This week’s pitch was quite an interesting one. I wasn’t given a story idea as such, rather fellow NaNoer Rhi Burgess suggested I write a story based on one of the ‘secrets’ included in the ‘Half a Million Secrets’ TED talk given by the founder of the website Postsecret.
I found inspiration in the confession that a Starbucks worker sent in, saying that when people were rude to them they gave them decaf coffee.
I’ll be doing another one of these next week, though it will be taken from the Postsecret website this time. Anyway, for now, enjoy a bit of mischief.
2014 – A Year In Stories
“I’ll have a double chai latte, half and half, with soy milk. And hurry up, I don’t have all day.”
Lenore raised an eyebrow at the man’s instructions. He had gone back to what appeared to be a very important phone call and, now that his interaction with her was complete, entirely stopped paying her any attention.
Lenore coughed pointedly. This elicited no response, so she did it again, only louder and with a point sharp enough cause serious injury.
“What?!” the man asked, tearing himself away from his phone call for a second. “I’ve given you my order. Do you want me to write it down for you or can’t you understand written English either?”
“What size do you want?” Lenore asked as sweetly as possible.
“Oh, uh. Large? Or what is it you call it here? Venti or some nonsense.” And he was away again.
Lenore stared at the man for a moment. She hated working the morning shift because she had to put up with so many arsehole commuters like this one. He was away with the fairies though, so she set to making his drink.
They all thought that just because they had big jobs working for firms in the City or some such that they were gods gift to mankind, and therefore didn’t need to actually engage with the plebs that served them coffee or sold them a newspaper every morning.
Lenore had been working at the coffee shop for 6 months now, and she saw this sort of guy come in twenty times a day.
After a couple of months of people only tolerating her existence due to her role as the gatekeeper of the caffeine she had developed a little system by which to get a measure of revenge on the people who were particularly shit to her.
She had developed her patented Rudeness Calculator.
If a customer didn’t say please or thank you they were awarded one point. If they talked on a mobile phone or had their headphones in for the duration of the transaction it was two points. Raising the voice was 5, and so on. If they hit 7 points on the scale, Lenore adjudged them to be too rude and altered their order. At first she had done it differently for every order. Replacing soy milk with normal milk, for example. But then she realised that people might be ordering soy milk due to a dairy allergy and, not wanting to be responsible for someone’s head swelling to the size of a hot air balloon she changed her tack.
It took a couple of weeks of deep thought, but eventually it dawned on her. What is the best way to mess with someone’s coffee? The thing they rely on to give them a bit of pep every morning on their way in to work. You take the pep away. You give them decaf.
It was such a wonderfully beautiful and simple idea that Lenore was amazed that she hadn’t thought of it sooner. Take the caffeine away and they’re basically just giving you £3 for some warm, bitter water. She reckoned that about 20% of the people that came in probably didn’t even like coffee! and only ever drank it for the caffeine kick. It was genius.
And so she had started doling out Barista justice once again. Changing the world, one cardboard take away cup at a time.
She liked to imagine all the people sat at their desks, wondering exactly why they just didn’t have the energy today. Why they were lacking that extra zip that they normally still had at this time of the morning. Of course, most of them probably just fixed it by having another coffee, but they had wasted that little bit of extra time and money to make it happen, and that was what counted.
Her sister, Mara told her she was just being petty, but what did she know? She had never worked in the service industry, having gone from university straight in to a lawyer’s office.
They lived a little ways apart in London, and so Mara never came in to her coffee shop, but Lenore secretly suspected that Mara was, too, capable of being one of those arseholes, and was just worried that someone was messing with her coffee order too.
The man on the telephone had just tipped himself over the 7 point threshold with his raised voice, and so Lenore began her machinations behind the counter. When the drink was ready, she handed it to the man, who took a sip, looked at the cup as if something was wrong with the contents, and then shrugged and left.
“May you fall short of your targets by 1%,” Lenore whispered to herself as the door shut behind him.
The next person in the queue was a woman who Lenore estimated to be in her late sixties. She wore a floral print blouse and her silver-grey hair looked newly permed. Lenore noticed a glint in her eye as she approached the counter.
