By Dwight Livingstone Curtis
I had on Pawn Stars, Man Vs. Wild, and Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives, which is not a bad lineup for a Tuesday afternoon. Though, I’m not supposed to watch the TV behind the bar, since it means I’m not facing the customers. Even if, for instance, a customer wants to draw my attention to something happening on TV. In that case I’m supposed to look at the far TV, or in the mirror. This way, if someone walks into the bar, I’ll be facing the right direction. McIlhaney feels strongly about this. But there was no one here except me. The only other person working was Arsenio, who was in his car in the parking lot FaceTiming with his daughter.
McIlhaney feels strongly that there should be sports on the TVs and that the music should be medium-loud. The only time we take the sound off the playlist and put it on one of the TVs is for the Super Bowl. Also, once, when there was a tornado, and we put on the weather channel. Otherwise, it’s bar music and whatever sports are playing, with priority going to pro football, then college football, then the other major league sports, then other college sports, then sports news, then rugby or cornhole or X-Games or whatever else. And we always have the TV in the back on soccer, since we’re an Irish bar, and soccer contributes a little something to the atmosphere.
And Bruins games, which I’ll play with the sound on, and if anyone has a problem with it they can find a different bar. McIlhaney hasn’t okayed this specifically, but he hasn’t yelled at me about it yet, which is as good as a green light. He, too, is a Bruins fan—a fish out of water.
I sliced lemons and oranges, then ate an orange by the beer fridge where I was off-camera. McIlhaney put in cameras after the last time we got robbed. We’ve actually gotten robbed a couple of times, and the cameras didn’t show anything the second time, because in order for the cameras to work the bartender has to leave the lights on when he leaves. The cameras don’t work in the dark, and the robber, whoever he is—or she—was smart enough not to turn on the lights. The bartender, who shall remain nameless, got chewed out over that one. In his or her defense, though, isn’t it more of a liability to leave all the lights on so any deadbeat walking past can see an empty bar full of liquor and TVs?
At four PM the Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives marathon switched over to Guy’s Grocery Games. Triple G is an inferior product to Triple D, but it’s still better than sports news, and if McIlhaney were to walk in right now I’d say it to his face. He’d make me change it anyway, and he’d also make me change the Grateful Dead album I was playing. Specifically, he would say, “Whit, buddy, I like the Dead as much as the next guy, but why don’t we take the energy up a couple of clicks in here.” And I would say, “Roger that, boss,” and I’d put on Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done,” and he’d stop in the doorway and give me a look, and I’d switch it back to the bar playlist, and he’d hold up his finger to say something, and then he’d shake his head and drop his finger and walk back to the kitchen. It’s a whole speech. He’d say, “This is what you play when you want people to leave the bar,” but he’s said that to me so many times that he doesn’t need to say it anymore. He just gets ready to say it, exhales, and we save a few minutes of our lives.
As for the Dead, McIlhaney actually has a tattoo on his thigh of a dancing bear holding a fishing rod. He saw them play between the paws of the Sphinx in ’78. He gets it. But he tells me there’s a limit to what bar patrons will put up with, and I have to assume he’s right.
The fruit caddy and backup fruit caddy were full, and I was starting to think about dragging a barstool behind the bar and really focusing on the TVs, when the front door opened. Especially when it’s bright out, anyone who comes in through the front door has a second or two after they walk in when they’re basically blind. It gives me a little time to make judgments. It also gives me time to look away from the TV if I’m watching the one behind the bar, but who’s counting. Normally the server would greet this person, but I’d cut Lizette early. Very early.
It took this girl or young woman a few seconds to get her bearings and, weirdly, she didn’t blink. She just stood there staring straight ahead while her eyes adjusted, and then I moved a little bit so she would see me. That happens, too—if I stand still, I’m actually pretty well camouflaged back here.
“Howdy,” I said.
“Howdy,” she said from the doorway, but, like a blind person, she stayed looking in the wrong direction.
“Grab a seat anywhere you like.”
She walked toward me and pulled out the stool in front of my fruit caddy. I stepped back and wiped my hands on my bar towel. I took the soda gun out of its holster and spritzed some water over the ice. When I looked up she was staring right at me. She wasn’t blind. Maybe she was autistic. She was extremely skinny. She’d taken off her big wool coat and hung it over the stool next to her. Now she had her arms crossed like she was cold.
“Get you something to drink?” I said.
“Okay,” she said.
“What do you think?” I stepped aside so she could see the liquor behind me.
“Hm,” she said. She squinted at the shelf of vodkas. I retreated down the bar and tightened a tap handle. I wiped at a sticky spot on the keg fridge. She was sitting still with her hands stacked on top of each other on the bar in front of her, staring straight ahead at the vodkas, but not looking at them anymore. Everyone at a bar sits there looking at something and you get to be able to tell when they want something, or they’re avoiding talking to the person next to them, or they’re mulling something over, or they’re just nuts. But I couldn’t tell with this one.
“What do you think?” I said. Maybe she was one of the undercover compliance officers McIlhaney was always warning me about.
“I would like to please have a double Absolut Mandarin and Red Bull,” she said.
“You got it,” I said. “Let me just take a quick look at your ID.”
“Okay,” she said. She frowned and picked up her coat by the collar. It was a long wool coat with a black and white herringbone pattern. The inside was purple silk.
“Thanks,” I said. I looked at the ID longer than I needed to, in case this was a sting, and then handed it back to her.
“Double tall or double short?” I said.
“Um. Double short.”
“And Red Bull?”
“Regular or sugar-free?”
“Excuse me?” she said.
“Do you want a lime?” I said. “Or an orange, I guess?”
“Okay,” she said.
I gave her a lime and an orange. It looked a little silly, since the oranges I’d cut earlier were enormous, and the limes were tiny. I stuck in two cocktail straws and frisbeed a coaster down in front of her.
“Double Absolut Mandarin and Red Bull,” I said. “There isn’t really that much Red Bull in there, so I won’t charge you for it.” Not to mention that the can of Red Bull was still open from last night.
“Thanks,” she said. She stared at the drink for a second with her hands in her lap. Then she lowered her face to the glass, caught the tips of the little straws with her lips, and drank the entire thing in one noisy pull. Her eyes crossed a little at the end. She leaned back and smiled. The fruit was still sitting there on the rim.
“Get you another one?” I said.
“Okay,” she said.
She nodded. “You can charge me for the Red Bull this time,” she said.
I made the drink and this time I didn’t touch the tips of the straws with my fingers.
“Feel like taking a look at a food menu?” I said.
“Okay,” she said.
I put down a dinner menu. When I glanced at her again she hadn’t opened the menu or touched her drink and she was staring straight ahead with the same screen-saver look on her face.
I washed her first glass and set it to dry. I re-iced the fruit caddy. I tidied some coasters. I glanced at my phone. I opened the keg fridge and stuck my hand in to feel the temperature. I remembered that McIlhaney wanted me to push the Daily Special.
“I should mention that we do have a special today,” I said. “It’s chicken and dumpling soup. They make it fresh in-house.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay?” I said.
“Sure,” she said.
“Sure, as in, you want it?”
“Yes,” she said.
So I shut the cash drawer and went to go find Arsenio in the parking lot.
