I wiped my eyes, and my nose, just in case. "Not as much lately."

"Well, yeah." Love emptied shots of espresso into a pitcher for Americanos. "Woo must've kept him busy. Is it true--" another pause, to drop her voice, so I had to lean in. "--how much he's worth?" Love made a face. "Was. Was worth." She deepened the face she made; she knew she was being awful, acknowledging it, and pushing on anyway. "That app was huge. Millions, right? At least?"

I wanted to punch her. Some things never change. I've wanted to punch Love Hateblink in the face since I was six years old. "I don't know," I said.

"That's what Fortune wrote," she said. "Can you imagine? Millions and millions."

I was going to do it. My fist was even balling up, my shoulder tensing. But I was sad and tired and moving in slow enough motion to notice how Love chattered on, pulling shots and bouncing up and down, and remember why I always wanted to punch her. She got hyperkinetic when upset.

Love had no tact, but also no guile.

"I can't," I said. "I can't imagine."

"What do you think happened? Heart attack? Aneurysm?" She tamped fresh grounds into one wand, then the other. "They say aneurysms pop like a balloon. Lucille Ball died of an aneurysm. You don't even know you have them."

I had to admit her shots looked excellent. Dark chocolate brown, with a thick crema on top. I let Love take over both stations, and started filling the kettles for tea.

"It must have been his heart. Tan--Adam is a big guy." She corrected herself, making that same face. "Was. Was a big guy."

Outside the window, detect ices in suits and formal overcoats replaced the uniformed officers.

"Or do you think someone had it out for him?" Love waved at me for attention. "All that money. Everyone uses Woo. Did you ever use Woo? I have a co-worker who found her girlfriend on Woo. Do you, Naomi, do you think someone had it out for him?"

Kurlee took turns with Crom and Ruby Armington, answering the detectives' questions, puffing warm words into the cold air, like clouds.

"Don't be stupid, Love," I said. I felt sick to my stomach. "Finish that pitcher."

"Yes," she agreed. "We all need coffee."

Inside, everyone faced away from the window. They looked at their feet or their hands as a way to not look outside. Sunshine rocked her granddaughter in her lap. Zan sat alone, surrounded by everyone. Plato Hateblink, Love's father, distractedly contorted his knees up to his ears.

The clinking of mugs and the pitchers of Americanos were the only sound. Cedar Shy, Daisy, and Murphy's wife took cream and sugar. Treasure Collins just held hers up and watched the steam.

I don't know how long I sat there, looking at everyone in Last End looking anywhere than outside. But then I smelled butter and cinnamon, like smooth river rocks in my hands. I went back to the kitchen as Love pulled out the first batch of scones.

"I found them in the walk-in," she said. "We need to eat." Love shifted from foot to foot, and set down the sheet.

"Yes," I agreed. "Good idea."

At 10:30, Crom and Ruby came in. Bolstered by caffeine and sugar, the townspeople engulfed them with red noses, tears, apologies. At 6'7 and 6'1 respectively, they towered above everyone. Neither Armington was really there, though. I'd seen the same expression on Tank many times, when he was lost in thought or working on a problem. Sunshine took their hands and led them to a table, sat them down on their special chairs, put coffee and a plate in front of them. They were like dolls in a dollhouse, propped there, far away.

Love rested on her arms next to me, quiet for once. I wanted to go over to Crom and Ruby, but the static feeling came over me and I couldn't move. I tried to call up Tank, a memory of him, any memory, but I could only see the track suit.

The mayor startled me. I didn't see her come in or lean between us at the counter. "You girls did a lovely job here," she said. Her skin pleated around her eyes, falling to furrows down behind her beard. I'd never seen her look her age. She was somewhere in her 70s now, though she'd have never told anyone exactly where. 

Love started jabbering at the mayor, and I wanted to ask so many things. I couldn't get out any words over Love, but I made a questioning face. But she didn't answer us. The mayor held up her hand, checked herself in the chrome of the espresso machine, and then she took the stage.

