Joseph S. Pete

Issue 1: Fiction

A Donut and a Coffee

Craig straddled the stool, hunched over the Formica bar top in the neon-lit 24-hour donut shop.

The veteran night reporter covered all manner of crime, murder, fire, arson and madness during those late-night hours. In between assignments, he hung out in the old-school donut shop with the laminate booths, listening to the scanner on his phone for any mayhem he’d have to go track down. He could type on his laptop in relative peace, though drunken bar-goers occasionally could get loud and rowdy. It was a good place for sources and tips as it often was filled with cops, EMTs, third-shift steelworkers and offbeat night owls.

“The usual?” Marla asked.

“You know it,” Craig said before asking her about her day and if it would stay quiet tonight.

He sidled up to his usual seat where he watched the headlights hypnotically pass by on the dark asphalt outside that pane of glass.

In addition to the well-worn comfort of routine and the need to camp out somewhere in between visits to crime tape-cordoned crime scenes, there was also the sustained rush of sugar and Styrofoam cups of dishwasher coffee, which was nothing fancy but got the job done. To keep unnatural hours, you need not only the adrenaline of rushing out to crime scenes in dodgy urban neighborhoods but also a steady percolated drip of stimulation. Otherwise, your eyes sagged, your typing fingers faltered, your weary body ached for the sweet release of sleep.

Craig bit into a chocolate donut and swigged a swill of what passed for coffee there just before his eyes widened.

Headlights blinded him as they drew inextricably toward the glass facade of the mid-century temple to glazed dough rings, waxing bigger and bigger, as large and looming as a blood moon. A sedan older than most of the busboys abruptly slammed through the brick part of the facade, shattering the glass into a thousand little shards. Craig instinctively recoiled and the glass that did pepper him bounced off harmlessly.

Smoke billowed from the smashed-up hood of the car, as patrons screamed and ran about. Metal crunched and screamed. An elderly driver wobbled out as the roof lurched, the load-bearing beams apparently weakened.

Surveying the extent of the damage, Craig realized he’d have to find somewhere new, maybe an all-night Greek diner or greasy spoon, to regroup and establish a base during these long night shifts. Repairs would take months.

Here he was in the center of everything, not responding, not running off to some darkened alley.

He put the donut down, jazzed the havoc all around, and grabbed his reporter’s notebook, flipping it open to a blank page and scribbling his pen on the lined paper to ensure it worked. This was better than any sugar high, any caffeine rush. For once, he didn’t have to speed off, donut in hand and lidless coffee left behind.

For once, the story came to him.

Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, an Iraq War veteran, an Indiana University graduate, a book reviewer, a photographer, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio. He is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee who has read his work for the Fictitious series on the iO Theater stage and who was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His literary or photographic work has appeared in more than 100 journals, including Free Lit Magazine, The Washington Post, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Chicago Literati, Dogzplot, Proximity Magazine, Stoneboat, The High Window, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Steep Street Journal, Beautiful Losers, New Pop Lit, The Grief Diaries, Gravel, The Offbeat, Oddball Magazine, The Perch Magazine, Bull Men’s Fiction, Rising Phoenix Review, Thoughtful Dog, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Prairie Winds, Blue Collar Review, The Rat’s Ass Review, Euphemism, Jenny Magazine, Vending Machine Press and elsewhere. Like Bartleby, he would prefer not to.

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