“I am sure you’ve saved room for dessert tonight. We offer some amazing creations here at Café du Monde.” James said as he straightened the sleeve cuff of his tuxedo jacket and then stroked his mustache with the back of a finger.
“Well, what do you recommend?” asked one of the ladies at the table. A lovely but stout middle-aged woman, she wore a black evening dress accentuated with several strands of pearls. Her companions were all dressed up for a night on the town. The sounds of classical violins wafted through the air. Heavy red drapes covered sections of the dark, paneled wood.
“I recommend the Bananas Foster, which I prepare tableside,” James replied, “It’s a delightful dish of bananas, brown sugar and vanilla ice cream. I add a little 151-proof rum and flambe the bananas, which makes for a spectacular presentation.”
“What do you think, honey?” asked one of the men at the table to his wife. His black hair was slicked back behind a thin face.
His companion, a petite woman with wavy blonde hair, bubbled with excitement. “Oh yes, I‘ve never tasted Bananas Foster before.”
One of the men patted his ample belly as he looked around at his fellow diners. “Well then, Bananas Foster for the table?” An easygoing fellow who had seen more than his share of large meals, he seemed to be in charge of the group.
James smiled and made a subtle bow to the table. “Excellent. Six Bananas Foster, coming right up.” As he turned to leave, he asked, “Anyone for coffee?” A couple of the patrons raised their hands. “Two, three then. Perfect. I will bring sugar and cream.”
“I would like an espresso, please,” said the large man. “And bring some Sweet’n Low. I’m trying to watch my weight.” He grinned as his comment brought a laugh from everyone at the table.
“Of course, sir. We possess one of the finest espresso machines in town,” James replied as he gestured toward the lavish brass espresso maker on the opposite side of the restaurant. “It belonged to the chef’s father when he ran a restaurant in France. A family heirloom, you might say.” He returned his gaze to his table of excited guests. “I’ll be back in just a moment with everything.”
Six Bananas Foster, James thought. It’s a really good table and a nice-sized check. I should do well tonight.
James rolled the dark wooden serving cart to a stop in front of the table, lit the small gas burner underneath the large sauté pan, and began to slice several bananas into the brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter in front of him.
“Looks delicious,” commented the first lady.
“I can’t wait!” exclaimed the blonde woman
Elliot, another waiter, served the coffee and espresso as James worked the dessert.
“Thank you, Elliot,” James said.
“My pleasure,” replied Elliot with a wink. “Just remember me in your will.” He tossed his straight blond hair to the side to get it out of his eyes.
James chatted with the patrons at his table. “While everything is simmering, I’ll go get your ice cream. When I return, I will add the rum and light it. It will be quite the presentation.”
James and Elliot had worked together for a couple of years at Café du Monde and were good friends. Along with Raphael, another waiter, they became known as ‘The Three Musketeers’. They hung out together and enjoyed working at the restaurant. They also liked to play pranks on each other as well as the other restaurant staff. One of the jokes James played r on his fellow Musketeers involved covertly adding a little extra 151 proof rum to the Bananas Foster orders being prepared by other waiters. James referred to it as ‘juicing the bananas’. He had added extra rum to both Elliot’s and Raphael’s customers’ desserts over the past couple of weeks. The chef could see the dining area from his open kitchen and when he noticed small fireballs in the dining area, he scolded Elliot and Raphael for using too much rum. It was supposed to be entertainment for the table, not a distraction for the dining room, the chef said while chastising them. He would flash a knife or whatever sharp cutlery happened to be lying around at the time at them as he yelled. His temper could be ferocious.
Raphael and Elliot did not turn James in, but they weren’t going to let their fellow Musketeer get away unscathed either. They bided their time, waiting for the right moment to pay him back.
As James left for the kitchen, his customers began to talk excitedly among themselves about the upcoming dessert. Elliot, seeing an opportunity for revenge, made his way to the bubbling sauce and added a good pour of rum. He giggled as he left to check on one of his tables. Time for a little payback. He’ll think twice before screwing with me again, Elliot thought.
While James waited in the kitchen for the bowls of ice cream to be scooped by the pastry chef, Raphael recognized his chance for a little mischief. Raphael was the biggest prankster of them all. A tall lean fellow with wavy black hair, he always came up with a joke or comment to make a table light up. He saw the simmering bananas left unguarded and peered around for James. Not seeing him on the floor, Raphael stepped in between the diners and the serving cart, quickly pouring a couple of shots of rum into the mixture, not knowing that Elliot had just done the same.
