(part 3 here)
Lela’s American Cafe, Part 4
by David S. McWilliams
So yeah, that’s pretty much the end of this story. I burned Lela’s bar down. Her buddy picked us up in his van, and I didn’t see the Russians again. This back-alley doctor fixed me up okay, and a few days later I was on a plane to La Guardia. I had to borrow money from Lela for the ticket—my editor paid her back by wire.
They got my pictures published, and Putin was pissed. Gave the Russians a big black eye in the international community, which lasted for all of about three hours before the world gave a collective yawn and went back to browsing celebrity nudes. At least I got paid, I guess.
I lost track of Lela for a while. She came back to the States a few weeks after I did. Last I heard she was working in some dive bar in Philly. Not that I cared, right? Because I didn’t.
Well, I tried not to. It’s not every day that a chick will pull you from a burning building after you sleep with one of her waitresses. Especially if you’re the one who set her bar on fire and destroyed her precious, irreplaceable, (likely fake) autographed picture of Humphrey Bogart. A woman like that makes an impression on you that’s hard to shake off.
It’s not that I liked her. I mean, I do. What’s not to like about Lela? She’s a better person than I’ll ever be. But it wasn’t that.
I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. I felt a bit responsible for her situation, and . . . well, I felt like I wanted to help her out. I wanted to make her life better, since I was the one who made it worse.
It felt suspiciously like personal growth, and I didn’t like it. So I called Lela up.
See, those Ferguson pics paid pretty well. Like, really well. And, you know, I could just go spend it all on hookers and blow, but I’m getting too old for that shit. Bad for the heart, you know?
I had this pile of cash and I was looking for somewhere to spend it. So I called up Lela to see if she was trying to open up a new place.
It turned out that yeah, she was, and she’d been pulling doubles at a trashy cocktail bar to save up the cash. It’s one of those places where the waitresses dress like animals and they have “shot girls.” Like an idiot, the first thing out of my mouth was, “Aren’t you getting a bit old for that?”
And so she called me a bastard and hung up. I called her back about a dozen times over the next half hour and finally she picked up again. Before I could fuck it up any more I just came out and told her, “Look, I want to invest in your new bar.”
She laughed at me and hung up again. I gave up calling and just went to the bar where she was working that night. She saw me right away.
“What the hell do you want, asshole?” she said. She was bartending, at least, not serving. She looked great. I felt like shit.
“Hey, take this check,” I told her. “I don’t care what you use it for, but if you want help with the new place, let me know.”
“Why?” she asked, suspicious.
“Because I want to be a part of it.” I told her. “I burned down your old place, and I want to help you build the new one.”
She didn’t say anything. I could tell that she didn’t believe me.
“Look, I’m feeling responsible for what might be the first time in my life. Don’t spoil it.” I pushed the check at her again.
She took it and examine the check. I saw her mask her surprise at the amount. “Why do you keep fucking with me, Francis?” she asked. “This bounces, right?”
“I’m not fucking with you,” I told her. “You pulled me out of a burning building.”
“That you set on fire,” she said.
“Well, yeah,” I said. I got up to leave.
“Where are you going?” she asked me.
“I’m gonna split before I say anything else stupid,” I told her. “Call me when you know what you want to do.”
I almost got out of the door before she caught me. “Hey,” she said, “you speak Greek?”
“No,” I said.
“Wanna learn?” she asked me.
So yeah, that’s happening. It didn’t happen right away, but when the check cleared Lela was willing to talk with me some more. We went to one of those all-night diners after she finished work and filled a few notebooks with ideas.
Now we’re partners—we have business cards and everything. “Lela’s American Cafe, Mykonos, Greece.” She’s there already picking out a building; I fly out on Tuesday.
I’m excited; Greece is a great place to shoot. And . . . well, I’ll be there with her. With Lela. That’s pretty cool. I think this time I’m not going to sleep with any of the staff.
Well, maybe one of them. If I’m lucky.
You know what she said to me that morning in the diner? After we filled up the third notebook, and the sun was coming up? She said, “Francis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
It was corny, sure. But for once in my life, I was okay with it.