Jack closed the door behind him and took off his dripping fedora. He removed his outer coat as well, hung both on a nearby peg, then glanced around the interior of what was supposed to be cozy little shop. He wasn’t quite sure, between the water drops on the outside of his glasses and the fog on the inside. He wiped them on his shirt and replaced them. Everything looked just as he had expected: two employees behind the counter, three patrons behind their laptops, and expensive drinks stencilled on the chalkboard.
He seated himself on a barstool behind a glass display case. Inside were rows of brownies, cakes, cookies, even cheesecakes… perhaps this would be a long stakeout.
A tired-looking boy in a grey apron approached from the opposite side. He said something, but it was muffled. Obviously, he was new; most customer service representatives were experts at articulating themselves through the mandatory masks.
“Pardon me, what was that?”
“Can I interest you in any of our pumpkin spice specials today?”
“No, thank you.”
“Then what can I get for you?”
“A coffee, please. Black.”
The boy sighed and nodded, then headed to the cups. Jack seen now that there was a sign which read Sizes: Poem, Novel, Bestseller. That was what had caused the sigh. There was no medium.
Jack casually glanced around the shop again. A barista bustled past him with her hands full. One held a plate with crusty brownie, the other a mug that steamed around its foamy topping. She dropped it off at a corner table to a woman—Jack had to stare at that woman.
He hadn’t seen her in his initial sweep of the shop.
She was hunched over a laptop, embraced by a knitted cinnamon cardigan, with a messy braid over one shoulder. She typed vigorously for a few seconds, then stopped short and bit her lip. In the midst of an eye roll, she noticed the order. She called a thanks to the retreating barista, took the cup, and brought it to her lips—
The boy set the coffee down in front of him. “That’ll be three dollars and fifty-six cents.”
“Debit.” He paid for the expensive coffee, removed his mask, and took a sip. It was good, he had to admit.
He looked back at the woman. Her mug looked like the Bestseller size, and with the amount of whipped cream plus the brownie, she must have been hard at work on something impressive. It was obvious that her mind was miles away.
But now he needed to concentrate. If his watch was right, and it always was, it was five minutes after six o’clock. He made himself comfortable on his chair and tried to stop staring at the woman in the corner. He was not here to stalk the first female that caught his eye.
He had a mission.
A police officer came in through the door. “Man, it’s really pouring out there!” She kept her coat on, Jack noticed, and acted as a rain cloud over the path to the counter. “I’ll have a Poem, please.”
The boy poured an espresso shot and handed it to the officer, who paid, knocked it back, and handed back the cup. “Thanks, man, I needed that. Back to the grind!” She exited, leaving puddles in her wake. The boy took the cup and washed it, scrubbing his own hands in the process and finishing with changing his gloves. He then went for a mop and cleaned up the puddles.
Jack took another sip of his coffee.
The door opened again. It was a middle aged man who wore sunglasses despite the absence of sun. He also did not remove his coat. Really, was there no respect to the clean floors? Jack sat a little straighter.
The man looked around, then headed towards the hallway with the bathroom sign. Jack relocated to a table so that the man would be able to order more easily when he returned.
Return he did in a very short time. He gestured at the boy but did not speak.
The boy stared at him, confused. “What is it?”
Jack recognized the ASL motions for “bathroom” and “tissue”, but before he could say anything, the boy had enlisted the help of his fellow barista.
“Oh, he must be saying that we’re all out of toilet paper, or paper towel, or something.” She put down the dishes she was holding. “I’ll go refill it.”
That “or something” was strange. Why didn’t the man specify which it was? The man was not deaf, as he nodded in agreement with the girl, but he ought to have been more fluid. Perhaps it had been a recent accident. Perhaps it was why he did not remove the sunglasses and cap.
The man shuffled his feet, and by all appearances, looked to be getting agitated. Perhaps distressed was a better word. He pointed to the washrooms, then signed “man”, pointed again, and repeated the sign.
The girl finally laughed. She must have come to the same conclusion as Jack: this man was not quite right in the head. “Oh, cause it’s the men’s washroom. It’s all right, there’s no one else in there. I’ll replace it and come right back out. Then you can use it if you still need to.”
The man rocked back and forth on his feet, shaking his head. The girl insisted again that she would go, and he got worse.
“Listen, he’s still in training. He doesn’t know how to put the rolls in.”
The man turned his head as if to garner sympathy from the watching patrons. The girl walked around the counter and headed toward the washroom.
Jack grabbed his hat and threw it past her head just as the man withdrew a gun and fired. The hat caught the bullet enough to spin it off course. She ducked, needlessly, too late, and screamed. The other patrons were standing. The man looked at the gun in his hands, his shoulders limp. Jack approached him and gently took the gun. It was just an airsoft pistol. “It’s time to go back home, Benjamin. Lucy is waiting for you.”
Benjamin looked up at him and mumbled a response. “Lucy?”
“Yes. You remember Lucy, don’t you? She taught you your pretty hands.”
“My pretty hands.” He looked back at his pudgy fingers, shaping them into words and letters.
“Lucy’s waiting for you. It’s almost bedtime.”
“Yes. She was looking for you.”
“Are you going to call Lucy?”
“Can I call Lucy?”
“No, not right now. I’m going to call her to come and take you home.” Jack took out his phone. He informed the warden that her charge had been found with her son’s toy gun and in a few minutes, a car pulled up outside. Upon Benjamin’s insistence, he put his mask back on, then waved at the astonished patrons. Finally Benjamin was ushered into the back seat of Lucy’s car.
He considered calling a taxi back to the office, then remembered the woman inside. But he couldn’t just walk back in and begin a conversation with a total stranger, especially after everything that had just happened… Oh yes! The gunshot. They all deserved an explanation.
They all were very interested in his explanation. He gave the recovering baristas the asylum’s card and informed them that the cost of the damages would be recompensed in full. That done, he had no other excuse for staying; he had already had his coffee. He turned toward the door and shrugged into his coat.
His heart jumped, just a little, at hearing the soft feminine voice. He turned around, and there she stood, holding his fedora in her hands. She wore a gold ring on her pinky finger, and he wondered what it stood for. She looked like the type who didn’t wear things solely for the sake of accessorizing.
“You dropped this, Mr. Holmes.”
He took the hat, unable to help the smile that crossed his face. “If only. Holmes would have been able to tell who he was before waiting for him to show his hand.”
“Well, observation skills aside, the fantastic throw did justice, Mr. Holmes.”
He laughed now, at the twinkle in her eyes as well as her insistence. “My name is Jack.”
“Mine is RoseAnne.”
“Do… do you come here often?”
“Perhaps you ought to come again tomorrow and find out.”
Was it just him, or was she flirting? Her eyes crinkled, and she must have been smiling slyly under her mask as she returned to her table and gathered her things. But—if she was flirting, why was she leaving?
“Do you always leave so early?” She turned, and he continued. “Or did the escapade ruin your train of thought?”
“To be honest, it did, but the real reason is that I’ve got a prayer meeting tonight. If you’d like, you could accompany me.”
Another flare shot in his heart. “Actually, I’ve got my own to attend. But perhaps I’ll be here tomorrow.”
Her eyes lit up when he mentioned “his own”. They had this in common. She smiled again, then left.
He had a good feeling about tomorrow.