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This book is vulgar, curmudgeonous, unnecessarily gory, potty-mouthed, a little bit dirty and in general, displays a wanton disregard for social niceties. Please read responsibly.
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The early morning was dark and misty, the fading orange street lamps lost within the walls of white. I hummed to myself as I walked to work, it always helped me keep the heebie jeebies at bay.
Waves kept the beat of Frolick Point; a tiny forgotten town along the North Coast; and distant seals barked on the docks, their calls echoing against the cliffs surrounding them. A truck was going down the highway, its momentum slowing as it came into town, and the sounds of the morning were starting to stir; but the thick coastal fog dampened everything in a shroud of eeriness.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. My footsteps echoed in the wall of white and the row of old gothic churches rose up around me.
A raven’s meager caw cut through my humming and I looked up to see the belfries all blackened by wings. Curious eyes peered down at me as they shifted from foot to foot.
A shiver ran up my spine and I quickly looked down at the sidewalk, praying they did not alight, and I hurried down the street.
I made it to The Cafe by 5:15 sharp, put my apron on and got busy. The pastries came out a little late, but I didn’t have to worry about the pastries. Once I put on the apron, all I had to worry about was coffee. I put that apron on, and my life got simpler. Not that coffee is simple. On the contrary. Coffee is an art.
Coffee, or C. arabica, originated in Ethiopia, and is part of the Madder family, like someone didn’t plan that one out.
It was introduced into Persia, Egypt, and Arab lands a long ass time ago. Back then, the roasting, grinding, brewing, and consumption of the beans was a privilege only for the priests and medicine men. Of course, enter Barista.
In Italy, Barista’s are revered. It is the same in America, we just don’t know it yet. Coffee is an art, and the perfect cappuccino is a freaking masterpiece. I always make myself a double right away.
I was about to take my first sip when the bells on the door clinked. I quickly glanced at the clock, 5:45, I could have sworn I hadn’t unlocked it yet. I scrunched my nose but forced a smile and looked from my foamy dreamy bliss.
His shadow seemed to reach across the room and I faltered, smile forgotten. He was tall and broad and slick and looked dangerous. He was wearing a suit, it was matte black and he had one of those long skinny hipster ties to match. His dark hair was slicked back over his head and he wore a decidedly ferocious look.
“Camilla?” He asked.
My blood curdled and I narrowed my eyes, how did he know me?
He smirked. “I see that you are.”
He sounded Italian maybe, definitely foreign, and I couldn’t help but imagine him as some old fashioned gangster with a pin striped suit and a big ass gun.
“Who are you?” I countered, trying to sound tough.
He laughed. “My name is Domonic.”
This whole town was flooded with Italians. Fishing, gangster Italians. They had settled here a hundred years ago and proceeded to slowly take over. They owned almost every corner lot in Frolic, except for Historic Square.
Dread raced up my spine. I had heard the stories. Tommy Twelve Guns and Marc “Little Chin” Marchino were said to still own half the docks and several safe houses.
I could have called the police, and maybe it would have been different if I had, but for all I knew, he owned the police.
Somehow, I found my voice. “Can I help you? Our special today is Mexican Mocha.” My fingers tightened around my capp and I took a sip on pretense of normalcy.
He tilted his head and gave me that smirk again. He took a step forward, and even though a counter and several tables separated us, I instinctively took a step back. He stopped and his grin deepened. He held up his hands in mock surrender. “I am not here to hurt you.” His voice was smooth, like butter.
He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out an envelope. “I was told you would be able to help me with this.” He shook the envelope slightly.
I cocked an eyebrow. “What is it?”
“A recipe, shall we call it. A very old one. And I was told by a mutual friend you could possibly help me with it.” He took another step forward, holding out the envelope.
“Who told you?” I asked, narrowing my eyes further. I certainly couldn’t place his face.
He chuckled, “A good friend.” The words were innocuous enough but they sent a chill up my spine nonetheless.
I bit my lip and stared at him a moment.
Oh, and did I forget to tell you I am a witch?
I mean, not in the magic wand zapping shit kind of way. But in the, I study herbalism, potions, charms, crystal healing, tarot card reading, pagan traditions and ceremonies kind of way. And actually, I don’t consider myself a witch. Not really. An herbalist. But you try telling that to people. Most smile and nod, and say, “Witch.” So I just go with it.
Of course, around here that is not that unusual. Except that sometimes I get a client here and there.
But that isn’t important here. What is important is that at some point in my life, I became known as a witch. And I have clients. I don’t know how or why, but there you go. This wasn’t necessarily completely out of the ordinary. But there was something about the whole thing that made me uneasy.
Maybe people were starting to take this witch thing seriously.
I guess the fact that I’m an effing spaz can account for some of my street cred, but it’s not like I’m psychic or anything. I guess I just pay attention to the details. Of course, a name like Boltinghouse raises a lot of questions, and as soon as I say I got it from my Olohne side of the family people automatically assume I’m some Indian shaman or medicine woman. I’m really, really not however. I only do oils, balms, salves, soaps, incense, candles, that sort of thing. It is all in the marketing. Magic happens when people believe it in. I don’t sell magic, I sell belief.
