Monster Café
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Monster Café

The Lady (and her husband) Vanishes Pt 4

A Panster story continued

“Bullshit. No way any of that is true”, I said.

Maria took a deep breath and exhaled in a whisper “It’s true. All of it.” With no expression on her face, she turned and looked out the window once more.

We sat at the table in silence for a while. I took the cup of coffee and turned it nervously with both hands. After a few moments, I got up from the kitchen table and walked out.

For the next few weeks, I sat by my window every day and watched the old couple walk past at 9:17am. Maria sat at her window as well, watching them, watching me watching them.

My phone collected daily texts from Maria. All of them left unread.

I did not return to the cafe so I did not see Rosie for those weeks.

There was no way I was going to share what Maria told me with anyone. No one would believe me. I had to clear my head and figure out the next steps on my own.

I meditated, smoked some weed, and watched several episodes of Frasier, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Schitt’s Creek in an effort to get a bit of reprieve from the burden of knowing.

“Niles!”
“Fuck you Larry!”
“Ewww David”

Watching stupid tv shows is my go-to escape. It usually works, but not this time. This time my head was still spinning and I still had no plan.

After a few more days, I found myself obsessing.

What if I stop them? or What if I go see it for myself? What if I ask them where they are going? What if I just join them?
Yeah, (exhale) what if I join them?…..

Maria

I texted the neighbor a few times. She did not respond. I doubt she even read the messages.

Rosie went back to work at the Monster Cafe. She came by only at night and entered through the back door.

Every evening, we retraced our steps in an effort to spot exact moment of the breach.

At first Rosie seemed genuinely shocked by the breach, but then the shock turned to regret and a bit of remorse. She slowly began to confess her part in the cause of the breach.

“I didn’t recruit her,” she said as she closed her eyes and exhaled. “This is my fault,” she whispered at me as she lit another cigarette.

After a few lame reassuring phrases and platitudes, I decided it was time to confront her about her regret.

“Why do you insist this was your fault?”, I asked as I poured the last of the French Press coffee.

“It just is,” she said. “I should have recruited her but I didn’t. I passed on her because….” she paused briefly.

“Because you crushed on her. Because you thought you might have a chance with her. Because you’ve done this before and it didn’t matter, but this time it did matter,” I snapped.

Rosie

The last time I passed on a potential recruit I managed to find another one that was a bit more suitable and a bit more effective.

My last recruit had all the markings of a good volunteer. She was smart, observant, curious but not dangerously so, but most importantly, she could keep a secret. That is the most important characteristic of any recruit.

I feed the potential recruit a fake story about someone in the cafe- usually about another regular customer. Then I watch the recruit’s reaction to the customer every day as they cross paths or simply sit within several feet from each other in the cafe.

You can learn a lot by watching someone watching someone else. I love that part of my job.

“The neighbor” (as Maria insists on calling her), I will admit, was observant in the way we need but she was also complimentary in what she observed.

“Hey Rosie, did you cut your hair?” she said to me once after I had a barely-noticeable trim. Literally no one else in my life noticed the trim.

“Are those new specs?” she asked another time. “I like them. They look great on you. I can’t wear that style,” she flirted, or at least I thought she was flirting. That’s when I subconsciously decided to pass on her as a recruit. Her attention to details of small changes in my appearance made me want to keep her for myself.

I never got to “shoot my shot” with her though. All I did was give her free coffees or discounts on scones. And now her skills as an observer had proven to be undeniable and my failure to recruit her had put us all in danger.

The only way out was to convince her to join. But how?

Maria

Rosie came clean. I already knew why she passed on the neighbor, I just needed to hear it from her.

“I liked her, ok?” she said. “I couldn’t get her involved.”

“That is not for you to decide,” I whispered even though I wanted to yell it at her.

“Your weakness for certain women is a weakness in our program,” I said through my teeth.

After a long silence, I said “I knew the minute she came to the house and started asking about our operatives why you had passed on her. Shes your type. Goddammit. I knew we were in trouble”.

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maité landa

GenXr. Coffee snob. Gardener. I know a little bit about a lot of things. Love Stephen King novels, John Coltrane and Golden Girls (plus a lot of other stuff).