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Flight Recordings

Tales of the Starbuck Avenger!!! (2)

Jeffrey Channing Wells

Learning to Fly

Tales of the Starbuck Avenger!!! (2)

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Starbuck Avenger

And... that's, um, how it begun.

First thing to cross my mind, of course, when you're in a room with a crazy man who's just kicked the freaking door in, was, hey, call for help. Two problems. One, I thought any sudden yells out of me might flip the guy in front of me out into full killing rage mode, and two, Justin was probably passed out in back anyway. So I just sat there for a half a second, taking in the situation. I analyzed various, y'know, courses of option and shit and came up with the only one that seemed like it would work: total, rational honesty. Actually, in most situations that might not have been a good choice, but it turned out to be okay in the end.

So here's what I said.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but we don't do the Sulawesi this early in the morning."

I paused or something, watching him be tense. He looked like he was about to pop a rivet.

"It's just not a big seller," I added (I thought) helpfully.

Weirdo blinked at me. For an absolute asylum-grade lunatic, he was actually kind of handsome, in a tidy middle-aged sort of way.

"No SULAWESI?" he said. "What kind of city is this?!?"

"Look, hold on, guy, we can make you some Sulawesi. It'll just take a few minutes, all right?"

Guy suddenly kind of folds leftward, tapping his upper lip with his finger. He looks like he's looking at something really interesting off to my right.

"Time we don't have," he said. "Do you have a television here?"

"Hello," I said, picking myself up off the floor. "Coffee house. Nadda sports bar. We do 'conversation' around here." It was a little cheeky but he looked like he was past the manic phase, so I felt okay with it.

"Radio?" he said.

"Yeah," I said, brushing the salt and crap from the doormat off of my butt. "Justin's got one in back." I jack my thumb in a rearwards direction. "Lemme go get it."

"Sure, yes, go," he said. And then, at my back as I departed: "AND START THAT SULAWESI!!!"

"GOT IT!" I shouted back.

I made my way back to the kitchen. Justin was there, not asleep, rinsing something in the big shiny sink they installed after Corporate nixed our crappy old one. If bags under your eyes were, like, literally bags, you could hold a lot of stuff in Justin's.

"Hey Justin," I said. "Can I borrow your radio? There's a dangerous crazy man out front who wants it."

Justin paused a moment to let this sink in.

"What's he need it for?" said Justin, heavily, after a little while.

"I dunno," I said. "Easy listening? Oh, and he needs Sulawesi. Bad."

Justin yawned and passed me the radio. He went back to rinsing.

"So," I said, still kind of standing there, "you're going to start me some Sulawes--"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," said Justin. "Fucking customers."

Satisfied that there was now at least a sixty-six percent chance that we would get some Sulawesi started here within the next couple of minutes, I took the radio back out front. Weirdo was still there, looking anxious and straining to see something out the west windows. As soon as I got into his proximal zone he grabbed it out of my hands.

"Took you long enough!" he snapped, fumbling with the switch. "Great," he said. "No batteries!"

"Plugin under that table," I said, pointing. "Sorry about the time, my co-worker has a disability." The stock response seemed okay, especially since he wasn't really listening because he had his head under the table trying to find the plugin. "Federal mandates," I added.

Eventually he found it, plugged in the radio, and spun the dial through a whole wasteland of static trying to find a station. He eventually found one -- it sounded like a talky one -- and he hunched down over the thing like he was receiving coded messages from High Command or something.

I kind of stood there awkwardly for a second. "So anyway," I said, "can I get you anything while--"


"DUDE," said The Bitch, grabbing the microphone out of my hands. "KEEP YOUR ASS ON. It's started, okay?" I didn't add that there was about one third of a chance that it wasn't, in fact, started yet, because he obviously didn't want to hear that.

"All right," he said, relaxing a little.

"Geez," remarked The Bitch, even as Pity desperately tried to drag her away from the mike, "it's not like the world is gonna fall apart if you don't get your coffee all lickety-split."

Weirdo turned his bespectacled gaze on me, and...

...and pinned me to the wall with it.

I dunno. I can hardly describe it. It was like, there was a deep blue solemnity in his eyes that pulled the stopper out of my soul and just drained everything I had been thinking about away.

I just stood there. This was kind of a new experience for me.

"No," he said, quietly, after a sec. "No, it won't. Not now. And I pray every day of my life that the very set of circumstances you describe will not come to pass."

I couldn't say anything. Pity and The Bitch were comically frozen, mid-squabble, staring at the guy right along with me.

"But," added the man, "there are things that are falling apart. All the time. Even on calm winter mornings like this."

Pause. Breath.

"And I'm trying to stop them," he said.

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