• Café Elemente

    The sound of the wind chimes grew louder as the wooden door opened. The heavy smell of coffee drifted away with the wind. A unison of welcomes issued as the stout man made his way into the room. The man wore a heavy, worn-out, beige trench coat which pretty much covered everything else.

    His square jaw had a little scruff on it and his droopy brown eyes scanned the room like a hawk. A burn mark was very prominent on the left side of his cheek. He brought up his big hand and smoothed it over his greasy darkish brown hair as he made his way on a bar stool. He looked tense and stressed out.

    The bartender approached him. He was a young man that looked like he was in his late 20’s. His strawberry blond hair was sleeked back in a low ponytail. He wore his white long-sleeved shirt smartly and the black apron tied around his waist was neat. He looked at the big man with his piercing gold eyes and in turn, the man looked at him.

    Silence and tension swallowed up the few minutes that passed before the bartender smiled at the man. The man gave a weak, tired smile. In a cool voice, the bartender asked, “The usual, Mr. Birch?” All Birch could do was nod weakly, massaging his temples. The bartender retreated to the kitchen and came back seconds later with a cup filled with brown liquid.

    He set the ceramic up before the tired Birch, saying, “Enjoy your drink.” Birch looked up and dragged the cup up to his nose. He sniffed it at first and when the scent finally registered into his mind, he immediately gulped the contents of the tiny cup. He contentedly sighed, putting the cup back down with a slam.

    At a distance, Birch could hear the idle gossip of two women. ‘Did you see that man? He drank that coffee in one swoop’ one whispered. The other gasped and their hush whispers continued. Birch couldn’t understand anymore of their conversation and was surprised when he heard the bartender chuckle.

    Birch turned his attention back to the young man. His ceramic cup had been filled again and placed in front of him. The bartender continued chuckling silently. “What’s so funny, Tempo?” Birch inquired, making a funny face.

    Tempo chuckled again. He held a green ceramic cup with oriental designs delicately in his hand, stirring another liquid. Tempo placed the cup into a small dish and handed it to the muscled waiter beside him. “I wonder,” Tempo started, “what would those women think if they knew that this big, manly, man…” He paused a while when the said women strode pass them, giggling slightly before exiting the store, chimes resounding again. Tempo grinned hugely, propping his arms in such a way that his hands were holding his head as he continued, “was actually drinking hot chocolate?”

    Birch blushed furiously and, panicking, pursed his lips, placing a finger in front of them. “Shhh…not so loud, “he cried, earning him a laugh from Tempo. “Mr. Birch, Clint Eastwood, you are not.” Birch grumbled, drinking the chocolate from the cup. He winced as the chocolate had already turned cold.

    This had always been a routine in Birch’s life. Birch works as an inspector in the Criminal Affairs Department at the local police. He was always out somewhere in the city, nabbing criminals here and there, but it never failed that every Saturday at exactly 12’o clock PM he would go to this quaint little café called Café Elemente for a delicious cup of their hot chocolate.

    Tempo picked the cup off from Birch’s hands and placed it back on the small plate it came with. He handed it to a red-haired waitress who gladly grabbed the cup and retreated to the kitchen without another word. “Anyway, Mr. Birch, how’s your job these days?”

    The inspector sighed, “My boss gave me a top secret mission that consisted of a stake-out for two straight days and apparently, these were a bonus from that mission.” He pointed out to the bulging bags under his eyes. Birch shook his head and groaned, “In the end, nothing happened and that stake-out was just waste of precious sleep time.” Tempo smirked and said, “Caffeine could work wonders on those eye bags per say a cup of black coffee would do just fine.” The fair-haired man whipped up a cup of hot black coffee in front of the latter’s face before handing it to that same muscled waiter from before. Birch groaned, “Not with this coffee bit again. Tempo, you know very well that coffee…”

    “…scares you. Since when you were still a little kid, your teacher spitted out hot coffee all over your face, earning you that burn mark.” A female voice interrupted, surprising Birch. The red-haired waitress made her way between the men before placing the newly heated chocolate drink in front of the inspector. She smiled and said, “Your drink, Mr. Birch?”

    Birch’s lips curved up as he replied, “Thanks, Gracie.” And then, he frowned again and whined, “You guys know me too well. It’s almost scary.” The two chuckled as Birch sipped on his drink. Hot and chocolaty, just the way he liked it. His gaze lifted up to the couple who were also looking at him. Birch asked, “So, how has the married couple been this past week?” Gracie’s baby blues seemed to twinkle when she answered him matter-of-factly, “He keeps complaining to me.” Birch knew that she was merely teasing, but he decided to play her game.

    Birch’s bushy eyebrow curved up when he asked, “He can complain?” Tempo was always a man who never lost his cool in front of anyone. The person in question merely smiled as he dropped a spoonful of sugar on a red cup of…black coffee.

    Birch tore his gaze from the red cup, returned his attention back to Gracie and said, “I can hardly see that happening.” Gracie smiled, cradling her head in her hands, mimicking Tempo’s earlier pose. She said, “You’re right. It never happened. I’m the one always complaining.” She let out a hearty laugh as she placed her hands on her hips. Birch shook his head cheekily, laughing.

