The guy is just sitting there looking at the menu. He’s hungry. The other guy – a man in a flat cap and Dockers is sitting at a table right next to him. These cafés, these days. They want to get as many customers in as possible. Sell coffee and cake and then get them out.
Well, he can tell that the man looking at the menu is hungry. Why? He’s licking his lips, rubbing his chin and now and again, he swallows hard as if he’s already got something to swallow.
Another thing. The guy in the flat cap. The one who’s watching the guy reading the menu, has been watching him for a long time. Something like a week and half already. So, he has feeling for him. He knows his habits and his moods. He knows when he has wild ass ideas and wants to go and do something out of the ordinary – that was only once. It put Flatcap in a spin, though. He thought he’d lost him for a while. Can’t allow that. Got a job to do and finish, see it through to the dirty part – the part that nobody else will do.
“The chocolate cake. It’s okay,” Said Flatcap.
The guy with the menu just flicked his eyes across and then stopped reading the menu.
“Did you just speak to me?”
“Sure. I’m looking at you and I just spoke. Chocolate cake.”
“Yeah, go for it, don’t hesitate unless you want to get even more hungry than you already are.”
“I don’t hesitate on things. I’m just careful about my choices,” Said the Guy.
Flatcap knew a few things about the guy. He didn’t know his name and he didn’t need to either. Flatcap pulled his chair a little closer to the guy’s table, only an inch or two. He didn’t want others to hear his words.
“Yeah, life’s full of rules and regs, right?” Said Flatcap.
“Sure. Why d’you say that?”
“It just is. So much in fact, that right now your brain is trying to stop you ordering the chocolate cake.”
“Well, I wouldn’t really know. There’s no law that says you have to be careful about chocolate cake. I might order an orange cake or something, or nothing at all. You know?” Said the guy with the menu.
The waiter came over and stood with his pad and pen ready, “You want to order?”, He looked at both men. Flatcap ordered a coffee.
“I’ll go for the orange cake and a coffee, too,” Said the guy. The waiter flipped his pen and walked away.
“See? What did I tell you?” Said Flatcap.
“Listen, who are you?”
“I’m a customer. Just wanted to help you make a wise decision,” Flatcap smiled. He had a friendly smile, it often helped him get up close without suspicion getting in the way. He liked to work that way.
The guy smiled back at Flatcap.
“You know, I think you’re right,” He confided, he leaned across the table to Flatcap.
“I’m right? About what?”
“Well, I really wanted the chocolate cake and, I don’t understand why, but I ordered the orange cake, instead.”
Flatcap laughed, he tugged at the peak of his cap.
“You could change it, you know? There’s no law saying you can’t.”
“I know that. You don’t have to tell me that,” Said the man. He raised his body and peered over the heads of other customers. The waiter was two tables away, but the guy didn’t want to speak too loudly. He waved his hand at the waiter’s back.
Flatcap sat up, “ Hey!” The waiter turned around. He didn’t look too pleased with being shouted at, “this guy wants to change his order, come here,” Said Flatcap.
The waiter edged through the tightly placed tables, he was sweating and straight faced.
The guy, still holding the menu in his hands said, “You know, you could get thrown out for speaking to the waiter like that.”
“Big deal. I weigh in at 17 stone and have big feet. They ain’t throwing me nowhere.”
The waiter asked them what’s up.
“This guy made a mistake,” Flatcap pointed at the table next to him.
“It’s not a mistake, really, I just changed my mind, that’s all. I’ll take chocolate cake instead – is that going to be trouble for you?” Said the man.
“What? No,” The waiter scribbled something onto his pad again and then walked away. A few minutes passed and he returned with the order, avoiding any eye contact with both men. Flatcap slurped at his coffee. He liked to drag the froth up between his lips and swish it around a little before swallowing. It made him feel like a reptile or something.
The other guy hacked small crumby pieces of chocolate cake off and put them in his mouth. Flatcap watched him chew.
“Why do you chew your chocolate cake like that?”
“I don’t, do I?”
“Chocolate cake is for rolling around in your mouth and swallowing. There’s no chewing it like it’s a steak or something.”
“Who are you? Why do you keep telling me this stuff?”
“Life. It’s full of rules, you should know that,” Said Flatcap.
“You been breaking a few recently, right?”
“Are you a cop or something?”
“Right now, you wish I was a cop,” Flatcap laughed.
“Why? Are you somebody dangerous, or something?” The guy shoved a bigger spoonful of cake in his mouth and started to chomp hard on it. His mouth twisted and his teeth flashed brown and white.
He said something but the cake got in the way of his words.
Flatcap grinned. “You gotta wait till your mouth is empty, fella,” He said.
The guy swallowed hard, rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand, “I said, this chocolate cake tastes like shit. It’s sort of tangy or something,” He took another spoonful.
Flatcap watched him. Saw the sweat building on the guy’s brow and the redness in his cheeks. Greed. That’s what this guy reminds me of, thought Flatcap.
“You know what?”
The guy looked at Flatcap, waiting for him to keep speaking. He pointed at his full mouth. Flatcap smiled.
“The law. It tells us what we can’t do. It doesn’t tell us what we can do. So, we have to guess, and that means we probably get it all wrong and pay for our sins.”
“Yeah, right,” The guy ate some more cake.
“Take a man, for example,” Flatcap placed his coffee cup on the saucer and adjusted the spoon.
The guy took a quick look over at Flatcap, then he flipped the menu open and browsed the lists.