There was obviously something wrong with her. She didn’t have a book or a magazine, and she didn’t have her phone out, and she wasn’t watching Triple G above the bar. She wasn’t looking at me or trying to make conversation. She’d eaten her first bowl of soup and then ordered a second one. Or, not ordered it, exactly. I’d asked her if she wanted another one, and she said “Okay.” But she hadn’t touched the second soup and she’d barely touched the second drink, and now she was staring straight ahead.
According to rumor, this was the kind of situation that could result in the two of us having sex in the break room. Logan had done it. Brian had done it. Kayla had done it a number of times. I’d actually witnessed Noel doing it. For a while, he and I overlapped on Thursdays and Fridays—I’d work mid, and he’d come in at five to close. We’d double up for the dinner rush, such as it was.
I liked Noel. He had a tattoo gun and he’d been practicing on grapefruits. When his linework got a little better he was going to do a piece on my arm. We’d been sketching it out on bar napkins in the back. On Thursdays and Fridays we would inaugurate our overlapping shift by doing a Car Bomb in the back, and we’d take turns hitting his weed pen under the bar and exhaling into the beer fridge.
Then a certain girl started showing up on Fridays around five. Noel would serve her. She drank house vodka with Sprite and cherry juice, and he’d put five or six cherries on top. The bar would be covered in cherry stems. She had terrible teeth. One day Noel made her one with so many cherries I thought it was a joke, but then he whispered to me that he needed five and the two of them disappeared together.
When Noel came back he asked me to cover his closing shift. He put her drinks on the spill tab and the two of them left together.
After that it became a challenge to work with Noel. He was staying with the cherry girl and back on junk. He forgot drinks, yelled at the servers, and messed up to-go orders. He’d stand in front of the POS screen shrugging his shoulders and twitching his fingers, taking off and putting on his glasses, and hitting the wrong buttons on the screen. Then the system would time out and he’d have to start over. His handwriting was indecipherable. He’d make himself this drink out of all the different fruit juices we had, plus grenadine, sprite, and cherries, and then he’d forget about it and make himself another one, until there were four or five of these sticky drinks sitting around behind the bar. Then he’d go to the staff bathroom and nod off and I’d have to send one of the servers to bang on the door and wake him up. Car Bombs were out of the question. Meanwhile it took me twice as long to do everything I needed to do because he was always on the computer or standing in the well, getting the tickets wet. The worst part was, he got defensive with me. He took everything as a criticism.
Finally I made up my mind: the next time he showed up like that, I’d cut him. I’d work the double myself and if he had a problem with it he could take it up with McIlhaney.
I never had to do that, because several of the regulars had already taken it up with McIlhaney. That Thursday Kayla was on the schedule instead of Noel and I never saw him again after that, except one time when I was driving and I saw him walking down the sidewalk in a sweater and jeans. It was almost ninety degrees out. I slowed down, and when he noticed me he veered off across a lawn and disappeared. To which I say: fuck you, Noel. What did I ever do to you?
Anyway, I’d never done it. Had sex in the break room. It wasn’t that I had a moral objection. I just don’t end up in situations like that. I’m shy. I respect a person’s right to go to the bar alone and not get bugged. I used to spend a lot of time that way myself. I’ll even go out of my way to defend a person like this from other customers who try to talk to them or, god forbid, ask what they’re reading.
Plus, with the cameras, we’re doing a lot less drinking with the customers lately.
So I shuffled around for a while doing little bartenderly tasks while she stared at the vodkas. Sometimes she moved her lips. I turned up the volume on the stereo two clicks and observed her reaction, then I turned it back down. I don’t know if it’s fair to say this, since I don’t know much about it, but I wondered if maybe she’d gone into some kind of anorexic trance. I was loading five dollars’ worth of dimes into a paper tube and watching her in the bar mirror when she suddenly looked right into my eyes. I blinked and turned around.
“Would you eat that?” she said.
“The soup?” I said.
“No. The bug.”
I followed her eyes up to the TV behind the bar.
“Oh, god,” I said. “I’m sorry.” It was an up-close shot of Bear Grylls getting ready to eat a giant bug. He bit into the head and the other end exploded toward the camera. I spun around looking for the remote.
“No, it’s okay,” she said. “You can leave it.”
“Well, still,” I said. I found the remote. It felt light. I remembered that I’d moved the batteries into the other remote. The show went to commercial.
Both of us swiveled to see what was on the other TVs.
“How do you choose what to watch?” she said. “Or is it always the same?”
“It’s supposed to be sports,” I said. “But sometimes I’ll switch it up. I like food shows. They make people hungry.” I transferred the batteries to the correct remote.
“So would you eat it though?” she said. She picked up her spoon and lifted a dumpling out of the soup.
“Yeah,” she said. She let the soup drain off the side of her spoon.
“I’d eat a crunchy bug,” I said. “I wouldn’t eat a soft bug, though.”
“So, if this were a bug, you wouldn’t eat it?” She held up her dumpling.
“All else being equal,” I said, “No. But I have a theory.”
“A theory,” she said.
“You want to hear it?”
“Okay,” she said.
“My theory is that, if you’re starving to death, even a gross big soft bug would look delicious. For instance, I read that shipwrecked sailors get a craving for fish eyes because they contain some special vitamin that your body needs.”
“Sometimes,” she said, looking down at the dumpling. “Sometimes I’ll get this sudden craving for a big, crisp, wet piece of lettuce. And you know what it is?”
She looked directly into my eyes.
“What?” I said.
“It’s that I’m thirsty,” she said.
The guide screen timed out and it went back to Bear Grylls.
“Here,” I said. I put the remote down in front of her. “It’s all yours.”
“Lord, no,” she said. “That’s too much responsibility.” She pushed it back toward me with her fingernail. She had what I believe is called a French manicure.
“I can’t even decide what to drink,” she said.
“You seemed confident about the first one,” I said.
“It was an almost completely random decision,” she said. “Actually, it was this.” She tapped the lid of the fruit caddy with the white tip of her fingernail. Sure enough, there was sticker for Absolut Mandarin: the orange peel wrapped around the vodka bottle. I’d probably looked at it ten thousand times.
“And that,” she said. She pointed at the wall behind me. It took a second, then I spotted it: our Red Bull clock.
“I’ll tell my boss,” I said. “He’ll be over the moon. He’s big on advertising.” The clock read five PM exactly. “Excuse me,” I said, and I went around to the other side of the doorjamb where the light switches were. I lowered the dimmer to the second Sharpie mark.
“Woah,” she said when I came back around the bar.
“I know,” I said. I felt a pang of gratitude for McIlhaney. Say what you will about him, he understood the importance of mood lighting.
I asked her to watch the bar for me while I ran to the kitchen, though I actually went to the staff bathroom. When I came back, she had an announcement.
“I’d like to buy a shot,” she said. “For both of us.”
“Thank you,” I said. “What are we drinking?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “I thought you decided. I don’t really know how this works.”
“It works however you want it to,” I said. “If there’s something in particular you like, I can pour that. Or I can mix something. Or, uh, if there’s a certain advertisement that catches your eye.” We looked around the bar together.
“Jägermeister,” she said. We had a Jägermeister Shot Ski above the clock. “And…” She looked down at the fruit caddy, then at the tip jar. “Lucky Day,” she said.
