It was always a mistake to generalize; but, dear God, security guards were dumb.
Grinnell spotted him two steps inside the door, browsing the Japanese Animation racks in a Hawaiian shirt with the tail out over his sidearm, khaki slacks, and clod-buster black oxfords, the kind whose soles formed a lip all around with white stitching to make the feet that wore them look even bigger. He never stooped even once to look at the videos on the lower shelves, saving his energy to pretend to read the descriptions on the boxes he took off the top. He wore a bar of black moustache as thick as his thumb and his hair looked as if he cut it himself. He might as well have been wearing a uniform.
The layout was identical to all the other stores in the chain, a case man's dream. It had separate doors for entering and exiting, the latter charged with a magnetic field to set off an alarm when a customer tried to sneak Free Willy out unchecked, and a blind room in back where they displayed the porn.
Two employees stood inside the hollow square of the counter while a third restocked the racks, carefully avoiding conversation with the security lunk. Midnight closing was ten minutes away and only a few customers prowled the store. The locustlike Saturday-night crowd had swept through more than two hours earlier, scooping up New Releases by the armload and cracking twenties and fifties into two cash registers. Now the gold dust had settled. Even the monitors narrowcasting annoying trailers for Adam Sandler and Austin Powers were switched off.
Grinnell made a little dumb show of exasperation at the shelves of empty boxes that had contained the latest hot-ticket title, then left, answering a curious glance from the clerk nearest the door with a rueful shake of his head.
The minivan was parked on the far edge of the lot, just outside the range of the near lamppost. The man in the passenger's seat in front rolled down his window as Grinnell approached. The man wore his sandy hair long but neat, with a drooping gunfighter's moustache stained yellow at the edges from nicotine. Grinnell supposed he dipped snuff, the most pointless abuse of tobacco he could imagine.
"Three clerks," Grinnell said. "One guard." He described the man in the Hawaiian shirt.
"Anything there?" The man in the van had a Kentucky accent that he could dial up or down according to mood. Grinnell couldn't tell if it was genuine. The other three men in the vehicle called him Wild Bill.
"not to look at, but you want to pin him down first. This is the fourth time for this chain." It was a warning, but he stopped short of making it a suggestion. He hadn't had any trouble with this crew, but it was never wise to underestimate the sensitivity of a wrecker, much less of one who allowed his team to address him by an Old West nickname.
"The clerk stocking the racks wears a nose ring; tattoos on both wrists. He might be a use."
"What else?" he asked again.
"Okay." The window slid back up.