A chance encounter in a supermarket coffee shop opens old wounds for the ex-Marine and the war widow. Soon they are reliving horrors of death and murder in the Afghan desert, duty and deceit blowing in the wind. Can an icon of crime fiction save them from themselves, or will it be just another case for the Sheriff of Tesco?
He walked over to where she was sitting alone in the corner of the supermarket coffee shop sipping a cappuccino. Noticed, close up, that her brown hair, pulled back into a ponytail, was dashed with blonde highlights, her face young looking, probably mid thirties.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked, pulling out a plastic chair.
“Be my guest,” She looked up, saw this raw boned man, the angular planes of his face weather tanned, his eyes the palest blue.
Although the store was busy with the usual throng of mid-week shoppers there were plenty of empty tables in the cafe. She raised a quizzical eyebrow and met his steady gaze.
“Nice morning,” he began his gambit, his eyes not leaving hers. Hazel with flecks of white, like a snow-shower. He made a mental note.
“That depends,” she said, “On how you define nice.” She read the ID tag clipped to the breast pocket of his dark blue shirt. John Russell. “I like this spot,” she said, nodding towards the trolley park, ”easy to keep an eye on my shopping from here,” the merest shrug, “you never know, do you.”
“That’s for sure,” he replied, biding his time as he sized her up. “Always pays to be careful.”
“Not that there’s much worth stealing,” she said, “Since my husband died I don’t do much in the way of fancy cooking anymore. Just convenience stuff, mostly, sort of lost my appetite.”
He made another mental note: Widow.
“So do you work here, John Russell?”
He tilted the ID tag and she read the words under the stylised eye motif: Pinkerton Security.
“Oh,” she smiled and the smile widened into a grin, “the dudes who tamed the West, railroad dicks, Dashiell Hammett.”
He looked nonplussed
“The Pinkertons...we never sleep!”
“You’ve lost me,” he said
“Don’t tell me you’ve never read Hammett, Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key?”
He shook his head.
“Great detective writer, oh, I’ve read ‘em all.” She smiled at the puzzled expression he was trying to disguise. “You don’t get it, do you?”
“Get what?” This wasn’t the way he had intended to play it; she had thrown him off balance and he felt suddenly unsure of himself.
“Why Dashiell Hammett. He was a Pinkerton agent, just like you. The immortal legend handed down from the railroads and the banks of the
Wild West...” she glanced around the store, “...to Tesco’s Old Kent Road. Who would have thought it...the legend lives on.”
No he didn’t get it. He’d become a 12-hour shift security guard when he left the Royal Marines. It was the only steady job he could get and legends didn’t come into it.
She began quoting passages of Hammett from memory. The Maltese Falcon...The Thin Man, telling him they all celebrated the lone detective risking all in the quest for the truth. “And you’re carrying the torch now, John Russell, the Sheriff of Tesco,” she laughed, “ Or do your friends call you Jack?”
“Jane, actually,” he smiled, harking back to Lima Company, “they called me Jane.”
She laughed. “Jane Russell?”
“A bootneck joke,” he said, slightly abashed, “but mostly they called me Colours...short for Colour Sergeant Russell.”
He nodded, wondering now if she was putting him on and the familiar stabbing ache started up in his leg. He was about to reply when the pager on his belt cheeped. Russell glanced down thankfully and read the message; looked up again, saw her watching him, and said: “Don’t go away...I’ll be right back.”