the big soup - a soup story


One day, I'll turn these into a book.

This is the continuing story of a little convenience store guy who has a ravenous alien soup. I've shared a few of these stories, so I hope you like this one. As always, I dedicate this to everyone who ever worked in retail...

********

if any night deserved to be described as a dark and stormy night, then this was it.
the streets outside were soaked with neon-splintered rain and the windows of my shop beat with the constant thrumming of wind and water. the odd tinkle of hail now and then, and the dry sound of thunder yawned across the city.
i sat at the counter, face in my hands, watching the little portable dvd player as it showed me the wondrous delights of an old christopher lee dracula movie. an apt choice, considering the weather.
even more apt when the bell tinkled over the door and a customer stepped in, stamping his heavy boots on the unwelcome mat before stepping steadily up to the counter with a determination seldom seen in my regulars.
rain dripped from his long coat onto the floor. i didn't much care. the floor needed a clean.
i didn't look up. "mmm?"
"you the owner?"
"depends."
"on?"
"got a complaint?"
"not yet."
"it's my place, then. anything you want, or you just here to annoy me?"
"interesting definition of customer service you got there."
i shrugged.
and, as christopher lee bit into the pale neck of a rather buxom young thing, i felt a heavy weight drop onto the counter in front of me.
i don't often get to see a cop's badge in here.
i sighed.
it was going to be one of those nights.

***

the cop was a detective.
named hawker. jack hawker. i'd seen enough movies to know a cop with a name like that didn't work in traffic, so this wasn't a query as to the safety of my car parked out front in a hailstorm.
no, this cop, he worked homicide, he said.
and he was in my shop following a lead.
"seems your customers have a bad habit of disappearing. wouldn't happen to know anything about that?"
i rubbed my face in my hands as though just waking from a long day's sleep. i looked at the tin of soup sitting beside my elbow in front of the dvd player. "should i?"
"doesn't seem to bother you. people dying, i mean."
"you live round here?"
"nope."
"work this area?"
"nope."
"then you should do a bit more looking around. then you'd see why it wouldn't bother me much if some of them turned up dead."
"never said they were dead."
"you're homicide, not missing persons."
his mouth twitched - in annoyance or acknowledgement i couldn't tell. he shuffled away from the counter to poke about the shop. i didn't care enough to stop him.
"mind if i look around?"
"go ahead. but you break it, you bought it."
he nodded absently and peered into the fridge at the pies.
"you make these yourself?"
"sure, i grind up the bodies of all the customers i kill and stuff them in pastries. no one's figured me out, yet. some guy brought one back with a tooth in it, once. i used him to make the sausage rolls with. i wouldn't eat them if i were you. they're a bit out of date."
he started at that - the first sign of surprise. then realised i was mocking him and gave a grunt. "i don't think that's funny."
"i buy them from a company, detective. you want their name? you can check out their factory. personally, i think they really do grind up homeless people for them. don't think they wash 'em first, either."
the cop turned and looked at me through the dim flickering light of the bugcatcher over the fridge. "i'm not liking you at all," he said.
i shrugged. "you wouldn't like the pies, then."

he was an imposing looking guy, even for a detective. if you got charles bronson in a room with harvey keitel and made them breed with an old angry gorilla, then that gorilla would eventually spit out a perfect clone of jack hawker.
kick in his right cheek and add a scar down one side of his throat, and you'd have him perfectly.
his grey eyes glittered in the shop's dull light and i really didn't like the way he managed to stay perfectly still when asking his questions.
he disturbed my feng shui greatly.

***

"where were you last friday?"
i pointed at the door. "opening times are on the front, detective. maybe you missed them."
"you work alone?"
"you see this place as a booming trade? i can't afford a sidekick. where's yours? don't cops come in twos?"
for answer he stared back at me intently, chewing at the insides of his cheek.
i kept eye contact, my gaze lazy and undisturbed.
i was a lake.
i was a calm lake.
i was a calm lake with a nice log cabin on the shore.
i was a calm lake with a nice log cabin on the shore and a handful of bikini clad campers bathing in my cool calm serene waters.
i felt my lips curl upward and the cop scowled.