I felt my curiosity sizzle.
“I would greatly appreciate your help.” He said with such politeness that I almost believed him.
“What kind of recipe?” I asked, releasing the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and reaching out my hand for the envelope. He approached the counter slowly and tossed it onto the counter from a few feet away. It landed perfectly in front of me.
I set my capp down, forgotten, and upended the envelope. A single slip of paper fell out into my palm. A creamy, heavy piece of parchment, ripped on two sides like it had been torn from a book, and inscribed with what looked like a recipe:
A posie of primrose, dead man’s belles, devil’s bread
I didn’t recognize “devils bread” but I knew the rest and it was probably something common given the other ingredients.
“I need an ointment preferably.” He paused, as I poured over the writing, it seemed so ancient.
“Can you do it?” He asked, I nodded absently, never looking up, of course I could. Didn’t he know who he was talking to? The letters were not the way you would normally write these days, loopy, swirling, and the ink was heavy, yet faded.
“Where did you get this?” I asked, looking up from the recipe.
I almost bit my lip when I realized he had vanished from the cafe. I looked down on the counter where a single matte black business card with white writing lay. Domonic was inscribed in fancy script. Underneath it was a phone number.
A chill ran up my spine and I ran around the counter to the door. I went to push through but it wouldn’t budge and I smacked into it. “What the…” looking down I realized the door was still locked.
“He must have locked it on his way out silly” I said to reassure myself as I peered through the windows into the dark parking lot for any sign of him.
A stray cat ran by the door and I jumped. Laughing at myself I unlocked the shop and flipped the sign, retreating to my cappuccino before the onslaught. I tucked the parchment and recipe back into the envelope and tucked it into my purse with a modicum of dread, and decided to try out the special drink myself. Because what else is better than drinking copious amounts of caffeine when you are stressed?
My breathing slowed finally, and my first customer, as usual, is Midnight, which makes me feel enormously better. I can feel myself light up when he comes in with the breeze.
He goes by a false name, I can only assume, but I don’t know why he does it. He always comes in first thing, grabs some black coffee and sits down to his computer where he does complicated looking things between his keyboard and his screen, sunk low into his black hood.
“Hey Camilla.” He said with a tired smile and the slightest hint of an exotic accent. His hood was off and his stick straight jet hair is pulled back into a long braid.
“Hey.” I replied warmly, filling his big tall glass. I like Midnight. He always dresses in black and he doesn’t fit in anywhere either. That is, I don’t really know where he fits, because I only ever see him at the cafe, but he doesn’t look like he fits in anywhere. No where I’ve seen, anyway. He has the most adorable grim smile that goes perfectly with his name. I’d be willing to bet my left donut that he is a hacker.
“How is your morning?” He asked with a smile, his calm blue eyes piercing into me.
I shrugged and looked down at the counter I was wiping with a rag.”You know. How about you?”
I am great.” He laughed and moved down to the sugar. The Farmers Market is always a good day.”
Midnight moved off to his table and the morning progressed in a cloud of steam and with the scent of espresso and was replaced by Randy who entered soon after, his beanie pulled low over his brow.
“We never hear it, we always see it, bringing light into our lives, behind a wall of white its face always hides.” He said with an arch of his silvery gray eyes.
“The sun?” I asked. It was his thing, riddles.
He nodded. “A young one waits for the day, a boot is its shape but it never steps, red white and green but black it will be today, no luggage no baggage brickam brackam that I say.”
“Sixteen ounces of Italian, no room?” It was what he got everyday, but still, he had a new riddle for it every time he came in. Like I said, it was his thing. I had never really heard him talk normally. I found it kind of refreshing. It broke up the monotony of everyday life.
The locals straggled in along with the early birds from the hotels. Around eight thirty, Marley came in, put on her apron, and got to work. Marley was the perfect co-worker. Mellow, mild mannered, with a huge smile and a laugh that could kill a puppy in a cute contest. She made work fun, and scored us more tips. We danced around each other as the morning rush came billowing in from the fog encrusted streets, the sound of the fog horn drifting in through the door every time a customer came in or went out.
The Farmer’s Market was starting to set up a few blocks down and there was a general buzz to the air that meant an eventful day ahead. Mocha, vanilla latte, cappuccino, americano, mocha, latte, soy chai and so it went. Sumatra, Kona, Tanzania. Half and half, whole, half caff. Cinnamon, vanilla, vanilla, almond. Smack the tamp, grind, pour, tap tap. Fog horn. Register ding. Steam.
Brew. Brew. Brew. Smile.
The tip jar began to fill up and my shift was coming to a close. My feet ached, but in a good way, and all over I just felt ready for a sit down, but another wave of people were rushing in out of the cold and I didn’t have time to think about it anymore.
