Friday, March 26, 2010

Blood and Destitute Strangers (No, that isn't the title.)

Last Friday I sat down with Sara and discussed my next book in that series. She was quit persuasive and through the magic of blogging, this week I am posting the first chapter of that book. Please feel free to leave any thoughts, good or bad, in the comment section, but keep in mind that this is the first draft and I haven’t edited it at all. The story for the novel is that Sara helps an out of work waitress find the evidence she needs to prove that David, the grandson of the owner of a movie studio, is the father of her child and to convince him to provide for his daughter.

Chapter One

Blood covered one side of the man’s face. No one could expect anyone with such a terrible wound to live for long if medical help didn’t arrive soon, but as Sara watched, he tore open a small packet of sweetener, dumped it in his coffee cup and stirred it with a spoon. He took a sip of his coffee and looked down at his watch.

“Do you mind taking this to that man over there?” Sara heard Carla say from behind her.

Sara turned around and saw Carla standing just outside doors going into the kitchen holding a tray with a bowl of blackberry cobbler and topped with vanilla ice cream that was already beginning to melt from the heat of the cobbler. Sara took the tray from the other woman.

“Thanks,” Carla said as she did, “I don’t think I can look at that blood on his face for another moment. It makes me sick.”

“What makes you think that I can handle it?” Sara asked, while mindful that she needed to get the man his order quickly or it would melt completely.

“With as many noses as you’ve busted, I don’t think it bothers you too much.”

“I haven’t done that in a long time,” Sara said.

“More recent than I have,” Carla said, turning to go back into the kitchen.

Sara wove her way quickly through the tables to the where the man sat. She sat the bowl down in front of him.

“What happened to the other girl?” he asked, looking up at her.

“She couldn’t stand looking at you.” Sara pointed at the left side of her own face. “It looks like you’ll have to put up with me.”

The man looked confused for a moment and then his face lit up with recognition, at least the half of it that wasn’t covered with blood. “I forgot about how I must look. I hope I’m not running your customers off.”

“No, I doubt it,” Sara said, looking around at the other people in the restaurant. Most weren’t eating anything, just sitting around the tables killing time, sipping from cups or glasses. “There’re more people in here than we usually have in the middle of the afternoon. But you look terrible. It looks like it must hurt.”

“Not at all,” the man said, reaching up and touching his left cheek with his hand, “but it does feel funny, especially when I talk or chew.” He used a spoon to dip into the blackberry cobbler.

“So, what happened to you?”

“Car wreck,” the man said. “Can’t you tell from the glass?” He reached up touched his face, where it looked like a shard of glass was embedded in his face. It came loose in his hand. He stared at it for a moment. “I didn’t mean to do that. I bet someone’s going to have to stick that back on.”

“Well, not before you finish your cobbler, I hope,” Sara said. “You seem like you’re in a hurry.”

“I am,” the man said, “but not because of this. I told my boss that I’d be back at work this afternoon and now it’s beginning to look like that isn’t going to happen. I just hope they don’t expect me to come back tomorrow. I thought it would be a fun experience being an extra in a movie. I had to show up at five o’clock this morning so they could put this stuff on me and then I waited around all morning. They had some scene they were supposed to shoot and then they were going to shoot the one I’m in, but they’ve been behind all day.”

“Any particular reason?”

“I don’t know. It’s not like they would tell me anything, but I heard it had something to do with one of the actors showing up late or something. If you ever get the idea that you want to be in a movie, don’t.”

“They’re keeping me busy enough as it is, I don’t see myself wanting to wait around all day with blood on my face.”

“I guess you would be getting more business with them shooting outside,” the man said.

“Some,” Sara said, “But we got the catering contract for while they’re here. That’s keeping me busy and they don’t even have as many people here as they say they’ll have later.”

“Here I thought I could impress you with my story about being an extra and you’re practically an insider.”

“Not really.” Sara smiled at him. “I did have a meeting with some of them this morning, but that’s only because Mom is out of town.”

“She skipped out on you and left you with all the work?”

“Well, she didn’t really want the catering contract to begin with. I talked her into it and I think she’s trying to teach me a lesson. But she’ll be back before they finish filming.”

“If they finish,” the man said, scraping his bowl with the spoon. “As slow as they are…”

“Maybe it’ll pick up.”

