Chapter 1

Coffee strong enough to wake the dead

You know how when people say their boss is an idiot, it’s usually just because their manager or employer has done something recently to piss them off. I mean surely there can’t be that many idiots in charge of things right? Yeah well. My boss is an idiot. A bona fide moron. Not just here or there. All the time. I honestly don’t know how he got his job. Well actually I do. He owns the company. His only major talent, well talents – I‘m feeling generous – are being rich and kissing arse. And he’s rode them both to fame and fortune with his Creative Agency, Blahlamo. Well maybe not fame and fortune. But in his mind he’s a creative genius.  Unfortunately he also is my boss and at the moment it’s annoying the shit out of me.

This time though he went to far. Or I was over the nonsense. It’s definitely one of the two. And after yet another meeting with our latest million-dollar client, I had finally had enough. Here’s the rub. My boss, who can’t even open and read an email, continually promises the world but without the budget to deliver it. Then we lose money. Then he gets pissed because we lose money. Then he gets snarky, and yells at the staff for losing money, when it’s him all along. He gives in to client deadlines we have no hope of meeting, and then expects us all to work 9-midnight everyday to fulfil his promises. He on the other hand goes home promptly at 6. The bastard. So this client. He promised we could do everything they need within their miniscule budget. Half the shit they want is impossible unless you want to spend millions of dollars in R&D. How the shit are we going to send their customers their own personal hologram via email? What the actual shit? He doesn’t know what he is talking about. This is the problem. I sat there staring at my notepad, realising I had written ‘kill Michael Rochard and this could all be over by lunchtime’ on every available piece of notepad real estate. It was not looking good. Besides I had no available weapons to kill him with, and I didn’t want to go to jail for it.  Perhaps if I just ignore today it will go away?

The client of course nearly pee’d their pants in excitement. But for me, well I knew what was coming. This afternoon I would pull Michael aside, take him into the conference room and tell him that 90% of his promises to the client were un-achievable. We’d have a barney. Finally I would get him to understand what he had done. He’d be all put out. I’d try and be nice about it. Because I’m an idiot.  Then Michael would ask me to go and speak to the client. Put things right.  This would be the catalyst for a torrent of stupidity, which would follow on from this interaction and carry over into the rest of the week. That was my week shitting shitted. I was well and truly over it.

As the meeting finished up I realised it actually was lunch-time. I decided to head out and get some air. Let my fury abate with the summers breeze. It wasn’t only my boss who was ruining my day though. My doctor had also had a good hand in shitting up my week.  I had gone to see him to get some test results the previous day, and the motherfucker had told me I had the big C. Cancer. That shitty scumbag of a disease that begins with mutated cells that are found in your own body. It’s a potluck kind of disease. Though having a genetic disposition towards developing it nicely adds to the fuckers chances. It’s a nasty little bastard. Invading your body.  Sometimes you just end up with the C bomb when there’s no family history of it at all. And you’re a non-smoker who errs on the healthier side of life… like me. Shitting shit it. 6 months I was told. 6 short months left. It was pretty advanced. No options. And here I was just thinking I was over worked and run down. That’s why I’d gone to have some tests. And this is what had come back. I was only 27 years old for Jeff’s sake! I shouldn’t even have to think about cancer yet! I hadn’t told anyone. In hindsight I really should have taken someone to the doctor with me. I never dreamed I’d get this news. So right now I was the only one who knew about it. I needed to make some plans before I tell anyone. I don’t want everyone trying to take over my last few months. Controlling it with their own craziness and emotions. It’s my demise damn it. I just want to live it out on my own terms.

London was sweltering as I walked down the street. Headed for my usual place. As I passed the Café La Morte I saw it was for sale again. Funny that. It was up for sale pretty much every 6 months. I’d never even been in there once in the 3 years I had worked for Blahlamo. I always passed it off as being some kind of hipster paradise. Something I diligently tried to avoid. Beards and lumberjack nonsense. Boat shoes and oversized glasses. Their tag line was Coffee strong enough to wake the dead. I guess it was kind of quaint.

