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Sweet caffeine holds the mysteries of the universe… just ask Mr. Burke…



Tim W. Burke



            “Yeah, you decided?”  asked the college girl, clicking her lip rings.

            George murmured, “Double-mochachino with triple-shot of espresso. Two squirts of fudge-wasabi syrup. Whipped chai on top. Green coffee bean sprinkles.”

            She stared, “Excuse me?”

             He pointed to the capped bucket with the handgrip recessed into its side, “Kaiju-grande. Squirt the fudge-wasabi in the cup before you pour the mochachino?”

            The cashier tried affecting a smirk, but her voice betrayed awe, “You. I’ve heard about you from the other shops.”

            Despite his fatigue, he mustered a bashful smile and tucked his shirttail.

            She turned to mix the concoction. George counted out the exact change, and dropped an additional dollar into the cup with “Tips Please?” written all over it.

Beside the cup, a new sign read, “Win A Trip To Our New European Grand Openings!”  The Infinite Bean was a nationwide chain, which was another reason to George liked getting coffee here. The selection, the décor, the very countertop arrangements of mandarin-tamarind muffins were the same in every city he visited when giving briefings.

His satphone trilled “The Hallelujah Chorus”.

He kept an eye on the cashier’s progress as he put the phone to his ear, “Hey.”

“Hey yourself, buddy!” chided his wife Maureen, The Institute’s director, “Where’re the statistical models for the relay switches?”

“I’m waiting for numbers to finish crunching.”

Back at The Institute, Maureen looked up from her computer, “You’re not getting coffee, are you?”

George tucked his chin reflexively, “May-y-ybe.”

“The second of your huge ones?” she pressed.

The cashier swirled the cup, seeing that the syrup was mixing well.

He stuffed an extra dollar in the tip cup, “I need to review the entire grid to find what’s misreading a friggin’ photon and screwing up quanta. I need a pick-me-up.”

“And not to get any sleep tonight. Again.”

            “I’ll cut back after this project is over. Once the numbers are crunched then I’ll cut back, I promise. Really.”

            The cashier turned. Behold the wondrous elixir!

            Maureen sighed, “Well, when you pick up your coffee, lift with your legs.”

            With a snort, he took the cup, “Thanks. Love you too. Gotta go. ‘Bye.”

            He drank deep. The fudge-wasabi coated his throat with spicy goodness as the chai swirled down, providing the perfect medium for delivering the tiny green coffee beans with only the slightest jostling in the epiglottis.

            His pulse began pounding in his femorals, then his armpits, then his pinky fingers. He rubbed his eyes. The coffee was kicking in. His nose and ears felt itchy and he resisted the urge to pick and pluck at them.

            George holstered his satphone absently and fished for his car keys.  Mind buzzing from mathematical equations and stimulants, he considered the photon relays for the next wave of information transmission and encryption.

            The doorway was dinging, but faintly. Someone jostled his shoulder,

            George blurted, “Excuse me! Sorry about that! Boy was I rude! I –“

Vague shadows filled all the empty space in the aisles, in the seats, near the counter and magazine racks. The roar of the crowd tumbled together into bubbling and warbling. He was jostled again, then turned and saw no one near him.

His own hands were definite and vivid. He did not feel lightheaded or confused.         

            Then he looked out the window. Afternoon sky shimmered into downpours then into glowing dusk. Below, the street popped and faded from busy downtown street to empty rain-washed suburb to a small town nestled in snow-capped mountains.

            George realized his mouth had dropped open.

            Behind him, someone said, “You’re here with me!”

            A skinny man touched George’s shoulder. The man wore a greasy designer shirt and stained slacks. His beard was ragged and his graying hair bristled past his shoulders. Angry, startled eyes were rubbed by fingers with chewed nails.

            “My name’s Dunkynn! Dunkynn Dunfree! Get me out of here!”


            “Dun-kynn. With a ‘y’. Two ‘n’s. Heavy on the last ‘kynn’. Did you see my performance art piece in Montpelier last May?”

            “What, Vermont?”

            “You’re not from Montpelier?”

“Costa Mesa, California.”

“Oh god. I was trying to leave town, you know? I had a long drive ahead of me. So I stopped into The Infinite Bean!”

“Yeah. Me too”

            “Love the Double Mocha Lattechino.”

            George whistled, “Pretty high octane. Haven’t tried that. Do that with espresso shots?”

            “Of course! I had a long drive ahead of me to L.A.! Going for my acting career! Kind of had it jump-started! Kind of had to take the plunge! My wife and her father were yammering-yak-yak-yak so much about getting another accounting job it was driving me nuts. So I had to get away, you know?”

