When I woke up that morning, I already wanted to die. I knew I needed to do something for myself. I had to wait at the train platform, hot and crowded, a steer amongst the crowd waiting for my turn on the conveyer belt. I could have jumped in front of the subway. Maybe I should have. When crammed into the train car, my face smashed against another man's elbow, I decided I needed something. Something just for me.
I went to the coffee shop. No crime in that. Sure, I might be a few minutes late to work and probably get caught in the morning rush, but what's the harm? None.
Until I saw my coworker Peter. He was walking through the door, carrying a drink. Of course he left himself enough time to get a coffee, get to work, and probably say a positive affirmation to himself. I hate this guy.
"Morning Brian!" He said. "Here for some rise and grind?"
"No," I said, which wasn't true, but I pretended not to get the pun.
"I get it, no talking until you've had your coffee," he laughed, but truth was I hoped to never speak to this person again for the rest of my life, no matter how much coffee I had sloshing inside me. "See you in the office then! Ciao!"
Ciao? What is this? Europe? I stewed in line and waited for my chance to buy an eight dollar latte. I tried smiling at the girl at the register, but she didn't bite. Her loss!
I got my latte, stepped outside, took a sip and for one glorious second I felt better. I felt like I was in control of my life and my choices. And then I looked at my phone and realized I was going to be late, no matter how fast I walked, and all my peacefulness swept away like a rain gale.
I walked with intent, dodging pudgy businessmen, sidestepping head-in-their-phone tech bros, shoulder-checking stock traders screaming into Bluetooths, and cursing at middle managers pushing their scooters on the sidewalk. I glimpsed into the morning bar for a look at the third shifters and the alcoholics, then heard a thundering parade of cop cars fly past me as I remembered this city's always going to shit.
Walking up to the door, I got rid of the evidence, throwing the plastic cup in a corner trashcan. Only three minutes late. Not bad. Nobody would notice.
I scanned my ID badge, went in the front door and went up the elevator to work. When I got in, the boss and the HR manager were waiting next to the door.
"Hello Brian," Sara said, she's the HR manager. She looked upset.
"Will you come into my office?" Mike, the owner and my boss, asked. As if I had a choice.
"Sure," I said, not wanting to fuss over it. I didn't want to get fired but I didn't want to look like an asshole in front of everybody either.
I sat across from my boss at his mahogany desk. It was solid wood. Real nice. It'd take at least four people to move it. I guess four of us could because Sara stood next to my boss and a police officer, his arms akimbo and his gun resting prominently on his hip. Sara spoke first.
"Brian, did you get a coffee this morning?" She asked. Damn, could they fire me for tardiness? No, they couldn't. Especially not if I played it off like it was the train's fault.
"No, the Blue Line was late," I said confidently, because it was.
"So you didn't stop at the Steelworks Coffee on Grand Ave.?" Mike followed up.
OK well yeah, I did stop there. What was this all about, anyway? The police officer mean mugged me, staring me down like he could see the light inside my soul and his purpose in life was to extinguish it.
"No," I insisted. "I got up, made coffee at home, went to the train, had to wait while three trains flew past me, and then I came straight here." Easy story to remember. "I have good coffee at home. It was good."
"Your coworker Peter had an accident this morning," Sara interjected. Wait, huh?
"He was at the Steelworks Coffee on Grand," Mike confirmed.
"The police told us his bike was tampered with," Sara said solemnly. The policeman said nothing.
"That's terrible..." I stammered, "That's just awful to hear." Except, it wasn't. Ciao, Peter! That guy was always riding everyone's ass. He thought because he was a manager in the finance department that meant he was everybody's manager. Plus, he was a creep. Always telling us about how he went hunting, drove up to the woods and killed an animal with a bow like some kind of special operative. Who cares! If anybody at the office had to die, I'm glad it was him. Good riddance! But I couldn't betray my feelings.
"I don't even know what to say... He had a..." I tried to remember if Peter had a family, and I don't think he did.
"A good and fulfilling life." Mike concluded. The policeman was nodding in agreement.
"Now Brian," Sara started up again, "If you didn't go to the coffee shop this morning, what was it you were throwing away in the garbage can on your way into the office?" She asked.
I notice the lines on her face got deeper and more pronounced the more serious she got. I never saw those lines before. Sara always tried to be a happy manager, an encourager, a smooth faced manager without any lines cheeks or forehead. She wasn't smooth now.
"That was a newspaper," I blurted out. "The free Reader. I found a copy on the train."
"What was in it?" Mike asked, "What did you read about?"
"Movie times," I lied, "I wanted to see what's playing this weekend." Who still uses the paper for this!
"Anything good?" The cop finally chimed in.
"Yeah there's uh," I tried to think back to all the ads I'd seen on buses or the billboards on the trains that sped by me this morning. "There's a superhero movie I want to see."
