Phyllis looked up from her book. The man at the next table was waving at his laptop.
“Sure,” said Phyllis.
They were in a West London Starbucks. It wasn’t as if she’d have to defend it from a horde of zombies. She returned her attention to the novel that had brought zombies to mind.
“Do you know that man?” A new voice pulled her attention away from Lizzie Bennet’s deft moves with her katana.
Phyllis met the gaze of an overweight man facing her from a couple of tables away. His face had a reddish tinge, as if the effort of lifting his caramelatte to his lips was telling on him. He wouldn’t last long if the zombies did swarm up the stairs.
“No.” Phyllis looked back to her book.
“But he could be, you know, anyone,” said the man.
It occurred to Phyllis that the man with the laptop had looked Middle Eastern or Central Asian. She could guess what the fat man meant by ‘anyone’. She grunted and raised the book to block her eyeline, incidentally hiding her face behind the macabre grin on the cover.
The red-faced man didn’t take the hint. “He’s left a bag under his chair.”
Phyllis glanced at the vacated chair. There was indeed a Tesco carrier bag underneath it. As soon as she’d looked where the red-faced man directed, she wished she hadn’t. He took it as encouragement.
“We don’t know where he’s gone,” he said.
Perhaps the man just wanted reassurance, and he’d leave her alone when he got it. “I expect he’s gone to the toilet downstairs.”
“But he could be, you know, anyone. He could be doing, you know, anything.”
“He could be summoning a zombie horde to devour us as we speak,” said Phyllis.
“Yes, precisely. And what’s in that carrier bag, do you think?”
Phyllis blinked, wondering if he’d misheard or was simply immune to sarcasm. Answering in full sentences had been a mistake.
“Shopping.” She tried to compress two syllables into one and raised her book again.
“I think we ought to check.”
Phyllis winced at herself. She should have just grunted at him until he shut up. She cursed the mother who had raised her to be polite.
“The carrier bag.” The red face was noticeably redder than when he’d first spoken to her. “We should find out what’s in it.”
His tone conveyed that by ‘we’, he meant ‘you’. Phyllis found herself looking into two very round eyes embedded in a face far too big for them. There was something hypnotic about those eyes.
“What do you think we’ll find?” she asked.
To her horror, Phyllis found her defences crumbling before those ridiculous eyes.
“Well, you know.”
Zombie-fighting Lizzie Bennet would know exactly how to deal with a man who couldn’t even say what he meant. Phyllis was not Lizzie Bennet. Those eyes already had her on her feet, and then kneeling by the Tesco bag. Lizzie would be introducing the man to the business edge of her katana by now, not rifling through a stranger’s carrier bag because someone wanted to know if it was going to explode in her face.
She glanced at the laptop. It was a new looking Macbook Air. Any self-respecting you know, anyone, would have taken a beauty like that with him if he was leaving a bomb under the table. For a moment, she found the thought reassuring. Then she recognised that reassurance as evidence that she’d been drawn too far into the red-faced man’s jitters.
“Oh my god!”
Her cry made the red-faced man flinch as if it was the pressure wave of an explosion.
“It’s…I can’t believe it!”
“What? What is it?” The red-faced man’s jowls quivered as he spoke.
“It’s…it’s a…a punnet of strawberries!”
“What do you mean?”
Phyllis left the question unanswered. She returned to her seat and raised her book as if it were a shield.
The man who could be anyone returned to his seat. He looked at the red-faced man, whose hands were shaking on the table. “Are you all right, mate?”
The red faced man shrank away from him. “I…er…you know…yes.”
The man who could be anyone gave Phyllis a quizzical look. Phyllis shrugged, which he took to mean that the red-faced man was at least not having a heart attack.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on it,” he said.
Phyllis nodded back and returned to Lizzie and her zombies.