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One half-caf demitasse skim vanilla crime latte, please.
The coffee shop overflowed with people drinking coffee and eating pastries when Mark walked through the doors to step in front of the pastry display case, where the separate lines for paying and picking up orders at the opposite ends of the counter mingled together. Looking at the pastries with undecided interest, he listened to the new orders being given by the customers and the finished orders being shouted out by one of the Goth girls with multiple nose and ear-piercings.
The world’s best coffee is a simple affair.
An order for a medium mocha with whip cream by a woman named Georgia caught his attention. Looking over his shoulder when she walked by, he noticed that she was an average-looking woman in trendy workout clothes. If she had a toy dog in hand, she would’ve blend in well at this European-style shopping center and upscale community. He glanced at the monitor above the espresso machines where the Goth girls kept track of the orders. Georgia’s order was number five, which meant a five-minute wait. He continued looking at the pastries as people jostled around in the lines behind him.
“Medium mocha with whip cream for Georgia,” announced one of the Goth girls, placing the drink on the counter before moving on to the next order. “Your drink is ready.”
Mark stepped in front of Georgia to sweep the counter in one perfect motion to pick up the drink, a heat sleeve, and some napkins. He was out the door before anyone noticed that something was amiss. Once around the corner, he slowed down his pace to blend into the crowd and sip his drink for the first time.
The world’s best coffee is free.
Mark looked over his shoulder to see Georgia at the corner, waving at him. He frowned. When an order disappears from a crowded coffee shop, the Goth girls get pissed off that they have to make another drink for an already impatient customer. That’s it. Never in all his years of coffee diving has anyone bothered to follow him out.
Turning left into a covered alleyway that served as the outdoor dining area for a seafood restaurant and led to a parking lot on the other side, Mark stepped over the rope fence to enter the restaurant from the side. Walking past the hostess like a customer coming back from the restroom, he sat down in the waiting area with his back against the window and holding the coffee cup between his legs. When Georgia jogged through the alleyway into the parking lot, he went out the front door. He crossed the southbound street, hop-scotched around the large chess pieces on the brown-and-tan flagstone chessboard as the players cursed him for interrupting their game, and crossed the northbound street to blend back into the crowd.
The world’s best coffee lets you enjoy the neighborhood.
No further than the next intersection down did he find Georgia following him again. This time she was across the street as she waited for traffic to clear through the intersection before coming over to him. He pretended not to see her by looking straight ahead. Noticing the bookstore entrance at the corner, he danced through the slow traffic with the coffee held up high on his fingertips like a French waiter with a serving tray, and swung open the door to go inside. He hurried past the cashiers into the magazine section as if he was dying to see the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, ducked through the greeting card section, and made his way over to the metaphysical section with the tarot cards and reading-the-future books. His immediate future looked dicey if this persistent woman didn’t get off his case. Coffee diving shouldn’t take this much effort. With the corner of a bookshelf and the drink raised to his lips to hide his presence, he watched her come through the front doors.
The world’s best coffee lets you appreciate the deeper meaning of life.
Georgia came in breathless. She had one hand hanging on to something inside the front pocket of her sweatshirt that Mark hadn’t noticed before. He frowned. Cell phone?
When she talked to the cashiers, one of them pointed towards the metaphysical section. He slipped into the manga section where some teenagers—and some adults who never quite grew up—were sitting on the floor to read their favorite manga. With a watchful eye on where she was among the bookshelves, he passed through the history section to find the elevator hidden away at the back of the literature section. Exiting the elevator at the second floor, he walked over to the crowded cafe to pick up The Wall Street Journal from a table, sat down with his back against the wall with the coffee placed between his legs again, and waited with the paper raised up in front of him.
Georgia came up the escalator as expected, made one circuit around the floor without glancing at the cafe, and went back down the escalator. He read an article on how more people are drinking specialty coffees than plain old regular coffee these days.
When he finished off his drink, he threw both the coffee cup and the newspaper into the trash, and stepped out on to the balcony over the bookstore entrance that had an excellent view of the shopping center. On the street below was a parked police cruiser, a police officer and Georgia. She pulled something out of the front of her sweatshirt to hand over to the officer. He froze.
A black leather tri-fold wallet.
Mark’s hand crept to the back pocket where he kept his wallet to find the usual bulge gone. That was his wallet down there. No wonder she’d been persistent. Maybe it wasn’t about the coffee after all.
“Hey, you!” Georgia pointed up at him. The officer looked up. “You dropped your wallet at the coffee shop.” She then turned to the officer, still pointing at him. “This is the creep who stole my coffee.”
Perhaps this wasn’t the world’s best coffee after all.
C.D. Reimer writes about the everyday reality that he finds weird, twisted and absurd for which most people accept as being perfectly normal. He lives and works in Silicon Valley, consoling hurt computers and fixing broken users.