"Which one?" The cop looked interested. "I see all the super hero movies."
"I don't remember," I said. "They all kind of blur together don't they?"
"Not for me, they don't," he said.
Then the three of us were quiet for 15 seconds. I know it was that long because Mike had a big expensive clock that ticked loudly with every second. Tick, tick, tick, tick- the sound signaling that their minds were made up and this was taking too long.
Sara wasn't done, though. "Brian, we know you went to the coffee shop this morning," she looked me right in the eye. Come clean or double down? "You go every morning. I even called and asked the manager."
What, is there a manager's code or something? Fuck that! Don't care. Won't ever come clean.
"No you don't," I told her, "Because I wasn't in the coffee shop this morning. I made coffee at home. I made myself a French pour over. It was delicious." Now I felt emboldened.
"Did you grind your own beans?" the police officer asked.
"Of course," I said.
"Hand ground or electric grinder?" he asked.
"What do you think?" I said. "Hell, ask him, he's paying me," I pointed at Mike in his goofy, bold print tie.
"The police saw you leave after Peter did," Sara said. "He got into a bike crash at an intersection five minutes after that because the brake cables on his bike were cut."
"Why are you telling me this?" I said, but I knew why.
"Brian we're going to have to let you go from the company," Mike explained. "This officer will escort you in the lobby. Once you clean out your desk and pack your things, we ask you go with them cooperatively."
There's a window behind him but it's five stories up. I don't think I could survive the landing. I could run. I could try to make it to the stairwell, bound down the steps, juke past Officer Moviebuff, but that would make me look even more guilty.
"OK," I said. I was starting to disassociate. So I got a coffee before work. I didn't kill my co-worker! "I'll go get my things," and I walked back to my desk.
First, I went into the kitchen and found a plastic garbage bag. This would work fine. Then, I opened the fridge and found an expensive craft brew, a bitter India Pale Ale. I cracked one open and offered another to my guard. It was 9:17am but what were the consequences at this point?
"It's Kombucha," I lied, "Good for the gut."
"Thank you," he sipped.
I went to my desk, drank my beer, and realized I never liked sitting here in the first place. I couldn't remember what I did. I think I was in Customer Service. Or Account Management. I sent emails, I remember that. I was an Emailer. And sometimes I even used a Spreadsheet. Who cares.
I knocked my junk into the garbage bag with one sweep of my forearm.
"What's going on?" Morgan asked. She's the lady that works next to me.
"They think I killed Peter," I told her. I took a drink. I noticed a picture of Morgan and two children on her desk. I never really looked before. I took another drink. "They think I sabotaged the breaks on his bike."
Morgan looked horrified, "Did you?!"
"No," I told her shaking my head and tossing the bag of personal garbage over my back like a depressed Santa Claus. "Nobody believes me."
"Probably because you fought with Peter all the time," she said. "You screamed at him in the conference room just a few days ago."
"That's true," I nodded. "Do you love your family?" I asked her because even if the answer made things uncomfortable, it didn't matter. I would never see this person again.
She looked at me. "Not really," she answered. "Why do you ask?"
"Because I never heard you mention them but there's a picture on your desk," I said.
"They made me bring it," she told me.
"It was nice working together," I said as the policeman escorted me to the elevator.
"Beside the end, it was a pleasure to work with you Brian," Mike told me, shaking my hand, pushing the elevator button for me. When we got downstairs, more cops arrived to handcuff me.
"Is this your coffee cup?" said a detective wearing a fedora and a trench coat. His skin had the consistency of cheap, raw meat. The kind with a neon orange SALE sticker on it.
"No it's not," I lied.
"Are you sure about that?" His face was so red it looked like his blood was trying to escape.
The coffee cup had my name on it. It said Brian. This gumshoe must have dug around the trash and found it. I ordered a Vanilla Latte, but I'm not sure the guy put in a full pump of vanilla. It tasted like coffee milk to me.
The question at hand was: triple or nothing?
"I've never seen that cup in my life," I told him.
"We'll see what forensics has to say about that," he smirked, putting the coffee cup into a ziplock like it was damning evidence. I guess it was.
"Come with me, smart guy," and he led me to the back of his squad car.
As we drove away I caught a glimpse of Sara. She looked smooth again. She was wearing a pantsuit, and through the thin fabric, I saw the unmistakable outline of wire cutters. Who carries a wire cutters in a pantsuit?
We got downtown, and they booked me. I sat in a jail cell alone for a while, right after the morning releases. I listened to the dripping of a leaky pipe next to the shared toilet. Three cots looked moldy against the wall. I laid down to sleep, but I was feeling jittery from the caffeine.
Finally, some guy came in booked on an indecent exposure charge. "What are you here for, buddy?" He asked me.
"I stopped to get a coffee before work," I told him, "I should have just went straight to the office." And that's the truth.