Strega, or “Trigger” as we called him, was picked on a lot and Rob was right – the guy’s head was tiny enough to fit one of those traffic cones pretty well. Rob snickered and jumped back as Trigger turned around. “A witch! Burn her!” Rob roared, pointing at him and his new headpiece.
“Halloween was yesterday, moron,” Greg said. Older than the rest of us by about ten years, he huddled at the bare plastic table next to the kitchenette counter. “Geeze, it’s cold.” He sneezed. “Any coffee left?”
A slow grin twisted Trigger’s mouth. “I’ll make some.”
“You make crummy coffee, Trig,” Rob said. “’Bout the only thing good is it’s warm.”
Trigger winked at me and rooted around in the cupboard. I shrugged. We got another coffee break at two and I’d already tanked up at the Bean There at five. I could wait for the next batch. Maybe Greg would make it then. His attempts only smelled like battery acid. I missed Julio. That guy made it thicker than wet concrete.
Greg and Rob started talking about yesterday’s football game. I walked over and put my hands on the cone to pull it off Trigger’s head. He ducked out of the way. “Nah, it‘s all right. I can take a joke.” As he filled the pot from the sink, Trigger turned a bright blue eye toward Rob and let out a high-pitched cackle. “Double, double, toil and trouble!”
Before the rest of us could say anything, the boss burst in. Lenny was a good guy, never complained about the union breaks we took, though he pushed us to work a little longer than Rob’s liking. “Macbeth, Macbeth!” He said again. “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him!” He attempted to cackle like Trigger did. Trigger cackled again, waving a spoon.
With a half-chuckle, Greg shivered. “That was a good impression, Trig.”
Lenny clapped Trigger’s back and turned the conversation to the upcoming job. He went through a few safety procedures and we all pretended to listen. Then he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Ah, a nice cuppa joe!” he said, and me and Rob and Greg looked at each other like we knew he’d be forcing a smile in a moment after he tasted Trigger’s latest effort. He sipped. We waited. He grinned bigger and took a longer drink. “Perfect bean juice, you guys! Dunno how you do it.” He left and we all turned to the coffee pot in Trigger’s hand.
“What, you put some CBD in it or something, Trig?” Rob frowned. “He only ever takes it to look like ‘one of the guys.’ Ten to one says he dumps it in the bushes.” He crossed to the window of the break room and looked out.
“How dare you mock my brew!” Hunching, Trigger squinted and thrust out his lower jaw. “A hex upon thy boots!” He straightened, grinning as Rob gave him the finger over his shoulder.
Rob turned back around. “Well, I don’t see a puddle out there but if he drank it, he must have burned his tastebuds off the last time you made it.” He flicked the cone on Trigger’s head with a dull thock. Opening a cupboard, he rooted through and grunted in triumph. He tossed a half-finished box of poptarts on the table, slotting two into the toaster for himself.
I wondered if it must be true. It had been hilariously awkward two weeks ago to watch Lenny muscle his way through a few polite sips of Trigger’s coffee. Turning, I caught Greg staring at his own cup.
The older man sat up. He took a longer sip and peered down into the steaming mug once more. Raising his eyes, he stared past me. I followed his gaze. Trigger was pouring out another two mugs. A soft yowl and scratching sounded at the window. Trigger flicked open the latch and shoved the pane aside. A sleek black cat slunk over the sill.
“Hey, get that rat out of here!” Rob flicked a rolled up poptart wrapper at it. “Thing sheds on my food and we’re gonna have a problem.”
It dismissed him with only the briefest of glances and instead rubbed up against Trigger’s arm, purring. He scratched behind its ears and handed a mug to me.
I almost refused but the smell curled up into my nostrils. You know that feeling you get after you eat the perfect steak dinner, and know you have just enough room for hot apple pie? Then that first bite of the apple pie melts in your mouth in a sticky, tart, wholesome way? Then you know you can leave the dinner table ready to face another shift of pouring and smoothing concrete until two in the morning?
No, maybe not. That’s what it was, though. The taste was even more.
Greg was looking at me, eyes bugging. He nodded and I nodded.
Rob belched. “Right. Let’s get back out there.” He yawned and shoved his empty plate aside.
“I’m going on ahead,” said Trigger, setting his empty mug into the sink. He adjusted the cone on his head, paused by the door to grab something from behind it, flashed Greg and me another wink, and vanished out into the day. The cat scratched its chin and sauntered after him before the door shut.
Rob stood up and tried to take a step. He fell over with a yell. “Sonova-“ he rolled and drew up his knees. “The hell?” His bootlaces had been tied together. “How’d that happen?”
“Don’t piss off witches, Rob,” said Greg in a quiet voice. He set down his mug and got to his feet. “C’mon.”
I left Rob to curse and untie his boots. Outside, Trigger was nowhere in sight. Greg pulled out a stick of gum and stuck it in his mouth. “Should we wait for him to come back?”
“I think he’ll meet us there,” I said. Rob’s cursing died down inside. I shoved my hands in my pockets. The November breeze kicked up the dried leaves into chuckling around us.
“Why do you say that?”
I shrugged and smiled. “He took the broom.”