“You went to Village Auto?” Annie stopped what she was doing and stared at Andrew.
“Morbid curiosity,” he said. “Would the guy turn over a set of keys to me, or cut off my hands?”
They were sitting at Annie’s kitchen table, cleaning two pounds of green beans. Still Tuesday, and the one night they had this week to cook anything, so they were fixing chicken and green beans for six. Andrew broke the ends off by hand, one at a time, which they agreed was the right way to do it, and Annie cut the ends with a knife, four at a time. She glanced at his hands.
“We’ve got a car then?”
We. Andrew smiled at the beans as he shook his head.
“Can’t do it. They knew me when I got out of the car. OK, everybody on the street—on both sides of the river—knows I’m the guy whose girlfriend’s car got torched, and now I’m driving a rental, but . . .”
“No olive branch from the chief.”
“Right. And as I said to the manager, you still haven’t told me what kind of car you want.”
“What if I list the cars I don’t want?”
“It would take too long.”
The timer rang.
“Damn,” said Annie. “I was supposed to put the beans in ten minutes ago, before the chicken finished.”
“So we’ll have two courses. The chicken course. The bean course.”
Over chicken, they discussed whether or not Kathleen would run for office again. Andrew thought she would and Annie hoped she would, so they couldn’t make a bet on it.
During green beans, Annie told Andrew the latest from work.
“There was a fight last week outside of a bar in Cowpoke,” she said, using the spell-check name for the town. “So Monday’s paper reported that there was a fight, outside of the Dutch Inn. Two people were arrested.
“Tina went ballistic. She said we shouldn’t have reported that it was at the Inn.”
Andrew frowned, thinking. “Did we ever go there?”
“As far as the parking lot. You saw a guy selling drugs out of his car, so we left.”
“Right. I didn’t want to wind up back in jail because of that turd. Is the Inn an advertiser?”
“And now it won’t be. The owners are friends? The SLA is breathing down their necks?”
“—It did feel like she was speaking for someone else. Wendy, yes, but—you’re right, they got a call.”
“Not to defend them, but it’s tough being a small-town newspaper. A family-owned enterprise, reporting on other family-owned enterprises.”
“Everything around here is family owned. Chief Miller’s crack houses are family owned, right?”
Annie paused. “That’s why no one reports on them!”
They both laughed.
“Except you,” she said.
“And even me, maybe not right away,” he said.
“Are you afraid of the chief?”
“You’re afraid to leave Chloe alone,” he said.
“—I am,” she said.
“Let’s see what happens to Six-pack.”
“That could take months. Years.”
“We have time, right?” He took her hand on the table. “Yes?”
“—Yes . . .”
“You still think I’ll get bored here? That I’ll want to move someplace where my car is blown up, instead of my girlfriend’s car? I’ve had that, you know. In Cuscatlán. I’m ready to settle down in a completely lawless community.”
“I’m not moving to Schuyler.”
“There are some beautiful houses there—up the hill, at the east end. Big, with mountain views.”
“And a police chief who hates us.”
“He’ll be indicted or ‘retire’ . . . ”Andrew glanced at the ceiling. “Within two years.”
“How do you know all this stuff, about the Neanderthal, and the chief?”
“—From living through a lot of shit. From not spending time in positive pursuits, the way you do, but in wading through shit, ankle deep. Or knee deep.”
“Churches are cauldrons of gossip.”
“I’m sure they are . . . anything political?”
“—Not so much. Fr. Paul gets discouraged. I think he’d move on, except that every church is like that.”
“Should we get married tomorrow, before he leaves?”
“He’d give notice. We’ll just keep our appointment with him, next week, and we won’t ask him if he’s going to resign.”
“I’ll stay right on topic.”
Copyright © Debby Mayer
It was an older population, Andrew observed again; even Robin, the real estate agent, had gray hair. Silver gray, and a good cut—she must go to Albany—and inside, smart. She’d been selling real estate around here for almost twenty years, she said, and, I can help with that, was her mantra.
The place was short on charm, especially with a dead bird in the corner of the kitchen. But it did have possibilities, facing south, with two big windows on either side of the door, and on each side of the building. The counter and its twelve stools worked. The mildew smell did not.
“Will the owner clean up?” asked Andrew.
Robin shook her head. “As is. But I know a good crew—reasonable rates—that will make this place sparkle You’ll put a sign in the window—what’s the name of your place?”
“Theresa’s, said Theresa. “Till we think of something snappy.”
“‘Theresa’s BBQ, Open Soon,’ and people will start to talk about it.”
“Need a new stove, “Glaron sighed to Andrew in the kitchen.
“Need a big dumpster,” Andrew sighed back.
“You guys getting cold feet?” called Theresa.
“My feet are freezing,” said Andrew. “Let’s get barbecue.”
In Theresa and Glaron’s apartment, the table was set for four and a barbecue sampling was ready for warm-up.
“This is lovely, Theresa,” said Robin, walking around, and she seemed to mean it. “Bobbie Smith owns this building, right?”
“She does. You know all the landlords?”
“It’s a small world,” said Robin, “and Bobbie takes care of her buildings.”
They couldn’t stop themselves, even Andrew; they watched Robin taste the pulled pork.