“Jägermeister and Lucky Day?” I said. “Lucky Day Peach IPA?”
“Okay,” I said. “You got it. You know, if we add cranberry, it’s kind of like a Red-Headed Slut. But as a bomb. A slutbomb.”
“I don’t like that word,” she said.
“Right,” I said. “Sorry. Me neither.” I made the drinks and set hers on the bar.
“Where are yours?” she said.
“I have to do mine in back,” I said. I pointed my thumb at the little white camera mounted over the register.
“Oh,” she said. She looked up at the camera, then back at the drinks. “Can I do mine in back too?”
I had her take her drinks and meet me. We shuffled into the little hallway between the wall and the beer fridge and I opened both fridge doors so we were hidden from the hallway. She looked tiny, haloed in condensation and bathed in white fluorescent light.
“You just drop it in,” I said. “And drink.”
“Why the cameras?” she said. She was back on her side of the bar.
“We keep getting robbed.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks,” I said. “It’s not my money. But it sucks for the bar. And it’s a pain in the ass. Especially the camera thing.”
“Hmm,” I said. I’d tried to articulate this in the past. “It affects my ability to provide a certain kind of hospitality,” I said.
“You mean, like, drinking at the bar?”
“Sure, that’s part of it,” I said. “It’s complicated.”
“Okay,” she said.
“There’s nuance to it.”
“I believe you,” she said.
“Plus we keep less cash in the drawer now, so I’m always running out of small bills. And every night I have to search the building to see if someone’s hiding. I don’t know. I guess if I ran a bar I’d do the same thing. But it’s still a pain.”
“What happened when you got robbed?” she said. “Was it, like, a stick-up?”
“No, no,” I said. “They came in in the middle of the night. No one was here. And they got into the drawer and took all the cash.
“How’d they get inside?”
“We don’t know, actually. It looks like they had a key. And the code for the computer. As a matter of fact, they used my punch code. We each have our own. So, uh, there was some discussion about me being a little more discrete when I punch it in.”
“Six-seven-six-seven,” she said.
I stared at her. She lowered her mouth to her straws and took a sip.
“I wasn’t even trying to see,” she said.
“Well, forget it, okay?” I said. I’d have to tell McIlhaney. He would not be pleased.
“Do you have a gun?” she said.
“For protection. Like, a sawed-off shotgun?”
“Or a baseball bat?”
I reached up on top of the paper towel dispenser. “I have this,” I said. I handed it to her. It was an old tap handle shaped like a shark, with athletic tape wrapped around the tail.
“Woah,” she said. She banged it against the bartop, then tapped it gently against the rim of her glass.
“Have you ever had to use it?” she said.
“Negative,” I said. “It’s not really that violent a bar.”
Either the soups or the drinks were getting through to her. She’d developed a little color.
“I like your coat,” I said. She’d put it back on after we did the shot in the fridge. At first I thought she was leaving. McIlhaney gets on my case about the temperature in here.
“Thanks,” she said. “I bought it today.”
“I thought so, too.”
She stood up and did a slow spin, belted it and unbelted it, then popped the collar and wrapped it tight before sitting back down.
“I won the lottery,” she said.
“The coat lottery?”
“No,” she said. “The real lottery. The state lottery.”
Her cheeks turned pink.
“What’d you win?” I said. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
“I don’t mind,” she said. “I won two-point-two million dollars.”
“Shut the fuck up,” I said.
“That’s not true,” I said.
“It is true.”
“Before taxes,” she said.
I leaned back against the keg fridge. I crossed my arms. I stared at her. She tucked her face into her collar.
“You’re serious,” I said.
She nodded. “Last week,” she said.
“What are you going to do?” I said.
“Well, I bought the coat,” she said. “And now I’m going to hire a lawyer. And a CPA.”
“Are you going to do the thing where you take it all at once?” I said. “Or, like, a stipend for the rest of your life?”
She waved her hand in the air.
“Whatever they tell me to do,” she said.
“Are you going to quit your job?”
“Sort of,” she said. “I was in grad school. I decided not to go back.”
“Grad school for what?” I took a plastic cup from the top of the stack and poured myself a beer. Fuck the cameras. I don’t think McIlhaney watches them anyway, unless we get robbed.
“Economics,” she said.
She nodded. “But I hated it,” she said. “I’m glad to be done. I think it’s a sign.”
I snorted. “Hell of a sign,” I said. “Do you want me to have them heat that up for you?”
She shook her head. “It’s good the way it is,” she said.
“Let me buy you a drink to celebrate.”
“Well, I can probably buy it,” she said.
“You bought the last one.”
“If that’s how it works, then sure.” She pushed her soup bowl to the side.
I made us another Luckybomb. I would have done it right at the bar, except that I liked the idea of standing in the fridge with her again.
I woke up the next morning with a sick feeling in my chest. I turned on my phone. Sure enough, I had a text from McIlhaney.
It said: Call me when u get this.
“Fuck,” I said into my pillow.
I brushed my teeth and took a CBD gummy and right as I was about to call McIlhaney, he called me first.
“Whit,” he said. “It happened again.”
“Fuck,” I said.
“I need you to come in.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be there in—” I looked at my watch. “Fifteen.”
“Alright,” he said, and hung up.
“Shit,” I whispered. I took two more CBD gummies and put on my dark green Jameson t-shirt. McIlhaney would take this as a sign of respect.
When I biked into the back parking lot there were already two cop cars parked next to McIlhaney’s black Jetta. Arsenio was in the kitchen pre-frying wings.
“Mac pissed,” he said. We elbowed each other’s elbow.
“What’s he pissed about?” I said.
“You didn’t hear?”
“No, no, I heard,” I said.
Arsenio lifted the dripping fry basket and hung it from the rack above the fryer.
“Well, that’s what he’s pissed about. You trying to smoke?”
“I think I’m in trouble,” I said. “But possibly.”
“Alright,” he said. “Let me know.”
I stood in the hallway for a second to let my eyes adjust, then walked to the front. The cops were standing with McIlhaney at the corner of the bar looking down at a folder of papers. Next to them on the bar was the little white camera from above the doorway. It was plugged into the power strip.
One of the cops looked up at me, then back down at the bar. McIlhaney beckoned me over.
“Whit,” he said.
“How much money was in the drawer when you left last night?”
“Um.” I closed my eyes and tried to visualize the ticket slip where I’d done my math. “Four thirty-eight oh-seven,” I said. I exhaled and opened my eyes. McIlhaney was looking down at a graph-paper notebook.
“You sure?” he said.
“Who closed with you?”
“It was supposed to be Lizettte,” I said. “But I cut her early.”
He squinted at me. He didn’t like when I did that, but he was familiar enough with Lizette to understand. “How many envelopes were there?” he said.
I looked up. We kept our clock-out envelopes on the top shelf above the register, next to the champagne flutes. Servers and bartenders did one for every shift. Sometimes they just had receipts in them, and other times they were full of cash. McIlhaney was supposed to bring them to the bank every few days, but sometimes he let them pile up. Now the shelf was empty.
“There were a lot,” I said. “I had to move the flutes to make room.”
“Fuck,” McIlhaney said, and slapped his pen down on the notebook. He put his head in his hands. For a few seconds he stayed like that. Then he spoke through his fingers.
“He got us pretty good this time,” he said.
