Captain Coffee preferred a French roast. Lighter brews would seem more the Captain’s speed, but they lacked the complex, chocolatey undertones that made life worth living. Undertones that gave him purpose. The light-reflecting puddles of oil floating on the coffee’s surface represented islands of refuge from the surrounding darkness. Islands the Captain felt an obligation to protect. He would consume the surrounding midnight murk of evil so the rest of the population didn’t have to.
“Hm?” Through the slits of his eye mask, he appraised the young girl behind the counter. She had rosy plump cheeks and her dirty blond hair was tied up into a bun. Wrapped tightly around her person was a forest-green apron with Kenzie stitched in white cursive on the top right. She was new.
“I said that I’m sorry, but it will take us about five minutes to brew another pot of the dark roast.”
“I see.” There were four people in line behind the Captain. He was watching them all. They didn’t know it, but he was. A little black-haired girl and her mother stood directly behind him. The little girl was rubbing a piece of the Captain’s silk cape between her fingers. He smiled down at her and she smiled back. Her mother pulled her back and chastised her.
“If you’re in a hurry,” Kenzie said, “I can pour you a cup of our medium-bodied house blend and add a shot.”
“No!” the Captain replied.
Kenzie raised her eyebrows and looked at the other customers.
Mixing roasts was a definite no-no. Captain Coffee couldn’t put a finger on it, but it always seemed to dampen his abilities. But Kenzie didn’t know any better.
“No, thank you, young lady. I will wait.”
She rang up the total of two dollars and nineteen cents.
“Can I get a name?”
He preferred to use an alias when he wasn’t in uniform, but he hadn’t bothered to wait today. He had woken up that morning with a strange feeling in his gut, so he came in dressed for action, prepared for anything.
“Captain Coffee,” he replied.
Chuckles broke out in the line. He heard the little girl gasp. Kenzie picked up a thin black marker and wrote CC on the side of an empty paper cup.
“We’ll call you when its ready, Captain,” she said nonchalantly.
The Captain’s scuffed boots tapped across the brown tile. He carefully took a seat, draping his cape over the back of the wooden chair, and clasped his hands together over the tiny round table. The whine and burr of roasted beans being ground into fine powder accented the low acoustic guitar and airy female vocals drifting out of the store’s ceiling speakers. The mother who was behind him was leaning over the counter now, placing her order while gripping her purse strap tightly. Her little girl danced back and forth behind her, occasionally peeking at the Captain. Last in line was a pair of blue-collar guys in gray t-shirts and baggy blue jeans. One of them had a smirk on his face and pointed with his chin at the Captain while he said something to his buddy.
The Captain sat back and admired the low bohemian bookshelves lining the wall opposite the coffee bar. They held a smattering of sleeveless hardcovers and tattered paperbacks. In front of the shelves were two comfortable-looking armchairs, one of them occupied by a young woman resting her temple on a fingertip while she was engrossed in a magazine. The other engulfed a young man with a thin, white notebook computer cracked open on his lap and a large pair of designer headphones covering his ears.
The microcosm of society gathered here every morning reminded the Captain of what he was sworn to protect.
After his name was called and he brought the aromatic cup of joe back to his table, a little pair of bells rang as the front glass door swung open. A familiar feeling rose up from his stomach as his eyes landed on the entrant. Captain Coffee realized immediately why he had hopped straight into uniform that morning.
There would be trouble.
“Except those behind the counter, everyone down on the ground, now!”
He wore a black balaclava and dark sunglasses. Only his pink lips were exposed. The tip of his black handgun swang around the room, moving from person to person as if it were scanning their minds for thoughts of escape.
The front of the smirking blue-collar guy’s jeans grew moist around the crotch. The mother shrieked, grabbed her little girl and turned around, exposing her back while hiding her child. Folk music continued floating through the speakers, but the grinders and hissing milk steamers fell silent.
“I said NOW!” As if they were disconnected dominoes, customers started falling to the floor, but the Captain remained seated, as still as a stone.
The little girl began to whimper.
Her mother started, “Please, she’s scared–”, but she stopped talking and bearhugged her daughter to the floor when the bad guy pointed his gun at her and thumbed back the trigger.
