The customer's eyes were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses and the brim of a floppy blue hat sat low over his brow, but the head cashier tallying the evening receipts at the Pantry Pride Grocery store in Takoma Park instantly recognized the face.
"It's you again?" he cried.
"You know what I want," said the man, as he scuttled past the racks of panty hose with a snub-nosed chrome revolver in his hand.
"Yes," said the aghast cashier. "I know what you want."
For the third time in six weeks, a pistol-toting man dressed in a blue windbreaker and khaki pants strolled into the Pantry Pride grocery store at 8540 Piney Branch Road, and confronted the same frightened cashier in the store's office.
After the first robbery on Jan. 24, the cashier, a father of five who had worked part time at the store for 14 years and never been robbed, went home shaking.
I don't drink," he said yesterday. "But when I went home my wife offered me one."
Subsequent encounters with a gunman Mongomery County police are seeking in connection with all three buglaries have left the cashier, a full-time employe of the National Weather Service, so frightened that he refused to be identified. "If he knows my name, he knows where I live," the cashier said. "It's been horrendous. It's affected our lives."
Montgomery County detective Bernie Gillespie said, "Sometimes suspects go back to the same store because it was so easy [to rob], or they identify with a store employe. We've had a lot of incidents like this."
County detectives admit they are a little red-faced that the gunman with the penchant for Pantry Pride has managed to elude them so far. They have offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to his arrest and arraignment.
The hapless office cashier thought the ordeal of his first robbery was over when he went back to work Jan. 30.
He looked up that night to see a familiar figure coming toward him.
"I saw him walking toward me and said 'Oh no!'" he recalled. "He came up to me and said, 'You messed me the first time. If I don't see some twenties you're dead."
The cashier, who had been parsimonious a week earlier when the gunman demanded he fill a brown paper bag, said he half expected the robber to come back. "I wasn't shocked," he said. "I put one over on him the first time."
The cashier told the gunman, "You're in charge of the store, you have the gun," then filled his paper bag with the contents of the cash drawer. The man walked out of the store and fled the scene in a baby-blue Ford Mustang.
Compared to January, February was rather placid at Pantry Pride. Police staked out the grocery store, but their unpredictably predictable suspect failed to return.
Then March 7, like ever-returning spring, he popped up again shortly before closing time at the store.
After hailing each other, the gunman relaxed, the cashier said. "It seemed like he wanted to talk to somebody," the man recalled. "I told him he was in charge of the store and he put his gun back in his belt. He even stood there a moment. He said, 'Are you sure all the money's out of the drawer? Put some quarters and dimes in there."
Then the scourge of Pantry Pride sauntered to the door, bolted for his baby-blue Mustang and drove into the night.