An uninvited lunch guest – a short story.
It is not often I eat out on my own.
“Table for one, please,” and I a waiter steers me to a table by a window overlooking the busy town square. I am so engrossed studying the menu I don’t notice the gentleman with the ebony, silver-topped cane easing into the seat opposite, slowly removing his leather gloves one finger at a time and slipping them inside the grey homburg with a black band.
“I hope you don’t mind the intrusion. Waiting for a colleague is such a devilish thing .You don’t mind, do you? No, of course you don’t.”
He doesn’t wait for a reply. “Trains,” he continues, “so unreliable and unpunctual today, most unsatisfactory. I believe they really do serve the most singularly exquisite pizzas here, baked in a wood fired stone oven for exactly 75 seconds. Not 70 or even 80. No, precisely 75 seconds. Mark my words.”
He raises his right arm waving a long finger in a circular motion through the air. “Waiter, if you would be so kind. My colleague and I wish to order, there’s a good chap.” His hand, hovering in mid-air only a second ago drops like a hawk snatching the menu from my grasp and throwing it to the floor. He holds my startled gaze with a steely stare and speaking in a slow almost sinister voice says, “I don’t think that will be necessary.”
He addresses the waiter. “A Neapolitan pizza, ‘pizza napoletana’ made with San Marzano tomatoes grown on the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius and mozzarella di bufala Campana made from the milk of water buffalo raised on the marshlands of Campania, not Lazio, Campania. Capire?. And garlic bread, a generous plateful, drizzled thinly with Fattoria Montecchio. Si prega di rapidamente.” And with a languid wave of the hand he summarily dismisses the waiter.
He steeples his fingers , staring intently at his nails before fixing his steel grey eyes once more on mine. “Allow me. You are a Yorkshireman, living nearby, married to a lady of Scottish descent. There are certain inflections you have acquired, not sufficiently pronounced for you to reside in Scotland. Retired; it is mid week; your attire is not that of the office, there is a tan to your skin suggesting a recent sabbatical. Yesterday, possibly the day before, was spent gardening. There are small cuts to your hands and left wrist. A faint indentation to your middle finger suggests years spent working in an office, holding a pen. Your hands are smooth. Yet you still use a pen. Hah, a writer. And you await the arrival of a train, there’s a thumbed timetable in your coat pocket. You have no bags, no purchases, and you keep glancing at your watch. Three times already to my knowledge. Your car is nearby, Japanese, red, recently washed and polished.”
He holds a finger up to his lips. “Shush. Elementary.”
Then with a bound he is out of his seat tapping on the window with the tip of his cane. “Aha, the game’s afoot!”
And in a trice he snatches up his over-coat flinging it over his shoulders, retrieves his hat and gloves and runs for the doorway narrowly missing a startled waiter.
The pizza was simply delicious. And the bill? Well er, I know where to send it!