At six o’clock a neatly dressed older man sits in my section. His table has four place settings. I figure his friends are running late. I let thirty seconds pass before I make my approach.
“Good evening sir,” I say, greeting the man. “How are you this evening?”
“I’m fine thanks,” the man replies, “How are you?”
“I’m doing great sir, thank you,” I reply. “Will three more people will be joining you?”
“Yes,” the man says, “They’ll be along in fifteen minutes.”
“Very well sir,” I say, “Can I get you something from the bar?”
The man grins. “I thought you’d never ask.”
“What would you like?”
“A vodka and tonic please.”
“Any particular brand of vodka you prefer?”
“Absolut is fine.”
“Thank you sir,” I say, turning to leave, “I’ll get that for you right away.”
The man throws up his hand signaling me to stop. I stop. He pulls his wallet out of his blazer, grabs a ten spot, and presses it into my hand.
“I don’t want this drink on my check,” the man says, “I’ll pay for it separate.”
“And don’t let it slip to my friends that I’ve had a cocktail or two waiting for them.”
“I understand sir.”
No further explanation’s necessary. But the guy decides to explain himself anyway.
“My friends are pains in the asses,” he says, “Health nuts you know?”
“I’ve met the type sir,” I reply.
“Can’t ever enjoy a drink when they’re around,” he grouses, “They’re always lecturing me.”
There’s nothing to say so I say nothing. The man’s probably a drunk. He hides his drinking from his friends. Probably why they lecture him.
“Let me get your drink sir,” I say.
“Keep the change by the way.”
“Thank you sir.”
I go to the bar, grab a glass, mix vodka, tonic, and ice, and bring the drink to the man’s table. I lay a cocktail napkin down and place the sweating glass on top of it. The man picks it up and drinks greedily. As he’s swallowing he palms the cocktail napkin and hands it to me. No evidence.
“Thanks,” he says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“You’re welcome sir.”
“Make me another,” the man asks. “I’ll be finished with this one by the time you get back.”
“Right away sir.”
I go to the bar and make the man another drink. Man wants a couple of stiff ones before his friends arrive? Fine by me. Just as long as he doesn’t bust up the place. I return to the front with the man’s second drink as he’s draining the first.
“Here you are sir.”
The man puts the second glass to his lips before he even hands back the first one. This guy’s got it bad.
“Thanks kid,” he says, “Come back and I’ll pay for this one too.”
I bring the empty glass to the back. When I return a crisp twenty’s lying on the table.
“That’s all for you,” the man says, “Remember – mum’s the word, right?”
“Yes sir,” I say, putting the money in my pocket. I just made fourteen dollars.
I stand off to the side. The man chugs his second drink down. He rattles the ice, takes another sip, and hands the glass back to me.
“All done,” the man says, “Thanks.”
A few minutes pass. The man’s friends arrive. After hugs and kisses everyone sits down. Now I know why the guy ordered vodka – little or no smell. After everyone gets comfy I go over and ask if anyone wants something from the bar.
“No thanks,” the other man, a rather nerdy looking teetotaler says, “I don’t drink.”
“Well you don’t mind if I have a drink do you?” my vodka drinker asks, laughing.
“Of course Frank,” the nerdy man says, slightly embarrassed, “I wasn’t speaking for you.”
Frank looks straight at me. “I’ll have a double Johnny Walker Black on the rocks.”
“Right away sir,” I reply.
I bring Frank his drink. He has another whisky before his salad arrives. He also downs two glasses of wine with dinner and has a cognac with his coffee. If the liquor affects him he doesn’t show it. After the dessert plates are cleared the men ask for the check. They split it but Frank insists on leaving the tip. He gives me a fifty dollar bill.
“Thank you sir,” I tell Frank as he walks out the front door, “I appreciate it.”
“Thank you Waiter,” Frank says, winking.
The man walks off into the night. I picked up from the table’s conversation that Frank’s a widower who lives alone. He’ll probably drink himself to sleep with the TV on for company. One’s too many and a hundred’s never enough. Poor bastard.
My shift ends. Frank’s fifty’s burning a hole in my pocket so Kylie and I walk over to Café American for a post shift drink.
“How are you tonight?” Artie the bartender asks.
“Good,” I reply, “How was your night?”
Artie and I exchange shift notes. Kylie orders a Tequila and beer chaser. I order my new summer drink – Johnnie Walker Red and ginger ale.
“Right away,” the Artie says.
I reach for my newly earned fifty dollar bill. As my fingers close around it I suddenly have a vision of Frank watching TV in his underwear, his empty living room illuminated by the flickering light of a cathode ray tube, his eyes glinting with a sad alcoholic sheen as they gaze into the prison of memory.
“Artie,” I say, calling out the bartender’s name.
“Yes?” he asks, stopping mid-step.
“Thanks for your generosity man,” I say, “But make sure mine’s not a double this time.”
I think about Frank.