The Meeting

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The Meeting

Postby Colonel Mustard » Thu Jun 23, 2011 7:51 pm

A piece I entered into a school writing competition not long ago, but failed to win with. Still, thought I'd post it up here, in the hope you might enjoy it.

And before anyone asks, the Will in this is indeed the William Gaynesford of Irregulars fame.



The Meeting

The café sat in the centre of Soho and, despite the fact that it wasn’t even a Friday or Saturday, it was busy. This was Soho, after all, the cankered, ever-beating and warm heart of London, the centre that welcomed all into its vast, seedy embrace, home of poets and whores, musicians and bums. The café was at its edge, a frontier town that led into to the Wild West at the heart of English civilisation, a place where partygoers would take a cup of coffee before going into one of Soho’s many bars, nightclubs, restaurants and strip joints.

It also served a damn good cup of coffee.

The woman who approached it was pretty much indistinguishable from the small horde of clubbers that was present even on a Thursday night, dressed in a warm coat for the winter, high heels, brown hair let loose along her shoulders, looking to be in her late twenties, perhaps early thirties, though such estimates of age would be tragically inaccurate. She saw the sign, and double checked the text message she had been sent. This was the place.

She glanced around the tables and the small crowd outside, present in defiance of the cold of London winter, some smoking, others simply drinking coffee, before stepping inside. She’d barely stepped through the threshold before a voice called out over the hum of a dozen conversations; “Oi, over here!”

From a table set into a corner, right by the window, a young man waved to her, gesturing to the only free chair in the entirety of the café. He grinned at her as she sat down, and she asked; “How did you manage to save a seat in here?”

“Little bit of hypnosis, little bit of my natural charm and charisma,” he replied. “Anyway, hello Aloya.”

“Hello Will,” she said, a tinge of Russian accent in her voice. “What’s this about?”

“What do you mean, what’s this about?” Will asked, taking a sip from the coffee that sat in front of him. “You’re an old friend, I heard you were in London, and I wanted to catch up, that’s all. Coffee, by the way? Best in the city, and I should know.”

“An old friend? We’ve only met a few times, Will, and that was back in Brazil.”

“And Berlin, don’t forget. But you’re avoiding my question; coffee?”

Aloya frowned and leant back slightly in her chair.

“Are you still holding that time in Berlin against me?” she asked.

“Well of course I am,” Will said. “You shot me. Twice. In the head. I mean, once in the head’s bad enough, but twice. I’m not bloody Jesus, am I? But still, coffee?”

“Cappuccino.”

“Thought so,” Will said, before waving to the moustachioed man behind the shop’s count. “Paul, can we have a cappuccino, please? And an Americano. Cheers.”

“Thought so?”

“You’re a middle class, nearly middle aged woman,” Will said. “Well, technically nearly middle aged. It’s always a cappuccino with you lot, or a latte. Really, I’m disappointed in you, a celebrated heroine of the people drinking the coffee of the bourgeoisie scum. Comrade Stalin would be very disappointed in you, you know.”

“Oh stop making fun, Will,” Aloya sighed, rolling her eyes. “Besides, the USSR’s gone, isn’t it?”

“Just as I told you back in Berlin,” Will said. “Wouldn’t last, not for long, not with the yanks trying to bring you down all the time.”

“It could’ve lasted,” Aloya replied, a slightly stubborn tone to her voice.

“Aha! The feisty Spetsnaz revolutionary who I briefly took a fancy to in Brazil returns to the fore once again,” Will said with a triumphant grin as the coffee arrived, served by a young girl.

“Thank you very much, my dear girl,” he said to her, glancing upwards with a charm laden smile. “Prompt and superb service, as always. And might I trouble you for one of your delicious croissants?”

“They’re only sold in the morning,” the waitress said, blushing slightly. “We have some snacks available, though.”

“Oh no,” Will exclaimed. “Alright, I’ll have some crisps then. Salt and vinegar, if I may.”
The crisps were usually served in a packet, but the girl emptied them into a bowl before bringing them to the table. Will greeted her with a smile that shone with raw charm, before saying; “Brilliant. That’ll be all for now, thank you. I’ll be sure to call upon your excellent services if I’m in need of anything else.”

“You don’t change, do you, Will?” Aloya asked as the girl walked away to deal with another table.

“No, madam, no I do not,” Will said, taking a handful of his crisps. “As I’ve always said, if the chance for some quick sex and a surreptitious meal comes up, take it every time. Of course, you might be willing to save a young girl her honour, mightn’t you?”