    “And yet, she still teases me so even if I spoil her this much.” Tempo remarked, suddenly appearing beside Gracie. He pecked her cheek, earning him a giggle from Gracie. Birch let out another laugh and teased, “You’re going to make me blanch with that sweetness.” Gracie retorted, “With your sweet tooth, I don’t think so.” Laughter erupted from their lips.

    “Hey, we still have customers here, people. Keep it down.” The muscled waiter shouted from across the room. “Sorry, Bruce, “Gracie shouted back. The dark-skinned Bruce grunted as he shifted his attention back to the customer. Bruce was a tall man that he could almost be accounted as a pro wrestler. He was bald and always had a scary look on his face, but surprisingly, he was kind and considerate.

    Birch craned his neck, trying to get a peek at the kitchen, but all he could see were the white walls. “Where’s Aqua? I’ve got some candy for her.” The inspector inquired, whipping out said candy from a pocket on his trench coat. Gracie had left Tempo’s side to go help out Bruce, leaving Tempo behind the counter. “You know, Mr. Birch, you should stop treating Aqua like a little girl. She may look like a child, but she’s already 20.” Tempo smirked and said, “She can work and speak like an adult although I wouldn’t say the same about her childish attitude.”

    From the back, a loud clang could be heard as it resonated along the walls. Aqua’s small head poked out from the kitchen, her blond curly hair sticking out. “I AM NOT CHILDISH!” she screamed in annoyance. She blew a raspberry before retreating back inside. The inspector laughed again, placing the candy back into his pocket. He placed his empty cup back on the little plate. “Your little sister is really something else, “he said, shaking his head. Birch stood up from where he sat and placed the exact amount of money to pay for his drinks. “Leaving already?” Bruce inquired as he looked up where he was.

    Birch nodded and said, “Still got some work to do in the office. See ya, guys.” They all waved goodbye as Birch turned his back on them. ‘Those goodbyes almost sounded like it would be there final,’ Birch thought. He went out into the quiet streets, noting that it had started to rain. He walked through them and rounded into a dark alley, slipping inside the black and white car parked inside it. He slammed the door shut and sighed.

    “Was that satisfactory, gentlemen?” Birch shifted from his seat and glanced at the two men dressed in black seated at the back. One looked up from his laptop and grinned. “It was, inspector. Thank you for your help. Now, if you’d kindly return our device?”

    Birch reached deep into his trench coat and brought out a metallic, rectangular object that had a few wires sticking out. “Here.” He said this defiantly, glaring at the two men. “Now, if you could just tell me what you guys are-? “ Birch stopped talking as the man’s companion raised a gloved hand.

    The guy had a thin face Birch observed when he finally lifted his face. “We were told that we have a right to keep this confidential. Do not worry, Inspector Birch. You will be aptly rewarded for this.” He said this with his snake-like voice. But, before Birch could say anything else, the men had already got out of the car and disappeared. This inspector didn’t know what was that device or what did those men want…but he was sure it meant trouble.

    Birch didn’t move from his spot until next morning when he overheard sirens of different kinds. Curious, he stepped out from his car and slammed the door running to the sound of the sirens and there he saw a sight that had seemed impossible. The café was gone. Not a stone or a brick was seen, only an empty lot was laid out before his eyes.

    He saw those same men again. He noticed that thin face clenched his fists as the police talked to them. Birch approached another police officer, confused. “Those two came from the Bureau of Mystics from one of our special groups, saying something like they needed a warrant to check those employees out and something about them having irregular lifetimes or something. I don’t know. I think they’re just crazy,“ he had said. Birch thanked him and went back to his abandoned car. He sighed, raising a hand to his forehead. “I just drove my best friends out of town.” He whimpered, “Even though they were extraordinary and unreal, they were still my friends.” A lone tear escaped his eyes. He could still taste that last cup of chocolate, contemplating on how bitter it had become.

    Birch drove home, disappointed. He did his daily routines and slept an uncomfortable sleep. He worked the days in frustration and was never in a good mood. Saturday rolled by and Birch sat on the navy couch set in his living room still regretting what he had done. He looked at the grandfather clock across him. It read, “11:58”

    For the first time in his life, Birch had nothing to do. He was given a day off and criminals seemed to disappear lately. Most people say they saw them disappear with the wind. Others say they were driven out by fire. Some suspects claim that they were hit by stones and didn’t know where they came from or that they were carried away by a wave.

    Birch could hear the clock ticking as the little hand shifted to another line. He got up and made his way to his room to grab a book he had wanted to read. He had just gotten the book from the shelf when the clock bonged, announcing it was already 12 PM. He tucked the book under his arm and went back to the living room.

    Halfway through the halls, he smelled a distinct aroma. It smelled good and creamy and hot. He followed the scent and to his surprise, a ceramic cup in a small plate was seated on top of the glass table that separated the navy couch and grandfather clock. Birch dropped his book and quickly ran to it.

    He brought the cup up to his nose and smelled it. Hesitantly, he took a small sip and then it hit him. It was Café Elemente’s hot chocolate. He was stunned until he noticed a small letter beside the cup. He flipped the folded paper and read it and for the first time that week…he smiled.

    “To the chocolate-loving inspector,
    Chocolate is served nice and warm just the way you like it. It’s on the house! See you again some day.
    -Café Elemente

    And now, the chocolate doesn’t seem so bitter after all.