Kate and Payal were the day’s lead baristas, languidly positioned at the espresso machine at the front of the shop, polishing cappuccino glasses, talking about things no one should overhear, when they noticed the stranger come through the double glass front doors. Hesitating slightly as he crossed the threshold, the man was broad shouldered, square jawed and almost seven feet tall. He was resplendent in a light blue seersucker suit, crisp pink shirt too tight at the collar, suede shoes, and white straw Porkpie hat. The girls weren’t sure, but the man may have been sporting a faded turquoise colored tattoo of a parrot on his neck just below his right ear.
The decibel level in the café dropped noticeably. The store’s playlist went eerily mute, yet no one put down their coffees; no one surreptitiously looked up from their mobile devices; no one cared to give the stranger the once over. The man’s face was hard as blistered asphalt and his soul patch black as coal. He carried a Louis Vuitton Président Classeur briefcase gripped tight in his left hand, almost as if he was expecting a fight.
Kate noticed in spite of all the jewelry his ring finger was unadorned. The stranger locked eyes with her, forcing her to take a deep breath. “I can help you over here,” she said, motioning towards the till. He wasn’t having any part of her instructions, and instead, pulled a wad of money out of his pants pocket. He deftly peeled a one hundred dollar bill off the wad with just two fingers, and let it float down onto the bar. Glancing first at Payal, then back to Kate, the man spoke slowly in a deep baritone voice, “chocolate, drinking chocolate.”
Out of habit, Kate answered, “for here or to go?” as she scooped up the money from the bar. Unfortunately, Kate’s accent caused the man to hear “for her or you go.” and that made the hackles on the back of his neck rise like an angry dog pissed at the postman for entering the yard without permission.
Working quickly to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation, Payal grabbed a newly polished glass and set it down on the bar in front of the man, and proceeded to make the drink. Kate instinctively knew to distance herself, and walked over to the till to ring it in and make the man’s change. With a fearsome shadow casting him from the door behind, the man took the now completed drink, and pounded it back with one swift tilt of his head.
He slammed the glass on the bar, causing it to shatter. “Hmmph, that ain’t no plastic cup!” he exclaimed, waving away Kate’s change as if to say a ninety dollar tip should cover its replacement. He turned towards the door, and strode out into the mid-day sunshine, disappearing in the bright mirage of swirling cherry blossoms, never to be seen again. Not as if anyone in the café ever saw him, except two gob smacked baristas.
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