28 Dec The Story Machine, Story 3: Daily Grind
New Orleans gets all the attention. I’m not bitter about it, it’s a heck of a town. The food, the sights, the entertainment – it’s all top notch. By no means is this meant to be slanderous to the other notches. I don’t hang my hat in the Big Easy. No, my friend, you head West out of Nola and you’ll find my stomping grounds. If you hit Lafayette, you’ve gone too far. That’s right, that’s right – you’re looking at a citizen of the one and only Baton Bordeaux. It’s just like every other town in some aspects, in others…well, let me tell you a quick story.
I’d just finished a successful job on Wednesday and treated myself to the best dang plate of jambalaya in town. I’d tell you where, but I’d have to kill you. Just kidding. Probably. Anyway, I was content with a belly full of good hot food and a wallet with some extra bills. I don’t have a 9-to-5 type of gig, so I tend to take the opportunities that come my way. Sometimes that means a pantry stocked to the brim with the finest artisanal red beans and rice. Other times it means you have to buy the cheap red beans and rice, no andouille, no nothin’. Such is the glamorous life of a messenger.
There was a note under my door when I woke up the next morning. It was going to be a good day. If somebody was angry with me, they wouldn’t have left a note. If somebody was angry with me, I probably wouldn’t have woken up this morning. So, hey, like I said – a good day. I open the note and read it, and I can feel the blood run out of my face. Still a good day, y’all, just…complicated. Some people have a desk and a boss that sends them emails instead of sliding notes under doors. Some people have meetings in a conference room instead of a clandestine rendezvous at a notoriously fragrant location. I’m happy for ya, I am. But that doesn’t pay the bills for me. Maybe it did once, but that’s a story for another time. Right now it’s time to get on my coat and hit the street.
They gave me the time and place, but the method is up to me. No matter how things shake out, there’s going to be an…unfortunate workplace accident taking place. The trick is making sure that the right person is the only person to be involved. It’s all part of effective communication – making sure the message is clearly sent to the right recipient. If my employers had wanted to send a strongly worded email, they’d do just that. Certain grievances are expressed in certain ways. In this particular instance, a representative of one party had what I’ll call an unjustified physical response to a standard business practice. I was tasked with delivering a message to express the other party’s dissatisfaction and I have to say, I am particularly proud of the delivery method I’d concocted.
I had most of what I needed already, but I still needed to track down a supplier. Nothing illicit here like drugs – just a particular coffee supplier. There are only a few local coffee roasters in town and they’re good at what they do. I knew it wouldn’t be any of them, so I asked around. Turns out there’s a gas station across the river that roasts some of the worst coffee you could ever drink. Normally they’d be taking a delivery in today, but if you can believe it, some monster went and slashed the van’s tires. The times we live in, eh? Wink. Well, as it happens, I’m heading in to Baton Bordeaux myself and wouldn’t be troubled at all to make a few deliveries on my way. The owner of the gas station gives me that suspicious look at first, the feline side eye. He’s an older cat, fur starting to gray, and his whiskers are twitching as he thinks about my kindly offer. He mentions something about his nephew, asking him to do it since the kitten’s always looking to get some extra cash. That’s when I offer to do it for free, his ears perk up, and he can’t help but purr. So out I go with some whole bean coffee and everybody’s happy…for now.
If you can believe it, I actually did drop off a couple deliveries. No sense in raising any suspicions, I guess. Or maybe I was feeling neighborly? Of course I did need to short those businesses a bit to make sure I had enough extra to work with. It was just after lunch by the time I made it back home to my apartment. I read through the morning’s note again and nodded to myself. A good messenger makes sure to be accurate and specific. So appropriately enough it was time to mix art and science. You wouldn’t think a guy like me knew the difference between a beaker and an Erlenmeyer Flask, but you got me all wrong. Sometimes a message has to be crafted in a lab, or in my case, in my apartment’s kitchen counter which at this moment in time is lined with bunsen burners and flasks. Rest assured I’m properly equipped with safety goggles and a military-grade gas mask to keep clear of any fumes. It also helps filter out the unpleasant aromas.
I won’t bore you with the details of my science experiment, but here’s the TL;DR – I figured it out, no animals were harmed in the process, and anybody who drinks the coffee will have only very mild side effects such as nausea, fever, temporary blindness, and an increased risk of infection. It’s all temporary! Well, long story short, I decided to take some antacid and get some rest. I do tend to work nights. So I called up this rat I know and arrange for them to deliver the coffee. The top bucket is marked for today, Thursday, and the bottom bucket is marked for tomorrow, Friday. Exciting stuff, eh? I chuckle to myself at the humor in sending a rat to make a delivery for a cat. It’s important to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Off he goes to the diner, and I head to get some shuteye to pass the time.
Most of my work happens well-past bedtime for normal folks. Your everyday 9-5 jobs are long over, you’ve eaten dinner, tucked your kids in bed, had a nightcap, and you’re off to dreamland. Typical evening for most of ya, day after day. I’m happy for ya, I am. But that life ain’t for me. I woke up after you’re all in bed and headed off to my “business meeting” at what I like to call the “rendezvous point.” It sounds more exciting when you call it that. I was hungry and figured the best way to be inconspicuous is to just be a regular customer. So I pre-gamed some antacid and headed out.