Kurlee stood on her stage mark for Cressida. Her voice carried well there, though she could scream if she wanted to. "Everyone, everyone," she said, and Love banged a spoon on a glass like it was a wedding. I wanted to punch her again. But it worked: the mayor had everyone's attention: all 72 pairs of red eyes, old and young, born or married in.

71 pairs, I corrected myself. And 4 of those were as attentive as buttons on ragdolls, aimed towards the stage.

I started crying for real. I pulled the soggy napkin from my sleeve stash and dabbed.

"I had a speech planned, for tonight, for dinner, welcoming you all home. But now, I just want to say I'm glad we are all together. We've had an unthinkable tragedy." The mayor looked at Crom and Ruby for a nod to go on. Maybe they heard her from far away, maybe it was coincidence, but Crom dipped his chin, and Kurlee continued. "At approximately 5am this morning, our own Alekazander Clearglow alerted us to, uh, an emergency."

"Vaughn," Zan said.

"Say again?" The mayor leaned in.

"My name is Vaughn. Zan Vaughn. Just Zan. Vaughn."

"Of course," Kurlee said. "Our own Zan Vaughn. Found someone unconscious and unresponsive on the path between the Beams and Naomi Salt's house."

"I was running. I run every morning," Zan said.

"Why don't you come up here, sweetheart?" Kurlee asked. "We can tell this together."

Zan went up, next to the mayor. She smoothed down her sweatshirt. "I run every morning. I saw something in the grass, by the path. I thought it was, I don't know what I thought. I went over and it was Adam. He was ice cold, and I slapped him, but I don't know what I thought it was. But it was Adam."

She spoke really fast. It took us all a second to catch up and she looked around, almost as if for applause. Kurlee placed her arm around Zan, and though Zan grimaced, she didn't duck it. She turned, like she had with me, burying her face into the Kurlee's shoulder.

"Do we know what happened?" Treasure Collins asked.

"Was it an accident?" Cedar Shy asked.

"A heart attack? Or an aneurysm?"  Plato Hateblink asked. At least I knew where Love got it.

"We don't know much yet," the mayor said, over Zan's head. "The sheriff's office is investigating."

Crom and Ruby snapped back into the moment. At "…investigating," Ruby wailed. Crom tried to cover his wife like the mayor and I covered Zan.

"An investigation?" Treasure asked. "Why an investigation?"

"It wasn't an accident?" Cedar Shy asked.

The mayor looked at Crom and Ruby for a long time. Sunshine finally got up and helped Crom help Ruby back outside. After the door closed, the mayor continued. "They're going to have questions for many of us. I assured them we will all do everything in our power to assist in whatever ways we can."

"Someone had it out for him?" Love asked, loudly. "Do you think? Is that it?"

"We don't know," Kurlee answered. "We don't know much yet. But the sheriffs don't think it was an accident. They think Adam was poisoned."

Ruby burst through the door. Crom tried to hold her back, best he could. Huge Crom, circus strongman, could only restrain Ruby, the world's tallest fat woman, enough to keep her from rushing Kurlee off the stage.

"Murderer!" Ruby yelled at the mayor, before her husband pinned her to the ground. "Murderer!"

">
CHANNILLO

We Spoke of What and When
Series Info | Table of Contents

Part II: We Spoke of What and When

Love mentioned she paid her way through grad school as a barista, so I let her behind the bar with me, pulling shots.

The hiss of the machine, the clank of the grinder chewing up beans, the chalky surface in my hands was relief. Relief to be doing. Relief to move. So much relief that I didn't realize I was crying until Love passed me a napkin.

"You were close to him," she said. "I mean, we were all close. But you and Tank--" she paused, as if to consider if his nickname sounded disrespectful. "--and Adam, you were close."

I wiped my eyes, and my nose, just in case. "Not as much lately."

"Well, yeah." Love emptied shots of espresso into a pitcher for Americanos. "Woo must've kept him busy. Is it true--" another pau...

Please subscribe to keep reading.

Table of Contents

Series Info