Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chapter 14

"So what's your plan?" I asked.  Jeff rolled down the truck window as we drove up Willow toward Main Street.  I inhaled the fresh air that smelled wonderfully like fall.

"Well, I thought I'd sit at the bar and observe the crowd while you work the room."

"Work the room?  This isn't a cocktail party, Jeff, it's a redneck bar.  What am I supposed to do, stop and chat at each table?  Show them my shoes and hope they make some old floozy cringe at the thought of having had the poor judgement to dally with Jerry Maguire?"

"Something like that," he replied.  "Do you have any better ideas?  The only thing that all of the so-called suspects have in common is that they met old Jerry at Me Oh My during its evening incarnation as the local hot spot."

"Met as in were introduced or met as in met up for their assignations?"

"As in introduced.  Unless BJ has rooms available by the hour over the bar, they met for their assignations, as you refer to their alleged sexual encounters, at Jerry's house."  He laughed and shook his head.

"What's so funny?"  I tried to get comfortable enough to breathe in my too-tight jeans.

"It just amazes me that someone who likes sex as much as you do has such a hard time actually saying the word."

"Shut up," I said, probably blushing.  He did have a point.  "Cheating sex is different than married sex.  And there, I said the word.  Are you happy?"

"I'm pretty sure the mechanics are the same, babe."

"You know what I mean."

"Yes, I do," Jeff answered, putting the truck in park and turning the engine off.  "And just so you know, I am blissfully happy with the married kind.  Now let's go inside and flirt with some cheaters."

* * * * *

"Not much of a crowd for a Wednesday night," I observed.  There were a couple of guys at the bar, a few tables occupied by groups of ladies on their mid-week night out, a bunch of guys at a table up front and several couples occupying the dimly lit booths along the back wall.  "Thought you said there was a band."

"There is," Jeff said.  "Danny and his cousins are tonight's entertainment."

I waved at Billie Jo and headed toward the bar.  Jeff whistled after me and  walked toward Danny who was up on stage tuning his guitar.  This is going to be some evening, I thought.

"What the hell are you wearing?" Billie Jo practically shouted as I hopped up on a bar stool.  "I can't believe HunkaHunka let you out of the house like that!"

"Lower your voice," I hissed.  "I'm on an undercover assignment."

"Girl, there ain't much under cover in that get up," she chortled, setting a beer bottle in front of me.  I knew it was filled with ginger ale.

"Well, I thought you would have approved, what with your unrefined, trampish taste and all."

"I'm just jealous that I couldn't stuff myself into those jeans and that sweater, honey."  Billie Jo leaned on the bar.  "Jeff told me this afternoon that you all would be in tonight.  I'm just amazed he got you to tart yourself up like that ."

"I am not tarted up," I protested.  "And this was not my idea, believe me."

"So how do you plan to gather information for your investigation, Pepper Anderson?"

I laughed.  "We're aging ourselves with that one.  Sgt. Crowley over there says I'm supposed to work the room, whatever he means by that."

"The best way to work this room is to wait tables," Billie Jo said.  "I'll even let you keep the tips.  My feet and I could sure use a night off."

"Okay," I said.  "What do I do?"

"That's right, I forgot, you're the only college girl I know who never waited tables.  You walk up to the customers, lean over a little to get your money's worth out of that barely-there sweater and ask what they're drinking.  Think you can handle that?"

"Don't be a smart ass," I said and picked up a tray and an order pad.  "I can do this."  At least I hoped I could.  I gave Jeff a thumbs-up as I headed across the room toward my first table to take their order.

Telling the ladies at the center table I'd be right back with their drinks, I walked past the stage on my way back to the bar.  "What are you doing?" Jeff asked, grabbing hold of my arm.

"Working the room.  Just like you wanted.  Can I get you all anything?" I smiled sweetly, pen poised over my order pad.  "We have seven different kinds of beer on tap and imported in bottles.  Oh wait, would you boys rather have an apple-tini?"

"Very funny.  I'm working, so I'll have a Coke.  But I think Danny needs a beer to get loosened up a little.  He just admitted that crowds make him pretty nervous."

"Well, I wouldn't exactly call this a crowd.  But I can sympathize with the nerves thing.  I'll be right back with your drinks.  And I'd better get a decent tip."

I didn't hear what Jeff said as I walked away, but I was willing to bet it had something to do collecting my tip later.  I set my tray on the bar and rattled off the orders to Billie Jo.  I had a feeling this was going to be a long night.

* * * * *

"Billie Jo, these people can really drink," I said, sitting on the  bar stool to take a break for a couple of minutes.  "It would probably be a good idea to just haul a whole keg of beer over to Al Henke and the gang at his table.  I think I've brought them twenty beers."

"They're about done for the night.  He makes his crew start work at seven in the morning so they'll be out of here soon.  Nice bunch of guys, never any trouble and they're great tippers."

"Do you see those three boys who just came in?  I don't think they're old enough to drink."

"No, they're not," Billie Jo said.  "Those are high school seniors - football team.  Just go take their order."

"But..." I started, but Billie Jo interrupted me.

"Just go," she said and reached under the bar.

I wove my way between the tables and stopped next to the teen-aged boys.  "What'll you have?"

"Whatcha got?"  the shortest of the three said, paying way too much attention to my sweater to suit me.

"Is this your first time here?" I asked, looking him in the eye.  The other two snickered.

"We'll just have a beer," the fullback said politely.

"I'll be right back," I said and put some coasters on the table.

Billie Jo had three bottles waiting on the bar for me.  "Ginger ale?" I asked, setting them on my tray.

"Yeah," she said.  "They're just kids.  No one has to know it isn't beer; they can tell their friends they went out and didn't get carded.  It happens a couple of  times a month.  We did a lot worse, if you recall."

I smiled.  "You're the boss."

I delivered the drinks to my high school customers.  "On the house," I said.  "If you need a refill, let me know."  I turned to walk away and felt an unfamiliar hand on the back of my jeans.  It was the quarterback type kid.  I leaned down next to him and spoke quietly in his ear.  He removed his hand and I continued on to the next table.

When I got back to the bar to turn in my orders, Jeff was sitting on the bar stool at the end closest to the kitchen.  "What did you say to the kid who grabbed your ass?"  He almost looked serious.

"I told him that he needed to take his hand off me for three reasons."

"Which were?"  Jeff was smiling now.

"A: I am old enough to be your mama.  Two: I don't want to embarrass you in front of your friends by punching you in the face.  And D: See that big guy over there at the bar?  That's my husband.  He's also the new chief of police who will throw you in jail for underage drinking and even worse, call your parents."

"You'd have scared my seventeen-year-old self."

"And there they go," I said.  We watched as the three terrified boys tried to slink unnoticed out the front door.  "Poor kid.  I really wouldn't have punched him.  Or called his parents."

"He didn't know that," Jeff said.  "Anything else to report besides gardening tips from the ladies at the window table?  I see some men out with women other than their wives at the back booths."

"They weren't interested in talking to me," I replied.  "The ladies by the window complimented me on my shoes and very politely ignored my sweater, or the lack thereof.  The beer guzzlers up front are too busy trying to out drink one another to pick up women.  Billie Jo says they'll be staggering out soon.  Maybe we picked the wrong night to stake this place out for grave robbing stalkers."

"Oh, I don't know," said Billie Jo.  She set three drinks on my tray.  "Look what just blew in."

"Is that who I think it is?" asked Jeff, clearly dumbstruck.

"As I live and breathe, it's Miss VanBeek."  I couldn't believe what I was seeing: our old high school teacher, now the principal at Taylor and Jake's elementary school in a bar!  The dragon lady herself was out on a school night, dressed in a pair of snug-fitting jeans, a low-cut t-shirt and, the one thing that didn't surprise me at all, a pair of pricy Tory Burch leopard flats.

I knew it.

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