The Espresso Trade

This is an entry in WOEGMAN’s TTT challenge. The challenge was to write something in an alternate reality in 1000 words or less. This comes in at 994. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The petals drifted down, coating the pavement with the fragility of spring covering what was left of the evidence. Watching from behind The Times, a grin crept across his granite before he closed up shop and the vid uploaded. Pulling the umbrella down, he packed away his goods and pushed the cart down the path. Another successful experiment filmed in the park.

****************

“Yo boss! Vinny didn’t make checkpoint!” Joe Pettigucci glared at the bridge in Central Park where his muscle should have walked. A chill danced down his neck stiffening his spine. This was the fourth pick up that’d disappeared this week. Soon the boys were gonna take vengeance. It wouldn’t be pretty.

Joe walked the route. He went over Gapstow Bridge by the Pond passing picnics and people just lazing about. The Victorian Gardens were blooming as he continued on around making his way towards East Drive. Vinny would have walked right through here, but there wasn’t even the slightest notion of a man that big along the path.

Making his way to the street, a flurry of pink blossoms circled his legs while the scent of burned coffee wafted around him. As he looked down, a small piece of gold winked up from a small pile of ashes. Kneeling, he picked up the crucifix Mama Leo had given Vinny when he joined The Family.

“Gooch, what’cha got there? Anything Cap’d like to see?” Matt, one of the boys in blue, reached over to take the crucifix, but Joe held fast.

“It’s nothin’, just an old crucifix from Mama. Must’a fallen outta my pocket.” Joe put it away before Matt decided to grab for it.

“Cap’s getting worried, Gooch. Don’t like it when Cap’s upset. Things break.”

“We’ll get it to him. Just give us time.”

“24 hours, Gooch, 24 hours.”

Joe waited until Matt was out of hearing. “Boss, gotta make it happen, fast.”

***************************

It was almost complete. The tests had gone well. So far the formula disintegrated everything except metal. That wasn’t a loss, just annoying. Social media was running with the videos, swearing they were fake which suited him. A few of the more intelligent were trying to figure out where he was filming, but no one had caught on, yet. When he was ready, he’d make his demands. The Big Apple would either recognize his brilliance or disintegrate.

Pushing his cart down the path, he chose his next site carefully, waiting for one of the “boys” to walk by before he raised his umbrella. He nodded, friendly-like to the joggers and walkers alike until he was ready. It was almost time for the next delivery to be coming through. Looking out beneath his brows, he grinned.

*************************

“I’ve got it, boss. It’s in The Briefcase.” Joe picked up the leather coated metal and Kevlar reinforced case. He wound the band around his wrist securing it before setting his shoulders. The route firmly in his head, he started out.

The first checkpoint was by the bridge where he had to pick up a paper, tuck it beneath his arm. Turning to walk past, Joe watched the old man sit down and lay the paper down, discarding it. Picking it up, Joe nodded to the man, then moved on down the path. The key to the document would be in the help wanted section.

The second checkpoint was under the cherry tree as he turned to East Drive. There he was to pick up a specific edition of “Gentleman’s Quarterly” from the vendor before making his way to the street. A small package was stashed within its pages under the guise of a free sample. Once he crossed that street, he’d be home free.

Off to the left of the path, just barely on the pavement was the vendor. It was old Granite face. He got that name when his face hit the granite one too many times leaving pockmarks, permanently. Some say he was a promising chemist years ago that the boys in blue punished for not creating a coffee substitute fast enough.

Who knew? With coffee being on the critically endangered list, it was against international law to harvest the beans, much less brew a cup of joe. Espresso was out of the picture. Starbuck’s died four years ago when the bean crisis first hit. The boys were twitching from the world-wide shortage, willing to pay big for anyone willing to cross the Colombian border to bring some back. Granted having the beans and knowing how to roast ‘em for the perfect brew were two different things. That’s where The Family came into play.

Joe looked over at the vendor. Granite Face reached behind a pile of magazines to pull one out, put it on the side of the rack. Opening up the drinks case, he pulled out a soda and offered to Joe with what he thought was a smile as he came over. With his wallet in hand, Joe paid the man then took the soda and the copy of “Gentleman’s Quarterly” with him. He folded it up with the newspaper before continuing along the route to the drop-off. Every sense on alert. Walking the walk of beans was risky. Too many unreformed coffee junkies waiting for a chance.

