(Note: This flash fiction is inspired by Kelly Madden. She gave me the first line. Thanks, Kelly!)
1. The Specials
It was a dark and stormy night. No, the weather was fine outside, actually. Seventy degrees, all cobalt and scarlet evening sky. But that was the special for the night: Dark and Stormys. At the Irish bar.
And this is the inside baseball of how restaurants work:
Chef ordered too much fish? Push the fish before it rots. If a customer complains about the smell of the fish and chips, that's just extra special cod.
Prime rib night didn't do so hot? Slice it up for a cheesesteak deal tomorrow. Put marbled shavings of meat on the nachos – call it "Philly." Spoilage serves no one.
Too much ginger beer in the cooler and a random rum on the shelf that hasn't sold for years? Turn and burn 'em together. Who cares that it doesn't make sense for the brand? A drink is a drink. Maybe some dumb tourists would think that it was Inner Harbor cool.
Tom pocketed his phone and walked over to the couple who'd just come in. They'd chosen the far corner of the empty bar. Action is character and you can learn a little bit about someone from everything they do.
That's Tom's job. Figure out people – fast. Make them happy and sell them smelly fish and janky steak sandwiches and ridiculous drinks. The owner counts the numbers. The owner watches on the cameras. Tom headed over.
A procession of soccer scarves hanging along the top shelf waved as open-air wind glided through. On the TV, a player hit a sacrifice fly in front of an empty stadium. The only other people in the restaurant – a four-top at the corner table – cheered. Of course, they were Boston fans. Welcome to Fenway South.
Tom sighed and threw down two coasters like Blackjack cards. He laid down two menus.
"Evening, folks. My name's—"
"Little cold in here, ain't it?" the Man said.
"I can shut—"
"No, no. What specials you got? Gina, what're you drinking?"
"I was about to—"
"Chardonnay. A cup of ice."
"That's what you always get. Why don't you ask about the specials?" asked the Man.
"It's okay," Tom said, smiling. "I'm a big believer in if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The couple stared at him, deadpanned.
"What're you gonna do about this cold? What's your name?" asked the Man.
Tom coughed. "I was trying to tell you my name. I'm Tom. I can happily shut the—"
"Fine, what're the specials?" asked Gina, craned over impossibly, looking down at her menu, studying it with her finger.
"Well, for drinks we have a Dark and Stormy special for five, and for food we're selling philly-style nachos for eight bucks, and fish and chips for eleven. We can make a philly cheese steak, too."
The couple stared at him again. The Man shivered.
"So, maybe something to drink to start?" Tom asked.
"What's a 'Dark and Stormy'?" Gina asked.
Tom's smile fell. "Rum and ginger beer."
"Ginger beer? Is it strong?"
"No, it's, um, not beer," Tom said, crossing his arms, scratching his elbow. "It's like a really zingy ginger ale."
Gina stared at him quizzically. "I've never heard of that. Who ever came up with such a drink?"
"They're pretty good, actually," said Tom.
"Can I taste it?"
"Um, no. I can't—”
Grand slam on the TV this time. The Boston fans roared. Sweet Caroline. Drunk, drunk, drunk.
"Is it always this loud in here?" asked the Man, putting a coat back on.
"It's an Irish bar. And we play sports."
"C'mon, Gina, let's go somewhere else."
Tom peeled up the coasters and menus as they left. He stared at the couple. Not too long, though. The owner, no doubt, watched as well.
His manager came by to speak less than a minute later. Out of the office, down the stairs. Line drive straight to Tom.
"Did you tell them about the specials?"