“Delicious, Theresa,” she said. She tasted again, her brow furrowed. “Mole? A sprinkle of chocolate?”
Theresa mimed zipping her lip.
“The seasoning is subtle,” said Robin. Very, very good. But will you have one that’s less seasoned?”
“As is,” said Andrew, and Theresa beamed.
“Think about it,” said Robin, and Andrew was thinking about it, how this woman could save him hours of research in the basement of the courthouse. She probably knew, not only who owned, but who had sold—
“In the meantime—“ Robin got out red-framed eyeglasses and her legal pad. “You started a business plan?”
Focus. Andrew took the two typewritten pages from his coat pocket, and Robin skimmed them.
“Excellent start,” she said. “Let’s see . . . do you want a liquor license?”
Theresa and Andrew spoke simultaneously: “No” and “Yes.”
“Can two convicted felons who served their time get a liquor license?” asked Andrew.
Robin paused. “You might get a waiver.” She wrote, then regarded them: “That’s you two gentlemen?”
“Yes ma’am,” said Andrew. Glaron nodded.
“No trouble since?”
“No ma’am,” said Glaron. Andrew shrugged.
“—Maybe Theresa can get the liquor license.”
“Theresa don’t want the liquor license,” said Theresa, “this is for food, not drinking.”
“I understand, Theresa,” said Robin, and Andrew marveled at how lucky they were, to find this calm adult who looked you in the eye every time she spoke to you. “Really, I do. But you know, don’t make money on food. You make money on liquor.”
“That’s terrible,” said Theresa.
“It’s why the place you’re looking at went out of business,” said Robin. “Barbecue at that location is perfect,” she added quickly. “And your barbecue is delicious. And unique.
“But—beer goes with barbecue, right?”
“Right,” said Andrew.
“Maybe you can get a waiver just for wine and beer,” said Robin, writing. “You don’t have to serve wine.”
“Good,” said Theresa.
And, said Robin, they would need a site plan review from the town’s Planning Board and a sign review from the Zoning Board. “I can help with that,” she said. But before any of this, they had to make an offer and the offer had to be accepted. “All of it in writing.”
* * * * *
“Fifty thousand cash, pending an inspection and appraisal.”
Ruth had left, and the three of them sat around the table, finishing the pitcher of water.
“Up to you,” said Glaron.
“Fifty?” said Theresa. “Not sixty?”
“It’ll take at least another fifty to bring it back.”
Theresa blinked. “We get the guys to clean it up—I feed them barbecue. We buy a new stove.”
“All that and more,” said Andrew. “We set you up good.”
“Squirrels probably ate the wiring,” said Glaron. “Place about to burn down.”
“I’m going to New York tomorrow,” said Andrew. “I’ll see my lawyer, try to get him up here over the weekend.”
“Barbecue,” said Theresa.
“A sampling, like you did here for Robin. That was perfect. Think lunchtime Sunday.” Andrew’s gold tooth flashed. “If we can get Stuart on board, we can do this. You ready?”
“I’m ready!” said Theresa.
“Glaron,” said Andrew, “you ready? For our last great adventure?”
Glaron’s gold teeth flashed yes.
* * * *
“You’re out of your mind,” said Stuart, more an observation than an accusation.
“You knew that,” said Andrew.
Sunday, and they stood in winter light. Stuart had accepted a cigarette from Andrew and they leaned against the rear of Robin’s shiny clean SUV, smoking, while she made calls from her car phone, confirming two more places for them to see.
Really, it was going well, thought Andrew. It wasn’t snowing. Stuart had obeyed instructions and dressed warmly from toe (boots) to head (fedora). Annie had charmed Stuart with her good looks and sanity before she went to work. Robin had the sense to line up two additional restaurants for comparison, while Stuart was here.
“Have I ever done this before?” said Andrew. “Invested in a business that you didn’t find? Asked you to rewrite my will—at least lately?”
“No,” said Stuart, “these are new.”
“And the barbecue was great, right?”
“Exquisite,” said Stuart. “Mole. Where are you going to get enough mole around here to run a business?”
“That’s Theresa’s problem.”
Stuart shook his head. “Your problem, if you’re the money.” He looked around him. “Five thousand in landscaping alone.”
“Things are cheaper here, Stuart.”
“Which leads me to ask. What are you doing here?”
“You met Annie.”
“She’s lovely. Bring her to New York. Buy an apartment. There’s an investment.”
“Ten times as much, and what would I have? An apartment in New York. Big deal. Annie has friends here. We have friends here.”
“Her car was bombed!”
“Set on fire. I’m working on a book. I need to be here.”
“How do you know they wouldn’t torch this place?”
“—I thought of that." Andrew rubbed out his cigarette with his boot. "By the time we open, the chief will be gone. Or on our side.”
“Gentlemen, I’m ready when you are!” Ruth called from the car window.
“We’ll be right there,” Stuart said over his shoulder. He stepped on his cigarette, speaking to Andrew, in a voice barely audible: “Your being back in jail won’t help your friends.”
“I know that,” said Andrew, just as firm, just as quiet. “I’ll be careful.”
Copyright © Debby Mayer