Sara had no sooner spoken than a woman carrying a clipboard came in. “Dead car driver?” she yelled across the large room. “Is the dead car driver in here?”

“I think they’re looking for you,” Sara told the man.

“Yeah, looks like it.” He stood up, open his wallet and pulled out a few bills, which he handed to Sara. “Keep the change.”

He started to leave when Sara spotted the glass lying on the table next to his cup. She picked it up. “You might need this.”

He turned around and looked at it. “Yeah, I might. I just hope it doesn’t take too long for them to put it back on. I don’t want to have to come back and do this again. I had enough trouble getting the nerve up to do it the first time.”

“You’ll be great,” Sara said. “I’ll be sure to look for you when the movie comes out.” What she said was not dissimilar to what she had said to an actor she had spoken to earlier in the day. Of the two, she thought the actor to be the more nervous, but the man with the bloody face seemed more appreciative that someone would think to look for him in the movie.

The man left, following the woman with the clipboard and Sara cleared away the dishes, putting the table in proper order for when it would be needed again. She deposited the dishes in the kitchen. She saw Carla filling a tea pitcher.

“You can stop hiding out in here,” Sara said. “That man with the bloody face is gone.”

“I’m not hiding out. I just had stuff I needed to do. Besides, he must not have stayed very long.”

“He didn’t. I guess they’re ready for him. Someone came looking for him anyway.”

“Carla,” another waitress spoke from behind Sara. “There’s a man here looking for Ellen.”

“Did you tell him she isn’t here?” Carla asked.

“Yes, but then he asked to see the manager.”

“Did he say what he wants?” Carla set the tea pitcher down and walked toward the door. Sara turned and followed the other two.

“No, he didn’t say, but he has a mother and daughter with him.”

“I guess I’d better see what he wants.”

The waitress pointed to a table near the center of the room. Neal Watts sat there. Sitting at the same table, Sara saw a woman and a girl she had never seen before. The girl looked young, maybe ten or so. Had they not been sharing a table with Neal, Sara might have thought they were more people involved with the movie. Their clothes looked worn. The woman wore a cotton dress, faded from many washings. The girl wore jeans an a T-shirt. The shirt hung loose on her, giving Sara the impression that it had been selected to allow the girl to grow into it. Or maybe they hadn’t had much choice in sizes. The woman wore no makeup and she hadn’t taken much care with her hair. It hung down limp and without life. But they both looked clean.

“Neal,” Sara said, before Carla could speak. “What are you doing here?”

“Sara,” Neal said, “If I’d known you were here, I would’ve asked for you.”

“You two know each other?” Carla asked.

“Of course. You remember Neal, don’t you.”

Carla didn’t indicate whether she did or she didn’t. “Well, if you don’t need me, I’ve got things I need to do.” She turned and walked off.

“So what’s up?” Sara pulled out a chair and sat down. “I heard you were planning a trip this summer.”

“Didn’t really have the money,” Neal said. “That and Bro. Hiller asked me to help out. I’m taking over the youth minister’s responsibilities until they find a new one. And I thought one more summer at home would be nice.”

“And what was it you wanted to see Mom about?”

“Bro. Hiller sent me down here. He said you guys would give these two something to eat. They don’t have a lot of money.”

Sara looked at the woman and the girl. The woman made eye contact and wasn’t quick to look away. She didn’t seem like she was trying to be dishonest. Sara had seen plenty of those too and a lot of them came in following Bro. Hiller. But they fed them anyway. The church would have paid for it, if Ellen had asked, but she never did.

“I’ll get some menus.” Sara turned to walk away.

“You don’t have to do that,” the woman said. “We’ll we happy with whatever you couldn’t get rid of at lunch.”

“We don’t have anything like that.” Sara wasn’t truthful. They couldn’t always guess how many people would show up or what they would choose to eat. They did the best they could. The woman’s face told Sara that she didn’t believe her, but Sara didn’t let it bother her. “I’ll be back with the menus.”

She walked across the room toward the stack of menus near the front door, making her way past a couple of actors dressed in firemen’s uniforms. She grabbed the menus and turned around and nearly ran into Jill.

“Oops, I’m sorry,” the woman said, dodging the collision. “Sara, I need to talk to you.”

