It started with a rumble. The ground under Luis shook, the shelves of the bakery rattled, and whatever was happening, it caused the door he had propped open earlier in the day to shake loose and slam shut.
"What the hell you doing?"
Jose was in the back. He refused to let Luis interfere with his "art."
"Chief bakers don't need sues chefs."
That was fine by Luis. He hated the hot ovens and claustrophic feel of the bakery kitchen. Sweeping up, arranging the chairs, wiping down tables. Presentation was his pride. Organizing everything up front was a form of meditation for him. The way cooking was for Jose and running was for their other brother, Hector.
All that had gone to shit. Whatever rattled the world two seconds ago had sent cups and boxes spilling from the shelves. Broken glass littered the floor behind the register, and Luis fretted over whether or not he would need to toss the boxes now that they had touched the floor.
"You hear that?" Luis knew it was a stupid question. Of course his brother had heard it. The dead were probably shaking out their ears. But naked fear had taken hold of him and he Luis' mind was beginning to run wild with possibilities.
"What's the matter with you. Look at this mess."
"It wasn't me, puta! Look outside. Something happened."
Jose always wore a towel over his shoulder. Why a baker would need a towel at the ready at all times, Luis never knew, but his brother enjoyed employing it from time to time. Never in aid of baking. When the moment called for it, he'd pull it off and whip it about, using it like prop to punctuate whatever he was complaining about in the moment.
The towel was in his hand now, ready to rip. But it hung loosely at his side. Luis didn't even realize his brother was by his side until he stepped in front of him and whistled.
"Holy shit. You sure you didn't do this?"
Luis sucked his teeth at him. Years of teasing had taught him not to bite. To let his brothers have their fun. Besides, on a scale of playful to scared shitless Luis was at In-need-of-fresh-pair; smoke was billowing down the street. Crawling, he thought to himself. He'd watched countless movies. Played countless hours of videogames. He'd marveled at the supposed realism of the graphics with his brothers and friends. But now, looking out the window of their bakery, he was realizing how bullshit all of that was. The smoke was crawling down the street. No computer had eve told him that.
"You think we should call the cops?"
Jose turned to him and the towel came alive. "You crazy? Let the white people across the street do that. I don't need them getting up in our business. Scaring away customers and fucking shit up for us."
"Jose. I don't think we need to be worrying about customers today."
Luis often wondered if the universe was against him. The first hint that it might be was that he was born last. The fourth in a family of two older boys and a princess youngest sister, he served as both a dress up doll and a punching bag. "Wrestling dummy," his brothers put it--as if that were a more desirable role. The most recent example supporting his theory was that as soon as Luis said they wouldn't be seeing any customers today, a figure stumbling through the smoke like a pixelated image slowly loading and becoming more defined, broke the mass of gray, looked left, looked right, then walked right into their shop.
"Pardon me." The man was tall, well dressed, and other than the bowler hat on top of his head looked perfectly normal. Any signs of abnormality--such as the dark splotches on his cheeks and neck, presumably from the smoke he had just emerged from--were quickly wiped away by a handkerchief he pulled out of a breast pocket. "Could I bother you gentlemen for a cuppa?"
"Of coffee, that is. Terribly sorry, should've specified."
"That's not problem, mister." Jose said, the towel back safely on his shoulder. "I'll get you one. Here, take a seat." Off came the towel in a flourish as Jose wiped down the table by the window. "Here you go. Luis." Jose smiled like a cartoon, but as soon as the man turned his back to place his coat on the seat it melted into a scowl. Don't fuck this up!
If you knew nothing about their bakery and spent three minutes with Jose, you'd think the entire enterprise was doomed. Not just their bakery, but all bakeries, now and forever. A dying fad that had seen its golden years fade into nonexistence.
"How do you take it?" Luis asked, snapping out of his trance.
"Lump of sugar. Spot of milk." The man asked, hopefully. As if all hte usgar and milk and hte wolrd had just gone up with whatever had happened down the street.