Thank God for places like Huey’s Diner. It’s open all day, open all night, and when a guy shows up and orders a cup of coffee at 3am, they don’t think twice. Decent guys and gals don’t come to a place like this more than once. All it takes is one sniff and someone askin’ you, “Did you go to Huey’s?” just one time, and you won’t go back. Because you’re good people and I’m happy for ya, I am. But I don’t work with good people. Sometimes I work for them, sometimes…well, I’m just the messenger. I’d prefer you didn’t shoot me and all that.
I was four bites in to my biscuits and gravy when she walked in. Legs all the way down to the floor and then some. Her front two legs held the door open for her back two, and she quietly clip-clopped her way in to the diner and in to my attention. I tipped my hat towards her, because no matter what’s been said about me – and there’s a lot of colorful words ain’t worth repeating – nobody argues that I’m a gentleman.
She sits down between two of the stools, folds her front legs on the bar, and says nothing. No words, barely a sound in the place, just the ticking of the clock, an occasional clink of a fork on a plate, and the gentle swishing of her tail back and forth.
I take a sip of my coffee, the last sip of the mug, and it’s truly awful, but I don’t show it on my face. I’ve had more cups of coffee at Huey’s than any sane person ever would, more cups than crazy Huey himself, I’d wager. Rest in peace, big guy.
I look for the waiter, but I haven’t seen him come out of the kitchen in a few minutes, so…I do the waiting.
She waits too, not saying a word. I turn towards her, the stool between us, and offer a quick little smile. She turns towards me and says,
“Well. Aren’t you going to ask me?”
I wasn’t expecting that. I clear my throat and say, “Is there something in particular you’d like to be asked?
She lets out a little snort, not very ladylike, but who am I to judge?
“Aren’t you going to ask me what a mare like me is doing in a place like this?”
I grin. “Now that you mention it, I am curious. What is a mare like you doing in a place like this?”
She chuckles, looks me in the eyes and says, in the sweetest tone,
“None of your business.”
I laugh, part amused, part surprised, and no small part uncomfortable. I’ll admit, it’s a complicated laugh. The waiter comes out with a pot of joe and refills my mug. I nod in appreciation. He steps back over to the gal and asks her,
“What can I get for you? Coffee?”
“Just coffee, thanks. Black.”
The waiter grabs a mug and fills it for her, then goes off to check on the other customers. There’s a very drunk man leaning against the window on the left side of the restaurant. Mid 30’s, about 5’9″, 180lbs. He’s wearing a faded college sweatshirt and hat. Looks like an alumnus, a local too, by the accent. Two frat boys sit a few tables away, almost as drunk, mostly staring at their phones. They grabbed biscuits and gravy too. Smart kids, I guess.
I lift my mug and the dame lifts hers too. We clink mugs, take a drink of our hot, awful coffee, and set our mugs down in unison. We don’t say a word. We sit there, drinking our coffee in silence. Just the clink of a fork, a tick of the clock, and a swish of a tail.
The waiter goes back through the swing door in the kitchen. The gal turns to look at me.
“Is everything arranged?”
Now it’s my turn to snort. “Of course. Doesn’t know a thing.” She nods.
She finishes her coffee, leaves three dollars on the bar, puts the salt shaker on the bills, and stands. I tip my hat to her in silence, resist the urge to watch her leave, and sit drinking my terrible coffee. I feel the envelope she slipped in to my jacket pocket and smile a little. Now it’s even quieter here. That’s okay with me. Some people can’t take the quiet, but I like it just fine. I keep sitting, I finish my biscuit, and take a breath. The clock says 3:25 am, so I “accidentally” knock my empty coffee mug off the bar and it shatters at my feet. A loud, gruff voice calls out from the kitchen for Brad to head out there and clean that up. You’re welcome, Brad.
The waiter – apparently named Brad – comes out with a broom and dustpan. I apologize to him and hear the coffee grinder kick on. I avoid eye contact with the waiter and remind myself to breathe through my nose.
That gruff voiced man starts coughing in the kitchen now. It doesn’t sound too good, and the waiter looks both confused and concerned. I know that’s my cue to leave, but I still need to keep Brad from rushing back there too quickly. I look to the corner where the very drunk man had fallen asleep.
“Oh, my word! Is he okay?” I stand up, shocked, and point out the sleeping man. “Is he breathing?” I ask urgently.
The waiter, I kid you not, rolls his eyes, and walks over to the guy.
“Tom! You still with us?” He kicks the guy’s boot and the drunk man opens one eye. The waiter shakes his head at me, I offer a half-smile and a thumbs-up, and he goes back through the swing door as the coughing fit subsides.
I pull a twenty out of my wallet, leave it on the counter, and put a pepper shaker on it. I calmly walk past the frat guys, oblivious with their little screens, and the drunk guy, Tom, drooling against the window.
It’s a quiet drive back past downtown to my humble abode. After I pull in to the garage, turn off the car, and click the garage door button to close it, I take the envelope out.
I count the bills and chuckle. I knew she’d take it out of my fee. I unfold a little piece of paper and read it.
“Message received successfully. And thanks for the coffee.”
I shake my head and go inside the house. It’s just about 4am now, so I pull the blackout curtains to keep the sun out.
Four cups of coffee and some light revenge might keep a better person awake. Most of you people couldn’t live with yourselves and I’m happy for ya. I am. But I’m just a messenger and it’s been a long day. So, with that, I’m going to bed.