Inspired by Addio Monti by SimonePomata.
Joel shifted, thick trousers making a scraping sound on the brocade seat, trying to get a better look at the cluster of people in the street. His long sword, pushed back up against the wall, slid and tapped the window glass. Joel resisted the temptation to reach over and push it back out of sight. No one in the gathering outside was looking at him. They wouldn’t see it.
They were getting pretty agitated, whoever they were. Joel glanced over at Carson. She was peering at the menu as if nothing at all was going on. Of course.
“Hey, Lt.” He said, making it sound casual. “We worried about that gang?”
She didn’t even look up. Her blue eyes settled on an item, and she pursed her lips. “Yeah. But not quite as much as we’re worried about this ‘lava cake’. It’s three florins! For a cake! What the hell is lava cake?” She leaned over the menu a little further.
“Uh.” Joel said. He kept his eyes on the group. Since lava cake was the bigger concern, the boss could watch that. He’d watch the mob. “I think it’s a chocolate cake with molten chocolate inside?”
“Oooh!” Her voice lit up. “That sounds like something I most certainly have to try.”
A waiter passed nearby, steaming trays smelling of basil and cooked fish.
Joel thought about this for a moment. “You don’t really like Mr. Thomson very much, do you?”
She leaned out of her chair to wave at the waiter. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Joel! How many employers agree to foot your bill at the most expensive restaurant in town?”
“Well.” Joel stopped. The leader of the crowd, or at least the person doing most of the talking, was gesturing towards the restaurant. He was wearing crimson, large sleeves emphasizing his motions. A few words were reaching Joel, even though they had to move against the gentle breeze and slide through the glass. Words like ‘vicious’, ‘traitor’ and ‘revenge’. Joel couldn’t deny that the middle of a busy street seemed like an odd place to organize a murder, but those were certainly some concerning words. “Sure. But you don’t usually spend fifteen minutes trying to find the most expensive items on the menu.”
“Boss, I’m a little concerned about the mob.” Mob was probably an exaggeration. There were only ten or so of them. Maybe ‘hit squad’? ‘Angry bystanders’?
“I grant you full authority, Joel.” She waved the issue out of her face. “I’m busy dealing with this ‘lava cake’ problem.”
Joel frowned, but the waiter was coming over, so he said nothing. The waiter looked at the small, angry, group on the street and her lips turned down and her forehead crinkled, but she didn’t say anything. She took Carson’s order of lobster and lava cake and retreated.
Joel brought the sword to his left, were it couldn’t be seen from the window, and then picked up his cloak and laid it over his left arm, so the cloth would hide the metal. He stood, trying to make it look casual.
“Alright. I’m going to go stand by the door.”
Carson looked up at him. There was mild surprise on her face. For a moment she hesitated, like she was going to say something. Then she shrugged. “Alright. Take care of yourself, Joel.”
Joel paused. “Boss, what’s going on?”
She gave him a long blank look. Then she said, “I think you were going to stand between the angry mob and Mr. Thomson.” It sounded just a touch like an accusation.
“Kind of my job?” Joel said, confused. “Like, you literary pay me with his money that he payed you to do exactly that.” That was true. He sounded firmer at the end. He wasn’t sure what she was up to, but he knew he was being paid to protect Mr. Thomson.
She smiled at him, a tight smile. “That is correct.”
Joel hesitated a moment longer, but she didn’t say anything. He shifted his coat, more out of nerves then hope that it would work better as a blind, and slipped around the edges of the restaurant to stand by the door. Mr. Thomson was with his party, a loud group in the middle of the restaurant. No one was acting as if they had noticed the disturbance. Joel made his walk look purposeful, and shut the door behind him when he stepped into the atrium. The chatter and laughter were cut off.
The host, standing at his wooden podium and cleaning menus, looked up. “Ah, good evening sir! I hope you had a lovely visit.”
“Sure did!” Joel said. He tried for cheerful, but it didn’t quite work. He set the coat down on a chair and strapped the sword belt around his waist. The extra weight pulled his shirt a little tighter, revealing the pattern of chain-mail below it.
“Uh.” The host said.
“Don’t worry, please.” Joel said, giving the host his best ‘calming smile’ (he’d been practicing). “There’s just a mild street disturbance. I’m here to ensure our client’s safety.”
The host opened his mouth. He looked like a younger guy, couldn’t be over fifteen. He shut his mouth. “Oh.” He said. “Um. Okay. Should I tell the manager?”
“No need.” Joel said, since that was really Carson’s job and she’d probably already done it. Right? “I would appreciate it if you kept the door shut, however.”
“Sure.” The host said. He went back to fiddling with the menus, but Joel could feel his attention. Joel moved to the door, put his back to the wall beside it.
Then he stood there and waited. Arms behind him, smile off, looking like a bouncer.
The door banged open.
Joel didn’t jump. He was quite proud of that. He recognized the brilliant crimson that the man in the street had been wearing. Joel stepped up, blocking his path. “I’m sorry.” He said, firmly. “The restaurant is full tonight.”
The man balked, and then balked again when he saw the sword.
But then he recovered, as more of his crowd started pushing in. “Full? Nonsense. Move out of the way.”
“I’m very sorry.” Joel said, trying to sound sincere. He kept his arms firmly behind him. “But we’re out of space tonight.”
“We had a reservation!” The man said, convincingly.
“Party name?” Joel asked.
The man blinked, momentarily caught. He recovered. “Nickolai, party of eleven!” He said, like he meant it. “I demand to talk to your manager!” More people were moving behind him. They were holding the door open, because they wouldn’t all fit. Angry muttering was rolling over him.
Joel resisted the temptation to swallow.