But junkies weren’t the problem this time, it was something else, something sinister that was hitting only The Family, but that would have to wait. The delivery was first or their credibility was gonna suffer. Joe stuck the coke in his pocket for later as he left the park and strode to the waiting car. Getting in, he handed over the paperwork that had directions for the perfect brewing machine plus a free sample of the product. Cap stuck his pinky into the rich brown granules and tasted the dark espresso that only The Family could provide, then nodded his head for Joe to hand over the case. One more happy Cop in the Espresso Trade.

Songbird

When I was a musical theatre major in college we had a gentleman who would come and play the most amazing songs on the piano. He wore a long brown trench coat. I remember creeping up to the practice rooms just to listen. One time I even sat in the room just listening to him play. We became friends of a sort. He was college age, but always on the look out when he played. I found out later that he was homeless. He was making his way through college while sleeping where ever he could. Playing the piano was his way of losing himself for a brief time. So, this story is for that long ago friend of music. He inspired me.

****************

“There will never be a day, when I won’t think of you…”

A sweet, lilting soprano voice filled with longing caressed the hallway as James walked through the front door of the theatre building on old North Campus. He could feel the notes wrap around him comforting the bitterness away, coating him in warmth even though the icy wind tried to whip the door open behind him. She was singing. She sang off and on in the marble stairwells where her voice soared, reaching for the angels, then disappeared as quickly as the notes evaporated into silence. Who she was, he hadn’t a clue, but like every other time he hustled to the stairwell hoping to catch a glimpse of his siren only to find it empty.

The school had dubbed her their little “Phantom”, but with her voice she was more “Christine” than “Phantom”. The banked emotion that she let soar made everyone stop what they were doing for just those moments to feel her voice.

No one had ever caught her. Some said she was a ghost but James knew better. One day when he silently crept to the stairwell, he thought he had her. For once he was going to lay eyes on the one who had haunted him for the last couple years, but the upstairs door closed behind her leaving only what drifted slowly down. She was gone. He caught that cobalt scarf as he raced up the stairs only to find the hallway empty. Looking down at his hand, he smiled. There in the folds were a few stragglers of long, silky mahogany hair. She was real.

“If I ever catch her…” Zac, the music director, paused beside him, “It’ll be Webber all the way.”

James nodded, knowing the feeling. Their little joint department hadn’t had a true crystal voice like that in a long time. Imagining what she could do for a show, he smiled. “We need to find her first. Too bad the university wouldn’t foot the bill for cameras. At least that way we would know what she looks like.”

As he walked across the lobby to his office, his fingers caressed the scarf that was folded in his coat pocket, always with him.
************
Panting, Josephine picked up her knapsack where she left it. Once again the lure of the stairwell had called out to her. When was she going to learn? Security had already warned her, told her that the school was no place for her. They even threatened to call the police the last time she was found. One day she would be caught and sent away, she knew it, but the way she felt when she sang, took away all the pain. Singing was her refuge, her respite, it allowed her to dream if only for a moment. On the bad days, the threat of getting caught was more than worth the moments of peace.
**************
Days passed without a sound from the one he sought. After a week went by, James began to wonder if maybe his special song bird left. His fingers just about rubbed a hole in the sheer scarf as he wondered where she might have gone. Surely she was a student at the very least? Perhaps, she was studying for spring midterms? It was a bit early for them but some were more studious than others. Without realizing what he was doing, he put on “Phantom” just to listen to the songs she loved to sing.

“Playing the music won’t bring her back. Give her time. She’ll sing again.” His secretary handed him the latest schedule of rehearsals for the play he was directing.

“How long has she been here? Haunting us all with her voice?”

“She showed up about a year before you did. At first she sang only classical songs that were being taught to the voice majors, so we all thought she was a student. Then she branched off into other genres. Theatre people thought she was a voice major. Music people thought she was theatre. So, no one knows. All I know is that the stairwell calls her. She’ll be back.”
***************
Two weeks later, the night was bitterly cold with sleet slamming its way through, piercing anything it hit. Not able to remain outside any longer, Josephine slipped through the loose door in the basement. Creeping slowly as she kept an eye out for the night watchman, she threaded her way through the scene shop and over to the prop and costume shops where she gathered blankets and a wool sweater. With soft feet she moved over to the main office where she knew a small heater was kept. There she huddled trying to warm herself.
***************
“Come feed the little ones. Show them you care… all it takes is tuppence from you”

The ice storm had convinced him to stay later than normal. He was glad he did when he heard her voice. As silently as he could, James walked to his office. The voice, her voice, was thin, yet still she sang almost too softly to be heard. There were pauses, jumps and dips that shouldn’t be there, but still … she sang. He eased through the door to his office. There she was huddled in ragged blankets, her hair a straggled mess, the marks of street life showing as she rocked herself.

