Set Piece

Set Piece

by Kate Orman
Set Piece
Anyway, I was telling you why I quit my job at the cafe. You remember how I told you it wasn't there one day, was there the next? Weirder things happen in Glebe, and I needed some cash. And it was an easy job, just a couple of hours a night waiting tables. That was before I found out the boss had a few kangaroos in the top paddock - or there are aliens on Earth.
            You'd like Sydney; lots more sunshine than Melbourne, though the humidity in summer is like being steamed. The evening I quit, we'd left the door open to let the breeze in. The cafe was full of Glebe types, mostly students. They're the easiest to wait on, they can make one cappuccino last all night.
            I went out to the kitchen, through a pair of those little saloon doors, to pick up a tray for table twelve. That's when Mr. Yeadon grabbed me and pushed me up against the fridge, squashing the empty glasses I was carrying against my chest.
            (You've probably seen Yeadon's picture in the paper - he's that English guy who's been buying up a lot of Sydney's CBD. He was nearly a foot taller than me. His black hair and black suit and black tie were really tidy, but his big green eyes look liked they belonged to a kid. The pupils were shrunk down in the fluoro kitchen light. He looked like a total maniac.)
            'The alien on table three,' he hissed. 'How long has he been there?'
            When I'd got my breath back and realised who he was and stuff, I twisted my head around and looked back out through the door. Table three was one of mine: an eggplant parmigiana and four glasses of orange juice, so far. He was a little man, but he wasn't green, and I wondered if Mr. Yeadon knew about the secret vodka bottle in the kitchen fridge. Either that or he'd been watching too much X-Files.
            'A couple of hours,' I said. One of the glasses had splashed Coke onto my shirt. 'I thought maybe he was waiting for somebody. Do you know him?'
            Yeadon had been staring out the door at the guy. His head snapped back around to me. 'What makes you think I know him?'
            'Um,' I said, and, 'Um, well, you said he was an -'
            'Alien?' I nodded, trying not to drop the glasses. 'I'll bet you think I'm - but you weren't there. There's almost nobody alive who was there.' He dropped me suddenly, and went out the doors.
            I put the glasses down, and then I thought, what if Yeadon was going to strangle the little guy or something? I peeked over the top of the doors, but he was just standing there, next to the table, being ignored. The little man had been doodling on a big notepad all night, and he just kept right on doodling.
            It was then I remembered he'd been writing down mathematical symbols, equations or something. Maybe Yeadon wanted his plans for the flying saucer engine. Whatever. I just had to know.
            I fed table twelve and went back to the kitchen the long way, via table three, just in time to hear the little man say, 'I wouldn't have expected to find you in a place like this.'
            'I own it,' said Mr. Yeadon.
            'And half of Sydney,' said the little guy, 'or so I hear. You've come a long way since Crook Marsham.'
            'She could be my wife,' said Yeadon. 'Mrs Dorothy Yeadon. Do you have any idea how much I'm worth?'
            I picked up the little man's empty glass and messed about with the tray and things, so they wouldn't realise I was eavesdropping. 'Well,' he said, putting down his pen. 'Do you cry when you hear Imagine?'
            Neither of us had any idea what he was talking about.
            'Not even when you're driving by yourself, late at night?'
            Mr. Yeadon shook his head.
            'Not much, then.'
            'You got through the sixties without a scratch. Watching Mick Jagger get old. Wondering how you could be that rich.'
            'After all those monsters, I wanted solid things,' said Mr. Yeadon. His voice was a whisper, and I wondered if I should ask if he wanted a drink. 'All those phantoms. I wanted houses and cars and boats and solid things, real things. I wanted a wife. I wanted her.'
            'You weren't her true love,' said the little man.
            'How do you know?'
            'Because I killed him.'
            Yeadon's chair skidded back. For a moment he must have thought the little guy was going to kill him right then and there. For a moment I thought so too. The little guy's eyes were doing a slow cold burn, and I found myself headed for the kitchen again.
            I leaned on the fridge. My heart was beating far too fast. What the hell were they talking about? Who was she?
            There were a bunch of orders that needed taking and a bunch of trays that needed delivering.
            I couldn't stand it. I looked through the door - table two was empty, so I went and pretended I was laying the cutlery and putting the napkins down and stuff.
            'You took her away,' Yeadon was saying. 'She wanted to stay. She would have stayed with me.'
            'No. She wouldn't have.'
            'You took her away in her time machine. You abducted her. She didn't want to go.'
            Definitely too much X-Files.
            'Water under the bridge,' said the little man. 'You should know better than to dwell on the past. She's - grown up. She's not the girl you remember. And you're certainly not the boy she remembers. You buy so much, you don't even know what you own. This cafe wasn't even here last week. You own part of a spatio-temporal anomaly. If my theory is right, the whole structure of the universe could be in danger.'
            I was dying to know what he was talking about, but Yeadon wasn't interested. 'We were in love.'
            'You were drawn together by crisis and hormones. I knew you wouldn't stay together.'
            'How dare you?!' Yeadon's voice was strangled, he was trying so hard not to shout. People were staring anyway. 'How could you know?'
            'Because I've always known. I had to find out everything about her. I knew who she would love and who she would hate and all the places she would visit. And I know when she dies.'
            That was when I looked up, over at them. Yeadon had his head in his hands. The little guy was looking right at me. 'Oh yes,' he breathed, 'I know just when she dies.'
            I dropped the knife I was polishing. Suddenly the room wasn't warm any more. You know, I looked into those eyes like I was being hypnotised, and suddenly Yeadon didn't seem crazy at all. He was an alien, and he did travel in time, and when Robin Yeadon was just a kid he stole his girlfriend and flew away in his UFO.
            And he knew when she was going to die. And probably when Yeadon would die. And probably when I would die.
            I just walked out of there and kept going.
            So if you could loan me that hundred bucks, I'd be really grateful.
Source: Doctor Who Magazine #222