October 30, 2014, Thursday
Kao and Tony sat at a small booth in the dark bar of Ranchers Steakhouse and Grill. It was a popular spot for local businessmen, farmers and retirees. The restaurant was part of the clientele’s weekly routine, and they didn’t hesitate to recommend it to strangers and visiting family. At one point or another they had met the head chef and restaurant manager. Everyone knew Kao was the owner, and though approachable, he acknowledged not being a big part of the place’s day-to-day operations. “I don’t know how to run a steakhouse. That’s why I have the best staff I can find.” It wasn’t quite true, but he believed it himself and trusted Amy’s judgment along with that of the restaurant manager and head chef.
“Three months?” Kao asked.
“Yeah, Biggie says we can get rid of everything by then.”
“Give any thought to what you guys want to do?”
“I think I’m going to take some months off and do absolutely nothing,” Tony said as he took a sip of his wine. “Ashley’s graduating med school after this year, so Biggie says she’s going to take care of him.”
“Wishful thinking. She’s going to be in residency for years and years.”
Tony laughed. “I didn’t have the heart to break it to him.”
“At least he can say he raised a brain surgeon,” Kao said. “You talk to Billy about any of this, yet?”
“He knows. He’s fine with it. He almost sounded relieved.”
“How are your kids?”
“Lazy as shit. All they do is play video games.”
The bartender approached and asked if the men were ready to order.
“I’ll have the big porterhouse, medium, with rice pilaf and vegetables, vinaigrette for the salad and a baked potato, plain,” Kao said.
“God damn! You do realize this is lunch?” Tony said.
“Gotta keep my energy up for the rest of the day.”
“Right. Um, chicken marsala… with rice pilaf and green beans. And let me get a bottle of the wine we’re drinking. Planning my afternoon nap.”
Brandon walked into Sally’s Books and headed to the register to show Tom his list of biographies about Kao. He drank two pots off coffee in the morning while reading articles on the Internet.
“I am pretty sure we have four of these, but these two I know we don’t have,” Tom said before getting up from his chair and leading Brandon through the empty store.
“Cool. I’ll get those through Amazon.”
They reached the small sports section, which consisted of two bookshelves, and half of the second shelf was dedicated to health. Tom pulled the four books and handed two of them to Brandon. He looked at the other two and shook his head.
“I can’t in good faith have you buy these two,” Tom said.
Brandon chuckled. “No, it’s fine. I need it for research.”
Tom flipped through the pages of one of the books until he reached the glossy pictures. “I’ll sell you these two for a dollar each if you buy this, too.” He reached for a copy of David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game.
“You’ve read it?” Brandon asked.
“And I don’t even like sports.”
Brandon couldn’t help but laugh at how uncomfortable Elaine looked. Wade hadn’t sat down for more than five minutes at the other end of the bar, and Elaine’s forehead already had a sheen of nervous sweat.
“I’ve only ever seen him at work or at the gym,” Elaine said.
“Well, he looks harmless.”
Josh approached the couple and said Wade wanted to buy them a drink.
“Sure, I’ll have the same thing,” Brandon said and lifted his Jameson.
“I’m okay for now,” Elaine said.
“Bring her another one,” Brandon said. “She’s almost done with her drink.”
She leaned in and whispered, “I don’t want a drink from him.”
“I know, babe, but it’s the courteous thing to do.”
Brandon waved and toasted Wade when the drinks arrived.
While Brandon was outside smoking, Amy McCoy and Andy Johnson showed up. After introductions, Amy asked to speak with Brandon in private. Her earnest tone and body language betrayed her intentions.
“George and everyone you’ve worked with says you’re a good guy and know your way around the bar, so that’s good,” Amy said. “The problem is it’s slowing down this time of year and most days we don’t need more than one person, but you’re at the top of my list if you want to be on call.”
“I understand, that was the impression I’ve always had.” Brandon thought about what was left in his bank account.
“Well, we have you scheduled for Halloween, so you’ve got that. Do you have a lot of family around?”
“Just my parents and sister.”
“I’m looking for volunteers for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving night as well.”
“I can do those,” Brandon said, knowing it increased his chances of getting any other shifts. “I’m right across the street from McNally’s, so I don’t need much notice, and I can always work the other bars as well. If anyone calls in sick or just needs a day off, please let me know.”