“I was just…”

“Oh, it won’t take long. I just came to let you know that we expect to break for dinner at six o’clock and to expect fifty-seven. That won’t be problem, will it?”

Sara looked at her watch. It was nearing three o’clock. “But you said there wouldn’t be a meal this evening.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t too happy about it either, but they’ve decide to keep shooting for as long as they can. They’re hoping to make up for the time they lost today and its supposed to rain tomorrow. I’d almost be willing to bet that whatever they shoot tonight they’ll have to come back and reshoot, but what do I know?” Jill shrugged. “Can I tell them that you’re good?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” Sara said, while trying to think what she would do to make it work. They’d booked reservations like any other night and now there were going to be fifty-seven more people than she had expected, all showing up to eat at the same time. Only the second day of shooting and Sara could already see why Ellen hadn’t liked the idea. Maybe it would be better when they were shooting out away from the café and they weren’t trying to feed the movie folks while keeping up with regular business. The only thing that helped them was that some of their regular crowd stayed away with so much commotion on Main street.

“Then I’ll see you around six,” Jill said, leaving through the front door.

Sara went back and laid the menus in front of the mother and daughter and Neal. She went immediately to the kitchen, where she saw one of the chefs gathering his things to go home.

“You aren’t leaving, are you?” she asked, knowing he was. “We’re going to have a crowd tonight.”

“Tonight’s my night off.”

“I just heard we have to feed the movie people tonight.”

“That’s your problem,” he said, jingling his keys in his hand.

Sara looked at Carla.

“You can’t make him stay,” the other woman said.

“But…” Sara stopped when she saw Carla shake her head.

“That’s alright,” Sara said, repressing the urge to argue, “I wouldn’t have asked, but we really are going to be swamped tonight. We’ll figure out something.”

“You’ll figure out something,” Carla corrected her, “or have you forgotten that I’m taking off tonight too?”

“You can’t be serious. Is anyone going to be here?” Sara asked. She could just see all of the workers abandoning her. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Ellen was gone. “Can’t you take off some other night?”

“Look girl, I’m not trying to make things hard for you,” Carla said. “You know I wouldn’t do that, but it’s my grandmother’s eightieth birthday party. It isn’t like that’s going to happen again.”

“Can’t you just wait another ten years and go to her ninetieth?” Sara saw the look Carla shot her, the look she gave people she found tiresome. Sara hadn’t seen that look directed at her for a long time. “I’m kidding. I hope you have a good time.” She went and gave her mother’s friend a hug. It was either do that or tell her she was sorry. A hug was easier.

“I’m sure it’ll only last a couple of hours,” Carla said. “I can come back afterward and help close up.”

“No, don’t worry about it. Maybe we’ll get lucky and have a lot of cancelations.” She knew better than to expect that, but she hoped it would keep Carla from feeling bad about being gone.

Sara returned to the dining room and the mother and daughter were ready to order. “What about you?” Sara asked Neal after the other two had told her what they wanted.

“Oh, nothing for me,” he said, handing her the three menus, but then he said, “Actually, a bowl of ice cream would be nice.”

“Can I have ice cream, too?” The young girl looked at her mother as she spoke.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Even if I eat everything on my plate?”

“We’re taking too much from these good people as it is,” the woman said.

The little girl made a face with sad pitiful eyes. It made Sara feel sorry for her.

“Cut that out!” the woman said. “You remember what I said.”

The girl’s expression changed instantly, as if she were the happiest girl in the world and hadn’t even thought about ice cream.

When Sara got back to the kitchen, things had gotten worse.

“You’re missing one more chef for tonight,” Carla said. “Carlos just called in sick.”

“Guess that means I’ll be cooking tonight.”

“I would say that’s a safe bet, but have you thought about what you’re going to do for servers?”

Sara handed the order to the only chef she still saw in the kitchen. More would show up soon—she hoped. “I don’t know. Put the busboys on waiting tables?”

Carla rolled her eyes. “You want me to call around and see who I can get to come in?”

“Sure, that would be great.” Sara didn’t expect Carla to find anyone at home—not with the way her day was going. But she was also thinking about the busboys. She could put them upstairs, watching out off for the movie crew. They wouldn’t have to take orders or even talk to the customers. They could just make sure there was enough food in the pans and drinks in the glasses. The movie people could serve themselves.

