Crying Over Coffee

rating: +94+x

For my Uncle Tom

July 23, 1947-December 24, 2020

Dr. Harold West rubbed his face and looked at his watch; it was both too early and too late for this. Before him, in a holding cell, sat an old friend. A man at the tail end of his sixties, a confused expression on his face, his grey hair messy. He was clad in a labcoat, complete with a security badge that shouldn't work anymore.

West bit his tongue, a tirade of swears on its tip."Why aren't his biometrics out of the system yet?"

Agent Nicholas Ewell shook his head and scratched the back of his head, suppressing a yawn. Even for an agent, this was an unusual hour, and he didn't have the rush of adrenaline that accompanied things like late-night containment breach alarms. "Officially, he hasn't retired. He won't be counted as retired for another month or so."

"He's a security risk," West hissed. "For god's sake, he's not well. Do I have to beg Weiss to shut down biometrics?"

"Harry." Ewell sighed. "Believe me, I feel this just as bad as you. My dad had to go through it, and… well, I know how close you two are."

Harold West shook his head and brought a cold cup of coffee to his face. He had been holding it for so long he hadn't even noticed it cooling. "Let me in."

Ewell buzzed Harold West into the cell. West held up one hand and sat across from his old friend. "Hey, Tom."

Dr. Thomas Matterson looked at West. "Johnny?"

"Harry. John's my brother. We look alike, I know." This was a patent lie. John had a scar across his nose from tripping in the shower a few years back. "Do you know where you are?"

"This— this isn't my office. Has there been a containment breach?" Thomas looked around the room

"No, Tom. It's 2:30 in the morning. You— you don't work at Site-87 anymore, remember? You retired."

"Oh." Dr. Matterson looked down, confused and sad. "But what about Project Pericles?"

"It's going swimmingly." The project had been discontinued sometime in 2007, due to budget concerns. "Why don't I take you home?"

"I- I live on-site."

"Not anymore." Harold shut his eyes and choked down a crack in his voice. "You live in town, remember? On Oak Street. You're not supposed to come here anymore, you've been told that."

"Oh. Right." Tom stood up. "I don't know where my keys are."

"You walked here." Harold started walking him out the door. "Come on, I'll drive you home."

The drive back to Thomas Matterson's house was silent. After helping his mentor back into his room, Harold West stood outside the building, contemplating the number on his phone, the one he had been afraid to call for all these months.

Excerpt of Web Traffic Analysis of Dr. Harold West by Helen.AIC, Site-87


"Denied?" Harold West laughed in disbelief. "Director Weiss, if this is your idea of a joke, April Fool's is next month."

"This is no joke, Harold." Nina Weiss sighed, before training her eyes on him. "Dr. Matterson is an active security risk, and you want to put him in civilian assisted living."

"He's harmless!" West gawped.

"So's an oxygen leak, until it comes into contact with match." Director Weiss shook her head. "I'm sorry, Harold. But… the Foundation has final say, and they aren't willing to risk any possible security fault."

"It's in Sloth's Pit! Everyone knows—"

"They don't know about some of the projects Matterson worked on, which he still remembers the details of thanks to the mnestics given to him in the 90's." Weiss grimaced. "I wish there was something I could do. The Foundation does have assisted living facilities—"

"The closest one is in Milwaukee. That's a six-hour drive!" West stood, shaking. "This is horseshit and you know it, Nina."

Director Weiss frowned. "Harold, I have other matters to attend to. If you're going to lose your temper, I advise you to leave."

West stormed out. When he left, Weiss allowed herself a scream of frustration into her hands.


Once again, Dr. West was summoned from his bed at 2:30 in the morning. However, the location was, for once, not a Foundation holding cell. "Where did you find him?"

"Just… wandering along West Main." Officer Arlene Perlmutter let Dr. West into the station. "You're listed as his emergency contact. He said he was going to the Plastics building."

"That's in the other direction." Dr. West rubbed his face. "Does he know where he is?"

