Homefront United Network presents HUN Reads, a weekly segment of a novel by Amanda Cherry, HUN writer. Follow along every Friday as the story unfolds! If you missed last weeks’ beginnings, catch up here and here! A very special thanks to Linda Stirling of DreamKeepersUniversity.com without her help this would not be possible!
“I always thought if I couldn’t be a cop I’d open a diner, or maybe a coffee shop,” John laughed. “I suppose opening a donut shop would be too cliche!”
“An ex-cop opening a donut shop.” Her laugh was hearty and full, coming from her belly. “I can hear the jokes now.”
“Well I love to cook, so maybe a diner.”
“I hate to see you go, John.” Her accent making his name sound more foreign. This whole day felt as if it were something out of a nightmare, a reality he never imagined coming to pass.
Closing the file she said, “You are one of the finest detectives I’ve ever worked with. If you ever change your mind, and want to come back, even on a part-time basis well, you call me.”
“I will.” He stood and accepted the hug she had for him.
He had said his goodbyes to the squad a few weeks earlier at a retirement party held in his honor. Retiring at thirty-seven seemed strange, given his own father had retired after forty-five years on the force. He was grateful his father hadn’t lived to see his only son medically retired from the force he loved. John Watts Senior would have felt it a disgrace to leave under the same circumstances. He could imagine what the old man would have said, “A Watts doesn’t crack under pressure– suck it up!”
But he had cracked. And those fissures were becoming fault lines to the rest of his life. His behavior had changed to the point that he was no longer the John Watts everyone expected him to be. His marriage, his career, and many of his friendships had suffered. A perfect storm of events had lead him to finally seek help. The first catalyst had been Scott, a wound he wasn’t ready to even acknowledge yet. The second catalyst was being the sole survivor of an attack on his platoon in Afghanistan during his third deployment, a deployment that also cost him his marriage. The third catalyst was being left with limited mobility in his left leg after a suspect shot him with his own gun. Even if the department hadn’t ordered a psychological review and counseling, John was planning on getting help. He’d lost his place in life, ending up asking “What now?”
He had a few hours before his support group met at the VA hospital, so he decided to head to the Plaza for a cup of coffee at his usual haunt. Latte Land on West 47th was easy to get to. The shop was near the office of his therapist and he liked that it was adjacent to a parking garage, making him feel less exposed walking the streets. He also liked that Latte Land was rarely crowded and people kept to themselves. Patrons were mostly students from University of Missouri Kansas City, UMKC, looking for an out of the way place to study or an occasional tourist would wander in. But more often than not the barrista and him occupied the shop in off hours. The people who worked there recognized him, greeting him by name, but rarely treated him as a regular. He didn’t even have a “regular” beverage, preferring to experiment until he found the perfect blend of coffee, flavoring, milk and form, either cappuccino, latte or iced. This search for the perfect cup had become a personal quest. He told himself that once he found the perfect beverage, life would start to make sense again, so far, no luck. Last week’s, caramel mocha latte with almond flavoring had been too sweet, and he was looking forward to trying something new. Standing at the counter looking over the board of available coffees, teas and iced drinks, a solution wasn’t presenting itself.
“How about something with cinnamon?” Rachel, the hipster-looking girl behind the counter asked. “Have you tried anything with cinnamon yet?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “I had a cinnamon vanilla latte a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think I like cinnamon much. Too strong.”
“Well,” Rachel turned to look at the various flavors available when the door chime brought her attention back. “Hi Nora, haven’t seen you for a while. I’ll be right with you.”
His attention was still on the board above the counter. Still unable to decide he turned and spoke to the woman named Nora. “You go ahead, I can’t decide.”
Old habits from police and military service kicked in. He took inventory of the woman’s appearance: 5’10” tall, long dark hair pulled up away from her face into a stylish hairdo, between twenty-five and thirty, blue eyes and about 110 pounds. She was dressed casually in jeans, boots, a leather jacket and a silk blouse. Her jewelry was minimal but the gemstones looked real and had probably cost more than he made in a year. Her expression was that of detached indifference, not typical for most midwesterners who always smiled as if a complete stranger was their best friend. She pulled out a wallet and John saw several hundred dollar bills tucked inside. When she spoke, it was precise as if covering for an accent she didn’t want noticed.
“Are you sure?” she asked, not out of a sense of polite regard but more as a direct confirmation.
“Yeah,” he laughed. “It could take me awhile.”
“Very well,” she proceeded with a curt business like tone. “I’ll have my usual, Rachel, and Detective Watts will have a large decaf soy latte with a double shot of hazelnut and a single shot of vanilla.”
“I’m sorry,” he wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly. “How do you… I mean, do we?”
“You really shouldn’t stutter detective,” she piqued. Placing cash on the counter she paid for both their drinks. “People will think you’ve lost your mind, or rather what little is left.”
“How do you know who I am?” He spoke with a tinge of indignation. “And why are you buying me a cup of coffee?”
“Oh, let her choose for you,” said Rachel. “She’s really good at it. It’s like her parlor trick. She can just look at you and tell you what your perfect cup of coffee is, trust me, this could be the perfect cup.”
Rachel turned to make their beverages as he stood in a state of abject shock. He wasn’t sure who this woman was, and wasn’t sure he wanted to know how she knew him. The thought that she might be a process server or debt collector came to mind, not that he could think of a reason or occasion either would be seeking him out. His divorce had been final last year, everything was resolved aside from his pain. After a few moments of silence, punctuated by the sound of the coffee machine steaming milk she said,
“You’re asking yourself, ‘who is this woman?’ ” breaking him from his thoughts. “Well that’s simple, I am Honora Sheridan. My friends call me Nora. Or rather my brother, my caretaker and Rachel insist on calling me Nora I much prefer my given name, Honora. And you are Detective John Watts, formerly of the Kansas City Homicide Division. I thought I might find you here.”
Stayed tuned for more next week, July 27th!