"Mince pies for Eduardo!" The restaurateur beamed with happiness as he placed the pies in front of the Venetian lion, who bared his teeth happily as a greeting. This proved too alarming a sight for another table of people, who hastily left their money on the table and skittered off into the street.
"Ma cherie Sophie has your soup, Monsieur Maggiormente. She won't be a moment." He bowed and backed away. Even as he turned, his young daughter came out of the kitchen balancing the tray with the soup and brioche on it, her expression very serious as she stalked across the dining room, endeavouring not to spill a drop.
"Merci, merci, mademoiselle Sophie," the alchemist said, patting the young girl lightly on the shoulder. "Well done, brava."
The child looked up shyly then grinned broadly. "May I pat Eduardo?"
The lion had been about to begin gobbling up his pies, something he did without much daintiness at all. He grumbled slightly, but it turned to a whine as Maggiormente lowered his eyebrows at him and frowned. "Yes, of course you may."
Eduardo dutifully bent his head toward the child's outstretched hand. Her small fingers tapped his forehead with tentativeness, then with greater force. The big cat ground his teeth impatiently, but under the glowering gaze of his alchemist he did not make any other sound.
"Pretty," the girl said at last and skipped away.
"May I eat now?' Eduardo's sour question made Maggiormente grin.
"Yes, of course. Buon appetito!"
Eduardo bit into the first pie and growled his delight as his tongue worked busily. "Apri il vino."
"I knew I forgot something. Monsieur!" The alchemist turned to find the restaurateur already bringing a bottle of his good red, a glass and a bowl for the lion in the other hand. "You are a wonder, monsieur!" He clapped the man on the shoulder.
"Only the finest for our friends!"
While the more timid folks had been frightened off by the hungry lion's growls, the Cossack Bistro was filling quickly with a midday crowd. More than a few of them cast no so surreptitious glances at the winged lion in the fez, the hat now askew as he bent over the mince pies, chewing with vigour.
Maggiormente dipped a piece of the brioche in his soup and popped it in his mouth. The leeks were pungent and the broth rich and buttery. Not like Mama makes, the alchemist thought, but it will do. He tried to ignore the stares. They were merely curious. It's not every day they saw a Viennese lion.
Of course he did, but some of the wonder never went away completely.
Noticing that Eduardo was now licking the pie plates clean, he decided to broach the other subject that had been on his mind. "So, what shall we do about the English lady?"
Eduardo licked all the way around his mouth, as if fearful he might have missed a tiny crumb somewhere. "You told her to come to the Exposition, yes?"
Maggiormente nodded. "Yes, but English women -- who knows? She may never come. Like the one in that story, you know."
"What story?" Eduardo began to lap wine from his bowl.
"Oh, you know the story, the one where the English woman is traveling but never arrives at her destination…"
Eduardo looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "English woman traveling?"
"Oh, you know the story I mean!"
"I do not." Eduardo lapped some more wine.
"Well, I just don't know whether she is some crackpot or a real inventor. It is so difficult to tell with women."
"Why is that? She was quite specific about the fuel, was she not?"
Maggiormente shrugged. "Ah, but women… what can I say?"
"Something definite would be a nice change." Eduardo narrowed his eyes. "Are you nervous about meeting a woman?"
The alchemist flushed. "What a ridiculous thing to suggest! I will not countenance such foolishness."
"Ha! You are." The lion leaned back his head and roared with laughter. "Oh, she's probably just some crackpot old biddy with more money than sense. Which could be very useful," he added.
"Idiot," Maggiormente muttered. "I don't want to talk about it."