Of All The...
In honour of the wonderful Lupe Pintos Mexican deli in Edinburgh's Tollcross area.
It was nearly closing time when the door opened and she walked in.
Dougie had been stacking shelves in preparation for the Saturday morning onslaught; Sam was counting the takings. Neither took too much notice of the new customer, as they were used to passers-by wandering in to have a look around. Perhaps she was just a refugee from the bitter winter wind whistling down Leven Street. Either way, customers at two minutes to seven on a Friday night didn't often spend much money.
"What does a woman have to do to get some service around here?" the woman said, after a minute or so. She spoke English with a thick accent, perhaps Swedish. Her hair was tied back practically, 1940s-style, enhancing the impression that this was a woman on a mission.
Dougie's jaw dropped. "Of all the chilli joints in all the towns in all the world... she walks into mine."
"It's been a while, Dougie," the woman said. She nodded in Sam's direction; he simply stared at her.
"Is this shop open for business?" the woman said. Moving into the heart of the shop, she allowed her hand to play lightly across the table in the centre. She picked up a fresh raw chilli.
"Depends on the business, Ilsa," Dougie said. "We sell, you buy. That's the kind of business we do. And we close in two minutes."
"I'm looking for another kind of business," Ilsa said. "I ask, you give. And I'm just starting to trade."
"What did you have in mind?" Dougie said. "How about some nice guacemole? Homemade." He motioned to Sam. "Give the lady a tub of guacemole on the house, Sam. Large."
"Sure, boss, sure." Somewhat agitated, Sam ladled two giant spoonfuls into a clear plastic container. His hands were shaking as he handed it over to the visitor, who by now was chewing her chilli casually like gum.
"Can I taste it?" she asked Sam. Her eyes never blinked, never left Sam's. Still holding his gaze, Ilsa dipped a finger into the green dip and slowly, sensuously, licked it clean with her tongue. Then, still looking into Sam's eyes, she asked, "What do you think of it, Sam?"
Sam hesitated. Ilsa was having none of it. "Say it, Sam. Say it for me."
"I think you look hot," Sam eventually blurted out.
"Naga chillis do that to a woman, Sam." Sam wiped the sweat from his brow, although no nagas had passed his lips. Ilsa, on the other hand, looked supremely cool. "Where's the other one, Sam? You know, the arty one with the beard? He's usually soooo helpful."
Dougie interrupted. Now that Ilsa had turned her charm offensive towards Sam, he was able to recover his normal equilibrium.
"It's Callum's day off. Lucky him. And Major Baillie has been shot: we're rounding up the usual suspects. Look Ilsa, what the fuck do you want? Just tell us and let us all bugger off home."
"I want your chilli recipe. The one you stole from me."
"I stole it from you? Stole it?" Dougie was too gobsmacked to lace the sentence with expletives.
"It was my mother's old recipe. She served it with mashed tatties and doughballs."
"Look," Dougie said, aware that it was now five past seven and that he wanted to go home, "if it's your recipe, why don't you make it up from memory? Anyway, we give out leaflets with the recipe for free." He grabbed a leaflet and waved it at her.
Ilsa spat the chilli out discreetly into a handkerchief and picked out another fresh one. "These nagas are tasteless after a couple of minutes," she said. "Those leaflets are useless. You hold back all the key information. I want a handwritten version with the real secrets."
"OK, Ilsa, you win." Quickly, Dougie grabbed a scrap of paper and wrote out the ingredients and method. "Happy now?"
"I think so," Ilsa said. With an exaggerated sway of her hips, she turned around and swept out.
Dougie breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank the fuck for that," he said. "I thought we'd never get home tonight."
"Why do you let her do it, boss? She's here every week. It's always some daft demand."
"It's a social service, Sam. The woman's ninety if she's a day. She saw Casablanca when it first came out and still lives her life through Ilsa Lund. And anyway, I quite enjoy getting the better of her."
Sam looked bemused. "Better of her? What happened tonight? She got what she came in for."
"Well I gave her the recipe all right. All the ingredients and so on. But I said that Sainsburys chorizo made the best chilli. If she makes it with that, she'll still be waiting until Christmas for it to be edible."