Coffee Shop

Coffee Shop

Somewhere on the East Side of Manhattan.

"More coffee?"

The blond haired man in the black turtleneck looked up from his newspaper long enough to acknowledge the waitress. "Yes, please —" he checked her name tag "— Ginny. Thank you."

She guessed as much. He always ordered a big breakfast and a second cup of coffee — black, with extra sugar. After she poured him a refill, he offered her the faint shadow of a smile, and Ginny decided she'd just received her biggest tip for the day.

"I see your Mr. Blue Eyes is back," Rita teased her when Ginny returned to the big Bunn coffee maker to huddle briefly with her coworkers.

"Yeah, he's an angel, isn't he? Real cute. And I like his accent. Sounds so mysterious." The young blond waitress sighed dreamily. "I wonder what he does for a living."

"Oh, don't you know? He's a Russian spy."

Ginny blinked. "You're kidding, right?"

Rita shook her head. She turned to the other waitress who was waiting for an order to arrive at the kitchen window. "Tell her Annie."

Annie nodded sagely. With two kids in high school, she was the veteran of the group. "Sure." She gestured toward the customers at the counter and beyond. "They're all spies.

"You see that couple over there?" Rita said, enjoying the dumbfounded expression on her new coworker's face. She motioned discreetly to a pretty woman with auburn hair sitting in a booth opposite a slight man in a casual corduroy sports jacket. "They're spies, too."

"Agents," Annie corrected her. "They like to be called agents."

"Sorry." Rita motioned toward a well-dressed young black man at the end of the counter, toward two more men in business suits in the rear booth, and to a burly man heading toward the rest rooms. "Spy. Spy. Spy. Spy."

Ginny tipped her chin toward a nebbish guy wearing thick horn-rim glasses. "Now, don't tell me he's a spy."

"No, but he works for them."

Incredulous, Ginny began to glance around the coffee shop with new eyes. True, the place was located only a two blocks from the U.N., but it was so average, so mundane: the usual red vinyl booths, a Formica counter, images of Greece factory-printed on the wallpaper. Like a thousand other similar coffee shops throughout the city.

"But where do they all come from?" she asked, following Rita as they gathered up dirty dishes and used silverware.

"Do you know that dry cleaning shop around the corner? Well, there's a huge complex behind it. It's a secret international intelligence organization."

"Get outta here."

"Really," Rita assured her.

"I don't believe you." Ginny looked from one waitress to the other. "You guys are joshing me, right?"

Annie snickered. "Just ask Mario."

"Ask me what?" the owner who worked as his own short order cook muttered through the order window.

"Tell her about the dry cleaning shop."

"You go through a booth in the back and it's all modern behind it — space age. Electric eyes. Automatic doors. Bomb proof, too. Lotta security. A fortress. No windows, except in the boss' office. The corridors are all made of stainless steel."

Ginny narrowed her eyes. It sounded like science fiction. "How do you know?"

Mario's mouth twisted around his Marlboro as he worked over the grill. "My cousin's friend's sister went there once. She got picked right off the street and got herself involved in some crazy mixed up adventure. Said she felt like Alice falling down a rabbit hole." He gestured with his spatula. "And then one day, an old guy came in and asked if I didn't mind being checked out. I said sure. So, every morning, before we open, two guys in suits show up and look the place over. Claim they're looking for bugs. I told them the city inspector says we're clean as a whistle, but they don't care. Every day. Then the others come."

"And you let them do it?" Ginny asked.

Mario shrugged carelessly. "Hell, why not? Whatever's good for business." He set down two plates laden with eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes on the sill. "Now, c'mon. Get back to work. People are waitin' for their food."

As the other waitresses scurried back to their customers, Ginny returned to the counter and was disappointed to find Mr. Blue Eyes gone, having left exact change and a tip beside his check. As she scooped up the bills and coins, Ginny couldn't help smiling.

Spy. Sure. Somebody was watching too many Bond movies.

"What's so funny?" a newly arrived customer asked good-naturedly from the other side of the counter. Ginny looked him over: a clean-cut dark-haired man in a sharp tie, crisp white shirt, and a pin-stripped suit. He was dressed like a banker.

"I was just wondering whether or not you were a spy."

The man regarded her, amused. "I might be."

"Oh yeah?" She pulled out her pencil and flipped open her order pad. "And will you swoop down in your super-duper spy car and take me away on an adventure?"

The man's mouth quirked into an easy smile. "Oh, you never know." He put his menu down and leaned toward her, seductively, and Ginny felt a nervous prickle at the back of her scalp.

"So, tell me," he said. "What are you doing this Friday?"