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Across. Down.

For the third round of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction inspired by this photograph.

Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo
An open newspaper on a cafe table
Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo

Dean Parker worked newspaper crossword puzzles in ink. Quickly. Accurately. Early. Two blue gel pens clipped in his shirt pocket, one as backup. Dean enjoyed the challenge. Mostly he liked irritating people. He did crosswords in restaurant and coffee shop newspapers before others could do them. Perkins and Denny’s stayed open all night, moored at corners of a regional shopping mall. Morning editions arrived at both no later than 4:00 a.m. Dean alternated. One morning Perkins, the next: Denny’s. Thirty, maybe 45 minutes, tops, he completed the daily puzzle. Drank his first coffee. Black. Now he switched from being an expert to becoming an irritant. Off to the alternate all-nighter. Do it again. Same puzzle, same answers. Coffee number two. Second round, 10 minutes. Nothing copied; he just remembered clues/words from his first working. Object: Finish both Perkins and Denny’s crosswords before 5. At 5, Anna’s opened in a little strip of shops a block from the mall. Quick walk. Third stop; third puzzle. Weak coffee at Anna’s. One block in a different direction to McDonald’s. Better brew, but he allowed himself only basic stuff; nothing with whipped topping or chocolate drizzle. Service began inside at 5:30. Usually they gave him a senior discount without his asking. Dean filled in both McDonald’s papers if at all possible. Life got more complicated after that. Cooks Corner next. The downtown bus had a stop right in front. He got a transfer; pumped half a cup of caffeine from a house blend carafe, threw two quarters in the bowl; worked fast; and, with good timing, made the Broadway bus to Andy’s Coffee Shop & Bakery. Five minutes at Andy’s; answers now memorized; sixth coffee in a go-cup. Finally the 22nd Street bus completed a loop and let him off near the mall where he’d parked his car before walking to Perkins or Denny’s. Weekends, Dean extended along the Broadway route, did another cafe, a second McDonald’s, a Burger King, and a small truck stop. But not workdays. He drove home, showered, grabbed breakfast, arrived at the office by 7:50, in time to do the break room paper. Eight puzzles, six coffees, four restroom stops, three buses, countless would-be Will Shortzs really pissed off. Monday. Dean leaned back into the soft leather of his desk chair and smiled.