The place was more crowded than usual. The guy slid his tray past the register and looked for someplace to sit and eat. The only place open was by the front window, a two, with a lady on one side and her handbag on the other. She was nursing a tea and had a book propped up. He shuffled over and said “Excuse me Miss,” and nodded toward the other seat, “may I?”

She looked up at him, then looked around the dining room. Shaking her head, she muttered “Sure, of course,” and moved her handbag. He sat, arranged his tray and silverware, tucked the paper napkin under his chin, and dug into his Special. She resumed reading.

About two thirds of the way through the rubber roast beef, he put his fork down and wiped his mouth with the napkin. “Scuse me,” he said, “but I can’t help noticin’ you’re readin’ the new Christie.”

She looked up, peering under her eyebrows. “Yes,” she said.

He nodded. “Her stuff’s fun,” he said and fetched a dollop of mash with his fork, and scooped some creamed corn onto it, and shoveled the lot into his mouth and chewed contemplatively. He nodded a couple of times as he did. She raised her eyebrows again and saw him nodding and chewing.

“I prefer the Poirots myself,” he said after finishing the previous bite.

“This is a Marple,” she said, without looking up.

“That’s what I heard,” he said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with a Marple,” he said, waving the bit of meat he’d just speared like a professor’s pointer. “But Poirot, well …” and he fell to mopping up the rest of his gravy with the biscuit.

She read on a bit. “Poirot what?” she finally snarled. He jerked his head up, taken aback.

“I only meant,”

“I suppose you LIKE the little French snot.”

“Belgian,” he said, “well, I mean, it’s just…”

“It’s just what, it’s just that Jane Marple is a woman?”

“Oh, no, of course not…”

“Oh I suppose it’s because she’s OLD?”

He smiled, “Well, no, I mean, I’m pretty old myself, as you can see.”

“Well… what?”

“Well I just meant that he observes and deduces, you know, like Holmes.”

“Holmes!” she blurted. “That prat? Nobody ever made up more crap. And what he did wasn’t deduction it was induction. Anyone knows that.”

“Well Poirot used his little grey cells,” he said, cleaning up the last dabs of gravy and trapping the final green bean in the final shred of mash. “Not the mottoes on some kitchen sampler.” He stood, tipped his hat and gathered his tracy and silverware, turned on his heel and headed for the tray slot.

“”little grey cells my ass,” she muttered as he shuffled out of earshot.