“Of course I appreciate this,” Maya Solis was saying into the slim cellphone she had been given for business calls, “And I realize this is unorthodox, but because of that I was hoping for a night time delivery and – ”
It was mid-afternoon in the town of Molten, but it was always almost nighttime in the windowless bar. It was one of the last days of staff training, and across the interior the almost-fully-trained-bartenders were dutifully restocking shelves.
“Yeah, I get that you’re already on your way – but I’m training a new staff right now. I can’t be dealing with – yeah. Right, I know I just have to meet with the driver, but I have three new hires here. What am I supposed to do with them and this sort of shipment coming in? God. Fine, okay – dammit. Alright.” And holding the phone away from her ear, she looked over to the employees at the bar. “Good work today guys, you can all head home. Day after tomorrow, grand opening, get ready! Hey, Jeremy – you stay. Yup, you, thanks.”
And then, putting the phone back to her ear, she muttered to the person on the other line, “Alright, let’s hope this goes well. See you soon.” With a click, she hung up.
Jeremy McVey had found the past week of training one of the oddest he had ever encountered. Usually, as a fully trained bar tender, new jobs would do things like go over dress code. Explain where things are. Elaborate on the corporate culture, maybe. But this bar – this Ducante’s – insisted on retraining them on everything. Maya, the woman who had been running the show, was a mixed bag: sometimes Jeremy found himself reminded fondly of his older sister. Other times, he wondered how such a small girl could get so mean so quickly.
Maya Solis had gone out of her way to remind Jeremy and the others that this business expected nothing but perfection and professionalism. She had told them repeatedly to be on their toes when their were actually customers in the store: “Be on your game. Be perfect. We are not a pretty business and you do not want to disappoint your customers.”
The first time she had said it, it had been funny, almost. So serious, so intense. But the more she said it, the more grave the sentence became. The few times Mr. Gregory Ducante, the bar owner, had been present, he had simply nodded along to what she said. Sometimes, he offered a wink, and a: “We certainly wouldn’t want to see you on the bad side of one of our guests.”
It had started to give Jeremy McVey chills. The chills were the reason why as he tossed down a bar rag and made his way to Maya Solis, he did it with a lingering apprehension. Being alone in the bar with her made him nervous – especially now, when she had that hard look in her hazel eyes.
“Jeremy, we have a delivery coming in. Follow me, please,” she said simply, motioning to the hall that led out to the back door.
“I… okay,” he said, shuffling after her. “But I thought we got all of the shipments earlier in the week?”
Maya glanced over her shoulder, tucking a light brown piece of hair behind one ear. “Sort of,” was her only answer.
Jeremy frowned. “I don’t understand. What don’t we have? We got the vodka, the brandy, the whiskey, the bourbon, the rum…”
“This…” his boss began slowly, “This… is something a little bit more… illicit.”
“Do we sell moonshine?!” Jeremy hissed.
Maya, her hand resting on the handle of the back door, turned to look at her employee again. There was a small half smirk on her face, so reminiscent of the bar owner that it made Jeremy shiver. “Nothing quite that tame, kitten.”
The back alley of the bar was shared by the restaurants next door, though Jeremy had never known it to be used for anything but garbage. The big shipments that had come earlier, the vodka, brandy, whiskey, bourbon, and rum, had been delivered out front, in the area previously taken up by construction and now labeled ‘LOADING ZONE, 7AM-4PM. NO PARKING.’ This back alley was practically non existent.
But today there was a car parked in the previously non existent back alley. It was old looking, blue with pockets of rust forming near the wheels. The driver had already gotten out of the front seat and was leaning against the popped trunk.
“Hey,” he offered, tipping a black ball cap in Maya’s direction. “Long time no see.”
“Been working in a lot of different places, Karl,” Maya said, walking over and lifting the trunk of the blue sedan. “It’s all here?”
“Everything Mr. Ducante normally asks for at an opening. Wasn’t easy to get, either – took quite awhile to siphon off.” The driver, Karl, nodded towards Jeremy. “This one of your new guys?”
Maya shook her head. “I find that hard to believe, since we only gave you a week’s notice of what we needed. And yes, this is one of my new guys. Jeremy, Karl, Karl, Jeremy – Karl is a long time Ducante’s supplier.”
“Coast to coast,” Karl added languidly. “You need help moving this stuff in?”
“I’ll get it,” Jeremy said quickly, darting forward. He did not know what he had expected in the trunk of the car: bricks of cocaine, maybe. Syringes full of God-knows-what, perhaps. But all that sat in the trunk were several styrofoam coolers, the type that one might take on a camping trip.
Maya bit her lip as he picked one up (they were heavy) and then gave a small nod. “Those go in the chest freezer. Not the one with the food.”
“The empty one. Got it,” Jeremy grunted. The cooler was really heavy. As he headed back down the hallway, he thought he heard the driver – Karl – bark a laugh at something Maya said. But he couldn’t quite hear what it was.
Jeremy McVey was half way down the hallway when he heard Maya’s footsteps behind him. The occasional groan from her direction told him that she was carrying a cooler, as well. He had just set his load down on the chest freezer – the one with the food in it – and had gone to open the empty one when Maya walked in behind him.
“Make sure you unload the cooler, don’t just set it in,” Maya said, her tone forcibly light.
“Su-” Jeremy began, but he stopped as he took the lid off of the styrofoam cooler. Inside, several dozen plastic medical bags full of red gleamed up at him.
“I told you we don’t run a pretty business,” Maya said, dropping her cooler next to his. “Now get unloading. And start considering taking the position of head bartender.”