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Chai! or, the Unhappy Cafe

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My acquaintance with Richard Burton began when I was merely a shift manager at Vicki Windsor's "English Breakfast." I hesitate to call myself his confidante, but I certainly had opportunity to observe his behavior and his acquaintances. I was there when he became engaged to the woman who was to be his wife, and I was there when his career in the service of Miss Windsor ended.

It was, I can say, a strange experience.

The first I knew of Richard Burton is when I was instructed to post an open call for a new barista, to replace our colleague of several months. She had recently quit in order to pursue missionary work, or so I was told. She herself told me that she was quitting in order to produce her Neopagan webseries.

But that is by-the-by.

I received and reviewed several applications for the post. Most of them correctly contained the applicants' work experience and knowledge of the art of coffee. A few were poor efforts by underexperienced teen-agers, which I promptly discarded.

One, however, stood out by virtue of its own ludicrousness. I recall that I stared at it quite a while after reading it, and I reproduce it here so that the reader might have a similarly engaging experience.

Captain Richard Burton, retired.
xx xxxx Lane,
London
W12 7RJ
United Kingdom

Work experience: Eighteen years in the UK military.

Other skills: Falconry, bayonet instruction, translation, boxing, fencing (rated the best swordsman in England), humorous poetry.
Fluent in English, French, Italian, Neapolitan, Romany, Spanish, Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Hindustani, Arabic, Gujarati, Punjabi,
Sindhi, Marathi, Persian, Portuguese, German, Armenian, Turkish, Telugu, Pashto, Toda, Swahili, and Harari. Some competency in the
language of the monkeys (full details available upon request).

Computer skills: none.

References: General Sir Charles Napier, General William Beatson.

Certainly he was unqualified for work as a barista. As far as I could tell, Captain Burton was most suited for work as a fighting translator, which I'm sure had been his position in the military. But, as I lined up the interviews for the more experienced applicants, I could see no harm in having him in. And I was uncommonly curious to see what sort of man might have lived Burton's apparent life and then decide to apply to work at a coffee shop, of all places. I left an invitation to interview on his answering machine, and promptly turned my attention to other matters.

Two days later, I had interviewed three applicants and had to reject each of them out of hand. One had been fired for performing the most abominable acts of skullduggery at his previous place of employment, and the other two had simply no conception of how to perform the simplest of tasks. I had more possibilities to interview, but I was frustrated with the work and not enlivened by the prospect of more to come.

It was this afternoon that Captain Burton returned my call.

He had a rough voice, but a cheerful one, and it contained no hint of the man which I was soon to meet. We arranged for the appointment, and I was soon giddy with the idea of meeting the man who had penned his absurd resume. When Miss Windsor checked in to see how my employee search was faring, I was able to inform her that I had an interesting new possibility coming in that very evening. I would receive him in the shop, after hours, and so have every opportunity to test his skill, in the event that he had any.

Captain Burton arrived punctually, which was a pleasant change of pace. Every one of the rejected candidates as of yet had been dismally late. I smiled at him as I ushered the last lingering customer across our threshold. Captain Burton stepped to the side, nodding at the poor fellow, and entered as I locked the door after him.

He was a tall man, with a bearing that was certainly military, in its uprightness and its musculature. The cut of his coat was military as well, and I suspected it of being a holdover from the career he had lately parted ways with. But Burton himself had a ruffian's visage that belied the respectability of serving Her Majesty. His face was rough and scarred in odd places, and his long dark moustaches matched his twinkling black eyes.

"And you must be the illustrious Miss Wynne," he said.

"Indeed I am," I replied. "Now, Captain Burton, are you ready to begin the interview?"

"Immediately and always," he said. His eyes cast about as if looking for something to hook into. "Where shall we begin?"

"Well, let me clear up the counter, and then you can bend yourself over the machine and take a stab at the work."
I turned to clear the counter and ready the different tools of the caffeine trade, but I caught the edge of Burton's face turning speculative. I thought back on what I had said, and coloured, ever so slightly.

"I apologize," I said, stiffly. Asking a man in alone, late at night, bend yourself over, good grief. "Whatever must you think of me?"

"A great deal," said Burton, gallantly enough. "The current obsession with innuendo and mis-taken remarks is quite absurd. Every little thing is met with an 'as the actress said to the bishop', and veiled smirks."

"A game I am often a victim to," I said, and smiled at him. "If you could take to the machine?"

He stepped up and swept at the steamer's knob with his hand, dexterously scalding his fingers.

