Lunch at the crossfire cafe

Life imitates art as Mal Chenu has a close encounter with an apparent drug bust.

On a blazing dog day afternoon in South Beach, Miami, I sat in a diner named "Diner" on a stool bolted to the floor, gazing out the window as the archetypal American world passed by. Shirtless teenage boys bounced basketballs on the footpath as they flirted with girls, Japanese tourists under umbrellas consulted maps and mopped their brows while rollerbladers wearing iPods and fanny-packs cruised the zebra crossing past idling gas-guzzlers.

I felt like I was at the corner of Main Street and Cliche Boulevard, southern USA.

My fellow diners scoffed coffee and pie, shakes and slices, doughnuts and enormous sodas. I was in conversation, as best as our mutually unintelligible accents would allow, with a local woman whose boyfrien' trapped 'gators for a living. Her Herculean consumption of fried chicken went some way to explaining her 30-plus BMI but did not aid communication.

Suddenly the steamy sluggishness of the day was ruptured by the sound of screeching tyres. A long, sky-blue convertible skidded sideways across the intersection. Six police cars had appeared from nowhere, blocking the way. Cops wearing reflector sunglasses leapt from their cars and drew pistols, crouching behind open car doors, screaming for the Latino suspects to show their hands.

Some onlookers bolted, some froze and a few reached for their cameras, possibly hoping for another Rodney King-style incident. It was more like a movie than real life and I froze, waiting for someone to call "Cut!"

My chicken-inhaling friend dived for the floor, taking me and my plate of pasta primavera with her. We landed heavily on the black-and-white chequered linoleum and peered through the window at floor level.

A very tense minute or so passed as the cops and suspects yelled back and forth at each other in both English and Spanish, with heavy accents all round.

Finally, the perps slowly raised their hands and surrendered, their bronzed, muscular arms stretching high above the windscreen revealing thick black tufts of armpit hair against their white pec-tight singlets - a cultural stereotype straight from Scarface, the Floridian coke-soaked Al Pacino gangster classic.

This was a genuine bust, Miami Vice-style, an exciting free show for tourists and locals alike. It had everything except a director and film crew. Amateur camera operators were disappointed when the only moment of defiance came during the cuffing process on the blistering road surface as one of the felons' brilliantine hair was mussed up.

A search of the car revealed a handgun and a small paper bag, the contents of which remain a mystery. However, the smiles on the faces of the lawmen (none of whom looked like Don Johnson), as they entered the diner to the applause of the patrons, indicated success.

My friend picked herself up, flicked some of my spaghetti from her clothes, grabbed another drumstick and let out a wide-eyed "sheee-itt!"

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