The cafe' was small and dark inside, but it looked to offer warmth, and shelter from the rain that currently poured down the sides of the coach. Nadjinia nodded toward the entrance while Valinor took her elbow and quickly guided her inside, holding his coat up over her head to protect her from the storm.
There were a few tables open, and they selected one near the fireplace. Their looks and demeanor guaranteed that they would receive quick service and they did. Valinor stopped the waiter and told him to bring them two of their finest meals. When asked, he waved off the questions and said, "I know you will bring us your very best." and simply looked at the man with raised brow. The waiter bustled into the kitchen, glancing back and nearly bursting with nervous interest, which undoubtedly he intended to share with the kitchen staff immediately once out of earshot.
While they were waiting, Valinor glanced around, noting the people in the room, (and where they sat in relation to Nadjinia) eyeing and then dismissing each one as he assessed their value or threat in the scheme of things. His eyes stopped at a dark table in the corner, to the side of the fireplace, where a decidedly personal conversation seemed to be taking place. A man wearing food-stained clothing, slightly too small for him, was sitting nervously on the edge of the chair across from a tousle-headed urchin. Valinor first sized up the man, and realized that the person the man was talking to was, in fact, a woman. The man was eyeing her with a look that Valinor knew too well, and he turned his attention to the woman herself.
His first impression was not kind. She was obviously a hustler, and not too clean. Her black woolen coat was several sizes too large, and a man's coat at that. It had once been fine, belonging to a man of good size, and it nearly enveloped her, making her look small and orphanish. It was obviously stolen or rescued from a trash bin somewhere. A tattered brown derby sat on the table near her elbow, and her hands were wrapped around a pint of some sort of ale, fingers sticking out of the ends of some very old gloves. His eyes traveled to her face, ready to dismiss this curiosity of a human, as he had done the other patrons in the place, when he was arrested by the look on her face.
Her hair was copper red, a disheveled mop that had not seen a brush in days, sloppily gathered in a loose knot on the top of her head. Curls and strands escaped, and hung moistly down her face, showing that she had also recently escaped inside to avoid the rain. It was her eyes that had caught his attention. She was looking at the slovenly bar-owner as if he were the most important man in the world to her; the love of her life. Eyes green and soft, she looked at him entreatingly, and then reached over to touch his hand. She murmured quietly to him in Italian, but with a decidedly Irish lilt. The combination was curious, yet captivating. The man looked ready to melt. "Lovers," Valinor thought to himself. Odd people, odd choices. It was of no matter to him. He was beginning to anticipate that their food would soon arrive and he looked one last time at the woman and then back to Nadjinia. Not coincidentally, he saw that she was looking over at the table too. As usual, their thoughts were never far apart, and he realized that she was interested in the intriguing scene at the table as well. He looked back to the kitchen door waiting for it to open and their first course to arrive.
As if on cue the door burst open but it was not a waiter with plates of food that came through it. Instead, it was an enraged bar-owners wife. She looked around the room, either for someone or for a weapon to use on someone, and Valinor smiled to himself in anticipation of the entertainment that was obviously about to ensue. He reached over and took Nadjinia's fingers into his, to reassure her that if things got out of hand, he was there to protect her.
"YOU!" The woman hissed. "YOU!" and trailed off into a barrage of Italian slang and gutter language that Valinor understood, and hoped that Nadjinia didn't, if only to spare her the vulgarity. The woman was carrying a bowl of pasta, and nearly ran over to the man at the table with the dai capelli rosso woman.
Valinor understood that the wife was not happy with her husband at all, vehemently so, and that she had also caught on that the man was giving away food, and food to a tramp as well. Then she spied the pint glass on the table and her fury escalated exponentially. Damning her husband (and Valinor picked up several references to Purgatory, malformed monkey parts, mothers-in-law and bastard children) the woman stormed over to the fireplace and dashed the bowl inside with a satisfying crash. The fire sputtered around the mess. The bar-owner took this opportunity to jump up and run into the kitchen like a whipped dog, and his wife took a menacing step towards the woman at the table as if to dash the pint glass on the floor herself, made brave by the instant surrender of her husband to her wrath.
The object of her husband's attentions reacted by downing the drink in one long swallow, and then stared back at the wife. Gone was the lazy look in her eyes. She looked more like a venomous snake about to strike. The wife's tirade faltered a bit. The red-haired woman slid a hand into one of the enormous pockets in the coat and withdrew a coin, which she tossed on the table, her eyes never leaving the wife's face as she did so. The bar-wife reached to snatch it. Just as her hand neared the coin, the Irish woman spit, a large gesture of her distaste, expertly covering the coin. All conversation in the room had now dropped to absolute silence; the woman raised her eyes and looked directly into her opponent's. Suddenly deflated, the wife grabbed the coin, tossed her head as if in triumph but as she strode back into the kitchen to hurl more imprecations at her husband, she glanced back, almost in fear.
"Strega" she whispered, and fled through the doorway.
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