Spike Affron and his retired military buddies were back at their corner table, drinking coffee and busting each other's chops. Mac McConkey was back, ordering up an assorted dozen, including his daughter Kelsey's favorites, strawberry-filled.
Away from the hullabaloo, in a windowless storeroom lined with metal shelves and a large refrigerator, Leena Patel tied helium balloons to orange ribbons. Pink, burgundy, orange and lavender, they bobbed on the ceiling, nearly hiding a new security camera.
"It happened right here," Patel said quietly.
There on the linoleum floor, eight months ago, is where firefighters found Kanu Patel and Mukesh Patel, both dead, and Ashvin Patel, barely alive. The Dunkin' Donuts shop, and the immigrant workers' dreams, were in flames around them. The killers had fled.
Yesterday, though, with a smile and a prayer, the doughnut shop on Allentown Road in Camp Springs was open again for business.
"It's painful, but we want it to be as cheerful as possible," said Leena Patel, daughter of owner Jay Patel. "Because I don't think you can keep a memory forever. If you just keep on going, it will become slightly easier."
A phalanx of Prince George's County notables ventured to the hot asphalt corner to greet Jay Patel and celebrate what they called courage. Patel, who owns two other Dunkin' Donuts shops and was not related to the victims, spent all the insurance money and dug into his own pocket to reopen the gutted shop.
"It's strange to be here," Patel admitted as he grabbed a handful of plastic forks from the back room, "but we cannot let the bad guys win all the time."
One of the bad guys, a jury concluded Thursday, was Trone Tyrone Ashford, convicted of two counts of felony murder for the Oct. 15 attack. John Lemon Epps IV, his suspected accomplice, has yet to stand trial. Alicia N. Holloway, 17, who rifled the cash register, pleaded guilty June 4 to two counts of felony murder.
The take, after the shooting and the grabbing? Less than $100.
"Just to kill somebody for that kind of money," scoffed G.M. Curles, 75, a retired Navy man and a Dunkin' Donuts regular. "They ought to have a public hanging."
Curles is among a half-dozen former servicemen who have been pulling up chairs at the Allentown Road restaurant for 15 years or more. They lived through the heyday of the adjacent Allentown Mall, now shuttered, and migrated unhappily elsewhere after the October attack.
"They've got a wonderful cinnamon twist here," Curles said.
"This is the best coffee you can get anywhere," said John Stojka, 76, retired from the Air Force, who doesn't cotton to lattes or Frappucinos. He buys 50 doughnut holes every Sunday for his grandchildren, who consider the fried dough "the best invention this country ever had."
By this time, Spike Affron had strolled over, an 82nd Airborne tattoo fading on his left forearm. "That's a good cup of coffee," he agreed.
"We don't just come in here and drink coffee and eat a doughnut," Stojka went on.
"Yeah," Affron interrupted, "we make a mess."
Well-wishers were many and clouds were few as Jay Patel prepared to slice a blue ribbon with oversized scissors. Three members of the Prince George's County Council spoke, as did State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson -- "these young men are simply killers, he said" -- and many others.
"We struggled to get it back here," the Rev. Jack Marcom, pastor of Fort Washington Baptist Church, said of the Dunkin' Donuts shop. "We wanted to say something to the not-so-good community that we will not be defeated. We will take our neighborhood back. We don't have to live in fear."
For now, Patel's big-windowed doughnut shop, painted and fresh, is the only sign of commercial life on the southwest edge of Andrews Air Force Base. The L-shaped mall behind him lies battered and fallow. Traffic zips along the Branch Avenue overpass, nearly out of reach.
County Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro) said a deal is almost in place to reopen the mall after discussions among the developer, investors and store owners. He is proposing zoning changes that must be approved first.
If all goes well, Estepp said, the Allentown Mall will "be reopened, be rejuvenated and be a memorial to the people who died here."