THE TIP OFF • by Paulette Zander

Buzz and Candi sat in their usual spot in the far corner. They were the only regular patrons of the dilapidated coffee shop who didn’t avoid the rear booth. The faux leather seats were always sticky and people were suspicious of what the muddy brown material might be hiding. The worn booth’s condition didn’t faze the couple; they always dressed in faded jeans. Candi wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress and Buzz hadn’t worn a shirt with buttons since he quit high school.

“This joint has the worst coffee in Massachusetts. We should find another place,” Buzz said.

“No. I like having Little Miss Smug Ass wait on us.”

“She’s smug because you’re the one who got pissed and caused a scene. Notice she’s the one who still has a job.”

He glanced at the pert redhead behind the counter. “Let it go, Candi. She was just a one night stand.”

“For you maybe. I know Rosie still has her eye on you, so I like to remind that little slut that you’re my boyfriend now. Besides, I know she can’t stand waiting on me.”

Buzz didn’t know Candi came in at least twice a week to harass Rosie. She would sit in the booth and doodle on napkins, leave them on the table in a crumpled mess; never order more than coffee, and never leave a tip.

“Well, this time, we should have gone someplace where no one knows us,” Buzz said.

“Do you think anyone saw us? I was real careful.”

“If anyone saw us, we’d be in jail already.”

“How long before we can do another one? Maybe we can take a trip. I’ve always wanted to go to Antigua.”

“Candi, you don’t even have a passport. Let’s just cool it and lay low for a while.”

“We could go out of state and pull one.”

“We just got away with it. We’re home free. Let’s bide our time. If we play our cards right, we won’t never have to work again.”

“Shhh, here comes Rosie.”

They both ordered black coffee and apple pie. Candi made a show of flashing her diamond ring.

“Been to the bubble gum machine again?” Rosie asked.

“Very funny. It’s the real deal. Buzz and me got ourselves engaged.”

“Well, ain’t that sweet.” Rosie said before she walked back to the kitchen.

“Candi, put that damn ring away. No one will believe I could buy that. People will get suspicious.”

“Let ‘em get suspicious. No one can prove anything. And what’s the point in having a diamond ring if you can’t wear it?”

Buzz rubbed his hands on his face. “When we leave here, I want you to give me the ring. I’m putting it away for a few months. We can use some of the money we got to buy you a little ring.”

“I thought the old lady would have had more money,” she said.

“We got more than $2,000 and the diamond ring. It will tide us over until after Christmas.”

“Big deal. We need more than that to get out of the dump we live in. Come on, Buzz. Let’s do a quick one so we can move. I know where a rich old geezer lives in Connecticut. I used to clean house for him.”

“Rich old geezers usually keep their money in banks.”

Candi used her napkin to sketch the house. “See, here is the back door and there are lots of pine trees for cover. No one will see us. He sleeps like the dead. Plus, his bedroom is on the third floor. We could grab his coin collection; he doesn’t keep it in the safe. And, he’s got a kerzillion antiques.” She made two dots on the napkin and wrote Grenitch next to one, and drew a squiggly line to the other. “See, if we leave early in the morning, we can be back in Boston by midnight. Come on, Buzz. It’ll be easy. I worked my ass off for him and he never gave me a bonus. Payback will be sweet.”

Buzz cocked his head to the side and studied the napkin. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow, but I still think we should just cool our heels for a while. Quiet, here she comes.”

Rosie set the coffee and pie down, tore out the check, and put it on the table.

Candi smirked. “What’s the rush? Got a hot date?”

Rosie smiled like a Cheshire cat and walked away without answering.

Buzz saw the two police officers enter and swagger to the counter. One had a belly overhanging his belt and the other was so scrawny he looked like a stickman. “Never seen cops in here before.”

Candi glanced up. “That’s Joe, Rosie’s brother. He hangs out sometimes. Don’t know the other guy.” Candi saw Rosie whispering to Joe and his partner. “What’s she up to?” She asked aloud.

“Let’s split,” Buzz whispered. “They give me the willies.”

“Chill. I want to finish my pie.”

“They keep looking at us, Candi. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Before they could slide out of the booth, both cops strode to the table. “You’re both under arrest for the robbery of Josephine Haught,” Rosie’s brother said. Stickman cop cuffed Buzz and Candi while Joe read them their rights.

“Hey, Candi,” Rosie shouted as she and Buzz were herded towards the door.

Candi twisted her head around and saw Rosie reach into her apron pocket and pull out a clump of ink smeared napkins. She smiled and held them up for Candi to see. “Thanks for the tip.”

Paulette Zander writes short stories, personal essays and creative nonfiction. A former editor and book store owner, she turned to full time writing in 2010. She has written a collection of short stories and is working on her first novel.

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