“Him?” I said.
“Yeah,” McIlhaney said.
“So you know who it is?”
“No,” McIlhaney said. “Do you?”
“No,” I said. “I dunno. You said ‘him,’ though.”
“What are you talking about?” McIlhaney said.
“Sorry,” I said. “You made it sound like you knew who it was.”
“Well, I don’t.”
“Did you, uh,” I said. I nodded my chin at the white camera sitting on the bar. “Could you see anything on the camera?”
“The horseshit goddamn batteries were dead,” McIlhaney said. “And, anyway, the lights were off when I got in. You know anything about that?”
I took a deep breath and exhaled through my nose.
“Yes, boss,” I said. “I’m really sorry.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter,” McIlhaney said. “I ordered new ones that work in the dark. And that you don’t have to recharge every fucking day. And they’re changing the locks this afternoon. Fuck. I’m sorry. I need a smoke.”
“Mac,” I said. “It’s, uh. It’s possible a customer saw my punch-in code again.”
McIlhaney patted his cargo pockets, then his hip pockets. “That’s not good, Whit,” he said. “We’ve talked about this. You’ll have to change it again. In any case—” He leaned across the bar and took a pack of matches from the caddy. He turned to face me. “It wasn’t your code this time,” he said. “He used Kayla’s. I need all of you”—he looked around the room, as though all the other bartenders and servers and cooks were here listening to him—“to be more careful.”
By the weekend I felt better. McIlhaney hadn’t been lying about the batteries in the camera. He wasn’t laying some complex trap. He wasn’t going to magically recover the footage. Even if he had seen it, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. I’d done a few shots in the back, drank a few beers in the front, watched the wrong TV, and spent some time conversating with my new friend at the bar. Cady, spelled just like that. Cady had paid and left and I’d smoked some pot in the fridge and finished the Triple G marathon and done my closing duties and left.
I’d gotten away with a fast and loose shift, that was all. Possibly I’d aided and abetted in a robbery, though this theory seemed unlikely. In any case, with the new locks and cameras, the threat had passed. We were still expected to search the building at the end of every closing shift, and we still kept less cash in the drawer, and McIlhaney was doing a better job of taking the envelopes to the bank two or three times a week, but otherwise life proceeded as normal.
Monday lunch I got a huge call-in order from the Fire Department, four hundred wings for two different stations. They were doing a mixer or something. Arsenio was all by himself back there. We would have called in McIlhaney to help, which is what we’re supposed to do when an order like that comes in, but we had gotten too high in the parking lot. So I locked the front door and went back to help. We got the order out just in time. The firemen tipped me a hundred bucks and I gave half to Arsenio and he brought me a basket of Suicide wings and I brought him a shot of Cuervo Gold.
Tuesday I worked the double and we had a little accident with a regular named Dean. Dean got drunk and spilled his colonoscopy bag all down his pants. The golf guys noticed it first. They all stood up. I had to escort Dean out the side door and relocate the golf guys to the pool room and then I locked the front door and called McIlhaney. I told him we had a public health emergency and that we needed to close the bar. But McIlhaney just had me bring the barstool out to the dumpster. I comped a round for the golf guys and got them out of there so I could air everything out. Then I comped a round for myself and Lizette, who is a germaphobe. This situation had clearly rattled her.
Wednesday I had off. I went fishing.
Thursday Dean returned. He was already drunk. He sat down at the bar, shook out a cigarette, and lit it right there in front of me. I had to eighty-six him once and for all. I felt bad about it, since he has a dent in his skull from Vietnam and since he’s been eighty-sixed from every other bar in town, but enough’s enough. I could be personally slapped with a fine for the indoor smoking if someone reported it to DOH. I made a note to the other bartenders and left it taped to the computer screen. This is our grapevine.
Friday and Saturday we were slammed. I put on my game face. I checked IDs, held credit cards, rang in upsells, mixed shots, pushed the specials, and kept those TVs locked to ESPN. I worked my ass off and I made a ton of money.
Sunday and Monday I rested.
On Tuesday, she returned.
“Well, shit,” I said when she sat down in front of the fruit caddy. “Cady.” I frisbeed down a coaster. “Luckymeister?”
“Hi again,” she said. “Maybe something different.”
I stepped aside and gestured at all the advertising behind the bar. “Whatever catches your eye,” I said.
“Well,” she said. “How about a Guinness?”
I looked down at my shirt.
“Excellent choice,” I said.
I poured the first half and left it to settle.
“I figured you’d be in Aruba by now,” I said.
“Actually, I’ve mostly been here,” she said.
“I came in last week,” she said. “But you weren’t working. Then I came again on Saturday. You were working, but there weren’t any seats at the bar. So I sat at a booth.”
“Damn,” I said. I finished the beer and put it down in front of her. “I had no idea. I would have come said hi.”
“That’s okay,” she said. “I had a nice waitress.”
“That’s impossible,” I said. “Who was it?”
“I don’t know. She had dark hair, I think. And freckles.”
“Super OCD? Mean? Big ass? Used a pink pen?”
“She had a pink pen, yes.”
“Lizette,” I said. “You made it out alive. Others haven’t been so lucky.”
“Well, I thought she was nice,” Cady said.
The golf guys were getting up from their high top and I excused myself to see them out.
“Let me ask you a question,” I said when I returned. I leaned in close. She had a little mustache of Guinness foam. I glanced down the bar. My other customer was wiping his hands with a moist towelette.
“Did you come back in the middle of the night last Tuesday and rob us?”
“What?” she said.
“Did you rob us?” I said. “Was it you? Be honest.”
“No,” she said. “Why would I rob you?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess you wouldn’t.”
“I didn’t,” she said. “I swear.”
“Do you know who did it?”
She shook her head slowly. “Why are you asking me this?” she said.
“Sorry,” I said. “We got robbed again, the night you came in. And you knew all the details. And you knew my punch code. Maybe you knew Kayla’s, too. But I don’t think you did it anymore.” I rubbed my eyes.
“I’m confused,” she said. “Are you being serious?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe a little bit, yeah.”
She stared at me.
“I don’t actually think you did it,” I said.
“Obviously not,” she said.
“But I guess it was a possibility,” I said. “I allowed myself to consider it, that’s all.”
“I don’t like that,” she said. “I feel attacked.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean it. It was just a thought experiment.”
She avoided my eyes. She checked the Red Bull clock behind me, then watched a little TV. Then she slid her empty Guinness glass toward me with her fingernail. Her nails were green.
“When you have a chance, I would please like another one of these,” she said.
“I’d love to,” I said. “My treat.”
I did my best to pour a perfect Guinness. I came close.
“You didn’t actually win the lottery,” I said when I put down the beer.
“Oh, no,” she said. “I did. You can Google it.”
“I thought it might have been a ruse,” I said.
“What ruse? Why would I need a ruse?”
I looked up at the camera, which was bulkier now and blinked every thirty seconds. When the charge got low, it blinked every fifteen seconds.
“In order to rob us,” I said. “I know it doesn’t make any sense.”
She took a sip of her Guinness and got a new little mustache.
“It doesn’t,” she said, “and if you’re going to be mad at me, then I’m going to be mad at you. That’s just how I am.”
“I’m not mad,” I said. “I misattributed some emotions. But they’re cleared up now.”
