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The Golden Moose Café

After all the lovely comments on my previous piece, Knit one Purl One, I thought I’d put up the second part of the writing exercise from the other day. It’s called The Golden Moose Café and picks up the story later in the afternoon of the day the first story is set in.

Hope you enjoy!

Mike

The Golden Moose Café
a short story
by
Mike Cullen

Sandra Oakley walked into The Golden Moose Café, readjusting her cream coloured blouse and ensuring it was correctly, and tightly, tucked into her beige slacks. The heels of her beige pumps clicking on the tiled floor drew the attention of the other patrons except one.

The one, who paid her no mind, sat with his back to the far wall. He faced out into the café; his dark brown eyes narrowed as he watched the patrons around him. His head never moved. His eyes darted from one side of the room to the other, reminding Sandra of the eyes of a hunter watching its prey.

His thick silver hair was combed in a nice, neat and nondescript way. He wore a black suit. The material looked soft to the touch and was set off with a crisp white shirt and deep red tie. In his lapel, he wore a red carnation, and, in his jacket, a red pocket square.

He looks like a bloody insurance salesman.

Sandra patted her hair and pasted on a wide smile as she closed in on the man’s table.

“Harold, darling,” she said as she leaned over and kissed the air on either side of his head.

“Is it done?”

“Yes, darling, of course, it is,” she said, watching as his middle finger slowly caressed the watered-spotted butter knife by his side.

“You’re sure?”

“Of course,” Sandra said with a slight frost to her tone of voice.

Sandra reached across the scarred laminated tabletop and placed her hand on top of Harold’s. His skin was dry and warm to the touch, and he gave no indication he even noticed her hand on top of his.

“I’ve been the Poison’s Mistress at the Assassin’s Guild for twenty-five years, darling. Not to mention I hold a record Five Assassin Games Gold Medals for Discreet Application of Poison Resulting in Death and/or Permanent Incapacitation. When I say it’s done, it’s done.”

Harold studied her face carefully and snorted a huff of air so violently the bristles on his moustache trembled.

“I hope you are correct,” he muttered.

“Now, about Bertie,” Sandra began ignoring Harold’s lack of faith in her skills. “He’ll be driving home from the office late tonight. He’ll be tired. I’m sure you’ll be able to arrange a nice little accident. They are your speciality after all. I’ll be glad when this over, and we can be together, darling.”

“Why do I care what time your husband is driving home?” Harold said coldly as he folded the white paper napkin into the shape of a Bishop’s hat. “He’s your problem, not mine.”

“Darling?” Sandra said, her voice rising an octave.

Harold pushed his chair away from the table; the legs scraped noisily across the grey tiles.

“Sandra, go home to your husband. There is no we; it was only ever in your mind.”

“Harold, darling, whatever are you saying? I poisoned my best enemy for you. For us. We planned it, together. Now it’s your turn to hold up your commitment to me. To us.”

“We’re not together, Sandra,” Harold said forcefully bringing his fist into contact with the table so hard the salt and pepper shakers fell over.  “I’m finally rid of the poisonous shrew. I’m not about to take up with another one on the same day.”

“Madame, Monsieur,” interrupted the waiter.

Sandra ignored him, her eyes locked onto Harold as he fussed with his pocket square and waited for the waiter to go away.

“Apologies for the delay in getting to you today. Please accept this Champagne as our way of saying we appreciate your patience.”

The pop of the champagne cork captured Harold’s attention. The golden liquid, bouncing with bubbles, filled two crystal champagne flutes. With a smile, the waiter poured out a small sample from the bottle into another flute. He sipped the Champagne and, as there was no ill effect, both Sandra and Harold picked up their flutes.

“One can never be too careful in Dallensford,” the waiter said with a wink to Sandra, before retreating with a bow.

Sandra relaxed as the Champagne slid into her belly, warming her from the inside out.

“Darling,” she said with a gay little laugh. “You almost had me. Poisonous shrew, indeed. Ha! You’re such a joker.”

“I meant every word I said,” Harold said as he downed the entire flute of Champagne. “Stay with Bertie or don’t, I don’t care. After forty years, I’m free. If you think…”

Harold paused clutching at his stomach. Sandra gasped as her belly tried to kick her in the groin and the throat at the same time. Sweat broke out across her forehead and upper lip. Her beige trousers and cream blouse stuck to her skin as though she’d showered in them.

She watched as Harold’s immaculately groomed hair melted in an instant, sticking to his head in a mound of wet silver sludge. His moustache dripped sweat, and he began to claw at the top button of his white shirt.

“Harold,” Sandra called out her voice barely a whisper.

All around them, the afternoon went on as it had before. No one in The Golden Moose appeared even to notice what was occurring in the back booth.

Harold, his face turning a delightful shade of tangerine, gasped as he reached for Sandra. His legs gave way, and he hit the floor with all the grace of a bag of mashed potatoes.

Sandra slid from her chair, landing on the floor under the table. She reached across to Harold, well she tried, but her body no longer responded to her internal commands.

She began frothing at the mouth, annoyed by the tickle of it as it dribbled down her chin to form a rancid puddle beneath her face. Someone grabbed her legs, dragging her out from under the table.  Sandra closed her eyes as waves of nausea slapped against her throat as she was flipped over.

A pair of pointy black shoes stood near her head. Turning her eyes slightly, she followed them until she reached the hem of a wide black robe.

“You truly are stupid, my dear,” said the voice of Elizabeth Graves and Sandra was momentarily afraid the ghost of her best enemy was waiting to haunt her.

“All you did was kill the stupid gardener. Serves him right, of course, one should never steal another person’s coffee mug. Honestly, I could kill you over and over for this. Do you know how much paperwork your little escapade generated for me this afternoon?”

Sandra tried to take in a large gulp of air. She blinked a couple of times, forcing her eyes to refocus. Elizabeth stood beside her, watching her die.

This can’t be, I killed you first! I won!

The waiter approached, dragging behind him a mop and bucket. He quickly put up two yellow warning signs, both with a stylised icon of a corpse with the words “Caution Poison Hazard,” on them.

Reaching under the collar of his shirt, the waiter unstuck the latex mask before pulling it over his head. His small, squinty blue eyes stared myopically at Sandra as she lay on the dirty floor.

“Hello, love,” he said cheerfully.

Sandra groaned and would have happily clawed his eyes out if she’d had any control of her motor skills.

“Enjoy wherever it is you are going,” Elizabeth said snidely. “I best be off; I need to begin interviewing for a new Poisons Mistress and a new gardener.”

“Goodbye, Sandy,” Albert said with a jaunty wave to his dying wife.

Sandra allowed her eyes to close. She stopped fighting for breath, and she didn’t even care when frustrated tears dribbled out of her eyes. As she finally gave in and let the poison go to work, two rough hands grabbed her face, squeezing her jaw so tightly it was forced open.

A thin metal straw was pushed roughly between her teeth and down her throat. It was followed by a taste so bitter she regretted she hadn’t managed to die already.

“Swallow it,” a deep gruff voice demanded.

The bitter, salty liquid fought its way down her throat, and she wished she had the strength to kick this good Samaritan right between the eyes.

“Go away,” she croaked as he picked her up off the floor and hung her over his shoulder. “I’m dying.”

“We’re all dying,” the man muttered. “Not today, either of us. We have work to do.”

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