"So who's gonna get the game, Cake, huh?"
"Who's gonna get it, Cake?
Cake slid a cup of espresso in front of a waiting patron, pointedly turned his back on Joey and Looch while he wiped a spot off the espresso machine, then finally turned back and leaned on the counter towards them. "What game?"
"The Scotiabank Charity Classic almost," said Joey. "I hear tell Eric Lindros is playing this year. So who's gonna get it?"
"Yeah, who's gonna get it? Cause you're giving it to Lance over my dead body and I don't care who's top of the board."
"Lance isn't top of the board, I'm top of the board, Looch," said Stu, smacking him on the shoulder. "Jesus."
"Well, you're not getting it either."
"What are you all even talking about?" said Cake. "Nobody's getting the game. What makes you think they're going to call?"
"Cause I got a feeling. I got a feeling you're gonna get the call," said Looch. "And when you do we want to be ready."
"You wanna be ready? Get yourself a coffee and calm the fuck down," said Cake. "And can somebody tell me why it's so damn hot in here?"
"Boiler's on the fritz," said Stu, pushing her hair up off her neck. "Plumber's on his way but I don't know when. Frannie called a while ago."
"I could take a look at it—" started Looch.
"Hands off," said Cake. "Last time we tried that we had no heat for a week."
"Four days," said Joey, "and that's only because it was Christmas almost."
"Four days too many," said Cake. "Nobody touches the boiler but the plumber or someone otherwise qualified to actually fix things. That also goes for sinks, toilets, bathtubs, washing machines, showers, pipes, and urinals."
"Nobody wants to touch your urinals, Cake."
"Good, that's one less thing to worry about," he said, giving the counter a cursory wipe. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he saw some condensation on it already. "You know, you guys don't need to stick around here in this heat."
"And not be here when you get the call? No way, Cake. You might get sneaky and give it to whoever is still here."
"There's not going to be a call," said Cake. "And that's not sneaky, that's just business."
"There might be a call."
"There's not going to be a call!"
The only possible response more emphatic, the only possible response that didn't violate the Code, was to turn his back and ignore them. Actually, there were several responses far more emphatic, but none of them allowed him to get himself a sorely needed espresso.
"So I take it you are waiting for the call," said Stu in his ear a moment later.
"Well, I am now," said Cake, "but I'm not telling them that. It's not a call till it's a call."
"You know they're going to hover until they know for sure."
"When aren't they hanging around? If it gets any hotter in here they'll be our only customers anyway."
"It's not that bad," said Stu. Of course, Stu was in a tank top, and could leave at any time. Cake was in a henley and had been forbidden to strip behind the counter anymore. Which today he might have ignored had Francesca not been sitting with her father across the room, giving him looks like she knew exactly what he was thinking. Her hair was starting to cling to her cheek with perspiration.
"It could be worse," he agreed.
"Fuck, Cake, you're worked here how long and you haven't learnt yet not to say those words?" Stu kissed him on the cheek and slipped back around the counter. "I'm off to the flower shop. I'll see you later."
"Yeah, see you later," he said, watching her go with a certain degree of envy. A moment later he managed to catch Frannie's eye across the room. "You got this?" he said, pointing at the countertop. "I need to go bathe."
Part of the joy of bathing was the contrast between the water and the air. A cool bath on a hot summer day. A hot bath on a cold winter night. Right now Cake was hot on hot and it was a lot less satisfying than he'd been anticipating. Nor was it the anticipated escape from the chaos of his life downstairs, especially not when the chaos of his life downstairs followed him up.
"No," said Cake, the first time he heard shave and a haircut on his door. The second time it was, "No. Nyet. Non."
There was a thick silence, then the sound of feet shuffling but very clearly not going back down the stairs. Cake slid back under the bubbles. His bath was currently at precisely the optimum temperature, when completely submerged, and no complaints about the broken boiler were going to ruin that for him. The broken boiler was very much not his problem at the moment.