Reaching behind his back, he closed the door. She jumped when the latch caught, but didn’t rise. Instead, she burrowed further in the blankets.

“Please, don’t call the cops. I was only trying to get warm.”

“I just want to meet you.”

“I’ll go.” She reached to turn off the heater.

“Stay.” Moving slowly to not scare her, James turned the heater back on before sinking to his heels beside her. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out her scarf. “I kept this for you.”
Despite her shivers, a smile bloomed across her face as she reached for it.

“Thank you. I’ll leave as soon as I get warm, promise.”

“No talk of leaving. You’re safe.”

In Whose World is Reality

I wrote this a while back. Its from a dream that haunted me. Article 94’s Mark Gardner spurred this one to be brought here by his piece “My Own Monster”. While this is fiction, it has elements of fact in that my grandmother had one of the longest documented cases of Alzheimer’s. My mother kept her at home with home nursing for years. Doll was treated from roughly 1981 until her death in 2005.
********
“My car is missing!” I told them being outright ignored.

Doll just wandered around the kitchen picking up the newspaper, putting it back down before settling in a chair at the table. Opening the cabinet, mother pulled out a glass and walked over to the refrigerator, opened it, looked inside then leaving the door open, pulled out her cigarettes.

“Did you hear me? My car has been stolen! I need to use your phone!”

My mother lit her cigarette then replied without turning towards me, “Well you should have thought of that before you loaned it out. Not my fault you can’t make good choices.” She took a drag off of it then got some orange juice out to pour into her glass. Meanwhile, my grandmother sat there staring blankly at nothing in particular while our drama unfolded around her.

“Mother, I need to use your phone.” I said knowing that if I walked over to it without her permission, all hell would break loose, so I stood perfectly still ever watching to see if she would acquiesce. Even though local calls were part of the bill, I was not allowed to call out without permission even as an adult.

“Judy, where’s my juice? I need my juice with my paper in the morning.” My grandmother murmured distantly as if just now waking from a long nap. That she noticed her juice was gone was a good thing. Alzheimer’s had done its number on her years ago taking her idea of what was real and now away so solidly that no amount of putting it in front of her mattered. She had her good days when she was sweet and loving, then there were the bad ones where everyone was a physical target that she had to overcome with any means necessary.

“OH good, the woman who looks like my granddaughter is here. My doll baby is much prettier than you, but she still needs to lose weight. I so wish she would come back from school to visit me.”

“Doll, it is me. I’ve just grown older.” I took a few steps over to her and took her hand in mine. It was soft, withered, with the bones showing through from where she refused to eat now. I tried, not thinking about it, wanting her to recognize me just once for who I am. I knew better. It never worked.

“Don’t you talk to your grandmother that way! You’ll just confuse her more!” My mother lit another cigarette from the one burning as if the first one had some kind of fatal flaw in it. She looked at me with utter hatred pouring out of her, the fury of it licking its way to me.

“I used to sing, “Hello Dolly” to her as a baby. She was such a sweet child.” Doll smiled with the kindest of smiles that lit up her face making her eyes glow with happiness. Then she began to sing in a hesitant but happy voice, “Hello, Dolly! Well hello, Dolly! It’s so nice to have you back where you belong!”

Tears came to my eyes as she did that, wishing that she was singing to me once more. My early childhood had been filled with visits to her when she would sing to me and talk with me, taking me places with her as if I was special. She had been so much more of a mother to me when I was there than her daughter was. I missed my grandmother, my Doll.

I never used a typical grandmother term for her. From the moment I could call her anything, she was Doll. Everyone picked it up from me. Even her friends called her that because my grandmother was so very special.

Mother turned, strode angrily across the kitchen and slammed the juice down in front of her mother, taking Doll’s attention from happy memories back to the confusing present. “Mother here is your juice. You know that SHE doesn’t love us enough to come here to visit.”

Turning to me she spat, “Use the phone. Call the police then leave. Don’t come back, you are not welcome here!”

************************
I woke up shaking, frozen stiff in my bed, still hearing their voices, smelling the cigarette smoke as it burned my nose. My muscles were ready for the fight that was coming. My brain was churning, waiting for the next verbal attack from my mother, but it wasn’t coming. They are both dead, long dead only their memories still haunt me; my dreams keeping them vividly alive.

