The Iron Drop Cafe - Porridge
The birds were singing that morning had broken as Saint Nicholas walked along the asphalt road snaking through the woods.Â The only car to come by did so at speed. The driver acknowledged the pleading thumb with a raised index finger and a loud blast on the horn, and then disappeared around the bend ahead. It was the first vehicle to pass by, and it didn't auger well.Â However, God does not lose saints â€“ not even Nicholas wandering forlornly in the wilderness.Â Satan would have left him there.
But Lucifer had never driven a slate grey mini-bus along this road.Â At least not one with frosted passenger windows and Prison Department painted in black across the back.Â But Satan doing so in a red one was a distinct possibility. However, it was a grey mini-bus that whooshed past the trudging figure, only to squeal to a halt halfway around the corner.Â A burly man in grey guards' uniform hurtled from its side door and scrambled frantically behind a screening bush.Â It was Sergeant Bull Mastiff, officer-in-charge of prisoner transport, and recent born-again Buddhist - in a violent sort of way.
As the saint approached the rear of the bus, there was a thud behind the bush, and Bull's voice bellowing that someone was born out of wedlock.Â And possibly to a female dog.Â Curious at such a pronouncement, Saint Nicholas veered off the road and around the screening shrub.Â There he saw Sergeant Mastiff, his pendulous lips trembling with pain, half on his back with trousers awry and clutching his left ankle.
He'd consumed a breakfast of curry and rice in the prison's staff room â€“ dubbed The Iron Drop CafÃ© by prisoners, probably because it was located in the disused and refurbished gallows.Â The meal had been served by a trustee cook who lacked a sense of romance.Â He never smiled when Mr Mastiff cuffed him behind his cauliflower ear â€“ in a loving and most hearty way â€“ whenever the second helping lacked generosity. Which denied the generosity of the sergeant, whose girth attested to his unstinting love of food. The chef was to be released that night after 20 years incarceration for poisoning his beloved.Â As a farewell gesture to show there was no sadness at being parted from Mr Mastiff, the cook had added a secret spice to the fiery curry.
What goes around comes around was the lesson of the meal, though it had taken a while to sink in.Â For Sergeant Mastiff and two colleagues had driven to the distant police centre detention cells to collect a convict and return with him to the prison.Â They were halfway back on the return journey when the full force of the lesson struck.Â It did so in a sloppy, curried torrent behind the bush as ample repayment for Bull's boisterous cuffing of ears.Â Somewhat relieved of the spicy burden, he'd risen to pull up his trousers.Â Only to lose his balance and fall into the curry rice and sprain his ankle. The would-be high flying Buddhist was suddenly grounded. And his grey trousers were merely a mottled saffron rather than of the full Buddhist colouring.
"Never!" said Saint Nicholas looking down at him, "Eat curry!"Â He gagged at the smell but helped the sergeant to his feet.Â "Buddha, the Enlightened One, said, 'Don't eat curry!'Â Never!"
Sergeant Mastiff gasped in surprise.Â His Indian Guru, Ms Wannabe Karmasutra, had never mentioned curry in the teaching of the sacred yoga positions.Â Yet now here he was being aided back into the bus by a Buddhist Master who knew the pitfalls of curried rice.Â Bull appreciated the Master's help, but regretted that the state of his trousers reflected his own enlightenment.
"Remember!" said the Master, "Don't eat curry!"
"Thanks!" began Bull, as he slumped heavily down into his seat near the front of the bus.Â "Hey, you can't sit there!" he added.
For Saint Nicholas had parked himself on the seat opposite.Â Beside the prisoner, who was smirking despite his handcuffs and manacled legs.
"Oh, dear!" the Buddhist Master said dejectedly.Â "The bus driver last night promised me a free ride.Â I'm broke and want to go home."
Sergeant Mastiff glanced at his two colleagues sitting with drawn handguns in the seat behind the prisoner and the Buddhist Master in plain clothes.Â They shrugged indifferently.Â Bull was the boss; the captain of the bus.Â The sacred Prison Regulations gave him the authority to make all necessary decisions, regardless of the identity of the prisoner they were escorting.Â Jack the Ripper was not expressly excluded from that provision of the Regulations.
"Well, okay," growled Sergeant Mastiff, "We'll give you a ride as far as we're going." He nodded at Dr Ripper. "Just ignore that son of a bitch!"
Saint Nicholas blinked in surprise.Â Perhaps the prisoner was the son of the invisible female dog behind the bush, though he looked anything but a puppy.Â But then the sergeant had eaten curry, and such could play havoc with the mind.Â To be polite, he nodded a cordial good morning to the serial killer, who snubbed him â€“ anyone who helped a screw was beneath contempt.