Eventually he did have to come up for air, just in time to hear the third knock. Possibly the fourth or fifth depending on how long he'd managed to hold his breath. "Go home," he called out without opening his eyes. "If you're uncomfortable, go home!"
"But I was supposed to be getting a game today."
Motherfucking Lance. He'd left standing instructions for Lance to be tackled before he ever got up the stairs, yet here he was. Heat was making everyone too lethargic. "You knock one more time and you're off the board," said Cake. "Off the fucking board, Boil, you hear me?"
"You promised me, Cake," he said, like he hadn't hear a fucking word today, or ever. "You said we were square after the streetcar thing. Are we square or what?"
"Dammit, I did say that," muttered Cake, blowing some bubbles off his fingertips in frustration. "Just because we're square doesn't mean I've got a game for you. If I had a game for you, you'd know I had a game for you."
"But we are square."
"If you don't knock again then we're square," said Cake. "You do know I'm naked in here, right?"
"What the...?" sputtered Lance. "Gross, Cake! Why the fuck would you tell me that?"
"So you'd go the fuck back downstairs!" said Cake.
Lance huffed a sigh so loud Cake could hear it from his bathroom, but he did leave. Either him or someone else with that particular whiny stomp. Don't ask him how a stomp could be whiny. It just was.
The radiator was hissing and banging up a storm, but Cake was so used to that it was a bit of beautiful music to him as he finally started to relax. For a few minutes.
When Cake came back downstairs, Joey and Looch had been joined by Shit Pants and Billy, even fucking Billy was sitting there with his collar dishevelled and his coat on. Shit Pants and Billy and the Boil of course, who hadn't gone anywhere.
"You look like drowned rats," he said, running his fingers through his clean damp hair. "Go shower or something."
"You got the call yet?" said Looch.
"There is no call."
"Then we aren't going anywhere."
"Last person to not take off their clothes gets the game," said Joey. "Those are the rules almost."
"It's a big game," said Billy sheepishly, the only one who seemed to feel like he should explain himself. "I didn't want to miss out."
"You all seem to be under the mistaken impression that a, there's a game to be had, and b, that I'm going to give it to one of you guys because you can keep your clothes on," said Cake. "That's not a qualification."
"Especially not in your world," said Stu.
Frannie and Johnny had vacated Cafe Primo, like the sensible people they were. Which wasn't a problem for Cake's business because so had everyone else, and anyone who so much as opened the front door just backed right out again against the wall of tropical heat. No, he was just left with five, six if he counted Stu, goalies and a phone that wasn't ringing. Not for the big game. Not for any game.
"We got rights, Cake."
"Oh, really? You want to turn hypothetically playing in the Scotiabank Classic into a rights issue?"
"We got rights to decide how it's getting chose."
"We have a system," said Cake, "and even if we didn't have a system, we wouldn't chose it through dumbass shit like this."
"Technically, we usually choose it through dumbass shit like this," said Stu. "But count me out." She was in shorts now, despite it being the dead of winter, and a clean tank top with no sweat stains.
"Great, it's yours if they call," said Cake. "Thank you for not participating in the dumbass shit."
"No, seriously, I'm out," said Stu. "You know they won't want a girl goalie and I'm too hot to fight that shit today. I'll take anything else you get, though."
Cake looked at his phone. It did not ring. At this point, he'd even take a call from O'Malley, if only to fuck with them. "What's the number for that plumber?"
"It's on the wall," said Stu, pointing her chin at it.
"I'm gonna find out what's taking him so long," said Cake. "It's already getting whiffy in here."
The plumber was on another job, and Cake was about ninety percent sure he'd bumped himself down the list just by calling him to check in. He pretended the call lasted longer than it had, just to avoid turning back to those five sets of eyes staring him down.
No, six. There were six when he turned back.
"Et tu, Shorts?" said Cake, shaking his head.
