SHOPPING DUTY
By Margaret Price

“Why does the Major always think I should play the husband?” Z moaned as he and Agent G entered a small Mom & Pop style grocery store somewhere in New York City. Agent G was in drag, of course. Although Z had to admit, G had good taste in clothes and always made sure the disguise fit the assignment, something he had remarked upon earlier.

G smiled to himself as Z automatically held the door open for him. “Perhaps so everyone will think I have excellent taste in men as well as clothes,” he grinned.

Z gave him a disapproving look but let the remark pass. “What are we supposed to be getting?” he sighed.

G held up a piece of paper. “The Major gave me a list.”

Z took advantage of the brief moment G was struggling to get the shopping carts unjammed from one another to make a visual sweep of the front of the store. It was early evening and there did not seem to be too many people in the place other than employees, and even those were few. He looked up and scowled. No surveillance equipment. That was just inviting trouble.

“Okay, what’s first,” G said happily, glancing down at the list, and returning Z to reality.

“You lead, I’ll follow,” Z said dutifully.

G giggled. “Are you gonna be my backup in the supermarket?” He grinned all the more at the dark look this produced.

“This market is hardly super,” Z said grumpily.

They made quick work of the list, picking up a few things for the agents on stakeout duty. The Major had not included them in the list, but would surely raise Cain if he decided they were necessary and his subordinates had overlooked them.

“How’s about we throw in a case of beer?” Z suggested suddenly.

G’s eyebrows went up. “Don’t you think the Major will be…um, annoyed if we buy alcohol?”

“We won’t tell him.” Z grinned at the horrified look this produced. “’S good German beer,” he added playfully. “He can’t object to that.”

G was staring at him with his mouth agape. This was an incredibly brazen action to be taking, especially during a mission. And to have Z be the one to be suggesting it. “Do you want to go back to Alaska?”

Z gave him a sideways glance. “I’ll tell him it was your idea.”

G let out an alarmed squeak. “You swine!” he exclaimed, swatting Z on the arm before he made his way to the checkout.

Within minutes, they had everything paid for and were heading out the front door. The smiles on their faces dissolved the instant a commanding voice called out, “That the hell took you two so long?”

The agents looked up to see the Major leaning against their car, his arms folded. They exchanged a look of mutual disbelief. They then silently heaved a sigh of relief that they had decided not to purchase the beer after all. The reason for their commanding officer’s presence suddenly dawned on G when he noticed that a cigarette was conspicuous by its absence in the Major’s mouth. He wordlessly dove a hand into a bag, extracting a carton of cigarettes.

“This was the closest thing to your usual brand that they had, sir,” G said as he held out the box.

The Major snorted. “Bloody Yanks. With all the tobacco they grow here, you’d think they could make a decent cigarette.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Get the rest of that lot to the hotel,” the Major ordered as he tore open the carton.

“Yes, sir.” G threw a quick glance over at Z who was in the process of opening the trunk. G turned back, seeing the Major starting to walk away. “Oh, Major!” he called.

“What?”

“I know it wasn’t on your list…” G began slowly, trying to ignore the disapproving scowl he was receiving. “But…I managed to find this.” He held up a large jar of Nescafé coffee.

The Major’s eyes lit up, the scowl vanishing from his face. “Excellent work, G. Maybe I won’t send you to Alaska after all,” he said as he turned on his heel and strode off. His agents exchanged an amused look as he started humming as he walked away.

“Yes, sir,” the grinning G and Z said in unison.

* * *

Eroica