First of all, I want to thank my beautiful and one of a kind beta reader and editor stringofsensations for even allowing this to happen. Second of all, I am mad as hell at not being able to make bigger lines in between of some paragraphs, because WordPress. Anyway, feel free to read. I am high as bird with a French fry since I wrote this down.
There were days on which Mrs Morris simply could not decide. For over twenty years of her career as a high school teacher, the only coffee she could get in the morning was served by her colleagues in the teachers’ room. Their coffee was either a bitter instant or an aspiring Turkish style. Mrs Morris believed that she has already drank so much cheap powdered milk that she should be granted a nice week in a detox clinic instead of annual bonus. Finally, the days came when a worldwide coffee shop company was offering a nice cup for a reasonable price and, on the top of that, straight on her way to work. The only problem was, they offered too much for a simple Math teacher.
Mrs Morris stroke her wallet nervously. After a quick skim of the “Today’s offer” board, full of fancy cappuccinos and other coffee drinks she hasn’t even heard about, she finally mumbled
‘Just a simple black, please. Takeaway.’
The assistant, Collin, smiled at her as she has been searching through her wallet in a rush, looking for dimes. Collin liked Mrs Morris’s plain taste, which, in his mind, was fairly making up for teacher’s morning fatigue. She was not asking for any flamboyant, over-sweet and disgustingly blunt iced frappe, like other clients did.
Just a simple black.
Collin did not ask Mrs Morris about a preferred coffee brew. She would not even care and in that case, she may lose her heart to the coffee shop. Therefore, Collin left the choice to himself. He grabbed a classical Brazilian mix for her, with a slight pinch of cinnamon on the top. A hot brim of a paper cup scalded Mrs Morris’s fingers, as on every Monday, so he politely offered her a napkin.
As he was collecting the coins, Collin liked to observe Mrs Morris taking the first sip. Her dark violet lipstick left a stain of a crescent moon on the cup’s rim. He imagined the caffeine slowly soaking into her blood, idly setting the body in motion, causing her chest to move faster with every other sip, till she has disappeared with a ring of a doorbell, in the morning fog of the street.
‘Excuse me, will I be served?’ a young boy in thick glasses was tapping nervously on the counter.
‘I am sorry, Sir,’ Becky, a shift’s manager, who has been cleaning the cups with a linen tablecloth approached the checkout with a caring smile, pulling Collin on the side ‘Is everything fine, Col? Do you need a break?’
‘Just move your ass back there as fast as you can.’
Collin went to the bathroom. He cringed on a toilet, covering his face with his hands, and breathed in heavily the scent of Mrs Morris’s coffee for three minutes.
The coffee machine at the police station smelled like a small burnt animal. Machine was fighting for its life with all the growls and snarls, but, even with a helping punch of Detective Joanne Ace, it did not bother to fill a cup.
Damn it, we shouldn’t have tried to make it a bloody tea infuser at the last party, she thought to herself. Though, she must have admitted, coffee scented green tea was an exotic enough of a mixture. Especially, mixed with vodka.
Nothing can compare more to a broken heart of a child who had has just lost his lollipop, than a face of Detective Weng Sun realizing that he is going to start his morning routines without his usual espresso.
‘Fuck me.’ he whispered, looking at the smoking machine.
‘Let me see through those documents that you brought first, Weng.’ Ace has never seen a smile which would be sadder than the one of caffeine-dry Detective Weng.
He took a few photos out of his file and spread them over Ace’s desk. On the pictures, a boy, around nineteen years old, has been doing things that teenagers are usually portrayed with, like drinking cider or taking bathroom selfies. His name was Wiktor, as Weng claimed. On one photo, he was hugging a smiling blonde girl.
‘A girlfriend?’ Ace asked.
‘A school friend. Julia. The photo has been taken in the club the night he has disappeared.’
Wiktor was the third teenager that has vanished during the last few weeks. At first the police thought that it might have a lot in common with the academic year coming soon and young boys and girls trying to find their own ways, getting unplugged and partying hard in Gdańsk or somewhere close to the other end of the country. However, Wiktor, just like eighteen years old Monique and twenty years old Filip did not leave any trace, no bank account activity. Nothing but a dead call and his parents crying for help in a suburbs house, which has never been more empty. Plus, a terrified friend.
