It was a bustling place, crowded by late-night coffee swillers with throats like pipelines running high octane caffeine, but somehow they found a way to talk through the flow of java and they were all talking at the same time, drowning out the re-mixed jazz tunes from musicians who were mostly dried bones, which was mostly a good thing since they couldn’t hear what the late 21st Century had done to their music. He guessed that most of the crowd were college students, meeting here with their holotops to work in groups on assignments from professors they’d never met in real life, eProfs who appeared as talking heads on their students’ computers. The rest of the crowd looked like artists, writers and musicians who thought the digitally squeezed music actually said something. And then there were the coffee shop spooks, the ones who sat night after night guzzling into the wee hours because that’s what they did. A few of them read books-print books, with paper pages.
Boston Jonson was looking at one of them now. She was a heavy woman, at least two hundred pounds, bent forward on a coffee high, book in one hand, the other grasping a porcelain cup between a massive thumb and index finger. She had that look of intensity that comes from reading too much, living in a world constructed by everybody but herself. And a connoisseur obviously-the print book in her plump hand was a hard bound with a glossy cover. They were rare. Most people used ereaders and holotops for interactive reading. She had a withdrawn intellectual aura, ragged clothing, and brush-lonely hair. Her skin was white. Pure white. White face. White neck. White hands. White enough to be dead. Not surprising though.
She was dead.
She’d turned into stone, white stone. Her hair, eyelashes and nails seemed normal. He ran is fingers over her forehead-smooth stone. He knocked lightly on her forehead-hard white stone. People strolled by on the other side of the floor-to-ceiling windows peering curiously at the guy with the shoulder length tangerine hair and Hawaiian hula hula shirt knocking on the overly white woman’s head.
"She was a regular," said the short good-looking woman standing beside him. "She was here every night." Her name was Julie-not the stiff, the good-looking woman. She was the owner of the Tenth Cup. Brunette hair flowed over her shoulders, stopping just short of some interesting cleavage. She noticed Boston noticing the cleavage and smiled. "Her name was Brandy. She was a librarian."
Librarian, thought Boston. That would explain the print book.
"She didn’t speak much, just drank coffee and read a different book every day." She put a sympathetic hand on Brandy’s shoulder. "We found her like this an hour ago. One of the coffee consultants noticed that she wasn’t turning pages." Julie gave her a wistful look. "She read quickly. She did a lot of page-turning."
"But not anymore, I guess," said Boston with what he hoped was the appropriate amount of inflected regret. He was sure that Brandy had been a good person, coffee addiction, print books, tattered clothing and all. "Did she have any enemies?"
A spark of suspicion ignited for an instant in Julie’s brown eyes and Boston felt her mood chill a degree or two. He had that effect on people. "Just a standard question. I have to ask it."
The chill ducked into a warm place, the smile was back full-faced. "Of course. It’s just, you know, strange... finding a regular customer suddenly turned to stone for no obvious reason. Do you think it was deliberate?"
"I’ve never heard of anyone turning to stone before. It’s too early to even make a guess."
Julie looked at Brandy sadly. "We’re going to miss her around here."
Two women sitting at the table directly behind Brandy’s seemed to be frowning pointedly in Brandy’s direction. Was that animosity in their eyes? "Did you ever notice anyone giving her a hard time, any arguments?"
She pursed her lips, squinted her eyes, trying to remember. "No... no. She was a loner. Kept to herself. When she was here, she drank coffee and read books. She never actually talked to anybody except the coffee consultants and me. I can’t think of anyone doing something like this on purpose." She ran her hand across Brandy’s cheek. "I can’t imagine anyone doing this, period." She looked over at the counter where a dozen people had materialized out of nowhere. She turned back to Boston, put a hand on his arm, smiling, big brown eyes professional but playful. "I really should get back with the girls. This is one of our busy periods."
Boston smiled and nodded and scoped out her ass as she walked back to the counter. Nice sway.
A silver ID bracelet dangled on Brandy’s wrist. He took out his wallet, opened it and tapped it against the bracelet. The screen in his wallet brought up her picture and ID. Brandy Williams. Born April 7, 2034. Occupation: Librarian. That was all. No address. No phone. No email. He snapped a picture of her with his wallet and looked around. No one seemed to be watching him.
It was time. The vibrations surrounding Brandy had a story to tell. That was their way. Everything was vibrations and when vibrations came into contact with each other, they left an indelible impression, a story that could be read of past events if you just opened yourself to their tale. He closed his eyes and relaxed his shoulders. He let his awareness sink slowly into his tan dien, the center of his psychic gravity. He slowed his breathing, letting the air glide through his nostrils and into his lungs, visualizing the energy of the universe flowing in through his head, down through his chest and deep into his stomach. He let the air drift up into his throat and seep out of his mouth as the energy of the earth flowed up his legs and into his stomach. After three breaths, he was in the zone, charged with energy and relaxed. He listened with his inner ear, waiting for the vibrations to speak to him about Brandy.
As usual, the vibrations said nothing. Somebody else did the talking.
"She was a pain in the ass." Surfacing back into the world, Boston focused his eyes on a woman with blond-streaked brunette hair with bouncy curls cascading down to her shoulders. Wide, dark-rimmed glasses gave her an air of smart and sharp. She was a knockout. "She was disruptive," she said with a sonorous voice that might carry to the ends of a large room without jarring a single eardrum. "She got into her books and forgot where she was, reading out loud half the time, and I mean out loud."
"Sometimes she’d yell," said the woman sitting across from her, another beauty with pitch black hair and matching eyes and skin lustrously pale, like something caressed by the moon. "I mean, she’d be reading, lip-mouthing with a low rumble, and then she’d suddenly yell ’NO! YOU DAMN FOOL!’ She made me pour half a cup of coffee into my lap one night."