"Fuck!" he shouted. My ears burned red as I turned the steamer off.

"Do you actually know how to operate an espresso machine?" I asked.

"I've watched many a barista," replied Burton, and I knew I needed to turn him out.

"I believe there's been a mistake," I said. Almost harshly, because I was annoyed, but nicely enough apart from that. Burton ignored my carefully created dismissal.

"I lived in Italy as a boy," he muttered as he ran cold water from the sink over his hand. "I remember that when I was sixteen I learned to play chess blindfolded, two games at a time."

"How interesting," I said. "And what, may I ask, does that have to do with coffee?"

"It shows that I am an unaccountably fast study," he said. His moustaches twitched as his jaw set in a fierce grimace. "Let us try again!"

In two hours, we had five ruined cappuccinos, I knew more of Burton's life history than I knew of my own mother's, and I was thoroughly late for a dinner engagement. But now I was cradling a perfect latte in my hands.

"You see!" said Burton. "Why, it's just like the time when I lived in Egypt - you just have to keep trying the cholera remedy until the gout goes away-"

"Thank you, Captain Burton." I said. "That's quite enough."

"Ah." Burton's eyes dimmed at last, and his moustaches contrived to droop. "Finished, are we?"

"You're hired," I clarified. "I cannot spend two hours training you and then send you away afterwards, now can I?"

Burton shook my hand, manfully, and arranged for his hours. I stayed behind to lock up as he left, but I heard him crying out in jubilation as he strode down the street.

Burton's time at the "English Breakfast" was a fraught one, for all that it began well. He fit right in to the motley group of baristas - at the time it was I, Isabel Arundell, and Hamid al-Samman on full-time, and a crew of periodically attending part-timers. Burton lasted two years with us, which is quite a long time for a barista. I, of course, have been with Vicki Windsor for years, but the average cafe worker more often views his or her employment as a stepping stone to greater things, or at least a lily-pad to shelter on until circumstances become better.

When I began working with Burton, I thought I had met someone as dedicated to the service as I. And I was right, as it happened - he had no interest or ambition for a job outside of Vicki's empire, now that he had left the army. But Burton, I soon realized, was not to go far at this cafe.

It was not because of his manner. Burton quickly made friends with the regulars in the cafe, charming each of them with stories about his travels in and out of the military. He was an interesting man - a fencer, a linguist, a historian - but his fixation was indisputably in the art of wandering. Each latte was accompanied with the tale of his journey to what was once the kingdom of Dahomey, or his hitchhiking trip through Utah.

"You know, I did meet some of Brigham Young's descendents," said Burton, smiling at the young man who had ordered a double mocha cap. "Not that that's difficult. They're everywhere, honestly, everywhere."

"Gosh," said the young man.

"I don't understand why they did away with polygamy," mused Burton. He drizzled extra chocolate on top of the cappuccino's foam and handed it to the young man. "There's a lot to be said for group marriage."

"Really?" said the young man. He seemed unsure as to whether Burton was flirting with him or not. This was a confusion he would have to become accustomed to, as I had.

"And the landscapes were marvellous," said Burton. He leaned a little over the counter, raising the probability of flirting to about sixty percent. "Have you ever travelled abroad?"

The young man smiled and stuttered, and I rescued him with the next order.

"Caramel chai, Burton, and stop hounding the customers."

"Right away, Miss Wynne!" said Burton, and busied himself with the syrups and the machine.

So, yes, Burton ingratiated himself with the customers easily enough. And he was soon proficient in the ways of hot drinks. But I was often astonished by Burton's habits, especially his manner of speech. He often said things to me about the customers that I would have fired him for, had the customers shown any resentment. The most racially charged stuff, and it was evident to me that Burton was frightfully prejudiced. I hesitate to include detailed descriptions here, but Burton once included me, oh, fortunate me, in a long rant in which he implicated Jews, Christians, Englishmen, Freemasons, Americans, Portuguese, cellphone users, missionaries, and children under the age of twelve. When I pointed out to him that I myself fitted in at least three of these categories, he asked if I took any offense, and laughed.

An early reader of this manuscript has suggested that I might be viewed to be slandering Burton, as I claim him to be prejudiced, yet never show an example or other proof. I admit that I shy away from reproducing his opinions, but I have been prevailed upon to provide a few choice (i.e., mild) excerpts of our conversations over the time in which Burton and I worked together:

“I often wonder why England did away with dictatorships, here and abroad. It’s completely ruined the people – lower-classes everywhere, doing whatever they like. It’s all been downhill since the Magna Carta.”

“You just can’t trust Peruvians. Chileans, yes. It’s probably the climate.” (Burton ascribed a number of things to climate, especially regarding ethics and sexuality. I never determined what sort of climate he thought was best, except that none of them seemed to be very good.)

"Take Jews - enormously intelligent, industrious, and extraordinarily healthy and long-lived. Such a shame that they want to destroy the world."

“You know, people often say that some places are impossible to inhabit. Deadly swamps, for instance. Cameroon. The Poles. Well, to that I say two words: penal colonies.”

“Humans are really all the same. Oh, of course the Arabs are better than everyone except the Englishmen. But other than those small matters of superiority, you see the same things with all the same people. I only wish we could learn from each other more easily.” (Here there was a long pause, as I wondered whether Burton was going to reveal hidden depths of tolerance and desire for diversity.) “Except for the Sicilians. They’re an entirely awful people, and thieves, too. Have you ever been to Sicily? No? Don’t bother.”

This last comment, I think, is highly typical of Burton. His undisguised interest and knowledge of any and every culture would draw you in, and he would often laud certain peoples (particularly people from the Middle East and North Africa). But then he would display his unadulterated disdain for some previously unconsidered group: Sicilians, Protestants, the Harari, scholars, people of mixed ancestry. I will freely admit that Burton wasn’t ‘as bad’ as some others who frequented the cafe, but there was something of a whiplash effect involved in conversing with Burton, and I never grew used to it.

I made an attempt to monitor what he said to the customers, but that was difficult – quite often their conversations were completely incomprehensible to me. Burton liked to use his language skills, and had a great ear for accents. Given the number of conversations which he had in German or Turkish or Swahili (or, on one memorable occasion, all three at once), and given my own lack of skill in any language except English and my small smattering of Yiddish, I was forced to rely on customer complains to know if Burton had finally gone over the line.

But the customers never complained, and, indeed, Burton was a great favorite among them. They seemed to take it for granted that Burton hated nearly everybody in general terms, but liked everyone personally just as much. It was a fine distinction to draw, and I cannot say that I always understood the extent of it.

Hamid al-Samman often took shifts with Burton, and I asked him what he thought of the issue. Hamid was from Saudi Arabia, and I had just heard Burton declaiming on what he thought of Saudis (not very much), right before telling Hamid that he was the best of men and that Burton could not live without him.

"Well, he is awful," agreed Hamid. "But at least he's upfront about it. And I like his jokes about Belgians."

"But surely that's just another indicator of how very prejudiced he is," I said. "How does he get along in the world?"

Hamid thought about it as he made Chamomile for the woman waiting impatiently at the counter.

"There you are, Miss. Two pounds." He turned his attention back to me as he made change. "You know, Rachel, you're right and Richard's far enough in the wrong that it's stopped making any sense. But the thing is, Richard hates everyone. It's hard to take it personally."

Three weeks later Burton asked me for two weeks off while he went on a pilgrimage with Hamid.

"For religious reasons, obviously, so I would hate to be discriminated against," said Burton. "It's going to be exceedingly interesting, and I'll make a great study of everything I see."

"And how is that going to benefit this shop?" I asked. "I'll be losing half of my main staff."

"I'll take notes on how they make coffee in Mecca," Burton promised. "And you'll undoubtedly be able to find more temp staff. Isabel will take some of my shifts."

Isabel would undoubtedly take some of his shifts. I needed to talk to her about Burton, as she seemed far too taken in by his charms.

"I didn't realize you were Muslim," I said, instead of bothering Burton with my suspicions that he was seducing my staff in order to take overlong vacations. "Hamid's been planning this trip for months - you could have mentioned something to me earlier."

"It's a recent thing," said Burton. "I'll see you at the end of the month!" And he was away, with a swoop of his moustaches and his great military coat.

The cafe was emptier without him and Hamid, though Isabel never let me forget Burton's existence. As far as I could tell, she was infatuated with him, despite having worked exactly two shifts with the man.

"He's just so wonderful," said Isabel. "Did you know that he's the greatest swordsman of our age?"

"It was on his resume. But I haven't heard of his Olympic medals, Isabel." I busied myself in polishing the counter. "And I'm sure he would have informed me of their existence by now."

"Oh, he doesn't compete in the usual way," sighed Isabel. "He duels for honor and love!"

