A Man Walks Into a Coffee Shop…

When I glanced up from the iPad mounted in front of my counter as an ersatz cash register, I was surprised to notice two things about the man standing in front of me, in the following order:

First, he was not wearing a flowing white robe.  There was nothing hovering in the air above his head – especially nothing producing any sort of a glow or luminescence.  He wore a belt around his hips, but there were no bladed weapons slid into it, and he wore very practical black shoes instead of golden sandals.  Instead of a gold coin, he was holding a credit card loosely between two fingers.

Second, the man wore the clerical collar of a priest around his neck…

I recovered quickly, at least, and I doubt that the priest even noticed my little pause as I momentarily stared at him, my mouth dropping slightly open.  “Hi there, welcome to Heavenly Grounds,” I said, pulling my jaw back shut.  “What can I get you?”

As I asked this question, I felt hope rising.  Maybe, finally, someone would order something other than “the special,” and I wouldn’t have to feel the guilt I experienced every time I drowned a delicious coffee’s taste in cream and sugar!

But the man just stood there, blinking up at the board of beverage options mounted on the wall behind me as if it was written in another language.  “Um, I’m not really sure, I guess,” he said, his voice soft and lost.  “I’m not much of a coffee drinker.”

“Well, what do you like?” I asked, ignoring how the line was beginning to grow longer behind the priest.  I finally had another human customer, and I was going to savor it!  “Something mild, or stronger?  Sweet, or savory?  Caffeine or no?”

The poor man looked absolutely overwhelmed by these options.  “Erm, never mind,” he decided, backing a half step away from the counter.  “Maybe I should just go.”

I could have let him go.  There were already several other regulars pushing their way forward, waving the gold coins in their hands as if they were bidding at an auction.  I really didn’t have the time to worry after this confused customer.

But there was something odd about the priest’s appearance here.

“Wait!” I called after the man, and saw him pause halfway to the door.  “Is something wrong, Father?”

He looked back at me, and I could see that my suspicions were correct.  “Come on, I’ll be stuck here waiting until the Apocalypse has passed!” muttered one of my regulars as the priest slowly came back up to the counter, but I ignored him.  It only took a quick glance to confirm that he was a low rank, not likely to give me any real trouble.  His halo only glowed a dim yellow color.

Back at the counter, the priest sighed, still not quite meeting my eye.  “I’m used to hearing other people’s problems, not talking about my own,” the man said, his words halting, “but I just… I feel lost, if you know what I mean.  Adrift.”

“A crisis of faith, father?” I asked him, doing my best to speak gently.

A couple of my regulars were still grumbling a little, but most of them had sensed that there might be something interesting developing here, and were instead doing their best to listen in.  No one was paying any attention to us, but the crowd was remaining as close as they could manage while staring off into space.

The priest nodded.  “Sometimes, my son, it’s hard to remember that there is more than what we see on this earth,” he said, looking down at the counter.

I couldn’t bear it any longer.  Tilting my torso slightly to look past the dejected priest, I gazed over to the front corner of my little coffee shop, where a man in a suit sat at a table by himself, calmly sipping at a tiny cup of espresso.  “Gabe, can I show him?  Please?” I called out.

The man at the table lifted his gaze, looking back at me for a long minute as he held his tiny little porcelain cup an inch from his lips.  I shivered at the intensity of that gaze, but didn’t let my eyes drop.  I knew that this man had the power to take everything I’d earned away from me, but this seemed like a reasonable request.

Finally, the elegant suited man nodded, and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized that I’d been holding.  I turned back to the priest, putting on a grin.

“Father,” I said, “perhaps I can remind you that there’s more out there than most of us know.  Have you noticed how busy my cafe is?”

The priest glanced around at the assembled crowd, all of whom appeared incredibly interested in the ceiling, the windows, anything but us.  “Yes, it is,” the man said without any real thought behind the words.  “Your point?”

I couldn’t keep my smile from growing.  “Father, take a good look at my customers.”

For a moment, there was no change in expression on the priest’s face.  And then, slowly, his eyes widened, until I feared the spheres would simply roll out of their sockets.

Slowly, like a falling tree, the man toppled over to the floor, never changing in his wide-eyed, shocked expression.  The rest of my customers, subterfuge aside, watched him fall with interest.  “Impressive how he kept his knees locked the whole way down,” one of them commented to another.

I stepped out from behind the counter.  “Let’s help him up into a booth, okay?” I called out, waving over a couple of the nearest customers, who reluctantly pushed their flaming swords out of the way so they could squat down and give me a hand.

I hadn’t expected the man to faint, but I wasn’t that surprised by his reaction.

After all, how often do you look up and realize that you’re in a coffee shop filled with angels?

Book 1 of 52: “Takedown Twenty” by Janet Evanovich

To anyone who missed my 2015 resolutions, one of those is to read a book a week for the whole year, the 52-book challenge!  And to hold myself accountable, Monday’s post each week will be a brief review/my thoughts on said book.