            Through the window, sun shone on the Washington Monument. The scene darkened into a rainy city street-canyon boxed in by skyscrapers. The street shifted into a sun-dappled cobblestone walkway in a landscaped garden.  

            “Yeah,” said Dunkynn, “That. It keeps like that all the time. Even at night. Can’t open the doors at night.  It’s a trap! Can’t get a signal for my cellphone! Can’t get out! Watch!”

            Dunkynn twisted a napkin and stuck the tip into the jangling blur of the door. He pulled out a shredded white muck.

            George almost dropped his coffee.

Dunkynn cackled, “And after closing time, at night, the doors won’t open! And the glass won’t break! Get me out!”

“Jeez,” George said, “Good thing this happened after I got my coffee.”

            Later that afternoon at The Institute, Maureen got an e-mail: “Stats processed. Where’s George?”

            She growled and punched up a display on her computer, “Probably in the bathroom.”

            Whenever she wanted to find George, Maureen went online to a government GPS locator and punched in the transponder to George’s satphone. Saved them both from nagging.

            “New Orleans?” she blinked, “Chicago?”

            She punched the speed dial on her PDA and groaned, “Where the hell are you?”

            “Honey!” George laughed, obviously caffeine-buzzed, “you-won’t-believe-what’s-happening!”

            “Slow down! Where…are…you!”

            “The remote on this coffee joint is broken.”


            “I’m looking out the window, and the outside keeps changing. All over the map, but in the U.S. still. I can’t seem to touch anybody in here. I’d think I was losing it, but I’m here with some guy named Duncan Dunfree from Vermont.”

            A man’s voice cried, “No! Give me that!”

            Maureen watched George’s red dot jump somewhere near New York City, “Who? Who’s there with you? Your GPS is jumping all over the United States.”

            “Duncan Dunfree from Vermont. We’re stuck –“

            The man yelled, “They can’t know where I am!”

            The signal cut off.

            Maureen paled. Then she got mad.

            “Rich! I think George’s been kidnapped! Some guy named Duncan Dunfree from Vermont.”

            Rich popped his head from his cubicle, “Maureen, don’t do this.”

            “I’m not over-reacting! I’m replaying the refreshes. Rich, run down these coordinates, will you?”

            She punched her refresh displays onto the room’s big screen then tapped out the first set of GPS coordinates onto a map website, “What the hell? These coordinates are for The Infinite Bean at 437 Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, Pennsylvania.”

Rich said, “The second reading is to The Infinite Bean on Cove Drive, Key West, Florida. Third is The Infinite Bean in Olathe Park, Kansas. The Infinite Bean in Ventura Beach. Another in Little Rock. Riverside, New York. All Infinite Beans. Huh.”

            “Do these coffee joints have uplink capability? Something that can jam GPS?”

            Rich looked up, “You’re kidding, right? At the most, they have satellite radio. Nothing that could scramble his GPS. And this is some specific scrambling going on. Have you heard of anything like this?”

            “No!” said Maureen, “Get our FBI guy on the line.”

            Meanwhile at The Infinite Bean, George picked at the pieces of his satphone, “What’s wrong with you?”

            “Look,” Dunkynn slapped George away, “I just need to think, okay? My situation’s a little delicate and needs some sincere strategizing. I’ve been drinking coffee for months and months, and it’s maybe getting to me.”

            George’s knuckles hurt from holding his huge coffee container, but he did not dare put it down, not after seeing that napkin shredded. He drank.

            “Why don’t,” he stammered, “you get something to eat? You look like hell. I mean, nothing personal, pretty bad.”

            Duncan leaned back against a wall, “I’ve been eating nothing but fat-free cran-gran muffins! And blueberry scones made with extra-virgin olive oil! And black walnut biscotti! I’d kill for a bologna sandwich. On supermarket white bread.”

            He began to weep, “I’ve done so much, I’ve put up with all this, and…nothing is going to screw this up for me.”

            Desperate, George looked for something with which to brain the man.

            The window showed an indigo sky whorled with glitter around a tiny, blood-red sun. Below, ebon buildings built with strange angles cast shadows across a courtyard.

            George was afraid to move, That’s a red dwarf sun releasing bursts of gas. And those buildings! That’s no architecture I’ve ever seen!

            The scene shifted into seagulls drifting in an azure sky over a seafood restaurant.

            “You see that?” George finally asked.

