The Sore Drop Cafe - Latte
The full moon swam in the sky as Saint Nicholas sat dozing in the bus shelter near the quay where he'd disembarked from the Titanic.Â He was waiting for the route 666 bus to come and take him through the suburbs and near to home in the decaying heart of the city, about an hour's bus journey away.Â Ideally, he would be roaring there through the night in a third of the time on his powerful black motorcycle.Â But it was in the backyard shed belonging to his landlady, Miss Priscilla Smyth-Brown.Â His second preference would have been going home by taxi, but his wallet didn't allow the luxury.Â Thus the 666 bus was the alternative of last resort. Â But at least he lived within a short walk of the terminus.Â Yet it would not prove to be a case of third time lucky for this prodigal son to be soon falling into the shirking arms of his landlady.
Nicholas boarded the bus and only had just enough to pay for a ticket to journey's end.Â It was far more than he'd ever paid before.Â Strangely, he was the only passenger other than for three teenage thugs at the rear of the bus.Â Such trips from the harbour to the city centre had always seen the bus at least half-full, regardless of the lateness of the night.Â But the saint was too tired to give this peculiarity even a passing thought, and he soon nodded asleep with the rocking of the bus.Â He was quite safe from muggings.Â For the driver, safely ensconced in a bullet-and-shatter-proof glass enclosure, had a convincing peace keeper in a shoulder holster openly displayed.Â It was only issued to those driving the 666 route.
Some two hours into the usual one-hour journey, Saint Nicholas awoke to discover that he wasn't traveling towards home.Â He knew route 666, and the dark woods flashing by on either side of the bus were most definitely not suburbia.Â He urgently pressed the vandalized bell for stopping the bus but it wisely kept its silence.Â Thus he lurched his way to the driver's safety enclosure.Â It was everything but saint-proof.Â His thrumming knuckles soon had the glass resonating in sympathy - a tom-tom drum summoning the driver.Â And the bus squealed to a stop.
"What's the matter?" growled the driver through the intercom, his fingers resting on the handle of the Magnum in his shoulder holster.
"I want to go home!" blurted Nicholas.Â "You're going the wrong way!Â I live in the middle of town near the depot, alongside the old Hell Street subway station.Â That's where number 666 is supposed to go."
"Not anymore, man!" answered the driver.Â "They changed all the route numbers a month ago.Â You want the 999 bus!Â You can catch it at the harbour terminus.Â If you get off here, you can catch the next bus back.Â It'll come by in about fifteen minutes."
"But I haven't got any more money!" wailed the saint.
"Look, I'll do you a favour," the driver said sympathetically, as such are wont to do when armed with a Magnum.Â "Hop off here and try your luck thumbing a ride.Â If no one's fool enough to give you a lift, I'll pick you up on my way back.Â You can have a free ride back to the terminus.Â There you can make a free phone call in the staffroom."
"I'll try hitching a ride," the saint said dejectedly.Â "Someone might stop."
"Here," said the driver, sliding open the sliver of a window for the payment of fares.Â He pushed out a small, flat bottle of tread-your-own red wine that he'd found at the beginning of his shift.Â It had been spurned by the cleaners; and he was a gun-totting member of Beer Unanimous.Â "Take this, and good luck.Â I might see you in a couple of hours."
Nicholas nodded his thanks and slipped the bottle into the pocket of his jeans.Â The side door whooshed open â€“ the teenagers at the back of the bus cringed back into the farthest corner until the door closed again.Â And the saint stood in the moonlight watching the red tail lights until they disappeared in the distance.Â So there he stood beside the road in the depths of the ominous woods.Â No one in the know would stand there in the dark â€“ not even the homicide squad, with SWAT team backup.Â Yet there stood Saint Nicholas, waiting in vain for approaching headlights to come spearing through the brooding silence.Â Finally, he began trudging in the direction from whence he'd come.
A cackling laugh from beside the road halted him in his tracks.Â For a moment he thought the woman in black sitting on a mouldering log was Azrael, the Angel of Death.Â To his disappointment, it wasn't â€“ for Azrael neither had a hook nose nor a long pointed hat, and didn't carry a straw-headed broom.
"I hope you're trembling," crooned the woman, and she cackled again.Â "You've every reason to be afraid!Â To be very afraid!"
Saint Nicholas shook his head.Â He wasn't cold, so there was no need to tremble.Â Nor was he afraid, let alone very afraid.Â Although the occasional mosquito bite was a tad irritating, such was no cause for fear.Â Besides, if seen correctly, they were God's creatures doing their jobs.Â It was also a civilized way of being a blood donor without having to endure the terror of the elephant syringes used at the blood bank.
"I'm the wicked witch of the south, south-east!" declared the woman.
Nicholas shook his head again.Â Ms Witch was confused.Â There was no such attribute as wickedness.
"Well, how about the wicked witch of the south-east?"
Saint Nicholas shook his head for a third time.Â The denial of wickedness was an essential criterion on the job description statement for sainthood.
"What about witch from the south?" Ms Witch asked, nonplussed.
Nicholas nodded at the deletion of the wicked, in line with the Will of God.
"What are you doing here in the dead of night?" asked Ms Witch, her goodness miraculously restored after wading for years knee deep in wickedness.
"Going home," replied Saint Nicholas.Â He sighed wearily.Â "But it's a long way.Â I'd giving anything for a skinny flat white coffee."Â He belatedly remembered his manners.Â "I'm Saint Nicholas."
"You'd give anything, would you?Â How interesting!"Â She stared thoughtfully at the new age blood donor.Â "No skinny flat white, but how does a mug of hot latte sound?"
The saint shrugged.Â He didn't know how a mug of latte sounded, but such might be an entertaining musical interlude to pass the time while waiting for the bus to return.