“I hope so,” she said.
I bussed the wing basket from the end of the bar. When I came back Cady had a manila folder in front of her.
“What’s that?” I said.
“It’s my résumé.”
“I would like to apply for a job.”
“Yes,” she said. She slid the folder toward me.
I looked down at it but didn’t open it. “You want to work here?” I said. “Why?”
“I just do,” she said.
“You’re already rich,” I said.
“I don’t see why that should change anything,” she said.
I opened the folder in front of me. Inside was a real résumé, formatted, watermarked. It had her name at the top and an address in the University District.
“NYU,” I said. “Nice.”
“Are you the one who reads résumés?” she said.
“Hm,” I said. “What? No.”
She reached over and closed the folder. “Then quit being nosy,” she said.
I stared at her. “You’re serious?”
She nodded. “I get terrible anxiety when I have nothing to do,” she said. “I have nightmares. I can’t sleep. I have to take too much Xanax and then I’m a zombie. I need something. And I like it here. It’s quiet and everyone seems relatively happy. Plus it seems like good exercise. Being on your feet the whole time.”
She looked dead into my eyes, her hand on the folder between us. “I’m a hard worker,” she said. “And I have good references.”
I met her gaze. Then I laughed. “Most people who apply for jobs here don’t even have a résumé,” I said. “They just fill out one of these.” I tore out a one-page application from the booklet behind the computer. I took the pen from behind my ear and placed it in front of her. “You ever worked in a restaurant before?”
“Actually, yes,” she said. “I was a hostess. When I was sixteen. It was at a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard. My parents made me do it as punishment. But I enjoyed it, and I was so good they begged me to come back. But we sold our house on the Vineyard, so.”
She had already started filling out the application. She had small tight handwriting.
“Punishment for what?” I said.
“Punishment,” I said. “Your parents. What for?”
“For robbing a bar,” she said, without looking up.
When she got to the bottom of the first page she paused. I was down the bar, but I was watching and came over. That’s about fifty percent of my job.
“How hard it is to be a bartender?” she said.
“Very difficult,” I said. “And they only hire guys.”
“What about the woman who was bartending last Wednesday?”
“Kayla?” I said. “She’s like a guy. And she’s mean as a rattlesnake. I don’t know. I’m not saying I agree with it. Lizette has been trying to get bar shifts for years, but she’s nuts. Apply for whatever you want.”
“How about cook”? she said.
“How’s your Spanish?”
“I studied French,” she said.
We stared at each other.
“Server it is,” she said. “For now.”
McIlhaney dropped by when I had zero sports on TV and a Dead show on the stereo and all the doors and windows wide open. And not just any Dead. They were in the middle of “Dark Star” when he walked in, and it was fifty-eight degrees inside the bar, and McIlhaney was not in the mood. I earned myself a few extra days off, so I made lemonade out of the situation and loaded up the motorcycle with my tent and drugs and fishing gear and went off into the woods for a midweek vacation.
When I got back, Cady was on the schedule.
At first, we didn’t overlap. McIlhaney had put her on soft shifts, Sunday lunch, Monday and Tuesday dinners, and I was back on my normal Thursday through Saturday, plus my Tuesday lunch, which McIlhaney gives me with the expectation that I’ll use the downtime to clean out the keg fridges and organize the stockroom. The likelihood of that happening has been decreasing with time. Anyway, we weren’t scheduled together at all, and I didn’t hear anything from the other girls. Arsenio, though, told me that Cady was doing fine. She had the hang of the menu and the POS and she was friendly with the kitchen.
“She need to eat something, though,” he told me Tuesday morning in the parking lot.
“Mm-hm,” I said.
“She your sister?” he said. He passed me the joint.
“I said, is she your sister?”
“No. What? Not at all. Did someone say that?”
“Lizette,” he said. “Nah. I didn’t think so either. You two built different.”
“Lizette’s so fucking—ugh,” I said. “I don’t understand her.”
“Let me try your bike,” Arsenio said.
So I unlocked my bike and Arsenio rode it in figure eights around the parking lot. Pretty soon he was riding with no hands.
“Let me take it down the hill,” he said.
He was gone for a while. When he came back he was walking the bike.
“I don’t feel like working today,” he said.
When I got inside the bar phone was ringing. It was Kayla.
“Whit, baby,” she said. “What are you doing tonight?”
“You want to close for me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Why?”
Kayla had a busy life. For one thing, she had a young daughter. For another thing, although she wasn’t exactly a prostitute or an escort, a few times a month her sex life followed a schedule. Sometimes that schedule interfered with work. In exchange for covering her shifts on short notice, she let me use her cabin on the lake.
“Winnie’s sick,” she said. “It’s Dan’s week but he’s working today and I can’t get ahold of him. Pretty please?”
“Kayla,” I said. “You know I’ll do anything for you.”
“Ugh. I love you,” she said. “Buy yourself a Rumple and put it on my tab.”
“Already done,” I said. “Tell the kiddo to feel better, alright?”
“Muah,” she said. “Thank you.”
“I love you too,” I said, and hung up.
I was working the double, which meant I needed lunch, and it also meant I needed to de-fuddle my brain a little before three, when I would have to do some slightly complicated math to change over the drawer. I opened a Red Bull and put it on the spill tab. Then I went into the break room to update the schedule. In the bartender box I crossed out Kayla’s name and wrote in my own. In the server box, under “MID,” in McIlhaney’s terrible, deliberate handwriting, was Lizette’s name. Below that, under “CLOSE,” was Cady’s.
I got Arsenio to make me a double basket of wings so I wouldn’t have to bug the kitchen during dinner. I did my Rumple between the fridge doors and finished the Red Bull and then, while the bar was still mostly empty, I cut fruit and did the rest of the dishes. I made my stock list: cherries, regular Red Bull, simple syrup, pickle juice, Cab Sauv, house vodka, Jäger, beers. Ginger Ale syrup. Coasters, little straws, sugar packets, and plastic swords for Shirley Temples and Smurfs. The kitchen was eighty-sixed on mozzarella sticks and artichoke dip. Tonight’s special was a Pizzaburger with one side for $9.95. I checked my watch. The golf guys would show up at four for Happy Hour. Dart League was home tonight, so that meant the pool room was reserved at seven-thirty. Putting down the “RESERVED” signs and clearing the room would be Lizette’s problem. The winning team would get a free round of drinks, which generally meant something expensive and time-consuming: old-fashioneds, martinis. McIlhaney was losing money on Dart League. But he felt a responsibility for it, just like he did with the picking circle on Sunday nights and the Premier League watch parties in the winter. It was about atmosphere, and, as he liked to remind me, atmosphere isn’t an accident.
The truth is, I could bartend a Tuesday afternoon blindfolded. Lizette was ten minutes late and I gave her a look but my heart wasn’t in it. I’d taken a booth and already rang in their food but now I transferred everything over to Lizette. It was rightfully my tip, but it wasn’t worth coming out from behind the bar to check on them. Lizette knew it, but she still left me five bucks after they closed out. She wasn’t all bad.
Time passed. I had customers. Some of them asked where Kayla was. Ronny and Pete, my Thursday regulars, showed up and we did a shot. The new guy in the kitchen was a no-call no-show. Kegs arrived. I glazed over.