"He seemed kind of out of it." She said as she let him into a break room, where Dr. Matterson had sat. It smelled of cold coffee. "Do you—"

"Please." West waved her off. The door closed, and he sat across from Dr. Matterson. He waved a hand in front of his face to get his attention. "Tom. It's me."

"Harry?" Matterson locked eyes with him. "What am I doing here? I was going into work, and the next thing I know…"

"You're in the police station, Tom. In Sloth's Pit. You're— you're not allowed in the site anymore, remember? We've told you this."

"Oh." Tom looked down. "Can you take me home?"

"That's what I came here to do." Harold stood to leave, a slight tremble as he took the door handle. He suppressed it, and thanked the officer on his way out.


"Coffee's fucking cold." Dr. West sounded more bitter than the drink he was trying to choke down. "Who the fuck makes cold coffee?"

"It's cold-brew." Johnathan West frowned at his brother. "Town weirdness is affecting all the coffee makers, so this is all we have."

"Disgusting." Harold spat into the sink in the break room. "Absolutely fucking disgusting." Even so, he downed it, his outburst drawing odd looks from the rest of the personnel in the room. Then, they pointedly looked away, remembering West's circumstances.

"Harry, do you need help?" John swallowed. "Because you know I'm always free-"

"No." Harold snapped. "I can take care of myself." He yawned and poured himself another cup of cold brew. He wasn't sure if the problem was the temperature, the bitterness of the brew, or the fact that he only got three hours of sleep and needed something to pick him up.

"…if you say so." Johnathan chewed his lip. He had a meeting with Dr. Palmer later today. He'd bring it up then.

19-MAR-2019-SEARCH ENGINE QUERY: "Assisted living Sloth's Pit Wisconsin"

"What do you mean you can't find him?!"

Katherine West winced as her husband yelled into the receiver, while she poured marshmallows in her daughter's cocoa. They were all tired, the whole house awakened by yet another 2:00 AM phone call.

Julie West tried her best not to seem scared, but her daddy had been angry a lot lately, because of his friend. She had met him, once, but not since the calls started.

"I—" On other end of the line, the voice of a nurse who had only been identified as "Micheal" by Help@Home, cracked and betrayed his inexperience. "I looked all over the house, and the back door was open. I looked all over the block, and I can't find him, I'm sorry."

"Call the police first next time," Dr. West grumbled, zipping up his pants. "I'll be over in a moment. You just—"

In the background of the call, there was the creak of stairs. West's heart skipped a beat. "Is someone else in the house?"

"I don't know." Micheal swallowed. "Hello? Is anyone there?"

"Jesus Christ, don't alert them!" West made his way out the door. "Hang up and call the police, I'll be right—"

"Who are you?" The voice of a half-awake Dr. Matterson came on through the other end. "What are you doing in my house? Why are you here?"

"…he's here. Just came downstairs."

Dr. West sat in his car, clutching the steering wheel. "Put him on the line."

The phone was handed over. "Hello?"

"Hi, Tom? It's Harold. Just… go back to sleep. That man is here to help with things. Okay?"

"Harold? Okay, I'll… see you at the site tomorrow." Tom yawned on the other end. "Why is it so dark out?"

"It's 2:00 in the morning."

"Oh. So it is." On the other end, the nurse interrupted, indistinct. "This young man wants to talk to you."

"Put him on." West's face was a malevolent scowl. He didn't even give Micheal the chance to say the first syllable of his apology before he said, "You're fired."

25-MAR-2019-SEARCH ENGINE QUERY: "Assisted suicide legal Wisconsin" FLAGGED FOR CONTENT: SUICIDE
25-MAR-2019-SCiPNET QUERY: "Foundation policy on assisted suicide" FLAGGED FOR CONTENT: SUICIDE


"God, that's creepy." Dr. West put the printout of his internet history back on Palmer's desk. "Should have done that from home."

"Probably a good idea in the future." Merrick Palmer, Site-87's resident counselor and psychiatrist, folded his hands. "I agree that it's… absolute horseshit that we, an organization that might as well be throwing human test subjects into a giant woodchipper, don't allow our personnel to die with some dignity."

