Coffee. I needed coffee. The irresistible urge to caffeinate, so the power of cognitive thought is regained. That need so strong, you’d step on people, push and shove them out of the way, if it wasn’t for polite society. ‘Vive la revolution’ I say. Don’t get in the way of me and my coffee or there will be trouble. Don’t get in my way or–
“Next?” Called Joe, the barista.
We were kindred spirits, Joe and I. A couple of kids from the 80’s. Refugees of time who still hadn’t accepted our youth had left us. He had this beard, jeez it was impressive. It was like Mufasa’s mane cascaded from his chin. Perfect teeth too.
I love his little coffee place. Joe’s caffeination station. A shrine to pop culture, nerdisms and coffee. It crossed cultural boundaries and didn’t discriminate. Oh yes, Star Wars, Trek, DC and Marvel figurines, got along just fine at Joes.
In reality, it was nothing more than a permanent coffee-cart, covered in toys and pop culture, inset into an alcove next to a real estate office. Here he was, eeking out an existence selling coffees for three-hunnit-and-fitty cents a cup to office drones and lost tourists. Beside him shone adverts for million dollar harbour front dwellings that Sydney liked to pretend we all lived in.
It was normally quiet when I came down for the 10am hit, but not this day. It seemed there were a few in front of me. A mum with her kid, an Asian chick with a really nice arse in a tight fitting skirt, and a tradesman. I mingled my way into the space besides the counter and eyed the new collection of figurines. The multitude of people walking passed became background noise. They can keep their briefcases, give me a PC and a server room any day.
“Woah, Nice clock, man.” I nodded towards the oversize novelty timepiece standing pride of place, on his counter. Batman holding a fender guitar with his arm pointing at the ten. Red letters screamed for attention in the comic book font; ‘Batman rocks’. The seconds ticked by, shown by Robin twirling a drumstick in the air. Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Batman does rock,” He grabbed his metal jug and warmed the milk. He spoke over the torrent of steam, hissing and bubbling the liquid. “Just got that one yesterday, S’cool innit.”
I picked up a figurine from the counter. Green Lantern, muscles bulging and proud with hands on hips, wedged between my fingers. Imagine yourself out of this mutherfucker. I twisted his movable head 180 degrees, making my best villain laugh.
“Give me a flat white or the Lantern dies.”
“Nah mate, this lady was before you.” Joe grinned and clacked the coffee bean grinder, then turned to the young, and attractive, Asian lady standing beside me. She gave a smile that would melt icebergs. Mind montages of the perfect villain morphed into more lustful thoughts. I smiled back, umma gentleman after all.
“Of course. Of course.” I waved a dismissive hand, and pretended chivalry wasn’t dead.
Her accent surprised me. Not the broken Chinese slash English I expected, but instead came a full Aussie twang. She ordered a flat white on skim, with banana bread; toasted.
The smell of the coffee as Joe ground the beans set my palette to overdrive. I could almost taste that bitter brown burn. The first for the day. I needed a hit before facing the humdrum and mind numbing boredom the office. But that’s ok. It was Friday. The weekend was fast approaching and there was a laser tag game up at the old gaol on Sunday.
“Can I have a banana bread, mum?” The child asked.
Not before I’ve had my coffee you little bastard.
He couldn’t have more than 12. His eyes peeked out from behind his chubby red cheeks. Sweat dappled his brow. His mother, another nutritional overachiever, placed her hand on his shoulder and smiled.
“Of course you can, dear.”
I could smell the sweat dripping down from God knows where. He was holding a cricket bat in one hand and melting a chocolate bar in the other.
“Give me ice cream too.”
Joe looked at me with an exasperated look. I could almost hear his thought process: You should learn two words mate. ‘I’m’ and ‘full’.
A smile tugged at the corner of my mouth.
Behind fat boy and round mum stood a giant of a man. Muscular arms filled the orange tradesman vest. A handlebar moustache and three quarter sleeve tat’ gave this fellow a distinct fighter’s physique. He stood, arms folded giving off the ‘don’t fuck with me’ vibe I’d often tried, but failed to replicate.
I had mused about returning to training. Hell, it had been years since I’d been doing the Pak Sau and Fook Sau. I was pretty good too, despite my nerdish overtones. The older I got, the better I was. Was it apathy that stopped me returning? Or that I’d smashed my bones to bits against a brick wall, being a dickhead on a motorcycle? Probably the former, but in public I’d never admit to that.
“Yes, mate, flat white, no sugar, right?” Joe directed his question to me and grinned. The Asian lady gave me that iceberg melting smile again and stepped to one side. Joe’s perfect white teeth shone like a dental beacon through the brown forest of hair cascading from his square jaw. He knew what I was thinking. Ten to one he was thinking the same thing.
As she walked away, he let out a chuff, waving his hand in the “I’ve just burnt my fingers motion.” I returned his grin. Yup. Smokin’ hot. Same page there buddy.
She glided rather than walked. Joe’s eyes followed her, mine too, and I caught her smile again in the window reflection. She was enjoying toying with mere mortals such as us, of that I was sure. Although the reality was zero-to-none, we were punching well above our weight, no doubt about it.
A scream broke our silent appreciation of the fairer sex. We turned to see what happened. Fear flooded across Joe’s face and the colour drained. Fat kid spun, mouth agape and eyes wide. He broke from her grip and bolted. Round mum shrieked, not just teetering on the edge of panic but taking the giant leap into the abyss of terror. A voice shouted over the din and screams. People dove for cover. Businessmen hid behind briefcases as if the leatherette and memos would offer some form of protection from this crazed gunman’s wrath. Then came the war cry. A guttural spit of words flew from his mouth in a tongue I could not understand. But two words struck me. Two words that felt like bullets themselves as he pointed his black assault rifle towards us.
