I looked down as my precious phone shattered into a few pieces, battery flying into the street and screen cracked like a bad car windshield after a nasty wreck. I only paused a moment before looking up at the man emerging from the shadows. Brown well-worn cowboy boots began at the pavement and tight-fitting jeans rose on long firm legs, also well-worn and nicely faded from the looks of it. I dragged my gaze ever upward. He stepped into the light and I could see a face as shocked as mine staring at me.
“Jesus H Christ missy, whatcha yelling about? I’m just heading out from work, that’s all. Hush up before you wake the dead. I promise not to mug ya or worse so just shush please” and a smile slowly crept up on what I saw was a quite attractive face, in a young hollywood heart-throb sort of way, dimples that must have gone straight to the back of his head. I closed my mouth then, slightly embarrassed at my display but hell, there’s a hand in the garbage can. It had to have come from somewhere. He took a step forward and I took a slight one backwards, feeling the earth crashing into my back as I fell off the curb and onto my backside. Matthew McConaughey wanna-be came running over and reached for my hand and at that point I allowed him to help me up from this graceful display of myself.
“There’s a hand in the garbage can” was all I could muster at that point. His eyes opened wide and he turned to look behind him at the old metal can.
“Oh God, not again” he muttered as he pulled me upright and then he strode over to the can. Lifting the lid and grasping his nose as the smell hit him. “Come on, we gotta get inside, quick-like please” and he shoved me forward towards the alley, grabbing my bag off the bench as we moved. “What about my cell phone? It’s got all my numbers and photos in there, I’ve gotta find a way to get it fixed,” I turned back to go get it. “No, you stay here, it’s not safe out here and I know my way around, I’ll get it. Wait here, okay?” and he strode back down the alley. I listened but heard only the wind moving the leaves and some remnants of trash nearby, staring up to see darkened windows on this two-story building and the stars above through the crevice. “Come on, let’s go in before they see us, if they haven’t already” and he brushed by me and obediently like a silly dog I followed.
He turned to the left where the building ended and pulled out a wad of keys. The metal clanging seeming to fill the air suddenly with sound, the loud click and turn of the tumbler reverberating in my ears. With a slight shove he opened the door and walked in. “Follow me, just be careful. It’s pretty late and as I can see how much of a ballerina you are on your feet and don’t want you to trip and trash the kitchen or to wake anyone up.” He must have been smiling as he said it because it was light-hearted and obviously not meant in a mean sort of way. Up ahead I could see a faint light. The smell of grease and cleaning solution was strong where we stood and he must have reached over and turned on a switch. A bare bulb above our head lit the small room and I could see a three tub sink and a stack of stainless steel pans and bowls set up on edge drying. SOS pads from a tipped box lay on a shelf and a big Yellow bottle of Joy, reminding me suddenly of my grandmother’s house when I was a kid. I hadn’t seen Joy in years, soap or otherwise.
We walked through a hallway and came out another door into the restaurant itself. He didn’t turn any lights on in here and walked to the front windows and peered out. He stood there for a minute and then turned back to me. I just stood there wondering what the heck I was doing here, with a stranger in a restaurant out of the 60’s and why on Gods green earth was there a severed hand in the garbage can out front. I cleared my throat but no words would come out. I opened my mouth, then closed it once more.
You’re out there screaming a few minutes ago and now you’re speechless. What’s up with that Miss? he said with a chuckle and moved towards me. His hand reached out and that killer smile was once again plastered on his face. Chad, my name is Chad and this here restaurant is my Grandma’s. Her names Alice, but she doesn’t work here anymore, and he started singing the song and laughing quietly. Okay, she died last year, that’s why she doesn’t work here anymore, nor is she here anymore technically but I know she is in every pore of this old joint. I’m trying to hang onto it and keep it in the family. I spent my fair share of time here as a kid and this place is the closest thing I know to home, I refuse to give up and let her go now. Come too far and seen too much. Besides, have to keep it as Alice ’cause Chad’s restaurant just doesn’t have the same vibe. He laughed then and waited for my response. Suddenly I didn’t know what the heck to say in response. It was too strange and I knew he’d laugh or get all weird about it, I mean what were the odds, right?
My name is Allison, most just call me Allie. I didn’t dare tell him that my Grandmother and mother had always called me Alice, especially if I was in trouble for something, which was quite often from what I could recall. I could see how he felt about his Grandma and I didn’t want him to think I was mocking him.
Well, nice to meet you Allie, I don’t like the circumstances of this here meeting, that’s all. But that in itself is a long story and I’m a bit tired and it’d take too long to tell. How ’bout we just hunker down here tonight if that’s okay with you and when morning shows her pretty face, we’ll call the cops and go from there. Don’t like doing things in the dark and I don’t trust the cops 100% so we will take care of it then. It’s not like it’s going anywhere, right?
He went in the corner of the room to a closet, pulled out a blanket and tossed it to me. We’ll just push the table out and you can stretch out in the booth, it should fit you and I just had ’em redone so they should be comfortable. I’ll sleep over here. I promise not to do anything or get funny with you, besides, I’ve heard your screaming and the tenants upstairs would call the cops in a second. Then again, I’m surprised they hadn’t earlier.
I set my bag and the cell phone pieces on the table, the sheen of the plastic tablecloth shining from the back room light and I pulled the blanket over me. I knew I wouldn’t be dreaming of french fries or greasy burgers, hell, I’d be surprised if I even slept but it did feel good to get prone. I looked over at Chad but he had turned the other way and I could hear him breathing slow and deep. How the heck could he just do that? There’s a hand outside belonging to God knows who and he sleeps as if it was nothing in the world. I closed my eyes and fell into a fitful sleep, Alice’s Restaurant playing in my mind.
To be continued….