“OK, the holidays are over. Glaron and Theresa have invited us for barbeque.”
With the apple-processing plant closed for the winter, Andrew was either at home writing, or on the road researching, his drug-connections article. At midday he would call Annie to make sure she stopped working for ten minutes. Today his call found Annie and Chloe in their jackets, walking around the parking lot of the newspaper office in the few minutes they had before another snowstorm began.
“Cool,” she said. “Give me their number, I’ll call her and see what we can bring.”
“—I don’t think we can bring anything. It’s their classic barbeque dinner.”
“I’m from the country. I bring something.”
* * * *
“Thank you, honey, but remember not to bring flowers to a barbeque restaurant.”
“This isn’t a restaurant, Theresa, it’s your home, and thank you for letting me bring Chloe.”
“She’s gonna stay in that cage?”
“Yes. I’ll walk her around your apartment, so she knows where she is, and then she pops into her cratie, out of the way.”
“All right then. Once I get the sauce made, I work the front of the house, greeting people, seating them. Glaron’s slicing meat, in charge of the kitchen.”
“Just the two of you?” asked Andrew.
“No, we got help. At least one in the kitchen, and a waitress. Depends on how big the place is.”
* * * * *
“What are they talking about?”
Andrew and Glaron had gone out on the back porch after dinner for a cigarette, and finished minutes ago. Now they leaned against the porch railing in the dark, kitty-corner to each other, in jackets and hats. Their breath rose like steam, in the light cast from the kitchen.
“Business. You liked the dinner?” Theresa asked again.
“I loved it. But Theresa . . . I’m not a food critic. I eat anything. So does Andrew.”
Theresa chuckled. “You’re funny. Well, we want to be known for a good feed, not fine dining.”
“Do you have a place in mind?”
A pot of coffee and a plate of sweet potato pie on the table, Theresa sat again, across from Annie. “No. Can’t decide if we should fight off the drug crap here in Schuyler, or try to find someplace else. Got any ideas?”
“—There’s a place I pass when I drive from Schuyler to East Wyndham. It used to be a restaurant, but it’s closed now. One-story with lots of parking—"
“Stop.” Theresa held up her hand. “Tell them too.” She went to the back door. “Pie’s ready. And Annie’s found a place for the restaurant.”
* * * *
The routine for staying in Schuyler now was to drop off things—tonight it was Chloe’s crate and two packed barbecue dinners—inside Andrew’s front door and then park the car at a well-lit city lot one avenue over. Schuyler fascinated Chloe, who snuffled along the shoveled snow, investigating what it had turned up. Andrew and Annie walked arm in arm against the cold.
“What were you and Glaron talking about? It seemed like some big secret.”
“The restaurant. What did you think about the barbecue—really. Tell me.”
“I thought it was delicious. I love barbecue. But I’m not a fussy eater.”
“Good point. We’re both easy to please. Gustatorily.” He squeezed her arm.
“Theresa said she knew how much work it would be. But the hospital kitchen is different.”
“Another good point. You’ll be in on the next meeting.”
“The next meeting?”
“They see me as an investor. That’s what Glaron and I talked about.”
Annie absorbed all the ramifications of this until they were inside Andrew’s house.
“So your cover means nothing to them,” she said, giving Chloe her evening biscuit. The dog trotted off to the bedroom and hopped onto the bed to eat it.
“No. As Glaron said, he’s been around the block. And to the library. He said he’d keep a tight trap.”
“Is he blackmailing you?” Annie sat down with this thought, at Andrew’s one table.
“No, no, he’s not that kind of guy.” Andrew sat across from her. “He figures that as a former murderer, like him, I have trouble getting a job, just as he does.”
“What do you think? About the investment.”
“I’m interested. I have to talk to Stuart, of course. For that, they’ll need a business plan. I can help them write it.”
Money appeared in Andrew’s checking account every month because of Stuart. Stuart’s accounting division paid Andrew’s bills, and Stuart invested Andrew’s family money.
“It’s a great idea,” said Annie. “And unique. But they’re not young. Why don’t they bottle it and sell it? They could get a distributor, go national.”
“They want to invite people in. Feed them. Be the hosts. I like that idea. This place does need more restaurants, and this is a restaurant that could sell.”
“Did you ever work in a restaurant? I did. It was horrible. You’re not making any money unless you’re run ragged.”
“We’re not going to work there, Annie. We’re just the money.”
Andrew stopped, thinking.
“It’s true, you know. I think of my money as our money.” He tapped his finger on the table. “Damn . . . do you want a glass of water? That’s all I have.”
“OK . . .”
Andrew brought them each a glass of water. He turned off lights until all they had was the warm glow of the lamp at the table.
“Give me your hand.” They held left hands, across the table.
“This isn’t how I wanted to do this,” he said. “I was going to make it nice. But, since I think of you as my partner—my love, my spouse, my life—will you marry me?”
“—I just fainted . . .”
Copyright © Debby Mayer