WILSON: When spies retire — Part 1

Abner dabbed at the stain with a wet napkin. A leaking Rueben sandwich had deposited Thousand Island dressing on his shirt, and the resulting mess resembled a pirate treasure map. Abner ate quickly and sloppily, thus the need to dab.

Melvin ate quietly and neatly, only needing to dab at the corners of his mouth with a napkin after each bite.

“Good sandwich,” quipped Abner.

“How would you know?” groused Melvin. “You ate it in three bites. You’re just a Shop-Vac with a stomach.”

Abner and Melvin ate at the same diner every Thursday afternoon. To anyone looking at the two men, it would be easy to see that they were snow-birds from the North, having migrated to Florida upon retirement. To anyone overhearing their conversations, it would be easy to determine that they had nothing in common (other than complaining about EVERYTHING).

Abner always ate a Rueben sandwich with dripping Thousand Island dressing. Melvin liked to mix things up, reading every item on the menu, trying to decide what appealed to him the most. After carefully considering all of his choices, Melvin usually ended up with the meatloaf.

“You see what they’re gonna” do with the citrus grove down on Nineteen, just north of Spring Hill?” asked Abner, barely taking time away from his fries to ask the question. “Heard it’s gonna’ be another Walmart.”

“Didn’t hear,” came Melvin’s succinct response.

“Saw it in the paper. You should read about it.”

With this announcement, Abner slid a rolled up copy of the local newspaper across the table toward Melvin.

“How many Walmarts do we need?”

In the sun-drenched parking lot, sitting in a brown Mercedes, Loretta sat motionless. Wearing dark sunglasses while peering out through the tinted windows of the sedan, Loretta watched the two men as they consumed their Rueben and meatloaf. This had been the pattern for the past several weeks. Abner and Melvin ate dinner at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, while Loretta watched from the sanctuary of her air conditioned Mercedes.

Occasionally, Loretta would pick up a folder from the center console and scribble a few notes. At first, she would take photos of the two men talking. However, after three weeks of surveillance, she had more than enough photos of what appeared to be two old men sitting in a window booth at Max and Dean’s Diner. She also had more than enough scribbled notes ­— how much can one write about two old men sitting in a window booth? If she wanted more, she would have to get closer.

Loretta attempted to casually make her way across the steaming-hot asphalt parking lot on six-inch heels that complemented her little white dress (that showed off her firm legs and clung to her equally firm everything else). Her ensemble was topped with a wide-brimmed, white hat and the dark sunglasses that she never removed. She was a goddess in white, floating across a sea of black bitumen. If Loretta was trying to be inconspicuous, she was not doing a very good job.

“Hot babe on hot asphalt,” Melvin commented first, as he dabbed at the corner of his mouth with his napkin. “That dress doesn’t hide very much.”

“Doesn’t need to,” quipped Abner. “These days a concealed weapon can be hidden almost anywhere … makes pat downs more interesting. I had her made three weeks ago.”

“Yep. No Floridian is going to sit for hours, on hot asphalt, in a dark car. Who do you think she’s working for? The Agency, maybe?”

The two men rose from the booth and tossed a few bucks on the table to cover their meals plus a fifty cent tip. They were old men in Florida — they had to eat dinner at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and leave small tips. Otherwise, their cover would have been blown. Melvin opened the paper and ripped out part of the middle page leaving the rest of the paper untouched. Together they quickly, but in an old codger sort of way, made their way to kitchen and out the rear entrance.

“Looks like we’ll have to find another place for Thursdays” grunted Abner, as they sauntered off in separate directions.

“Next time, pick a place with better meatloaf.”

Larry Wilson is a mostly lifelong resident of Niles. His essays stem from experiences, compilations and recollections from friends and family. He can be reached at wflw@hotmail.com.

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