"It’s cold as hell out there," said Jesse. "The fog’s rolling in right off the bay."
"Maybe you should shut the door, then!" said Daniel.
"Maybe you should be the one helping me clear up outside!" she shot back, shoving the broom at him. "What kind of gentleman leaves a lady on the trash detail, anyway?"
"No gentleman," said their boss. He gestured to the door. "Help her, Daniel."
"Thanks," said Jesse. She stuck out her tongue playfully at her co-worker as he stalked past her, muttering.
"The back needs cleaning," said her boss, with a trust fund carelessness to his wave.
Jesse grimaced. "One thing I love about you is your despotism,’ she said. "It really -- oh, you know -- it really makes it worth it."
"Glad to be of assistance.’ He turned a page in the novel he was reading, and in the lowered lights of the evening, and his purely Gallic profile, he looked for all the world like a flaneur from some brooding black-and-white French film rather than the somewhat surly owner of The Last Drop Café in early 21st-century San Francisco.
"Louis, can you just see to any customers while I’m cleaning? There’s still like 20 minutes to go," she said, banging around behind him.
"Sure, sure," he said.
A few minutes passed before the little old bell on the door chimed, presumably Daniel coming back in from sweeping the sidewalk. Louis did not look up, and only raised his eyes reluctantly upward when he was engulfed in shadow.
"Hey," said the figure.
"How -- how may I help you?" said Louis, putting the book down and standing up quickly. His eyes swept over the thick winter coat, fine leather gloves and scarf, then the blond mane of wild hair and grey eyes, the friendly grin plastered on the handsome face of the man before him. He knew money when he saw it. He didn’t like it.
"I’m new around here," said the man. "Well, relatively new. I was based in Oakland before."
"Okay." Louis shrugged.
"How may I help you?"
The man regarded him steadily for a moment, then shook his head a little. "As I was saying, I’m new around here. I have a band--"
"Oh, that’s dealt with by one of my baristas," said Louis. "We’re just about to close, actually, so maybe--"
"Hold on," said the man. "I need to get a vibe for the place before we offer to play here -- ah, you’re smiling. But we’re really very good. I just want a coffee for now."
Louis nodded. "Sure. That was rude of me." He glanced at the man, then away again. "What would you like?"
"Americano," he said, beginning to remove his gloves.
"No, I’ll have it in."
Louis took a fresh white mug off the shelf and filled it halfway with hot distilled water from the cook-top. The grinder hissed pleasantly as he filled a little metal portafilter with a good mound of freshly ground espresso and attached it with mercenary precision to the espresso machine, flipped the switch. It whirred to life with its own little hum, and he placed a doll-sized mug underneath to catch the fresh espresso liquid as it dripped out.
When the small cup was filled, he flipped the machine off again and dumped the contents into the first mug of hot water, shaking it just a bit to get the last few drips into the larger cup. The dark liquid seethed beneath the beige surface, and with an artful flick of his wrist, it swirled into pleasing shapes. He set this on the counter, making eye contact with his customer. He set a teaspoon just right against it, and placed one of those almond cookies Jesse was so proud of alongside it; he felt generous.
He turned around to clean the machinery as the customer began to drink.
"So you’re French, too?" called out the man as he moved to the back counter.
"Yes," said Louis. "Well, I moved over here when I was six or seven, not very old, so I don’t really have the accent anymore."
"You have quite an accent," said the man.
He set his mouth. "Non, I don’t. It’s probably because we joined our Acadian relatives in Louisiana. I moved to San Francisco a couple of years ago, so if there’s any accent, it’s that. Still American." He turned back to the man with a challenging look, but his customer was staring at his cellphone.
"The name’s Lestat, by the way."
"I’m sorry?" said Louis.
"The name’s Lestat. You know, if you need to write it on my cup like all those weird Americans do."
Louis pushed the sharpie out of Lestat’s eyeline. "Yes," he said uneasily. He watched as Lestat took a sip. "Good?"
"Very," said Lestat. "How much do I owe you?"
"It’s on the house. Consider it a welcome to the neighborhood."
"Thanks. I know you’re closing but I won’t be too long. I just wanted to check things out, learn a few things." His gaze rested on Louis again. ‘What’s your name?"
Louis stiffened. "Why?"
"C’mon, I just want to meet people. What is it?"
"It’s, uh. It’s not as interesting as yours."
‘What? Something generic? Something boring? I doubt it." He laughed. "Jean? Pierre? Louis?"
He flushed. "Yes, Louis." He snatched the book up from the counter.
"Oh, come on - I didn’t mean it!" said Lestat fondly.
"If you need anything else," he managed with chagrined dignity, "one of the baristas will help you. Adieu."
"Surely you know it’s au revoir," said Lestat with a smirk.
"Do I?" he muttered, pushing through the staff door and away from Lestat. "We’ll see."