She had a few things she wanted to get started, so she could be sure that she would be ready if Jill came rushing in later and said they wanted to eat an hour earlier than she had said. Sara didn’t bother to change into her chef’s jacket. She would put it on soon enough and for all she knew, Carla might find a couple of chefs willing to come in and the wait staff would be needing the most help. By the time she had finished what she needed to do, the other chef had finished cooking the order she had given him. She got Neal’s ice cream and went back out into the dining room.

She set their plates on the table. It felt strange, but she suddenly had plenty of time. The rush would hit later. She wished she could move part of that to an earlier time, so they could handle it when they weren’t so busy, but for now she had little that she could do. She decided to make good use of the time, pulled out the chair to Neal’s left and sat down. There was the mother and daughter she wanted to know more about and there was Neal, whom she hadn’t seen in several months.

“Are you from around here?” Sara directed the question at the woman.

The woman looked up from the fish she had on her plate. “No.”

Sara tried again. “What brings you into our area?”

It was Neal who spoke. “They have some business in the area.”

“What kind of business?” Sara continued to direct her questions at the woman.

“It’s…” The woman paused for a couple of seconds. “It’s a family matter.”

“What kind of a…”

“Sara, this is some really good ice cream,” Neal said, interrupting her. Sara took the hint and the woman looked a little relieved.

The other three ate in silence and Sara watched them until Carla came over to the table. “Sara, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t get anyone. I left them messages, but no one answered the phone.”

“Thanks for trying.”

“Is something wrong?” Neal asked.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” Sara said. “Mom’s out of town and we don’t have any chefs or any waiters. You don’t happen to know where I can find an extra cook or waiter, do you.”

“No,” Neal said, “I’d offer to help, but I think I’d just make things worse. Have you thought about asking Bumble Bee to help? She’s one of the best cooks I know.”

“Any other time, I might consider it, but she hasn’t been feeling very well the past few days.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, it’s some kind of bug or something.”

“That’s too bad. I was going to ask her if she’d put these two up for a few days.”

“That’s really not such a good idea,” Sara said, “But if you’d be willing to help, I bet I could teach you everything I know about being a waitress in about five minutes.”

“I’m afraid I left my black skirt at home,” Neal said.

“You know what I mean.”

“Mom’s a waitress,” the young girl across the table said. “And she works at a fancier place than this.”

“Beth!” the woman stopped her.

“Are you really a waitress?” Sara asked. “Maybe you could help us out.”

“Yeah, I’m a waitress,” the woman said. “At least, I was until the place where I was working burned down. It was just a greasy spoon up in St. Louis. I’ve never worked in a place as nice as this.”

“But any experience is better than nothing. We would really use the help tonight.”

“Sara,” Carla said, trying to get her attention.

“I would, but we still don’t know where we’re going to spend the night.”

“You can stay here,” Sara said.

“Can I talk to you, Sara?” Carla’s voice became much more insistent.

“There’s an apartment on the third floor that…”

“Sara, now,” Carla said through clinched teeth.

Sara pushed back from the table and followed Carla until they were out of earshot.

“What’s wrong?” Sara asked.

“I don’t think this is a good idea. Maybe you should talk to you mother before you start offering them a room and a job.”

“It’s my apartment, or it will be once I get it fixed up.” Sara thought of the paint still sitting in cans, waiting for her to put it on the walls. Someday it would look nice. “And we are shorthanded tonight.”

“I know, but I don’t trust them.”

“You don’t trust anyone.”

“This is different. There are some people that I don’t trust because I don’t like them and some people that I don’t trust because I think they’re lying.”

“And which are these?” Sara asked.

“I’m sure they’re lying about something,” Carla said, “I just don’t know what.”

“I think you worry too much. What could happen?”

“They could steal your stuff, for one thing,” Carla said.

“So what if the do? All I’ve got up there is some cheap furniture. I bought most of it at a yard sale.”

“I still think you should call your mother about this.”

“I know what she would say. I really don’t need to call her just to find out that she would do the same thing.”

“It would just make me feel more comfortable.”

“I really don’t have time. The evening crowd will be here shortly and is she’s willing to wait tables, it will help take the load off of everyone else.”

“And I need to be leaving,” Carla said, looking at her watch. “Just don’t complain to me if they walk off with all your stuff.”