The Pub Aftermath, Chapter 6
Glasses and bottles clinked in the background as bartenders set up their stations for a busy lunch service at The Lobster Pot. It was a familiar scene. Joe had arrived early enough to get a corner booth, reminding her of the times she and Dick shared at The Pub. She took the power seat facing the entrance hoping to spot him when he came through the door.
She was determined not to tell him about the way things were going at The Pub. If she thought things had been bad under Jason’s reign, the new partner and his wife took it to another level. The new bosses were perfectionists to the point of obsession. Stephen demanded that the servers polish the flatware before they rolled it into cloth napkins. Stevie expected glasses to be wiped clear of all water spots. Place settings were to be an even two inches from the table’s edge. Their circuits of the dining room ended frequently with entire table settings being rejected.
“Tablecloths are to be positioned at perfect right angles to the table corners,” Stephen lectured, loud enough that Joe could hear him all the way into the lobby. So could the customers in the lounge. His focus on perfection did little to generate new business. Instead, business was dwindling with fewer customers, smaller tips and disgruntled servers. Any non-compliance to the stringent requirements resulted in a reduced work schedule for the offender. New hires came and left with an unprecedented frequency, frustrated with poor earnings and a pair of micromanaging new owners.
Joe watched the ease with which the servers worked in the vastly different atmosphere of The Lobster Pot, gliding about, smiling. At precisely eleven twenty-nine, Dick came through the front door. He stood motionless in the dim lobby waiting for his eyes to adjust. When he spotted Joe in the corner he waved and wove his way through the tightly spaced tables to join her. She moved to the opposite bench giving him the better view and the side with the wider berth. He lowered his bulk onto the cushion grunting as he squeezed into the snug space.
“Joe!” he said looking across the table with affection. She smiled at the older man, sneaking a quick peek at the cockatiel effect the wind made of his white hair. He grasped her outstretched hand warmly, holding it perhaps a moment too long. His nails were perfectly manicured to a buffed shine, stubby fingers jutting out from the cuffs of his shirt. There was a small section on his chin that he’d missed when shaving, leaving a patch of glistening white bristles that twinkled as he grinned at the young blonde. The waiter arrived.
“May I bring you something to drink?” he asked. Dick looked at Joe who nodded.
“The lady will have a Perrier and I’d like Bloody Mary, light on the vegetables, salted rim in a tall mug.”
“Very well sir,” the waiter nodded. “Anything for appetizers?”
“We’ll have the fried mushrooms with extra Hollandaise sauce.” That part done, their server retreated quickly to the kitchen leaving the unlikely pair to look over the menu. Dick broke the silence.
“Joe, it’s been way too long,” he said smiling. “You look splendid.” An undercurrent of nostalgia hung in the air in remembrances of past lunches, expensive dinners, and long drives on the coastal highway.
“Thanks. You look great, too.” She was genuinely happy to see him.
“How are things?” He asked, closing the menu. He set it at the edge of the table and glanced around.
“Oh, you know, business as usual,” she answered. He had always been eager to hear her take on things at the restaurant. She’d always kept him in the loop with details.
Their drinks arrived and the waiter stood expectantly beside the starched white tablecloth, eyes flitting from Dick to Joe.
“And for the main course?” the waiter asked.
“The lady will have a large shrimp salad.” Dick looked at Joe to confirm the choice. She nodded, pleased that he remembered her favorites.
“And for you sir?”
“A medium rare filet and a baked potato with everything. And bring some sour cream on the side, too.”
“Very good, sir.”
“If you would, kindly wait a few moments before you put in our order.” He smiled across the table. “We have a lot of catching up to do before we eat.”
The waiter left as quickly as he’d arrived heading back to enter the order into the food service system with a note to delay the entree.
Joe waited patiently for Dick to bring up the purpose of their meeting.
“So, tell me about the new owner,” Dick said in a conspiratorial tone.
“He’s not as bad as the last one,” she said chuckling. Dick enjoyed a hearty laugh and answered with his own jab.
“You’re talking about my former silent partner, I’m sure.” They both laughed at that. Despite Ervin’s untimely death, he was not much missed by anyone she knew. His abrasive manner and condescending tone made him nearly unlikable. His murder was what made him most memorable. Dick took a large sip and licked salt from the rim the spicy drink.
“It’s too bad about what happened to Jason,” he said. Looking down at his hands briefly, his eyes took on a sad expression.
“Yes,” Joe said. “Tell me what happened. The detective who called wouldn’t say.”
“I wish I could say, Joe. There are rumors of foul play and I’ve been cautioned not to discuss it until the investigation is over.” That grim reflection out of the way, he launched into a monologue with a smile returning to his eyes.
“Joe, I had the most fantastic dream a few nights ago. We were on the boat cruising off the coast on an island excursion, you know, like we used to do on Sunday mornings with the Pub Power Boat Squadron.”
Their waiter returned with a plateful of steaming hot mushrooms, saucers and two small bowls of dipping sauce. Dick transferred several of the crispy deep-fried vegetables to a plate and passed it to Joe. Conversation stopped while they dug into the food. For a while, all that could be heard was crunching. Dick finally slowed down to take a breath, then, got right to it.
