I am working on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is R for risky business.
Stu joined Tony at a table to the rear of the Hickory Horse, just off the kitchen, plunking himself down in the booth, and settling into the well- worn cushion. He sighed, reached over to the menus placed along the wall, selected one and opened it, signaling to Sophie at the same time, that they were ready for cold ones. “Where’s Jerry?” he asked his booth mate, though how Tony was supposed to know was beyond him.
“I expect he’ll be along shortly. Probably had a late customer, and couldn’t get free.” Jerry worked in a motorcycle shop, one which provided parts, in addition to selling the bikes themselves. The three of them ate their evening meal together, five or six nights a week, and had done so for close to ten years now. None of the three was married, and the prospects were not good. Even when he was married to Rita, Stu had still eaten at the Hickory Horse, because Rita worked from three to midnight and therefore, Stu had to fend for himself for dinner.
As they perused the nightly specials, they were joined by Jerry, who remarked as he sat down, “I never understand why these freaking people have to walk into the shop at five minutes before closing. It’s enough to drive me to drink,” signaling to Sophie that a cold beer was in order. Stu and Tony ignored him; it wasn’t as though they hadn’t heard the same thing a hundred times before. Any advice either of them had to offer, had been offered a dozen times in the past. Offered and rejected.
Sophie sidled over, setting down their beers, asking as she did so, “Are you decided yet? The salmon’s just in, and we won’t have it for more than a wink, so’s you’d better jump while the jumpin’s good.” Sophie had been there forever; she could have predicted their orders for them, if she’d a mind to it. They placed their orders, none of them “jumping” on the salmon.
They used to come to this restaurant during high school, scarfing their cheeseburgers and fries, after the Friday night football games. Stu could even recall his birthday, when he was in eighth grade, and been allowed to invite eight of his friends to have a birthday lunch together. Yes, they went back a long way, this restaurant and the three of them, even if it was beginning to list to the shabby side of things. The candy-apple-red curtains were faded; the tables were mismatched, and the booths had benches that were sadly in need of reupholstering. But the Hickory Horse was still the best food joint in town; make no mistake about that.
The place seemed to always have the tables occupied, but there was still rarely a delay getting one. It was the perfect balance of quality, without being compromised by quantity. As they sat there sipping and going over the events of the day, they became aware that there was a one-sided conversation, going on in the kitchen, with the gravelly voice of Vic, the owner of the Hickory Horse, being easily recognizable. He had a desk just inside the kitchen, which served as an office away from his office. Vic spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and was known to both give and take advice from the chef.
“Well, it ain’t like I want to, you know? Hell-raising horse... I just can’t afford to keep going on like this.” Vic was one of the reasons they ate at the Double H, as the restaurant was often referred to. He had coached their high school baseball team and was a big part of the hierarchy of the town.
Jerry started to comment, but was quickly shushed by Stu and Tony. “I want to hear this,” Stu whispered impatiently.
Whoever Vic was talking to made a comment, to which Vic said, “I lost another grand last week, and what with the electricity bill double what it was a year ago, I just can’t afford it. I tell you I’m gonna have to do something drastic.”
Tony whispered urgently, “Vic’s going to shut down the Double H? What the hell?”
Vic continued, “I thought for sure I could pull it together, but now I’m seeing the truth. It’s such a risky business. I used to have the knack, but now...I just don’t know anymore.”
“This is bad,” Tony muttered. “If he shuts this place down, I’m going to end up at The Pizza Butt, or worse, McDonald’s. Good God-is nothing sacred?”
“Well,” said Stu, “I’ll talk to Vic, though I don’t see how I can make a difference. I mean, I can lend him money, but you heard what he said, the same as me.”
“Yeah, I heard it; I just don’t want to believe it. Do you think someone else will take over and make it happen?” queried Tony.
“Not the way it happens now.” Jerry’s voice had a note of finality in it.
The conversation from the kitchen put a damper on the meal. They ordered another round of beers, but refrained from asking Sophie what she knew. After all, Sophie never got it right. As they got ready to pay the bill and leave, Vic came out of the kitchen and settled in his customary place at the end of the bar, drinking a beer.
Stu ambled over to him and said, “Hey Vic. Sure did enjoy my steak tonight. Don’t know what I’d do if you ever shut this place down.”
“Well, hey Stu. Glad you liked it. As for shutting the place down-ain’t never gonna happen. Why would I do that? Here, let me buy you a beer.”
“What? You’re not thinking of closing this place?”
Vic snorted. “Shut down the Hickory Horse? Why in the Sam Hell would I do that? Have you lost your marbles?”
“Well, we heard you talking before...” Stu’s voice trailed off.
“Heard me talking? Hell, I yak all day. What’s that got to do with closing this baby of mine?”
“Before, when you were in the kitchen. You told someone, ‘I can’t afford to keep going like this. I’m going to have to shut it down.’”
Vic leaned back, almost falling off the bar stool, he was laughing so hard. “When I said shut it down, I was talking about my yen for betting on the ponies. I can’t win and I’m tired of losing. I’ve just been doing it for so long that I don’t honestly know if I can stop. But I’m not going to shut down the Double H. Hell, where would I eat? McDonald’s?”
He leaned over the bar and hollered at the barkeep, “Hey, Benny, get Stu, here, another beer. And while you’re at it, get me one too. I need it! Sell the Double H? That’ll be the day!”