By Steven Hunley
“I can’t think of a proper title,” I said to Toby.
He ruffled his blue feathers a bit, refusing to answer.
“And you’re no help at all.”
“Great, the parrot won’t talk, I got no title, and,” I said, shuffling through the houseboat pantry, “I’m fresh out of coffee.What do you say about
“Collette’s,” he answered with a bird smile, “Collette’s”
“Toby, you may be bird-brained, but you’re a genius!”
I looked out the window noting the fog.
“It’s pea soup out there Toby, but my editor’s on my back.There are such things as deadlines, my fine feathered friend, in the world of humans.But
maybe you’ve saved the boat.”
My rent was due, my houseboat was flooding, and I needed money and needed it quick.Fog or no fog I would trek to Collette’s.It’s not that I’m afraid
of Jack the Ripper or Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde you understand.San Francisco fog isn’t London Fog, I know.A girl doesn’t like to go out alone so late at night, fog or no fog.But obligations
are obligations, and rent was due on my floating palace, so I grabbed my warmest pea coat, put on my sailor’s hat, tucked my hair in, and was off.I’d do my best not to get lost.
“Jeez, it’s thick out here,” was my first impression, “I can’t see my hand in front of my face.”
The first steps were easy.A left turn, then a right.The fog stole in.Was it on little cat feet?I couldn’t tell. Then a right turn, then straight.The
fog snuck behind me.Then another left, then another.I buttoned the coat up a little farther when something made a noise.I turned around.It was only a cat, pawing through overturned garbage.When I
turned back, I finally came to a conclusion I didn’t want to reach.I was lost.
I continued to wander.Time could not be measured.The pilings on the docks wrapped with thick rope were all I could see.The sound of the fog horn in the harbor was
all I could hear.It could have been 1800, or 1900, or the 2000 it was.I just couldn’t tell.Finally, when I was ready to sit down and cry, I noticed a pink glow ahead.I knew what it was.I
recognized it.It was the pink neon outline of a coffee cup!
“Collette’s here I come!”
Collette’s is a small place run by a red-headed French woman, named, (what else) Collette.I wasn’t just going here in hopes the coffee would give me
an idea for a title.The coffee may not have been enough.But there was more. Writers hung out here.You’d always catch at least one.If there were more, then they’d be swapping tales, bitching about
editors, doing re-writes or proofing.They were a literally a literal crowd.Another thing drew them as well.Despite California law to the contrary, she’d let you smoke in the back room.She got
away with it because it was her private property, not actually part of the restaurant.It faced the harbor, had a view, and this part was where the writers congregated.That’s where I was
Collette saw me when I came in.
“Who’s here tonight Collette?”
“Two I don’t know, but you I do Mon Cheri.”
She gave me a two kisses, one on each cheek.You know how the French are.
I walked back through the door and taking a table saw two men.I didn’t know either.One was sitting smoking a pipe.The other was pacing. The room was
small, so it was easy to ear-hustle. Considering they were talking like good friends, they were an unlikely pair. The one pacing was a stick man, his white duck trousers were rumpled, yet he wore
a black velvet coat.
“Gee,” I thought, “I haven’t seen anyone wear a black velvet coat since Stevie Winwood was in Traffic.”
The sitting man was stocky and well built, and wore a neat safari coat from Abercrombie and Fitch.Sitter wore a beard on his face.Stander had a
drooping moustache on his upper lip. Stander was chain-smoking cigarettes, while Sitter smoked a pipe.You see what I mean.They were a pair, but an unmatched pair for sure.
I must have caught their attention, because they welcomed me to the place.
“You’ll like it here kid, it’s a clean, well lighted place,” said Sitter.
“Collette keeps me in quill pens and India ink, Madam,” said Stander, “and her coffee is superb.”
“Thank you both gentlemen, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it,” I answered, not telling them I’d been there before.
When they continued their conversation is when my ear-pirate set sail.
“So what’s it about this time?” said Stander to Sitter.
“Bob, it’s like this.An old Cuban goes fishing but has no luck at first.”
“The way you state the matter it sounds awfully weak, almost consumptive, one might say.”
“You know me,” he answered, “I like to keep is simple.”
Then the sitter relit his pipe.The man pacing stubbed out his butt, lit another cigarette, then
Sitter took a silver flask out of his back pocket and emptied something into his coffee.Stander took a puff of his cigarette and started
“Bob, you gotta watch that stuff, it’ll kill ya.”