"Someone at 19 was allowed to kill himself using 173 after being exposed to a kill agent." West sniffed, pulling another tissue from the box on Merrick's desk. "Lucky bastard."

"Harold." Merrick picked up a pen and toyed with it. "I can't help but wonder if… well, if you want his suffering to end, or if you want your suffering to end."

West tensed up. "Merrick, you've known me for close to a decade. You know I can take care of myself."

"But can you take care of yourself, your wife, your kid, and Dr. Matterson?" Merrick tapped the pen on his desk. "I understand that Katherine kicked you out."

"I left. Voluntarily. I—" West rubbed his face. "The phone calls kept on waking up Julie. She needs to sleep, she's starting middle school in the fall. I'm staying at the Pyramid." He put his head in his hands, blowing air through his fingers, before sliding them down his face and picking up his cup of cold coffee. "Still haven't fixed the machines, god fucking dammit."

"You hold sole power of attorney over Dr. Matterson?" Dr. Palmer tapped a few keys on his computer.

"Yeah." Dr. West sniffed. "Yeah, I do."

"Then, for your mental and emotional well-being, it is my opinion that he needs to be checked into the Foundation home in Milwuakee." He turned the monitor towards West, which showed details on said home. "It's very nice. They cater to Foundation personnel from all over the Midwest."

"It'd kill him. He loves this town." Harold shook his head. "He'd wake up in some place that's hundreds of miles away, not knowing where he is. He can't adjust well, and it— it'd kill him. You know it would."

"It's killing you." Merrick threw up his hands. "Your physical was last month, and you've lost ten pounds since then!"

"Just sticking to my New Year's resolution." Dr. West's accompanying laugh was completely humorless.

Merrick suppressed a roll of his eyes. Everyone at this site hid their pain behind jokes, and it got old. "Dr. West, I'm not asking. I have the power to retract your clearance on all projects if I believe your mental health makes you a security risk, and quite frankly? I believe it does."

"That's not fair." West laughed. "That's not fucking fair, and you fucking know it." West stood abruptly, ready to deliver a tirade towards the therapist. In the process, he knocked the coffee into Merrick's keyboard. "Fuck, shit, fuck!"

"It's all right." Merrick shook his head. "I'll call maintenance. God knows they have fifty keyboards on standby at any given time."

West looked down at his hands. He was shaking, and there was a dull ache in the back of his head. He sighed, and pulled out his phone.

27-MAR-2019-SEARCH ENGINE QUERY: "Directions to Milwaukee".

The sun was high overhead as Harold West drove down WIS 13. Thomas Matterson was in the backseat, looking at the scenery. They had packed all of his bags this morning, and Dr. West had reservations for a Mariott Inn in Milwaukee so that he could help his mentor get adjusted.

"I'm going to miss it." Dr. Matterson sighed. "I'm not coming back, am I?"

"You can visit." Dr. West's stomach growled. A sign on the side of the road advertised a Waffle House at the next exit. "Are you hungry?"

"I— kind of am, yeah."

"Do waffles sound okay?"

"They sound fine."

Ten minutes later, the two of them had sat down at a somewhat sticky table in a Waffle House. The waitress had taken their orders, and had just poured them coffee. Harold West drank his first warm cup in several weeks.

"I'm sorry, Harry." Dr. Matterson's face was contorted into a grimace. "About everything. I'm sorry. I know I'm not well."

Harold West's cup trembled in his hand. "It's… all right, Tom. I'm just… I'm sorry to see you go like this. You deserve better."

"Guess I shouldn't have gone to Woodstock, eh?" Matterson laughed and looked down at his coffee. "What is this?"

"It's coffee, Tom." A feeling of dread grew in the pit of Dr. West's stomach.

"I didn't order this. I—" Matterson looked around, fear in his eyes, and confusion on his face. "Where are we? This —this isn't the Site."

"Tom— Tom, please, I— I'm taking you to M-Milwaukee."

No recognition was on Dr. Matterson's face as he looked at his former pupil. "You— you look like a researcher. Do you know why we're here?"

Coffee spilled onto the table as a grown man began to weep.

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