Crime Beat: A short story
Some years ago there was an attempt to arrange a dinner at Societi Bistro in Orange Street, Cape Town with three crime fiction writers: Margie Orford, Sarah Lotz and me. The evening didn’t come off but Sarah and I wrote a short story that incorporated the proposed menu. All to create the right ambience, you understand. Can’t quite remember why Margie wasn’t part of the writing deal but suspect she was elsewhere in the world, and as we had a tight deadline to meet it had to be done chop-chop. So much for chop-chop. When tidying up some old files languishing in the Crime Beat folder I came across the story and thought, what the hell, post it. Sarah and Margie gave the nod so here it is. If you’re in the zone you’ll recognise the characters, if you don’t where’ve you been, my chinas?
The Deadly Menu
We’re sitting in Societi Bistro on Orange. At Georgie Allen’s invitation.
He’d phoned, said, ‘Mace Bishop I have a job for you. I’d said, ‘Yeah, who?’ He’d said, ‘Tomorrow at the bistro.’
So here we are.
‘You,’ I say, pointing my knife at Georgie, the worst dressed lawyer I’ve ever seen, ‘you want me to guard her’ – shifting my knife to point at the skinny woman, Dr Clare Hart. ‘You’ve got to be joking. She’s trouble. People try to kill her.’
‘Sir,’ says the waiter or waitron or whatever the hell you call them nowadays, ‘what will sir have for starters?’
I glare at the waiter, come back to Georgie. ‘No. Never. Got it. Not a snowballs.’ To the waiter say, ‘I don’t do soup. Specially not Rustic potato and broccoli soup. Who eats broccoli anyhow?’
‘The Creamy hake brushetta,’ he says, scribbling on his pad.
‘And sir’s main course?’
The waiter’s the sort of guy you wanna whack.
I’m dying for a cigarette. Mace’s hard-boiled attitude isn’t making things any easier, and Clare keeps checking her watch. Still, it could be worse.
It’s worse. A loud Scottish voice blares over the musak, and Patrick bustles into the room, all five foot one inch of him. ‘All right, Georgie?’ he says to me. He points at Clare. ‘You that profiler lassie? I’ll need to brief you later.’ He glances at Mace. ‘And talking of briefs, you still wearing speedos, Mace?’
I don’t like the way Mace is fingering his steak knife.
‘This is my associate, Advocate Patrick McLennan,’ I say to Clare. She doesn’t look impressed. I don’t blame her. She’s doing us a favour agreeing to be our expert witness on a serial-killing case, and she’s taking a chance meeting us here.
The waiter hovers nervously at Patrick’s elbow. ‘What would sir like for his main? The Smoked pork cutlet? We serve that with potatoes, green beans, mustard. Or there’s the Vegetarian option, lovely soft polenta, summer veg, shavings of parmesan. Or sir can have the Fish of the day? That comes with potatoes, anchovy, rocket, some chilli for zing.’
Patrick winks at Clare, grabs the bread on her side plate and stuffs it into his mouth.
‘I’ll have the lot, laddie,’ he grunts.
Clare sighs, Mace glares, Patrick’s oblivious. The waiter looks like he’s going to argue. But even he can see there’s no point.
What’s with the Hart woman? She wants a starter that’s all, no main, no pudding. She’s thin. Thin like a pin. She needs food.
‘You a GP doctor, Clare?’ I ask to keep the scene light.
She shakes her head. Says nothing. Georgie’s pal, the advocate with the stains on his tie, fat flabber, pipes up, ‘Pee aitch dee, Mace. D’you ken?’
Guy’s asking for a smashed thumb.
‘Will sir have dessert?’ says the waiter.
Will sir have dessert? That’s a question? Is the president a polygamist?
I check the menu. Strawberry Eton mess or Profiteroles.
‘Profiteroles,’ I say. Chantilly cream, chocolate, way to go, my brother.
I scope the bistro. Notice her then. The black leather glove, the rosebud on her table, the dude with the short dreads beside her. The dude reaching into his jacket.
Patrick nudges me. ‘Check it out, laddie. Isn’t that Sheemina February? The opposition?’
I peer past a table of ladies-who-dine. He’s right. It is. She’s sexy as all hell, but even I’m not stupid enough to get involved with her. She’s known as the bitch goddess in legal circles, the epitome of a lawyer with a heart of ice.
‘What’s with that black glove?’ Patrick glances sneakily at Mace. ‘She like a psycho version of Michael Jackson or something?’
Mace stiffens. He has a history with Sheemina. But he won’t say what kind of history.
The dreadlocked guy next to her, eyes as jumpy as a tik addict’s, pulls an iPhone out of his jacket pocket. Mace relaxes slightly.
‘Chill out, Mace. Not even Sheemina’s going to try something in a place like this,’ Patrick says, mouth full of Eton mess.
The waiter glides towards us with our coffees on a tray. Clare stands up and says she’s going to the ladies’.
It happens fast. Too fast.
Clare shouts; the tray clatters onto the table.
‘Get down!’ Mace yells. The crack of gunfire kills the musak.
Patrick rugby tackles me off my chair, his ninety kilos squashing the breath out of my lungs.
There’s a moment of pure silence. Then screaming. The thud of footsteps as the rest of the diners flee in a panicked mass. The clack of stiletto heels. I look up. Sheemina smiles icily down at me.
‘I’ll see you in court, Mr Allen,’ she says. She glances at Mace, licks her lips. ‘And don’t forget to bring back-up. You’ll need it.’
I scramble to my feet. Mace slips his gun back into his waistband and we all look down at the body on the floor.
‘I knew that waiter was too efficient to be true,’ Patrick says.
The pages of the waiter’s order pad lie scattered in a crimson halo around his head; his fingers are still curled around his gun. Clare leans down gracefully to check the wannabe assassin’s vital signs. No point. Even I can see he won’t be telling anyone about the specials in the near future.
Patrick breaks the silence. ‘Think I’ll come here again,’ he says. ‘Company was crap but the food was to die for.’