Richie backpedaled out of Aisle Seven as fast as he could.
Arms full of assorted odds and ends of cans that needed to be replaced on the shelves, Richie felt the full-bore stare of the dark-haired man in the middle of the aisle. He had been gauging which were the best water chestnuts, but when Richie had cornered into the aisle, he’d turned to glare, and Richie had stopped with a squeak of his sneakers.
“I just work here,” Richie said as he beat it away to Aisle Three. That was the second Immortal he’d run across tonight. Richie worked the graveyard shift, returning things to their proper places, restocking shelves. For whatever reason, Immortals seemed to have a propensity to shop late at night for their groceries.
“Richie!” Vega, his manager exclaimed. She was an older woman, a grandmother, who had come back to work for a bit of ‘egg money’, as she’d described it. She had been intently studying the cascade display of tomato sauce products. “What are you doing?” She waved a hand at the cans in his arms.
“Umm, there’s a customer in the aisle and my being there bothered him,” Richie said, feeling ridiculous.
Vega stared at him incredulously, probably deciding if he was lying or just over-the-top shy. “You just need to be more inconspicuous,” she told him. “Work in an area where there are no customers.” She sighed. “I bet he’s out of the aisle by now.”
“Right,” Richie said, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of checking to see. He didn’t want to brush up against the Immortal’s Quickening and really make him think that maybe Richie wanted to fight.
Vega waved a hand at the mound of cans in Richie’s arms. “Leave that here and I’ll take care of it.” She took three jars off the shelf and handed them to Richie after he’d put his load down. “Now, what I want you to do is find out where these go. Darned if I can figure it out. I almost don’t think we even carry this brand.”
Richie turned the jars over in his hands. Each one was a different type of sauce. Star fruit curd. Radish gravy. Fennel-cranberry compote.
“I’ll give it a try,” he said. He’d never even heard of these foods. The star fruit curd should be the easiest, he decided, and went to the jams and jellies section. It was a bust. Nothing even remotely similar. He tried the local section. He tried the World Foods section. Nope.
He focused on the radish gravy. That should go with the other gravies. He found the section of pork, beef, chicken, and turkey gravies. Even vegetarian seitan gravy. Strike Two.
Fennel-cranberry compote was a complete mystery, but perhaps it went with the other cranberry things. He found a dozen different types of cranberry sauces, but none of them were mixed with fennel. And none of them were the correct brand, either. Strike out.
As he contemplated whether to admit his failure to Vega, or just tuck the jars behind something else where they wouldn’t be found for months, he felt as if a swarm of bees had gotten in his head and then flew down his spine. He looked up.
A woman was staring at him, hard. She’d dropped her basket on the ground and had her hand deep into the side of her coat, obviously ready to pull her sword at the least provocation. “Do I know you?” she asked.
“Aw, jeez,” Richie swore to himself. “No,” he said, standing up, abandoning the jars. “I just work here.” He backpedaled out of the aisle. That made three Immortals in one night.
“Look where you’re going!” Vega admonished him as Richie pulled up short, barely avoiding bumping into her. She looked him up and down. “You found where to put the jars?”
“Not yet,” Richie said, wondering where he had even left the jars. He almost thought he’d dropped them when he’d seen the Immortal. Probably he needed to go find a mop and clean up the mess. “I’m still working on it,” he said.
Vega narrowed her eyes. “Why don’t you go out into the lot and gather up the carts,” she said.
“I can do that,” Richie said. He turned and took off. The lot. He could avoid the Immortals that way.
It was dark outside, even with the parking lot lights on, and the carts were scattered everywhere. But it was empty of people, which meant it was also empty of Immortals. Richie started to collect the carts.
He paused to watch a car come into the lot and pull into a spot. As the driver got out, the familiar feeling of warning cascaded down his neck and through his spine. The driver kept the car between himself and Richie. “Is there a problem?” he asked.
Richie shook his head and tugged at his orange safety vest for emphasis. “No. I just work here.”
The Immortal considered this for a moment, then got back in his car and drove away.
Richie sagged with relief.
“Richie!” Vega called to him from the front sidewalk. “What are you doing?” She looked displeased, and Richie thought perhaps she’d found the radish gravy broken open all over the floor in Aisle Six.
He took a step forward to start to explain, and his warning system buzzed again. He turned to see the two immortals from before — the woman and the man–each exit the store from the two different exits. They glared at him before glaring at each other.
Richie held up his hands and tried to look harmless. I am so outta here, he thought, washing cats was safer than this. He pulled off his orange vest and hooked it on the return cart fencing.
“Richie!” Vega shouted at him.
“I quit!” Richie yelled back, and he backpedaled to his motorcycle and got himself (and his head) safely out of there.