The Stone Drop Cafe - Honey
Mr Nicholas Saint perched himself on a stool in The Sea Drop Café. It was a large but cosy alcove of the huge cabaret room, which also served as a ball room. A petite, blonde-haired woman with a thick Dutch accent was busy behind the counter serving the buzzing patrons – all of whom but Mr Saint were in wide-ranging fancy dress.
"I feel a little out of place," he commented, when the woman finally came to take his order. "Black T-shirt and jeans don't seem to cut the mustard," he added ruefully.
"No mustard here, sir," she replied, idly wondering why anyone would want to cut mustard with clothes. But then, foreigners were such a strange lot – unless they were bossy Germans, who were blockheads needing everything spelt out to them. "What would you like, sir?"
"Skinny flat white, please – in a mug. And by the way, my name is Nicholas Saint. Who might you be?"
"Mata Hari," she said with a smile, and breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm so glad you don't have a French accent." An unsure look crossed her face. "You're not French, are you?"
Mr Saint shook his head. "Why do you ask?"
Ms Mata Hari looked furtively around, and then leaned across the counter. "The French are pigs!" she hissed. She bit her lip. "They have firing squads. Firing squads to shoot innocent spies. I hate the Boche!" she added loudly. "I'm innocent, I tell you – I swear it on my grave!"
Nicholas Saint stared wide-eyed at her. He didn't understand why pigs with guns – French or otherwise – shot spies. Of course, the diminutive woman was innocent. Wasn't everyone? But she hated the Boche, whatever they were. Why? Of course, they had to be the pigs with guns in firing squads! It was all very strange. But then, Europe was bursting with foreigners who did foreign things.
A white-bearded, burly man in a dusty long robe came and sat on the stool beside Mr Nicholas Saint. The man lay a heavy stone mason's hammer and broad chisel on the counter and glanced at Nicholas. He nodded curtly. Then placed his order with Ms Mata Hari.
"Milk and honey!" he said briskly, in an accent Nicholas found hard to define.
"With honey, darling?" queried Marta. "How very interesting! Do tell me more!"
"No sugar for me!" added the man, doing as he'd been requested. He looked at Nicholas Saint. "I'm Moses!" he said.
Ms Hari scribbled down his name and hurried off to report the orders to the mute espresso machine and bar refrigerator.
Nicholas introduced himself to Moses. "I'm sailing home", he confessed, passenger-to-passenger – he notice Mata Hari scribbling in her notebook.
Moses nodded affably. "So am I!" he said. Given to sudden mood swings, he scowled. "I should say that I'm trying to get home. But the bastards won't let me in through the front door." He grinned. "So I'm going to sneak in through the back one." He leaned closer. "I'm going to the promised land!" he said, but not soft enough to exclude Ms Hari, who was lingering within earshot. "One way or another, I'm going to hang out with the chosen people."
It made the origins of his accent crystal clear to Nicholas Saint. The man was American, but for some reason he'd been excluded from entering the land of apple pies via the front door. This explained his hammer and chisel. He was a tradesman, so he had to use the back door to go and eat apple pie with the people he'd chosen. Because of his choice, they were bound to be tradesmen as well. With this being the case, the apple pie was more likely to be humble than bountiful.
Nicholas waved at the hammer and chisel on the counter. "Are you a builder?"
Moses shook his head. "I'm a stone mason – strictly as a sideline, you understand." He sighed heavily. "I chisel orders on stone tablets, in pairs. When people kind of break them in two." He looked earnestly at his companion. "Even if they don't mean to!" he added, almost as if imploring for understanding. "These things happen in anger. You know, on the spur of the moment. Everyone's entitled to one mistake, aren't they?"
"I make them all the time!" Nicholas answered truthfully, so that Moses wouldn't believe the fallacy that people weren't entitled to more than one mistake. "What else do you do beside the sideline?" He chuckled at the play on words. "Or should I say as well as the stone masonry sideline?"
Moses smiled brightly, for he liked boasting about his higher achievements. "For a start, I put the wind up pharaohs. I warn them that they're going to be zapped with famine and stuff like that unless they let my people go."
"Oh, go where?"
Moses rolled his eyes. "Anywhere but Egypt! The food's bloody terrible! And then there are the plagues of those damned grasshoppers." His eyes sparkled with the excitement of the shock value of what he was about to reveal. "But my really big thing is parting the Red Sea! It blows everyone completely away when I do that!"
Just then Ms Mata Hari brought the drinks they had ordered. She dismissed Mr Nicholas Saint with his tight-lipped skinny flat white coffee and placed a brimming tankard of milk and honey in front of Moses.
"Tell me more, darling," she whispered conspiratorially, "about those Egyptian swine."
A dark-haired woman in black caught the corner of Nicholas Saint's eye just as she flitted past and out of the cabaret room.
"Who was that?" he asked Ms Hari.
