Black Petals Issue #99, Spring, 2022

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Are You Full? Fiction by James Kompany
Bunker-Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Buy Here, Pay Here-Fiction by Kim Bonner
The Church of the Coyotes Who Would be Wolves-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Elm Mills-Fiction by Mack Severns
Hearts in the Gutter-Fiction by Lamont Turner
Midnight Espresso-Fiction by David Starobin
Spider Bite-Fiction by N. G. Leonetti
Test Tube Babies-Fiction by Kilmo
Witches' Jubilee-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Biter: A Love Story-Flash Fiction by Harris Coverley
New Mail-Flash Fiction by Eddie D. Moore
Reasons Not to Wake Up a Sleeping Beggar in the Morning-Flash Fiction by Marcelo Medone
While I was Frozen-Flash Fiction by K. A. Williams
Woodshop for Werewolves-Flash Fiction by Mark Jabaut
Bruja-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
First Light-Poem by Jeffrey Park
Soul Music-Poem by Jeffrey Park
Stalker-Poem by Jeffrey Park
Zombies in Space-Poem by Jeffrey Park
Bleeding Senses-Poem by Jess Boaden
I'd Like to Speak to the Manager-Poem by Carl E. Reed
The Woods (Behind My House)-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Nocturnal Mode-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
When I Find You-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Ethereal-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Fall-Poem by Mike Edele
Death-Poem by Mike Edele
Where Will You Be-Poem by Mike Edele
Giant Cockroach-Poem by Richard Stevenson
The Allegewi-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Tokoloshe-Poem by Richard Stevenson
The Ghoul-Poem by Richard Stevenson

David Starobin: Midnight Espresso

bp_99_midnightespressobholtzman.jpg
Art by Bernice Holtzman 2022

MIDNIGHT ESPRESSO

by David Starobin

 

“He’s looking at me again, isn’t he?”

“Yeah so what?”

“It’s his eyes, they just creep me out.”

“I don’t know, I think he’s kinda cute, for a farang.”

Nick was indeed looking at her, over the rim of his double espresso. He couldn’t help it. She mesmerized him. Perhaps it was her alien appearance. Alien to him, anyway. He was a farang, indeed the ugliest farang to come out of the State of Maine and deposit himself like so much American Sludge in this gorgeous creature’s country. Or maybe he wasn’t all that ugly after all. He was tall and thin, not bone-thin but definitely birdlike. And pale. He would have preferred the term FAIR, but just face it, he thought. You are pale as a ghost with jaundice.

But they liked that. Similarly, his height. He stood out here, was different in a very Western conquistador manifest destiny kind of way. He tried not to get too down on himself and forced his eyes back to his notebook and his story sketches. It took an indomitable will that at the moment he did not possess. Taking a deliberate sip he flashed his briefest glance at the counter where Anong was ringing up another customer.

          Her name meant “gorgeous woman” in Thai. She was that. It was the sooty lashes shading the delicate almonds of her eyes that had initially got him when he first stopped in a year ago looking for a pleasant place to work in the evenings.

And it was that. The cafe, on a secluded side street in Silom, was called “Midnight Espresso” and it was indeed open until midnight, the only coffee shop in the neighborhood that operated so late. More surprising, it was always busy right up until close, its half-dozen tiny tables packed with locals, digital nomads putting in their fourteenth hour for tech companies overseas, once in a while an enterprising tourist or two, and even the occasional bar girl or ladyboy streetwalker in for a jolt between clients.

But Nick was the only farang who was a regular, at least between the hours of 6 PM and Midnight on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These were the hours he chose to sit and languish at the little corner table over his double and try to create meaning out of his scrawl of yellow legal pad notes. Attempting to draw out and form from them lines of story that would read truer than life. But in the last few weeks he had grown increasingly distracted from that task.

          At the counter, Anong was chatting with her lieutenant and chief barista, a handsome Thai named Ares. Nick was unaware that Ares’s mother was a professor of classics at Chiang Mai University. Nick did not know, but suspected rightfully, that Ares was Anong’s current FWB. His suspicions were enough to make him seethe.