"Yes, that sounds like him," I said. My sarcasm went clear over Isabel's head, and she continued to rapture about her dear Richard Burton.

"And his books - have you read his books? They're delightful, really, though he does hold so many odd opinions."

"I've heard them," I said. Isabel was a devout Catholic. While she generally kept her opinions to one side, I couldn't imagine her favoring many of Burton's ideas. "What do you like the most? His defense of polygamy? His conviction that homosexuality and the female libido are controlled by what sort of climate a person is living in? The fact that he appears to have abruptly converted to Islam in order to go on vacation?"

"You're being tiresome," said Isabel, frowning at me. I admit that I had been more frustrated with Burton than usual, after he and Hamid had abandoned me to interview four or five part-time employees.

"He's so romantic," continued Isabel. "He knows so many languages, and his knowledge of world cultures - oh, it quite does my heart in. You know, Rachel, I've proposed marriage."

"Good heavens," I said, eloquently. "You've met him all of three times."

"Well, he didn't say yes," said Isabel. "But I will wait. In the meantime, I'm learning to fence as well."

"So you can duel him for his honor?" I inquired.

"So I can defend him against his detractors and enemies!" declared Isabel. She looked at me with a dangerous gleam in her eye.

I was slightly more nervous about performing my shifts with Isabel alongside, after that, but I soon convince myself that she would be unable to sneak a sabre or an epee into the cafe.

Luckily for both of us, Burton returned soon enough, along with Hamid. He was full of stories about the journey and, apparently, was no longer following the teachings of Islam.

"It will always retain a special place in my soul," he explained to me. "But unfortunately I find sustained belief in divine providence rather tiring."

"Isabel must be thrilled," I said.

"Isabel?" Burton was making a green tea milkshake for a young woman with dimples and designer eyeliner. He grinned at her, and she swooned, a little.

"Isabel Arundell, who informs me that she proposed marriage to you."

"Oh, Isabel." Burton handed the milkshake over to the woman, who slipped him a piece of paper. He grinned at that, as well. "Isabel is a charming woman. Perhaps I should get to know her better!"

"Perhaps you should!" I had forgotten how even more exasperating Burton was in person. "You shall have many opportunities - no more long vacations for you, now that you have finally fetched up on England's shores once again."

"Oh," said Burton, and he frowned. "Yes, I shall be here at every shift, ready for the daily grind."

I grimaced at the pun, but turned my back so he could not see.

True to his word, Burton came to his every shift.

His rapport with the regulars became real friendship with a few men who I had previously not observed to be particularly interested in befriending the baristas. I suppose Burton simply appealed to him, as he had appealed to Isabel and Hamid.

As a group, these men called themselves the Cannibal Club, and Burton was their favorite barista. I suppose it was because I never hesitated to tell them how offensive I found their Club's name and ideas, while Burton seemed to find them amusing. They were welcome to each other, of course.

Burton's first friend in the Club was one Richard Monckton Milnes, a writer and a man of some class. He had been squiring after some nurse for quite some time, but was apparently on the outs with her, as he claimed to be drowning his sorrows in chai.

"Dear Richard," Milnes would say. "How are you? And how is the coffee business?"

"Frightfully dull," Burton would say, with a conspiratorial smile. "But the boss won't let me go haring off again."

"A shame!" Milnes would declare. "But you will go abroad again, won't you? And you will bring back old Fred Hankey some skin to bind his books in? He's been asking after you."

"Oh, yes," Burton would say, laughing. "I'm sure I'll be able to find someone who isn't using their skin any longer."

They had this same conversation at least half a dozen times, to my knowledge, and it was another mark against Milnes. With Burton I was relatively sure that the planned skin-plundering was a joke - a tasteless joke, but certainly not meant to be taken seriously - but Milnes always had an unpleasant gleam in his eye that made me think that he wouldn't stoop to kidding around.

Fortunately for Burton, he had one friend who, while unsettling, was more agreeable for listening purposes. Algernon Charles Swinburne was a boyish gentleman who hung on Burton's every word. He was a poet, given to giggling and talking about every awful thing he had ever done. However, most of the awful things he claimed to have done were rather tame compared to the deeds done by the average person on the street. I had a nodding acquaintance with Swinburne myself, as we were both mildly involved in the local kink scene. There Swinburne had a reputation for liking to talk rather more than liking to do much of anything, which fit in nicely with a certain subset of the community. (Modesty prevents me from discussing my own reputation, even in a comparative fashion.) Suffice it to say that I was reasonably pleased whenever I saw Swinburne come in, especially given the alternatives.

