Sunday, May 22, 2011

Top Shelf

It was a normal Friday night. Regulars lined the bar, and the weekend folks pressed around the pool tables, spilling beer and hooting over wins and losses and bad shots. The house band was just cranking up, and a few brave and/or horny couples were making an early stab at the dance floor.

Tending bar is not hard. It's demanding of your time and multi-tasking abilities, but after you've done it for a number of years, it's all about anticipation and timing. It doesn't totally engage your mind, so there's always a little time to chat and look around, if you know your business. And after those regulars catch you up on their petty gossip and routine dramas, well, you kinda look for something to make the time go by, you know?

Well, that's when Jesus walked in. Not THE Jesus, just Jesus Alvarez, who lived down the block and had a slew of taco trucks working for him at the tender age of 28, god bless his entrepreneurial heart. He was fairly dusty - no, make that floury - and grinning like a coon, so naturally I stood up straight and hailed him with a wave from behind the bar. He smiled and held up a brown paper sack that I hoped was full of dinner for me, and so I made a flourish out of reaching for his usual Dos Equis and a cold glass. On the house, of course.

He slid into onto a free bar stool and I met him across the bar. "Hey, Jesus, what's happening?"

He shook his head, still smiling. Started to speak, then shook it again. Put the sack on the bar, stared at the bar top, tried one more time, and all he could get get out through a face full of teeth on full display was "Holy cow, man! You won't believe it!" And then he grinned even wider, which made me mentally change his adjective from "coon" to "cheshire cat". Boy, he was actually glowing with delight.

I couldn't help but grin back. "What the hell, man? You made me some extra-special tacos tonight, and it makes you so happy you can't even look me in the eye?" I ducked my head, trying to catch his eyes and see what he was talking about.

"It's not tacos, Sue." He shoved the bag towards me. I raised my eyebrows, then pulled the bag towards me. It didn't smell like tacos, and it wasn't warm, so I carefully unrolled the top and peeked inside. Holy shit -! It full of money. Stacks of bills all neatly banded together. Holy crap.

"Jesus, let's take this back into the walk-in, okay?" I rolled it back up as nonchalantly as I could, and unseated him in the direction of the freezer with a jerk of my head and a casual smile. Tom was over at the pool tables, so I whistled at him and indicated with my thumb that I was taking a quick break, and he nodded. At the back of the bar, I casually caught Jesus' arm, partly to look normal, but mostly so that he wouldn't change his mind and run off before telling me what kinda nonsense was happening in the taco biz these days.

I diverted him into the office once we walked behind the security door. Threw the bag on the desk. "Jesus, what hell is all this? Is this something illegal? Are you okay? Do you need help? Or are you being stupid about something? Do you need to be slapped in the face?"

Jesus looked startled. "Sue, what do you mean? Someone just handed me this bag, just now. Said it was for me. Told me to keep it. I tried to ask him what was up, and all he said was 'It's yours. It's your money, enjoy it.', and then turned and left. So I brought it in here, I thought you'd want to know!

I rubbed my eyes. "Jesus, was the guy hispanic? Older than you? What did he look like?"

"Shit, Sue, I think.....yeah, he was. I didn't feel like he was running from anyone, or like...well, I didn't question him. He didn't look scared or anything, or, or suspicious, or whatever. He just - handed me the money. Then he left."

I kept my hands over my eyes again. Someone had found about the temporal research, and someone had sent Jesus back to himself with a sack of cash. Goddammit. And whoever it was knew that Jesus and I were friends, and that he'd come to me, too, I'd bet that same sack of greenbacks. It was a message. I had some work to do tonight - after I got off work, anyway. Goddammit! For now, though, well....

I threw a grin at Jesus. Opened up the bag and dragged out a fat wad of twenties, thumbed the edge. He looked at me, and started to grin a little again himself.
"Well, dude, you know what this means, besides you being able to get more trucks out there?"

He smiled and shook his head. "Sue, I knew you'd tell me - what does it mean, huh?"

"No more Dos Equis when you come in here, baby! From now on..." I leaned in to press my head against his and throw an arm around his neck. "Top shelf only, amigo!"

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