Yarrow House

One More Cup for the Road

You’ve got to help me, ma’am,” the voice on the phone had that left-over ex-smoker’s raspy quality.  “First they substituted Karo for the almond syrup. . .”

‘Who’s they?” I interrupted. The voice on the phone could have belonged to an opera tenor, nice upper register.  But you never can tell physique by the voice.  Probably some skinny, little guy you wouldn’t give a second glance to on the street.

“Who’s they?” I repeated. He just carried on, slinging details that might make sense eventually, but weren’t worth remembering without a few bucks to back them up. Moss, my partner, sat with her feet up on the desk buffing her nails and day dreaming at the ceiling. I tossed a wadded up report at her to catch her attention and mimed pouring a cup of coffee.  Most people thought she was some kind of blond bimbo. I used to make the same mistake myself on occasion.

“Then they took the wand, and now it’s the whole damned cart. You gotta help me.”

“What did you have in mind?” Maybe a different question would do the trick.  Moss handed me the pot.  I emptied  the last of the coffee into my Read-or-Die mug, let the dregs settle a moment.  Took a swallow.

“You find things, right, ma’am?  So I want you to find my espresso cart.  Somebody stole it.” He started on another rant, but I headed him off with a question about payment method—credit cards accepted, etc.—and arranged to meet him at the last known sight of the cart.
Moss invited herself along.  Just an excuse to get out of the office, but what the hell, I didn’t mind the company, and what’s a message service for anyway?

We figured the stocky guy with a lot of hair and a day-glo windbreaker pacing on the northwest corner of 2nd and James was the cartless barista.  “Boyd,” he said shaking hands absently and launching into a fragmented description of his cart, measuring and carving the air as he went. 

“So, have you given any thought to who might have taken the cart?” Moss asked. “Some vagrant or an upset customer who didn’t like your brew, maybe?”

Boyd waved his hands around and pounded the air while he ranted about young punks, but by the end of his commentary, we hadn’t pinned down anything more than Moss’s guesses.

“So what’s it look like?” I finally found a space to wedge in a few words.  “D’you have a photo or something?” With no suspects, finding missing stuff is a matter of luck.  Not that we haven’t had our share of luck, but I like something solid to go on.  Pays better in the long run. 

Boyd pulled a photo out of his billfold—him and a frizzy-haired brunette. “That’s her.  He pointed at the cart they were standing next to.

“Who’s the charmer?” Moss poked her head over his shoulder and reached out to take the picture. 

He jerked it back to his chest.  “Just a, a regular customer.”  Moss raised an eyebrow and gave him one of her lopsided, melt-your-heart grins.

“So let me take a look at the cart, at least,” she wheedled.  He finally handed over the photo.  “Don’t suppose you’d let us borrow this, just while we’re looking?”

He shook his head.  “It’s my only one of her, it…” He trailed off. 

“Don’t suppose she’ll be coming back, now that you’re out of business?”  Moss could sure sound like she understood people’s troubles.  But even she couldn’t talk Boyd out of his photo, so I jotted down a description—chest high, blue and red, stars on the sides, trailer hitch— and we left Boyd pacing on his corner.  Waiting for his customer to tell her the bad news, I guess.  We checked with people in the shops around the intersection, but the cart had gone missing sometime during the night and nobody’d been around to see anything.

We sat in my old Valiant and stared off at Elliott Bay for a while.  Finally Moss pulled out a map and started drawing circles on it.  Have to replace our maps at regular intervals because she’s always drawing on them.  Thinks that’s what detectives are supposed to do, or something.  This time her circles turned into a couple of coffee cups.

“I get a weird feeling about this case,” she finally said tapping the map.  “He was acting sort of nervous the whole time.  He could have taken it himself, you know, for the insurance and just hired us to shift suspicion away from him. And then there was that business with the photo, in which he had his arm around the just-a-customer, you notice.  I think we should check out some vacant lots.”

“I’m not driving all over the King County looking in vacant lots.  Let me look at that map.”

“You know those empty lots out at the end of the airport, the ones where they solved the fly-over noise complaints by pulling the houses down?” she continued.  “We used to hang out there, when I was a kid, to smoke and screw and all that, in my bad old days,” She gave me a look out of the corner of her eye. “And we found some amazing stuff people dumped there, big things, at least as big as an espresso cart.”  The woman has never heard of the simple declarative sentence, but she can does have a knack for zeroing right in on stuff.

“Still a lot of area to comb, through.”

“Wonder who’s flying traffic chopper, right now?” She pulled out the cell phone and started punching in numbers.  Called one of her questionable friends and started playing footsie over the phone.  I went back to the map.  Wasn’t all that long before she’d cozied whoever into swinging over the lots at the end of the airport, as well as a few other choice dumping grounds, while they were doing their rush-hour traffic survey.  Looked like we had time for some coffee.