“ A man who has a lot of things in life. He’s got a partner who he loves, no kids so he can still have some fun in life – till the kids turn up. He’s got money because he built something.”
“Yeah, that’s alright for him. He’s having fun, I get what you’re saying,” The guy ran his finger down the list, stopped and looked up. He was searching for the waiter.
“This man, he has what he wanted, right? But, he wants some more of life. So, he goes out and searches for things, to please himself.”
“Oh, I get what your saying, he’s acting like a dog or something,” The guy waved at the waiter, the waiter nodded.
“Yeah, that’s right. A dog. He’s become an animal.”
The guy looked at Flatcap after he said the words. Flatcap’s eyes were cold and wet. Green-blue. Steady eyes that went right to the heart. The guy didn’t like the feeling he got, so he looked away.
The waiter came, “Yes sir?”
“I want the orange cake now, and I think I’ll have some of this ice cream with cream on top. It’s my favourite, is that okay?” The guy looked up at the waiter. Flatcap saw the little twitches in the guy’s face, waiting for the waiter to tell him it’s okay to order anything he wanted.
“That’s fine, sir,” The waiter tried to take the menu but the guy stopped him.
“I might need it for something.” The waiter left.
Flatcap continued talking and the guy scraped the last of the chocolate off the small white plate. A motor-scooter passed and everything was drowned in the sound of its screeching engine.
“I didn’t really hear you. The scooter, you know?” Said the guy.
“Right. Stuff gets washed away in the noise around here,” Said Flatcap.
“You know? I don’t know you, you speak in a weird way. Who are you, again?”
“I didn’t say my name and I won’t.”
“Well, if we’re going to talk or something, I’ll tell you my name,” The guy straightened his body and began to extend an arm to shake hands.
Flatcap stared at him. Didn’t move a muscle.
“It’s not about names. We don’t need that, you are what you are and that’s that.”
The guy put his hand on the table, then slid it slowly towards himself. He looked around the street, at the parked cars, people passing then back at Flatcap. He was beginning to not like Flatcap. His eyes were hurting, stinging like he had something in them. He looked down at the potted plants close to his table.
“Do you know something about me?” The guy asked.
“I know the stinging sensation in your eyes isn’t hay fever. You ever suffer from hay fever?”
“Your wife says hi and bye. She wanted it to be like that,” Said Flatcap.
“What? You know my wife?” The guy rubbed at his eyes, his hands covered in sweat. He didn’t know it but his face was beginning to swell.
The waiter came and put the ice cream and cake in front of the guy.
He searched the table for his spoon. Flatcap helped him, pushed it into his hand. Greed, it makes us feel alive, he thought.
“You still hungry?” Asked Flatcap.
“Ah, yeah, I think…” The guy rubbed his eyes and spooned at the ice cream. It was melting onto the table already.
“You ever been to South America?”
“No,” The guy managed a portion of ice cream into his mouth. Flatcap watched a drip run down his chin. The guy stared into the bowl.
“Well, they got this snake down there. Real vicious thing, too. You don’t want to meet up with this snake.”
“Well, I won’t do that,” The guy was becoming confused. His hand was trembling and he could see that his arm had begun to swell up.
“Yeah, anyway, this snake. They say it’s the most poisonous snake you can find. It bites a person and they don’t stand a chance. They don’t have an antidote for it.”
“Okay, snake. Yeah, I guess that’s a bad thing, no law against it then?” The guy ate some cake, his head was dropping towards the plate but he sat up again and rocked around like a ball.
“It’s none of my business, but you know, your wife told me you been acting like a dog for a while now,” Said Flatcap.
“Yeah, that’s right. Dogs, everywhere and stuff,” The guy tried to shovel cake into his sweaty face. Parts of orange sponge fell to the table, he managed a small portion and began to chew then spat it onto the plate. There was blood in his spit.
“Oh, that doesn’t look good,” He said.
“No. Not really, it takes about fifteen minutes to get to the really hard part. The part were you begin to really feel it,” Said Flatcap.
“Yeah, your wife’s wrath, I suppose that’s what she meant. She wanted it slow and painful,” Flatcap looked around the café. Nobody was interested in them, the guy was going in a quiet way.
“It’ll make your muscles seize up really fast. Then you’ll think that’s the worst pain you’ve ever had in your life, but it isn’t. A woman’s wrath and all that. Pretty deep I suppose.”
“My wife?” The guy looked out into the road. His eyes still watery and stinging. His arm limp but painful, the sort of pain that dominates the mind. He felt odd movements in his stomach, like something was inside him trying to get out through the wrong orifice. His throat was drying up and the muscles began to make twitching movements then he felt the burning rise up his legs. His world was becoming full of pain.
His wife’s wrath.
Flatcap leaned over and took a look at the guy’s eyes. Red as birthday jellies and glassy too.
“You know this snake I was going on about? Well, I read a book about it. Really interesting stuff, maybe a bit above my head in places. This snake though, its poison works its way through the body, and it basically turns the flesh into a corpse. How that works baffles the mind,” Flatcap crossed his legs and laid both hands on his knees. He held a small syringe in one hand, small enough to keep out of sight.
The guy was still sitting upright but leaning against the back of his chair. The waiter was busy. The tables were full, new customers trying to get the waiter’s attention.
“Lovely afternoon. Sunshine and coffee, I like that. Not the cake, bad for you I think. But you know, everyman to his own poison.”