“I’m not spitting blood quite yet Papa. Yet I could say the same to you.”
“A Scotsman telling me not to drink Irish coffee could only happen in Sausalito,” he said, taking a sip.
“So what kind of a fish does he catch, your fisherman?” said Stander.
“Well, I dunno yet, but it’s gotta be something big.”
“How about a record breaking tuna, I like tuna.”
“Naw, not enough class. I need a bigger battle, something more dangerous. I want him catching this fish to be real tough, like it’s some kind of
duel or something.”
“Duels are fought by dukes and princes with swords Papa, not fish.”
“I’ll make it a sword fish then, a fricken marlin.”
“That sounds eminently suitable.”
“Sounds good to me too.”
“At any rate, what is your intent for a proper title?”
“How’s about something catchy, like maybe Swordfish?”
“That would be much too short.You need something longer, it’s not descriptive enough.”
“Longer, with you it’s always longer!Your sentences are too long, your titles too long, my God man look at your skinny self,” he said looking up at
him, “Even you’re too long.”
“Being long is just my style. Your problem is, Papa, you’re too short.Your sentences irritate my sensitive soul with their extreme brevity.They’re
too short, too simple, and in the end, I put it to you old man, much too declarative.”
“Can it Slim. That’s my signature style.So what’s your newest about?”
“It’s about a boy who gets kidnapped by his own miserly uncle.”
“Sounds weak Bob.Sounds weak.”
“Well, they wander over the Scottish highlands in the rain, Papa, in the rain.”
“Do they go on a boat?I like it when they go on boats.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, they do, at times, go on a boat.”
“Do they fish?I like it when they fish.”
“Well I don’t think…”
“Well, do they bullfight?I like it when they bullfight.”
“No, they most definitely do not bullfight.The story occurs the highlands of Scotland Papa, now how can I have them bullfight?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot.So what are you gonna call it?”
“I was thinking of using The Marvelous Adventures of David Balfour, who, in the Dangerous Highlands of Scotland, was Kidnapped.
“Too long Bob, too long.”
This is the point where Collette stepped in.
“Mes amis,” she announced, “you must place a bet.Let fate decide. I flip a coin. Whoever wins decides the other’s title and he must make do with
that.” (she pronounced it zat, you know how the French are),’
“However,” she hesitated, “if it lands on my side of the coin, I choose.”
Then I spoke out.
“Since there are only two sides to a coin, let her.Besides, it’s her coin.”
Collette looked at me and winked.
“It’s a deal.” said Papa.
“I would be more than happy to accede to the lady’s wishes,” Bob said, with a bow and flourish.
Collette reached into her bosom and produced a twenty dollar gold piece, and tossed it in the air.
Someone called, “Heads,” but it really didn’t matter who.
It flipped and flipped and flipped. It went up to the rafters then down to the wooden floor.But when it hit, it bounced, landed on its edge, rolled
a bit, then became wedged in a crack in the floor, and stood firmly, edge up, on its side.
Although the two were ill-matched as a pair they were twins finally in one thing, they now both had eyes the size of plates, not saucers.
‘Voila!” Collette squealed, “I shall have my way!You Monsieur, will choose his title, and you monsieur, his!”
It was then that both of them, being men of the world, knew they were beat.
“O.K. Bob,” Sitter said, “What’s it gonna be?”
“Make it The Old Man and the Sea, since that is what it’s primarily about.”
But that’s the longest title I’ve ever used!’’ he wined, “It’ll never sell!”
“You have only to try Papa, so try.”
“Now, how about you?” said Collette to Sitter, “It is your turn to decide.”
“You make it Kidnapped, Bob, just plain, Kidnapped, that’s all.”
“But that will be my shortest title yet,” he sobbed.Will my readers know it’s me?”
“That’s for you to find out Bob.”
My coffee was finished.I pushed the cup away from me and slid out of the chair.I turned to Bob.
“I’m taking my leave Bob, thank you ever so much.”
“I was a pleasure to meet so charming a girl, but if you must leave, fair lady, Adieu.”
Then I turned to Papa.
“See ya’ Pops, I’m outa here.”
“See ya kid.”
“But,” said Collette, “don’t you need a title too?”
“I’m fine now,” I answered, “I’ve finally got it.”
“What’s that Mon Cheri?”
“Why, Collette’s Coffee of course, what else?”