Everyone got them — the infectious smiling greetings. Even the non-tippers who religiously devoured their double-shot lattes that took damn near 10 minutes to make. The hotties and the mouseburgers. The workers, the writers, the meet and greeters. It didn’t matter. Yeah, Kiley treated everyone equally.
He could do that because he kept his secrets locked away. Smiles outside, secrets inside. Secrets kept company by a dark side no one at the coffee shop knew.
Kiley’s room-to-rent defined minimalism. A dresser. A record player with albums — not CDs — stacked next to it. Black Flag, Clash, Rick Springfield. A bookcase loaded with paperbacks he bought for 25 cents each at library sales. Le Carre, Machiavelli, Judy Blume. An encyclopedia set someone left out on trash day. A black-and-white TV. An old knit Army hat. He worked at the coffee shop and everyone thought he was great, knew his java and was friendly. Few knew his past life.
He had been one of the largest private equity-firm owners — not brokers, owners — in the region. He was The Mover and The Shaker. Only one thing stopped him from reaching the billionaire’s mark: Roulette.
The white ball dancing around the black and red stripes did to him what competitors and the media and everyone else couldn’t. It broke him. He lost it all and wound up schlepping coffee.
He ground, he filtered, he poured, he served. Coffee was a cover, helped get him straight to think, to clear the gambling problem. But he had another passion.
Not soccer-mom type, but real soccer. Aggressive, European, precision passing, with rabid fans. It was the only reason he had cable, that and “Meet the Press.”
Tonight was special. He could afford to smile. Because tonight would be Kiley watching his beloved Pato Real against Mariposa United.
The night started with Chinese, the usual chicken with broccoli and rice, at the place downstairs. The owner loved him — hell, everyone did — and he paid cash, not like a lot of Mrs. Liu-bing’s customers.
Satisfied, he brought the remainder upstairs, fortune cookie and all, and put on some music.
“Waited soo long, waited soo long,” Eddie Money crooned.
Kiley sang with him, bastardizing the lyrics.
“I’ve got — two tickets to paradise! Won’t you — pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight! … That’s right ‘Posa, you’re going down tonight!”
Kiley laughed at his lyrical change.
The game was a draw in every sense — some threats, then pullbacks. Back and forth with no goals, the teams felt each other out until halftime.
He paced, poured himself a shot of tequila to calm his nerves, and cracked the cookie.
“Fame and Fortune will be in your stars” it read.
“Yeah,” he thought. “Fame, fortune.”
He lost his fortune, he was waiting on his fame. But he’d settle for a Pato win.
It was more than an hour and several shots later in the penalty-minutes stage when Pato’s star, Javito Annunciado, broke free. He raced up midfield and created a give-and-go with his wing. After the pass he really turned it on, dropping his man like a bad habit, racing past the defense. His wing laid it in perfectly, and the shot was there. He angled left and thrust his leg out, rocketing the ball past the diving goaltender. Kiley screamed — this was it, the win!
The ball smashed into the post and ricocheted to a Mariposa defender who — in one motion — turned and punted. His center raced to it, headed it off just one bounce near a Pato Real defender, and scrambled to gain control. Baja Tomatillo, the Mariposa center, was alone, just as Javito had been seconds earlier. Tomatillo came in from the right, juked the goalie and — instead of the rocket everyone expected — deftly tapped the ball between the posts.
The crowd rushed the field. Players dropped to the ground. TV crews screamed in Spanish. And Kiley sat stunned.
As the TV droned, Kiley’s room seemed darker, and smaller. He sat on the bed, not remembering the beginning of the game when he stretched out, relaxed, stomach full of Mrs. Liu-Bing’s No. 13, sipping tequila from a mug with the slogan inked across it, “Coffee: Legal Crack.” He was tensed, hunched, and stunned. He slowly rose and stared in the mirror over the dresser. The mug dropped from his hand, his arms hung at his side.
He gazed at the ceramic salt-and pepper shakers shaped like little soccer balls on the dresser. He had picked them up on a trip to Mexico City, spotting the pair in a bay window displaying everything from genuine replicas of bulls’ horns to frayed, colorful scarves. He had fun bartering that day. He had closed dozens of deals and had millions to his name at the time, but damn it felt good to save a few pesos and beat the guy on his own turf.
“Damn Javito! Damn Baja!” He slammed his hand, shattering the shakers. Jagged pieces ricocheted against the wall. The part with the holes to let the salt out cracked off and shot across the room, hitting the doorknob. A large, sharp piece sliced his hand, splurting blood across the TV where he had just watched Pato lose. It didn’t matter it was an exhibition game. It didn’t matter he didn’t speak Spanish. What mattered was Pato had lost to Mariposa, the bastards.
Kiley stumbled to the bathroom and wound gauze around the wound.
He managed another tequila shot — forget the lemon and salt and all that crap; he’d drink like a man. He slammed it and fell back on the pillow. He could hear fans’ rhythmic chants, “ ‘Posa, ‘Posa, Pato, Pato,” as the room spun. It was a good thing he set the alarm on the Mickey Mouse clock earlier, otherwise he’d miss his java shift. Tomorrow morning, he mused, he’d have to come up with a story, a good story, about his hand. He’d keep smiling. He’d keep his secrets — for now. And they’d still love him.
Marc Bona lives in Akron, Ohio.