In fact, Ares swung to both the harder and the gentler sexes and would have suggested Nick for a third of a menage at his walkup in Patpong if Anong weren’t so hell bent on being creeped out by the guy. He had even discreetly approached Nick to open a dialogue last Tuesday when Anong had been out, but the farang spooked as easily as a stray cat on the Khao San.

He was presently pondering a way to ease into his best customer’s good graces when Nick appeared at the counter with his empty cup and slid it awkwardly over toward Ares while pointedly ignoring Anong, though the two baristas were standing right next to each other. The farang seemed to have lost the power of speech.

          “Would you like another, sir?” Ares tried to help him out with a gentle smile.

          Nick was flushing furiously just being this close to Anong, as though some inner fire was radiating out from her that threatened to consume him. He could only nod politely at Ares before turning back to his corner table.

#

          The coffee at Midnight Espresso was very special. It had even won a runner-up prize for its “devilishly peculiar blend of velvety chocolate undertones and red-blooded meatiness” at the annual Thailand Coffee Roast Master Championship. The beans were sold at the cafe, in ground form only, and many customers had remarked on the coffee’s somewhat reddish tint and vaguely coppery aroma. But when percolated the most egregious overtones retreated leaving only meaty chocolate bliss.

Ares was heading up the cellar stairs with an armload of the stuff for Nick’s next cup when Anong appeared, an exquisite silhouette in the narrow shaft of cafe light beyond. She stepped onto the landing in front of Ares and closed the door behind her. They stared at each other in the blackness of the landing, neither particularly disoriented by the dearth of illumination.

“What?” Ares was looking into Anong’s eyes and they were pinpoints of red in the dark.

“How’s our stock?” Anong asked. Ares’s dark irises were rimmed with red as well, like banked coals.

“Of which?”

“Of both.”

Ares hefted the sacks under his arms. “We have only three more like this. Then we’ll have to grind some more. And you know what that means.”

Anong chewed her gorgeous lower lip. “I know what that means. It’s my shop, isn’t it?”

Ares nodded. He knew whose shop it was. He again hoisted the heavy sacks.

“Your favorite customer is waiting for his Double X.” He began to push past her but she stopped him with a tiny bubble gum manicured hand on his chest.

“Okay, you win,” Anong said. “We can give him a try.”

“For that? Or the other thing.”

“Why do I need him for THAT? I have you.”

“Such a waste,” Ares shook his tousled head. “Well, he will prove me right in the end. Really bring some extra zing to the next batch.”

“He better,” Anong said. “That’s a good customer we’d be losing revenue on.”

“He will,” Ares replied.

Anong got out of her chief barista’s way and Ares opened the door to pleasant cafe light.

#

          Nick was waiting for Ares at the counter when he emerged from the cellar. The farang had his wallet out. Ares was dumping the sacks of ground beans by the french press when Nick pushed his Chase Sapphire across.

          “Can I close out? I’ve got to get back.” Nick’s eyes bore a dejected look. Whatever the farang had been working on wasn’t going well tonight, evidently. And the wait for the second cup had put him over the edge.

          “I’m very sorry, sir, about the wait. We ran out of Special Blend, or so I thought until I ran downstairs to double check. I didn’t want to have to serve you the regular.”

          Nick nodded his understanding but left his credit card where it was. “I really do need to get back...”

          Ares apologized again, profusely. “Please sir, it’s on me. Would you like a sweet as well? On the house.”

          Nick seemed to soften at this, and muttered his thanks as he returned to his corner table with the little plate of coconut rice dumplings Ares proffered to wait for his Double X. After a few minutes, it was not Ares but Anong who brought it to him. Something she had never done before. Nick reverted to his deer-in-headlights look when he looked up from his notes to find her standing at his side with the steaming cup.

