Gisele is sitting at her regular table on the enclosed patio at La Petite Coquette in Beverly Hills sipping an Americano as she scrolls through her Twitter feed. Her sister Manon is flying in from Paris in a few hours which gives our French expat a few minutes to relax with a smooth Colombian before she joins the throng of zombies on the highway.

She raises her cup to her lips and shifts her eyes to a man in a designer suit taking a seat at the table next to her. He sits down, places a laptop on the table, and as he opens it he scans the big red sign on the post in front of him.

Gisele goes back to the morning tweets.

A waitress appears with a café au lait and a croissant and places them in the blue centre of the man’s table. He thanks her; they smile at each other; she leaves. The man slides the bowl and saucer over to the red edge, takes a sip, then immerses himself in e-mail.

Gisele puts her cup down in her table’s central blue zone and stares at the café au lait precariously perched beside her neighbour’s computer. She shakes her head, leans over, and slides the cup back into his blue zone. “Tourist,” she thinks to herself.

The man lifts his eyes over his laptop, smiles coyly, and slowing pulls the cup back to the red zone at the edge of his table, all the while studying Gisele for a reaction. She shrugs, sends him a crooked smile, taps on an app in her smart phone, and starts the countdown just loudly enough for the man to glance over at her form time to time as he types.

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”

On cue, the ground starts to shake. Gisele laughs flirtatiously as the man’s drink tumbles onto his lap then smashes onto the floor. He bolts up, grabs a napkin, and frantically attempts to soak up the hot coffee searing his crotch as the tremors continue.

The spectacle attracts the attention of the other patrons on the patio. They snort and giggle at the poor man’s struggle to stay upright with all the jostling about. He looks at them dumbfounded, wondering whether anyone is actually aware of the earthquake.

After 30 seconds or so, the vibrations stop and the waitress reappears. By this time, the man has regained his composure and is carefully surveying the damage to his silk suit. She looks down to the broken cup, rolls her eyes, plants herself directly beside him, and taps him on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, monsieur. Do you speak English?” asks Brigitte.

The man nods. Brigitte points to the large sign on the post he had read not 5 minutes ago and continues: “Can you please read that for me?” She puts her right hand on her hip, raises her left eyebrow, and winks at Gisele as he reads.

“NO tableware in the red zone Mon-Fri 10 AM – 11 AM. Max. fine $100.” He looks over at Gisele who pretends not to notice then up at Brigitte who is typing up his bill. She hands him the device.

Total = $121

“You can’t be serious?” the man retorts, but Brigitte simply smiles at him and replies: “Debit, credit, or cash, monsieur?” She waits while he searches for an excuse until he finally throws his hands up and passes her his credit card.

Brigitte prints off a receipt. “Thank you, monsieur Tarfield. And now your pants please.”

Mr. Tarfield pops his eyes wide open: “My what?”

“Your pants, Monsieur. We pride ourselves in offering a free dry-cleaning service for our guests.” She holds out her hands. He strips down to his boxers decorated with cartoon squirrels digging for nuts, muttering: “Sure. Free, eh?”

Gisele pulls her cup over to the edge of the blue zone on her table and hides her amusement behind a lingering sip as she secretly eyes Mr. Tarfield’s nuts…the cartoon nuts on his boxers, ladies. Tsk tsk.

Her alarm goes off. Rather than wait for the check, she reaches into her purse, leaves some money on the table, pulls out a gas mask, and walks over to Mr. Tarfield, smirking. “Welcome to L.A., Mr. Tarfield.”

Once in the lobby, Gisele straps on the mask and rushes through the crowds of similarly protected pedestrians towards her car to pick up her sister at the airport…

…to be continued in Freedom Frackers.