Short Stories by Mark Lawrence


They say eavesdroppers hear no good of themselves. But like alcoholism, eavesdropping steals up on you. At first you don’t really know you’re doing it, then you do know but pretend not to, next there’s denial, and at the end the frank acceptance that you’ll do whatever it takes to carry right on.

Dave hadn’t been enjoying his coffee. He’d sipped it dutifully, to keep the Starbucks Employee-of-the-Month wannabe off his back, but it could’ve been ground up bugs in ditch-water for all the joy it gave his mouth. All he’d wanted was a place to sit, a moment to himself out of the November wind.

“It’s a fixer-upper, I’ll come right out and say that.”

Dave kept his gaze on the gray street, clogged with SUVs, each bigger and more shiny than the next, bad cholesterol in a tired artery of the Pennsylvanian heartland.

“It is a bit … tatty.”

Dave took a sly glance. Two tables down a man in a sharp black suit sat opposite a tall fellow clutching a caramel frappachino. The tall guy had on a Hawaiian shirt that surely contravened all the laws of sartorial elegance, not to mention a few local health and safety statutes.

“It’s just, I’m not sure it’s us. Do you have anything bigger?” He bent to sip his frappuccino.

“Not with this kind of atmosphere.”

They were selling off Starbucks? Dave didn’t get it. Even if it was a franchise, you don’t sell franchises to men in shirts that look like someone ate a bushel of M’n’Ms then vomited all over.

“Well, I don’t know. It’s not really what we were thinking of. Marghary really wanted plenty of room for the kids.”

The kids?

“A smart buyer looks past the furnishings and sees the potential.” The man in the suit waved an arm toward the street. “And you my friend are a smart buyer.”

Hawaiian shirt gave a foolish smile and slurped the last of his drink. “Well I like the sun.”

“Let me show you about.” Suit reached for his briefcase.

They stood up together.

“It’s bigger than it looks, you know.” Suit slung an arm around Hawaii’s shoulder and steered him toward the exit. “We’re talking seven continents here. That my friend ain’t bijou if you know what I mean.”

Dave had passed denial. He abandoned his coffee and followed them out into the cold.

“Five oceans, geothermal heating, polar caps…”

He caught up and fell in behind the suited man, sales pitch still in full flow.

“And the potential!” The suited man turned on a heel and caught Dave by the neck, his hand a steel claw under Dave’s chin. “Six billion of these! Now I don’t know how many eggs your Marghary has, but each of these guys could host two or three I’m thinking.”