She was waiting for him in canned goods, walking up and down the aisle, placing an occasional item in her cart so she wouldn't appear suspicious. She still didn't understand why he wanted to meet here but he was the expert and he did.
She added Mandarin oranges to the stack.
She looked up to see an attractive man, mid-thirties, neatly dressed. She faltered. "Do I know you?"
"We spoke on the telephone."
"Oh yes." Already she was acting the fool, but she had pictured a different type all together. She had prepared herself for someone more coarse, someone who had been scarred by his experiences. "How did you recognize me?"
"By your cart."
She glanced down at the haphazard collection of cans, not a single thing from any other aisle. "Someone would think I was expecting a storm."
His eyes were reassuring. "Are you?"
"Yes. I believe I am."
He lifted a can of tomato paste. "My favorite."
"Keep it. I have plenty."
He smiled, flipped the can into the air, and caught it as if he did so every day. "Thanks."
"What happens now?"
"Well if you're done here--" He flipped the tomato paste again. "I could use some pasta."
"No, I meant, you know."
He was silent until another shopper selected three cans of corn and left the aisle. "Tell me. Was this a good idea?"
"What?" She had already countered her second and third thoughts. She didn't know whether her resolve could survive him playing devil's advocate.
"Meeting in a supermarket. I've only recently expanded my business to normal people and thought this would be a more comfortable place to talk."
"Am I normal people, even after wanting someone killed?"
"There's nothing more normal than that."
She smiled. "Perhaps, but to go through with it? I mean, sure, drug dealers and the like have no conscience but who else would actually hire a hit man?"
"Cashiers from the ten items or less register."
She forced herself to laugh. "Seriously."
"Seriously, very serious people who take themselves too seriously. I'm seeking a more level-headed clientele."
She sniffed. "Next you'll be telling me that hiring a killer is a sign of level-headedness."
"Certainly. The overly emotional try to do it themselves as though murder was as simple as hanging a door."
"Have you ever hung a door?"
"No, but I shot one once." When she didn't respond, he continued, "Loosen up, that was a joke. There's a reason we're here instead of some back alley."
They stopped talking long enough for two shoppers to pass, one going each way.
She suddenly quivered. "I'm not sure. Does he really deserve to die? God knows he's made my life miserable, but I'm only one person. Is that enough to justify killing him?" She leaned forward over her cart. "I must sound silly to you."
"No. Sort of refreshing actually. By the time I'm usually called in it's all bluster and righteous indignation."
"Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I do." He returned the can of tomato paste to the shelf.
He shrugged. "I can't make the decision for you. From what you say, it does sound as though you might be trading one hell for another if you go through with it."
"I have to wonder."
"Listen, you don't need to decide this now. Consider it a canned option with a long shelf-life. Today, tomorrow, next month, it's all the same."
"I'm afraid if I do that the can will be pushed to the back of the cupboard. Someday I'll find it and be reminded of all the times I'd wanted that exact thing but had to make do with a poor substitute."
"Would it help if we walked?"
She shook her head. "I'd only be distracted, lulled by the onslaught of marketing campaigns. People shop so they won't have to think and think is what I must do. I must. He always called me indecisive."
He licked his lips. "I could meet you here tomorrow if that takes some of the pressure off you."
She pointed at a can on the shelf, swung her finger back and forth between it and a larger size. "Eight ounce or twenty ounce? The twenty ounce has a higher pricetag but when I compare the cost per ounce, the larger can is cheaper."
"Actually, the larger can is still more."
"That's it exactly." Now she saw what they had all been trying to hide. "Say I only require eight ounces. It wouldn't make sense to buy the twenty ounce can for the lower unit price if I threw out the other twelve ounces."
"Meaning...kill the bastard. Look at what he's reduced me to." She reached for the safety of her cart, the cold metal, the molded plastic.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." Wasn't this meeting over yet?
"There are no returns if you later change your mind."
"No, don't do it?"
"No, there are no returns. Receipts are meaningless. No refunds, no exchanges. When you purchase someone's death you have reached the pinnacle of consumerism."
"Perhaps I'm the one who needs to reconsider."
She grabbed his arm. "You can't abandon me now. Not when I'm so close."
"Close?" He gently disengaged her grip.
"Yes, to making my final decision."
"I thought you had."
She felt faint, heard an announcement go over the store's PA system but couldn't decipher the words. "Tell me again that I'm normal."
"I'm no longer so sure."
"Try to sway me, convince me to say yes. Promise me my life will never be better. Guarantee your work." She held out a trembling hand. "Offer me a discount, a coupon, a sale."
"How about buy one hit, get one free?"
She froze and then slowly drew herself to full height. "You are too cruel for words."
That said, she pushed the cart with her collection of cans to the first open register, paying for the items with unmarked bills.