Burris squinted as he entered the dark vestibule at 492 Rivendale Street.
large brass plaque next to the elevators listed the building tenants.
found what he was looking for:
Floor - L. RON HAFFELVIN,
ATTORNEY AT LAW.”
Burris wondered why lawyers always described themselves that way.
Back home, you never saw signs for “DENTIST AT TEETH” or “MECHANIC AT AUTOMOBILES”. “City folk,” he muttered, shaking his head and pressing the elevator button. He felt awkward in his best Sunday denims, wearing the shared family necktie, which was cleverly airbrushed
to resemble a trout. Usually it hung pre-knotted on a nail in the barn, waiting
for somebody to get married or attend a bail hearing. Around Burris’ thick
neck, it felt like a tight goat halter.
The meeting room was hushed and well-appointed, with several rows of chairs facing a dais. Dark blue carpeting swallowed up Burris’ footsteps as he made his way up the aisle towards the front. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling.
Real drapes hung from the windows. Not flour sacks or Hefty bags, but
genuine velvet. On a sideboard in the corner, there was a carafe of water and
several glasses. People didn’t drink out of Mason jars here. Burris wished his brother were with him, sharing his delight and wonder at each new thing. And – what was this? Burris watched slack-jawed as a
midget dressed in a black vest and apron brought in a pot of coffee and some cloth napkins, and left them on the table. Now he’d seen everything.
“Mr. Burris?” A tall, dark-haired man with stern,
arched eyebrows and a widow’s peak excused himself from conversation and glided over.
“L. Ron Haffelvin, Esquire. I’m pleased you could join us.”
“You the one called this meetin’?” Burris
mumbled, quietly scanning the room for someplace to spit his chaw. The wastebaskets
looked too nice. They had pictures of ducks.
“Yes and no. I’ve gathered everyone here today
at the request of Mr. H. Aristotle Gorn.” L. Ron nodded his head at a scruffy-looking man with shoulder-length dark
hair, seated in a chair with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. “It seems
that he has come across some documents of great significance, which he wishes to discuss with you.”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard ‘bout that,” said Burris impatiently. “He wants to shift us off our land. He got hisself some
kind o’ official deed, right?”
“Actually, no,” said L. Ron. “He’s
come to ask for your help. He has found a mighty weapon which could either save
Go'nder Holler, or destroy it.”
“He ain’ after our lan’?”
“At this point, it’s moot. There is a common enemy
that threatens you both. Mr. Gorn and I will brief everybody on the situation. The meeting’s about to start, so help yourself to tea or coffee, and find a
Burris slouched into a chair in the front row, his legs stuck out into the aisle, spitting discreetly into
a cut Waterford glass. L. Ron called the meeting to order, first introducing
the participants to each other. Burris nodded awkwardly when his name was read, his face crimson, the necktie cutting into
his flesh. In addition to L. Ron and Mr. Ari Gorn, there were Meg O’Lass
(a tall, willowy city planner with long blonde hair), Jim Lee (a short, bearded prospector), and a wise-looking, ancient developer
named Randolph, with a pointed hat and wooden cane. Behind them sat a zoning
official, a wetlands expert, two councilmen, and several attorneys. What in
tarnation is goin’ on? Burris wondered.
Something was up. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the midget come
back into the room and start tidying around the wastebaskets with a brush and dustpan.
L. Ron cleared his throat and began.
“Strangers from other parts of town…Friends….Eavesdropping midgets. You have been summoned here today to answer the threat of Starbucks.
Our fair city stands upon the brink of destruction. None can escape it. Malls, airports, stadiums, every street corner in America…we are bound together
by this one fate, this single addiction to expensive, rococo caffeine.”
Starbucks? Burris recalled Ferris’ dream, the great
wave of concrete, the woman who sang of coffee. Was this the answer to all the
riddles? So it is true, he thought.
“Bring forth the marketing plan,” L. Ron commanded.
Mr. Gorn rose to his feet, unlocked the briefcase, and produced a 200-page document. An audible gasp rose from the others.
“Is this the Starbucks marketing plan?” said Jim
Lee. “It must be worth three billion dollars, at least. How does such a valuable document come to be in our hands?”
“It was left on a table at a Cinnabon in the Cleveland airport,” said Ari Gorn. He laid the marketing plan on the dais. Everybody gaped at
it. Evil seemed to radiate off it. The
paper was unnaturally white. A faint hissing noise emanated from it. Burris heard whispering, murmuring, voices from long ago. He
felt a sense of unlimited power and global enfranchisement. In a trance, he rose
to his feet, and told the assembled company of Ferris’ dream. Except, he
turned it into his own dream and embellished it a little, because stories always sound better that way.