‘Sounds like a trip to me, then.’ said Detective Ace, grabbing her dark coat on her way out. Weng sighed, looking at the fog outside.
‘I was going to pick up a cup, anyway.’
‘This damn place hasn’t yet seen the cutlery clean as that.’ Becky laughed loudly, as she patted Collin on the shoulder. ‘Keep up the good job, boy.’
He was good at cleaning the dishes. He learnt it at his father’s morgue, which he preferred to call “a workshop”. All the tools must have been perfectly clean. Mr Beet used to claim that one cannot deal with a living human using a dirty scalpel, and with the dead it’s twice that hard.
His father’s hands smelled like Espresso con Panna. Collin hated this whipped cream disaster.
This one time when Collin was very angry, he spat into father’s drink. It was the day he has learnt that it takes approximately five hours in a locked workshop to polish all its tools clean, and that dead bodies’ hands smell of the last drinks they had had. In the case of old lady Brenda it was cheap whiskey on the rocks.
Mr Beet has later showed Collin a trick that made his father a successful morgue entrepreneur. He has put the old lady into a machine that made her cold as an ice cone. With a slight touch of child’s finger the body turned into a dust. It was called a promession, even if his father called it “a trick” at first.
What was left of Brenda has smelled like whiskey. Collin hoped that her family drunk a bottle or two for the old lady. They may have put her into one afterwards, instead of a kitschy urn.
A tall lady in a dark coat who was just being served by Becky did not smell like coffee, as opposed to her Asian looking friend in a police jacket. A very angry Chihuahua was barking at him from a purse of a young girl, as he ordered the biggest white coffee they had to offer and a sandwich. The woman did not order anything, claiming she preferred tea. The policeman has taken out a poster from under his jacket.
‘May we leave it in here?’ he asked, ‘Just in case. Kids like places like this.’
Becky wiped her hands into a towel and grabbed the poster. She took a closer look at the young boy on the photo.
‘Hey, wasn’t that guy in your group by any chance?’ she asked. Collin clenched a spoon hard in his hands. He took a look at an Asian policeman drinking his coffee like a dog lapping a bowl of water up on a hot Summer day.
‘I remember him. He is one year younger. Mrs Morris’s class.’
The policewoman thanked Collin and wished him and Becky a good day, saying that she was going to pay a visit to his old school anyway. Collin asked her to say hello to Mrs Morris from him. She smiled. Her curly hair smelled like tea, indeed. Green, China, long brewed.
On the school’s corridor, a young girl laughed so loud that a teacher took a glimpse out of the classroom to check whether everything was fine with her talk to the police.
‘No, Wiktor is not my boyfriend. He is gay like a rainbow.’ Julia said, hardly holding back her tears of laughter.
‘What were you two doing in the club that night?’
‘All the things usual people do in the club, with an exception of us being each other’s wingmen. You know, I am pretty talented when it comes to telling if people are gay.’ she narrowed her eyes as she looked at Detective Ace and smiled a little while glancing at Weng.
‘For Christ’s sake, I have a kid.’ he murmured.
‘When was the last time that you saw Wiktor?’ Ace asked. Julia stared at the wall, crumpling her uniform’s sleeve.
‘Well, he introduced me to this nice gal, Teresa. Then, I saw him dancing.’
‘Was he dancing with anyone in particular?’
‘I don’t remember that well, but there was this guy who has bought him a cold beer earlier on. I wish I remembered his name.’
‘Try.’ Weng said.
However, teenage girl could not remember anything beside him wearing a white T-shirt with a siren print and, what she called, “an interesting mixture of cologne and vanilla.”
Ace felt like that memory left them with a glass at least half empty, like Weng’s paper cup.
Becky was a very patient shift manager but even her patience had its limits. She was finding Collin’s being pedantic very useful at work, but he would not leave if all the tablecloths were not put away smartly. A few times she thought that he might have been autistic, but, on the other hand, anything that would make him the most punctual of the assistants was fine with her.
