Chapter 2:

No One's Noir Detective

The Great Investment

After his short coffee venture, Monday had proven to be a productive day for him, but the same cannot be said about his Tuesday.

Between 2 and 3 pm, his brain stopped working again. Every little sound distracted him from doing any work or prevented him from even thinking of work.

Even though he was in a separate office, he could still hear; feel the chatter, people walking around, copies being made, keyboards typing away; and it was driving him mad.

‘Heels going clickity-clack, stop and give my sanity back. Goddamn turning into Dr Seuss.’

And it wasn’t the noise that was bothering him that much; it was the dread that he was being unproductive, useless; wasting valuable time that cannot be recuperated no matter what he did.

It was suffocating him; his heart ready to burst out of his chest and his mind racing even faster and even more unintelligible. Trying to pin down one coherent thought was nearly impossible, as they all seem to slip away like water through his fingers.

The agony of not being able to latch on to one single task finally broke him, as he got up from his desk with a screech. Picking up his coat from the hanger, he pondered for a second before opening the door and establishing his route.

Opening the door, he was met with a few curious looks from pale-gray coders and HR representatives. One redhead girl from the latter group eyed him suspiciously before plastering a saccharine smile. ‘What was her name again? Lorraine? Loretta? Chadwell? God, I hate having new staff.’

“Going out for lunch.” Of course, that was a lie. He wasn’t feeling like eating right now but needed a brain reset.

He settled on revisiting yesterday’s coffee shop, as it didn’t appear to be that popular, crowded or too far away to be an inconvenience. While slowly making his way down the gray and busy street, he started staring into space, the objects and people in front of him blending into a nondescript, blurry painting that was sucking him in like a hungry void.

He snapped out of his absentminded walking as he approached the door of his destination. Freshly awoken from his reverie, he opened the door and walked straight towards an empty window seat.

Plopping himself down on the chair, he pretended to scan through the menu as he already knew what he wanted.

“Hello! How may I serve you?” Chirped a familiar bright voice beside him.

“Large double espresso.” ‘Are they really that understaffed to have a barista double-timing as a waitress? Or do they work in shifts? Can I have one single productive thought today?’ His eyes darted between the fake marble pattern of the table and the writing of the menu, trying to appear busy and avoid any eye contact with other customers. He could have looked out the window, but staring out the window of a café shop during a cloudy, grey day seemed a bit too cliché – and that would’ve completely ruined his mood.

Breaking his musing was a pale hand that gently placed a steaming coffee cup in front of him. Looking up briefly from the table he gave a short nod and almost inaudible ‘thank you’ to the barista now-turned waitress.

While he expected her to leave just as undetectably as she came, the young brunette was still lingering by his table.

He turned his head slightly to the left to read her expression and give her a quizzical look but was surprised to find her looking down at his cup.

“Can I take your sugar if you’re not using it?” Her question echoed a feeling of déjà vu which made him pause for a second more than he needed to answer her query.

He nodded and rotated the saucer to position the sugar packet towards her so that she could grab it more easily. Same as the last time, she hastily took the packs and dug them in her apron pockets before leaving to tend to her other customers.

‘Does she take only my sugar? Or does she do the same for everyone else? Haven’t seen the other one serving so I can’t tell if it’s just her thing or their restaurant policy. Are they near bankruptcy? This does not seem like a good way to save up on expenses… do they do that with the coffee as well? Am I even drinking coffee or is this some brown water they made in a bucket in the back??? This does not make sense.

If customers don’t use the sugar, it would still be put back in the dispenser thing and used for other customers. But she isn’t putting them back… And why doesn’t she just pick them up after I leave them?’ 

After taking a sip from his cup, his eyes subtly traced the girl’s movements for a couple of minutes. What he noticed made him even more curious. She took the packets from all the other customers that didn’t want their sugar. She then went behind the counter and motioned to her co-worker to switch places at the register. Not long after that, she started writing down on her notepad.