***

hawker looked past me at the doorway covered in a beaded curtain. "what's through there?"
"office."
"mind if i look in there?"
"do i look like i care?"
he stepped through the curtains, and tried the lightswitch which didn't work. he looked back at me, and i shook my head. "hasn't worked in years."
he peered hard through the darkness of the room and i heard him give a short cry of surprise after a few steps. he jerked back through the curtain and rubbed his head hard with one fist.
"what the fuck," he said. "is with the fucking cans?"

***

hung from the ceiling on lengths of string were dozens of soup cans at about head height. the safe squatted in a corner near the stairway leading up, and the small desk had only a little desklamp and a laptop.
i used it for doing the accounts.
i hated doing the accounts, so therefore hated the laptop.

***

"hmm?"
"the cans! what's with the fucking cans?" he scrubbed at his forehead.
patiently, i reached under the counter and passed him my torch. "hurts, huh?"
"you could've given that to me before."
"you didn't ask. i've been robbed a lot. this way i'm sure whoever robs me walks out with a headache."
he muttered something dark under his breath and turned the light toward the staircase. "up there?"
"my house."
"you live here?"
"the rent's cheap."
"mind if i-"
"whatever."

***

he looked around.
i didn't bother going with him. i'd seen my rooms millions of times. once more wouldn't reveal anything new to me. i continued watching christopher lee attempt to munch his way through the female cast.
the little can beside me gleamed in the blue glow of the movie, and i considered offering it to the cop. he looked like a man in need of feeding.
as his booted feet descended the stairs, though, i dismissed the idea. I didn't need more police attention.
the can seemed a little disappointed.

***

"you should tidy up more often," the cop said, stepping through the curtain.
"i had a maid."
"got a name?"
"maria something."
he took out a pencil and a notebook. flipping it open to the first page, which was blank, he growled, "contact details?"
i shrugged.
"why'd she stop coming in?"
"she didn't want to wear the little french maid outfit, so i didn't see the point of having her around?"

***

he was a little pissed at that and threatened me a bit more. nothing fresh. just the usual stream of gibberish you’d hear on an average cop show.
still. i promised to play nice.
"it's like being in the principal's office in high school," i added cheerfully as he leaned over to pause my movie.
"quit bein' a dick," he snarled.
"sorry to impose," i said.
he didn't get it.
i was a bit disappointed by that.

***

"you know steven tombs?"
i picked at the counter. "don't think so. he dead?"
"he's missing," the cop said, emphasising the word missing.
"with a name like that? you sure?"
the cop worked that cheek a little more. "you deliberately tryin' to test my patience?"
"i don't know what i'm doing, detective. you're the one with the questions and the agenda."
"what about bernadette tiller?"
"she work down at the docks?"
"she's a flight attendant."
"we don't get many of those here."
"you should remember her, then. cab guy says he drove her here then she took his cab to the airport. says she was in a hurry and pissed off at you."
"you're accusing me of making a flight attendant late for her plane?"
"her plane went down not long after take-off. no survivors far as we can tell."
"sounds ambiguous."
"no bodies have been found."
"it's a deep ocean."
"jerry hickson."
"i'm a city guy, detective."
"bought a roll here. his credit card shows it."
"cheapskate, then. would've cost me more in bank fees than the roll was worth."
"didn't take you for the generous type."
"neither do i, but i'm sure i have my moments."
"i know something's goin' on."
i looked to the little tv monitor. "it was. you paused it, though."
the cop clenched his jaw. "you're involved in this. i know it."
"in what?"
"i have a list."
"everyone who comes here has a list."
the cop's breath hissed from between his teeth and his eyes glittered. "stop pushing me, boy. just . . . stop pushing me."
"you have a list."
"sixteen people. all came here as a last stop. then they'd disappear off the face of the earth. what do you make of that?"
"ever work in retail, detective?"
he shook his head, slowly and suspiciously.
"we all dream of what you're suggesting - that i could make my annoying customers disappear."
"so you didn't like them?" he seemed to think he'd interrogated me into revealing something important.
i couldn't help but smirk at him. "detective - i don't like any of my customers. if i didn't need their money, i'd be a very happy man with a very big fucking closed sign on the door."

***

he left the shop, pulling the door shut behind him with a glassy bang and a promise that he'd do a terminator and be back.
the bell nearly fell off in the crash of door.
i pressed play on the dvd player.
the little can seemed to settle more comfortably on the counter.
the can gave a low chitter.
"i know," i said. "but i'm sure he would've given you indigestion."

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