“Well, you’ve certainly been in the wars haven’t you?”
Before Jack could protest he had been planted down with a steaming bowl of fresh veggie soup, crusty bread and mug of tea placed before him on a long table. He realised then how he appeared to the world. A broken, beaten bum stinking of alcohol, another hopeless case on the rocks needing a charitable hand to help him up.
The lady seated opposite him had the clear blue eyes of a true believer, exuding a genuine innate kindness that eroded even his callous cynicism. Not at all what he imagined. Maybe he was wrong about the world after all.
Invisible Jill slid onto the bench next to him. The soup smelt so good that Jack couldn’t resist diving in for a taste. A healthy, invigorating detox. He slurped hungrily, chewed on the bread, then realised he was doing so under false pretences.
“I’m, uh, not one of your customers…” said Jack.
“It’s okay sweetheart, no-one wants to be, and you can call me Claire.”
“Thank you, I’m Jack. I’m the boyfriend of one your helpers though. Jill. She’s lost her phone, and thought she may have left it here.”
Claire’s eyes narrowed, visible disdain passing over bright features. Jack had seen that look so many times. “Oh, so you’re Jack. I’ve heard all about you.”
Pure scorn. Jack glanced over at his ex. Jill looked away haughtily.
“I’m tempted to throw that soup over your head,” said Claire.
“Uh, please don’t,” said Jack. He moved back a little. “It’s delicious actually.”
Claire stared at him. He could see her pondering, before she relaxed and shrugged. “Okay, I’ll take a look for it. Don’t know where she would have left it though, things can get a little chaotic here.”
“Well, perhaps you could ring her number,” said Jack. “Track it by the ringtone?”
Claire had her phone out. “I don’t think I have it. Jeremy arranges the comings and goings here. I just do the food and chats. What’s her number?”
Jack fumbled. “Uh, I always had it on speed dial. Let’s see…”
Jill rolled her eyes, and muttered something unintelligible under her breath, although Jack got the gist. She told him the number and Jack repeated it.
“Well, okey dokey,” said Claire. She typed it in. Over in the kitchen the bass chords of Deee-Lite’s ‘Groove is in the Heart’ bleeped through tiny speakers. Jack stood up and followed the sound.
A tall, muscular, bearded man wearing a Planet of the Apes T-shirt was holding a buzzing gold iPhone, staring at it curiously. He looked up as Jack and Claire approached. Jack could hear the intake of breath from Jill behind him.
“Ah look, Jeremy’s already found her phone,” said Claire.
Jeremy smiled broadly, exposing perfect white teeth, but Jack did not see the hipster do-gooder that others did. All he could see was the rictus grin of Jill’s murderer standing before them.