Chapter Nine – Coffee

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“Other than dragging me into this shit and asking me to risk…” Travis looked around, noting the kid who had just walked in and lowered his voice. “Risk my job and steal a copy of an autopsy report for you?” He leaned forward. “What else do you need?”

Alice considered her options. She could push him, but it stood a real chance of backfiring, and he might change his mind about helping her at all. She needed the autopsy report. May she shouldn’t ask him to do anything. Maybe she could get just some information and do the legwork herself. “Just a question.”

Travis looked at her expectantly, so she continued. “Where can I get some film developed? Someplace where they won’t look at it, just turn it over to me.”
Travis let out a sigh, but his face transformed from incredulous expectancy to concern. “Christ, Alice. What are you developing?”

“Just a roll of film.”

“Well, you sound like you’ve got something to hide. You sound like you’ve got evidence of something that should go to the police. You can’t ask me for shit like this. You can’t ask me for any of this shit, but that’s not gonna stop you. Christ. I don’t know any darkrooms that don’t ask questions. The only ones out there I’d know about are the guys who would do it for us. These are the guys who used to report kiddie porn.” He stopped and squinted at her. “It’s not kiddie porn, is it?”

Alice coughed on her coffee. “No! God! I mean… it shouldn’t be. I don’t, uh, exactly know what’s on it. I found it.” She added. “That’s why I can’t let anyone see it. I don’t know what’s on it. But it might be something I can use for a job I’m working.”

Travis shook his head. “A job you’re working for Esther?” It didn’t come out as a question so much as an accusation.

Alice nodded. It wasn’t exactly true, but it was true enough. Esther had hired her, and even if she hadn’t met the woman yet, it wasn’t a stretch to think she’d want Alice to hunt down whoever had killed Esther’s apprentice. It fit with something she would probably have been asked to do. “Yeah, a job for Esther.”

Travis continued to slowly shake his head. “You should get a real job. Something with a retirement plan. Sick days. Something where you don’t have to work with people who believe in magic.”
“Like being a cop? I don’t know if I’m cut out for directing traffic, Travis. We both know there’s more important shit to deal with out there than keeping homeless people off the benches or-”
The anger on Travis’s face grew as Alice spoke, and he slapped his hand on the table interrupting her. “Enough!” The kid had ordered his coffee, and he and the barista looked over at the outburst. Travis pursed his lips and blew out a thin stream of air, a long ffffff sound. He yawned and rubbed his jaw. “I don’t want to talk about this shit again, Alice. I’ve got kids. A family, you know? There’s people I care about other than you.”

“Yeah, you made that pretty fucking clear. What about mom?”

“Oh fuck you, Alice.” He slapped his hand on the edge of the table for emphasis. She startled at the force of it, and the kid at the counter glanced up at them again and put his headphones in as he took his coffee to a booth on the other side of the room. Travis grit his teeth. “Mom is gone. And I don’t want to hear it again. We don’t know what happened. I can’t do shit to change that. But my kids? They need me. And Karen? She needs me. And I’m not going to risk them for some crusade you’re on.”

Alice’s face drained of color. She set the coffee down in front of her, turning it around idly. She couldn’t think of anything to say that would fix things. “Yeah. I guess you’re not.”
Travis and Alice sat in silence for what felt to each of them like an interminably long time, Alice staring at her cup of coffee and occasionally turning it, Travis taking small sips from his. Finally, Travis spoke. “Sorry. I just…” He fell silent again.

Alice nodded. “I get it. Kids. I just, I’ve got a job to do.”

“Yeah.”Travis closed his eyes. “Try Chip Ellison. He’s not a photographer. He’s in your business. Sort of. He’s a PI. Old school, so he would have had to develop film. I don’t know if he still does it, but he’ll know where you can get what you need done.” Travis pulled out a stack of business cards with a rubber band around it and started thumbing through it and pulled one out and passed it to Alice.

“Thanks, Travis.” Alice pocketed the card. She looked at her mostly untouched coffee. “It’s getting late, huh?”

“Yeah, Karen will be worrying. I want you to meet them, you know. Just not…” He trailed off, looking away. Alice looked down at her coffee again. She kept her face still. Travis looked back up, brushed some of the powdered sugar off of his chin and then continued. “You need to be stable.”
Alice sat back in the booth, her arms straight against the table between them. She looked at Travis, mouth open for a second, then she laughed, loud. The room turned to look at them. “Is that what you think? I’m not stable?” The hypocrisy was too much for her. He abandoned her, abandoned their promise, and now he wanted to act like she was the threat. “I can’t believe you. You and I saw the same thing, and… Jesus. I can’t believe you brought kids into this.” She stood up. “Look. Thanks for the coffee. Thanks for the card. And if you want to help me with the other thing, great, but don’t do it if you don’t want to do it. I’ll find some other way if I have to.” She looked at Travis and set the still nearly full coffee down on the table.

Travis sat still and watched her leave, pulling her wool cap on before stepping out into the cold.

Next Chapter

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