The dare

Submitted into Contest #94 in response to: Start your story with someone accepting a dare.... view prompt



The dare.

It was one of those hot, stifling days in Paris. All the windows in the upper room at the brasserie were open and the background noise of the Paris traffic had a soporific effect on the group listening with difficulty to the lecturer talking about a book that was the flavour of the month in the intellectual circles. The group, numbering sixteen, mostly women, had been gathered under an international book club of a distinguished reputation. Frankly, the book was boring, the group not particularly interesting, and the animator had, as so often the case in these sessions, a voice that was a monotonous slur. I decided to try and bring a little life into the proceeding. But what?

At that instance my thoughts were interrupted by a pause for a coffee break. The waiter was called. An energetic young man appeared confident in his ability to service his customers with alacrity and charm. He started taking that order, without writing them down. I heard espresso, regular coffee, pressed orange juice, pressed citron, tea, and another espresso. At this point I suggested he wrote down the orders as given the number and diversity he would never be able to correctly remember them all. The waiter did not wait a second before replying.

“Monsieur, no problem, I am practised in taking multiple orders without writing them down.” The word practised lent a debonair flare to his command of English.

Then without warning I heard the American woman, named Austin, sitting next to me say.

“Young man, you will make a mistake. Since I have been in Paris I am amazed at how many mistakes waiters make. In all fairness I would be the first to admit it might be due to the accent or a language misunderstanding.”

At this point I realized I had found a way of livening the group up. I turned to Austin and said.

“Why don’t you dare him to get all the orders right without writing them down…….make a bet. Suddenly an air of curiosity pervaded the room. Within seconds there was a collective surge of interest one could feel bouncing off the walls. What little air there was one could cut the feeling of tension with a knife. Then came Austin's reply.

“Young man, I will bet you 15 euros that if you don’t write the orders down you will make a mistake.

The young man stood silent while he carefully looked over the group. You could nearly hear his brain working on whether to take the bet. With a voice that suggested a certain smugness he addressed Austin.

“I will up the bet to 20 euros on condition I can recommence the order process and you all remain in the same place. Again a moment of silence, all heads were turned looking at the American woman to hear her reply.

“Agreed, as she swept her eyes over the gathering indicating everybody should remain in their place.”

The waiter took a stance as a captain would as he pointed his finger at his troop on the morning roll call. I counted 10 different orders from the sixteen member’s present, including the animator. On a couple of occasions the waiter asked the person to repeat their order. Once the waiter had left, the group lit up with animated conversations on who would win the bet. We had finally come together with a common interest, we were alive and full of opinions and disagreements.

The waiter returned with a loaded tray of nine orders, He started in a clockwise fashion of executing the request. The orders were placed in front of each customer with a sweeping jest, followed by a smile. I noticed a serviette folded elegantly over his right arm. All I heard was merci or thank you. I imagined that people did not want to disturb the waiter's concentration. Give the man a chance. First serving all correct, by my calculations 7 to go.

The waiter left with a smile on his face. Within two minutes he was back with the remaining orders. He continued his clockwise serving. On the fourth serving a woman, who until now had very seldom participated in our conversations said.

“Excuse-me, young man, I ordered tea. I have never drank coffee in my life.”

In a voice that came from some distant place of embarrassment the waiter said,

“Just a minute, Madame, please wait while I serve the three remaining customers.”

Once he had finished he turned back to the woman who ordered tea and asked her if she had mistakenly ordered coffee instead of tea.

“No, that is not possible as I am allergic to coffee.”

Whether I was imagining it but I had a distinct feeling the temperature of the room rose a few degrees. The ambiance had turned from a group that had been half a sleep to a group alive with electricity awaiting the next step.

The waiter had been clearly taught his trade. In this awkward situation he showed good manners and fair play as he immediately said.

“My apologies I must have made a mistake, please hand me your coffee and I will bring you some tea. He took the coffee, turned on his heels and disappeared down stairs. At this moment an extraordinary thing happened. We were all about to congratulate Austin. But she had left following the waiter down the stairs. Her disappearance at such speed surprised the group. They were all anxious to learn the reason why. Three minutes later she reappeared.

