The waitress held the coffee pot shoulder-high and navigated her way through the breakfast crowd, towards the back booth, which sat under a fifty-year-old black and white photograph of the restaurant, when it was still a gas station. She filled four cups and took orders, working her way from her left side around, in clockwise order. The first three customers, all young – barely out of their 20’s – each ordered waffles and bacon, the restaurant’s long-time breakfast special. She turned to the man at her right.
“And what are you having, Harley?”
“That’s Mayor Harley now,” the first customer butted in.
“Got to show some respect, Edna,” the new mayor’s seatmate added. Harley, still looking young enough to pass for a college student, smiled and blushed.
“Don’t you go getting a big head now, Mister Mayor,” Edna said. You haven’t even been sworn in yet… besides, I used to babysit you before you were out of diapers, and I could blackmail you with some of the stories I’ve got.” The three sidekicks laughed.
“Nothing to worry about, Edna,” Harley said. He took a big drink from the mug and frowned. It didn’t taste like coffee; it was more sickly sweet, like… he couldn’t put his finger on it. He held the liquid in his mouth looked down into his mug. He saw a pool of blood, already starting to coagulate around the edge. He spit the drink out onto the table. His friends jumped back in their seats, and once assured they hadn’t been splashed, broke out in another round of laughter.
“Good Lord, Harley! Let it cool down next time!” Edna grabbed a dishtowel from her apron and wiped the splattered coffee from the table. Harley wiped a napkin across his mouth and looked at it. Coffee. He stood up and straightened his tie.
“I’d better get to the office, anyway,” he said. “I can’t afford to neglect my day job just yet. Sorry about the mess.” He laid a five dollar bill on the table and wound his way between the crowded tables and out the door.
Harley walked into his office at two minutes after nine, uncharacteristically late. He worked at Miracle Real Estate, in a neat brick storefront on Main Street, nestled between the Alfred Hamilton, Attorney at Law, and Main Street Books. He had worked their eight years, the first five for his father, Harvey Miracle Senior, and the last three as owner after Senior suffered a fatal heart attack working late at the office. He employed three associates and a secretary, who handed him a stack of pink memo sheets as he passed her desk. “Bunch of congratulations and a couple who want to see the old Davis House down by the canal,” she said. “And you mother said she expects you over for dinner tonight.”
“Did you tell her I was busy?”
“C’mon, has that ever worked? Ever?
Harley sighed and went into his office, the coffee incident already forgotten. He busied himself with phone calls and paperwork until noon, when the secretary walked in with a paper bag; it contained two slices of pizza and a soft drink, his standing order from the pizza place across the road. He cleared a spot on his desk by carefully stacking files and moving them to the corner. With everything in its place, Harley took the bag ad reached in, pulling out a withered severed hand. He screamed and threw the hand against the wall, where it smacked just under framed Rotary Club award, and slid down to the floor.
“My God, are you okay?” He looked up to see his secretary still standing by his desk, her mouth open wide, a flood of cockroaches rushing out and down her dress and arms. He buried his head into his hands for five, ten seconds and then looked up. She was still there, but the roaches were gone. A smear of tomato sauce led down the wall to a slice of pepperoni pizza laying upside down on the brown office carpet.
“I’m not taking any more calls. And cancel my appointments,” he said.
Harley had her close the office door on her way out, and he sat in his chair for the rest of the afternoon, nursing a bottle of water and ignoring the inbox. Over the next several hours, he imagined bats flying out of his top drawer, blood streaming from his office photos, and heard chanting coming from the office closet. He didn’t open it.
Promptly at five, the secretary knocked on the door to ask if Harley was okay.
“I’m fine,” he lied.
“Okay, then I’m going home. You have more messages on my desk. Reverend Morris wants you to address his congregation Sunday.”
“Of course I will,” he answered, continuing to yell through the door. “Have a good night. Lock the front door on your way out.”
“And don’t forget, your mother’s expecting you in half an hour.”
© 2017, Dave Allen. All rights reserved.
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