"Come with me," said Ms Witch, formerly from the south, south-east and wicked.
Nicholas followed her along a trail heading due south, deeper into the woods.Â Ten minutes later, after a minor curling to the south-east, the path ran into a secluded clearing.Â The hunched figure of a man sat by a crackling fire, and a large dog was curled asleep by the flat tyre of a sagging caravan.Â Faded and flaking paintwork declared that the van was The Sore Drop CafÃ© and provender of finest coffee â€“ heavenly bliss in a cup.Â The once gaudy red lettering was now an inspirational pink, offering the promise of blessed salvation to the caffeine deprived.
"That's Count Dracula," said Ms Witch, nodding to the hunched man, holding the swollen side of his mouth.Â "The poor love can't speak because he's got a bad toothache," she added, referring to the tea towel wrapped around his chin and knotted at top of his head.Â "And that's Dogma," she continued, nodding at the sleeping beast.Â "He's a werewolf." Â She waved a hand at the saint.Â "You guys, this is Saint Nicholas.Â He'll give anything for a skinny flat white coffee.Â But latte will have to do."
Count Dracula nodded, and groaned with pain.Â Dogma scratched a flea in his sleep.
Ms Witch emptied the mouthful of water still in a mug - the cafÃ©'s last one â€“ into a glass for her to drink later. Â She handed it to the saint, asking him to mind it for her. Â Then she began crooning the, Bubble, wobble, gobble secret incantation for latte as she squatted beside the blackened coffee pot on the embers at the edge of the fire.Â She avoided looking at her cracked black cauldron as she nudged it aside.
Only an hour before she'd hit Count Dracula with it during a domestic dispute.Â She had made the sore point that the coffee pot was for brewing latte, not for warming type AB negative blood â€“ his favourite drop.Â Then she'd stormed away in a huff to sit by the road and cool off.Â There she'd pondered on how domestic harmony was to be restored.Â The perfect peace offering came bumbling along the road â€“ rare saintly blood, as it turned out.Â All of it on offer for a skinny flat white coffee.Â A mug of latte had to be worth at least a small slurp of the blessed red fluid.
Saint Nicholas was more than a just a full bottle of saintly blood.Â He astutely guessed that the Count was the musician who sounded the latte.Â For it was obvious that Ms Witch was the toiler in the cafÃ©.Â Thus the noble Dracula played the latte accompaniment to the, Bubble, wobble, gobble Gregorian chant of Ms Witch.Â What an original duet, and inspiration for the patrons of the coffee emporium!
"When do you begin on the latte" he asked the count.
The count shook his head, and moaned with the pain in his tooth.Â He gingerly lifted up an almost empty glass of AB negative, and sipped the last of it through a straw.
"Ah, not yet because of the sore tooth!" Nicholas shrewdly interpreted.Â "And can't speak, eh?" Â Being saintly, he almost instantly saw a solution in the form of an empty Coke can, and a small stick laying beside it.Â "I'll teach you Morse Code!" he said, and began tapping out the dots and dashes corresponding to each letter of the alphabet.Â He walked over and handed this contribution to digital communications to the astonished count.Â "You try!" he said encouragingly.
Count Dracula would have lunged at the madman's throat but for his aching fang.Â He simply dared not move.Â When the imbecile was once more seated cross-legged on the ground, the count began slowly tapping a heart-felt message on the Coke can: Lend me your throat.Â Unfortunately, he couldn't remember all of the half-wit's Morse Code instructions.Â Thus shortly after tapping away, as a child might on a toy drum, he'd give a painful shake of the head and begin anew.
As Saint Nicholas sat listening to the tapping, the small bottle of red wine in his jeans pocket began to press uncomfortably into an unmentionable region.Â He idly fished it out, absent-mindedly unscrewed the top and raised it to his parched lips.Â The pungent smell of tread-your-own wine bellowed that it wasn't skinny flat white coffee.Â And concentrating as he was on the peculiar Morse Code message being tapped out, he idly emptied the bottle into Ms Witch's near empty glass of water.
The good woman, meanwhile, had retrieved a slop of rancid milk from within The Sore Drop CafÃ© van and added it to the black coffee by now in the mug. With a frenzied stick, she stirred the mixture until it had a frothy white head.
"Your latte!" she said, handing the mug to Saint Nicholas.Â "Oh, thank you," she added, taking from him the glass she'd given him to mind.Â She took a sip.Â "It's a miracle!" she exclaimed and hurried over to Count Dracula to offer him the glass.Â "He's turned water into wine! she whispered in awe.Â "Try it!"
Nicholas didn't notice.Â He was totally mystified by the count's Morse Code message: Send Wendy the goat.Â He didn't know a Wendy, and he didn't have a goat.
"Another miracle!" Count Dracula said in awe.Â The tread-your-own wine had obliterated the toothache.Â "The man is a saint.Â A real one!" he declared.
Both Count Dracula and his consort, Ms Witch, gazed in wonder at the blessed representative of God on high.Â Till daybreak they sat spellbound drinking in every holy word, augmented by drops of wine.Â Of all the divine revelations falling helter-skelter from the holy one's lips, only two were not beyond their immediate understanding.Â Finding Ms right was the reason for living; as was going home.Â This they fully appreciated.Â And Ms Right and her Count Right sat dewy eyed, holding hands in their home in the woods.Â In the dawn they lay fast asleep in each others arms.Â And Dogma snoozed at their feet, idly scratching at a flee.
And in the early morning light, Saint Nicholas was trudging along the road in the direction of home.Â For he'd already missed the early bus.Â But he was firmly resolved about catching up with an important matter.Â When he learned Wendy's address, he'd send her a goat.
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes