In Graham Greene’s novel, we’re in the town of Brighton before the war. A gang of criminals meets in a cafe, urgently discussing a significant calling card which one of them accidentally left in a different cafe in town.
‘Talk natural,’ the Boy said, ‘talk natural,’ as the waitress came back to the table.
‘Do you boys want any more?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ the Boy said, ‘we’ll have ice-cream.’
‘Forget it, Pinkie,’ Dallow protested when the girl had left them, ‘we don’t want ice-cream. We ain’t a lot of tarts, Pinkie.’
‘If you don’t want ice-cream, Dallow,’ the Boy said, ‘you go to Snow’s Café and get that card. You’ve got guts, haven’t you?’
‘I thought we was done with it all,’ Dallow said. ‘I’ve done enough. I’ve got guts, you know that, but I was scared stiff. . . Why, if they’ve found him before time, it’d be crazy to go into Snow’s.’
‘Don’t talk so loud,’ the Boy said. ‘If nobody else’ll go,’ he said, ‘I’ll go. I’m not scared. Only I get tired sometimes of working with a mob like you. Sometimes I think I’d be better alone.’ Afternoon moved across the water. He said, ‘Kite was all right, but Kite’s dead. Which was your table?’ he asked Spicer.
‘Just inside. On the right of the door. A table for one. It’s got flowers on it.’
‘I don’t know what flowers,’ Spicer said. ‘Yellow flowers.’
‘Don’t go, Pinkie,’ Dallow said, ‘better leave it alone. You can’t tell what’ll happen,’ but the Boy was already on his feet, moving stiffly down the long narrow room above the sea. You couldn’t tell if he was scared; his young ancient poker-face told nothing.
In Snow’s Café the rush was over and the table free. The wireless droned a programme of weary music, broadcast by a cinema organist. The waitress whipped the cloths off as soon as the tables were free and laid tea things. Nobody paid any attention to the Boy; they turned their back when he looked at them. He slipped his hand under the cloth and found nothing there – the card was gone. Suddenly the little spurt of vicious anger rose again in the Boy’s brain and he smashed a salt sprinkler down on the table so hard that the base cracked. A waitress detached herself from the gossiping group and came towards him, cold-eyed, acquisitive, ash-blonde. ‘Well?’ she said, taking in the shabby suit, the too young face.
‘I want service,’ the Boy said.
‘You’re late for the Lunch.’
‘I don’t want lunch,’ the Boy said. ‘I want a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits.’
‘Will you go to one of the tables laid for tea, please?’
‘No,’ the Boy said. ‘This table suits me.’