He was definitely up to no good, Bob Randall decided as he studied the man leaning against the pharmacy wall a few paces in front of his car. Thirty-six years in the police had left Bob with a keen nose for trouble and that wasn’t about to stop just because he was now retired.
Retired? Put out to pasture more like. That new Chief Inspector had it in for me from the day he turned up in his wide-awake suit and flash car. Jealous of my record, that was his problem. Past it indeed! Wet behind the ears…
Bob had gone neither willingly nor graciously into retirement.
After staring intently at the man for a couple more minutes, he decided that he didn’t recognise him. Bob never forgot a face and that was why he had such an enviable arrest record. Okay, so he’d never caught any major criminals or thwarted any serious crimes, but he’d felt the collar of many a petty hoodlum who could well have gone on to be criminal masterminds for all he knew. It wasn’t his fault that the town he found himself stationed in wasn’t a hotbed of crime. Besides, he preferred it that way. Good, grass roots policing, that’s what he’d provided.
He glanced at his watch and started to jot down a few details in his notebook. It wasn’t police issue of course, they wouldn’t let him take one, said he wouldn’t need it as he pottered around in his garden or did whatever retired policemen are supposed to do. But old habits die hard and he’d bought himself something nearly as good at his local newsagent. Once a copper always a copper. Just because he was sat in a supermarket car park waiting for his wife to come out of the nearby health centre, didn’t mean he could turn his back on a potential crime.
After noting the time and a detailed description of the man, he went back to observing the suspect. He hadn’t actually done anything wrong yet, so the title ‘suspect’ was a little presumptuous, but Bob was sure he was guilty of something or soon would be, so the title would stay. The man appeared agitated and was pacing up and down outside the pharmacy. Every time the health centre doors swept open, he would shrink back around the corner and watch the people walk by. He was definitely hiding or waiting for someone.
The list of potential crimes that this man might be about to commit, flashed through Bob’s mind, but one by one he disregarded them. He could be waiting for the security van to come and collect the pharmacy’s takings, but if so, he was too early. That would suggest poor planning and an amateur or desperate man.
Mind you, at £9.15 a prescription maybe I should be arresting the pharmacist for extortion instead. Bob smiled at his own joke, but the smile vanished when he remembered he was no longer allowed to arrest anyone. Perhaps he’s waiting to mug someone on their way out?
Again, Bob dismissed the idea as unlikely. Why would anyone choose to mug someone leaving a pharmacy? All he could do was wait and see what transpired and be ready. He glanced at the health centre doors, then at his watch and tutted. They must be running late again.
Meanwhile the man had shuffled round to the front of the pharmacy and his eyes kept darting between the health centre and the car park. Bob tried to follow his gaze whenever he looked towards the parked cars just in case he had an accomplice waiting for him nearby. However, unless they were a young mother with three children, all of whom were noisily demonstrating their displeasure at being forced to go shopping, or an old man of about eighty who Bob thought even he could outrun, there was nobody obvious.
The health centre doors whooshed open and a woman with a young child came out. The child was sobbing, and Bob wondered whether he had just visited the dentist or been given some sort of jab by a doctor. Whatever he’d endured, he hadn’t enjoyed it.
The suspicious man slowly melted back around the corner.
Two young boys approached the man from behind noisily bouncing a football as they walked, apparently startling him. Bob watched as they stopped and asked the suspect something. The man looked at his watch and said something to them, but instead of thanking him and walking on, they lingered until he showed them his watch.
So, they couldn’t understand him and had to be shown the time.
Bob jotted down in his notebook that in all likelihood the man was foreign.
As they walked away, the boys glanced back over their shoulders at the man, before pulling faces and then bursting into laughter. Something about how the man looked or sounded had clearly amused them. Bob made more notes.
A white van with its radio blaring suddenly crossed Bob’s line of sight, before stopping abruptly. The driver ground the gears noisily before trying to reverse into a space, which was clearly too tight for his vehicle. Shouting an obscenity that was audible even above the thumping music coming from his radio, the driver abandoned his attempt at reversing and sped off before roaring into an open space fifty yards farther away. Bob shook his head in disgust at the man’s reckless driving and disregard for pedestrians.
If I were still in the job, I’d be taking you down a peg or two, sonny.
He turned back to face the pharmacy and was alarmed to find that the suspect was no longer there. He was about to climb out of his car and investigate when the man suddenly reappeared from inside the pharmacy.
Was he casing the joint?
The health centre doors whooshed open again and Bob noticed a flustered looking woman with two teenaged children emerge. The man saw them too and made to disappear, but before he could, the boy spotted him and shouted something Bob couldn’t hear, before hurrying over to him.
The woman was clearly angry and began remonstrating with the suspect whilst occasionally turning and looking at the health centre. The suspect stood there, not saying anything, whilst the children looked on impassively, the girl more interested in whatever she was reading on her phone. Bob began to wonder if this was going to turn into an ugly domestic dispute. He hated domestics, they rarely ended well.
The woman suddenly grabbed the man by the arm and started to drag him towards the health centre and Bob tensed; if the man was going to lash out, it would be now. Bob readied himself to rush to her assistance, once he could lever himself out of his car that was, but the man was still reluctantly allowing himself to be towed towards the health centre and wasn’t putting up a fight.
Bob’s car passenger door suddenly flew open startling him and making him gasp in shock, much to the amusement of his wife Margaret as she climbed into the car clutching a green and white paper bag filled with her medication.
“Sorry, love, did I make you jump?” she said laughing.
“Yes, you did. I didn’t see you come out.”
“I came out of the chemist. They’ve got a door inside that leads through to the health centre.”
The family had disappeared into the health centre.
“I’m sorry I was so long, but the dentist is running late. Some bloke’s meant to be having root canal treatment, but he did a runner. I was talking to his wife and apparently, he had his numbing injections earlier and then popped outside whilst they took effect, but never came back. His wife was really embarrassed. Seems her husband is scared to death of dentists but is in agony and has to have the treatment. That was them outside a couple of minutes ago. I think they’ve dragged him back in, poor love. Anything exciting happen whilst I was in there?”
“Er, no, don’t be silly, Margaret. What on Earth could happen in a supermarket car park on a Wednesday afternoon?” replied Bob trying to mask his embarrassment, as he surreptitiously put his notebook away.
Perhaps I might enjoy the garden after all.
(c) Jeff Jones