Joe’s Coffee House

An all-night coffee house, a trunk full of stolen guns, and a briefcase full of cash. But what’s really going on in Jack Bristow’s short story “Joe’s Coffee House”?


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In my line of work, all that really matters is promotion. You’ve gotta move up. You have to elevate yourself, by whatever means necessary. Sucking up to a boss, especially by making a lot of money for him, usually with a very good score, is one of the best ways to accomplish this goal.

That scorching hot summer night in Las Vegas, we had it all planned out, too.

Meet the weapons dealer at Joe’s Coffee House. Get to know the guy a little bit. And then, after you get to know him — after you feel the guy out, as it were — make the deal.

This all sounds pretty simple, right?

But not really. In La Cosa Nostra, you have got to be extremely careful about the type of people you do business with. You say the wrong thing, you set off the wrong signals, and that’s it — you’re toast. The whole business transaction might go down the tube, or worse yet, somebody might snuff you out right then and there in the parking lot.

It didn’t help matters much that it was now 3 o’clock in the morning, and that Joe’s Coffee House was on the seediest side of Las Vegas: the infamous West Side, a mecca of greed and corruption.

You are supposed to be a good earner, and you’re supposed to be a real stand-up guy. So why are you dealing with all the dregs of the underworld? Why do you have to go 3,000 miles away from home, New York City, the Big Apple?

Patsy tells me why I have to: “.357 Magnums have been selling like hotcakes here, Joey. You gotta hightail it over to Las Vegas and make this here transaction with this fellow I tracked down. The guy seems totally legit; he seems to be on the up-and-up. Southern guy, speaks with a twang. A real country bumpkin type of good old boy, you know?”

I was to meet this character, who went by “Roy” — though, clearly, that wasn’t his real name — at Joe’s Coffee House.

But I had a few reservations about this here score.

“I don’t think I wanna go through with this deal, Patsy,” I said into the receiver. “I mean, I’m out there all alone; it sounds too risky.”

“Look, Joey. I already told Mr. Spirochete about this deal. His heart’s already set on having those guns. You don’t want to break the old man’s heart, do you?”

“Hell, no. I don’t want to break the old man’s heart,” I said. “That’s the last thing I would want to do, Patsy. Believe me.”

“Great, Joey,” Patsy responded. “I’ll be by your apartment tomorrow morning with your plane ticket.”

And so, there I was the next night: Standing in front of Joe’s Coffee house, scoping the joint out. There were only four cars in the parking lot at this late hour: an old Coupe de Ville, which looked like it came straight out of the 1970s; a nice 2009 apple-red Porsche with tinted windows; a Subaru from 1992 with dents galore; and, in the back alley of the parking lot, the 2013 Lincoln MKS, which I had rented just a few hours before. The two old junkers, I concluded, must have belonged to the cook and the waiter or waitress. The Porsche, especially with its tinted windows, must have belonged to our weapons dealer, Roy.

Sirens blared outside as I slowly and cautiously made my way inside the open-24-hour-a-day coffee shop.

To say Joe’s Coffee House was a dump would have been an overstatement. It wasn’t as bad as you’d imagine it to be, looks-wise. It was a competent little coffee place.

An old lady popped her head up from behind the cash register. She kind of surprised me, to be honest with you. I guess she had been fumbling around with the receipts, or trying to get the cash register to open, or something.

“What would you like to drink, sir? Can I interest you in a Multi-Latte, brewed with the finest Colombian beans?”

“Sure,” I said finally. “I’ll try your Multi-Latte.”

The old lady flashed me a smile, exposing her crooked teeth, and before she could make her way to the latte machine, I asked her outright, “Say, I’m looking for this guy, he was supposed to meet me here. But I don’t see anybody. Are there any other customers in here?”

The old lady’s face tensed up. Clearly, I had said the wrong thing. After all, this wasn’t the greatest part of town. She probably had me pegged as a stick-up man.

The old crone stammered. “Why do you want to know, know that?”

Just then, I heard a toilet flush, and this guy with short brown hair, wearing a loud, dark blue sharkskin suit, made his way out of the john.

The fellow, sounding affable enough, asked the old lady for another Multi-Latte.

“That sure hit the spot, sweetheart. You mind making me one more?” The country bumpkin smiled, exposing his teeth; they brought the old lady’s teeth to shame. Pearly white. Those frigging chompers were beyond reproach, I tell you.

Anyway, I jumped in, trying to console the frightened old dame. “See,” I said, pointing my forefinger at Mr. Sharkskin. “This is the gentleman I was supposed to meet, for our business transaction.”

The old lady looked at both of us, and then, once again, a huge smile engulfed her face. “Two Multi-Lattes. Yes, sirs.”

And then she hightailed it over to the latte machine. The country bumpkin, Roy, and I made our way to the stools and parked our asses down.

Roy looked at me; he was an interesting-looking specimen, all right. A decent-looking guy. Middle forties, probably. He had a nice, red tan — the kind that drives the ladies wild — light brown hair that verged on blonde, and dark blue eyes.

He smiled at me, as we sat down on our respective stools.

“You ordered the Multi-Latte too, huh?”

“Yeah, it’s the first thing she mentioned to me. ‘Would you like to try our Multi-Latte?’ ‘Sure,’ I says. ‘Why not?’”

