This is the whole of chapter
three four* of the story / book that I am endeavouring to write.
* It previously was Chapter Three and is now (subject to change) Chapter Four.
I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for reading.
by Gavin Dimmock
It was the sign on the window that had caught his attention, making him choose the coffee shop. He’d passed a diner and two bars during his reconnaissance of the town, Whittle Forge, assessing the position and size of its police department, noting the number of official vehicles parked outside. He’d memorised the roads in and out of town by studying maps and walking its streets online, his escape routes in any direction, by car or foot, already determined. He knew exactly what he would do if a hasty exit was required. But nothing beat the “boots on the ground” approach; in surveying the area for himself, checking that the information he’d acquired was accurate and adding new details to his knowledge. This thoroughness had served him well over many years; years in which others in his profession had become complacent, turned sloppy and lazy, taken their eyes off the ball. Years in which he’d survived and grown older when they had not. Years in which he’d grown tired.
“THE BEST COFFEE & PIE IN TOWN!”
That’s what had grabbed his attention. That, plus the fact the message was hand painted onto the glass. Not a printed poster, a cheap flyer or computer generated graphic but actually sign written. Lister liked that. He recognised the precision required from the craftsman to hand draw the lettering, the skill needed to tease the coloured signwriters’ enamels into the letter shapes and the artistry in adding the shadows and highlights that made the message appear to leap from the window. He knew the hand to eye coordination needed in handling the long haired brushes, the flexibility required by the fingers to turn, twist and drag the brush effortlessly over the smooth glass. The steady hands essential to ensure accuracy and to prevent costly mistakes.
Now, sitting with his own hands around a cup of coffee, Lister could clearly see those individual brush strokes in the enamels, the sunlight from outside illuminating the words, casting brightly coloured shadows onto the table top. He moved his hand across the wooden surface, the colours playing over his fingers, the sun warming his skin.
Studying the sign, he found himself remembering moments from his past, from a time before he’d become the man he was now. A time before he had taken his first life, though he’d taken many since. A time when he’d been happy to mix those enamels; choosing a clean pot, part filling it with a base colour before carefully adding the coloured enamels, stirring and mixing until the old signwriter was satisfied with the finished colour and consistency of his efforts. A time when he’d enjoyed setting out the messages onto signs and windows like this one, when he had delighted in shaping the letters under the old man’s tutelage. He’d been happy to watch as the old man corrected his errors, eager to learn as the experienced signwriter made adjustments to the designs he’d drawn; smoothing the curve of a letter here, a thickening of a stroke there. A time when he’d been eager to follow a different path. A time before he became Lister.
He watched as the waitress, a pretty girl with short blonde hair, a stud through her nose and a dazzling smile, made her way around the tables filling empty cups from a coffee pot she carried, chatting briefly with the customers. She headed back to the counter to get a fresh pot before approaching his table.
“Can I get you a refill?” She flashed him a wide grin, her lips coloured with a modest hint of lipstick, her eyes bright, her face full of sincerity. “What about some pie?”
“Fill her up, why not?” Lister replied. “And that pecan pie looked good. A slice of that too, please”.
“Good choice. It’s baked by Cecil and tastes great.” she pointed back behind the counter at a heavyset man in kitchen whites. “Do you want ice cream with that? You staying in town?”
He nodded at her, yes to the ice cream, smiling broadly; open and honest, a smile that screamed I’m a regular guy, average, unremarkable. Forgettable.
“Just passing through. But it sure is nice round here. I’ll be certain to stay longer on the way back.”
“You do that. We’d love to see you again.” She smiled back at him, refilling his cup. “I’ll get you that pie.” She turned, moving away to fill his order. He watched her for a moment, his eyes following her ass, attractively framed in her tight uniform, as she walked away.
A smile, fleeting, almost indiscernible, played across his mouth as he stirred a splash of cream into the coffee she’d replenished. Lifting the cup to his lips he took a deep breath, the aroma filling his nostrils, and sipped slowly. Lister had few vices, killing people not withstanding, but chief among them was caffeine. He took huge pleasure in a good cup of the brew and the promise of “the best coffee in town” had appealed to him. Although he couldn’t validate the claim, the coffee was very good. Damn fine coffee, wasn’t that the phrase? Where was it from he wondered? Some early 1990’s television show he recalled, the name eluding him. It wasn’t important, he thought, it would come back to him.
The waitress returned bearing a plate with a generous slice of pie topped by a great dollop of vanilla ice cream. “There you go, sir. A slice of Cecil’s finest pecan pie. Enjoy”.
He took a mouthful of the dessert, enjoying the crunch of the pecans, savouring the sweet stickiness of the warm maple syrup and the coldness of the ice cream as it quickly melted. Like the coffee it was good but, then, in his experience nearly every pecan pie he’d ever eaten had tasted good. You could rely on pecan pie to never, or rarely at worst, disappoint. And Lister didn’t like to be disappointed.
While he ate, he continued to study the painting on the glass, the lettering tinting his view of the street outside, colouring the scene beyond. He traced the letters with his eyes, following their outlines, assessing the craftsman’s work. Very impressive, he thought, good shapes, even strokes, neat brushwork. The kerning was poorly executed though, some of the letters had been placed with too much space between them and there neighbour, making them appear disconnected from each other. The artist should have taken greater care with the kerning, paid more attention to adjusting the space between the letters, taken more time to ensure the message read as perfectly as it could, before dipping his brush into his enamels and committing the letters to the glass.
But, thought Lister, that’s why people come to me. To have their problems corrected, their difficulties resolved, to have their “excess” trimmed away, leaving behind only the message they wanted the world to see. And Lister was very, very good at adjusting the kerning.
Outside, clouds moved across the sun, dulling the light playing through the glass and snatching away the colours from the table top. His concentration broken, Lister checked his watch, spooning the final piece of pie into his mouth. He reached into his jacket pocket and removed a small billfold before peeling off two neatly folded banknotes. Then, draining his coffee, he stood and placed the money under his cup before leaving the coffee shop and its window onto his past behind him.
Copyright 2015 Gavin Dimmock