“A voice was crying, Doom is near at hand…The caramel frappucino has been found,”
he said. “And then I were back in school, not wearin’ any clothes,
and there was a big ol’ algebra test that day…” His voice trailed
off. The marketing plan was calling to him, a thing of power and beauty. He had to have it. He walked towards
the dais, his hand outstretched…
“Burris!” L. Ron leapt to his feet. Randolph, the old developer, closed his eyes and cried aloud in a sonerous voice, amid a roll of thunder: “Venti venti quad valencia….”
The room darkened, and the midget put one hand to his forehead. Burris
shook himself out of his trance.
“Never before has Black Coffee Speech been uttered within the walls of this city,” said L.
“It may yet be heard in all lands of the West,” said Randolph.
Burris was still staring at the weapon, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. “This here doc-yoo-ment is a mighty gift,” he said. “Why
not use it? My pappy been holdin’ out for years against these mall-type
joints. It’s the farmlands of my people what are bein’ bought up…our
crops bein’ spilt….Give Go'nder Holler the weapon of the enemy. Let’s
use it agin him!”
“Her,” corrected Meg O’Lass. “Starbucks
is run by a female CEO.”
“You cannot wield this thing,” said Ari Gorn. “You
could not use it….it answers to Sarah Mann alone. It has no other mistress.”
“What y’all know about it, Yankee?” sneered
Burris. “Butt out.”
“That ‘Yankee’ is the rightful owner of your daddy’s property,” Meg burst
in. “Heir to all the outhouses and rusty tin sheds of Go'nder Holler. You owe him some courtesy.”
“Meg, sit down,” said Ari. “Take a chill
“Go'nder Holler ain’t got no carpetbaggers,” said Burris resentfully. “Go'nder Holler don’t need no carpetbaggers. Ain’t
no rightful owner ‘cept us.”
“We cannot use it ourselves,” said L. Ron. “There
is only one choice: we must destroy it.”
“Hell, what’re we waitin’ on?” whooped
Jim Lee. “Let’s get to it!”
He leaped out of his chair with a cigarette lighter. But as he approached
the document, the flame hissed wildly, then blew back onto his hand. Jim yelped
and dropped the lighter. A pulsating flash of malevolence blinded everybody momentarily. The midget dropped his dustpan, felt in his pocket for a tube of Tylenol, and shook
out two caplets.
“It cannot be destroyed by any means we possess,” said L. Ron.
“We tried every paper-destroying mechanism we could think of. Scissors,
bonfire, Wite-Out, mice, incontinent dogs. This marketing plan is protected by
some weird-ass magic. It was forged deep inside the fortress of the I. Singh
Ard Tower, in the fires of the sales and marketing department. It must be taken
back and cast into the fiery chasm from whence it came.”
“How?” said Meg.
“There’s an enchanted paper shredder on the 38th floor.”
“Now hang on a ding-dong minute thar,” said Burris, “Y’all don’t just waltz
into Starbucks headquarters ‘n’ whizz that thing through a shredder. Not
even if there were…” he paused, trying to think of the highest number he’d learned in school, “twenty-three
of us. Dang foolishness, if you ask me.”
“What happens if Sarah Mann gets hold of it again?” asked
Jim. “There’ll be no stopping her then.”
“You got a better plan?” said Meg.
“Yeah, give it to me," said Jim. "Your people can’t
be trusted with it.”
“My people? What do you mean, ‘my people’?” Meg leapt to her feet. Instantly there
was a fracas. Burris spat calmly into his glass and waited. The midget dropped his dustpan and wound his way over to the podium.
Placing two fingers in his mouth, he let out a piercing whistle that stopped the argument cold.
“I’ll take it,” he said. “Although…I’m
kinda short. Also I’m gonna have to google Mapquest and get directions
to this tower.”
There was a long silence. Everyone looked at each other.
“Who the hell are you?” said Jim.
“My name’s Alfredo. And I’m the one who
found the thing in the first place. I was visiting my uncle in Ohio last
week, and stopped off at the airport for a cinnamon bun on the way home.”
Ari leapt to his feet. “That’s mighty brave of
you to offer, sir. You have my sworn protection.”
“And my lighter!” said Jim.
“And my…um…hold on….” Meg searched
through her pocketbook. “…my mascara and Tic-Tacs.”
Burris was moved enough by the little one’s bravery to clamber to his feet and offer to drive. “I got a V-8 engine,” he said. “Actually
it’s a V-7, we’re usin’ one of the cylinders to prop up the front porch.”
L. Ron smiled at the assembled group. “You shall be…the
Fellowship of the Marketing Plan. Now don’t screw up.”
Three weeks later, Cousin Cletus ambled through the weeds along the roadside, looking for dinner. Badger, porcupine, skunk, toad…anything would do, really. Anything small enough to be flattened by a car.
Then he spotted it at the side of the road. A fancy-looking
antique horn, the kind that played Dixie.
“Well, corn mah pone…that look like Cousin Burris’ horn,” said Cletus. He picked it up. It was cloven in two. Nearby, in the dirt, was a red plastic coffee stirrer.
“I’ll be jiggered.”