At five minutes to five Cady walked in. She greeted Lizette with a big hug and disappeared into the server area. I’d had a pit in my stomach all afternoon and now I remembered why.
When Cady reemerged, at five on the dot, she had on a bright pink work t-shirt. I’d forgotten we even had that color. Maybe it was the only child size we had left. She was actually pretty tall, but she was built like a wire coathanger. I could see her whole skeleton. She came straight to the well and took out her ticket book. She’d made a list.
“Okay,” she said. “We have Dart League at eight. I’ll put out the signs at seven-thirty. If you give me the remote I’ll change the TVs in the back, since they’re both on the Food Network. We’re eighty-sixed on mozz sticks and artichoke dip. The special is Pizzaburger with one side for $10.95.”
“Nine ninety-five,” I said.
“Uh-uh,” she said. “McIlhaney changed it. I also have a note that the Kölsch is kicked and we’re supposed to push the Farmhouse Ale instead. Is that still true?” She stuck her pen in her hair and put her ticket book in her butt pocket. She turned and scanned the room.
“You said Kölsch?” I said.
I took a plastic cup from the stack and pulled the tap handle. I felt the rumble of air in the line, but I was too late. It exploded in foam.
“Motherfucking lazy-ass amateurs,” I said, as I wiped beer out of my eyes. “Who bartended last night?”
“Logan,” Cady said.
“Figures,” I said. “I guess you’re going to tell me there isn’t a backup.”
“Keg delivery was today,” she said, “so, you tell me.” She turned back around to face me. She was smiling and chewing gum. “You’re saying you didn’t sell a single Kolsch today?” She blew a bubble, sealed it off, and popped it against the roof of her mouth. “What are we paying you for?”
I disconnected the empty keg.
“Watch the bar for me,” I said. “And please don’t push the Farmhouse Ale. I don’t care what anyone else says. It tastes like ass.”
Maybe Tuesday wasn’t such a dead zone after all. Dart League was popping. The free round worked, and they stuck with old-fashioneds for the rest of the night. The booths in the front room were stacked and I had a full house at the bar. I’m not sure what got into me, but after I cut Lizette, at the normal time, I called her into the break room, where I’d hidden two Car Bombs in the fridge.
“Are these clean?” she said, studying the rim of the pint glass.
“Jesus, Lizette,” I said. “I don’t know. Hurry.”
She reached over my shoulder for a clean bar towel. She wiped down the rim of the pint glass and then did the same to the shot glass.
“You’re nuts,” I said. “You know that, right?”
“Fuck you,” she said, and we drank.
At a quarter to two I rang the bell.
“Last call!” I shouted. “Last call, you idiots! Cady, did they hear me in the pool room?”
“They heard you everywhere,” she said.
“Well, make sure they did,” I said. “Let’s shut this bitch down.” I handed out ticket trays at the bar. “Let’s go, you degenerates. Let’s go, you knuckleheads.” My regulars had arrived in full force. “Wrap it up!” I shouted. “Let’s get a move-on! I got a drink coming on the house but you don’t get it until you settle up. Bob, that includes signing the ticket. Pete, so help me god!”
At two-fifteen I locked the door and killed the outside lights.
“Mother Mary and Joseph,” I said.
“Are you Catholic?” Cady said. She was sitting at the bar with her cash and receipts spread out in front of her, doing her envelope.
“What? No,” I said. “I’m just exhausted.”
I walked through the pool room to lock the emergency exit and discovered that it was already locked. The fans were off, the TVs and cable boxes were dark, and the thermostats were set to 73. She’d even erased the chalk boards where the dart players kept score and everyone else drew dicks.
I returned to the dining room to say something nice and found Cady smoking a cigarette at the bar.
“Woah,” I said. “What are you doing?”
“I’m waiting for you,” she said. “I finished my envelope.”
“Are you smoking at my bar?”
“Yes,” she said. She ashed into the secret glass ashtray I kept on top of the beer fridge.
“Who said you could do that?”
“Every other bartender,” she said. “And McIlhaney.”
Suddenly I felt very alone. “Let me have one,” I said.
“I don’t care.”
She handed me a cigarette.
“Who’s Noel?” she said.
She held up a bar napkin with a drawing of a rope and anchor.
“Where’d you get that?” I said.
“It was by the ashtray.”
I took the napkin from her, tore it in half, and threw it out.
“He was the bartender who trained me,” I said.
“What happened to him?”
“He had a substance management problem.”
“I see,” she said.
I switched from my bar playlist to Europe ’72 and turned off all the TVs except the one over the bar, which I switched to Treehouse Masters. Then I took Cady’s envelope and looked it over.
“Damn,” I said. “Is this all Dart League?”
“Some Dart League,” she said. “But I had other tables. Not bad, huh?”
She’d done over a thousand dollars in sales. I’d be lucky to do the same.
“Guess how much I made in tips?” she said.
“I’m afraid to ask.”
“Nice work,” I said.
“That’s your tipout,” she said.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said.
“I know,” she said. “But my tables drank a lot of old-fashioneds tonight. Those seem like a pain in the ass to make. And I appreciate it.”
“Well, thank you,” I said. I sealed her envelope and put it with the champagne flutes.
“What are you drinking?” I said.
“Tito’s soda lime,” she said.
“That’s new,” I said.
“And a shot,” she said. “Two ways.”
“Hell yeah,” I said. “What are you thinking?”
“Can you make a Pickle Dick?” she said.
“Can I make a Pickle Dick?” I said. “Sweetheart, I invented the Pickle Dick. I’ve been making Pickle Dicks since you were in diapers. Can I make a Pickle Dick? Shee-it.”
I got out the pickle juice and Tabasco.
“You know, I’m only two years younger than you,” she said. “And you’ve only worked here for a year.”
“Listen to you,” I said. I freepoured a little more than a shot of house tequila. McIlhaney hates when we freepour.
“Lizette’s been here four years,” she said. “Kayla’s been here three. One as a server and two as a bartender. Brian’s been here a year and a half, and you and Logan were both hired last August. McIlhaney started as a bartender and then moved to the kitchen and he bought the business in oh-eight. As for the kitchen, Arsenio’s been here three years, and—”
“Alright, alright,” I said. “I have a general sense of the personnel. You can stay where you are, but I have to do mine in back. I’m still on the clock.”
“I’ll come with you,” she said.
She met me between the fridge doors.
“Cheers,” she said. “To a successful shift.”
“To Dart League,” I said. “You killed it.”
I wondered if it was wise, generous Kayla who taught her to drink, or slow, kind Brian. Anyone but Logan.
“You don’t mind if I hang out, do you?” she said.
“Not at all,” I said. “But fair warning: I can’t count and talk at the same time.”
“Whatever you need to do,” she said. “Don’t mind me.”
“I’ll try not to,” I said. I stacked the rubbers in a bus tray and plugged up the tap nozzles and wiped down the bar. I put little rubber hats on the rail liquors and stacked the fruit caddies in the fridge.
“Okay,” I said. “All the sports teams named after birds. Go.” I tidied the straws and coasters and lined up all the condiments.
“I don’t really know sports,” she said.
“Give it a shot.”
I went to the back and filled two buckets with ice.
“Eagles?” she said when I returned.
“That’s one,” I said. “Eleven to go.”
