In which Moneypenny challenges Bond about Sabrina and makes an important decision
“She crosses her legs, clings to the bar rail, and swings her stool towards me.”
The metal framed stools of Cafe Paulin are bolted so close together that Moneypenny’s knees instantly touch mine. Accidental contact often solicits a quick ‘sorry’ and readjustment; but at this moment they remain firmly against me. I glance down, noting their youthful smoothness, and the shortness of her skirt. Moneypenny seems animated. She bursts with conversational energy. Half listening, I glance around the bar.
The place is packed, the other customers mainly city office workers. It is like an ants nest, streams of people coming and going, waiters calling orders to each other with barely room for them to pass.
Cafe Paulin is about twice the width of a railway carriage. And that is not where the similarity ends. Down the centre, full length, is a narrow servery giving on to left and right. On a raised dais within the servery stand the waiters in their olive cross buttoned tunics. To each side of the servery are sheer glass shelves about a foot in width. These are the tracks, with two rows of stools adjacent like railway sleepers.
Another plate passes along the glass counter at speed, apparently out of control. It appears to spin, but is docked securely into a waiter's hand at the other end of the bar.
“Did you enjoy the chocolates”, I ask with a smile, returning my attention to Moneypenny. “Now, I thought you only liked Swiss truffles?”, I add inquiringly. “I took them with me to Sabrina’s”, she replies, “Bond, she recognised them instantly”. “I am sure she still has a soft spot for you, Mr Bond”.
Something that I don’t quite understand tells me that I don’t want our lunch date to be about Sabrina. Is Moneypenny really interested in what transpired between us over twenty years ago? If so, why? And why do I constantly wish to move the focus back to the present - this moment with Moneypenny?
After a shile I glance at the Bremont secured to my left wrist. It shows that I am running late for an appointment with my lawyer Maria Cristina, a colleague from a previous life.
Moneypenny picks up the last piece of pizza and takes a bite. Her wine glass is empty and she glances around, as if to check that she has said all that she was intent to say.
I take a last sip from my small glass of bourbon - you can never get Martini at Paulin - and reflect for a second on the ‘Sabrina days’ that had seemed so distant until today; half forgotten memories that had not withstood the test of time.
Lifting the bill from where I slid it against the glass countertop, Moneypenny reaches out two fingers to seize it from my grasp. “My treat, I’ll pay for the cupboard this time. Next time, take me somewhere swish where we have more room”, she adds. With that she swings on her stool again, exposing an iridescent leg as she lets her toes slip to the floor. I watch her go as she walks to the cashpoint to tender her card.
I swing my stool to greet him with the customary Porteño one cheek kiss. The place is too small for me to actually get up, so I stay on my stool and lean towards him which makes me suddenly aware of the fact that a short summer skirt was a poor wardrobe choice for a place like this, but it was the only acceptable thing I could find at Sabrina’s.
‘What sort of gentleman arranges a lunch date in a cafe the size of a cupboard?’ I said turning my stool away from him and trying to cross my legs as elegantly as possible in a 2 cm radius. ‘What kind of lady wears a skirt like that in a place like this?,’ he answered back, taking advantage of the fact that I was struggling to sit properly. ‘And I never said I was a gentleman,’ he added.
‘Right, I ordered us a pizza and some wine for me. I wasn’t sure what your poison of choice was at this hour, so you’ll have to order it yourself’, I told him. He then barely turned his head, raised his hand, motioned the waiter at the back of the bar and ‘signed’ something to him to which the waiter gave an approving head nod. He knew sign language?
‘What did you say to him, and I didn’t know you knew sign language!’ I exclaimed. ‘I simply asked for my usual drink, and yes I can sign, and do many other things you couldn’t even imagine,’ he replied in his suave voice. I suddenly felt a rush a blood to my cheeks, was I blushing? Was he flirting with me?
‘Right old girl, so I couldn’t help but notice a missing box of Belgian Pralines this morning. You took them to her didn’t you?,’ he asked inquisitively. ‘Ah I knew it! Of course - you noticed the missing box, the one you were trying so hard to be indifferent to. Yes I took them with me and she recognised them instantly,’ I teasingly replied, feeling as if I had information he desperately wanted me to divulge.
He hesitated to say anything else, but I could tell he was curious. ‘She’s just like you though, she didn’t budge except to speak in riddles and metaphors. The two of you are very much alike you know. You say so much without saying anything, like a fortune cookie. I’m usually more confused after you answer my questions than before I even ask them,’ I affirmed as if wanting some clarification from him now.
‘Old girl, the chocolates are ancient, like Sabrina and my story…..’ he started... ‘Oh my God that’s exactly what she said. Come on, you guys are reading from the same script, this can’t be. Spare me the ‘we’re old’ and ‘it’s an old story’ and just tell me everything. And then go see her,’ I interrupted.
‘I hate being interrupted, and now our times is up,’ he said looking at his watch which seemed to have so many dials that it could tell the time at all four corners of the earth. ‘I have another appointment and I’m late.’ ‘I’m going to have to pick up the bill and leave you to finish that second glass of wine on your own,’ he said in a continuous and firm way, not giving me a chance to contradict him.
‘Fine, go to your next appointment, I’ll make sure to schedule our next appointment when you have more time. I’ll take care of the bill and I won’t take any contradiction on the matter. Go, I’ll be fine, this is my type of place anyway.’
‘I bet it is old girl,’ he replied as he got up to leave. ‘Oh and I’m going to Canning tonight if you’re looking for something to do, I’ll be the one twirling around the dance floor,’ I shouted over the crowd of voices and clinking of cutlery. He nodded back and walked from the door into the street.
Another appointment ? I wonder where he’s going? Should I follow him?
What did I have to lose really? I had made no real plans, I just bought the ticket, threw a few things in my backpack and ran away....
Moneypenny I take the note, start to walk towards San Telmo while trying to make sense of what I had just seen. Was this a secret...
Mr Bond I flash a smile towards Nancy the waitress, and without a word she arrives with a second champagne glass for Moneypenny, who...