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Sunday, 10 March 2013


I've heard it's a guy thing, an ancient instinct. One of those well-worn pathways in our nervous systems, like sheep tracks on heather hillsides.

Whatever it is, I'm unhappy seated in a public space with my back to the door. Wild Bill Hickok did it once and got shot dead by a buffalo-hunter.

So maybe I've just watched too many cowboy films. I certainly don't expect to get shot dead in the Allan Water Café, run for 100 years by four generations of the Bechelli family. But I also don't want my ex-wife sneaking up behind me while I'm waiting for her there. 

She is unlikely to put a pistol to my head, shout "Damn you, take that!" then blow my brains out, as Wild Bill's assassin did to him. Most unlikely. Five percent chance at most.

All the same, I'd rather have her in front of me, where I can see what she's doing. And has in her hands.

But Bechelli's is a popular place, what with tourist traffic and local ladies who lunch - two of whom are facing me now, across the white-topped table, in the seats I'd much rather have. So I keep turning around to watch the door. 

And still she manages somehow to come up on my blind side, say "Hello Douglas" in that voice, and make me jump ten feet in the air.

"Do you have buffalo-hunters among your ancestors?" I ask, when she's seated and my heart-rate has slowed.

"What are you talking about?" she says. "Get me a latte and a 99. The ice-cream here is fantastic." 

"Hello Sam, it's nice to see you again," I say. "You're looking well."

"Yeah, yeah," she says. "I'm short of time and we need to talk about young Douglas."

"Who?" I say.

"Your son," she says. "Think back. You'll remember him."

"Of course I remember him. I saw him yesterday. I just didn't know that's why you wanted to see me."

"Did you imagine I had a sudden desire for your body that I wanted to satisfy on top of a well-worn café table?"

Wouldn't that be stupid, I think, turning away so she can't see my eyes. "I'll get the coffee."

"And the 99," she says.

And the 99. Though that's the easy part, I realise when I reach the ice-cream counter, survey the multi-coloured montage, and memory serves me as well as it always does. I toss a mental coin. "A chocolate ripple and a maple and walnut 99," I tell the girl and take them back to the table.

"Is that the best you could get?" Sam says, taking the choc ice from my hand and giving it an upwards lick that leaves a little point on the ice-cream and a spot of chocolate on her lower lip.

"Your son needs money for his course," she says. "I expect you to pay at least half next week."

She starts on the flake, sticking straight up from her ice-cream. She licks it. She warms it between her lips.

"I've a bit of a cash-flow problem," I start to say. "I'm not sure... it's very short notice."

She takes the flake deeply into her mouth, holds it a moment, then bites. The loud snap as her teeth meet in the middle startles the old ladies.

"I'll find the money," I tell her.

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