I leaned forward to get a better look in La Morte’s window. It actually looked nice inside. Polished wood, brass, green velvet booths. It looked like an old fashioned speakeasy that served coffee! Why had I never even given this place a go? Oh yeah. My own prejudices. Stupid arrogance and stereotypes. That’s all. My own hang-ups and worthless opinion. Well today was a good enough day as any to try something new. Cast of the shackles of judgey old judgement.  Maybe they had good stuff to eat in there, and I could do with a dead waking coffee right now to be honest.

Pulling open the door I inhaled the wonderfully reviving aroma of fresh coffee and toasted goodness. The place was mostly empty, and so I chose a booth up the back to make my own. No wonder this place was always up for sale if this was the lunchtime crowd. It was hardly at capacity considering it was a prime time of day to be serving food and drinks. The waitress came over to take my order. Pretty girl in a mint dress with a thick black belt. Long red hair, but not natural red. Bright red. Artificial red. Dyed, obviously. She smiled and asked about my day. I said it was good, fine, and ordered coffee and a sandwich. She walked away.

I took off my jacket and laid it on the seat next to me in the booth. It was warm inside the Café La Morte. I stared straight ahead and waited for my coffee. The girl in the mint dress returned shortly, and placed a cup of coffee in front of me.  The cup was ornate, made of china, with gold trim. More a tea cup, not meant for coffee. For some reason that bothered me. I guess I have mild OCD.

I took a sip. It was good. Damn good. Hot. Why had I not been here before? Oh that’s right. Judgey McGee. The girl in the mint dress returned with my sandwich. Salad. I’m vegetarian. Have been for years. I took a bite and realised I wasn’t hungry.  I’d been thinking for too long now about what I had coming to me over the next 6 months. Inoperable they had said. Brain cancer. Who would have thought that. Not me. Ha! But I guess I covered that before right. I have an appointment with the oncologist this afternoon to weigh up my options. Chemo. Radiation. Whatever. It might prolong my life, but the results speak for themselves. Incurable. What would you do?

As I sat in the booth, sipping my coffee, my mind continued to wander.  The girl in the mint dress came back. She wanted to know if everything was OK?

‘Yes, good, fine,’ I said and managed a smile. I asked when the café had gone up for sale.

‘Last Tuesday,’ she said.

‘Last Tuesday, or the Tuesday just gone?’

‘Hmmm,’ she wasn’t sure, but she knew it was a Tuesday. She smiled awkwardly and left.

I touched the green-flocked wallpaper on the walls. It was fuzzy and pleasant. I liked this place. What if I didn’t go back to work this afternoon and just stayed here and drank coffee, ate my sandwich slowly, then had drinks later? Fuck it. I could see the café also had a good stock of alcohol behind the bar… counter… whatever, and I was sure they served dinner. I didn’t have to go back to work. I really didn’t have to do anything now. That’s a very refreshing thought. And it was nice and warm in here. Quiet. No pressure. No clients. No idiot boss. I could just stay here. I COULD just stay HERE.

Why the fuck not?

I could buy this place. Sell everything I owned and just stay here until I died. Drinking coffee. Eating sandwiches. Lunching. Dining. Drinking. Meeting people. Fuck yeah! But how to go about it? How did you buy a café? I guess I needed to speak to the owner. This was all crazy but life it short. Especially mine. I looked over at the girl in the mint dress and called her over.

‘I’d like to meet the owner, I’d like to buy the place.’

She laughed. It was a pretty laugh. Like glass tinkling.

‘I’m quite serious,’ I added.

‘OK, mister quite serious, I’ll get the owner.’

She left, and came back with a handsome, square-jawed gentleman. Tall and lanky, well dressed, though not fashionably. This man had style. It was clear no one needed to tell him who he was. I wondered immediately what he was doing running a café. It didn’t seem to fit. He smiled and sat down.

‘Now why,’ he drawled in an accent I could not place, ‘would a nice young man like you want to buy the Café La Morte? You don’t strike me as the hospitality type.’

‘Neither do you,’ I smiled up at him, ‘but I am still considering it.’

