Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Nanoprep 2020 Day 9: The Brightest Roast

By Robin de Voh on 2020-10-15

This is part 7 of the Jerry Saga. Find the rest here.

Jerry was standing in an alleyway, as he had been doing most nights after work this past week, staring out across the street.

Java House. Rebecca. Everything that had happened.

His hatred burned with a passion more fierce than he'd used for the dark roast he'd prepared earlier.

He'd told himself he was above this for months by now, the months Java House had been open again, and he'd managed to keep a cool head the whole time. But something kept creeping back up into his mind and whenever he had a moment where it could roam free it would return to the same thing again and again.

Rebecca shouldn't have bought Coffee Snobs Unanimous under false pretenses. Or at all. It was obvious she'd only done so to mess with him. What had he ever done to her that was so bad? He didn't really see it. Not anymore, anyway, even if at some point he had almost understood. He always pushed that thought away, Rebecca didn't deserve his understanding.

So there he stood, in a black hoodie he had purchased for this specific purpose, since he didn't own any hoodies before. He had always been more of a dress shirt kind of guy. And standing there, in his hoodie, feeling like much more of a hoodlum than usual, he was finishing what he considered his preparation. Staking out the Java House, finding out when they closed up, who usually stayed late, and whether or not they ever accidentally forgot to lock the door -- they didn't -- as well as any other small thing he managed to pick up that might be relevant.

It was a cold October night and he took his thermos from his bag. It was a dark roast Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia, made delicately with a Cafetière -- a French Press for normals -- which released a fragrant floral scent when he took the cap off. It wasn't supposed to be roasted dark, but he found it to have a nice kick that it would otherwise not have.

Rebecca would never experiment like this, this is why CSU was better than Java House, he thought angrily to himself as he poured himself a small cup. The steam from the coffee wafted through the cold autumn air as he put the cap back on the thermos.

He saw the lights getting turned off and the front door open. Kate stepped out and locked the door -- again, as always -- and turn around to close her jacket. She walked off in the same direction she'd always walk in and Jerry quickly finished his coffee when she turned the corner. He knew that area and she wouldn't be able to see him anymore.

He knew the building, since he used to own it, and there was a back door that was sticky and the lock was unreliable. If he was lucky, it would be stuck open enough for him to jimmy it open. He quietly but quickly crossed the street and jumped in the alley next to the Java House. It was as if he only travelled in alleys nowadays, he thought for a second, but then he got to the back of the building and saw the back door.

It didn't seem open. Damn, he thought.

He moved in to get a closer look and took the screwdriver from his pocket -- another thing he had to purchase specifically for his grand plan, because he hired people to fix things, instead of getting his hands dirty -- to try and get the door open. He stuck it in between the door and the door frame where he knew the door would pop open if it wasn't locked. He'd locked himself out a number of times in the past and most times he'd been able to get in this way.

He got the screwdriver in between the door and the frame and he knew he had a shot. If it wasn't locked, this would be -- CLANK.

The door swung open and nearly hit him in the face as it did. He jumped out of the way and let out a high-pitched yelp before covering his mouth as soon as he realized. He stayed still for a bit, as if to prevent anyone who had noticed from seeing him move, but nothing seemed to happen. He carefully took a step forward and looked inside. The lights were off, but other than that he had no idea what he was looking at. The vague outlines he could see from the streetlights, an alley away, only told him they had changed things inside.

He grabbed his mobile phone, turned on the flashlight, and covered it with his finger to limit the light. He stepped inside and pulled the back door almost closed, putting a stick he'd found in between so it couldn't close fully.

Time to do this, he thought. His hands were starting to shake, as he got closer to fulfilling his plan, and knowing that at some point he'd have to make the decision to not back out.

He made his way through the back room, the kitchen/lunch area, and into the main Java House room. Everything was clean, orderly and neat. Just more evidence Dave and Kate should have kept working for him. He'd still have his empire, and they would still be working for the morally superior person.

This thought spurred him on even more. Fuck Rebecca, he thought as loudly as he could.

He took the super-sized lighter fluid canister -- purchased from a hardware store miles away for this specific purpose -- from his bag, and looked around for whatever would burn the best. He didn't want to move things around to make a pile of wood, because that would be loud and take too long.

Then he noticed the giant cloth banner with the Java House logo on it behind the counter. A counter, which was also made of wood, he realized. As he moved towards it, he also noticed the floor changed from concrete -- Java House had a minimalist industrial design to it -- to wooden planks where the work area was.

Good, good, he thought to himself as he smiled an evil smile.

With every step he took he became more convinced this was the right thing to do. The morally right thing, specifically. He'd never taken anything from Rebecca. She had taken his most prized possession, and she'd even played with his feelings while doing so. She was in the wrong, clearly.

He opened the lighter fluid cap and squeezed the canister a little. A small jet of fluid sprayed out in an almost straight line, and hit the banner. He chuckled softly. He squeezed harder, released, and squeezed again, every time dousing the banner in more and more lighter fluid. Some stuck to it, and some ran off it immediately and onto the floor, where it started to form a puddle that quickly started disappearing again. Soaking into the boards, obviously, he thought and sprayed even more.

When he felt the banner was doused enough, he started creating a trail of lighter fluid from the counter area to where he had entered the room, closed the cap once he felt it was solid enough, and put the fluid away in his bag again. He took a deep sniff and all he could smell was lighter fluid with a vague hint of coffee.

Right now that was exactly what he wanted to smell.