"He'll be dancing at the end of a rope soon enough," Sergeant Mastiff observed sagely.Â "Okay!" he called to the driver, "Let's go!"
Saint Nicholas idly mused as to why anyone would dance with a rope, holding its end or otherwise.Â But then such was probably the latest craze in prison ballroom dancing. But weariness and the rocking of the bus soon sent him fast asleep, his head resting on Jack the Ripper's shoulder. For his part, Dr Ripper would have given anything for a scalpel or a cut-throat razor.
When the saint awoke he was alone on the bus, parked in a compound within the high razor wire of the prison.Â The convict squeezing past had not roused him entirely. When he was looking owlishly around, Mr Mastiff and the others were well on their way in escorting Prisoner Ripper to solitary confinement deep within the prison.Â Also unknown to the saint at that point in time was Bull's decision to give the Buddhist Master a lift home, thus ensuring a generous allocation of karma brownie points. Besides, such would cancel any demerit points for slipping off duty early to try a most interesting new yoga position with Guru Wannabe Karmasutra. Of course, knocking off early after a shower on duty â€“ ensuring that cleanliness would at last top godliness.
While Bull's mind was on enlightening positions, Saint Nicholas was wrestling with a cramp in his leg.Â He hobbled off the bus and began walking around it to restore circulation.Â Officer Alsatian, making his way to a vehicle in the compound so as to drive to an anti-escapee training course, knew an absconder when he saw one.Â Within minutes, the saint was sharing a holding cell with another foiled escapee.Â The prisoner, like Mr Mastiff, reeked of curry.Â He had hidden in a mess hall slop bin, which the trustee cook had obligingly wheeled to stand beside the gate of the parking compound.Â But the fiery stench of the curried bin was worse than any solitary confinement, and he'd scrambled out of it and into the surprised arms of Officer Alsatian.Â With two feathers in his cap, the officer was well onto his way to a full war bonnet.
"Watcha in for, man?" growled the failed Houdini.
"Curry!" exclaimed Saint Nicholas, at the stink billowing from the man.
"You're welcome to it!" Houdini said emphatically, though it was beyond him as to why anyone would specialize in heisting curry.
"Don't eat curry!" admonished Saint Nicholas, sharing Buddha's wise injunction.Â "Go home!" he added, also contributing the Master's final words.
"Home?" asked Houdini, his interest soaring to nine on the escapee Richter scale. "How?" he urged, wanting more details of the planned gaol break.
"By bus!" replied the saint.Â His eyes watered with the stench of curry.Â "After you've had a shower!" he hinted heavily.
Just then Sergeant Mastiff and two beefy warders arrived and unlocked the holding cell.Â Houdini was marched away by the warders to receive an enlightening welcome-back beating, and Bull apologized to the Buddhist Master for Officer Alsatian's blunder.Â Mr Mastiff then left the Master in the care of the trustee cook in The Iron Drop CafÃ© while he showered for the forthcoming prostrating of his guru, Miss Wannabe Karmasutra.
"Do you think I might have a mug of skinny flat white?" asked Saint Nicholas.Â "I haven't had breakfast and I miss my morning coffee."
"No!" growled the cook with a shake of the head.Â "We've just run out of coffee." Which wasn't quite the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The coffee hadn't run anywhere.Â It had been flogged off to help bolster the cook's rehabilitation fund.Â "Here, have a bowl of porridge." he said, holding out a bowl he had meant to empty in the slop bucket.
The saint gagged at the curry vapours rising from the bowl, and with watering eyes declined as graciously as any Buddhist Master could in the circumstances.
The cook shrugged and consigned the porridge to the bucket.
"Don't eat curry!" Nicholas said firmly, concerned for the man's well being.
"Never touch the stuff!" answered the cook, lying through his teeth.
Only minutes before he had been hands deep in curry, albeit in rubber gloves, when brewing his pungent curry beer.Â The fiery and powerful bootleg was sold to those inmates doing cold-turkey withdrawal from drugs.Â It was the cook's contribution to their drug rehabilitation and to his own retirement fund.
It was yet another example of the law of karma: what goes around comes around.
"You should go home," said Saint Nicholas, adding those immortal words of the Enlightened One in India â€“ the bastion of curry.
"Going home tonight!" the cook said cheerfully, thereby proclaiming he was also a follower of Buddha.
"Let's go!" said a freshly showered and clothed Sergeant Mastiff, walking into The Iron Drop CafÃ©.Â He gave the cook several hefty cuffs behind the ear to show him the error of his curried ways.Â "I'll give you a lift home, Master!" he added, much to the delight of Saint Nicholas.
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes