WARNING - this story may contain adult content including coarse language and/or sexual content which may be offensive to some
a short story by Mark Kolke
May 23, 2011
It was a sweaty breezy Houston May morning this Wednesday, with enough humidity to make your oatmeal soggy without having to add milk.
It was sunny with light clouds. Just enough of them to filter some sun while keeping the humidity close in.It only took a few minutes outside before fresh clothes stuck to your body like they would on a hot afternoon at the beach in ApffelPark.
Ryan Kruger arrived late at M & R Seafood Grill, on Westheimer Road near the Galleria.
Marco, his partner, and Ryan bought the place out of a bankruptcy last year.They renamed, rebranded and re-merchandised it to considerable critical success, but so far, only marginal financial success. Ryan ran the office and the front of the house. Marco ran the back of the house – and he backed up Chef Reg Reynaldo when the kitchen gets slammed. He did it so well that Ryan often joked that Marco and Reg should switch roles.
Marco had run the kitchen at Morton’s for five years. He met Ryan on the golf course one Sunday morning three years ago. A tight friendship grew.Ryan had been working at a series of dead-end sales jobs with food suppliers after losing his prize restaurant, The New Dawn, in a bankruptcy.That experience held him in good stead as he worked through the bidding process with the bankruptcy court. From his own experience he knew where the bodies might be buried, so to speak, in terms of the financial statements and with regard to the restaurant fixtures and equipment.
Ryan’s due diligence, together with an understanding banker, had helped them prepare a winning bid.Lots of sweat and heart - and a year later, most things were going well since that day when Marco and Ryan re-opened the failed Sea Shanty House as M & R Seafood Grill.They knew they couldn’t make a go of a seafood restaurant in the Galleria area unless it was an upscale off-the-charts superb one, which it was.
Ryan had worked closing shift last night and, since it was Tuesday, stayed late to take inventory and do the re-order counts. That took until 3AM when he finally hit SEND on those e-mail orders to Sysco and Pace Fish and sent the Tuesday night crew home.It had become a routine the staff were pretty comfortable with.The staff on closing shift rotated so that everyone worked one Tuesday night a month because Tuesday night’s extra chores were just too grueling to ask staff to do too often, especially since they were due in for regular shifts Wednesday morning.
Also, this morning, Ryan took his thirteen year-old, Dawn, to the doctor this morning.Nothing serious. Just a routine check-up.
That was part of his unwritten deal with ex-wife Sharon. When they divorced three years ago it became Ryan’s role to look after taking the kids to their routine medical and dental appointments, and their sport and school events. Taken together with his custody arrangements for Dawn and Craig - this was one more element of her one-up-man-ship for Sharon, but Ryan thought it was a great bonus – more time with his kids. The only reason this wasn’t a two-kids appointment day is that Craig sees a different doctor – Dr. Roberts, an asthma specialist pediatrician because of his wheezy chest.
Sharon complained that she was too busy with her work and lifestyle to do that as well. As a real state broker – she needed to be available to show houses at a moment’s notice. Ryan’s view was that she spent too little time on real estate, and too much time on pedicures, manicures, massages and lunching with the ladies.
In any case, it was usually pretty easy for Ryan to manage – easier than meeting his financial obligations as it turns out – because he had flexibility with his time.It was often tough to make his child support payments on time, but it was never a problem working extra kid-time into his schedule.
He often commented to friends at Rotary Club lunches, ‘it’s easy when you work 65-80 hours a week – you get to choose which 65-80 it is. Scheduling is never a problem because there is no ogre boss to complain about, because I’m the ogre boss!”
This morning he picked Dawn up at her mom’s house just after breakfast and headed off to the clinic at the Galleria where Dr. Pankhurst kept his office.On the way there his phone kept ringing – first, a call from Meg that got cut short when Frances beeped in with a message, and when he went back to resume the call with Meg she was gone and Tony left a message, wanting to schedule golf this weekend; then a call from Harold Butkis at the IRS wanting to know where last month’s payroll deduction remittance was.
Ryan told Butkis the payment was late because of softer than usual cash flow, but that it would be paid this afternoon.He was planning to do a quick bank deposit run after lunch, depositing today’s lunch time receipts along with yesterday’s deposit – that should give him enough free cash to make the overdue remittance.While waiting in the doctor’s office where there was a NO CELL PHONES rule, his phone was off. When Ryan and Dawn pulled out of the parking garage there were five more calls in voice-mail on his phone.Four were from a familiar number – from Sharon. He’d call her later. The fifth was from Tony, urgent it said. He tried calling, but no answer.
“I’m sorry honey,” Ryan said to Dawn, “I hardly spoke to you this morning, so many calls – sorry. This weekend, when we head out to San Antonio – I’m turning off the phone.It will be just you, me and your brother because they didn’t have phones at the Alamo, and – I promise – we aren’t taking ours.”
11:30. Doors opened just as Ryan came up the walk from the parking lot.Meg was unlatching the doors, pulling them back to attach to their hold-open rigging, rolling out the cart of menus to the milling-around area just outside the door as Frances hustled up to take her post – for the lunch-shift as greeter.
“Buenos dias seńorashermosas”, was his greeting with a big grin – as Dawn took hurried steps trying to keep pace with her dad.
Meg and Frances were almost a chorus, “Hola, buenas tardes!! Ryan”, and “Hello Dawn, you look so nice today sweetie”.
It was OK that they joked about his late arrival.They had been there with him last night till 3AM, counting inventory in the walk-in cooler.They worked so hard, and always had bright cheery faces to greet the customers.Ryan had a conundrum though – how to behave around Meg and Frances when his kids were around.It couldn’t be different in any significantly inconsistent way than when he was in the restaurant normally.
He tried, always, to be circumspect in front of staff and customers.He was determined that none of them would know, from the actions of any of the three of them, that Ryan was sleeping with Meg or that Frances often joined them.As sisters living together – very friendly sisters – Ryan was not their first such conquest, but probably their best. Everybody worked hard, everybody played hard.It was their three-way secret.Given the workload and stresses of the last year with the restaurant, Ryan had no time for dating – so regular company after work with the best sister act one might imagine, was too convenient for him to turn down.
Breezing past Ryan as he guided Dawn to a booth at the back of the dining room, right next to the staff table, Marco – Ryan’s partner – was muttering, “Where the fuck have you been all morning?”
Ryan, feeling his neck hairs starting to stand erect, responded “Marco, say good morning to Dawn, will ya!.And cool the language – we’ve got customers coming in and we’ve talked before about your swearing around my kids”
Marco stopped … collected his thoughts, took a deep breath and, as he exhaled, said “Sorry buddy, I’m a little stressed.Hernando, the new prep cook started this morning and I had to spend time getting him sorted out – then the Sysco truck came in at 7:30 on the nose as usual, and Tony’s kid was late again, so I had to help the driver unload. I pulled Hernando off his prep to help. The phone was ringing off the hook. You need to call Anita at the bank, Anthony at Pace Fish Company – he wants to make peace with you about the delivery problems lately.No problem today though – their delivery showed up right in the middle of when we were unloading the Sysco order.I know these daily deliveries keep us fresh for the menu, but seven deliveries a week? And your wife.Sorry, your EX-wife. She called too – all in a panic because you hadn’t taken Dawn to school right after her doctor’s appointment.I didn’t understand that – she was freakin’ out. I guess she called the school to check on Dawn and they said she wasn’t in class.You should call her. I think there is something going on at the school.”
Customers were coming in. The noise level of the restaurant was rising with conversation buzz and clatter from the kitchen spilling out.Opening those walls last year to create an open-kitchen concept has really worked well in terms of restaurant atmosphere and letting the sounds and odors of the kitchen waft out to the front of the house, but the occasional dropped pot on a tile floor still send shivers across the restaurant every time it happens.
Meg and Frances were seating customers faster than usual today – good news.Ryan and Marco need a revenue bump at lunch.The new coupon campaign with Groupon and radio ads seem to be helping for lunch as well as pushing evening business.
“Ok, ok, OK … I’ll call her, but first I have to get some lunch into Dawn and get her to school. I’ll call Sharon right now. I’ll return the rest of those calls from the car while I’m taking Dawn to school” Ryan smoothly answered as he motioned with crude hand-signals to Freda to stop at Dawn’s table to get her order.
“And another thing,” Marco whispered, “you have to talk to your friend Tony. I don’t care if he is the vice-president of the Rotary Club, his kid keeps showing up late – and today he didn’t show up at all. That puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the kitchen crew.And another thing, did you see those counts last night on inventory.Ryan, things are missing. I think we have a thief among us.I’m not pointing fingers, but Tony’s kid is a suspect in my mind. I know our counts look pretty good on seafood - we know how many lobsters we’ve rung through the register, but I think we are going through way too many blocks of cheese and cases of meat each week.I think somebody is boosting things out the back door when we aren’t looking.”
Each time Marco said and another thinghe sounded like Peter Falk in an old episode of Columbo.It was funny too – the name Tony’s kid had stuck. His name was Deangelo Giancarlo Allegretti.His dad Tony Allegretti had asked Ryan to help him out. He was flunking the 9th grade for the second time – hanging out with a tough crowd.Tony thought a part-time job would help him to get focused and let him learn a work ethic while he could pick up some spending money.Truth of it was, that Tony wanted his kid to find working in the prep-kitchen and dish-pit for minimum wage so distasteful that he would re-focus on his studies.It was a good motive but the kid’s work-ethic didn’t show up. And often, the whole kid would be missing in action.The name was too long to pronounce and it wouldn’t fit on the schedule sheet, so Marco has just put down Tony’s kid in the employee column.He seemed a good natured kid, albeit lazy, and he seemed to like the moniker.
It was time to return calls.
“Hello,”Sharon answered in an angry sweat; “You irresponsible son of a bitch, where is she?Is she with you?You had a doctor’s appointment with her at 9:00, why didn’t you get her to school?
“I took her to the appointment – but the doctor was late.He had a patient in hospital delivering a baby, so he got to the office late and he saw Dawn as soon as he could.By the time we were done it was too close to lunch – so I thought I’d bring her to the restaurant and then take her to school with a full tummy for the afternoon.She just ordered some clams and linguini – Reynaldo will make her a nice little-lady portion and I’ll have her at school long before the bell rings,” Ryan spilled into the phone as calmly as he could to diffuse Sharon’s wrath and added, “so Marco tells me you called in a flap – something going on at the school. What’s that about?”
Sharon, soothed by news that Dawn was safe and being fed, went on to explain there had been a lockdown at the school. Some kid shot his mouth off about having a gun – and planning to shoot someone. It’s all on the news according to Sharon. Cops locked down the school and were doing a locker-by-locker search as well as interviewing kids who the boasting. She’d heard reports on the radio as she was driving to an appointment to show a house. The radio news indicated police had a student in custody and had seized a hand gun but they were continuing the investigation to see if it was one lone gunman, or of there were others involved.When Sharon called the school check, she was told that Dawn was not in class.
As Ryan slid into the booth, sitting opposite Dawn, he was greeted with, “Dad, what’s wrong?I could hear you talking to mom – is she mad, is she mad at me?”
“No sweetie, she’s mad at me – because I didn’t call her to tell her we’d be late getting you to school, mad at me because I didn’t return her calls promptly – and worried about you.There was an incident at your school – it was reported on the radio and mom called the school to check, to see if you were OK, and when she did – they told her you weren’t in class,” Ryan purred as smooth as a dad can when his daughter is looking anxious.
“So, did you order your favorite - the clams and linguini?”, he inquired, hoping to discourage further inquiry about the incident.
“Dad, I’m not an idiot – I know about the lockdown at the school.My friends and I have been texting each other all morning.You didn’t notice because you’ve had your cell glued to your ear all morning.” – Dawn shot back.
And then, her voice softening and conciliatory, added “By the way dad, I can’t come to San Antonio this weekend . . . I have plans. Mom said it was OK if I don’t go.And besides, it will be great for you and Craig to have some father-son time, OK?”
“Plans, what plans?”, exclaimed Ryan, “you know this is your weekend with me!”
“Dad, I know – that ‘every other weekend routine’ worked when we were little, and it is probably still good for Craig – he’s only nine – but I need my weekends free to do things with my friends dad. You understand, don’t you? You were my age once, weren’t you?I want to go to parties, go out on dates if anyone ever asks me out again. I can’t have a social life if I am at your place up in the Woodlands every other weekend, ” and then Dawn drew a long deep breath – it seemed she’d been practicing that speech for a while.
At that moment, his mouth half open, ready to respond to Dawn’s comments - Ryan’s phone rang, again.It was Tony’s number.
“Hey Tony, paysan - how are you doing?I got your message about golf. Sorry pal, I’ll have to take a rain check. I’m taking the kids – sorry, I’m taking my son Craig to San Antonio this weekend.”
The mood of the phone changed – as if phones have moods, the plastic suddenly seemed cold.Tony’s voice was low, almost macabre as he said, “Ryan, my friend, this call isn’t about golf.I’ve been at police headquarters most of the morning.They’ve arrested Deangelo.They’ve been asking him, and me, questions all morning. Ryan, can you believe it? He had a gun, and bullets. He bought it on the street – and he took it to school this morning because he was going to shoot some girl he’d asked out, someone who wouldn’t go out with him. Can you imagine that kind of craziness?Some little bitch turns him down and he freaks out. I swear, I don’t understand kids these days.”
“Tony, wow . . . what can I say? That’s horrible.Is he OK?Did he hurt anyone?”, Ryan asked, his voice faltering.
Tony’s response was short, “No, that the good thing – the girl he was going after wasn’t there, she wasn’t at school today.”
Ryan motioned to Meg and Frances to come over to the table, “Dawn, you’ve met Meg and Frances before.Their shift is just about over.I’m asking them to come with us. We’ll go shopping at the galleria.If my little girl is getting grown up enough to go out on dates, she needs some new clothes, don’t you think?”
Ryan instructed Dawn to stop texting, turn off her phone and get ready to go shopping.Before he turned off his phone, Ryan placed one more call.
“Hello, Harold Butkis please. . . ..– hey Harold, this is Ryan Kruger calling – about that remittance we spoke about this morning - I promised I’d have payment to you today – it looks like I’ll be a little short, I have an emergency expenditure today, so I’ll make to that payment tomorrow.Say, listen, why don’t you come by the restaurant – any time – lunch is on me!”