When Mack had entered Big Foods Sunday morning he had had no idea he would be rewarded with the sight of Cheryl West in an apron working at the checkout like any ordinary law-abiding Palms Springs citizen. For the first time in his life he regretted not a cell phone with a camera, because this was a moment he wanted to treasure forever. He strolled through the aisles grabbing his items and not even attempting to control the grin on his face. When he'd finished he'd bounded up to Cheryl's register, thinking to himself that even if every other register had been free and Cheryl's had required a twenty minutes wait, he still would not have missed this opportunity.
"Cheryl West. Check-out chick."
Mack grinned, wondering as he often had before, what it was about baiting Cheryl that gave him such a rush.
"The pay's lousy, the boss is a creep, like they say, it's a job."
A West working a real honest-to-goodness crap job, just like every other person in the world had to. Would the wonders never cease?
"Hard making an honest living ain't it?"
Mack was pretty sure that fact taking this much pleasure in another human being's struggles probably said something negative about his character, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Cheryl seemed less than amused by his comment. She held up the bottle of pills he'd had in his cart.
"Having trouble sleeping, Sergeant?"
That's what he'd been looking for. There was no one else in the world Mack enjoyed verbally sparring with more than Cheryl West.
"Not as much lately. You know robberies are down 15% thanks to you and me."
It was actually true, Mack had compared the numbers for the past two weeks with the same two weeks last year. There was a quantifiable difference.
"How do you figure that?"
Even scowling at him like she wished an anvil would fall from the sky and crush him to death, Mack couldn't help noticing how cute Cheryl looked in her Big Foods uniform. Mack pushed that thought out his mind as quickly as he possibly could.
"Well, I put your husband behind bars and you force your kids to go straight, so now Palms Springs is a kinder, gentler place to live."
Actually he was starting to miss the raids of the infamous West nest. He had no doubt, though that'd they resume in the near future.
"Do you have your Big Foods card? Or did your wife take that with her too?"
Ouch. Bringing up Barbara was a little below the belt, Cheryl.
"Cheryl, you'll never last. Once a criminal, always a criminal."
Mack caught Cheryl's glance over her shoulder at her boss. He could tell that if the so-called creep hadn't been watching her, Mack would be in for a really scathing comeback. Perversely Mack was almost sorry she couldn't let loose on him.
"Thank you for shopping at Big Foods. Have a really, really lovely day."
Cheryl's forced her face into an expression that an ignorant observer might call a smile. Mack knew better and was childishly delighted to know he'd succeeded in pushing Cheryl's buttons.
"I will, thank you. Oh, by the way, how's Cal doing? Keeping out of trouble?"
If Mack were a betting man he would put money on Cal being the first to break his mother's ban on all things illegal. Cal was very much his father's son.
"You don't have to worry about Cal. He's got a new job and he loves it."
Yeah, why did Mack have trouble buying that one?
As he left Big Foods Mack felt all the adrenaline that had been pumping through his veins begin to drain from his system. He was sorry to feel it go. It was probably the most energized he'd felt in the last two weeks. Mack didn't have a heck of a lot in his life right now besides his job. Now with Wolf, his most persistent source of adversity, behind bars Mack was feeling a bit at a loss. He knew his fellow policemen were trying in their well-meaning, if unsubtle way to keep him occupied, inviting him over to cookouts, or to watch sports, but oddly none of it made him feel half as good as swapping insults with Cheryl West. Mack puzzled over why that might be. Maybe it was that he knew Cheryl wouldn't hold back to spare his feelings and that he was allowed to respond in kind. Hadn't someone once said 'Never underestimate the value of a good enemy'? So maybe that's what Cheryl was, his good enemy.