The sign on the window had grabbed his attention, its words proclaiming ‘THE BEST COFFEE & PIE IN TOWN!’ He loved coffee, and who didn’t like pie? But more than the promise of not only good coffee but THE BEST COFFEE IN TOWN, he was drawn to the sign itself, the words hand painted onto the glass. It wasn’t a printed poster or a cheap flyer pasted onto the glass. And, instead of a computer generated stick on graphic, it was actually old fashioned sign writing. He liked that. The connection to a dying craft spoke to him. He recognised the precision required from the craftsman to draw the lettering, the skill needed to tease the coloured sign writers’ enamels into the letter shapes and the artistry in adding the shadows and highlights that made the message leap from the window. He recognised the dexterity required in handling the long haired brushes, the flexibility of the fingers to turn, twist and drag the brush effortlessly over the smooth glass. The steadiness essential to ensure accuracy and to prevent errors or costly mistakes.
Now, sitting at a booth by the window, his fingers cradled around a cup of coffee, he could clearly see each individual brush stroke in the enamels, the fading sunlight from outside illuminating each letter, 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 now was. A time before he’d taken his first life, though he’d taken many since. From when he’d been happy to mix those enamels; choosing a clean pot, part filling it with a base pigment then carefully adding each different colour, stirring and mixing until the sign writer was satisfied with his efforts. Until the finished colour was correct and its consistency perfect. He’d enjoyed drawing the messages onto signs and windows just like this one, and 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, keen to learn as the experienced sign writer made adjustments to the designs he’d sketched; smoothing the curve of a letter here, thickening a downstroke there. A time when he’d been eager to learn the craft and to follow a different path through life. A time before he’d practiced a different craft, before he’d mastered the art of killing. Before he’d become Lister.
A waitress, a pretty brunette with a stud through her nose and a dazzling smile, made her way around the tables and booths. She stopped to talk briefly with each customer, filling each empty cup from the coffee pot she carried. He watched as 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 purple with lipstick, crisply defined lashes framed dark brown eyes, a hint of devilment apparent in their depths. “What about some pie?”
“Fill her up, why not?” Lister replied. “And that pecan pie looks good. A slice of that too, please”.
“Great choice. Cecil made it this morning.” she pointed back behind the counter at a heavy-set man in kitchen whites. “Cecil’s pies are awesome. You want ice cream with that?”
He nodded at her. Yes to the ice cream.
“We’ve got vanilla ice cream. Is that okay? Are you staying in town?” This last question innocently asked, something she probably asked every new face she served.
“Vanilla is just fine.” Lister smiled broadly, an open and honest 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 as she walked, her uniform stretched tight across her body, the caramel-coloured fabric clinging suggestively to her. His eyes took in the curves of her ass and swept down her legs. Small butterflies rose from beneath her white socks and soared up her toned calves. Each brightly tattooed insect seemingly in flight with the rise and fall of her steps.
A smile, fleeting, almost indiscernible, played across his mouth. He stirred a splash of cream into the coffee she’d replenished. Lifting the cup to his lips he breathed deeply. The aroma filled his nostrils and he sipped slowly, savouring the flavour. Lister had few vices, killing people not withstanding, but chief among them was coffee. He took huge pleasure in a good cup of the brew and the promise of “the best coffee in town” had certainly appealed to him. Although he couldn’t validate its claim to be the best in town, the coffee was certainly very good. A damn fine cup of coffee, wasn’t that the phrase? Where was it from, he wondered? A television show from the 1990’s, he recalled, its name eluding him. It wasn’t important, he thought, he would remember. Lister rarely forgot. And Lister never forgave.
The waitress returned with a plate bearing a generous mound of ice cream under which, Lister assumed, hid a slice of pie. “There you go, sir. A slice of Cecil’s finest pecan pie. Enjoy.”
As she bent to place the plate before him, Lister read the badge pinned to her uniform, the fabric stretched tight across her breasts. Donna had clearly inherited her uniform from a previous, smaller waitress. Lister reckoned Donna liked the effect that wearing it a size too small had on customers. No doubt she got bigger tips from her customers because of it. Well, from the men anyway. Prompted by Donna’s taut uniform, the image of a glamorous brunette siren popped into his mind. Audrey Horne. The sweater girl from TV’s ‘Twin Peaks’. He smiled, he knew he’d remember. Damn fine coffee indeed.
He took a mouthful of the dessert, enjoying the crunch of the pecans, savouring the sweet stickiness of the warm maple syrup and the cold bite of the ice cream. Like the coffee it was good, but then, in his experience nearly every pecan pie he’d eaten tasted good. You could rely on pecan pie never to 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 and colouring the scene outside the diner. 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, however, was poorly executed. The spacing between many of the letters was too great making each letter appear disconnected from the other and disrupting the flow of the words. The artist should have taken greater care with the kerning, should have paid more attention to adjusting the subtle space between the letters. He should have taken greater care to ensure the message read as perfectly as possible before dipping his brushes into his enamels and committing the letters to the glass.
But, thought Lister, that’s why his services were in demand. When his clients had issues that needed resolving or mistakes the needed correcting, they turned to him. If someone made an error or needed to be removed and a clear message to be sent, they paid Lister handsomely to “kern” their problems. And Lister was very good at adjusting the kerning.
Outside, clouds moved across the sun, dulling the light coming through the window, snatching away the colours playing over the table top. Rain began falling against the glass and to slip haphazardly down its surface. His concentration broken, Lister checked his watch before spooning the final piece of pie into his mouth. Glancing at the check Donna had left, he reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small billfold. He removed the necessary notes, placing each neatly folded bill under his plate. Thinking about Donna and the butterflies, about her uniform, far too tight in all the right places and damn fine in every possible way, he smiled and added a few extra bills.
He drained his coffee before straightening his tie in the reflection from the darkening glass. Standing, he shrugged into his overcoat and pulled his cap onto his head, angling its peak low over his right eye into his preferred position. Then, exiting the coffee shop, he stepped into the storm. With a final look at the lettering, its surface now slick and obscured by rain, Lister turned and left the window into his past behind him.