Over a tall latte, I pulled out the cell phone and started working my network of scavengers, dumpster divers, and garbage truck drivers.  You start asking around, it’s surprising what’ll turn up, but none of it was an espresso cart.  Could have had a nice sofa, though, or a couple good tires, or a bag full of nylons, if I ever wore them.

Moss twisted her cup around in circles, twisted a blond strand of hair around her finger, shifted around in her seat, the woman never could sit still, long as I’ve known her, which must be around 20 years now.  Lot of changes from the street kid she used to be, in some ways; none at all in others. 

Fortunately, the phone rang about then and hauled me back from the nostalgia cliff I was about to fall over.  Moss’s chopper friend had spotted what looked like a cart, couldn’t tell for sure because of the wreckage.  Just north of the airport, like Moss guessed. He gave her the approximate cross streets.

Moss navigated while I drove.  Off 136th, about where the handles of Moss’s coffee cups crossed on the map, we shoved through the brush and found the burned-out hulk of an espresso cart, about the right size, a few patches of red paint still on one side.  Some days luck just licks you all over.

We pulled on some rubber gloves and looked over the site, the cart, and the random garbage in the immediate area.  Nothing pointed at a culprit.  “Boyd’s not going to be happy about this,” Moss commented, examining the inside of the cart once more time.

About then the cell phone started beeping at me.  Lawrence M. Green the third, king of Seattle scavengers, self-styled, just letting me know a friendly competitor of his had spotted the wreckage of an espresso cart, off the side of Cheasty Blvd.

“What is this,” Moss grumbled, “a crazed ex-caffine addict on a personal vendetta?”

“Could be.”  We wound down through Georgetown and up onto Beacon Hill.  Cheasty’s a long road.  We finally spotted the wreckage on the second pass. Scrambled down the hillside to a cart that was the duplicate of Boyd’s, or was Boyd’s, he could take his pick.  This one had smashed into pieces on its trip down the hill.  Moss tugged up pieces and looked underneath. 

“Looking for finger prints?”  She shrugged me off and stood day dreaming into the bushes.  “Let’s get Boyd and see which one’s his,” I finally said since she looked like she was going to count leaves all day.

She pulled up one of the pieces and pointed. “There used to be a picture or something here.  The paint’s not as faded.  Same thing on the other one.” Like I said, you could never tell about Moss.

We took Boyd to the smashed one first. It was closer.  He stood staring at the wreckage for a while, then palmed tears off his face with an angry swipe. “Randle did this,” he growled.  “He couldn’t stand that Jessie liked my lattes better.”

“Well, Boyd, we found your cart.” I was dusting my hands off and ready to go find a good cup of coffee. 

But the Moss asked, “So who’s Randal?” That woman never could tell when a case was finished. Wrapping up loose ends never pays. “Jessie’s the chick in the photo, I guess,” she added for good measure.

”The bastard barista that worked the corner across from me.”

“So whose is the other cart?” she asked.

“What other cart?”  Boyd was a good actor or he didn’t know.  Moss laid out the picture, burned hulk and all. Boyd gave an I don’t know and I don’t care shrug.

“So, did you take it?” Moss believes in shock treatment.  He screwed his face up in shocked denial.  Guess he’d never heard of tit for tat. “So, let’s go talk with Randal.”

We found Randle on the street corner opposite Boyd’s former territory, pacing a path that would have fit around an espresso cart if one had been there.  “You took my cart, you bastard,” Boyd yelled as he jumped out of the car and went for Randal. 

“You took mine,” Randal yelled back.

”No I didn’t.”  Boyd went into a fight stance that would have made Jackie Chan proud.

“Then who did?” Randal appeared to favor Bruce Lee's style.

About that point, a truck towing a brand new espresso cart pulled up across the street.m Boyd’s photographic friend, Jessie, hopped out and hustled to unhitch the cart. Our two baristas dropped their jaws and then their fists.  “Jesse,” they chorused.

A couple of weeks later we were on another job—widow’d lost her deceased husband’s ashes—and we happened to be passing 2nd and James. “Two carts on the corners now,” Moss pointed out and whipped around the block to pull up next to a nice shiny new cart on the corner across from Jessie’s. Boyd hustled over and leaned in the open window. 

“What’ll it be?”

“Couple of double tall lattes,” I ordered.

“Two doppio,” he sang out.  Randal started pulling them.

One-time reproduction for non-resale purposes permitted with the following credit line: by Judith Yarrow, © 2001