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Café Noir by James Carson

coffee cup

Inspector Bjørn Torvik was in heaven. As the scorching Costa Rican sun warmed his weathered face, Torvik’s senses were immersed in the incredible fragrances drifting across from the coffee plantation. He could almost taste the full-bodied fruitiness, the sweetness of caramel, the hint of vanilla.  If he just reached out, he could  –

An explosion of laughter snapped Torvik from his reverie. He opened his eyes and fixed the cackling teenagers at the other end of the bar with an icy glare. Beyond the party of revellers, through the bar’s big window, Torvik could see the snow continue to fall. 

"Fourteen centimetres forecast tonight, Björn," said the barman, cheerfully. 

"It's Bjørn, not Björn", muttered Torvik.

The barman shrugged and continued washing the coffee cups.

A blast of cold air swept through the bar as the door swung open. A  small, huddled figure scuttled in.

Detective Karl Magnussen shook the snow from his overcoat. 

"Hey boss, what about this weather? Fourteen centimetres forecast tonight, and ten below zero!"

Torvik grunted. December in Oslo was proving to be unseasonably mild. He ordered Magnussen six espressos and another nine for himself. Magnussen opened his mouth to protest, but was drowned out by another chorus of whoops from the end of the bar.

Magnussen looked over at the happy group by the window.

"They're having a good time."

Torvik sniffed with distaste as he watched the teenagers knocking back their drinks.

“Lifestyle beverages,” snarled Torvik.

Magnussen frowned. “Boss?”

“Bloody kids, with their energy drinks, their smoothies, their... “ He contorted his face into a sneer,

“herbal teas!  Freaks is what they are, Magnussen. FREAKS!

There was a momentary hush. Then one of the kids ordered a round of organic wheatgrass juices, and the party bubbled back to life.

Torvik eyed them with loathing.

“Nothing beats coffee. A real Norseman’s drink, lifeblood of the Vikings, eh Magnussen?”

Before Magnussen could reply, the barman returned with a tray of espressos. Magnussen looked miserably at the army of small cups. His unforgiving bladder was already sending out distress signals. He watched with disquiet as Torvik gulped down cup after cup.

"Same again”, he barked, then gestured to Magnussen,  "And for him".

Magnussen paled. His urinary system had still not recovered from his last session with Torvik. It was a night his wife still referred to as "the great flood". 

“No, boss, I’m ok, I’m still drinking these…”

But arguing with Torvik was –  like so many Norwegian Eurovision entries – pointless.

Magnussen studied the inspector, and essayed the tone of a candid friend. 

“Björn, don't you think you're…”

Torvik slammed the little cup on to the bar. "It's Bjørn, not Björn! For Thor’s sake, what’s so difficult?"
Magnussen shrank back from the menacing figure. "Sorry, er, Bjørn, It’s just that...all this coffee. You don’t think you might have a...”

“Have a what?”

“Drink problem?”

Torvik turned to face Magnussen, his craggy features softening.

“My dear Karl...”

Magnussen felt nauseous. A smile from Torvik was like a cold hand squeezing the life from his heart.

“Now listen to me,” Torvik continued, “Official statistics show that the average Norwegian consumes 9.9 kilograms of coffee. I am an average Norwegian, and so far today, I have consumed 8.9 kilograms of coffee. Therefore, I am still within the national limit. Yes?

“Um...”

I SAID, YES?”

Magnussen decided it was best not to mention that 9.9 kilograms was the yearly, not the daily consumption.  He now really needed to get to the rest room. But first he had to deliver some bad news.

"Boss, another body's been found.

Torvik looked up sharply.

"What? Why didn't you say?"

He swigged back six espressos in as many seconds.

“We've got to get down to the station as soon as we finish here”.

He summoned the barman and ordered them both another round of coffees.

“It's ok, boss," Magnussen paused.  "Lindström’s on to it."

Torvik’s eyes widened, and he let out a long, slow breath.

Carla Lindström. Just out of kindergarten and already in charge of a police station. Torvik knew she wastrouble, even before setting eyes on her. On her first day, every officer in the Grønland station had arrived to find a bottle of red wine in their locker. Torvik shuddered at the memory of the Zinfandel skulking in the darkness, like an assassin.

His fears had been confirmed when he read Lindström’s first email:

“All officers are now limited to three cups of coffee per day. Decaffeinated. This is not optional.”

Decaffeinated. The very word sent a chill through Torvik’s soul.

He didn't think she'd last five minutes. But that was before Skoglund in traffic had spotted Lindström  and the Chief Superintendent through the window of a wine bar. A wine bar, thought Torvik, with revulsion. The filthy perverts!

"The thing is, boss,” said Magnussen, anxiously, “She wants you to do the paperwork, and…” he took another deep breath, “The victim’s from Reykjavik.”

Torvik groaned.  “An Icelander!. It’ll take me a week just to type her bloody name into the database.”
Magnussen nodded morosely, “I know, if only Håkon was here. He could type like the wind. He could – ”
Magnussen stopped dead. He’d forgotten the golden rule of keeping company with Torvik, (apart from not mentioning Lindström and not drinking gallons of coffee and not calling him Björn). Above all, he must never talk about Håkon.   But now it was too late. Torvik’s great shoulders were already shaking and sadness was spilling from his eyes. Once again Torvik was confronted with the memory of his late partner, and the shot that had killed him.

It was a shot of rum in his last espresso. Torvik had warned him about mixing his drinks, but Håkon was young and wreckless, a fearless cop who thought nothing of combining  Guatemalan Caturra with Ethiopian Harrar, or fusing Americanos with Macchiatos. After a crazy bet with Skoglund, Håkon had once consumed an entire jar of Maxwell House in a single night.

But that small, deadly shot of Bacardi had finished him off.  The doctors had tried to save him, pumping sixty litres of caffeine into his veins. It was no use. 

Now, every time he visited the hospital, Torvik would stop to pay his respects at the vending machine named in Håkon’s memory. Håkon was more than a soul mate. He was a coffee mate. And he’d never called him Björn.

“Boss?” Magnussen was looking expectantly at Torvik, his big eyes imploring an answer, his small bladder begging for redemption.

Suddenly, Torvik sprang from his barstool.

"Let's get out of here."

Magnussen looked towards the toilet, distraught, "But, boss, I've got to... I really need to..."

Torvik spun round, "NEED TO WHAT?"

Within seconds, the expressions travelling across Magnussen's face had morphed from panic to horror before finally settling on something between nausea and grief.

"It doesn't matter now", he whimpered.

Torvik tossed some kroner onto the bar.

“See you Björn,” said the barman. Torvik ignored him and headed for the door, Magnussen squelching unhappily behind him.

As they passed the party of kids at the window, one of them winked at Torvik.

“Merry Christmas Björrrrrrn!” the teenager trilled, triggering an outbreak of sniggers from his mates. Torvik threw them a look that he held in special reserve for imbeciles. 

"Come on, boss,” Magnussen said, sensing Torvik was spoiling for a fight, “Let’s get back to the station.”
Torvik nodded. But when he turned around, his face was filled with a grin that curdled Magnussen’s blood.

“We can stop off at this place I know,” said Torvik, still smiling.

“Cappuccinos to die for.”

James Carson, December, 2015.

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Publisher of Pat’s Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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