“How’d you like to be back on the boat?” he asked.
She smiled, recalling the feel of the wind in her face as she steered his pilot house craft into the waves. She imagined sea spray cresting over the bow as the boat dipped into the wake, bouncing along to an unsung tune.
“Those were some good times.” She twisted off the cap of the Perrier and held the bottle out to Dick. He took a sip of her drink.
“First sips are for special people.” She repeated what he always said when they shared a soda on the boat. Dick smiled as he popped another mushroom into his mouth.
“Well, I’d love it,” she said, “but you know I have to work weekends now.”
“That’s exactly what I’m getting at,” he said. “What if you could do that for a living?”
“What do you mean, live on the boat?”
“No, I mean, make a living piloting it.” Their entrees arrived and the waiter bustled about setting out the plates and removing used dishes. Dick picked up his knife before the waiter walked away and cut into the choice sirloin. He stuffed a large portion into his open mouth and made noises of appreciation which the waiter took as approval.
Joe considered Dick’s question, her fork poised above the pink ring of shrimp arranged into a perfect circle on a bed of crisp lettuce. A large container of cocktail sauce sat in the center of the ring. Their waiter had knowingly set an extra serving of red sauce beside her water glass.
“That’s the sign of a great waiter,” Dick said pointing to the sauce with his fork. “Those are hard to come by.”
With the free meal program cancelled by the new management at The Pub, Joe missed the perks of fine dining.
“Well, you know, they cancelled the free meal-a-day program for employees,” she told him.
“Yes, I heard.”
“They started a reduced-price food menu for staff.” She frowned. “Mostly, it’s only stuff that that didn’t sell to customers. Not exactly at their peak of freshness.”
It was Dick’s turn to nod while chewing.
“I can’t really afford to spend money for meals there anymore, even with reduced prices for the food.”
Dick finished chewing a large hunk of meat before putting down his fork. He sat up straighter in his chair.
“Joe, I know that. What I’m thinking about is a new start-up venture.” She listened with interest.
“On the boat?”
“I’m talking about selling chartered fishing expeditions for couples or small groups of four to maybe six people.” She thought about that while she picked at the remains of the mushrooms.
“You know your way around the islands,” he said. “And you know from experience where the best places are to stop for a cold one along the way.” She said nothing.
“Do you remember that time we stopped and played pool at that little dive along the coast?” She smiled at the memory.
“Yeah, that was fun.”
“We pulled right up to the dock and tied up the boat. Had a few cold ones with some great hamburgers.” His eyes lit up at the thought of the meal.
“What I’m thinking is that you could take people out along the coast for a little fishing and sightseeing, like a job but with better perks.” His eyebrows raised in a quizzical expression. “What do you think?”
The idea was appealing but there were a lot of questions.
“What about bad weather?” she asked concerned about how she would earn money if the boat was unable to sail.
“I’d have you on a retainer for days when the weather doesn’t permit boating,” he told her. She imagined what life would be like as a boat pilot. Her fondest childhood memories were those spent on fishing trips in the Keys tagging along with her father.
“There’s plenty to do when the weather is bad like marketing and advertising, scheduling clients, making music playlists,” he said. “Of course, dock fees, boat maintenance and fuel would be my responsibility. Your job would be to captain the vessel, that is, if you’re interested.”
Joe’s curiosity was definitely piqued.
“There are so many things to consider,” she said.
Dick went off on a tangent which covered most of the questions she had about the arrangements for food, bait, docking, boarding, where to take those who paid for excursions. It all sounded exciting, particularly in light of the way things were going at The Pub.
“We could probably run charters most of the year,” she said.
“We can talk about all this in complete detail,” he said. “For now, let’s keep it between us.” Joe had a sense of familiarity at yet another secret between them. She hadn’t brought up her visit to the prison or the necklace he’d given to Doreen. For the moment, she was so pleased with this new development that it no longer seemed like such a big deal.
Dick set his fork down and the waiter showed up at the table as if on cue.
“How about some Key Lime Pie?” Dick asked.
“You know that’s my favorite,” she answered.
Her eyes lit up realizing that he knew her so well. They both ordered dessert and coffee. When they finished, Dick paid the tab.
“We’ve got to get some of these delicious mints,” he said grabbing a handful of the chocolate candy coated mints on the way out. The sun was high in the sky as they headed out of the dark lobby to their cars.
“Call me when you’ve thought it over,” he called out across the hood of a Jaguar that was parked between their cars.
Joe climbed into her Beetle and started the engine. The whine of the motor always gave her a jolt of excitement. While she enjoyed driving faster, more powerful automobiles, this was her own, paid for by her toil, chosen by her alone. That thought sent a sharp reminder up Joe’s spine. The payment was due again in two weeks. She pondered the idea of becoming a ship’s captain. Could that be the answer to her financial and work problems? She mulled it over as she drove up the coast toward her dead-end job as hostess.
To Continue With The Next Chapter
- The Pub Aftermath, Chapter 7
Jason recalls his reasons for leaving Jamaica and for his recent return. His flight back to the island has unexpected consequences after leaving his new bride back in the states.
© 2019 Peg Cole