Betty’s smile began to fade*. The shop’s overhead lights shone in the lenses of the man’s glasses, hiding his eyes. She couldn’t read his thoughts, but the alarm bell in her head was now a siren*. What he had said was not threatening, not the words at least. It was the tone*. It was the unblinking stare. It was the feeling he gave of being absolutely motionless and yet coiled*.
The credit card machine spat out its receipt. Betty tore it off. ‘Just sign that,’ she said, sliding the little piece of paper towards him with the tips of her fingers. He reached for the old Bic* and Betty had a brief view of the top of his bald, shining head and the dirty fingernails that gripped the pen. When he straightened and pushed the piece of paper back towards her, Betty glanced at the signatures on the credit card and on the receipt – and wiped an imaginary* hair away from her face. It was just a glance, but that was all it took.
They did not match*.
She looked up. A voice in her head was screaming, telling her not to show it, not to allow the fear that was swelling* up in her brain to seep* through her eyes: but she was already running helter-skelter* through options, she was already in flight from* this murderer. The kitchen? Yes, the kitchen…
‘I have a favour to ask.’
Betty was taken aback. His words seemed to come from another place – one from which she had already mentally escaped. She gawped*. There was no other word for it, and she knew she was doing it. Her mouth fell open and she gawped.
*fade – become less strong, less apparent
*a siren – a very loud danger signal
*the tone – the sound quality
*coiled – twisted (like a snake)
*an arc – part of a circle, a curve
*a Bic – a manufacturer of ballpoint pens
*imaginary – from one’s imagination, not real, illusionary
*match – look the same
*swelling – becoming bigger, heavier, thicker
*seep – escape, leak (like water through a small hole)
*helter-skelter – disorganised, unruly, confused
*in flight from – escaping, running away from
*gawp – (British English, informal) stare openly in a stupid way