By Chana Shapiro | cshapiro@atljewishtimes.com

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro

My friend Meta and I lunch at the Toco Hills Publix on Tuesdays, and we often discuss books. Meta likes to tell me, “You read too many detective stories.” She may be right.

For many months, we noticed a lanky, weathered fellow focusing on his laptop. He had a backpack with a lock on it and a couple of small black notebooks on the table beside the computer. He wore shaded glasses and whispered when he was on his cellphone. He always sat alone in a corner where no one could see what he was working on.

Meta thought he must be a solitary writer who came to Publix for stimulation. I figured he was an undercover agent or a spy.

Then he disappeared. He had become a silent yet reliable fixture of our Tuesday lunchtime, and we missed him. Besides, our curiosity was heightened.

One day I stopped at Publix on a Wednesday, and there he was at his regular table, working on his laptop, just as before. Where was Meta when I needed her? But it was now or never, so I went over to him.

“I’m sure you don’t know who I am,” I began.

“I’ve seen you and your friend,” he answered, cautiously.

“It’s been a while,” I noted, surreptitiously leaning over his notebooks and computer to find clues. “I hope everything’s OK.”

“I’m fine,” he deadpanned.

“I’m just wondering …” I began. He sighed and shrugged. He knew he was trapped. “Are you writing a book, or maybe you work for the government?”

“What gave you that idea?” he exclaimed. “I’m an accountant.”

Soon thereafter, I was granted another opportunity for investigation. As Meta and I bit into our Tuesday sandwiches, an elderly woman in green shorts and a T-shirt picturing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers came to our table. For a woman her age, she had great legs.

“Are you girls from around here?” she asked. We answered in the affirmative.

“I’m from New York,” she said proudly. “Do you know anywhere to go dancing?” We answered in the negative.

“I moved here to live with my son,” she explained, without a word of encouragement from us. “That’s him over there,” she said, pointing to a sullen fellow staring at us.

He was also dressed in shorts and was wearing flip-flops. His toes were callused, just like those of a dancer. It was clear that the mother and son both had dancing in their blood.

Ms. Green-Shorts warned us, “Stay away from him; he’s acting mean.” I assumed that his feet just hurt.

“Mom’s crazy!” he hollered. “She thinks she’ll meet Jewish people here because of the kosher deli!” (Well, she did meet us.)

“Were the two of you dancers?” I asked, confidently.

“Dancers!” she chortled. “We stood on our feet every day in a drugstore in Queens.” Her son came over and growled at her. “Now I’m in trouble!” the woman laughed.

As Meta and I watched, the two of them tripped the light fantastic toward the vegetables.

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping at Publix. I carefully reconnoitered the eating area through the window. Mr. Laptop wasn’t there, and the Green-Shortses weren’t there either. At the checkout line, a dignified, white-haired gentleman, wearing a bow tie, wire-rimmed glasses and a seersucker suit, smiled knowingly at me. I’d occasionally seen him drinking tea, reading piles of journals and taking notes.

“I’m usually here on Tuesdays,” he said as he reached the cashier. “I always see you with a friend.”

“I recognize you, too,” I answered. “I bet you’re a professor.”

“I never went to college,” he laughed. “I make all my money in the stock market.”

There are interesting people out there and exciting mysteries to solve, a veritable field day for Miss Jane Marple. Alas, I’m still a wannabe.