(part 2 here)
Lela’s American Cafe, Part 3
by David S. McWilliams
We heard it all the way back in the kitchen. There was a huge crash, and then lots of yelling. “Stay here,” she told me again, and then ran out before I could stop her. Crap, I thought to myself, this woman’s going to go get herself killed.
The cooks were already booking it out the back and I should’ve been too, but dammit—my film was out there. I limped over to the kitchen door and tried to see what was going down.
Boris was back, and he wasn’t alone. A half-dozen big Russian thugs were laying about indiscriminately with their fists, beating the shit out of anyone they could get a hold of. I guessed I was wrong about them holding off until later.
Tourists and locals were running around like crazy trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I saw Boris himself in back, keeping a lookout for me. Forget that, I thought, I was staying in the kitchen.
Which worked for a while, until Boris realized that I wasn’t on the floor. He yelled to one of his guys, and the thug started heading right for the kitchen. Oh shit, right?
I thought about running for it out that back, but Boris would’ve been smart enough to cover that before trying to flush me out. There wasn’t any time to hide, and nowhere good enough to fool them. So I did what any rat does when the cat traps it in the corner—I got ready to fight.
Luckily kitchens are full of nasty shit that’s good for hurting people.
I limped around the prep tables and grabbed the first thing that came to hand. It was a big pan of oil that they’d been frying something in. The thug bursts in through the door right as I get a good grip on it, so I turned around and flung the oil right in his face.
He didn’t like it, I can tell you that much. But I’d miscalculated how much oil was in the pan, and it was way too heavy for me to control. Broken hand, right? So I ended up dumping a couple of liters of cooking oil right onto a big open flame on the range.
The oil went up fast. There was a big fireball that knocked me on my ass, and all of sudden the whole kitchen was on fire. Oh-double-shit, right? Luckily the Russian dude was blind and at least a little bit on fire, so I shoved him out of the way and busted through the door.
The bar was in total chaos. A bunch of big longshoremen had decided not to take the Russians’ shit and were giving Boris’s thugs a run for their money. Somebody was down on the floor with a knife in them. There was no sign of Lela. I started heading for the piano because it was high time to grab my film and get the hell out (especially with all of that smoke pouring out of the kitchen).
“You! Stop!” I heard someone yell. It was Boris. He tackled me from behind and we ended up on the floor. I struggled for a bit, but I was in pretty bad shape and about all I could do at that point was bleed on his suit. He pinned me. “The film! Give me the film!” he said.
“Alright, alright!” I told him. “It’s in the pack!” He let me slip out of the backpack straps and I gave it to him, hoping he wouldn’t think to look inside. No luck; he checked it without letting me go. It was empty, of course. He threw it away.
“Where’s the film, fucker?!? Fucker!” he screamed in my face before hitting me. When my vision came back he had a gun out, and I was looking right down the barrel.
“Where?!? Where?!?” he screamed again. I tried to spit on him and ended up just drooling all over my own chin. Something moved outside of my field of vision.
Boris looked up just in time to get pepper sprayed full in the face.
You ever seen someone get pepper sprayed? It’s not exactly a precision weapon; that shit gets everywhere. Of all the shitty stuff that happened to me that night, that was the worst. My eyes, my mouth, my nose, my lungs, man—that stuff burns.
It was Lela. She nailed him good, and got me in the process. I don’t think she was really taking any pains to avoid me, but whatever. I’ll take it. I heard a gunshot; something punched me in the side. Boris had pulled the trigger in shock, but he was reeling and the shot just grazed me. He rolled off me, and Lela kicked him over onto his back before emptying the rest of the can right up his damn nose. Dude was a wreck by the time she was done with him.
I was still coughing and mostly blind by the time she got to me. “You alright?” she asked.
“Motherfucker shot me!” I said.
She glanced at it. “You’ll be alright.” She helped me up.
There was a big bang, and a huge fireball erupted from the kitchen doors. Thick black smoke was filling the club.
“Shit!” said Lela.
“Kitchen’s on fire,” I told her as another wall of flame surged out through the doorway.
“No shit, Francis! What the hell did you do?” yelled Lela over the roar of the flames.
“Wasn’t me,” I lied.
“Fuck—Fuck!” she said.
But I wasn’t paying attention; I needed to get my damn film out of that piano ASAP. I pulled myself from table to table over to the piano, and knocked open the top. I knew the film was in there somewhere, but goddamn it I couldn’t see a thing. I was half blind with pepper spray, tears pouring out of my eyes, coughing uncontrollably because of the smoke, bleeding from a fresh gunshot wound, holding onto the edge of the piano with a broken hand while jamming the good one down into the strings and hammers. It must’ve fallen down, because I couldn’t find it. Sharp things kept cutting my fingers.
“Lela!” I yelled. “Lela! Help!”
I looked over. It was starting to get bad in the bar; even the Russians had bailed. Boris was gone. Lela had one of those puny little baby fire extinguishers and was staring over at the flames.
“Lela!” I yelled again. I saw her look over at me, and then I saw her look back to the bar. Her precious photograph of Bogart was hanging there, just below the smokeline, right where the wallpaper was turning black. I saw her hesitate.
“Lela! This is a little more important, dammit!” I yelled.
She swore and said something I couldn’t hear over the fire, then threw the whole fire extinguisher right into the inferno and ran over to me. She yanked off the bottom panel of the piano. The film canisters were right there where they’d fallen down by the pedal mechanism. She grabbed them with one hand and grabbed me by the other.
I looked back. The picture of Bogart had disappeared in the smoke. We were the last two out of the bar before the ceiling fell in.
(part 4 here)