Ryan directs me towards a little place, only a couple of streets away, called Moonlight Whispers. A small cosy coffee place, that doesn’t care about the lack of customers. Purple seems to be the main colour of choice. The window and door frames are a dark purple, the over hanging sign is brighter shade and inside, all the tables and chairs are covered in purple cloths and upholstery. It’s mostly a darker shade, so not that unappealing or in your face. There are low hanging dim lights that make the place feel smaller than it actually is. Six circular tables are dotted about the place, each with four chairs. All but two of the tables are occupied. A couple in idle chit-chat, a suited man on a laptop, two teenagers with their phones out not looking up and two elderly people sipping and smiling. The walls are lined with photos of the moon, hanging over the sea or a city landscape.
The counter curls around making a semi-circle that juts out of the far wall. There’s two young people working behind it, one wiping down the sides and another stocking up the various treats. Behind them is a wall of cups, coffee bean bags and various syrups. Machines fill every available space on the counter and the back wall.
We make our way through the maze of chairs and stop at the counter. The girl, who was filling up the treats, looks up at us and smiles.
“Ryan, so nice to see you again. It’s been a while.”
“Hi, Kate, it has been a while. Needed a coffee that’s been brewed right again. Spent too long drinking just the hospital rubbish.”
“And who is your friend?”
“This is Chris, we used to go to school together, back in the day. He’s back in town for a little while and we’re just catching up. Thought I would bring him to the best coffee shop in the county.”
“Thanks, what am I getting you then?”
“Just a black coffee for me, please,” I ask.
“The usual as well, please,” Ryan adds and then turns to me. “You don’t want a snack or anything?”
Kate waits for our little diversion to end and then waves towards the card machine. Ryan slaps his card on it and waits for the beep. The machine chirps and Ryan slides his card back in his wallet. Kate moves to the back wall and grabs two cups, clanking them together as she does.
Machines start whirling and churning and soon enough we’re sitting at one of the empty tables. The chair groans under my weight and cries with every movement. The creaks echo around us, swirling between us as we both pull our chairs closer and finally sit still.
“So, please, tell me your story,” I ask.
“I know it sounds stupid, but it’s the whole town. Just hear me out before you judge me,” He pauses so I nod and then he continues. “A couple of years back people started acting strangely. I moved out when I started working here, got a flat close to the hospital and I used to go back every weekend. See the parents and a couple of friends. Things like that. And then one week, they just stopped complaining.”
“What?” I laughed and almost got up and left. “This was a waste of my time.”
“No listen. Don’t jump the gun. I mean it. You know when you go and see any member of your family or close friends and it’s mostly complaining. About work, other people, aches and pains. You know how it is?”
“Of course,” I nod.
“Well they didn’t do that. Just one week. Mum had no gossip about anyone. Dad wasn’t complaining about work. He always has something to rant about, but it was different. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. Then I went to the pub will Michael and Kristie and they weren’t complaining either. They also bitched about co-workers at least, but nothing. I was on the bus back home when I realised. It was weird. Then the next week, the same. No complaints.”
“Just listen. You’d know if something was off with people you see all the time. I went back every week for a few months and they were completely different. No moaning, always positive about everything. Then they started praising the people they used to bitch about. When your dad got remarried, he invited my parents and they actually went.”
“What? Seriously?” That would be weird to imagine.
“Yeah, exactly. They blamed him for everything, but they still got dressed up and appeared at his wedding. Everyone in the town did. Your dad wasn’t liked. I’m sorry, but he wasn’t.”
“I know that, he was my Dad. There’s a reason I left town.”
“Yeah, right. Well they all became best friends with him. No one had a bad thing to say about him. And when I started moaning about him, they just reversed it and started supporting him. Saying that he wasn’t that bad, or he was misunderstood. That’s he suffered but he was a good man.”
“Yeah, he suffered, but he wasn’t a good man before that either. Excuses.”
“you understand what I’m trying to tell you though? The whole town changed, it used to be a horrible run-down hell hole, but people started cleaning it up and then crime stopped. The place is now almost invisible to the outside world. I haven’t read one news story in years about anything that’s happened there, no crime, nothing. It doesn’t add up.”
“No, it doesn’t. You might be onto something there. I don’t really know what could be going on, but something is not adding up. I don’t think I will be going home tonight.”
A wave of excitement rolls through my body, I almost want to dance. There is a story here, I can feel it. I was completely wrong earlier.
We finish our drinks and I offer Ryan a lift home, he refuses and says it is only a short walk. I thank him and take his phone number, so I can contact him if I find anything. I promise I won’t publish unless he had read the entire article.
I leave the coffee shop, with a new lease on life. It is as if the sun is shining down on me and everything was going to go my way. A new story about a strange town, exposing their dirty secret. I can feel it in every inch of me, there is something big here.
To be continued…