I lifted a tray loaded with empty plastic pitchers high above my head and worked my way through the Monday night crowd. My hips nudged people out of the way, which guys took as an invitation to grope me. I made it to the bar, put in yet another order for Bud Light pitchers, when I felt a big hand on my ass. It was the fifth one to make a landing in the last hour. I smacked it, but it stayed, heavy and insistent. I spun around and stuck a finger in the chest of a guy roughly the size of my pickup. My finger sunk in to the first knuckle.
“I’m going to kick your ass, if you don’t knock it off,” I said.
The guy reached out and grabbed my finger. His hand was slow and assured; not the usual drunken frat boy action I was used to. Still, he was definitely on something. He looked at my finger like he was considering breaking it. Instead, he tried to put it in his mouth.
I whipped my finger away, grabbed an empty tray, and whacked him on the top of the head. No reaction. Then a couple of slow blinks and he melted like lard in a skillet. I don’t think I hit him all that hard; maybe it was just his time to pass out.
“Well now, Mercy. That’s a first.” Tom leaned over the bar to get a better look at my handiwork and smiled. Tom was the owner and chief bartender of the American Ball Club or the ABC, as he liked to call it. The name made the place sound classy, which it wasn’t. Tom decorated it in early American plywood and dirt. How it managed to pass health inspection was a mystery. Tom must’ve known a guy. The kind of guy that thinks breaking knees is educational. Health inspectors, beware.
“Had to be done,” I said.
“No doubt,” he said, still smiling.
Lard Butt lay on the floor making snuffling sounds like a hog at a feed trough. His friends came over, apologized, and pulled him out the door by his feet.
“The ABC’s lucky to have you,” Tom said.
“Don’t get used to it.”
I wasn’t waitressing a minute longer than necessary. My dad was a PI and he asked me to fill in on a case while he was off testifying in Chicago. Actually, Dad doesn’t ask, he orders. I agreed because it was easier than arguing about it and the case looked like a no-brainer. All I had to do was waitress at the ABC in case a university student, Josh Byers, showed up. Dad said Byers was a witness, which translates to “guilty of something,” but the bar was a waste of time in my opinion. Anybody who’d go to their favorite hangout while being hunted by the cops and a PI was an idiot. None of what I’d seen on Josh Byers said he was an idiot. But Dad insisted I spend a week waitressing, no matter how much grabass I had to deal with. He must’ve known something I didn’t. He usually did.
“Seriously, Mercy. I didn’t think you’d last a shift,” said Tom. “Even our ugly waitresses get hassled.”
“Thanks,” I said with a sneer.
“I meant that as a compliment.”
Saying I looked like I couldn’t handle a bunch of drunken frat boys was not a compliment. People tended to make certain assumptions about me. For the record, pretty doesn’t equal weak. It doesn’t equal drug-addicted dingbat either. I’m just saying.
Tom filled some more pitchers for me and put them on a tray. I delivered them, returned to the bar, and plunked down on a convenient stool. My waitressing days were over.
“You heading out?” Tom asked.
“In a minute.” My feet were killing me. Waiting tables was worse than nursing. I’d rather give an enema than get felt up for eight hours. Tom leaned over the bar and looked at my swollen feet in the peep-toe pumps I once thought were comfortable. Then he told his customers he was done serving and to come back tomorrow. Undoubtedly they would.
“What can I get you? On the house,” he said.
“I’m too tired to care,” I said. “Knock yourself out.”
Tom poured several ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shook it with gusto, and then poured the concoction into a