I patted the overstuffed envelope and tucked it under my arm. It’d be safe.
There were a few people out. Busy enough to be inconspicuous, but not too busy. I slipped into “the zone”.
I had a job to do. I was alert, but not distracted.
Or so I thought.
I jumped at the loud “Ding” and turned.
“Girlfriend, mm, mm, mmmm, that handbag does not match those shoes at all. Blue purse and black shoes? No ma’am, not at all. Go home and change now before the fashion police arrest your sorry behind!”
The two ladies seated at the tiny table were dressed in quaintly old-fashioned garb, complete with gloves and straw “society” hats. I guessed they applied their lipstick with a palette knife.
“Ding!” The woman in the bright floral dress hit the service bell.
“Hey Mr. Cellphone,” she said. “It is very rude to walk around with your nose in that thing. The people around you are, well, people. Smile at your neighbors and say “Hi” once in a while.”
Ms. Pig-tails, the other woman, nodded. My guess was she was 40 trying to look 14.
“Uh, uh, lady,” Ms. Floral said. “Those baggy clown pants with a skimpy halter top? Please. Go home this instant and dress a little more appropriately.”
Ms. Pig-tails frowned in mock severity.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you that it is impolite to stare?”
Ms. Floral was looking right at me, no longer inconspicuous.
“She did,” I said. I walked over to them. “I was just curious. What are you two doing?”
Ms. Pig-tails pointed to a chalkboard in front of their tiny table. “Free Advice” was scrawled on it. She nodded once and leaned back in her chair, smiling at me.
“I don’t see a money jar or anything…,” I said.
“Of course not. What part of “free” don’t you understand?” Ms. Floral asked.
“I guess I thought this was for some type of charity.” I shrugged.
Ms. Pig-tails smile grew broader and Ms. Floral winked at me.
“That’s what most people think, which is how we get away with doing in public what we always do in private.”
Ms. Pig-tails spoke for the first time. She had a slight lisp and sounded more 14 than 40. “I tend to think of this as a public service. Doesn’t everyone need a little free advice? I don’t know why people aren’t a little more grateful…”
Her pout looked real enough.
“Well, ladies, have a great day.”
“You too. And don’t do anything your mother wouldn’t approve of.”
I laughed. “More free advice?”
Ms. Floral smirked. “Of course.”
I went into the appliance store across the street and slipped into the storeroom. It took less than two minutes. I was out before anyone noticed.
“Mr. Smith” would find the package in his new drier that he said he could install by himself. Nobody at the store would be any the wiser.
I crossed the street and turned at the “Ding”.
“It is always polite to say “Hi” to people you meet,” Ms. Floral said.
I walked over to the table. “Hi. Is that better?” Ms. Floral nodded. I turned to Ms. Pig-tail. “And you, do you ever give advice?”
“Yes.” She pulled out a gun. “I advise you to not make any sudden motions and to slowly place your hands on the top of your head. Good. I also advise you that you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice, beyond my excellent advice, before we ask you any questions. I’ll advise you of more of those rights as we drive to the station.”
Ms. Floral had a gun in one hand and badge in the other. She smiled at her partner. “You do give such great advice, Elise. And you,” she was referring to me, “you should heed it.”
A uniformed officer came over and relieved me of the two guns I was carrying. I could see other officers leaving the appliance store. One was carrying a plastic bag that I knew contained the “package”.
I gave Ms. Floral one last look as I was stuffed in the back of the squad car. She noticed and smiled.
“One more piece of advice,” she said. “If you every have a stakeout that may take days, be sure you have fun with it. Now have a good time at headquarters, hear?”