"Azrael!" she replied, without thinking. "The ship's navigator!" she blurted before she could stop herself. Her hand flew to her mouth and she glanced fearfully around. "I didn't tell!" she said quickly. "I didn't say anything to anyone!" She took a deep breath to regain her composure – a stratagem learned from years of experience. Ever the professional, she leaned across the counter towards Moses. "You were saying, darling?"
Mr Saint left them alone so that Ms Mata Hari could listen undistracted to the fascinating flow of words gushing from Moses. Nicholas sat himself at a secluded table, and curiously picked up the leaflet waiting on it. It proclaimed: Welcome Aboard Concert. Taking a sip of his coffee, he began to peruse the programme of scheduled activities, and their terse accompanying notes.
At the very head of the programme, in gold print, were the names of the royal guests of honour, who were to be seated in The Sea Drop Café. Their seating arrangement was indicated to facilitate appropriate fawning by awe-struck subjects. The Queen of Sheba and Queen Cleopatra were to sit on either side of King Solomon, who sorely missed his 10,000 concubines. As did Czar Ivan the Terrible, reputed to be quite a handful. He was to sit beside Queen Elizabeth I, and thus handy for the massaging of the arthritis in her virgin knee. On the other side of the Virgin Queen would sit King Louis XVI, who could translate the denials by Mary Queen of Scots of any involvement against her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. For poor Mary didn't speak English terribly well, but she was fluent in the French tongue. Sensibly, the Scot feared the executioner's axe.
King Louis' wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, was to be seated nearest the exit. This was to expedite her slipping away with a doggy bag full of cake finger-foods - for the breadless fourth-class passengers in stowage. The emperors Caesar Caligula and Napoleon Bonaparte were to be seated either side of Czarina Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. The two emperors would help her to rise up when the time came for her to accept the invitation to join Miss Salome and Ms Delilah in a delightful dance of the seven veils, which was to conclude the night's main entertainment. The two young ladies would then discretely teach generous gentlemen the secrets underlying the seven veils. Meanwhile, as a dancing encore, everyone's favourite, Ms Mata Hari would give an exhibition of exotic ballroom belly dancing.
All of which was as of stone to Mr Nicholas Saint – heavy and unmoving. But he read on.
The concert would begin with a blessing from the reverend monk, Gregory Efimovich Rasputin who would simultaneously hypnotize 20 frozen chickens. He would be immediately followed by a solo performance of, Nearer my God to thee by one Mr Elvis Presley, strumming the spokes of his wheelchair. He would then give a hair-raising rendition of, Wooden Heart before returning to serve behind the takeaway food counter. However, sufficient wild applause would be enough for him to sing, Tonight's the Night while dishing up the cabbage and corn beef.
The ship's Iceberg Symphony Orchestra would then begin a moving recital. The small harpoon-shaped baton would be in the experienced hands of Captain Ahab – relieved for a short while from pacing the bridge in search of that black scoundrel of a white whale, Moby Dick. The opening music would be Beethoven's Fifth, so named by the chief bar steward in honour of his fifth double whiskey when composing the piece. The actual symphonic music would be concluded with The Ride of the Valkyries, by the demented officer-in-charge of life boat drill, Mr Richard Wagner. Whose close friend, Adolph the porter, was said to have had a hand in popularizing the composition.
Though all members of the orchestra were listed, two names were especially highlighted – perhaps to advertise two of the ship's less popular restaurants. Russian chef Piotr Tchaikovsky would be on the bongo drums. Chef Chinese, one Master K'ung-fu-tzu – Confucius to his friends – would be on the bugle. To him would fall the honour of playing the Last Post to conclude proceedings. However, perhaps in the interests of showing a modicum of equality, it was noted that Herr Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, cabin boy and kitchen hand, would play the Tennessee Waltz on his bagpipes. One Frederic Chopin, ship's carpenter, would all but conclude the entertainment with a lusty rendition of axe on grand piano – a special treat for the young at heart, and a pragmatic way of replenishing the supply of toothpicks.
Stone-faced, Nicholas Saint replaced the programme on the table. High brow music most certainly was not an aperitif complementing his cup of skinny flat white coffee. His taste in music consisted of Home Sweet Home played soulfully on the harmonica. Especially after a long day's ride on his black motorcycle. Indeed, a principal attribute of Ms Right would be her expertise with the harmonica. As to the Welcome Aboard Concert, it seemed a storm in a tea-cup – a lot of noise with no interest. When the music started, he would rise up to face it, for there was no other choice in slipping out of the venue. He hoped to leave unnoticed by walking out backwards.
Thus he eventually joined Peter Pan and Tinkerbell at the ships rails. As they gazed serenely at the moonlight shimmering on the water, Nicholas absent mindedly sang a Gregorian chant he'd almost forgotten. Hosanna drifted on the air as a faint wisp of melody into what Nicholas now thought of as The Stone Drop Café. No one there heard it. However, looking down from high up on the bridge, Azrael – the ship's navigator – joined in by humming the sacred song. There was a strange smile on her lips as she gazed down on the familiar figure of Saint Nicholas.
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes