Casey pulled the Crown Vic around to the far end of the parking lot, as far away from the grocery store as he could get, rolling into a space right in the middle of a row of several vacant spots. Didn't want some asshole dinging his baby with a door, not after he had spent the whole morning carefully washing and waxing her.
He put on the emergency brake and turned the engine off, but before he removed the keys from the ignition, he clicked them around a click more than ignition keys usually went in cars, which flipped up a secret compartment on the dashboard revealing a niche behind the environmental controls.
A small screen lit up inside and slid towards him, the screen raising up so a compact keyboard could slide out from underneath and ahead of it for easy access. When the apparatus had locked into place, Casey began tapping the keys and setting the car's security timer.
"This should take no more than two hours," he said to the windshield and punched that figure in before hitting the tiny "Enter" button, which caused the small computer to accept the value and end the setup program, shutting the monitor down and sliding everything back into place.
Casey now had two hours to finish his shopping and get back to the Crown Vic; otherwise, neither his remote control nor his keys would unlock or start the car and he'd have to get an NSA special squad to come and tow it away to the agency's motor pool, and that would just be embarrassing.
Casey smiled as he got out and clicked his remote to lock the car's security system down, confident in the knowledge that, even if somebody broke into the car's factory-made locks – which was about as easy to do as falling down a flight of stairs – they would never be able to crack the car's real security system. And if they couldn't do that, they wouldn't be able to start the engine or find the large assortment of weapons, fixed armaments, tracking systems and various other NSA odds and ends that were built into her.
Casey pocketed his keys and walked over to the nearest buggy stand, sorting around in the same pocket for a quarter. He put the coin into the slot and pulled out the chain that was tethering the buggy to the others in the row. Jerking it free from its mate, he wheeled around to make his way to the store.
He scowled at the other shoppers as he walked across the lot, their cars becoming more densely packed as he got closer to the entrance, and managed to arrive without getting hit or having to punch anybody for driving like an idiot.
As he pushed the cart up a small ramp and into the store, his attention was diverted by a pretty young miss, probably about nineteen or thereabouts, who was standing to one side handing out store flyers. Casey looked her up and down appreciatively, giving her a warm smile and a twinkle from his eyes. He reached out to take a flyer, still smiling as he said, "Thanks," and was pleased to see that the girl actually giggled and simpered a bit as she handed it to him.
You've still got it, old boy, he thought, chuckling slightly as he wheeled his cart into the shopping area of the store.
Going into the fresh produce section, Casey flicked his eyes to the ceiling on his first trip around, noting where the store's cameras were and seeing that there was no door to the back from this portion of the store. On his second round, he grabbed several clear plastic bags from their dispenser and put them on the child seat of his buggy, stopping in front of the string beans and turning his cart in a direction against the flow of traffic so he could face the entrance of the store.
He filled a plastic bag with beans, only looking at the vegetables for fractions of seconds at a time to make sure he got them in the bag, darting his eyes around himself and assessing the other shoppers.
Mother, two small children. Looks too tired to be anything but what she appears. Weekend warrior. Too many beers in that belly to be a threat. Old couple, one with a walker. The cane could be a weapon and granny seems to be wearing a lot of clothes for a hot day. Maybe she's just cold and that's not a semi under there. Hot SoCal chick. Man, those could hold a lot of C-4. Probably not, though.
He chuckled to himself a bit before thinking, I'd have to do a manual inspection to find out. Wonder if I need a warrant?
Chuckling again, he twirled the full bag of beans around in the air and tied a knot to close it, throwing it into the basket part and spinning the buggy around to travel along the edge of the cooler.
After he had filled several bags with different loose vegetables and fruits, he stopped to pick up a ten-pound bag of potatoes and placed it on the wire rack under his cart. When he had straightened up again, he turned and almost bumped into the large breasts he had just been ogling, quickly shifting his gaze upwards to the face that went with them.
"Can you help me?" the woman asked, a worried look around her mouth.
It bothered Casey a bit that she didn't remove her sunglasses since that meant he couldn't see her eyes, and he grunted and lowered his brows together to try to frighten her off. Unfortunately, she took his grunt for a "yes" and continued on.
The woman held up a piece of paper that had been ripped out of a magazine. It looked as though it had some kind of recipe printed on it, but it was a little difficult to be sure as she waved it about in the air while she talked.
"Do you know what a rutabaga is? Only I have to do this recipe for a potluck for my book club this afternoon and I can't find one anywhere. I think it's a vegetable, though," she said, desperation evident in her tone as she caught her bottom lip up between her teeth and waited for his answer.
Casey grunted again. Well, as long as it was a real crisis.
He stared straight into the centers of the woman's sunglasses and barked out in clipped tones, "Rutabaga, brassica napobrassica, a root vegetable that's a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, also known as Swede, turnip, neap or snagger in various parts of the world."
Casey turned the upper part of his body around and grabbed a medium-sized rutabaga from the pile nearby, turning back and tossing it into the air, forcing the woman to react quickly to catch it before it fell to the floor, her mouth forming a round "O" of surprise as she caught it and fumbled a bit so she wouldn't drop it.
Casey grunted once more in amusement before skillfully wheeling his buggy around the woman and carrying on down the aisle. He figured about now she had probably taken off her sunglasses and was staring at his back as he sauntered away, grinning to himself. Let her tell that one to her book club while they were discussing Green Eggs and Ham.
Turning into the next section, Casey noted the butcher's display cooler and the man behind it with the big knife who was chopping up a large portion of cow with controlled precision. Standing to admire the man's skill for a moment and flicking his eyes left and right without turning his head, Casey managed to also decide which roast from the cuts on display he wanted and pointed it out to the butcher's assistant, who wrapped it up, weighed it, and added a price sticker before handing the bundle over.