"I want the game, Cake," said Short Bus, simple as that. If Cake was actually going to award a game to the person who lasted longest in the Cafe Primo sauna, he had no doubt that Shorts would be taking home the prize. Guy could sit in a steamy shower room fully dressed for hours. "I hear Eric Lindros is playing this year."
"Fuck Eric Lindros," said Cake. "Guy owes me fifty bucks."
"Bullshit he does," said Looch. "You don't know Eric Lindros."
"You're right, it's a hundred bucks. We doubled down after the second round of shots."
"Bullshit," said Shit Pants. "I call bullshit."
"Not that it matters," said Cake, "because we're not getting the call. Don't you guys have anything better to do?"
"Not today we don't," said Looch.
"Fine," said Cake. "Fine. But seriously, go out in the alley or something. That doesn't really count as leaving."
"It counts almost," said Joey. "The point is to tough it out."
"And may the toughest guy win."
"Nothing tough about sitting around in a sweatbox," said Stu, but the boys were unmoved. Literally.
Cake lasted about an hour and a half before he had to duck outside for a breather. He could feel the sweat freezing to his skin as soon as he opened the door and he really did not care. It was at least a half a dozen deep, refreshing breaths before he he even noticed Johnny was out there as well, leaning by the wall.
"Johnny, hey," he said. "Fancy meeting you here."
"This is a place of business, Cake," said Johnny.
"I know, I know."
"People eat food here. You need to take care of this."
"I'm on it, Johnny. Leave it with me." Johnny lifted his chin and nodded his head. It was another few moments before he finally left, though, turning and sauntering down the alley towards the street.
Stu poked her head out of the back of the flower shop.
"You know he's not talking about the boiler, right?"
Cake turned back to Stu. "I am so not on it."
"You are so not on it," she agreed. "Tell me what you need."
"I need..." he said, wrinkling his forehead and feeling the ice crackle. "I need to take another bath."
"Okay," she said. "It's a start. I'm right behind you."
Cake did a 180 and headed straight back inside, leaving the back door open. It wasn't much, but every little bit helped.
"Billy, you're in charge. I'm going upstairs."
"Hey, you bathing again almost?"
"Shit, Cake, you're going to have the cleanest junk in the city."
"Clean 'nads, clear head. You should try it some time. You're all soaking in your own nut sweat."
Lance adjusted his balls just at the mention of it. Cake pretended he didn't hear a squelch when he did.
He took the stairs two at a time, and even locked the door once he and Stu were inside. Not that he thought anyone was going to be leaving the cafe. In fact, he was beginning to suspect they were becoming fused there, putting down roots in that nice, warm, moist environment.
The phone rang moments after he finished filling the tub—cooler water this time, he was capable of learning—and had just slipped in under the bubbles. Of course it did. It was probably the call too, though at least that would put an end to the ordeal.
"You wanna get that for me? I'm mellowing."
Stu grabbed the phone off the edge of the tub and flipped it open with her thumb. "Cake's Rent-a-Goalie. ... Uh huh. ... Right. ... I totally get it. ... We'll take care of it. ... Yeah, you go do that and we'll call you back." She flipped the phone closed and sighed.
"I'll tell you in a minute," she said. "I don't want to ruin your bath."
"Too late," said Cake. "That bad?"
"Well, it's not good," said Stu. "We have a bit of a problem."
"I am well aware we have a problem. I can smell the problem. Still. I can still smell the problem from here."
"The plumber's here."
"And he won't come in till the guys get out of there."
"He's a plumber. He literally works with shit, and he can't handle a few sweaty guys in a cafe?"
"I think it's the principle of the thing," said Stu. "People can't help that they shit. But it's a choice to marinate in a College Street cafe all day. And if you think Shit Pants is gross the rest of the time, you should smell him when he's been sitting in a pool of his own crack sweat."
"Thank you for that mental image," said Cake, sinking below the bubbles for a few blissful moments before reemerging. "Okay. All right. We need to fix this before something blows."
