"But the English lady—she could be our salvation," Eduardo insisted, licking the last of the wine from his bowl.
"I don't think we should count on that. We need to focus on the work." The alchemist frowned. "Perhaps we should go to the Exposition today."
The lion had a full belly now, so he was reluctant to consider something quite so strenuous as a meandering journey through the pullulating crowds at the exhibit. "Oh, I don't know about that, mago. Focus on the work, indeed. But in our aerie, yes? Perhaps we need to revisit the structure of the process."
Maggiormente emptied the last of his glass of wine and wiped his mouth. "Non so. Perhaps I have miscalculated. Perhaps my ego has got the better of me." He put his head in his hands and groaned expansively.
"Non ti preoccupare," Eduardo said, his tone reassuringly low. "You are certainly brilliant, piccolo mago. You have been too close to the process. We need to look at the apparatus with fresh eyes." The lion belched, raising a paw hastily but too late to cover the eruption.
The alchemist, however, remained too distracted to notice this rude behaviour. "Perhaps you are right. I quite think that we have overlooked something quite simple in the assembly…" His voice trailed off as he tugged on his beard.
Eduardo stretched elaborately, elongating his body to seemingly impossible lengths. A few people at nearby table shifted their chairs uncomfortably, but did not actually move. The lion had already begun thinking about the way the afternoon sun came in through the large windows at the top of the house and how pleasant it would be to doze in that warmth while the magician dismantled the entire apparatus.
He could always wake up long enough to offer an opinion.
"Let's go," he urged Maggiormente, leaping down from the stool where he had sat and stretching even further. "No time like the present."
The alchemist waved over the restaurateur and paid him handsomely with as many compliments as francs. "We are delighted that you welcome us here, monsieur."
"The Cossack Bistro shares your delight. Let us be your kitchen, signore." He clasped the alchemist's hands in his own with a wide grin.
Eduardo stood in the doorway, his nose in the air. His nostrils widened. There was something unexpected in the wind. He couldn't quite distinguish what it was and yet there was something familiar about it. "Maggiormente, I think we need to go."
"Sì, sì, I am ready." The alchemist indulged in an elaborate stretch himself and patted his happy stomach afterward. "A presto!" he called to the chef, saluting as he walked out of the bistro. "There is something supremely satisfying about a well-cooked meal," he confided to his familiar.
Eduardo snorted. "Particularly so when one does not have to cook the meal."
"Indeed." The alchemist smiled. "You are pleased not to have my spaghetti Bolognese today, are you not?"
Eduardo grimaced. "I did not enjoy living with your mother, but at least her food was edible. Do you smell that?"
"Smell what?" Maggiormente looked about him as if the eyes might aid the search.
Eduardo looked suddenly to the north. It came from that direction. "Fire."
Before the lion could respond, a huge crowd of people came rushing along the street, down the narrow road, which they rent with screams and shouts of alarm. Behind them, in the distance, it was possible to see a huge cloud of black smoke.
"What on earth?" The alchemist stepped back as the crowd of people surged by, hands in the air, mouths open in non-stop exclamations of alarm.
"I think there's a fire," the lion said, sitting on his haunches on the pavement.
"Of course there's a fire," the alchemist huffed. "Where is there a fire? Why is there a fire? And what is to be done about it?"
"Shall we investigate?" Eduardo stretched elaborately once more, but curiosity had got the better of him for the moment. His afternoon nap would have to wait. He had a moment's worry about his fez, but that was the sort of risk one had to take if one were to indulge in adventure.
"Yes, do let's. Perhaps we will discover something useful."
The two of them began to swim against the tide of fleeing pedestrians, fighting their way upstream with deliberation. The crowd began to thin but not before they encountered a thin white figure.
"Run! Save yourselves! It is a disaster!"
"How can you be sure?" Maggiormente said, waving him aside.
"Because I caused the conflagration!"