gob shut and just let the cops get on with their job. I just don't envy the staff in Cardiff next time I visit my local Vodafone shop, as I've picked up a lot of tips. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

To read Jaci Stephen's LA diary in full, go to lanotsoconfidential.blogspot.com