A short story by Emily Smith
Even though Fridays were perpetually understaffed, somehow they’d always managed to pull through. Tonight was looking like it would put an end to that streak.
Manny navigated through the bustling crowd with the ease of a fish cutting through a stream. Jill suddenly appeared from behind a cluster of customers, her bangs plastered to her forehead with sweat. He narrowly avoided colliding into her; the girl wielded her bussing tray like it was a weapon; as he ducked behind the counter.
“Boss, we gotta problem on Till Four!” Jill yelled as she swiped five glasses onto her tray in one smooth motion. Manny dodged the quick-footed Serena as she darted back and forth from the till and the rack of glasses on the back wall, making it past Tills One, Two and Three before he saw what the problem was.
Of course it’s Daniel. Manny kept his groan at bay as he stopped next to him. The weedy kid almost cowers behind the screen, to put as much distance between him and the customer as possible. Manny looked between the two.
“What’s the problem here?”
“This idiot is telling me he can’t take my card!” the customer snapped.
Manny’s irritation rose. “Cash only.”
“What kinda bar only accepts cash?” sneered the asshole. He was a hulking lug of a guy, built like a slab of beef. He’s the type that could crush a skull between his biceps of steel, and he was grating on Manny’s last nerve.
“Whaddya want me to do, whip a card reader outta my ass?” Manny snapped right back. He folded his arms, a ‘we’re not gonna budge’ gesture, and stared the guy down.
The asshole held it for a long moment, but Manny didn’t falter.
“Shitface,” the asshole hissed, slapped a few bills on the counter, and sulked through the crowd. Right before he left, he turned back and flipped Manny off.
Manny nudged Daniel and flipped the guy right back. Daniel followed his lead, using both hands like an excited little kid. The guy turned as red as a cut of fresh meat, yelling something that gets lost in the buzz of the busy bar, before he slammed the door and disappeared into the harsh Chicago winter.
Daniel breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks.”
A grin split his innocent face, and Manny can’t help but smile too.
“Manny!” Luca hollered from down the bar. Manny clapped Daniel on the back and cut back through his team to Till One.
“Guy says he’s 21, but I don’t think he even has hair on his balls yet.” Luca hissed. He flashed the face of the driver’s license to Manny. The guy, this ‘Harold Franklin’, leaned excitedly on the bar like he was horny for his beer. Manny looked between the license photo and the guy; it checked out. But Luca had a point—Harold Franklin looked 16 at most—baby-faced and pock-marked and unbalanced.
“If you have suspicions, take the card out of the sleeve. You can tell if it’s a fake easier.” Manny slid the ID out of the man’s wallet, glancing at the expectant customer out of the corner of his eye. Harold paled slightly as Manny ran his finger along the ridges of plastic on the ID. Just as Luca suspected: it’s a fake.
“Next time you try to use a fake, make sure it’s smooth. Get a younger name, too. Harold Franklin is for twice-divorced-50-year-old-assholes.” Manny tossed the ID back at Not Harold Franklin and dismissed him with a casual flick of his hand.
Not Harold Franklin’s protests are suddenly drowned out by the shattering of glass across the bar. A collective intake of breath followed, stifling the chatter for one split second. Manny whipped his head up to see Jill standing in a pile of broken glass, her bussing tray tipped downwards. She gaped at the mess at her feet, like she wasn’t sure how it got there. The shards caught in the dim glow of the bar, sending fractured light spiraling across the room.
“Boss!” Jill called. She tiptoed out of the glass pile, shooing away any customers who got too close.
A pounding headache formed between Manny’s eyes. “Jesus Christ.”
He reached down for the broom and the dustpan tucked beneath the dishwasher.
“Hey,” a man hissed from across the bar.
The buzz of the bar fizzled to nothing in Manny’s ears. He froze.
“Boss?” Jill yelled again.
“Serena,” Manny said quietly, his eyes never leaving the newcomer, and Serena immediately understood. She grabbed the broom and dustpan from him and motioned for Jill to get up on the till. The two girls expertly switched positions, but Manny hardly noticed.
“Can I have one tropical orange juice with a straw?” the man asked.
His voice was low and cruel and sharp, the whisper of a knife dancing along the spine, the ridges of vertebrae rough and bumpy under the smooth blade. Manny has never seen this man before, but he knew.
He nodded slowly. He passed through the bar and the guy followed him to the opposite side, hustling another person over with him. The other guy hung his head low, his hands clasped uncomfortably behind his back like they’re bound.
Manny lifted the employee flap of the bar open, and the man prodded his captive through. Even though he couldn’t see, Manny knew the barrel of a gun was pressed firmly against his back.
“Through here,” he ushered the two men through the back door and into the dingy hallway. They hustled past the lockers and the employee bathroom, all the way to the storeroom. The captive began to drag his feet. Manny allowed a moment of sympathy to pass through him as he studied the bound man. Beads of sweat popped out on his brow. He was already as pale as the corpse he was about to become.
But Manny did not let the feeling stay for long. He shooed it away as he shoved one of the shelves aside, letting the dummy bottles of wine within rattle in their padded boxes. He took the key out from under his shirt and unlocked the hidden door. It groaned as it opened, scraping along the stainless steel floor that Manny worked hard to clean. He held the door open for the others to walk through. What can he say? He’s courteous like that.
The first man, the one who ordered the orange juice, turned to Manny. “You gonna stay?”
“Nah,” Manny shrugged. “I got a front to run.”