Click above to get to the book on Amazon.
I really could have started off my “52 books in 2015” goal with a solid story, with something that has true literary merit.  I could have picked an informative and engaging book that would teach me new things, or an award-winning new author who presents a fresh take on a genre.
But I’m still on vacation, so I didn’t.
Instead, I picked up “Takedown Twenty,” a Stephanie Plum mystery by Janet Evanovich.  As you might be able to guess from the title, this is the twentieth book in Evanovich’s mystery series, and by this point, the plot is almost nostalgically cookie-cutter.
Every Plum mystery includes the following:
  • A high-profile “skip” comes in for Plum to capture (she works as a bounty hunter).
  • Plum and her partner, Lula, go off to capture this skip.  They find him, and then fail and he gets away.
  • Consumption of unhealthy foods (donuts, cake, chicken, pizza).
  • Plum’s car is destroyed.
  • Plum gets a loaner car.  This is also destroyed.
  • Plum has a run-in with sexy man of mystery Ranger, who flirts with her but gets nowhere.
  • Lula is called fat by someone and takes offense.
  • Lula’s wild neon outfit is described in detail.
  • Plum captures a low-value skip, generally by luck.
  • Plum’s boyfriend Morelli gives her some familial bliss.
  • Plum feeds her pet hamster.
  • Plum’s grandma says shocking things about how she wants to get laid.
  • We hear how Plum’s grandma wears inappropriately skin-tight clothes.
  • Plum + grandma go to a viewing at the funeral home.
  • Somebody gets tazed.
  • Plum captures the high-profile skip, generally by luck.
In this regard, Takedown Twenty did not disappoint.  Janet Evanovich has clearly found the winning formula, and she doesn’t leave it behind.  She puts out 3-5 of these books a year, and they probably all make a lot of money for her.  Still, the reason for picking one up is not because I’m expecting something new, something interesting.  
Rather, Plum’s books are comforting, like that sitcom you’ve seen a million times.  Jerry breaks up with a girl for no reason, George is a schlub, Elaine puts her foot in her mouth, and Kramer is krazy.  There’s nothing new, no innovation; it’s the same old formula.  Order a Big Mac, get a Big Mac.
But sometimes, when all we want is a Big Mac, it can be comforting.
Time to read: 1 hour, 30 minutes.  A new record, even for these Evanovich fluff novels.

Angels planning post (behind the scenes, novel 1)

One of my goals for 2015: Write 3 novels.

One of these novels will be in November for NaNoWriMo.

Given as how I will be totally burned out by December, however, the other two will have to come out earlier.  Fortunately, since November is the eleventh month, this still gives me five months per novel,, as long as I also spend a bit of time fleshing out the outline for NNWM.

Novel 1?  I’ve always wanted to publish all of my stories about angels; selfishly, I believe that these stories include some of my better writing, as well as a few rare moments when my humor actually seems to work.

I even have a cover in mind (not that I’m sharing that yet!).

The issue, however, is that most of these stories are quite disconnected.  Here are the stories that I have so far, in reverse order:

  1. Tough Love – a man on a blind date instead meets his guardian angel, who turns out to be a bit of an asshole.
  2. Do Computers Speak to Angels? – an angel tries to bring a computer into a coffee shop.  It doesn’t work.
  3. D’oops’day – the Apocalypse was supposed to be yesterday.  Fortunately, no one remembered.
  4. Hell’s IT (2 posts) – turns out devils aren’t so good with technology either.
  5. Lucifer’s Gift (3 posts) – a dream in which the devil appears to hand out the apple of sin.  It doesn’t end up going quite as planned.
  6. Welcome to Heaven!  Now What (unfinished) – Heaven turns out to be rather dull.
  7. Blake Meets Ophiel (Ophiel series) – short excerpt of a human meeting an angel.
  8. Blake and Lucifer Have Dinner – segment where human (from #7, above) has dinner with Lucifer.
  9. Guarding the Borders of Heaven – Angels are vigilant border guards.
  10. The Vault Theft – chapter 1 of an earlier attempt at this novel that I abandoned.
  11. Ambition (2 posts) – a devil steals a man’s ambition, and dares an angel to figure out what’s missing.
  12. Azrael & Mephistopheles (2 posts) – the yearly meeting of an archangel and devil.
  13. In A Perfect World… – a guardian angel explains why the “perfect world” didn’t work.
  14. Cold Blooded Humans? – a guardian angel (#13) points out that cold-blooded humans were an early experiment.
  15. The Angel On the Train (2 posts) – everyone has bad days – even angels.
  16. Barista To The Angels (2 posts) – a coffee shop begins getting unexpected visitors.
  17. Heavenly Grounds – initial write, narrator interjecting with history, of #16.
  18. The Angel at the Press Conference – Fear not!  God exists, he’s just off somewhere on vacation!  Probably.
  19. Mis-Filing Has Serious Consequences… (2 posts, unconcluded) – an angel and a devil chase after a stolen tablet.
  20. Calcifer on Karma (2 posts) – Calcifer explains how karma works.
  21. The Roman Army Upgrade – Calcifer tries to teach the Romans to ride a bike.
  22. Calcifer’s Intrusion (2 posts) – Calcifer’s favorite coffee shop is invaded by an angel!  This is his space!
  23. Calcifer’s Haunt (2 posts) – Calcifer proves that he’s a devil to coffee shop girl.
  24. Soul Harvesting Difficulties – a reaper demon pops up in a supermarket, determined to gather souls.  The visitors are determined to mow him down with carts to get to their deals.
  25. Lucern’s Little Whoopsie (2 posts) – Lucern misses one teeny, tiny little asteroid.  No big deal.
  26. The Coffee Shop of Vice and Iniquity – the post that started it all!  Is a soul worth a grande latte?
26 posts, with lots of raw material.  Now, to organize it into some semblance of a story.  That’s the challenge…