“No, Will.”

“Just like that? No flirting, no teasing, no drawing me out on one of your little chases? I’m disappointed, Aloya. You used to be interesting, you know. What happened?”

“I’m getting married, that’s what.”

Will paused mid-chew, looking at her in disbelief. For the first time since they had met up, the air of effortless ease and charm disappeared. He swallowed slowly, a look of incredulity still on his face.

“What?”

“I’m getting married.”

“You? Married? To who?”

“Whom.”

“Well sorry, I’ve only spent the last five hundred years having to learn and relearn every damn permutation and change in this language since bloody Shakespeare’s time. I still find myself slipping into ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ if I’m not careful, and I said ‘spiffing’ the other day without a trace of irony. Anyway, who are you marrying?”

“His name’s Andrej. He’s an old friend of mine, from back before the Tsar’s time.”

“Oh, right, another one of us. That sort of relationship never lasts.”

“Only with you, Will,” Aloya said. “You never give anyone a chance.”

“Why bother giving them one?” Will asked. “Life’s too long; my way’s easier. All the good parts, none of the tears, none of the arguments, none of the inevitable drama, just a bit of fun and maybe a small nip on the neck while you’re asleep, one that you’ll never notice in the morning.”

“Not everyone works like that,” Aloya said.

“Only because they care. I stopped caring centuries ago and I’m doing fine. Besides, it’s a good way to hunt.”

Aloya shook her head.

“The next words you’re going to say,” Will said, taking a sip from his coffee. “Are going to be something like ‘you don’t change, Will,’ or ‘you’re never going to be happy like that,’ aren’t they?”

“No,” Aloya said. “I was going to say; you never grow up, do you?”

“I’m five hundred years old and look thirty,” Will replied, shrugging. “Do you expect me to?”

“More than most people, yes,” Aloya said. “I’m pretty much in the same boat, and I did.”

“Well that’s because you got involved in politics,” Will said. “Big mistake, that.”

“You’re still Minister of Irregular People,” Aloya pointed out. She took a sip of her coffee. Will was right; it was good coffee, though she supposed a recommendation from the man who claimed to have brought it to Europe was a pretty strong one. “That’s pretty political. Besides, you always seemed to rub shoulders with nobility.”

“Only because the best looking girls were there,” Will said. “Besides, it was never serious politics. A bit of messing around with a duke’s daughter here and there doesn’t count. Anyway, the PM’s too scared of me to even touch the Ministry, and I’m the best man for the job, so it’s not as if I have to fight for it. But that’s not what you were into. I just played the game for the hell of it, you did it seriously.”

“What can I say? I wasn’t born into money like you were, so I had to work for it somehow.”

“Ah yes, strategic marriage,” Will said. “That old scam; charm you way into the favours of some count and then wait for him to pop it. Damn clever, I’ll give you that. And from there, power; aulam potentis est.”

“Sorry?”

“Latin. Gold is power. Speaking of marriage, we got off the subject. What’s this Andrej bloke like?”

“He’s decent,” Aloya said. “Kind. Works as a banker.”

“A banker. Boring. What the hell are you doing marrying a banker? Why is he a banker? He is one of us, right, and this isn’t just a modern day version of the little stunts you pulled back in the 1800s? I’m not judging you if it is; we do what we must.”

“I’m serious, Will,” Aloya replied. “But yes, he’s a banker. The CEO, no less. It’s a family company, big in Moscow, though not out of Europe.”

“And by ‘family company,’ I’m guessing he pulls the old ‘go away to the country and come back as your son’ trick,” Will said. “Would’ve thought that would be pretty difficult in this day and age, especially if you’re in a position as public as his. Besides, does he hold meetings only at night, or just with the curtains drawn? It’s pretty hard to entertain when you can never see the sun, after all.”

“Andrej manages,” Aloya replied. “Besides, people are willing to forgive a little eccentricity when there’s big money involved.”

“People always are,” Will muttered, with a grin. “Do you remember Dracula?”

“Oh, him? I went to a couple of his balls, once or twice. For the company. Didn’t like him, to be honest. He was too dangerous.”

“He was,” Will agreed. “Downright psychotic. But, still, rich as Creosote, so the landlords were perfectly happy to turn a blind eye to a few peasants disappearing and the remains turning up the next day. And he threw a damn good party, too. But we’re off track again. Andrej.”

“What about him?”

“I don’t know,” Will said, leaning back in his chair, frowning as he tried to think of something. “Er, when was…when was he born. Where?”

