My home consists of four rooms above the coffee shop: kitchen, bedroom, bath and sitting room. The upstairs kitchen has a sink and clothes washer for appliances. It is where I store extra inventory and its table is my business office. The real kitchen is downstairs. From there I bake my muffins for the day and sometimes make sandwiches. I’ve gotten pretty good at muffins and am slowing expanding into sweet breads, but I’m no baker. Baking isn’t an elective in business school.
After the late night excursion, I was unable to sleep, so I went down to the kitchen to begin the day’s baking a couple hours early. Once the last batch of muffins were in the oven, I decided to be extra adventurous and make brownies. I’d made them once before and got no complaints, so this time I made a double batch figuring that day old brownies were still edible while day old muffins were not. I also tried a new recipe for a coffee cake with crushed pineapple that I’d been meaning to test for weeks. By the time it was in the oven and the rest of the baking paraphernalia clean and put away, it was time to start making coffee for the day.
Marcy arrived a few minutes later wearing her school clothes, tight black jeans and a blue cashmere sweater. She went upstairs to changed into her self selected work uniform, a black mini-skirt with red leggings and a white blouse with a macrame vest. Her mother almost died the first time she stopped by to buy a vanilla coffee, decaf, black with Sweet-n-Low. The daughter explained in straightforward terms that it was about the tips. She was going to graduate from college debt free. Mrs. Morgan buys a cup of coffee every day. I don’t know whether she tips or not.
I got a lot of orders wrong that morning. Marcy fixed them with grace so that even the regulars didn’t realize how fucked up I was. Until George tried one of the brownies. It seems I mis-measured the salt. By a lot. He was good about it and tried the pineapple coffee cake next which he insisted was not bad. I forgot to call in the sandwich order by 9 so instead of my usual assortment I got the assortment slated for gas station convenience stores. If my afternoon customers wanted that kind of fare, they’d stop at the BP down the road. Aside from a few locals, they were business people on their way from one stop to another. I was convenient and different and they liked that.
I fussed with the sandwiches by adding fancy lettuce and cheeses, and putting a few in the panini press. It made the tired assortment a little more interesting.
By mid afternoon I was too tired to do more than call Luce and tell her to pick up the leftovers herself. I closed the shop early and went upstairs to bed.
I was too tired to be awake and too tired to sleep. My mind raced like greyhounds chasing the mechanical bunny around the track. Except that my track was the damn school grounds and I went round and round thinking about shadows and windows and the music that some folks in town were hearing, but not me. And those boys. They were dressed like normal teenagers, but acted like something out of an old movie like “West Side Story” or “Grease.”
I couldn’t afford another sleepless night and day like today. When I chose to get into this business it was with the understanding that it would require my undivided attention for at least the first five years to make it work. Sleuthing around in the middle of the night was not part of the program.
My brain wouldn’t let go of the vision of those dancing shadows and the kids who could have come from no other place. I chose the relaxing radio station on my iPhone and tried to focus on the music rather than other thoughts. When I found myself singing “Rock Around the Clock” to harp music, I gave up.
Since the music allegedly happened after dark, I decided that I would go back up the hill when it fit best with my schedule. Getting up an hour earlier was easier than interrupting my dreamtime. It shouldn’t take more than half an hour to get in, make my way to the gym, see what was there and get out. My personal curiosity satisfied, I could then decide if things warranted calling the state police. Committing to these plans, I was finally able to drift into much needed sleep.
The iPhone was set to wake at 1:30, but I was wide awake a couple minutes before Joan Jett began singing “I hate myself for loving you.” I made a cup of Sunrise and warmed the last piece of coffee cake in the microwave. I felt guilty pleasure for having saved it. Unlike the brownies, it could have been sold.
I added boots, gloves and a hat to my ensemble from last night’s foray. I tiptoed down the stairs and made my way silently across the floor of the dining room. I don’t know why I was sneaking through my own place. Just getting into the role, I guess.
I opened the front door and pushed into the flank of a giant german shepherd. It scared the shit out of me. The dog seemed unperturbed. He got up and stepped out of the way of the door.
He wore a lead but there was no one around. It wasn’t like Luce to leave a dog out like this, but I had no other explanation. On the other hand, I’d never told her that I was going back up to the school tonight. She had no reason to leave the german shepherd here. This wasn’t one of her dogs, but besides running a kennel for boarding dogs, she doubled as an animal warden in these parts. She took in strays and found homes for them.