            “The red place?” Duncan cackled, eyes streaming, “Even Hell has The Infinite Bean. Didn’t you know?”

*         *          *

            Rich reported, “We lost the signal.”

The FBI liason Agent Spencer snapped his cellphone closed, “We’re searching all Infinite Beans in the county. So far, nothing.”

“He’s still not answering his phone,” said Maureen, “Ideas?”

Both shook their heads.

Spencer said, “He could have wandered off and gotten lost again. Remember last time you called out a manhunt?”

“I heard what I heard, agent. I suggest you get grim.”

            Spencer’s cellphone buzzed. He listened, then snapped the phone shut.

“That ‘Duncan Dunfree’ name came through on the FBI database.”


            “There’s a ‘Duncan Dunfree’ alias Dun…kine? With a ‘y’ and two ‘n’s? An accountant from Vermont. Has a Federal warrant against him. Homicide and embezzlement in Montpelier five months ago. Suspected of hacking up his wife and father-in-law and running off with their savings.”

            “They have The Infinite Bean in Montpelier?”

            “Dunfree’s car was found outside it still running, but he was missing. Why?”

*         *          *

            George plucked his earhairs and leaned against the windowframe, “Why? She said my GPS was jumping all over. We’re obviously jumping all over. How come?”

            He fidgeted and answered himself, “Naah. I got quanta on the brain. But…what if we are in all these places at the same time?”

            Dunkynn huddled against the far corner by the magazine rack, out of the way of the stream of jostling shadows.

            He wiped an eye, “Could you not think out loud? I’m trying to figure…”

Lost in the shifting scenes out the window, George scratched his nose, “How many Infinite Beans are there? Hundreds upon hundreds! All identical, right? All Infinite Beans are designed to the same specifications. They are built with the same materials, down to the pipes, wiring and tiles. Traffic patterns, background radiations, gas mixtures and thermals all fall within the same narrow range.”

Banging the satphone housing on his forehead, Dunkynn spoke through clenched teeth, “I just need some quiet!”

“Quantum entanglement is believed to be two particles having affected by each other, still able to do so at a distance. But this melding of Infinite Beans means that similar particles kept in proximity will entangle another group of similar particles in similar proximity. The number of Infinite Beans apparently reached a tipping point, creating gates into which open for split-seconds of time, creating…what? What?”

“What?” Dunkynn snapped.

“’Infinitebeanspace!’ This is why the satphone worked and your cellphone didn’t.

That’s why we can’t affect our surroundings! The door is opening and shutting hundreds of times a second, or when closed we are trying to open all doors simultaneously, which spreads our effort out until its near pointless. Same with the window! Hundreds of times stronger than just one windowpane, due to the overlap.”

He gestured to the gray, babbling shadows, “The worst we are to the customers are strange bumps and noises and misplaced muffins.”

Dunkynn bit a corner.

“But why us? Why now? We’re normal guys. I did what I did everyday. But I was worrying at some equations. Dunkynn, didn’t you say you were an accountant?”

Dunkynn pulled out a butter knife, “You’re driving me nuts! I had no reason to be thinking about any accounts or anything, okay? Figure out how to get us out of here! And shut up!”

“Okay!” George eyed the knife, dull but still lethal. He sipped. Then he tipped the paper tankard up high and smacked the bottom.

Uh oh, he thought. He considered and slipped along the wall to the whiteboard.

*         *          *

Uh oh, thought Maureen, looking at the report on Dunkynn,  I hope George pays attention to this guy.

Spencer got off his phone, “The Infinite Beans we’ve contacted are reporting a strange message that appeared out of thin air. People watched it being written on white boards with the day’s specials. So far, fourteen shops report ‘Geo. In Quantum! Change!’”

“Just appeared out of nowhere?” Rich gasped.

The FBI agent read from a notepad, “It is as if ‘an invisible hand is writing very slowly.’ The writing substance used --“

Maureen interrupted, “Fudge-wasabi syrup.”

Spencer and Rich looked to each other and shrugged.

“He’s still alive,” Maureen sighed and shook her head, “George goes on and on about quantum theory. What would he need changed? I remember he told me, ‘There can’t be any interference in the medium. It has to be perfectly conducive.’”

She punched up the Infinite Bean corporate web site, “We have to move quick!”

            “Why?” Spencer asked.

“The Infinite Bean opens in Europe tomorrow,” Maureen slumped, “ Another one-hundred and sixty-two stores in fourteen countries! Our ability to control goes way down.”

“It’s almost one in the morning,” said Rich, “He’s been there for nine hours. I can’t imagine spending one hour in an Infinite Bean. The music would drive me nuts.”