“I really don’t know sports,” she said. “Orioles?”
“Nice,” I said. “People forget that one.”
“Give me something different,” she said.
“All the sports teams whose names are singular,” I said. “Go.”
“Oh, come on,” she said.
“I’ll give you an example,” I said. “The Miami Heat.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know enough sports teams.”
I cleaned the soda gun and the Guinness tap and soaked the parts in a shaker full of soda water and lemons. I arranged the glassware on clean rubbers up against the mirror. I dragged the garbage bins to the hallway and tied off the bags.
“I’ll be back,” I said. “In the meantime, name all four oceans and all seven seas.”
When I went to get the rolling bin for the floor mats I discovered that the kitchen door was unlocked. The parking lot was empty except for my bike and Cady’s Grand Cherokee. I stared into the dark for a few seconds, then shut the door and locked it behind me.
“Oceans,” she said when I returned. “Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic. But I’m pretty sure there’s also an Antarctic Ocean. Are you sure about it’s four?”
“I’m actually not sure,” I said. I collected my credit card receipts and stapled them together. “We used to do trivia here, and I think this one was controversial.”
“Well,” she said, “I can think of at least seven seas. I have the Caspian Sea. Dead Sea. Mediterranean Sea.”
“I believe the Caspian Sea is actually a lake,” I said. I had a little room left on my spill tab for the night, so I put the Tito’s on there, plus the house tequila.
“Well, it’s in the name,” she said. “So I’m counting it. Then there’s the South China Sea,” she said. “And, um. Oh yeah—the Red Sea.”
I added another tequila to the spill tab, then closed it out and signed the ticket. McIlhaney wouldn’t notice, and if he did, I’d tell him it was Ronny’s birthday. Ronny was always having birthdays.
“Alright,” I said. “Now’s the part when I can’t talk for a while.”
I counted and recounted the drawer. It was dead on. I took pride in this aspect of my work.
When Cady came back from the bathroom I had two more Pickle Dicks on the bar.
“Are we doing these out here?” she said.
“I’m clocked out,” I said.
“Don’t I have to settle up still?”
“Already done,” I said.
She scowled at me. “Next time,” she said, “I don’t want you to do that. I can pay. I like to support the bar.”
“Trust me,” I said. “You’re doing more than most. Plus, I don’t believe you actually won the lottery.”
“Google it,” she said.
“I tried,” I said. “Cheers.”
She did her shot and screwed up her face. “Jesus,” she said. “How much Tabasco did you put in there?”
“A lot,” I said. I removed the plug from the Lucky’s tap. It’s difficult to get a precise inventory of draft beer, and for the most part McIlhaney doesn’t even try.
“So what are you doing with the money?” I said. “You make any big purchases yet?”
“Mm,” she said. “Brace yourself.”
I put down my beer and gripped the edge of the bar with both hands.
“Index funds,” she said.
“You don’t want to know,” she said. “It’s a kind of diversified investment. It tracks the market. It’s boring. But it’s safe and smart. And I have a little set aside to play with if I want. I’m thinking of buying myself a nice bicycle.”
“I want to make fun of you,” I said. “I really do.”
“The truth is,” she said, “it’s not actually that much money. I mean, it’s a lot of cash, if you think of it that way. But half of it goes to taxes. So call it a million dollars. I invest it, and say I make five percent a year in interest, generously. How much of that do I want to draw off and how much do I want to reinvest?” She was writing numbers in her ticket book. “This is the thought experiment,” she said. “One percent of a million is…”
“A hundred Gs,” I said.
Her eyes flickered up at me.
“Ten thousand dollars,” she said. “So here’s the question. Would you rather draw off ten grand a year and let the other four percent compound? In the long run, that lets the money grow fastest. But you can’t really live on ten grand. So you still have to work. Or, do you take twenty grand, and let three percent compound? You still have to work, but call it part-time. Or, a regular job but with a lot of spending money. Now, I can live off thirty grand. I’ve done it before. But that’s only reinvesting two percent…”
She was drawing some kind of graph.
“Or do you take fifty grand a year, live off it, but your capital never grows, because you’re never reinvesting anything?”
“Or do you spend it all on thirty acres on a trout river in Montana?” I said. “Or a beach in Aruba?”
“Now, see, that’s a whole different question,” she said. “Land is actually a terrific investment.”
She stared down at her ticket book, then scribbled out the graph, tore off the page, and threw it over the bar. It landed where the trash can used to be.
“Sorry,” she said.
“That’s okay,” I said. I picked up the crumpled ticket and put it in my pocket. “This all sounds like a good problem to have.”
“Certainly,” she said. She was staring down at her purse, in which, I could see, she’d neatly folded and rubber-banded her cash.
“Hey,” I said. “You want to help me with something?”
“Sure. What is it?”
I got down the tap handle from above the paper towel dispenser.
“It’s time to check for bad guys,” I said. I went to the cupboard and rooted around. I found a heavy old Guinness handle.
“Et voilà,” I said.
“What do we do?” she said.
“We arm ourselves to the teeth,” I said, “and then we go check all the creepy little nooks and crannies to make sure no one’s hiding in there. That’s how they think he’s been doing it.”
“Who? The robber?”
“Yup. What with the locks not being messed with, since McIlhaney has the only key. And I know I locked up last time. The cops think he comes in before closing and hides somewhere and waits until everyone leaves. And then he emerges in the dark and clocks in using someone else’s code and opens the drawer that way.”
“Jesus,” she said. “That’s terrifying. Weren’t you the one—”
“Yup,” I said. “Both times. Which means he was hiding out somewhere in the building the whole time I was closing. In fact—” I put down my Guinness handle and poured myself another half beer. “It’s possible he was hiding in here that first night you came in.”
“Fuck,” she said. “That’s spooky.”
We were quiet.
Then she said, “Three-four-eight-nine.”
“What?” I said. “Oh, god—seriously?”
She nodded. “You really do a terrible job of hiding it,” she said.
I scowled at her. “Just don’t tell anyone, alright?” I said.
“You know, I talked to him,” she said.
“Mm-hm. He’s going to give me a bar shift next week.”
“Well, a training shift.”
“No shit,” I said. “That’s awesome.”
“Well, now I’m a little scared,” she said.
“No, no, don’t be,” I said. “That’s really exciting. Do you know who you’re training with?”
“I don’t mean about the shift,” she said. “I can handle that. I mean about closing at night with a potential robber.”
“Well, you’ll be with Kayla or me,” I said. “For training at least. Either way, you won’t be alone.”
“That makes me feel better,” she said.
“Did Mac say anything else?”
She shook her head again. “Only that I was doing a good job and that he wasn’t planning on taking me off the floor, just that it would be helpful to have someone else who knew how to do the drawer and stuff. Like, as a backup.”
“Maybe he’s going to fire Logan,” I said. “It’s about time. Either way, congratulations. That’s awesome. He’s a tough guy to please.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m excited about it.”
Her glass was empty.
“You know what?” I said. “Come on back here and fix yourself a drink. You can make me one too.”
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“Oh, come on,” I said. “I’ll show you how.”
She looked up at the camera.
“Not yet,” she said. I don’t want to get in trouble. Plus, we can’t ring in drinks anymore, right? Since you closed the computer?”