          “Please enjoy, sir.” Even her voice was beautiful, like tinkling bells. Or windchimes in a mild summer squall. She gave him a deep languid wai and strode back to the counter. Nick watched her go until he thought she felt his eyes on her. Then he took a deep and lingering sip from his cup.

#

          “Please relax, Mister Nick.”

          It was her voice. The celestial princess. He was swimming up from a place of deep darkness, a thousand fathoms down, an abyssal rift in the ocean floor.

          “How do you know my name?” Nick mumbled this in his doze. It was the first and most logical question his brain could fire through its addled synapses.

          “It’s right there on your credit card. We remember our best customers.” This from another voice, fluid and caramel. Male. The hunky Thai named Ares. The fuck buddy who was not him.

Nick was regaining some feeling in his extremities now only to learn he could not actually move them. He could wiggle his fingers and his bare toes. (They had taken his Havaianas.) But his legs were immobile from the ankles up, his hands locked against his hips at the wrists. It had been a dreamlike feeling at first; Anong had frequented many of his dreams. But not the male Thai. Ares would have been quickly booted if this was not real. But he wasn’t going away. The scent of his Aqua Di Gio was cloying and persistent.

          “You might as well open your eyes.” The tinkling bells of Anong.

          Nick then realized he had been squeezing them shut. He was in the dark cellar beneath the cafe that, beyond Armani cologne, smelled strongly of coffee. And something else... Copper? Greasy old pennies? No, blood. It was blood. They had somehow knocked him out (the second spiked Double X supposedly given him for free) and gotten him strapped onto an old table, bound head to ankles in hemp and duct tape. But none on his mouth. He screamed.

          “That won’t help. We’re well past closing.” This from Ares, his tone almost apologetic.

          Nick twisted his head from one gorgeous Siamese to the other.

“What is this?” His eyes were on Anong who had brandished a large meat cleaver. In the shadows behind her was a machine, horrific for its placement in this venue because there were no stray branches lying about the cellar waiting to be mulched. Meanwhile, on Nick’s other side, Ares was busy testing the flame of an acetylene torch.

          “We’ve got to take a piece at a time,” Anong said. “In my experience it is best to keep the ingredients fresh as long as possible before the final grind.”

          “What...?” Nick’s lungs were still working and he screamed again and again.

          “They won’t hear you, darling,” said Ares. “Bangkok, as you know, is quite lively after midnight. That’s why we stay open so late. I tried, really I did. I wanted to play with you, she didn’t. But we both wanted to see what you tasted like as a Double X. It was a compromise.”

          Ares smiled wanly and brandished his blowtorch. He gave a nod to Anong who raised her cleaver high. And Nick saw what truly lurked in the depths of those phenomenally bewitching eyes just before the first severing blow landed.

#

          Anong and Ares had always been inseparable, ever since they first met at Bangkok University. They had talked of opening a coffee shop after graduation, “the best cafe in Bangkok,” they had vowed. But both vanished only weeks after the grand opening, the culprits a gang that had accosted them in the midnight streets after a drunken altercation at a pool hall in Patpong. They were suspected beaten, robbed, and murdered by the thugs and their bodies dumped in the Chao Phraya River, though no remains were found and therefore no ashes interred.

After rising from the riverbed and taking revenge on their killers, the enterprising couple, reborn Undead as Phi Tai Hong, or ghosts who had suffered extremely sudden and violent deaths, still seeking an ingredient that would add a special zing to their drab house blend, hit upon an idea. After sales doubled and then tripled, “Midnight Espresso” went from bland coffee bar to java sensation in a matter of weeks, and Anong and Ares living or dead loved nothing more than to see their satisfied customers return for yet another cup of their signature blend.

#

THE END


David Starobin published his first short story, “Goddess Deva,” in the Halloween 2021 issue of Black Petals. He is honored and delighted to be able to share more of his nightmares with the BP readership. David still spends much of his time abroad in the search for new and varied inspiration for his fiction. Currently he is in Romania, haunting Dracula’s castle.











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