A Piece of Heaven

Ray Bradbury Noun Twist List: This was a prompted story where nouns were randomly generated. A minimum of three nouns were required to be used. The list was generated by several friends off facebook who do not know each other. Each one gave me three nouns. The list: Georgia, money, football, dirt, cheese, shoelaces, Momma, WalMart, Doritoes, Canadian, field, grape

Living in Georgia, the land of summers so swelteringly hot that your shirt sticks to your body as you exit the door of your car, can be a trial to those not versed in the essentials: peanuts, peaches, and football. Now, my Momma used to tell me as a kid, when we only had three channels, that if I was to ever go to heaven, it would be through the arches at UGA when I got me a football scholarship. She used to say I’d ride on the backs of my team in glory and that way, I’d know just what heaven was. The pats on the back, the “Boo ya’s!” and the screams of the fans as I ran that winning touchdown. Yeah, Momma wasn’t no fool. She knew that I wasn’t never gonna be quarterback material, but man could I ever run! All I needed to learn was how to catch that ball!

So, she talked to the coach and found a local kid who knew how to throw pretty good and took me out to the dirt field where most kids played baseball, not me. I went there to run catches. We’d pretend we were in a huddle, just Josh and me, then I’d race off ducking and weaving for all I was worth seeing my opponents in the clumps of dirt at my feet. Looking back over my shoulder, I’d find that ball sailing, spiraling towards me. My hands would raise up to sweep it out of the air into that sweet spot where I’d tuck it in safe and sound. Running for the goal, I’d dive across that imaginary line nailing that last touchdown of the game, winning it every time in my head.

Junior High came and went with me joining the team, running the ball as fast as lightning down the field. Coach was real proud of me, praised my speed all the time until the track and baseball coaches came around. When they’d show up, he’d hide me away, put me doing something else so they wouldn’t steal me from him in the off season. Once they realized what he was doing, those coaches got smart and called me to their office for a talk. Turned out, they wanted me to run for them. As long as I was running, I didn’t care. So, I added track and baseball. I was GOOD at track, not so much baseball. Never was too good at hitting a perfectly good ball, not when I’d rather catch it.

High school came around and I was sure fire recruited for the teams. I was told that it was a no brainer. They all wanted me running for them, but I had to keep my grades up. Well, there was a small problem with that one. Remember when I said Momma knew I wasn’t quarterback material? High school proved that. First I ran into trouble with Reading. All those words just kept getting longer and longer. I couldn’t tell the difference in them anymore. I was convinced that if people would just write in plain English that I could have passed that class at least. Coach got me a tutor for Reading and I skinned my way through it.

Science and History, now, they were a different matter. Their words just got stranger and stranger to the point that they didn’t make a bit of sense. And the topics? Man, who wants to know about the migration habits of a Canadian Goose? What good was that gonna do for me in FOOTBALL? Coach found a couple more of those super smart guys to help me make it through those subjects.

It was my Junior year that Coach kept telling me to work hard, play hard, and study hard. He even bought a poster for me to put up on my wall at home. He told me that I could be the best player, but that no school would take me if I didn’t graduate. So I tried, I really did! But book stuff just didn’t do it for me. So, I kept working at it, studying at home when I could and going to practices every day. I was a huge success on the field, but a failure in the classroom. That’s when Coach’s daughter stepped in.

Toni was every boy’s dream. She was a girl that not only understood football but who could play better than most everyone hoped. She came up with the idea of quizzing me while I was playing, while I had a BALL in my hands! Her idea was to have me tell her definitions, words, equations even while tossing the ball back and forth. Oh man! I thought she was stupid when she suggested it. But after the first week when I went to take my test in History, well, I PASSED! I wasn’t guessing or doodling all over the test without a clue. I truly KNEW the words, the people, and the events.

After that, Toni and I worked every day getting me to learn the stuff I needed to know for each class. We studied for the SAT’s together even throwing the football, quizzing each other as we went. I scraped by on the SAT with an 810 but back then for most schools 800 was passing. Man oh man how I shouted when I opened that one up! Toni and I hugged onto each other and danced around so excited. I forgot to ask her how she did, but found out later that she scored over 1100. Makes sense, ya know?

Well, the day came for the UGA recruiter to watch the game. We’d been hearing that one was coming for a while, but each time it had panned out or it was some other school. That night, I ran for all I was worth. I caught that ball. I ran that ball and I scored touchdown after touchdown. We won and the team carried me back to the locker room on their shoulders. It was a piece of heaven.

It’s funny how life doesn’t always have the same plans for you that you do. My goal for years was to go to UGA. I wasn’t offered anything more than a pat on the back by the recruiter and a good job before he went over to our quarterback to talk him up. I wanted to shout, “Hey! Look at me!” but that’s not how it’s done. Instead I stood there, staring as the two walked over to the side. I think I would have still been there had Toni not come up to me, put her arms around me and made me look at her.

“They’re missing out on the best and don’t even know it!” Then she pulled my head down and kissed me.