Collin walked Becky to the bus stop and took a walk by the University street. The big oak tree in front of the main building has already started changing colors, transforming into a beautiful showcase of leaves dying in red and yellow. Collin always found it quite amusing that the campus was not that far from the biggest cemetery in the city. He liked to walk nearby on his way home, watching the flowers on graves. But not today.
Today he turned to a narrow street near the tram stop. It was a densely built-up area, with quite a lot of detached houses for a nearly center of the town. He walked slowly, carefully going around puddles, when high-pitched barking caught his attention. He looked around to spot a small, light colored dog with bulging eyes.
‘How did you get here, little guy?’ Collin took a glimpse at dog’s collar when he approached him. Dog’s name was Samuel. That’s a terrible name for any pet.
‘Let’s get back you home.’ he said, as he took the dog in his arms.
Since detective Weng still could not cherish his coffee addiction because of the broken machine, he turned to his second best addiction – smoking. He closed his eyes, while inhaling an acrid smoke. He tried to give up smoking when his daughter was born, but a part of him was telling that it would be like giving up on himself. Instead he gave up on giving up itself.
‘As soon as you’re done with feeding your cancer there is a woman waiting for us in room 201.’ claimed Ace, catching Weng red-handed. Surprisingly enough, she did not have a habit of knocking at their office’s door but always knocked at the door of the hearing room.
‘Mrs Morris, I hope you did not wait for long.’
Mrs Morris smiled coyly.
‘I have never been to a police station. I don’t mind waiting, since I do not know how long is long enough.’
Ace put two pictures of Wiktor at the table.
‘I was hoping we could talk about him.’ said the teacher.
‘Was there something alarming about this student?’
‘Alarming… Rather not. Though, there was always a sad vibe in his eyes.’
Ace took a quick look at the pictures of the boy partying. He did not look depressed at all.
‘I mean,’ Mrs Morris said, crossing her legs tight, ‘He always looked broken-hearted.’
‘Did you know he’s gay?’
‘I know that queer kids are having it hard these days, but I can assure you, Detective, it is a well-known fact in school and everyone is very kind about it.’
‘Mrs Morris, do you think that he might have been afraid of something?’
‘Wiktor? I don’t think so. I believe the only thing he could be afraid of was himself, and, maybe, sometimes, Julia.’
‘Do you mean his friend? Julia Kotnicki?’ Ace pointed at the photo on which both of the teens were having drinks in a club.
‘Yes, I guess. It’s just the girl is being so stubborn sometimes. And you know how the teenagers are, so fragile.’
Detective Ace shook Mrs Morris’s hand on her way out. Just while she was opening the door for her, she remembered about a kind guy from the coffee shop. Young, quite tall, short, brown hair.
‘I believe his name was Collin.’
‘I am terribly sorry,’ the teacher laughed while blushing all over her cheeks, ‘I do not remember this boy.’
‘It seems like he had graduated your school last year.’
Mrs Morris claimed that over a hundred of teenagers are graduating from her high school each year, but even she has found it surprising not to remember such a kind student. She thanked for Ace’s attention and walked away with her heels clattering through the station’s old corridors.
Clattering was not one of Collin’s favorite sounds. It surely meant his mother approaching the workshop from upstairs. She might try to divert his attention with dealing with morgue’s paperwork or university applications, whereas he had a project going of his own. Therefore, he sat down on the floor next to his father’s machine, tried to hold on his breath and not to move a bit.
‘Collin?’ he heard his mother wandering around the corridor, ‘Collin? Oh, damn you kid.’ she muttered.
‘Collin, I am going out to meet with your aunt. The dinner is in the fridge.’
As the clattering grew quiet, Collin gasped. He felt lucky that he used his father’s machine earlier on, so his mother did not hear all the noise.
Now, all he needed was a touch. The finishing one. And some paper.
It has just started to rain, when a single knock on the door was signalized Carie from the desk office’s coming in. Weng was glad that of all the women at the station at least one was used to some door savoir-vivre.
‘Today is your lucky day, Detective!’ she said with a bright smile and a strong voice, ‘Catch!’