Raphael put the bottle down and scampered off just as James exited the kitchen with a tray of ice cream. James nodded to one of the busboys standing nearby who placed a tray stand beside the brimming sauce pan The ice cream rested in six elegant glass bowls with stems, the scoops frozen hard to withstand the heat of the sugary confection. A slight cool mist swirled around the tops of the vanilla spheres.
James glanced down at the sticky sweetness in front of him and then leaned in towards everyone as if he was sharing a secret. “I’ll tell you what I will do tonight. Since you’ve been such a good table, I’ll add just a little more rum than I am supposed to. That not only brings out a little more flavor, but it also adds to the presentation.”
An excited murmur of approval went around the table, all eyes fixed on James as he poured a generous portion of 151 rum into the pan. Elliot and Raphael paused for a moment to see the result of their work.
James smiled at his diners. He ran the wooden match down the side of the matchbox, igniting it. The stick flamed to life. Then he moved the match to the edge of the pan and looked into the expectant faces of everyone at the table. “Everyone ready for a little entertainment? I give you Café du Monde’s Banana Foster!”
Suddenly, the roar of a small jet engine could be heard as the match ignited the fumes encircling the rim. The fire surged down into the pan, engulfing the sauce and bananas. A mushroom cloud of hot blue-and-white light exploded from the pan and raced upwards to the ceiling and sideways toward everyone at the table. Their faces instantly transformed from excited anticipation to astonishment and then downright terror. The blonde lady nearest the saucepan screamed, turned away from the conflagration, and climbed over her dinner companion in an attempt to escape the flames. The man with the thin face fell back and flailed his arms in an attempt to grab onto anything in his panicked attempt to stop his fall. He latched onto his wife’s blonde hair, which promptly came off, revealing a short crop of brown curls. The larger man, sipping straight scotch at that moment, spit out a mouthful in surprise that flew across the table and spilled the rest of it onto the table. The alcohol content of the scotch was high enough that when it reached the flame above the remaining bananas, the fire raced across the table, igniting the tablecloth and yellow rose centerpiece.
Hearing the commotion, the maître d’, an overweight middle-aged man named Jean-Paul, rushed into the dining area from the large oak host stand at the front of the restaurant. The maître d’ noticed the smoldering cart by the table and instantly knew the reason for all the chaos. He had been in the restaurant business a long time and seen just about everything; the lines on his face told of working many long restaurant hours in the past.
Horrified by the events, the maître d’ rushed over to the table as one of the busboys grabbed an ice bucket from a nearby stand and attempted to douse the flaming table with ice water, scattering glasses and silverware into the lap of the overweight man at the head of the table and onto the pants and shoes of the maître d’.
To say that heads turned to watch the chaos was an understatement. As James’ table erupted in pandemonium, diners at several nearby tables leaped up in a panic to rush out of the restaurant.
The determined busboy used his apron to beat the last vestiges of flames out of the once elegant flower arrangement.
James, the epitome of flair and sophistication, stood there comically with a burnt matchstick in his hand, like Wile E. Coyote after one of his Road Runner traps goes wrong. James started to blink. His mustache, eyebrows, and the brown locks on his forehead were singed into tight little curls by the sudden blast of heat. A puff of smoke appeared to come from his ears.
Raphael and Elliot froze, terrified by how the events were unfolding in front of them. They glanced at each other, not quite sure what to do. A look of wide-eyed panic came over their faces.
Somewhere in the corner of the restaurant, a young child wailed. A water glass fell to the floor and shattered. The lady in the black dress wept into the shoulder of the large man, who glared at James. James remained motionless, standing with the blackened match in his fingertips, the corners of his bowtie smoldering. Water dripped off the table onto the floor. The last of the stubborn flames from the Bananas Foster on the cart mercifully went out.
The maître d’ moved his hand through his thin black hair. “Ladies and gentlemen!” He paused for a moment so everyone could turn towards him.
“Please take your seats, the show is over.” He picked up an overturned chair for the formerly blonde woman and gestured for her to sit. “To show you how embarrassed Cafe du Monde is for this…this unforgivable loss of…civility, there will be free desserts for everyone. I hope you will accept my invitation and stay.” He made his way over to James, who still held the burnt-out match in his fingertips.
“Young man, please give me that.” Standing stock-still like a statue, James did as he was told and relinquished the slender piece of charcoal.
The executive chef, a small, wiry spitfire of man, emerged from the kitchen at the opposite end with a cleaver in his hand, not knowing what to expect after hearing all the commotion. Standing in the doorway of the kitchen, he did his best to control his rage over this disturbance in his restaurant as he rotated the massive blade in his hand. He focused first on the cart and James, then Raphael and Elliot. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he recognized the look of guilt on Raphael’s and Elliot’s faces. It dawned on him what had happened.