As Casey reached up and over the counter to take the package, his eye caught the image of a woman reflected in the convex mirror hanging from the ceiling at the end of the produce aisle. She appeared to be looking intently at him, and he took the meat and put it in his cart, all the while keeping his eye on the mirror and only turning away when it would seem unnatural not to do so.
Looking out of the corner of his eye as he wheeled his cart away from the meat counter, he noticed the woman had dropped her eyes to the floor and turned her head to one side, as though she thought she might have been caught looking, and he sped up, rapidly wheeling his cart around the corner and down the aisle offering baking supplies and canned goods, managing to get about halfway down just as the woman turned her cart into the other end of the aisle.
Casey brought his cart to a stop in front of the flour section and casually put his hand behind his back, gripping the gun that was holstered there, clipped to his belt and concealed by his pants.
The woman, eyes still turned to the floor, sped her cart by him, flicking her eyes to his face as she passed, looking like she was going to burst into tears when she saw his nasty scowl as he turned his head to follow her progress. She zipped around the end of the shelving into the next aisle and Casey released the butt of his gun, willing himself to relax and continue on with his shopping.
Next thing he knew, there was a loud report of a gunshot from the adjacent aisle, and Casey reached around behind his back again and whipped his gun out of its holster, holding it securely with both hands and pointing the barrel to the floor as he stepped carefully but quickly in a sort of a crouching walk to the end of the aisle and circled the shelving so he could peek around the corner.
As he moved his head sideways, only allowing one eye to poke past the edge of the shelves and holding his gun in front of himself to hide it from any people who might be behind him, he was relieved to see that what he had thought was a gunshot had actually been the sound of a large jar of pickles shattering as it crashed to the floor. Pickles and pointed shards of glass were covering the shoes of the nervous woman who had been watching him and the brine was slowly spreading out around her, its sharp smell finally reaching Casey's nose as the PA crackled to life and a disembodied voice announced, Cleanup on aisle six!
Casey's breath whooshed out of his lungs and he spun around back towards the aisle where he had left his cart, smoothly re-holstering his gun behind himself when his back was turned towards the shelves.
He strode along in front of the spices and sugar and bags of nuts, stopping again at the flour and selecting a five-pound bag. He then backtracked, picking up packages from the nut, sugar and spices sections, then left the cart for a moment to go and get a package of chocolate chips. Jumbo-sized ones. They made cookies that were perfect for dipping into his milk as he surveilled Chuck's apartment in the evenings.
Casey continued on with his shopping, on the alert as before while making his selections but encountering no further problems until he got to the frozen prepared foods cabinets lining the far wall of the store.
He was busy opening doors and pulling out frosted boxes of pizza, macaroni and cheese and Hungry Man dinners when he noticed some movement a little too close for his liking. Casey closed the door that he was currently holding open and whirled around, elbows bent and hands raised to cover his chest and abdomen with lightly clenched fists.
"Waddaya want?" he ground out before realizing it was the pickle lady again, standing there looking at him as though she was afraid he really might hit her, trying to say something but only stuttering a bit.
Casey backed off and lowered his arms to his sides, waiting for her to get up enough nerve to actually speak coherently.
Finally, she blurted out, "You must be single. All those frozen..." and trailed off as she lost her nerve again.
Casey quickly dipped his left hand into his pocket and scrabbled around a bit, pulling it back out when he had managed to slip the gold wedding band he always carried for just such emergencies onto the third finger.
Casually but prominently displaying the ring, he replied, "Oh, no. Wife's away for the week. Just a temporary bachelor. Can't wait until she gets back."
The woman flushed deeply but persisted.
"Oh. Same here. My husband's away on a business trip. He won't be back for three days at least. I thought maybe we could –"
Casey, more than a bit surprised that the ring hadn't been a big enough hint, cut her off, whispering, "Look, lady, as flattering as this is and all, I think if you want to pick up guys you should go to a bar. Now scoot."
He couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for the poor woman as she opened and closed her mouth a couple of times and looked at him through sad and defeated eyes before she turned away and fled down the aisle.
Casey stopped to consider for a moment. Actually, it's not a bad idea looking for action here. I might try it sometime, and he turned to the freezer again to carry on with his shopping. He then picked up a couple of bottles of wine and three six-packs of canned beer and added them to the top of his now-full cart.
By the time he decided he had finally found everything he needed and had wheeled over to an unoccupied checkout, Casey was feeling a bit tired. It was nerve-wracking, this grocery shopping thing. He wondered how normal people coped with all the tension as he stacked his groceries on the moving belt that was chugging them towards the bored-looking woman behind the till.
After she had swiped them across the UPC reader and weighed and rung up the vegetables, the woman, in a drawling tone of voice that matched her blank facial expression, held out a limp hand in Casey's direction, saying, "That'll be $223.65. Credit card or store card?"
Casey pulled out his wallet and riffled through a thick pile of bills, selecting $230.00 and offering it to the checkout clerk.
When she looked up at him in surprise instead of taking the money, he growled, "It's cash. Legal tender. Look it up," and thrust the wad of paper a bit closer so she would take it as she began to scowl back.
Casey accepted the change and receipt and decided that he wouldn't get pissed when he didn't hear a cheery "Thank you for shopping with us, sir!" Under the circumstances, he guessed he deserved it, and he put the change in his pocket, the bills in his billfold, and tucked the receipt into a compartment at the back behind his cash so he would remember to include it in his expense report to the NSA at the end of the month.
He pushed his cart, now with his groceries stowed neatly in paper sacks, out of the store and back to his car with half an hour to spare, sincerely looking forward to being in the sanctuary of his apartment once again where he would be surrounded by top-secret reports, guns, knives and high-tech surveillance equipment – things he understood – so he could shuck off his shoes and pop a cold beer.