Pale blue smoke swayed around the ankles and tentacles of the café’s patrons. The ceiling was schmeared with stars that drifted languidly, illuminating parts of the room and leaving other sections in dusk. A chanteuse sang a sad song as her dress of woven leaves turned yellow, orange and red but Monsieur L’Horloge did not listen as he sipped his absinthe.
She was late. That was a quality he normally would not abide, but she was the exception to the rule. Likely she knew that and adjusted her schedule to exploit that. He checked his chronoton. Very little time had passed, he knew that but it was a well-worn habit that he could not shake, even if he wanted to.
“Jó estét drágám,” she said as she slithered into the seat across from Monsieur L’Horloge.
He suppressed the urge to chastise her for tardiness, it wouldn’t make her more likely to be on time in the future and definitely make her cross.
“Bonsoir Zsófia,” he said as he lightly kissed her azure scaled hands.
She smiled with what might be described as an alarming number of teeth.
“Is this not the café where we first met?”
“You know it is,” Monsieur L’Horloge.
“I do love to tease,” she replied, “please don’t be angry.”
“As if I could be angry with you.”
At that she laughed. Upon hearing it, Monsieur L’Horloge tingled, it always sounded to him like a crystal waterfall.
“I do require a cocktail,” remarked Zsófia just as a waiter placed a flute of clear, effervescent liquid in front of her. With a flick of match, the top of the drink burst into flame and was just a swiftly snuffed out by a tarnished silver disk, causing the liquid to cascade into layers of colors that recalled a sunrise.
“You remembered!” said as she clapped her hands in delight.
“It would be impossible not do!”
They raised their glasses and toasted.
“To long memories!”
Both sipped their drinks and made small talk. They both had concerns about cloud pirates disrupting the weather, how fashion was becoming more ephemeral (he was in favor, she against), the latest political scandal of a politician with an imaginary lover, how cats had unionized and the unsubstantiated rumors of Hommes de cuivre. After several beverages, Zsófia looked at Monsieur L’Horloge thoughtfully.
“So why did you really ask me to drinks?” she pondered aloud.
“Do I really need a reason?” he replied but didn’t look her in her eyes.
“You shouldn’t, but you value time so highly, it’s unusual for you to spend it so freely.”
He sighed and said, “It is the one finite currency we have, impossible to refill that account.”
Zsófia ran her talons tenderly through his messy hair. He was so very attractive when he became melancholy but if she let him indulge in that mood, it would be impossible to discover why he really invited her to this tête à tête.
“Drágám, please tell why we’re here, other than enjoying a lovely evening?”
She flicked her narrow tongue in his ear and he both jumped and shuddered, though not unpleasantly. He downed the last of his absinth and leaned in to her.
“We know each other too well. I do have an ulterior motive for asking you to drinks. Do you still know Frau Schlüsselherrin?”
“I do. She and I own a share of a number of popular shadows.“
“Yes, yes, yes, of course. But her other business?”
“Frau Schlüsselherrin is still the premier locksmith in the Arrondissement,” she said, “But you already knew that.”
“Yes, I suppose I did.”
They sat without speaking for a moment. She lapped at her drink as the chanteuse sang a song about joy of longing. Zsófia knew that Monsieur L’Horloge would speak soon, as much as he hated asking for help, he hated wasting time more.
“I need you to, if you would, speak on my behalf to Frau Schlüsselherrin,” he said, his shoulders sagging.
“So your feud continues?” she asked with a smirk.
He gazed at her with a mixture of sadness and disappointment.
“That was unkind,” she said, “Please forgive me.”
“No, I should not have asked this, it is my difficulty, not yours.”
Zsófia took Monsieur L’Horloge’s face tenderly in her claws, always careful, and looked him in his hazel eyes. She told herself, you cannot choose and accepted what would come next.
“I will always aid you if possible,” she said.
“While I cannot guarantee Frau Schlüsselherrin will meet with you, I will ask her. She may ask a price, and you will decide if it is too dear.”
“You are as always, far too kind,” he said.
“Only to you.”
He leaned in and kissed her, lightly on her mouth, her lips cool and smooth. For a moment, all else faded.
“But I have my price as well, “ she said.
“What is that?”
“That we waste no more of this evening.”
And they did not.