Wasn’t necessarily the most useful piece of knowledge, all things considered, but it dawned on him that he loved good coffee. Craved it. Another tiny piece of the puzzle that constituted his identity.
He walked to the coffee shop and pulled open the screened door. The shop was small and quaint, and just by the smell of things, he could tell they brewed great product. A bar down the right side faced espresso machines, grinders, blenders, bottles of flavor shots. Three stools were occupied. A few sofas and chairs lined the opposite wall. A bookshelf of faded paperbacks. Two old-timers were at war on a chessboard with mismatched pieces. The walls displayed local artwork—a series of black-and-white self-portraits of some middle-aged woman whose expression never changed from photo to photo. Only the focus of the camera changed.
He approached the cash register.
When the twentysomething barista with blonde dreadlocks finally noticed him, he thought he detected a flicker of horror in her pretty eyes.
Does she know me?
In a mirror behind the register he caught his reflection and immediately understood what had prompted her look of disgust—the left side of his face was blanketed in a massive bruise, and his left eye bulged, nearly swollen shut.
My God. Someone beat the shit out of me.
Aside from his hideous bruise, he wasn’t bad looking. Figured he stood six feet tall, maybe six-one. Short black hair, and a two-day beard coming in like a shadow across the lower half of his face. A solid, muscular build evident in the way his jacket hung on his shoulders and the taut stretch of the oxford across his chest. He thought he looked like some advertising or marketing exec—probably cut a damn striking profile when he was shaved and polished up.
“What can I get for you?” the barista asked.
He might’ve killed for a cup of coffee, but he didn’t have a dime to whatever his name was.
“You brew good coffee here?”
The woman seemed confused by the question.
“The best in town?”
“This is the only coffee shop in town, but yeah, our coffee kicks ass.”
The man leaned over the counter. “Do you know me?” he whispered.
“Do you recognize me? Do I ever come in here?”
“You don’t know if you’ve been in here before?”
He shook his head.
She studied him for a moment, as if appraising his candor, trying to determine if this guy with a battered face was crazy or messing with her.
She finally said, “I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
“You’re sure about that.”
“Well, it’s not like this is New York City.”
“Fair enough. Have you worked here long?”
“Little over a year.”
“And I’m not a regular or anything?”
“You’re definitely not a regular.”
“Can I ask you something else?”
“Where is this?”
“You don’t know where you are?”
He hesitated, a part of him not wanting to admit such complete and total helplessness. When he finally shook his head, the barista furrowed her brow like she couldn’t believe the question.
“I’m not messing with you,” he said.
“This is Wayward Pines, Idaho. Your face...what happened to you?”
“I—I don’t really know yet. Is there a hospital in town?” As he asked the question, he felt an ominous current slide through him.
A low-voltage premonition?
Or the fingers of some deep-buried memory drawing a cold finger down his spine?
“Yeah, seven blocks south of here. You should go to the emergency room right now. I could call an ambulance for you.”
“That’s not necessary.” He backed away from the counter. “Thanks...what’s your name?”
The reemergence into sunlight made his balance falter and cranked his budding headache up a few degrees into the lower range of excruciating. There was no traffic, so he jaywalked to the other side of Main and headed up the block toward Fifth Street, passing a young mother and her little boy who whispered something that sounded like, “Mommy, is that him?”
The woman hushed her son and caught the man’s eye with an apologetic frown, said, “I’m sorry about that. He didn’t mean to be rude.”
He arrived at the corner of Fifth and Main in front of a two-story brownstone with FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF WAYWARD PINES stenciled across the glass double doors. Around the side of the building, he spotted a phone booth standing near the alleyway.
He limped toward it as fast as he could and closed himself inside the booth.
The phonebook was the slimmest he’d ever seen, and he stood there thumbing through it, hoping for some revelatory breakthrough, but it was just eight pages of several hundred names that, like everything else in this town, held no meaning for him.
He dropped the phonebook, let it dangle from its metal cord, his forehead resting against the cool glass.
The keypad caught his eye.
He smiled at the sweet realization.
I know my home phone number.
Before lifting the receiver, he punched in the number several times just to be sure, and it seemed to flow off his fingertips with the ease of rote knowledge and muscle memory.
He’d call collect, hope to God someone was home—assuming he had a someone. Of course, he wouldn’t have a name to give them, not a real one at least, but maybe they’d recognize his voice and accept the call.
He picked up the receiver and held it to his ear.
Reached for the zero.
No dial tone.
He tapped the hook several times, but nothing happened.
It surprised him how fast the rage came. He slammed the phone down, an upwelling of fear and anger expanding like a rushed ignition sequence, in search of some out. Cocked his right arm back fully intending to put his fist through the glass, knuckles be damned, but the pain in his busted ribs blazed through everything and doubled him over onto the floor of the phone booth.
Now the throbbing at the base of his skull was surging.
His vision went double, then blurry, then to black...
* * *
The booth was in shade when he opened his eyes again. He grabbed onto the metal cord attached to the phone book and hoisted himself onto his feet. Through the dirty glass, he saw the upper curve of the sun sliding behind that ridge of cliffs that boxed in the western edge of town.
The moment it vanished, the temperature dropped ten degrees.