Maureen snorted, “He could care less about the music. But…all the other customers do. Is the guy from Infinite Bean’s corporate office still on the line?”

She snatched up the receiver, “Sir, you are about to do your country a great service, at a great inconvenience to your shareholders. At nine a.m., Eastern Standard Time, every manager of every Infinite Bean must do something to alter his store. Play polka music, change the color of the lightbulbs, remove seating space, as long as they don’t all do the same thing. To encourage your cooperation, sir, your government has two words for you. No, not ‘Homeland Security.’

“‘Procurement contract.’”

*         *          *

George had run out of syrup before he finished his message. His heart was slowing down and he started feeling tired. Beginning to crash. He had to keep himself awake. He said, “Listen. This is so cool. As soon as we have controlled an acceptable number of variables…we could send a robotic craft to construct Infinite Beans on Mars. And I have completely lost my train of thought.”

Dunkynn was strangely calm, “You know, I always wanted to be an actor. But I took a job at my wife’s father’s brokerage. Bookkeeping. Paid the bills while I did summer stock.”

In the closed Infinitebeanspace, George had tried to find a weapon. The chairs, the equivalent of hundreds of chairs, were far too heavy. He didn’t want to risk looking for another knife like Dunkyn’s, for fear the crazed actor would find what he had painted on the sign.

But it was Dunkyn who noticed the change.

He got up from the floor, “My butt feels funny.”

The room started to shake.

“I can…see the furniture clearer!” Dunkynn cried, “My god are we getting out of here?”

George said, “There are fewer stores in our space! There are fewer to smooth out the ride! ’Change’ anything! Maureen got my message!”

As Infinitebeanspace quaked, a voice yowled.

Dunkynn shouted, “What? What ‘nice one?’”

Hesitantly, George explained the message.

Dunkyn looked around, “Where are we going to end up? Who’s your wife that she has so much clout?”

“She works for the government.”


The voice cleared up, “Ge-e-e-eorge! This is the FBI. Is-s-s that you-u-u-u?”

Dunkynn sprang to his feet, “The FBI! You set me up!”

With a hideous scream, he fell onto George with the butter knife. Pushing a chair, George found that he could actually lift it. He put it between himself and the maniac.

Dunkynn stabbed and stumbled over. He clamped his hands on George’s windpipe and threw him to the ground.

Under George’s hands and cheek, the floor tile changed texture: cold tile, strangely flesh-like, tile, flesh.

          Wait! He thought, This is wrong!

          In the food court of Christiana Mall in Newark, Delaware, the gathered task force noted ghostly yowling over the alternative rock hits on the loudspeakers. A buzzing, gray huddle faded into view beside a carpeted pillar. 

          “Turn on the register!” said Maureen.

         Glowing zeros appeared on the screens. A person could be seen within the huddle.

         In shock, hysterical, the manager said to the phantom, “Welcome to ‘The Infinite Bean.’ May I help you?”

         The blurring became worse.

         The cashier pushed past the manager, clicking her tongue stud, “That’s not how you do it. It’s – ‘Yeah, you decided?’”

         With a cry, the form solidified and sprang to his feet, clawing at the air.

         George looked around, puzzled.

         Maureen walked up to him and swatted him on the arm, “Making me worry!”


         Then she hugged him.

         Breaking from the embrace, George said, “Honey, where’s Dunkynn? He was on top of me!”

         Spencer waved to the other agents, “Look around!”

         “Honey, I’m so tired. But it’s great! We hacked into an existing stargate system! Thousand monkeys with typewriters and all that! Some alien race already had a system in place! Jeez, this is going to take decades to sort this all out!”

         He rubbed his hands together, “Well, I better get to work! Who wants a cup? I’m buying! First I gotta make a pitsto --”

         Maureen grabbed the back of his shirt and lifted him, “If you move, I will kill you.”

         “But hone-e-ey!” George whined, “I wanna work on the stargate!”

Spencer returned, shaking his head, “No one else was with you.”

“Oh,” George considered, “Oh! We hacked the alien stargate, and doing so disturbed their system! We might have crashed their transportation network! I think they’d be pretty angry about that!”

            It looked angry.

            Dunkynn chewed his nails. The light from the red sun made his blood on them look black.

            “Yeh! Oo-ee-sye-did!” it said with a lilt. It gave metallic clicks.

            Hands shaking, Dunkynn handed over all his money, but the thing rolled its many eyes and called over its shoulder.


            Dunkynn screamed.