As she returned I just could not help it. Before anybody spoke I blurted out. “Why did you immediately follow the waiter down the stairs?”

The reply came back like a shotgun. “I just wanted to make sure I got paid.”

“Don’t you think it would have been more appropriate to let him pay when he brought up the tea. It would have given him a few minutes to get over his shame of the error. I feel sure, on the stairs, he may have dropped a tear or two.”

The only sound that could be heard was the Paris traffic. Everybody had their eyes on Austin waiting for her to answer.

Her reply came from a voice that was struggling with difficult memories of the past.

“While we finish our coffees I will tell you a story about a lesson I learnt several years ago. I will make it short so as not to take time out of the lecture. I am a professional gambler. I enjoy people who dare me to do something and place bets. One night, a few years ago, I was invited to a dinner party with five other people, four were friends, the host and his wife were acquaintances. The dinner party was held on Park Avenue, New York city. The address set the tone of the evening. It was a pleasant affair, except that the host during the excellent fish course went on an ego trip boasting about his life, his wealth, his yacht, the private jet parked waiting for his command. All very boring, the faces around the dinner table were trying hard to hide the fact. At the end of his performance I started a discussion on the meaning of wealth and its influence on our lives. Everybody participated with passion in the subject, particularly the host and his wife. If I remember correctly the conclusion was wealth can give you dominance and influence but certainly not a guaranteed path to happiness. During this debate he kept looking at me as though he had a predetermined plan prepared.

He knew I was a professional gambler and my friends had warned me he would try and dare me to do something. As coffee was being served his dare came floated across the coffee table

“Austin, I hear you like a challenge. I bet you cannot swim across the Hudson river from the New York side to the Jersey side without being stopped by the river police. Once you are in the water I have the right to call the police. It would be like playing a little game of hide and seek. I will make a bet worth $15,000. Coffee cups were dropped and a cloud of excitement hung over the table. I took a moment to consider the proposition.

Agreed, under the following conditions, I can pick the time, for example the night, I can pick the point of departure, you will be present at the point of departure, word of honour you will call the police only when I am in the water. If I win you will transfer the money to my offshore bank account. The winning ticket is me phoning you from the Jersey shore accompanied by a witness. During the crossing I will not be assisted by a following boat or another swimmer. I need three day is check on my departure point and the tide and current situation. Oh! If the police find me, or don’t find me I will not be liable for any of their costs should they deem them necessary to be recovered.

“Agreed…….just one point, these conversations should remain secret to those around the table. If by terrible bad luck there is an accident or you die, I and my family in no way are to be connected with the dare and subsequent bet..”

“I will call you the day after tomorrow with the hour, place of my starting point.”

Once the bet had been agreed, the guesses started taking sides as to my chances. All agreed that the wager would remain a secret to the people in the room, to that end everybody shook hands. The wager certainly livened up the evening, the spotlight was on me, the host took a back seat. As a friend remarked later, an unusual state of affairs.

Three days later at 10.30 in total darkness, wearing a wetsuit, I jumped into the Hudson river. The dinner host and his wife looked on, surrounded by the friends at the dinner. I had arranged for a friend with a telephone to meet me at the place I would land, with luck, on the Jersey shore. I had researched that it took the river police about fifteen to twenty minutes after a phone call to launch the boats with their big screech lights. So in the early stages I swam fast. Just over halfway there I saw in the distance the police boats coming up the river. The game of hide and seek began. I will not bore you with the details; I was helped by some of the pleasure boats still on a night visit of Manhattan's skyline……….... I made it.”

He never paid me. He claimed the police said due to the strong river currents that night if the person’s intention was the Jersey shore they must have been helped in crossing the river. If the person drowned their body would be washed ashore at some future date. It never was. According to my friends, when he phoned the police he acted as an innocent bystander on a nightly stroll with his wife and a few friends.. My reputation moved forward in leaps and bounds, his was destroyed..

You could hear a pin drop. The only sound was from a new waiter delivering the tea.

May 20, 2021 09:55

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