Those terrifying fucking words that seemed so bloody amusing when accompanied by a kitten taking a dump for the first time on YouTube, but to hear them in the flesh. Man.
The first bang left my ears ringing. Then another. And another. Flame erupted from the dull black muzzle pointed in our direction. Bullets spinning towards us. Death flying our way at 3000 feet per second.
I was just grabbing a coffee, man, and this arsehole was going to use me as his own personal ticket to a life eternal and a room full of virgins.
It’s true enough that time seems to slow down when you’re pumped with adrenaline. Hell, that certainly was the case when I smashed my bike up and ended my career in martial arts. But I didn’t expect time to slow down this much.
A thought struck me as the adrenaline took over. Something along the lines of ‘Well fuck this shit’. Death spiralled its way towards me. Its trajectory, had I not stepped to one side, would have connected with my forehead.
I could hear the ‘zing-zing’ off the bullet’s rifle motion as it whispered past my ear. I turned and followed its path; The metallic casing just inches from my face. I could hear the air crack with each agonising revolution as though the very air we breathe was screaming.
Fat kid fell, his cricket bat propelled skywards. His chubby face, full of fear and chocolate exploded. Blood spattered across me as I watched, able to move and yet frozen at the same time. The back of my hand founds its way to wipe his life from my mouth. His blood tasted like a chocolate penny, only one you’d forgotten to unwrap.
“Kevi––” Round mom’s terrified scream cut short, she fell.
Her chest tore open as the bullet exited. Bits of rib pushed on through and peppered the floor around us. Her arms flapped like in hollywood stunt double and her knees buckled as she tried to outrun her destiny. Tried to reach her child as if she could do something to protect him.
Dead, like her son, before she hit the ground. At least they are still together, I guess. Wherever kids and mothers go, when their insides become their outsides. Why? Because some arsehole decided to paint the marble walls near a tiny coffee shop with scarlet.
My focus went back to the bullet I was chasing. The one with my name on it, you could say. Our beauty, the Asian lady, was mid spin. Her still steaming flat white arced through the air as though an invisible surfer was ripping up a caffeinated wave. Her toasted banana bread spun, hovering in mid-air.
This could not be happening. It was not my destiny to be a name in a news article just before the cute story at the end of the bulletin. I may not be the Green Hornet or Batman, but be-fucked if I was going to stand by and spectate my own execution.
My legs broke their frozen stance, and I pushed myself towards her. My shoulder connected with her stomach. She let out an ‘oomph’ and we both fell. Warmth spattered across my face and once again the taste of coins flooded my mouth. Then the pain hit me. An agonising tsunami. It smashed away any thoughts of heroics and tore down the streets and alleys of my body until I could feel nothing else.
Pleading eyes locked onto mine. Her beautiful face, that could melt ice with a single smile. Her amazing mix of European and Asiatic DNA that blended so well now ripped with agony as the bullet passed through my own bones to hit her. We fell together.
A red sea, sticky and shallow spread around us. I laid on top of her, shielding her. She gasped as my weight pushed into her slight frame under the momentum of our fall. But we were alive. Barely.
From our position, I could see fighter boy stretching upwards. His muscular arm reached up and caught the spinning cricket bat mid-air.
The bat arced wide and connected with the gunman’s face. I heard the crack, clear as day. The bat splintered. Fragments of wood pirouetted through the air followed by red chasers from the gunman’s nose. Fighter man spun the now shattered bat like a samurai of old. The gunman staggered, nose shattered. His bloodshot and once crazed eyes now blank. The bastard tottered and his knees gave way. Fighter man circled around him, twirled the broken bat thrust the splintered end into the gunman’s neck. A calculated blow no doubt. Designed for the kill.
Boo yah. Take that you summbitch. I tried to stand but my legs wouldn’t cooperate.
Fighter man’s back shattered as the dead gunman’s hands squeezed their last squeeze. The bright orange vest turned to crimson and pushed outwards. His back arched as his spine shattered. They fell on each other. The guy that saved our lives now a crumpled heap of meat. He once had a family. Friends. Things to do on the weekend, like fucking laser tag at the old gaol. Now nothing but a pile of memories for those that loved him. Nothing but a ‘moving speech, and a ham and cheese sandwich’. A ‘lovely service’ and a ‘such a shame’, followed by a news report on channel ten.
I felt bile rise in my stomach. I swallowed it back down and tried to stand. Time seemed to speed up again. My senses caught up with me. And pain. Holy hell. Pain. I have never felt such a burning thought my chest. Breath caught.
My world starts to spin. A world full of video games and superhero movies. Of jokes and easy laughs with a guy I know who makes coffee. A world where beautiful woman cross paths and spawn fantasies. This shit doesn’t happen in my world.
Except… it does.
Joe’s bearded face looms into view.
“Dude,” his perfect white teeth flash black and yellow. He holds out a hand to help me up. I turn to see the dead eyes of a once beautiful Asian lady staring back at me. A dribble of red trickles from her nose and runs down her perfect cheek. The burn of vomit makes its way up through my trachea and threatens to coat my already reddened and wet shirt.
The black and yellow flashing behind my eyes quickens. Strobe lights of a fading consensus intensify and the world flips topsy-turvy, round and round.
What the fuck just happened? All I wanted was a goddamn coffee and a chat about Star Wars or Pokemon or some irrelevant crap before work. And now, here I am laying in a pool of my own blood and the world is going dark.
All I can hear is Joe’s voice saying “dude?”
And the ringing of my ears.
And the beating of my heart.
And the tick tick tick of Batman and Robin playing like timeless rock gods on an oversize novelty clock.