"You know I was just kidding," Ricky said when I showed up at his office carrying two bags of take-out.
"Yeah, but I'm hungry, you're probably hungry, so here I am." I set the bags down on his desk and opened mine. "Besides which, I wanted to fill you in on my meeting with Frank Milano."
I did, while we both ate. When I finished he commented, "He didn't have to tell you about seeing Ms Engel."
"I know. He did though, which keeps him on my list. After all he could be playing it safe. Tell me before I found out on my own."
"And how would you have done that?"
I grinned. "My magic eight ball? Naw, I probably wouldn't have but he doesn't know that. Some people actually have a healthy respect for a detective's abilities. Even a private investigator's."
"I have a very healthy respect for your…abilities," Ricky retorted, waggling his eyebrows.
"Why is it every time I come here you come on to me," I grumbled.
"Here, at home, every chance I get. It keeps you on your toes."
"Yeah, yeah." I crumpled my takeout bag, tossing into his wastebasket. "On that note I'd better get moving. Call me before you leave?"
He knew why I was asking and replied, "I will. And if I get home before you do I'll call to let you know I made it there in one piece."
After a nice, not too platonic kiss, I left.
I spent the afternoon doing what needed to be done for my clients. At least those things I could do during the day. I had a stakeout tonight for one of the clients I'd picked up this morning. It was sort of déjà vu from a few weeks ago, during the theft case. The client, a woman this time, was pretty sure one of her employees was making off with canned and packaged goods from the storeroom of her small mom-and-pop grocery store and wanted me to follow the guy to see if she was right, and find out what he did with the stolen property.
Ricky called at five to say he was heading home, and fifteen minutes later he called again to say he'd made it. Something I knew because I was just turning onto our street when I saw him pulling into the garage.
We ate supper, avoiding any talk about the Engel case. After all, at this point there wasn't much to talk about other than to wonder who the phantom motorcyclist was. Discussing that would only make him worry about my going on the stakeout—especially considering what happened to me during the theft case.
The woman's grocery store closed at seven—because of the neighborhood it was in, according to her. I found out what she meant when I arrived there at ten till. It wasn't that the area was bad, but it had definitely seen better days. There were a couple of bars across the street from the store, and two empty stores with grated doors and windows to keep out vandals. There were several apartment buildings that looked surprisingly well kept up, considering their apparent ages. Sort of like older men who knew better than to try to dress like teenyboppers.
I parked in the store's lot then made my way around back. It was just as she'd told me. The store took up a third of the short alley with a service entrance and a loading dock. Across from it were darkened doorways to whatever shops were on the next street. I settled in one and waited. Soon after seven, some of the employees began leaving by the back entrance. None of them was the guy I was interested in, even though my client said he always left that way. Then, ten minutes later he appeared with a backpack slung over one shoulder. He seemed oblivious to his surrounding as he hurried to the end of the alley and turned left onto the sidewalk. I stayed a few yards behind him, being careful not to be obvious.
He walked five blocks, heading into a much more rundown area, and then turned onto another street. When I got to the corner I saw him enter a ramshackle building with a sign over the door. I followed him inside and found myself in what looked like a foodbank. It walls were lined with shelves filled with non-perishable food, with more shelves going down the center of the room. He approached a table to one side of the room, set down the backpack and took out the cans and packaged goods it contained, telling the woman behind the table, "As usual, they're past their sell-by date but they're still good."
"As always, Danny" she replied with a smile. "I just wish…"
"If I told them what I'm doing they'd either fire me or have me arrested," he said quickly. "If they marked the prices down it would be one thing. Then the people who don't have much cash could afford them, but…" He sighed. "Anyway, hopefully I'll have more for you in a couple of days."
Picking up the backpack, he left. I waited until he was a good block ahead of me, debating whether to have a few words with him or not. I understood where he was coming from, but it was still theft as far as my client was concerned. Finally I decided to have a talk with her first.
Just as I got back to the car my phone vibrated. The caller ID said it was Ricky so I figured he was just checking to make sure I hadn't run into any trouble. Boy was I wrong. The second I answered he said, "Someone tried to break in here."