"Richard!" he would shout. "How goes the publishing?"

"Algy." Burton would nod, and proceed to tell Swinburne all about his adventures in the world of book-writing as he made up Swinburne's coffee, adulterated with cinnamon and red pepper.

"It sounds dreadfully difficult," Swinburne would say, taking a sip of his coffee before it had a chance to cool. "Ah! I've burned my tongue. How perfect! You know, Richard," and here Swinburne would lean forward to disclose his secret, "I'm somewhat of a masochist. You never would have guessed, would you!"

And Burton would shake his head and laugh, before Swinburne went to his table, beaming.

It was at times like these when I nearly liked Burton and his friends. But I still knew I was in trouble when he began keeping company with John Hanning Speke.

Speke was a backpacker, and had made many a travel across the world. He and Burton did not get along, in so many words, but they did share a kinship for travel.

"Speke was telling me about his plans," said Burton, one day. "He's headed for Africa this week's end. Hiking all the way to the source of the Nile."

"How fascinating," I said, bending over the steamer head which I was attempting to scrape out.

"I'd love to go to Africa again," said Burton, reminiscing. "Last time I was there, I got myself stabbed in Somaliland."

I finished scraping off the steamer before I had fully understood the sentence.

"You did what?"

"Was stabbed," said Burton. He took advantage of my attention to trace a thin white line on his right cheek and a smaller one on his left. "Right through my face, as it happens. At least it kept me from tasting the awful food."

I stared at Burton, uncomprehending.

"I do wish I could go back," said Burton, again.

"What a pity you've used up all your vacation time," I said, and hoped that would be an end to the matter. Burton sighed and nodded, and he seemed biddable enough whenever I glanced at him during the shift. I did wonder how many of those other white scars on his tanned face had similarly strange stories to go with them.

All of them, no doubt.

In any case, Burton called on Friday, coughing deeply into the receiver.

"You sound ill," I said.

"I shall need the week off," he said. "I have the most dreadful fever, really, and I couldn't bear it seeping into the drinks of the horrible people you call customers."

I stopped for a moment to digest this sentence.

"Very well," I said. "I'll ask Isabel and Hamid if they can help me cover your shifts."

"Thanks," said Burton, and hung up.

That was the last I heard of him for two weeks. Two frantic weeks, while I tried to find out what was going on and worked double time. My shifts with Isabel became particularly stressful, as Burton hadn't told her he was leaving in the first place, and she was certain that he had died. An obituary for a Captain Burton ran in the Times, but we soon discovered that it was another man, a ship's captain. It was astonishing to watch Isabel laughing with joy and relief about that poor man's death.

When Burton strolled into the cafe at last, he was not dead at all. Rather, he seemed healthy - healthy and even more tan than he had been previously.

"How was sick leave?" I asked, trying to make it sound as accusing as possible. "Do you feel better?"

"Demonstrably so," said Burton, grinning. "Sorry about the extra week. I was kept in for observation, or some such rot, and the doctors just wouldn't let me call in."

"I'm sure," I said. "Well, happily enough for you, we haven't managed to recruit a replacement as of yet. You may resume your post."

"Lovely," said Burton, moving behind the counter once more.

"And how is Speke?" I asked. I knew I wouldn't catch him out on the fact that he had been hiking around Africa instead of recovering in hospital, but I had a sort of morbid determination to try anyway.

"Speke and I have had a minor disagreement," said Burton. The words were reasonable enough, but by the way his face darkened I could tell that he and Speke must have had a serious falling out. "You shan't be seeing him here again."

"Good," I said, with feeling. I could only hope that that meant Burton wouldn't be pulling a stunt like this again. "Now if you would just get rid of that Milnes."

Burton laughed, surprised. "You really don't like him, do you, Wynne? I wonder what you must think of me."

"You're a fascinating man," I said, and Burton seemed to be satisfied, if still amused. As you can see by all the words I have written here about Captain Richard Burton, I had told him the honest truth.

That day, despite our differences, we worked in harmony. Burton's personal agreeableness, I discovered, could play off well against my own acerbic tinge, while my desire for tolerance and civility could temper his own tendencies toward indiscriminate prejudice. It was a good shift, and I entertained hopes that we could continue in this vein for some time, developing an excellent working relationship.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to last.

The first hint of the end came when I spoke to Isabel toward the middle of January. She was in high spirits, and I happened to ask why.

