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The Burlesque Cafe
This story was inspired by Chris Mills (cam8510), who issued a short story writing challenge linked to his Hub: "Five Steps to Writing a Solid Flash Fiction Story." The Challenge was to write a 1,000 (or fewer) word story using the prompts:
- Genre: Drama,
- Location: Coffee Shop,
- Object: A Walking Cane
So here's what I came up with.
The Burlesque Cafe
I see him cross the street at the corner and wave his stick at a passing motorist. He shouts some vaguely racist phrase, as if the driver has no right to be on the road. Reaching the kerb, the stick-waver makes a V-sign as the car continues on its way.
Still an arrogant asshole, then.
I smile at my own reflection in the window, then keeping my head turned slightly as if I'm totally engrossed in whatever inane crap is pouring out of the TV on the wall, I watch the newcomer's approach.
As he passes the window, he makes a big thing of not noticing me. He stops at the door and kicks his boots free of snow before coming into the cafe.
He's behind me now, and I can almost feel him gazing around the place, taking in the quaint watercolours of country scenes on the walls, admiring the child-like salt-dough decorations, appraising the faded price list by the counter.
"Ah, goot morning."
I turn in a fairly nonchalant way and watch as he bumbles his way through the menu, choosing one thing, discarding it, choosing another, working out (in a loud voice) if he can afford a cappuccino and a piece of cake on his meagre salary.
The girl at the counter smiles, accommodating his irritating tone. She takes his money and steps into the back room. He watches her go, then turns round, sees me (as if for the first time), and raises an eyebrow. "Ah." Thumping his stick on the floor as he walks, he comes over to my table and bows slightly. "Ingleesh?"
"Vould you mind?"
I wave a hand at the other chair. He pulls it back and sits. For a moment, he says nothing and simply sits there, gazing around. He nods at the tourists in the corner, undoes his coat, takes off his gloves, places his cane carefully on the wide shelf that passes for a windowsill.
Finally, he leans forward. His voice is low. "Dey say summer in Vienna vill be varmer this year."
I copy his stance. "Yes, but only when tulips are blooming in Amsterdam."
He smiles, leans back. "You like ze disguise?" He fingers his rather overdone goatee beard. "Modelled on zat Scotteesh actor - Brian Cox. Think it give me a distinguished facade."
I glance at the tourists and wonder if they're following our conversation.
"Where have you been, Max? I thought they were onto us."
He gives me one of his 'hurt' looks. "I had to take tree buses, two trams and a boat to shake zem off." He shuts up while the waitress comes over and slides a small tray onto the table. When she's behind the counter again, he continues. "Not as young as I used to be, ay?"
I pretend indifference. "That's nothing - I jumped from the roof of an office block, stole a bicycle, ran two miles dressed as a nun and roller-skated along the embankment." I finish my coffee and place it in the saucer, half-standing to push it across the table. Sitting back down, I take the opportunity to move my chair back, allowing easier access to the cane.
Max makes a face and moves his own chair nearer the windowsill. "You haff no stamina. On my last mission, I ran five marathons, hijacked a Boeing 747, stole a horse and cart and unicycled across Paris in ze rush hour." He smiles.
I try one better. "When I was assigned to the Ecuadorian Minister for Culture, I water-skied down Lake Geneva, stilt-walked through Venice during the carnival, parachuted into Sophia Loren's hotel room, shimmied down a drainpipe and had sexual relations with seventeen cheer leaders in a burger bar before tea."
His face falls and I know I've taken it too far. He shakes his head. "You made that up."
I hang my head. "Yes. Sorry."
He shrugs. "Is okay. Is same for me - pressures of the job." He drains his cappuccino and stands up. "Thankyou for ze conversation my friend," he says in a loud voice, picking up his gloves. "It is goot for my Ingleesh, ay?"
I smile and watch as he shuffles away from the table, waves at the waitress and leaves the same way he came in. I wait five minutes before picking up the cane and leaving the cafe.
Outside, the street is quiet except for a few mid-day shoppers. I walk off in the opposite direction to Max. When I turn the corner he's there, leaning against the wall.
"D'yer fink they fell for it?"
I shrug. "Maybe."
He moves past me and peers round the corner. "Nah, don't fink so. They'd be on our tail by now if they 'ad." He laughs. "I told yer."
I smile. "Yeah, you were right - we should have gone with the Michael Caine scenario and done The Ipcress File again."
He holds out a hand and I pass him the cane. "Catch you next time."