The dog handed me his lead. It seemed pretty foolish as I realized that he was dragging me in the direction of the school grounds. One advantage of the brisk pace he set was that I didn’t have time to get cold.
We slowed near the base of the driveway up this hill to let a few late night drivers pass by. I didn’t want to be spotted out here at this time of night. I think my companion agreed. He was in full stealth mode, senses alert, not making a sound.
With the waxing moon overhead and a cloudless sky, it was easy to pick our way along the cracked and buckled driveway. There was a trace of sidewalk leading from the front steps along the building toward the gym that we hadn’t noticed last night. It made for a drier path around the school for which my blue suede boots were grateful.
The night was as cold as it was quiet. There was no wind, not even a gentle breeze. Just a heavy cold that seemed to press my hat closer to my ears. The dog shivered in the darkness too.
The windows looked like portals into absolute darkness. There was no sign of the shadows that I thought I saw last night. I was beginning to believe that I’d imagined them. The dog steered us back to the window well where we’d discovered the loose boards before.
This time I had a more powerful flashlight. I made sure it was ready in my jacket pocket before letting myself down into the window well beneath the principal’s office. Even though I’d left the lead back on the grass above, the german shepherd dropped down lightly beside me.
The board was easy to pry back. It creaked as it opened like a door. Before slipping into the empty classroom I flicked on the flashlight to make sure the path was clear. I expected it to be very dark inside, and it was. The dog dropped onto the floor right behind me. Once inside, he led. I wasn’t quick enough to grab the leash. It left a line trailing between damp paw prints on the dark floor.
As we made our way down the corridor, I looked for footprints other than the ones were making. There weren’t any. I guessed that the kids had found a different way in. As unreasonable as it seemed, I found myself believing that those boys had been in the building last night. The floor seemed awfully clean for an abandoned building.
The lower level was dark and empty. With senses on overdrive, we went up the left set of the grand double stairway to the first floor.
The main lobby was much different than I’d remembered. It was dark, but tidy. The floor was swept; there were wooden benches on either side. It felt like a school at rest, not one that was retired to decay. To the left, everything was dark, but not the pitch black one associates with a boarded up building. Rather, it was like the place was bathed in soft moonlight. Not enough to see clearly, but plenty enough to make out doors and student lockers lining the walls.
There was light coming from the end of hall on the right side. Not a lot—what you might expect from electric exit signs posted by the gym. There were no sounds. The dog leaned against my leg. His breath was strong and steady.
“Do we check it out?” I whispered.
He led the way. The mutt was as curious about this as I was. I swept the beam of the flashlight down the hallway. The place looked lived-in, but not in the way that addicts and derelicts made a place. It looked like the way a school should look after the students were gone for the day and the janitors had had their way with the place.
The double doors to the gym had wire reinforced glass windows. The doors were locked. Peering in, the place looked vacant, no vagrants, no dope-heads, no one at all. Nor was there sign that anyone had been there. It was all too clean. I shined my flashlight through the window in the hope of seeing more. Dolf sniffed around but didn’t seem to notice anything of interest.
“Ok, boy, I guess we’re too late. Let’s go home.” He seemed to agree and we headed back down the corridor.
When we got back to the lobby, the dog took a turn towards the front door. It looked like he was sniffing something and I gave him his lead. He stopped at the double doors leading out. I pushed on the crash bar. And it opened. OK, so I thought the place was padlocked, but maybe it wasn’t. It was quicker and easier than going through the window on the lower level.
The door closed smoothly behind us and we went down the flight of limestone steps worn into shallow troughs by generations of feet entering and leaving the building. I fixed the boards covering our window entrance while the dog continued to investigate the front steps. He wouldn’t come down when I called, so I had to go back up to get him. I was a little pissed that he was suddenly acting this way until I saw that he was pointing at the door. I tried it. It opened.
If dogs nodded, that’s what he was doing.
“OK, we’ll have to think about this, but now I got to get to work.”
In agreement, we quickly walked back to the shop. I put out a bowl of water and let him sleep on an old blanket at the back of the kitchen until Luce stopped by for her mid-morning coffee.