"Jemmy has agreed to marriage!" she trilled.

"Jemmy? I thought you were after Richard."

"Oh, Jemmy is my pet name for him," said Isabel. "He's such a dear."

"If you like," I said. "I would imagine that being married to Burton would be something of a trial."

"It will be an exercise in fortitude," said Isabel, in a rare concession. "Do you know, I wrote a list of how I should behave as a wife! Would you like to hear?"

I was attending to a customer when she said this, so it is not my fault that I couldn't say no quite fast enough.

"Number 1: Let your husband find in you a companion, friend, adviser, and confidante, that he may miss nothing at home," began Isabel, and continued mining the seam of marital discipline for the next ten minutes.

As I was brewing a new pot of decaf: "Number 5: Be prepared at any moment to follow him at an hour's notice, and rough it like a man."

As I was putting the whip cream in a peppermint cocoa: "Number 9: Hide his faults from every one."

As I was trying to find the bag of espresso beans: "Number 12: Never ask him not to do anything-"

"How long is this list, Isabel?" I asked, a little fed up.

"Seventeen items!" said Isabel.

"And are they all as self-sacrificing as the first twelve?" I kicked the mini-freezer door shut, having at last located the erstwhile beans.

"More or less," said Isabel. "I was working on it for ages."

"Then please do not trouble yourself to read the rest," I said. I should have given a speech about the emancipation of a woman within marriage, but I think it should have tired both I and Isabel, and accomplished little. "I'm sure you and Burton will be very happy together. When is the wedding?"

"The twenty-second," said Isabel. "we wanted it as soon as possible, do you see, but Wednesdays and Fridays are incredibly bad luck. And of course you're invited!"

"I'll be delighted," I said. t would certainly be a sight to see, anyway. Burton getting married. I wondered if he would stop flirting with the customers.

As it happened, the answer to that was a resounding no. On at least two occasions after the engagement was announced, Burton-

But I digress - I have done little else for this entire monograph. What interests me now is the wedding.

It was in a small Catholic chapel, rented in haste. My understanding was that Burton had refused to convert, but that Isabel had obtained both the services of a priest who was a friend of her family, and special dispensation to marry a non-Catholic. Once she had determined to do a thing, Isabel was equally determined to do it properly.

The bulk of the attendance was made up of cafe regulars and employees. The Cannibal Club was all there - Milnes cheered when the bride and groom kissed, and Swinburne endeavored to cry. Even Hamid was looking a little wet around the ocular region. I myself was dry-eyed, though pleased. Isabel and Richard looked exceedingly happy, and I wished them all the best. I would, however, arrange all their shifts so that they would be unable to work together. Couples in a cafe are sweet as customers, but inefficient as baristas.

At least, this was my plan. But at the reception afterwards - held, of course, in the "English Breakfast" - Burton approached me.

"Hello, Wynne," he said. "Having a nice time?"

"Not as nice as you, I shouldn't wonder," I said. "How is life as a newly-wed?"

"Busy," said Burton. "And here, I need to tell you: Isabel and I are off to South America next week. Fernando Po."

"For the honeymoon?" I asked. "I should have liked more notice."

"Forever," Burton clarified. "Or, perhaps not forever, but you understand me. I've found a new job with the Foreign Office. I shall be working in the consulate. I'm leaving Monday next, and Isabel will pay, pack, and follow by midweek."

"You unreliable little bleeder," I said.

Burton laughed very loudly for a man who had just been cursed at during his own wedding. Or during his reception, anyway. After a moment, I laughed as well.

"I should have expected it," I said. "It's exactly the sort of stunt you'd pull."

"I try," said Burton, dryly. "Would you like another Irish Coffee?"

He made it for me, on our machine, with a liberal dose of Baileys. More than I would put in a customer's drink, surely. I smiled at him and was sorry to see him go.

Then he started telling me what he thought about the Irish, and I was only sorry that he was taking Isabel with him.

And that is all of my history with Captain Richard Burton, who has recently been knighted. Heaven knows why. He's been working more with literature lately, and I suppose he has made some translations from Arabic which garnered some recognition. But to me, Burton will always be that strange racist military chap who left Hamid and I scrambling to hire two more full-time baristas when he moved away.

The people I found were actually worse, if truth be told. But the story of Henry Stanley and Charles Gordon is one for another day, and one which I probably should not tell, lest my blood-pressure finally become too much. I can always tell that the help is rather poor when I find myself missing Richard Burton.