A small package with two stamps and the station’s address flew over Weng’s desk. He shook it slightly by his ear, just as children shake their gift boxes on a Christmas’ day.
‘Don’t ya worry a bit. I’ve checked it, it’s safe. Seems like we are back in the 80s if all the best you can get as a gratitude gift is a pack of coffee.’
Weng took the box out of a grey envelope. There were a small pack of coffee and a letter attached.
‘What does it say?’ he asked, as Ace snatched the card from his hands.
‘We are sorry about the dog and any inconvenience it has caused. We hope that with a gift attached you will still enjoy our service, blah, blah… What kind of customer service they are having these days!’
‘You are lucky bastards that the coffee machine is back to work.’ Carie said.
‘Wait, I want to know the “blah, blah” part.’ claimed Weng, smelling the beautiful scent of fresh ground beans taking over the room as he opened the bag.
‘You will have to deal with it after the talk with your new friend. This teacher is here again to talk to you.’ office lady blinked at the policemen, ‘I told ya, this is your lucky day.’
Becky was sure that if Collin would see fit to come to work today it would be the worst of his shifts ever. She could only imagine his being sink under a pile of dirty dishes till the very evening. He would be especially grounded from touching the espresso machines, if not with a wet cloth to wipe all the spilled coffee.
However, Collin did not come in the morning and, when the afternoon team came to change Becky, he did not appear either. His phone was dead, he did not answer her Facebook messages and, the worst of all, she has found his wallet in the back of the shop. After a short argument with herself, Becky grabbed her red umbrella and decided to take a long walk to check whether her employee would mind to come to work at any day at all, at least to get his wallet back.
She took the tram number two to get to Poplar Street. It was one of the housing developments which looked all the same walking down the road, regardless of the direction one has came from. It took Becky a half an hour of wandering in the rain to find the house with big, brazen number 44 on the fence. It was a neat detached house with a small garden, right next to Mr Beet’s morgue. Must be a family business, she thought.
She rang the doorbell twice, but it seemed like no one was home. She stood on her toes to look at the windows and found nothing but a pair of ceramic cats staring back at her from the kitchen window. Resigned, she took a few steps to the morgue facility. She knocked at the door a few times, but all the lights in the front office were off.
Becky grabbed a cigarette from her purse and lighted it on the morgue’s porch.
Damn with those kids today, she thought, He probably got himself drunk like hell.
Becky felt a slight pat on her shoulder. As she turned around, she was lucky she hasn’t burnt herself with a cigarette.
However lucky Carie would forecast this day to be, Weng could not feel more happy than with a cup of freshly brewed Americano. He even offered a cup to Mrs Morris, but she looked to troubled to drink anything.
‘Mrs Morris, I hope you understand how it sounds to us that you give your private mobile number to your students.’ said Ace, while playing with teacher’s phone in her hands.
‘I have a deal with my students, those who go clubbing, that whenever something troubles them during their parties they can call me. I will get my car and we will figure it out.’
‘You are a hero that this city does not deserve, Mrs Morris.’ Detective Weng’s caffeine rush laugh has been quickly dumped down by Ace’s serious stare.
‘How do you even get through the center?’ she asked.
‘My father is a diplomat. I can get wherever I want with his card.’
‘Then why did not you come when Julia has asked you to do so?’
Ace studied the text messages in teacher’s phone carefully. In the first one Julia was clearly scared and definitely pissed off at someone who sent her a picture of her dog. The other one was the last ask for help.
“I am sorry.”
‘I told you already, I came to the girl’s house. Her mother said she went out to meet with a friend.’
‘Was there a dog?’ Weng asked.
‘I don’t think so. I guess not, he is a real barking drama queen. I would remember.’
Detective Ace looked at the window. The rain was getting heavier, as teacher’s voice broke.
‘I should have told you earlier detectives, I am so stupid.’
‘Mrs Morris, there is something more than a cryptic text message that brought you in here today, am I right?’ Ace asked.
‘There are more of them.’
Mrs Morris lifted her purse from the floor and took out one more mobile phone. She turned it on with tears in her eyes and down her cheeks. She handed the phone carefully to Ace. There were three messages from last month. All of them were of the same content as the last message sent by Julia.