“You! You did this! You damned Three Musketeers!” he hissed at the pair of waiters as he took a couple of steps towards them.
Elliot nervously backed up, stumbling into the table that held the ornate espresso machine, the chef’s pride and joy. With a misplaced elbow, the brass antique crashed to the ground. One of the handles broke away and spun into a corner.
The chef glanced from the waiters to the broken machine on the ground. He slowly raised the butcher knife, pointing it at Raphael and Elliot as he stepped further into the dining room. His face boiled with anger. “I’ll kill you two!”
James still stood there dumbfounded, staring into the saucepan. Elliot was the closest to him and figured that it would be easier to grab James and flee with their lives than to try to disarm a crazy Frenchman attacking with very, very sharp weaponry. Grabbing James by the arm, he turned towards the door, hoping Raphael would assist him with James. Raphael, never one for confrontation, turned tail and rushed towards the front door. Elliot watched the black soles of Raphael’s shoes as he ran to the front door and blasted it open with his shoulder, fleeing outside.
“Come back here! You are not going to get away from me!” The maniacal chef was quickly closing the distance between himself and the two remaining Musketeers.
James, who now appeared to have a minor sunburn on his face to go with his fried hair, startled as his friend pulled on his arm and mumbled, “Where are we going?”
Elliot tugged even harder. “We’re going out for a bit of fresh air, buddy. Can you pick up the pace a little?” The chef was almost upon them. “Like now? Run!” Elliot said in a panic as they careened off tables in an attempt to outrun the chef.
Fortunately, the maître d’, being a big man and not wanting to see any more carnage in his establishment that night, grabbed the chef around the waist with one hand and took the knife from the chef’s hand with his other.
“Let me go! I’m going to kill them, kill them all! Look at what they’ve done to our restaurant!” The chef struggled to get free.
“Ah, Gabriel, let them go. If you kill them, you will go to jail. Who could prepare those fabulous dishes as well as you do? The restaurant will close. Our patrons will be sad. Those three are not worth it.”
The maître d’ and the chef paused as they heard the two waiters force their way to the front entrance.
Gabriel began to calm down, and the maître d’ relaxed his grip.
“Perhaps you are right,” the chef muttered defeatedly. “Maybe I just need a couple of nights off. I’ve been working too hard.”
Elliot burst outside with James in tow. After about fifty feet, Elliot realized they were no longer being chased and stopped. It was a moonless summer night, the stars twinkling above the flare of the streetlights. Raphael emerged from a large clump of boxwoods near the front of the restaurant, partially illuminated by the glowing restaurant signage at the front of the building.
Raphael apologized, his hands in front of him and his head lowered as if in prayer. “Man, I am so sorry! I didn’t know that adding a little rum would cause such a flame!”
Elliot laughed. “You put rum in? I put rum in!”
James came to his senses. “You assholes! You both put rum in? You could’ve burnt me alive!”
Elliot grinned. “Yeah, well, you had it coming. That’s what you get for screwing with both of us.”
“But at the same time?” James protested as he stroked at the curled stubble of what remained of his mustache. “That was going to be the biggest tip I’d have made in a while. Guys, I really worked that table.”
“Sorry, but I didn’t know Elliot did it, too. We didn’t plan to do it together,” Raphael pleaded.
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Maybe we need to quit all of this pranking. It’s getting pretty expensive.” James tried to straighten out the front of his vaporized hair.
“Agreed, no more practical jokes,” said Elliot,” I will sleep better not having to worry about what one of you two idiots might do to me.”
“It’s probably for the best,” lamented Raphael.
“Man, my face burns, “ groaned James as he touched his forehead and cheeks. “I need a beer.”
“Barney’s Tavern then?” asked Elliot. They could see the sign down the street.
James thought for a second. “Fine, but you two morons are buying.”
They walked down the street towards the local tavern.
Elliot laughed. “Man, was that a big flame or what? I can’t believe it didn’t set off the fire sprinklers. I heard this whoosh, and the room was bathed in blue light.”
“Did you see the chef? He went totally psycho,” Raphael said, giggling.
“How could you see the chef?” protested Elliot. “Your ass flew out the door quicker than I’ve ever seen you move before.”
“Ha-ha. Tomorrow we can go down to Maison du Cygne. I hear they’re hiring,” Raphael volunteered.
“I wonder if they do Bananas Foster. It’s one of my favorites,” teased Elliot as he winked at James.
“Oh, you are just soooo funny!” said James as he pushed Elliot down the street towards a cold beer.