Heather Keslar says she "instantly had a horrible feeling" when a man followed her into the Fells Point pet-supply store where she works - despite the fact that he had a clean-cut look and wore a black "Believe" T-shirt.
The 23-year-old clerk at P.A.W.S. of Baltimore (People and Animals with Style) had just opened the front door about 11:15 a.m. yesterday, when the man - seeming to appear out of nowhere - came into the store on her heels.
He robbed her at gunpoint, committing the latest in a string of robberies of merchants in the historic neighborhood, according to the police.
The spate of shop robberies began several weeks ago, said Maj. Scott Williams of the Southeastern District, and so far includes the businesses of Pearl O'Dell, Bay & Country Crafts, Crabby Dick's and the Amuse toy store.
"You go to work everyday anticipating that it might happen and, in a sense, I almost feel safer now that it's happened. But it doesn't make it any easier to deal with it," Keslar said last night.
Keslar said her unease about the man gave her an urge to distance herself from him, so she stepped outside and left him inside the store in the 700 block of S. Broadway to browse alone.
And as she stood outside, Keslar added, she attempted to alert a nearby store owner sweeping the sidewalk that something was amiss by waving her hand, but he apparently mistook it for a greeting.
As she wondered whether to walk away or go back in, she said the man inside the store asked if they sold key chains - even though there were scores of them dangling in plain view. Keslar told him no. The man then asked if The Funky Fish, also nearby, sold them. Again, Keslar said, she told him no, not wanting to direct the man to the store of a friend.
"What are those over there?" the well-spoken man asked, pointing to a dog bone-shaped key chain, she said.
"Those are key chains," Keslar said she replied, while standing in the frame of the entry.
The man said he would buy one. And after telling him the price ($3.68 including tax), the man pulled $3 from the pocket of his gray sweat pants.
Keslar said she lowered her guard when it became apparent that the man was going to buy something. After all, she recalled, he did have a multicolor rope around his neck with a ring that held more than two dozen keys. He looked as if he needed a key chain, she said.
So Keslar, a graduate student at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, stepped behind the counter and rang up the sale. The man put the $3 on the counter and began patting his pockets as if he were looking for change, she said.
Then it happened. He told her, "Here we go," and pulled out a silver handgun with a black handle, which he pointed at her.
"Empty the register," he calmly demanded. As Keslar did so, she stared past the wire-rimmed, oval-shaped sunglasses on the edge of his nose, into his dark brown eyes, she said.
Keslar said the robber didn't seem pleased with the amount of money (it was about $60, she figured), so he ordered her to empty her pockets. She tossed the store keys on the counter.
"Is that all you have in your pockets?" he said. Then, as if to mock him, she began patting her jean pockets as she continued staring at him. He forced her to walk to the back of the store at gunpoint before he fled out the front door.
Keslar called 911 within a minute after he left, she said.
Keslar said the man was black, about 5 feet 5 inches tall and had faint scars that looked like scratches on his forearms. He also wore a chain around his neck that appeared to have a small, gold wedding band on it, she said.
Anyone with information about the crimes is urged to call Southeastern District detectives at 410-396-2422.
Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.