“How can I help you, Madam?” Lenore asked.
“Oh just a medium filter coffee for me, please, dear,” the woman replied. Just as Lenore was about to go and make the drink, she continued, “Oh, and I know what you did just now.”
“Excuse me?” said Lenore, startled that someone might have worked out her little game.
“With that man just now,” the woman continued. She leaned in towards Lenore conspiratorially and whispered “You gave him decaf when he didn’t ask for it.”
Lenore was gobsmacked. For a few seconds she just stood there, mouth agape, wondering how this woman had cottoned on to her ruse. Eventually her brain got up to speed and she stammered out a denial. “It was an honest mistake,” she said, entirely unconvincingly. “I thought he wanted decaf.”
The woman smiled. “What about the young gentleman yesterday?” she asked. “And the lady in the sharp suit the day before.”
“H…how do you know about them?” Lenore asked.
“I’ve been coming in here every morning at around this time for the last couple of weeks,” the woman answered. “Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to recognise me,” she added. “You must serve a thousand cups of coffee a day, I don’t expect you to know every regular that comes in. But I’ve been watching. I noticed it last week and I decided to confirm my theory today. I waited for a likely young gentleman to come in and followed him in. And true to form, you gave him what he deserved.”
“Oh gosh,” Lenore said, beginning to panic. “Please don’t tell my boss, I’ll be fired.”
“You knew the consequences of your actions when you started doing this,” the woman said. “And don’t act like you aren’t proud of what you have done.”
“Yes, but…” Lenore stammered.
“Oh don’t worry,” the woman replied, a grin on her face. She was obviously enjoying Lenore’s discomfort as much as Lenore enjoyed slightly ruining the days of businessmen. “I’m not going to tell anyone,” she added. “There’s no one else here, it will be our little secret.”
“Oh thank god, thank you.” Lenore felt the relief flooding over her.
“Think nothing of it. In fact, I had a reason for even bringing it up. Normally I would have just kept my mouth shut and left you to your little justice crusade, but I’ve got a little problem.”
“A problem, what do you mean?” Lenore replied, a little confused.
“I run a charity, and my PA has moved on to pastures new. I’ve been searching and searching for a replacement, but it’s just so hard to find someone who has a good sense of right and wrong.
“You give those people decaffeinated coffee because you believe that their rudeness deserves to be checked. It’s a little vigilante, but it shows that you have a fringe moral compass.
“You see something wrong, an injustice even one as small as someone being a bit unpleasant to someone who provides them with a service, and you do something about it. That’s what I’ve been looking for.”
Lenore and the woman stood in silence for a few seconds. Lenore felt as though she was supposed to say something, but couldn’t work out what it was. “…thanks?” she ventured.
“Well, are you interested? I don’t know what you’re being paid at this place, but I can guarantee there’ll be a few extra thousand a year in it for you if you say yes. I pay people well because I trust them to do the job that I ask of them. Do you think you could be one of those people?”
Lenore’s mind was racing.mshe had only been engaging in her act of rebellion to keep her sane at work, and to exact a little justice on doers of wrong. She had never expected anyone to notice what she was doing, much less to think enough of it to offer her a job. And the extra money sounded nice,
“I…I’ll do it,” she managed eventually.
“I knew you would do the right thing,” the woman said, sticking out her hand. “The name’s Margaret Atwood, CEO of Justice for the Children, but you can call me Margie.”
“Hi Margie, my name is Lenore Brown,” She replied, shaking the proferred hand.
“Well Lenore Brown, I look forward to doing business with you.”
With that, Margie gave Lenore a business card and turned and went to leave the coffee shop, nodding to her on the way out. Lenore turned around and noticed the half made black filter coffee sat on the counter behind her.
She turned back to the door and said, “Margie you forgot your…” but she was gone. “Oh, never mind…” Lenore said to herself and took a sip of the coffee. She turned her nose up at the bitter taste.
“God,” she said. “Whoever invented decaffeinated coffee is a monster…”