Armitage - Chapter 2 - The Professor (Part 2 of 2)
Jack’s Coffeehouse was a popular haunt for students and the artistic community of Armitage. The proprietor, Jack Greene, was a former English Professor of the University of Armitage, having taken early retirement several years ago. He still took an active interest in the affairs of the University and was a well liked figure with students, past and present. The majority of his staff were comprised of students as well, and there were weekly poetry readings for anyone who wanted to share their work. Jack himself had been known to occasionally step behind the microphone.
Madeline and Ben made their way from the University down to Jack’s, ordering lunch and a couple of coffees when they arrived. The afternoon was pleasant enough for Jack to have set up outside seating so Madeline and Ben took up a table by the street.
‘So how was your morning?’ asked Ben as they tucked into their lunch.
‘Not bad, how about you?’
‘Big yawner, nothing to report.’ Ben took another mouthful before continuing. ‘You coming to Open Mike Night tonight? Abby and I thought we’d check it out.’
‘Okay, sounds like fun.’
‘Great, some of the stuff’s pretty awful but it’s good for a laugh.’ As they sat enjoying their lunch Madeline’s phone began to ring and when she took it from her bag Madeline saw that it was Abby.
‘Hi Abby,’ she said.
‘Hi, is Ben with you?’
‘Yeah, we’re at Jack’s.’
‘Okay, I’ll be there in ten minutes,’ said Abby. ‘Oh, and tell Ben to turn his damn phone on.’
Madeline smiled and flipped her phone shut. ‘That was Abby, she’s on her way.’
‘Oh cool,’ said Ben.
‘And she said for you to turn your phone on.’ Ben fished his phone out of his bag and looked up from it sheepishly.
‘Oops, I’m going to get it now.’ Madeline laughed and stirred her coffee until all the grains of sugar had disappeared. She took a sip and surveyed the sunlit street with a sweeping glance. Ben continued to chat about how boring his morning class had been and Madeline was paying mild attention until her eye caught something across the street. Her body tensed as she stared harder at what she thought was the mysterious vagrant who she had seen twice already that day. She was relieved when she realised that it was just some rubbish blowing in the gentle breeze in the mouth of an alley, but Ben had noticed her change in demeanour.
‘You okay Maddie?’ he asked.
‘Hmm? Oh yes, fine,’ she said, trying to sound nonchalant. Ben turned in his chair and looked across the street but saw nothing.
‘You sure?’ he said, looking somewhat concerned. ‘You look a little freaked.’ Madeline sighed and looked Ben in the eye.
‘Can I tell you something?’ she said quietly.
‘Of course,’ said Ben, turning fully in his chair to face Madeline.
‘I saw that man again this afternoon.’
‘The one you saw on your jog?’
‘He was in the library?’ asked Ben, sounding shocked.
‘No, no,’ said Madeline quickly. ‘He was outside; I was in the library.’
‘Oh, well what happened?’
‘I was on the second floor getting some books when I saw him out of one of the windows.’
‘What was he doing?’
‘He was walking along the building opposite the library, right next to the wall.’
‘Well I know he shouldn’t be on campus but it doesn’t sound like he was doing anything wrong.’
‘Yeah, but…’ said Madeline uneasily.
‘I think he saw me.’
‘How do you know?’
‘He stopped and looked up at where I was.’
‘But the library’s full of windows,’ said Ben. ‘And it’s damn near impossible to see in from the outside, especially the upper floors. How could he know which one you were at?’
‘I don’t know, but he must have because he pointed at me.’
‘I swear it, it’s almost like he knew exactly where I was and that I was looking at him.’
‘Did anything else happen?’ asked Ben, his usual light conversational tone replaced by a more serious one.
‘No, a librarian startled me and when I looked again he’d gone.’
‘Weird,’ said Ben.
‘Tell me about it,’ agreed Madeline. ‘Listen, do me a favour, don’t tell Abby about this. You know how she gets; she’ll have this guy arrested for stalking me or something.’
‘My lips are sealed,’ said Ben, patting Madeline’s hand reassuringly. ‘Oh, speak of the devil, here she comes now.’ Madeline turned in her chair and saw Abby coming up the road in the direction of the coffeehouse. As she waited for some cars to pass she waved at Madeline and Ben and then trotted nimbly across the street. Ben took his bag off the remaining chair and pulled it out just as Abby was approaching.
‘Always the gentleman,’ smiled Abby, as she sat down.
‘M’lady,’ said Ben, as he took an exaggerated bow.
‘How was class?’ asked Madeline, smiling at Ben’s goofiness.
‘Not bad,’ said Abby. ‘My project’s coming along nicely.’
‘That’s good. Coffee?’
‘Allow me,’ said Ben, fishing his wallet out of his pocket. ‘Want another one Maddie?’
‘Oh go on then,’ said Madeline. ‘You twisted my arm.’
‘Be back in a second then,’ said Ben, as he stood up and made his way inside the coffeehouse.
‘Did Ben tell you about tonight?’ asked Abby.
‘Yeah, sounds like fun,’ said Madeline.
‘Great, shall we swing by your building or do you want to just meet us here?’
‘I’m a bit out of the way aren’t I?’
‘No problem,’ said Abby. ‘We can make a detour, and besides, it’s not safe to walk around alone at night, not with what’s been going on lately.’
‘Yeah, I suppose,’ said Madeline, instantly being reminded of her run-ins with the anonymous vagrant. For a second she thought about telling Abby what had happened but decided against it, she knew all too well how Abby would react. Luckily, before Madeline could worry too much about it Ben re-emerged from the coffeehouse, this time carrying a tray. He set the tray down on the table and sat back down in his chair.
‘Jack was busy so I helped myself to a tray,’ he said, as he ripped open a packet of sugar and stirred it into his coffee.
‘Do you know if he’s going to read anything tonight?’ asked Madeline.
‘Not sure, but he might,’ said Ben, before taking a tentative sip of his piping hot coffee.
‘I hope he does, I like his stuff,’ said Madeline, taking her cup from the tray.
‘Me too,’ said Abby.
‘Certainly an improvement on some of the stuff that gets read here,’ said Ben, as he blew on his coffee. The three of them spent the rest of the afternoon discussing the quality of the poetry that was preformed at Jack’s, as well as their respective projects/
* * *
Back in the dingy room on the older side of Armitage, two figures sat huddled in the near darkness.
‘I won’t do it, man, we’ll get caught.’
‘Will you relax? You know we ain’t got no choice.’
‘But it’s too close to his turf. Damn it, it is his turf, I won’t do it.’
‘Then stay,’ snapped one of the voices. ‘Scrape by on what this shit-hole provides, I’m going.’
‘You’ll get caught, man.’