Sneak Peek at Bait and Switch

 

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Jess knew better than to argue with Harry, at least just now. So, back to that coffee! Ugh! No sugar! Swell, the sugar canister next to her was empty. Even if there was a war on, did she have to be shortchanged on sugar tonight? Maybe the guy two seats down would pass her his sugar canister before her craving for sweet sent her off to mug a G. I. for his Hershey bar.

Jess turned, started to speak, but hesitated. When she’d come in, she’d barely noticed the man behind his newspaper. However, her curiosity was definitely piqued by his tense behavior now: intermittently smoking, staring past her out the window, tensely glancing down one of the aisles off to his left, then stubbing out a cigarette and lighting another.

Finally realizing he was being observed, he stared her down and demanded in a British-accented voice, “Haven’t you ever seen anyone smoke before?”

“I’ve seen people smoke,” Jess replied, settling her elbow comfortably on the counter.

He interrupted his nervous vigil to snuff out yet another cigarette and inquire sarcastically, “I imagine you’ve seen people extinguish cigarettes also?”

“Well, yes, but never in their food.”

He blinked then stared into his plate, only now realizing that his mashed potatoes were gouged with cigarette butts.

“That’s your third,” Jessica pointed out. She couldn’t help noticing that the lean-faced gentleman was easy on the eyes, in a bohemian kind of way: tousled, longish dark hair and a mustache more full than Ronald-Colman razored. Not that she was in the market, with an equally dark and handsome Larry Sanders in the picture.

Her companion opened his mouth for a retort, but froze. As he caught sight of something outside, his expression erased Jessica’s impishness. She straightened, then instinctively followed his gaze out the window.

A car splashed by. Rain blurred the street lamp’s illumination beyond the window. Jessica was slightly surprised to find herself relieved at not discovering anything fishy out there. But that relief evaporated as she sensed her companion was doing something to her coat on the chair between them.

Turning back sharply, indignantly, Jess started, “Say, just what . . .?”

Her companion cut her off by leaning forward and tensely, quietly instructing, “There’s no time for questions. Just do as I say. I’ve hidden a brown-paper-wrapped package under your coat. After I’m gone, take it home with you. Try not to let anyone see you have it when you leave. If anyone does, convince him you came in with it. You’re a clever girl. You can come up with a cover story.”
Jessica snapped, “How did you know I was clever? Anyway, I most certainly will do no such thing . . .”

“Are you so truly concerned about not doing enough for your country, or were those just empty words I heard coming from you a few moments ago, Miss Minton?” the man demanded.

“Of course, I . . . How do you know my name?”

“Right here in front of me, I have the same section of the paper that you and your friend, the proprietor, were just talking about. And I’m not unfamiliar with your career. Now stop wasting time with questions and follow my instructions. Then you’ll be doing the equivalent of thwarting a Panzer division.”

He was on his feet, taking a cautious step past her, scouting through the window, trying not to be visible to anyone outside. And he seemed especially careful not to draw Harry’s notice – who was completely wrapped up in giving what-for to the gaggle of delinquent bobby soxers.

“I don’t understand,” Jess protested softly. Crazy as it all seemed, for this moment she was drawn into the stranger’s determination to remain undetected — but by whom?Dusty reduced1

 

 

 

 

 © Sharon Healy-Yang, Touchpoint Press, 2015.  Do not copy or redistribute.