"You, the boiler, or the plumber?"
"Any one of the three remains a possibility. Any way we can lure the plumber in?"
"What, by leaving a trail of beers from the door to the basement?"
"I was thinking more like...any chance you'd be willing to strip down? You know, as a show of good faith. To show him the sweat strike is over." Stu just hit him. "Okay, well, any chance Billy might be willing to strip down? That could work too, you never know."
"I think the solution lies with our guys and not with the plumber, Cake, no matter which one of us he might want to see naked."
"Yeah, well every time I tell them to get the fuck outside, they just entrench even harder."
"So go the other way? Tell them you need them all to suit up and go to the arena?"
"That just delays today's problem to tomorrow."
"Yeah, but it gets the boiler fixed in the meantime."
"Good point," said Cake. "We'll put that in the maybe pile."
"Bribe them?" said Stu.
"With what?" said Cake. "The only thing they want to be bribed with right now is the thing I haven't got."
"Then you need to get it," said Stu. "And then we end this. Call who you need to call. Get it done."
"All right," said Cake. "Yeah. Okay. Give me the phone." He couldn't make this one happen, but maybe he could nudge it along a little. "And then go open every window you can find."
"Do you guys know why we don't allow gear inside."
"Because it takes up too much space?"
"Health and safety?"
"Because it's rank," said Cake. "After an hour or two on the ice, the gear is rank and so are the ones who wear it."
"So where are you going with this, Cake?"
"Where am I going with this?" he said. "Where do you think I'm going with this? You've been sitting in a sweltering coffeeshop for hours. You are rank. You are all rank. Get out of here. We're closed. Go home."
"No way. It's still two hours till game time, Cake," said Looch. "You could still get the—"
The phone rang. Everyone froze.
Cake stared every one of them down as he heard a not-unexpected voice on the other end. He'd have to be an idiot to say he was hoping he wouldn't get the call...but he still had to admit he kind of was hoping they wouldn't get the call. Just on principle at this point. Though...this wasn't quite the call they were waiting for.
"Oh really?" he said when the situation was laid out for him. "No, no, we weren't sitting here waiting." He laughed in the face of six identical glares. "Yeah, we'll totally get together soon." He made mouth flapping signs with his free hand while Shit Pants mouthed 'Lindros?' at him. "Don't even worry about it. Not all heroes wear capes, my friend, and you have just saved my bacon."
He didn't say goodbye. The conversation did not require one at this juncture.
"So what's the deal, Cake?"
"Yeah, Cake, what's the story almost?"
"Eric Lindros hurt his shoulder," said Cake, flipping his phone shut in one fist and putting it back in his pocket. "Ed Belfour's going to be their celebrity player this year instead."
"Belfour?" said Looch. "But Belfour's a goalie."
"That he is."
"But if they've got a goalie, then they don't need us."
"Correctamundo," said Cake.
"So we sat here all day for nothing."
"You were always sitting here all day for nothing. I never agreed to abide by the results of your, whatever this is, endurance competition. Fact is, I probably would've given the game to the only guy who was smart enough to get the fuck out of here for a while and not stink up the place."
"So what do we do now?"
"Go fucking shower," said Cake. "Get the fuck out of here while I fumigate."
"All right, all right, I'm going," said Lance stomping out the front. "Can't believe I fucking wasted my whole day."
"Come on, Joey, if we hurry we can go watch the game," said Looch. "I got tickets."
"You got tickets?" said Shit Pants, hot on their heels. "You never said you had tickets. How many tickets you got?"
"Let's go, Shorty," said Stu, taking a step back when he reached for her. "Yeah, not until you take a shower, baby. Maybe two."
"I've actually got a date tonight," said Billy, "if I can reach her in time." He sniffed himself and made a face. "Maybe not." But he seemed willing to give it a college try, airing out his clothes as he followed everyone else out of Cafe Primo.
"And for the love of god," Cake called after them, "will someone let the plumber in?"