He fumbled in his bag, looking for the lighter -- specifically purchased, because he was neither a smoker nor a pyromaniac -- to start this party. When he found it he got chills. He was a single flick & alight away from quieting that voice in the back of his mind, the one that had been screaming at him for months that he had to do something about this.

It had burned once. It could burn again.

He flicked the lighter's metal wheel and sparks flew before the flame started. He stared at it for a few seconds. Only one step away now from getting his revenge.

His arm moved slowly towards the lighter fluid trail and he was shaking. But he forced himself through it and pushed his arm down with all his mental strength.

The lighter fluid caught fire and the flame started traveling down the trail. When it made its way to the wooden floor, it lit up even more, but what Jerry was really waiting for was for the banner and counter to catch fire.

It was about to happen, based on the speed the fire was traveling at and Jerry inhaled sharply and held his breath in, his whole body ready to run at a moment's notice once the blaze truly started. He imagined the banner going up in flames, lighting the ceiling, the wall, the counter would go up as well and act as a massive load of kindling. He knew exactly what would happen.

He ran out of breath before it happened though, and he had to forcefully exhale, his breath now ragged and fast to make up for just over half a minute of not breathing.

The trail was still on fire, but it was dying out. The banner had not caught fire as expected, and the counter hadn't either.

He took a step forward, making sure not to step on the lighter fluid trail, and when he came close enough he could see the bottom of the banner was a bit charred but that was it. He took the lighter again and held it up against the banner. The flame licked it, but it wouldn't catch fire.

"What the..." he said to himself louder than he'd intended.

Suddenly the lights turned on, blinding Jerry.

"It burned once, it won't burn again," a far too recognizable voice behind him said. "Everything here is impregnated with a fire retardant. This is the least likely place to burn down on the street."

He turned around and of course it was Rebecca, standing there, arms crossed, and a distinct look of anger combined with pity on her face.

"Ah," Jerry said as he put the lighter away, "this is awkward."
"Really?" Rebecca said as she took a step forward. "You think this is awkward? What the hell are you doing?"
"I... It..." Jerry's mind was racing, but the voice that had been a part of him getting to this point, doing what he had been doing, was suddenly very quiet, not helping him out at all.

He sighed. Rebecca shook her head.

"I'll tell you, Jerry. It's sad. We seemed to be okay, last time you were here. You wished me the best. What happened? Why this?"
"There's no logical reason I can tell you," Jerry said, shrugging. "I'm angry, I guess. You took CSU from me."
"What? You chose to sell, if it hadn't been me, it would've been someone else. Maybe it wouldn't even have remained a coffee house at all."
"But you took it from me. I didn't take Java House from you, that just happened, but you chose to hide behind a made up corporate entity to steal CSU from me."

Rebecca let her arms relax and looked at Jerry confused.

"It was Java House. Then it burned. Then it was CSU. When I learned you were ready to sell, I had to do something. It felt right to return where we'd started, and I knew you wouldn't sell to me if you knew. So I pretended it wasn't me, true, but not to mess with you. Just to even be able to attempt to buy this place."
"I distinctly remember you being an asshole about it back over there," Jerry said as he pointed towards where Java House had temporarily been located before moving here. "And even here, on your grand opening day, you teased me about having this place now."

Rebecca grinned awkwardly, as if caught red-handed doing something naughty.

"Okay, okay, fine, those were not my finest moments. I did use the situation to mess with you, and I'm sorry."
"I tried to be the better man but you kept kicking, didn't you?"

Rebecca coughed and cleared her throat.

"I get what you're saying and I apologize. I felt last time we spoke we left it in a good place."
"You may have, I didn't feel that way."

Rebecca looked at the front door and coughed again.

"So, Jerry, fair warning..." she said without looking at him. "You tripped the alarm. The police should be here soon."
"Oh come ON," Jerry said, exasperated, immediately moving towards the back exit.

Rebecca's head snapped back to look at him, now fully angry again, causing Jerry to stop dead in his tracks.

"You don't get to go, you tried to set fire to my building!"

Jerry didn't know how to respond.

"I... I, uhm, I really think I should just go."
"I don't think that's a good idea, Jerry," Rebecca said as she took a step sideways, now in between him and the back room.
"Just let me go, okay? No damage done, right? Least likely to burn?"
"You tried to burn it down, Jerry, it doesn't matter if you succeeded. This is too far, you took it too far."

He grimaced. She didn't seem like she was going to budge. His brain went into "in for a penny..." mode and he stuck his hand in his bag, found what he was looking for and pulled it out.

"Dude!" she yelled as Jerry raised his screwdriver up at her.
"I'm going to go now," he said as he circled around Rebecca, who kept a safe distance from him.

He'd never forget the look of shock on her face.

Getting through the back room was easy for him now, as the light from the main room lit it up. He ran towards the back door and pushed it open as forcefully as he could so he could jump through and disappear into the night.

He ran home and up the stairs to his apartment. When he got inside, he sat down and contemplated the day.

What the fuck did I do? he thought as sweat broke out all over his body. The adrenaline of the escape wore off and he shivered all over.

He sat there for half an hour, just going through everything that had happened, not fully understanding.

When there was a knock on his door, he wasn't even surprised.

This is part 7 of the Jerry Saga.

Part 1: Coffee (2008)
Part 2: Something about Coffee (2015)
Part 3: There he goes again (2016)
Part 4: Coffee Snobs Unanimous (2017)
Part 5: Corporate Coffee (2018)
Part 6: One Free Coffee Voucher (2019)
Part 7: The Brightest Roast (2020)