He stuck out his hand with a laugh. His name was Luke, and it was nice to meet me. We talked for hours and worked out a deal. It turned out I was getting more than I bargained for, but if I could stick it out, Luke would see me right. So what does that mean? Well, it turns out Luke is short for Lucifer. That’s right, he’s the Devil. And he can fix me, de-big-C me, but he had some conditions. Like all contracts, there are clauses. The strangest part is I believed him. Straight up. No horse shit. I had no reason to question him really. Even if what he said wasn’t true I had nothing to lose.  Well, my life, but that would happen anyway. There was just something about him. Call it a vibe. Call it a feeling. The uncanny way he was able tell me things about myself that not even my family knew. His knowledge of my current medical condition.

I wouldn’t call it conclusive evidence. There’s no way any human could have known that shit. It didn’t freak me out thought. It was reassuring. He knew exactly what I needed. And how to provide it. But it would cost me my last 6 months on Earth, and my atheism. I didn’t care. I’d already decided how I was going to spend the time I had left. Somehow this seemed to fit nicely into Luke’s plan, and was reflected in his offer.

So what was the offer? Details. I would indeed need to buy the café, but I would have to stay inside it 24 hours a day, for my last 6 months on Earth. I couldn’t put more than one foot outside, or the deal would be off. I would be obliged to eat, sleep, shit, shower, breath in the La Morte. And I couldn’t tell anyone why. Or I would be done. That would suck a bit. People are stupid. They always want to know why. If I die before the 6 months is up, well that’s just bad luck.

If I can last 6 months though, Luke will remove my cancer, and I walk away. What’s he getting out of it? I’m not sure. Yet. I think he just likes doing stuff for people. He’s gotten a pretty bad rap since the creation of religion, he explained. Why did he have to be the bad guy? He tells me God is a jerk. Well that was the consensus. I’m inclined to believe him. For my part, this was a news flash to me. As I said, I’m an atheist. Luke went on to add, none to bitterly, that he never did any of that shit he’s been credited with. The snake and the apple, Joan of Arc, Blues musicians, original sin, sin that was perhaps not so original. The list could go on forever. Essentially religious nut bags had tried to pin any evil nonsense on him, and even some stuff that wasn’t evil – like acts of nature. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fires, locusts. He wasn’t angry, he said.

‘Just disappointed.’

I guess it’s easier to manipulate people if they have a common enemy. Luke had made a convenient scapegoat. For the last two-thousand years or so he had been laying low. Out of the spotlight. Off the radar. But that didn’t stop the accusations. It was hurtful he said.

‘Were you ever?’

‘Evil? Yeah, sure. We all were. But I got bored of it. I gave it up. The others didn’t. Once I dropped out of the life however, I became an outsider. No one wanted to be seen with me. That’s what the banishment was all about. That’s how I became the convenient one to blame. It’s easy to pin the shit on the minority, and call them out as evil if they don’t agree with the majority.’

I empathised. Since his exile he had been running La Morte, and similar ventures over the years. Helping people like me where he could. People with some kind of potential. Or so he said. For what, I don’t know. Apparently La Morte was the one who determined this. Like all things mythological, it had a mind of it’s own. Then, all the chosen had to do was make it through, to the end of their time. And be reborn. Or something. I guess Luke had to pass the time somehow. Being immortal would kind of suck. It must get boring after all.

A casual glance at my watch told me we had been talking for 2 hours. I had finally relaxed. I didn’t give a shit that my boss would be expecting me back for our 3 o’clock meeting with our next million-dollar client.

The first catch of my new business venture was that I couldn’t leave La Morte as of the moment I signed the contract. So I would have to sign it before I changed my mind. I would have to figure out how to quit my job, sell my flat, and get my possessions dropped off at the café and all without telling my parents, family and friends what was really going on. I could foresee this causing issues. But I would cross that bridge etcetera etcetera…

Luke handed me a pen, and a contract of sale for the Café. I must confess I didn’t read it through. As I said I was scared I would change my mind. As I watched the ink dry I watched my old life drift away like embers on the wind. Cool to touch. Ashes.