Roy smacked his arm on the counter as though this were the funniest thing he had ever heard. And then he burst out in laughter. He had a loud, cackling laugh. Something about it was very upsetting to me.

“No kidding? She pushed the Multi-Latte on you? That’s what she did to me, too.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s what she did, all right.”

Roy laughed once again, like this was the greatest thing he had ever heard. The guy was sure jovial. You had to give him that.

“Well, I know your buddy Patsy,” he said. “He’s from New York. I’ve only spoken to him a few times, but he seems to be good people. Any friend of Patsy’s is good people too, as far as I’m concerned.”

The old lady returned with the two Multi-Lattes.

“Thanks, darling,” Roy said, smiling. The old woman returned his smile with a toothless one, and then she scuttled away, off toward the kitchen. “Well, I’m glad you’re here, partner. What say you and I go outside and complete the transaction. You brought the briefcase, right?”

“Look, I know you’re a good guy,” I said to Roy, “but if you don’t mind, I’d like to make sure everything is on the up and up.”

Roy had this quizzical expression on his face.

“Before we make this here transaction, I gotta make sure you’re not wearing any mics,” I said, sternly.

Roy didn’t laugh at this one, as well he shouldn’t have. On the street, accusing somebody of being a snitch is one of the gravest insults — it’s tantamount to saying something nasty about somebody’s mother, but a million times worse.

“Hey, don’t worry about it, my friend,” I said “This is all just a proper precaution. We do this with everyone we do business with outside of New York City.”

“Well, hell, you East Coast boys sure are mighty thorough, ain’t you? Well, why the hell not, partner?” Roy pulled up turquoise-colored dress shirt, exposing his flat-as-a-board chest to me.

No wire, I noticed.

“Okay,” I said to Roy. “Everything looks good. Let’s go outside and do some business together.”

First off, we stop in front of the 2009 apple-red Porsche, which is parked near the front of Joe’s Coffee Shop. It’s not obscured in the back parking lot like my car was.

“Let’s see what kind of hardware you’re peddling before I hand you over the briefcase,” I told him.

Roy looked around furtively a few times, making sure there weren’t any cops around, nobody who was planning on busting us; then, with one press on his keychain, we heard a light toot coming from the car, and then the trunk pops open. Whoosh.

Roy handed me a flashlight, and I flashed it inside the trunk.

I saw this big pile of metal: guns, guns, and even more guns. There had to have been 100 of them in all — all .357 Magnums, too.

I whistled impressively at the sight of these beauties. “Where’d you get all this hardware,” I asked Roy.

Roy beamed brightly, and he said, “My partner and I, we burglarized an ammunition warehouse just outside of Gilbert, Arizona. We took everything we could get our hands on, by the truckload: AK-47s, shotguns, bullet-proof vests, and these .357 Magnums you see here.”

I grabbed one of the Magnums. The thing was heavy all right. It just felt mean. You could tell how strong it was just by holding it.

“That’s what I have been trying to tell our friend, Patsy — if you guys ever need any more weapons, we can definitely help you out on that front. We have still got a bunch of AK-47s left, if your people in New York are interested.”

“I’ll let you know if we need anything more. First Patsy’s gotta run it by the old man in New York. He’s the boss, not us. What he says goes.”

Roy flashed one of his movie star smiles at me. “Sounds good, partner.”

We made it to the back of Joe’s Coffee Shop to the part of the parking lot where my rental car — the Lincoln MKS — was parked. This time around, I pressed the key-chain and, like magic, the trunk of the car whooshed open.

“Abracadabra,” I said.

I grabbed the briefcase from out of the trunk and handed it over to Roy, my jolly country bumpkin friend. “Twenty-five grand. It’s all in there. But if you want to, you’re free to count it.”

Nah, he said. He didn’t want to count it. “Anybody connected with the Spirochete clan in New York is okay by me, partner.”


Later that night, in my hotel room, I gave my comrade-in-arms Patsy Bravo a jingle.

“The transaction went as smoothly as you can imagine. No problems on my end over here, my friend.”

“Mr. Spirochete is gonna be so happy,” Patsy gushed.

“What about our friend Roy?” I said, breaking Patsy’s train of thought.

Patsy didn’t seem to be too concerned about Roy. “Forget about it, Joey,” he said. “The guy’s a hick, and a small fish, in the grand scheme of things. I’m not worried about him. If we have to make a move on him later, then so be it. But for right now, let’s just focus all our time and energy on nabbing Mr. Spirochete.”

I thought about what my three-year-long deep cover partner “Patsy Bravo” was telling me: Let’s just focus on our big man in New York City for right now. And if we have to do another sting operation to nab our arms dealer friend Roy and his tacky sharkskin suit, then so be it, we’ll do just that. But for right now at least, let’s focus all our talent and energy on the Boss of Bosses, the Capo di Tutti Capi, Johnny A. Spirochete — the most bloodthirsty mob boss in all of New York City, maybe in all the world.

“I can’t wait to see that old buzzard finally go down. It’s been a long time coming,” Patsy said into the receiver.

“Absolutely,” I said. “And not only that, but there’s this one other thing I’m really looking forward to, once the old man finally goes down, once we finally nab him on these weapons charges.”

“What’s that, Joey?”

“Promotion,” I said, finally. “I can’t wait till the day when I’m Special FBI Agent Joey Samento.”

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