Beverly, the stately old woman who owned all of Historic Square; the downtown proper of Frolic Point and our main draw for tourists; came into the shop amidst the chaos, bringing a strong whiff of lavender in with her. Despite the hectic environs, Beverly glided up serenely and deemed to greet me. I have to admit I felt a little more than honored. Beverly looked older than the town itself, was said to be richer than the town combined, and rarely left her mansion that adjoined Historic Square with the seaside cliffs. She had always held herself like a queen, and never so much as spoke to anyone unless necessary. So when she nodded to me and said in her frail, yet commanding voice, “Good Morning, Camilla, I trust you are well?” I fumbled with my words and managed a vigorous nod before she ordered a cream filled croissant and a large cup of black coffee.
“How do you take it?” I asked stupidly, grabbing the cream we had stashed in the fridge.
“In a cup.” She said with the slightest hint of irritation. “That will do.”
“Of course, black, duh!” I mumbled, bagging her croissant.
I didn’t want to charge her, but she insisted and once money had exchanged hands, she glided back out of the shop as if her shriveled little legs were floating on air.
Beverly was another enigma, and for Frolic Point, that was saying something. I watched her go with mingled dread and respect. She was known to be fierce in her pride, but yet she had maintained Historic Square forever, sure that it would live on in all it’s dilapidated glory, insisting that the buildings remain original. The town owned a good part of it’s tourism to her.
My shift began to feel sluggish after that, my body and mind weary of taking and filling orders. So I was grateful when my boss, Wendy popped in around eleven, as in, she literally popped in, the way she did sometimes, where’d she’d suddenly just be there in the shop behind us. I would swear every time that I hadn’t seen her come in. There was only one way in behind the counter, that I knew of. It wasn’t the first time I’d considered she had some secret back door.
But, anyway, she popped in behind us and gave a clap and an enthusiastic little cheer. “Yay! How are we today?”
Considering, “Good.” I assured her while I steamed some milk.
“Woo hoo!” She said, pantomiming waving her mini flag around. She was always so damn chipper. It was my favorite thing about her. Even when she was scolding you, she could make it sound like you’d just won the bleeding lottery.
Over the years she had become my personal cheerleader. She could always tell when I was feeling embarrassed or lonely or down and out, and she would be there, shouting encouragement in my ear. Sometimes people came in from off the street just to see what all the fuss was about. She was relatively short and diminutive, even more so compared to me, but she had a personality big enough to make up the difference.
Wendy flitted around the shop for a while, checking on this and that like a pixie worrying over her magic garden, her wispy white gold hair fluttering behind her like a stream of steam seeping from the espresso machine. When the drink orders stacked up she threw on an apron and got to tamping.
I tried to keep up the pace but was lagging. After what felt like fiftieth triple soy almond pumpkin spice latte I turned to the espresso machine and went to give it a good old fashioned scrub down.
As I frantically wiped the chrome siding to a mirrored finish, I ran my polishing rag over once more and let out a startled cry.
Domonic’s face was there, reflected in the side of the espresso machine, clear as day.
I dropped the rag and spun around. But was only met with Wendy and Marley’s confusion, Midnight’s concerned blue eyes and a few of the customer’s wary glances. Domonic was no where to be seen.
“Are you okay dear?” Wendi asked, her eyebrows squished together deeply. “I’m great.” I stammered, rubbing my eyes and looking around the shop. Nothing out of the ordinary. I glanced through all the windows, he was not lurking there either. I was going mad. Or maybe it was the six shots of espresso.
“Simone is late.” Wendy tittered at me while she stood at the espresso machine. Even though the words were disapproving, “But you can go.” She assured me.
“Simone is always late.” I murmured. It was true, and I could say it, because she was my best friend. I glanced at the clock, I was supposed to have been able to leave fifteen minutes ago. I cracked my neck and looked back down at my work.
“Just go.” Wendy trilled.
“Are you sure?”
“Get outta’ here!” She joked, miming kicking me in the butt.
Thankfully, I threw off my apron, threw on my coat and headed for the door. As I passed by Midnight’s table, I knocked a notebook and his cup of coffee straight off the edge and onto the floor. “Sorry.” I blushed, I was clunky and disastrous, but usually not so much.
“It’s okay.” He said, picking up his glass, which, thankfully, hadn’t broken.
“I’m so sorry!” I said again, flustered when I picked up his coffee logged notebook.
“Don’t worry about it.” He smiled.
I looked up and met his eyes. I became painfully aware of how close I was to him. Had I ever been that close? Did my breath stink? “Let me get a rag.” I said awkwardly, pushing myself up using his table, which then tilted dangerously.
“Oh!” I said, but he grabbed it with one hand and stabilized it, looking haphazardly at his computer.
“Oh my god, I’m so fucking sorry.” I said again, stumbling to my feet and backing up. “Let me get out of the way.” I said, as I backed into another table.
Yeah, did I mention I’m a spaz?
At least it was empty.
“Just go!” Wendy said a little shrilly, even for her. “I got this.”
Beet red, I avoided looking anywhere and took her advice, knocking the magazine rack over as I went.
…to be continued.