The undeniable smell of wet pavement permeated the hot morning air. His neighbourhood was alive with early morning greetings and sounds of hoses washing down the filth of a day, yet to begin. Tomatoes were arranged for the best selling price and that bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil that his cousin believed to be the best ever, well, Phillip wasn’t buying it today.
The Grind was a coffee shop. But not just any coffee shop. It was a place that Phillip knew all too well. A new dynamic had been given life. Dylan was their God, and all things poetic were gifts of the powers that be. It was to this lifestyle that his daughter had belonged. Gentleness and fairness to all living things was their creed, and love was their name. She had told him so time and again.
He took a long drag from his half smoked cigarette, flicked the butt into the street and pulled hard on the shiny brass handle of the front door. The heady aroma of freshly brewed coffee assailed his senses, and he smiled, almost. He reached behind to touch the cold steel tucked safely between his belt and lower back. His apprehension was almost palpable as he slowly entered The Grind.
The coffee shop was alive with morning sights and sounds. The rising sun flooded through the oversized front windows as soft new age music twisted thru the scents of coffee and freshly baked croissants. Knapsacks and oversized brightly coloured purses created an obstacle course for the uninitiated. Small groups of kids sat huddled around the hard wooden chairs and tables, babbling on about nothing at all that would interest Phillip this morning. In the centre of the shop was a roughly hewn bin into which all manner of well thumbed tomes of knowledge had been tossed. A young man with a woolen cap and exposed Joe Boxer briefs, IPod fully plugged in and oblivious to all, ransacked the bin. Tossing the books one after another, he remained expressionless in his quest for the reading material of his choice.
Phillip glanced about the shop looking for the anonymous voice; this mystery woman. He saw no one that would even fit the description of mysterious. Other than the college co-eds all hyped up on caffeine and philosophical bullshit, an employee was taking her break staring blankly out at the street and sipping from an oversized mug that resembled a bowl of cereal.
Phillip weaved his way through the knapsacks and oversized purses to the counter.
“ Good morning. What can I serve you today?”
He reached up instinctively to remove his sunglasses, than withdrew his hand abruptly as he realized that his bloodshot eyes might be best served by remaining covered.
“ A large coffee please; one sugar “
Phillip stared at all the shiny equipment glistening in the morning sun and heard the whishing of the Espresso machine as he impatiently waited for the young girl to act upon his request.
“ And what sort of coffee is it that we will be wanting this morning sir?”
He turned his attention back to the well scrubbed girl behind the counter.
“ Coffee. Regular coffee. Large please.”
The young girl smiled and grabbed a bowl off the shelf.
“ Right then, 100% Columbian with one sugar.”
Phillip rummaged through his pocket and pulled a few wrinkled bills out. As he laid the 5 dollar bill down, she handed him the bowl of steaming brew.
“ No charge sir. The manager has taken care of it. She is over there at the window seat. Have a great day, and please, come again.”
Phillip grabbed the bowl with two hands and turned to look at what he had perceived to be an employee on her break. He started to walk towards her table, removing one hand from the bowl and slowly drawing it towards his lower back, coffee spilling as he went. Arriving at the table, he put down his bowl, keeping his hand close to his lower back. She turned to him and smiled, and Phillip sat down. He edged his sunglasses down on his nose, and stared over the top into her face. “Ok, what’s your game?”
Melinda stared back at him. Unshaven and unkempt hair. His breath smelled of cigarettes and coffee, and in spite of his obviously freshly showered person, his wrinkled shirt smelled of body odor.
She recoiled to the back of her chair and forced a smile while extending a hand. “ Good morning Mr. Preston, my name is Melinda Beecham”
Phillip ignored her outstretched hand, drew closer across the table and in a barely audible growl said “ lets drop all these niceties right here and now. You asked me here to discuss last night. I have no idea what you are talking about, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. So say what you have to say, and be done with it.”
A look of disdain mingled with disappointment quickly replaced the warm smile Melinda had been wearing up till that point. “ Very well Mr. Preston. Let me start by saying that I am not a police officer. I am not a reporter. I am just a normal working single mother of a son who is of the same age as your daughter. I pay my taxes; have never been in jail and always try to help others when I can.”
Phillip cut her off abruptly, “ Fine! Then I will nominate you for the Sister Theresa Award. Now if that is all,,,”
“ Mr. Preston! Please do not judge me so harshly. You haven’t heard what it is I wish to tell you yet!”
Phillip leaned back in his chair, the gun barrel digging into his lower back. He took a long sip of his coffee as thoughts of lighting up a cigarette flooded his brain. What’s the point of going to a coffee shop if you can’t enjoy a cigarette with your morning coffee?
“ I know you received an anonymous call from a young man telling you the name of the person who gave the drugs to your daughter the night she died.”
Philip bolted upright in his chair.
“ And I also know he gave you the information on how to find him. And you did, last night, didn’t you?”
Phillip could feel the veins throbbing in his forehead as he gritted his teeth and snarled, his top lip trying to suppress his rage. Try as he might, no words would form in his brain.
“ I want you to calm down Mr. Preston. I would not have let you see where I work if I had any intention of doing harm to you. Quite the contrary, I am here to help you. That anonymous caller was in fact my son! And while I would never condone the taking of a human life for any other reason, we support your decision in this matter and would like to offer any and all assistance to you.”
Phillips mouth hung open as he fell back into his chair.
“ There are some people I would like you to meet. Can we count on you keeping an open mind in all this Mr. Preston? ”
His mind suddenly became crystal clear as all her words reverberated over and over in his head. So many questions; so many things left unsaid. Who were these people, and how much did they really know? Trust was out of the question, but from where he sat, Melinda Beecham was obviously in the drivers’ seat here. He was only along for the ride and he felt like a rat trapped in a maze with no way out. While concessions would have to be made, so too would a plan to eliminate this possible threat. And what of her son? He also was involved and knew far too much. And so, he would try to buy precious time to enable him to devise his schemes to rid himself of this nasty threat.
“ I see Miss Beecham that you have this all worked out so perfectly. I am simply the meek lamb to be led off to the slaughter. You and your cohorts have stumbled upon a situation that you feel you can control and use to your advantage. Well, it would appear that I have very little choice in this matter. And so, I shall meet with these so-called friends of yours and see what happens.”
Melinda stared sadly across the table, then turned her gaze back out into the street with its morning bustle. As she raised the bowl to her mouth, she realized that there was no coffee left in it. She put it down and returned her disappointed gaze to Phillip.
” You haven’t heard a word I said Mr. Preston. We are here to assist, not to hurt you. Soon, you will see the truth in my words. But right now, I can see your anger and mistrust; however misplaced it is; and know that very soon, that will all change. I won’t keep you any longer, but do try to get some rest. You look like hell!”
Melinda got up and walked back to the counter never looking back.
Phillip, stepping outside into the bright sun, drew his last cigarette crushing the empty pack. Throwing it down as he walked away mumbling " I am going to have to kill that fucking bitch! "