“Ukraine,” Aloya said. “1753.”

“Oh, so not too much of a difference between you two. What, fifty years?”

“Forty nine.”

“Oh, whatever.”

“Jealous?”

“Of what? His two and half centuries of eternal youth and vitality compared to my five? That’s no comparison.”

Their waitress appeared at the table once more, and asked; “Is there anything else I can get for you two?”

“I’ll have another of your excellent Americanos, if I may,” Will said, smiling his smile once more with effortless ease. “Aloya?”

“Another cappuccino, please,” Aloya said.

The girl hurried away with their order, and Aloya asked; “You’re going to get her, aren’t you?”

“And?” Will asked. “Well, I suppose it’s impolite to play with your food, but this way is fun. Anyway, you’re not much better. If I remember correctly, you drained poor old Count Ibramovich dry over your time married to him. That’s worse than a little fling with a waitress, if you ask me. That’s your angle with Andrej, though, isn’t it? Worm your way into his favour, and then a stake through the heart or a quick opening of the blinds on the honeymoon.”

“Will!”

“What? You’ve done the same thing before plenty of times.”

“I haven’t.”

“Oh, your normal way just involves waiting for old age, but it’s exactly the same. Just because he’s one of us, doesn’t make that much difference; if it weren’t for the fact that being civilised is so much easier, we’d bump each other off all the time.”

“Will, I’m not marrying him for money. I’m marrying him because I love him.”

There was a long silence, Will looking her up and down carefully.

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” he asked eventually.

“I am, Will,” Aloya said. “I love Andrej, and he loves me. That’s why we’re getting married. Nothing more, and nothing less.”

“The wall coming down really changed you, didn’t it?” Will remarked.

“Look, just because I worked for the USSR when they were in power doesn’t mean it defined me,” Aloya said. “Don’t forget that you were a tool of the capitalist oppressors when I first met you in Berlin.”

“Yes, ‘met’ me in Berlin,” Will muttered. “Very noisily, if I remember correctly. And painfully.”

“You’re never going to let me forget that, are you, Will?” Aloya asked.

“Nope.”

The girl arrived, two mugs of steaming coffee on the tray she held, and Will once again switched on that deceptive smile of his. It was a damn good smile, one that Will had practiced for nearly five hundred years, and it hadn’t failed him yet.

“That’ll be all for now,” he said. “Though might I add what an excellent dress you’re wearing tonight.”

“Thank you,” the girl said, blushing red. “’s just the uniform.”

“Then it’s testament to your natural grace and beauty that you wear it so well,” Will replied. The girl’s cheeks flushed even more crimson at this, but she was smiling slightly nervously. “Tell me, what time are you getting off shift?”

“Ten.”

“I’ll meet you then,” Will replied, lips still curved in that dangerously deceptive smile of his. “Don’t be late.”

The girl looked at Aloya for a moment, slightly doubtfully, and Will said; “Don’t worry about her, she’s getting married. Wouldn’t dream of breaking wedlock’s sacred bonds. Ten o’clock.”

The girl hurried away, still looking a little put out, yet excited, and Aloya asked with a sip of her cappuccino; “Wouldn’t dream of breaking wedlock’s sacred bonds?”

“Well, maybe now and again,” Will admitted.

“Look, Will, I need to go,” Aloya said. “I’ve got business things I need to deal with; why I’m in London.”

“Fine,” Will said. “Don’t I get an invitation to your wedding?”

“How’s Moscow in April do you?” Aloya asked, pulling her coat back on. She took a final pull of her coffee.

“Sounds lovely.”

“I’ll send you a proper invite in the post some time.”

“Alright. Thanks.”

There was a silence for a moment, as Aloya finished her coffee.

“So,” she said. “I’ll see you then, I suppose.”

“Yeah. See you in April.”

“Goodbye, Will.”

“Goodbye, Aloya.”

Aloya set her drink down, along with a fiver, and left before Will could argue about price. He watched her go, picking up her phone and talking into it, finished his coffee and paid his bill, winking at the waitress, tipping generously. He stepped outside, shrugging his coat on, and pulled a packet of cigarettes and a lighter from an inside pocket. He lit up, embers burning at its tip as he watched Aloya turn a corner on the bustling night-time street of Soho, towards Oxford Circus. He checked his watch; eight thirty. He’d booked the night off in the Ministry, though he would probably clock in in the wee hours of the morning.

An hour and a half to kill, still. And he was in Soho.

Time to hit his town.
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