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”
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
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?”
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.
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
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
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
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?”
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
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
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
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.”
lungs were still
working and he screamed again and again.
“They won’t hear you,
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.
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