Weng glimpsed at the phone through Ace’s shoulder. The names of senders sounded remarkably familiar. Monique. Filip. Wiktor.
‘Fuck.’ Ace whispered.
‘Also,’ Mrs Morris whimpered quietly, as she took a package out of her purse, ‘Today, I got this in the post.’
Becky felt cold. Very cold. She could not feel her heartbeat, but she felt that numbness on her ankles and she had no clothes on. At first she saw nothing, but when the top of the chest was raised she could smell some coffee and vanilla. As her legs and arms were crossed, she realized she was stuck in a big and freezing box.
‘I want you not to take it personally.’ said a man standing above the chest. Becky wanted to scream but she could not find her voice. She was blinded by a sharp light of a fluorescent lamp. ‘I just want you to know that I am sorry, too. Are you sorry, Becky?’
‘I am sorry.’ she whispered, biting her lips hard afterwards.
‘Why are my ankles hurting?’
‘You have been struggling a lot. Needlessly, to say at least.’
Becky cried loudly and the man whined along.
‘See, I just like my enemies just as I like my coffee. Strong and finely ground.’
As he closed the machine’s door he heard her moaning, ‘Please don’t leave me.’ until the process started.
That was when he heard clattering.
Weng spent the next fifteen minutes trying not to puke. He never puked so at first he did not know how to deal with it. After a short for and against argument with himself he decided that whatever will do and finally he vomited his breakfast like he did not care anymore.
Ace knocked on the toilet door. At least once she has used her hand to announce her visit.
‘Get yourself together Detective, we have found the guy’s address.’
This was a moment at which Weng did not know whether he wants to burp or just to throw up more. Detective Ace leaned over the toilet door, trying to be the most firm towards a sick partner,
‘I’ve found the coffee shop’s number. The girl that talked to me said that one of the managers wanted to visit this kid after her shift has ended.’
After all, Weng decided to throw up some more.
‘If it makes you feel better, you were right about the teacher’s package, it was the same person who brought you your morning coffee today.’
Ace heard Weng swearing a lot in Chinese and he was doing that only when he was drunk or very angry.
The only thing that was different between two packages, was that the one received by a teacher included an extra. As she opened the envelope a small silver school badge has rolled over Ace’s desk. The letter included said, “I could not brew it with the rest. I am sorry.”
‘And the siren on his shirt that Julia talked about, it was actually a logo of the coffee shop.’
‘Fucking son of a…’ Weng would finish this phrase if only his stomach would let him.
‘I am waiting for you in the car. You don’t even have two minutes, Weng.’
City streets in the late afternoon were twice as jammed as on a usual working day due to the rain. Patrol car took a short cut through an alley near the University and accelerated at the bus line. As they arrived at the venue, Poplar Street was already blocked by two fire trucks. Dazzled by colorful brightening lights of firemen’s trucks, Weng could not handle himself but to throw up once more as soon as he got out of the car.
‘Fuck. We are too late.’ screamed Detective Ace, banging at the car’s hood with her fist.
The street was filling with neighbors watching the morgue and house number 44 slowly vanishing in flames. As it started to rain again, someone picked up a red umbrella lying on the pavement.
Ash petals came with the rain, sticking to Ace’s hair and hands as she stood in the middle of the crowd, staring at the fire.
A fire has been flickering slowly in a coffee shop by the main street. Collin looked through the window at a pink bus which was running between the city center and the lake.
‘Would you like a cake with it?’ a young lady with an artificial smile asked.
‘Would you like a cake with it, Sir?’ she repeated, putting an unnatural stress on the Sir part, as she handed over a cup of espresso to him.
‘Take it back.’
The girl smirked as she shook her head.
‘Sorry. So, what about the cake?’
‘No, thank you, he is a diabetic.’ said Mrs Beet, stroking Collin’s hair gently.
Collin snarled angrily as he stepped aside. His mother’s hands still smelled of gasoline. So did whole of this place. He hated this smell.
He sat with his coffee on a sofa by the window. He closed his eyes. There was nothing around him but the sweet smell of Brazilian mix with a pinch of cinnamon.