The man then ran over to the student with the laptop and yanked off his headphones.
“Hey!” the kid responded instinctively.
“Down,” the bad guy said. “Now.”
The boy looked up and his jaw dropped. The laptop slipped off his lap and cracked against the tile as he scrambled to kiss the ground alongside the magazine-reading woman.
The gun floated the Captain’s way. “Hey, Mr. Halloween. You think you’re special?”
Now was not the time. With his eyes locked on the bad guy, the Captain slowly pushed his chair back and dropped to his knees. He then pressed his hands onto the floor and lowered himself into a position from which he could observe.
The man was alone unless one of his cohorts was working an inside job. Kenzie? She didn’t seem the type and her face was a pale as the other two baristas working the machines.
“Everyone behind the counter, come out front and join your friends,” he said, rushing toward the far edge of the counter where it opened up to the lobby. After he waved the workers past, he peeked in what looked to be a storeroom, followed by a quick check of the bathrooms.
“I’ll be walking around now, collecting donations. Purses, wallets, and shiny accessories are acceptable forms of currency. Be good and you can go home to your loved ones. Do something stupid, everyone pays.”
“I ain’t gonna reach into your tights, but you paid for that coffee somehow. Move slow.”
Captain Coffee would be polite, but he would not be pushed around. He kept his face to the ground, staring at the man’s dirty sneakers. “You do not have to do this,” he said. “If you put down your weapon and allow me to take you into custody, I promise that you will not be harmed.”
The thief crouched and yanked on the back of the Captain’s hair, painfully forcing his head up. “I picked you first, because you’re a goddamn freak and I don’t trust freaks. I don’t have time for this.” His breath reeked of alcohol. “Now, stand up slowly, reach into your panties, and give me all your money.”
Captain Coffee pushed himself up with the tip of the barrel digging into the side of his nose. Once on his feet, he reached into the side of his underwear where he kept a small amount of cash inside a billfold
“There is still time to do the right thing.”
“You think this is a joke? You say one more thing and–”
The man cut himself off abruptly and stared at the Captain, his eyes squinting slightly.
“Wait a second. Take off your mask.”
It was the one thing any superhero was reluctant to do in public.
“Please,” the Captain said. “I cannot reveal my identity.”
The thief pointed his gun now at the mother who whimpered and curled over her daughter more tightly.
“I said take it off.”
The Captain was left with no choice. He reached behind his head and undid the twine holding his mask in place, letting it fall to the floor.
“Holy shit,” the thief said, removing his sunglasses for a seemingly better view. His familiar steel-blue eyes struck the Captain. “Brian. Brian fucking Mulrooney.”
Captain Coffee could feel his face turning red. Ashamed and vulnerable, he stood before a ghost.
The thief relaxed his body as he laughed. His gun-hand fell to his side. “I should have known you’d stay a freak after high school. Didn’t you get your ass kicked enough then–”
All bad guys make mistakes. It’s just a matter of time and opportunity, two things of which a superhero like Captain Coffee is aware of at a subconscious level.
Ronnie King, bully and apparently perpetual dreg of society, let his guard down long enough for Captain Coffee to descend on him like the plunger of a French Press. The Captain seized the steaming cup of dark roast from his table and splashed it across the thief’s face. It spattered into his eyes and scalded his lips. The gun clattered on to the floor as his hands raced up toward his face.
The Captain lifted his knee to meet the bad guy’s crotch, sending him crumpling to the floor, howling in pain. With one of his boots, Captain Coffee kicked the man’s gun across the tile, flipped him over and sat on his back, holding his wrists together as he pulled his arms up toward his upper back.
“Kenzie, contact the authorities,” the Captain said, calm and collected.
After the police interviewed the witnesses and the captain posed, mask on, for a final photo, the mother with the little girl came up and hugged him tightly.
“Thank you, Captain Coffee,” she said.
“Just doing my job,” he replied.
“I want to be like you when I’m older!” the daughter said from below.
The Captain dropped to a knee and met her at eye level. “You can be like me now,” he said. “Get good grades in school and help those in need.”
“Do I have to drink coffee?” she asked, her face slightly twisted as she scrunched her nose.
“That is not required.”
“Whew,” she said. “Good.”