‘Now this is peculiar. Is it a game? If so, is she the only one playing?’ He then set his sights on the other waitress to elucidate this nagging dilemma. So, the wait began. For the next half an hour he would watch as some of the customers finished their orders and left the coffee shop and eagerly anticipated for a new one to come and sit at a table in his range of view.

An ashy-blond man wearing a camel trench coat ended his wait. Curiosity was eating away his patience and it did not help that he asked for more time to pick from the menu.

‘Oh god. At least get a simple coffee. This is taking foreeeeeeveeeer.’ He didn’t think it was possible to get annoyed by his own whining.

Finally, the man was ready to make his order as he lifted a hand in the air to motion the short-haired waitress to come to his table. A few minutes later, she came with his cup and sauces, sugar packet and all and placed it on the table.

‘C’mon, leave the sugar. Be on keto or something like that.’ Luckily for him, the blond man left the 2 packets untouched. Once he was finished, the waitress came to pick up the check, cup, spoon and packs, taking them to the counter.

The brunette barista he was eyeing looked left and right subtly and swooped in for the sugar packs, pocketing them away before taking the cup to be washed.

‘Interesting… But this only adds more questions…’ looking at his watch, he was bewildered that he had lost his lunch break to basically watch people in an attempt to uncover some weird sugar conspiracy. But his mind had gotten quiet in the process and was thankful for that.

‘Okay, time to get back to work.’ He got up and put on his coat, pausing for a second to glance at the barista before leaving a generous tip.

After another semi-productive day, random thoughts once again began intruding on his workflow. As he has learned in the past, torturing yourself with dispersed focus will get you nowhere.

‘Time for more sleuthing. If you can call stalking a café worker and fueling your theories with insane suspicions detective work.’

Stepping inside the café, he went through the motions of leaving his coat on the back of the chair and pretending to think of his order.

Not too long after, a familiar brunette girl greeted him.

“Can I take your order? “

“A large double espresso. “

“Aren’t you tired of having the same thing? The coffee can’t be that good. “

‘Is she on to me? Or is this a waitress thing of remembering what customers usually have? If not, why would she be keeping an eye on me? Was my sleuthing too obvious? Great, now she’ll think I’m some sort of serial killer, or worse – a pervert stalker.’ While he continued to keep his panic-driven thoughts at bay, he tried to read her expression. To his surprise, he only found boredom.

“I don’t mind repetitiveness.” he responded. ‘Most people have the exact same thing for breakfast and coffee for decades on end, yet she has to question me why I get the same thing for three days in a row? She seems too calm to be on to me; there’s no escaping small talk, I guess.’

“Ah, a creature of habit.” Her deadpan response was followed by a half-smile after which she left towards the counter.

There was a small tinge of eagerness building up inside of him, and it was not due to the coffee.

As she came back with his order, he tried to suppress all feelings of excitement and braced himself for the inevitable question:

“Can I take your sugar if you won’t be having it? “

A slightly longer pause than needed. A stare.

“No. I think I will be having it sweet today. I've been insipred to change my habit. “ While on the outside his countenance was expressionless, inside he was inexplicably giddy and dare he admit, proud of himself. The same eagerness crept back in and studied the girl for her reaction.

All he got was a slight frown and pursed lip. After a curt nod, she left him with his deflated thoughts.

That’s it?!?!??!’ screamed part of his mind. But the more logical side quickly stepped in to chastise it for its childish expectations and reaction. ‘It’s highly unlikely she would have blurted out her Machiavellian plan to me just because I said I wanted sugar.’

The subject of his musings was blissfully unaware of the mental gymnastics she was putting him through and simply went on to make more notes in her pad until she was interrupted by a text message.

A smile, not a half smile or the forced one she gave her customers, a real smile graced her features as she read from the small screen of her Nokia.

The small shift in her mood did not go unnoticed by the brooding wannabe detective that was trying very hard not to gag on his sweetened coffee.

Taylor Victoria