Chapter 26

Coffee Stop

While Fara was talking to Jim, Collette took advantage of a short break in training sessions.

The classes from Wan Yu and Tsai Linn were fascinating but intensive. With Fara out of the class that morning helping the police, the rest of the girls had had to work harder than ever. She was feeling energised, though. The previous evening’s sexual amusements had first made her feel embarrassed but they had also left her feeling more alive and somehow more aware of the world around her.

It was raining. She wrapped herself up in a trench coat and ventured out for a walk. Sometimes she felt she needed just to spend a little time by herself, thinking about what she had learned but today she felt independent, and just wanted to do what she wanted to do.

She made her way to Cambridge Circus. It was only five minutes walk from the Tea Parlour but it was, at least, a change of scene. It was pedestrianised now and used as a venue for New Order rallies. The intelligence services were rumoured to have their offices almost opposite. Just around the corner, in Old Compton Street, she found a coffee bar and sat herself down at a table by the window. Outside rain ran down the windows.

She took out her notebook and a pair of reading glasses from her handbag. Page after page of notes contained ideas on how the Path of the Look and the Path of the Cane could be applied. There were notes about New Order sponsored research into the effectiveness of humiliation in the management of males, lists of restraints that might be used in pursuit of the Path of the Rope. There were times when she wondered if she would ever grasp it all, if she would ever move beyond the yellow qipao that she had so far managed to acquire.

There were a couple of other women in the cafe; professional types between meetings, Collette imagined. Behind the bar a woman, the owner Collette assumed, stood supervising two male baristas, while a third waited at tables. He came across to take Collette’s order. Collette, struggling with her decision to avoid pastries with her coffee as a way of making sure her qipao got no tighter, finally asked for a black Americano.

As the waiter went back to the counter, Collette felt she knew him from somewhere. She peered at him over her glasses and suddenly realised that it was the male that had absconded from the Tea Parlour.

Afterwards, she thought about what she did next and how reckless it was.

She thought about leaving to call the police but maybe he had recognised her already. Talking to the bar owner might be an option but if she knew he was an absconder then she might try to stop Collette. No, the more she thought about it, the more certain she was. The only way to deal with the situation was to confront the runaway.

She waited until he was behind the bar, got up from the table and took her cup to the counter. She was standing between her quarry and the door.

“Sorry, Ma’am, was there a problem with your coffee,” he asked. The owner looked up with the air of someone waiting to see how a member of staff was about to handle a customer complaint.

“Not really,” Collette responded, confident now that the man hadn’t actually recognised her. She took off her glasses. “Only that it was served by a runaway who is obviously working here with a false Ident Card.”

The man glanced towards the door but could see he would have to push past Collette to reach it.

The cafe owner pulled out a small wooden club she obviously kept beneath the counter for dealing with trouble and moved to the door as well. Collette could tell by her reaction that she was not going to let anyone think she knew that she was harbouring an absconder. The two other women got to their feet. Neither of them looked like they were about to let a sponsorship absconder get past them to go on the run again. The other two baristas, Collette noticed, seemed to have made themselves scarce in the cafe’s back room.

“You,” Collette said, confronting him with her hands on her hips, “absconded from your sponsor a week ago. You’re coming back with me.”

“You stupid shit, Ned” the bar owner chimed in. “I don’t need this sort of trouble.” She saw a passing policeman and called him in. “This dick is a runaway,” she said. “This young lady spotted him. I’ve got his Ident Card here,” she said, flourishing it, “I guess it must be forged. It fooled me though.”

The policeman spoke to Collette and each of the other women in the cafe while Ned sat looking around uncertainly.

“We can’t arrest him for absconding Miss, but, if you’re right, the Ident Card must have been forged. We can take him in on suspicion of being in possession of falsified identity documents or take him back to where he belongs, if you like, as long as you think he won’t run off again. I think once this card has been looked at, the Station will want to know where he got it.”

Ned looked sulkily at the police officer. He wasn’t looking forward to that conversation.

“I think we should take him back,” said Collette firmly. “I’m sure Madam Chao will want to talk to you, won’t she?” she went on, looking at Ned.

Ned didn’t look like he was looking forward to that conversation, either.

Fifteen minutes later a police car drew up outside the Sunrise Tea Parlour. Madam Chao emerged with Fara, Daphne and Anna behind her.

Collette climbed out of the car with a triumphant grin on her face. “I have found something that belongs here,” she announced as the police officer pulled Ned from the car.

“Cha! Runaway returned! Good news. Bad pennies always come back!” exclaimed Madam Chao. “Fara, Daphne, please put this back in cage.”

The two girls leapt forward happily pulling Ned inside with the police officer following ready to remove Ned’s cuffs once he was securely housed.

Her colleague explained to Madam Chao the circumstances of the runaway’s return. “This young lady was very brave in confronting him,” she said. “She faced down any threat of violence. We’ll be checking his Ident Card and we’ll let you know when we want to talk to him again. I’m guessing you’ve done something about security since he ran off.”

“Oh, yes, officer,” Madam Chao answered. “Cause of his escape has been removed.”