“Well, sort of,” I said. “It’s complicated.” I poured two bourbons. The soda gun was broken down so I took the drinks into the break room and filled them from the fountain.
“This is not how you’re supposed to do it,” I said. I wrote down a note on her ticket book and tore it off and put it in my pocket. “But since inventory isn’t until Sunday, and since I’m working again on Thursday, I’m going to go ahead and ring these in on my next shift.”
“Well, let me pay you for them now,” she said.
“You can pay me next time we work together,” I said.
“Alright,” she said. “But I’m going to pay for them.”
“Sure,” I said. “So. Should we do this thing?” I held up my drink and my tap handle.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s do it.” She put out her cigarette and got up off her stool. She tightened her ponytail and brushed off the butt of her jeans. God, she wouldn’t be much help in a fight. She picked up the shark handle in her left hand, then switched it to her right.
“What do we do if we find someone?” she said.
“Hit him as hard as you can in the head,” I said. “And then we subdue him. And call the cops. Or, call McIlhaney, probably. Let him figure out what to do.”
“How do you subdue somebody?”
“We, uh.” I looked around the bar. There was a string of Christmas lights over the door. There was an extension cord running from the wall to the far cable box. I knew they had a roll of duct tape somewhere in the kitchen. I wasn’t wearing a belt. “I don’t know,” I said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“I have some rope in my car,” she said.
I beamed at her. “Perfect,” I said.
First we checked the pool room. I looked under the pool table, and double checked that the emergency door was locked. There was no one in the little dart board annex, and no one hiding in the décor closet where Lizette kept the St. Pat’s banners and Christmas tinsel and fake spiderwebs.
“Hey,” she said. “How many seas did we have?”
“I think you had five.”
She held up seven fingers. “Caspian,” she said, lowering her thumb. “Mediterranean. Red. Dead. I know I had another one.”
“I don’t want to say,” I said, “because I know them all.”
“I’ll think of it,” she said.
We checked the server station. We checked the cupboard under the computer where they keep the “RESERVED” signs and chalk for the draft list. We checked under the tables in the booths.
“Front rooms, clear,” I said.
We checked the mop room, which always gave me the creeps. We checked the men’s room and the stall, in case he was standing on the toilet seat, and then the women’s room, and we checked under the sink, though there was no way anyone could fit in there. We checked the hall closet where McIlhaney keeps the vacuum and the Raid and the extra garbage bags.
“This feels like that scene in Jurassic Park,” she said when we got to the kitchen. “You know the one? With the velociraptors in the kitchen?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “You’re exactly right.” We walked between the stainless countertops, tap handles raised.
“That’s what I’d do if I won the lottery,” I said. “I’d start a Jurassic Park.”
“Ooh,” she said. “Jurassic Park, but make it chic. And sustainable. Like a farm.”
“A farm with a restaurant,” I said. “Small and expensive, with good beers. And everything comes from the park.”
“And a little bar and reading room,” she said. “With old tables and lamps. And books about archaeology.”
“I like it,” I said. “Can I be the bartender?” I checked under the big double sink in the back.
“Sure,” she said. “You can be the other bartender.” She leaned over the fryolator and looked down into the oil. “How often do they change this?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “See anything in there?”
She looked at her reflection.
“No,” she said. “What’s next?”
I held up the ring of keys. “Stock room.” I unlocked the door. “It is our job,” I said, “as bartenders, to keep this room organized. Certain people here forget that.” All around us were liquor bottles and cases of wine. There was nowhere for a bad guy to hide.
“South China!” she said.
I closed the stockroom door and locked it behind us.
“What’s in there?” she said.
“That’s Mac’s office. I don’t have a key. That’s where he keeps the paperwork, payroll, that kind of thing. T-shirts. Not our responsibility.”
“The light’s on inside,” she said.
“Not our responsibility,” I said.
We checked under the main workstations, behind the potato peeler, behind the cases of tomato sauce and Frank’s Red Hot.
“Can you check the staff bathroom?” I said.
“We have a staff bathroom?”
“We do,” I said. “It’s gross.”
“None of the servers use it, that I know of,” she said.
“It’s mostly for shitting,” I said. “And blow.”
“If I scream,” she said, “come save me.”
She went in and came back out. “Woof,” she said.
“Now we check the freezer,” I said. “If he’s hiding in there, he’s probably dead.”
The freezer was tiny, just big enough for one person to stand inside. “Careful,” I said. “It’s just like in the urban legends. If you close the door from the inside, you can’t open it again.”
“Really?” she said.
I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. I pounded on the door. She opened it. “Don’t scare me,” she said.
“I come in here to cool off,” I said. “The air is really dry. So if you’re sweaty during a shift, this is the place to go.”
Cady shivered. “I have the opposite problem,” she said. “Oh! What about Baltic?”
“That’s six,” I said. “You want to wait out here while I check the walk-in?”
“What’s the walk-in?”
“It’s a giant refrigerator,” I said. “It’s where we keep kegs. And produce, and chicken wings. And milk. That’s good for you to know. If a kid wants a glass of milk or something.”
“Well, show me,” she said.
“There’s no light,” I said. “Do you have your phone?”
She turned on the flashlight on her phone and held it up in front of us.
“Right this way,” I said.
I opened the door to the walk-in.
“Oh, my god,” Cady said. She took a step back.
“Shine it,” I said. “Shine it!” I held up my Guinness handle.
In the glow of her phone flashlight was a pair of legs.
“What do we do?”
“Keep shining it,” I said. I took a step forward, holding the Guinness handle ahead of me.
Noel was lying on a sack of onions with his eyes closed. His lips were blue.
“Should we hit him?” Cady said. Her voice was about an inch from my ear.
“No,” I said. I lowered my tap handle. “We should probably call an ambulance.”
Cady turned off her flashlight. “Is he dead?” she said.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “This is Noel. He’s the guy I told you about. He trained me.” I nudged Noel’s foot with my own.
“Do you want me to get the rope?”
“I don’t think so.”
e watched Noel breathe for a few seconds. He’d passed out with one sleeve up. His linework had come a long way.
“He’s ODing,” she said.
Cady dialed 911 on her phone. I could hear the dispatcher on the other end. Cady told the woman the address of the bar and said there was a former employee unconscious in the walk-in refrigerator, breathing very slowly. She asked them to send an ambulance. She didn’t mention anything about a robbery.
Then she handed the phone to me. She’d pulled up McIlhaney’s number.
“You should probably call,” she said.
I put the phone to my ear. McIlhaney always picked up, even at three or four in the morning.
There was warm air and light behind us, cold air and darkness in front of us. Condensation rolled past our ankles. Noel breathed very slowly on the ground. And our arms—I could see it happening in my peripheral vision. They rose on their own, like when you were a kid and you pressed them into a doorjamb for sixty seconds, then stepped forward, and your arms lifted like magic beside you.
Our hands met in the middle.
“Caribbean,” she whispered, and I nodded.
We could both hear the ringer. We waited for McIlhaney to pick up.
Dwight Livingstone Curtis received his MFA in fiction from the University of Montana. His stories have appeared in Breakwater Review, Chaleur, The Molotov Cocktail, Shark Reef, Pangyrus, Yolk Magazine, Explosion-Proof Magazine, Tuesday Magazine, Orvis News, and The Harvard Advocate. He lives in Missoula, MT.