TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Twinkle lights clicked against the window’s exterior, threatening to break in the freezing wind. She was warm inside, too warm, unlike the people rushing by the small coffee shop. Her blunt fingernail repeatedly tapped the steaming cup, her second one, while her other hand clutched the badge hidden beneath her coat. The bell on the door kept chiming and her neck was starting to get sore from looking up…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Fairy lights clicked against the window’s exterior, threatening to break in the freezing wind. Kelly was warm inside the small coffee shop. She tapped her fingernail against the steaming cup, while her other hand clutched the badge in her coat pocket. The bell on the door kept chiming and her neck was sore from looking up. She sipped her coffee and took out the badge. A young man smiled up from a grainy photograph next to the name of the coffee shop in faded green letters. His name was printed in black beneath the photo. Steadman Michaels.
The bell above the door rang and Kelly turned. A woman in an ankle-length parka drifted in on the icy air. Kelly put the badge in her pocket, but kept her hand tightly around it, like a talisman. The door opened again and a man came in. He nodded and smiled at the girl behind the counter. Kelly’s stomach rolled. It was the man on the badge. The likeness was undeniableóthe dimples were the same, the carefully groomed sideburns, the close-cropped hair.
Kelly stood up. “Steadman?” Her voice was shaky, unsure. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Steadman.”
The man turned to her, eyebrows raised.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I know what you did,” said Kelly.
Steadman frowned. “I’m sorry? Who are you? I don’t think I…”
“You don’t know me,” said Kelly. “But I need to talk to you.”
He stayed where he was, showing no sign of joining Kelly.
Kelly sighed. “Look, I know what you did,” she said again. “Last week. Jeffries’ Convenience on Elm.”
Steadman looked towards the counter. His friend, the girl, was busy serving the woman in the parka. Steadman sat down opposite Kelly.
“How did you find me?” he asked. “The cameras at Jeffries’ don’t work. They’re just for show.”
Kelly put the badge on the table between them.
“Ah,” said Steadman. “I wondered where that was.”
“You dropped it during the robbery,” said Kelly.
Steadman bowed his head. “So,” he said.
“So,” said Kelly. She took a deep breath, keeping her eyes on the badge. “My dad was there. He goes … went … there every day. For the paper, milk… He was there last Saturday for his lottery tickets. Just given Mr. Jeffries his numbers, when…” She stopped and closed her eyes. “That masked man came in with the gun. My dad tried to stop him, yelled something. The gun ended up pointed in his face.” Kelly shook her head. That image, described by a sobbing Mr. Jeffries, would always haunt her. “He’s got a weak heart. Had…” She pushed the badge with the tip of her finger. “Mr. Jeffries said there was another customer.”
Steadman watched Kelly carefully, as if committing every detail of her face to memory.
“The person came out of nowhere and hit the gunman on the head with a bottle of wine.” Kelly chuckledóa humorless sound. “Chardonnay.”
“It surprised him. He dropped his gun and panicked, ran out. Mr. Jeffries was able to call 911.”
“The other customer?”
“He went after the gunman. He didn’t come back and Mr. Jeffries wanted to thank him, for saving his life.”
“And your father?”
“I’m sorry,” said Steadman. “I…”
“I know what you did,” Kelly said. “Mr. Jeffries gave me this badge, said the customer that saved him must have dropped it.”
“You tried to save them,” said Kelly.
“The gun wasn’t even loaded…”
“There was no way you could have known that.” Kelly put her hand on Steadman’s. “I came here to thank you,” she said. “And to return this.” She picked up the badge and handed it to him.
“Yeah, they charge us for replacements.”
“And…” Kelly reached into her pocket and took out a piece of paper. “I wanted you to have this, as a thanks.”
“My dad’s lottery ticket. Some of the numbers came up and, well, it’s not a fortune, but it will probably buy you a car. I see you walked here.”
“What? I can’t accept that!”
“Please. I want to thank you. You stepped in when most people wouldn’t. Besides, my dad left…well, I don’t need this.” She shook the ticket towards Steadman. “Take it.”
“If you’re sure.”
Steadman took the ticket and looked at the numbers.
“I’ll let you get to work.” Kelly stood up and headed for the door, then turned back. “Thank you,” she said. “For trying.”
Steadman looked up from the lottery ticket and gave a small smile. “I’m sorry about your dad.”
Kelly nodded, then walked out into the cold.
Steadman sat for a moment, his shift started five minutes ago, but he had the mother of all headachesóstill. He rubbed the back of his head. The lump was starting to go down. He felt bad about the old man, but he wasn’t lying when he’d said the gun wasn’t loaded. And how was he to know the old man had a bad heart? He sighed and stood slowly. He’d like to know who that customer was. Chardonnay? Steadman hated the stuff.