If you took Route Twelve going west from Albany for thirty miles, then turned north on Rural Route Nineteen for another five, on your left you’d find Grannie’s Teahouse. It’s a converted two-story farmhouse with a large gravel parking lot where the front lawn used to be. There, you’d see multiple black sedans, drivers sitting on the hood of their vehicles glowering at each other. An observant person would notice the sawed off twelve gauges within handy reach on the front seats.
Grannie’s simple italic lettering on the front window reads GRANNIE’S TEA AND TARTS between white lace curtains bordering the dark tinted, bullet proof windows. No neon sign perches on the road announcing its presence, nor does it appear in any guidebooks of Quaint Dining in New York State. A food blogger who chanced upon Grannies and wrote an unkind review was found unconscious in an alley with his right hand smashed.
As you pass through the steel front door, a bell tinkles above your head and the aroma of cinnamon tickles your nostrils. Grannie greets you by name and seats you in one of the white wrought-iron tables covered with a white lace tablecloth woven by the Amish.
Grannie looks like what everyone visualizes when they hear the word grannie. A tiny woman wearing a long gray dress stopping six inches above her practical black shoes. A lacey white apron covers the front of her dress. She tucks her fine white hair into a bun at the back of her head and gold-rimmed spectacles perch on her nose. Her name is Maria Capano and is rumored to be the illegitimate daughter of Lucky Luciano, but everyone in the criminal world calls her Grannie.
Large men with bent faces occupy the tables, with firearm bulges ruining the fit of their expensive suits, and rap sheets as long as the Brooklyn Bridge. Coarse lips sip tea and nibble tarts as they discuss business in hushed voices, speaking a variety of languages from Italian to Russian to Japanese. All are welcome at Grannie’s if they follow the rules.
There are two rules in Grannie’s: no vulgar language, and no violence on the premises. Although these rules remain unbroken, bullet-ridden corpses often litter the ditches along the route leading back to New York City.
Grannie’s place is ground neutral, where various factions of the criminal world conduct negotiations and settle disputes without mayhem. The two large meeting rooms on the second floor have no windows, are soundproof, and bulletproof in case a discussion gets out of hand.
Into this tranquil atmosphere plunge Kurt and Madge Kramer, hungry and lost tourists from the Midwest who’d had it up to here with snooty New York attitudes and wouldn’t take it anymore.
They plopped their ample frames at the empty table near the door, overflowing the narrow seats, and giving themselves a seat wedgie. Kurt’s lime green T-shirt with bold black letters reading MAKE ME contrasts with Madge’s bright pink spandex top that threatened to explode in all directions. The pink shade matched her glossed lips and toenails peeking out from gold lame sandals.
Grannie wandered out of the back and laid her oven mitts on the counter. She approached their table wearing a sweet smile. Before she could welcome her customers, Kurt cut her off.
He growled, “Bring me coffee and a menu.”
The corners of Grannie’s eyes twitched, but her smile remained serene. “We only serve tea, and I wrote the list of tarts on the chalkboard above the till.”
Kurt squinted. “How the hell do you expect me to read that scrawl from here? Just tell me what you have. I’m starved.”
Grannie’s smile dimmed. “We have lemon, blueberry and I’m about to take a fresh batch of strawberry tarts out of the oven, if you can wait ten minutes. We serve a wide variety of black teas.”
Kurt sighed. “I’ll have a coffee and a hamburger with fries and same for the wife, but hold the onions on her burger. And bring her a diet Sprite instead of coffee.”
“I’m sorry. We only serve tea and tarts.”
Kurt raised his voice. “What kind of crap hole is this that doesn’t serve coffee and burgers?”
All conversation in the room died.
Madge piped up, “I’ll have a white wine instead of the Sprite.” She giggled. “Kurt’s driving.”
Grannie’s lips formed a straight line. “We don’t have a liquor license, but I can bring you a nice pot of English Breakfast tea.”
Kurt slapped the table. “I want to speak to the manager. Now!”
There was a clatter from the other tables and if Kurt had been a firearm enthusiast, he would have admired the variety of handguns that had appeared on the tabletops.
“I am the owner and don’t like your attitude, young man.”
Kurt scoffed. “I am a lawyer, and I don’t care what a waitress thinks.”
Grannie slowly inhaled and let the breath flow out of her nostrils while counting to ten.
Kurt, oblivious to his surroundings, upped the ante. “This is America, lady. I should be able to get a coffee and a hamburger in any restaurant anytime I want.”
Grannie pointed to the door. “I’d like you to leave,”
Kurt smirked and crossed his arms. “And if I refuse?”
Grannie’s sweet smile returned. “Then I’m afraid we’ll have to break a rule.”
Richard is a Calgary writer whose non-fiction has appeared in the major US and Canadian outdoor magazines. His short story and flash fiction have been published by Close To the Bone, The Scarlet Leaf Review, and in the anthology Blood on the Holly.