Monsieur Girard looked at the half-filled tables of the Cafe Les Deux Magots once again, wondering if anyone more interesting would be coming in tonight. They were mostly writers in this evening – yet again. All waiting for that Scott Fitzgerald chap to come along and shout them a drink, he supposed. Most of the writers who came in here, and hung around half the evening, were generous with their opinions but stingy with their francs.
It was rather chill out on the Boulevard Saint-Germainthis evening though, and that would deter the less hardy clientele. Hemingway was here though. He’d walk through a snow storm for a drink, and tell everyone he had fought off a bear to get here. Joyce was in too. Sitting over a single cup of coffee that he’d snuck a shot of whiskey into.
Monsieur Girard sighed. He doubted he’d see any new faces until the spring. Though it would be nice if this year some young and wealthy American women arrived who understood that a middle-aged French waiter had more to show them about romance than any of the writers who gathered in his cafe did.
He was starting to reminisce about his last such liaison – over three years ago with an ageing widow from Brooklyn – just as the door opened. He turned quickly, with his ever-ready and condescending greeting smile, expecting to see some bohemian riff-raff, but the four young men who pushed their way into the cafe were too scruffy even for bohemians. They were unshaven and their clothes were unwashed and worn, but they strode in like they owned the place. So he decided he’d better find out if they were just playing at being poor, like some of the rich Americans did, before he threw them out.
‘Bon soir Monsieurs,’ he said to them, bowing a little at the waist.
‘Talk English, you Froggy toad,’ the one with the largest beard said. Definitely not rich Americans the waiter thought. That sounded more Irish. Probably some of Joyce’s friends then. Which meant he should throw them out.
‘Excuse me, sirs,’ he said, ‘But I must insist that you leave.’
‘You’ll be asking no one to leave,’ the one with the large beard said.
‘In fact no one will be leaving!’ the man behind him added, addressing the whole room. Then he said, ‘Dan. Steve. Get the doors.’ The other two men, who were a little younger, moved across to the glass doors and bolted them from the inside.
‘You cannot come in here and do this,’ Monsieur Girardprotested, but then stopped with his mouth open. The four men had produced huge pistols from under their jackets – and they were all pointed at him. Having fought in the French army in World War One, he knew just what to do. Very deftly he placed his arms in the air.
‘That’s a good lad,’ said the first man, then turned to the patrons of the cafe. Now he had everyone’s attention, as men with large guns in Parisian cafes invariably do. ‘Bail up!’ he cried.
Monsieur Girard was not quite sure what that expression meant, and he could see by the looks on the faces of those at the tables that they didn’t seem to understand it either.
‘Excuse moi?’ he asked. ‘Bail what?’
‘Bail up,’ the bearded man said again.
‘You don’t bail up, you bail out,’ called Hemingway from across the room.
‘What?’ asked the man with the beard, turning to point his gun at him. Hemingway clearly wasn’t impressed by the gun.
‘Bail out,’ he said again. ‘Like bailing out of a sinking boat. Jumping out of it.’
‘No, no,’ said Joyce from the opposite side of the cafe, waving a finger in the air. ‘That’s a terrible Americanism. To bail out a sinking boat is actually to scoop the water out of it.’ And he demonstrated with an empty cup at the table, as if his seat was sinking in the cafe.
‘Ha!’ said Hemingway.
‘Pfft!’ said Joyce.
‘Joe?’ asked the man with the beard.
‘Don’t be looking at me, Ned,’ the second man said. ‘I said we should go to Jerilderie.’
Craig Cormick is an award winning science communicator and author. He was published 30 works of fiction and non-fiction, and has been a writer in residence in Malaysia and Antarctica. He enjoys messing with history just about as much as history enjoys messing with him.