John Holton (john_holton) wrote,
John Holton

The first story

OK, as promised, I'm posting the first of my "story a day" entries. It's one that I've been working on for a couple of days now, and I'm pretty happy with it. It's based on some things that happened to me years ago, combined with some pretty wild stories I've heard, and a good amount of imagination. It features Tony Reardon, a character that has made an appearance or two on Ghostletters. Let me know what you think.

Nothing Ventured

The Sunday crowd was definitely different from the Saturday crowd. For one thing, there weren't as many of them. For another, they seemed less interested in buying something than they were in just walking around among the items in the store, looking, killing time until it was time to go home and get ready for the week ahead. On Saturday, people were in a hurry, because they had things to do, places to go, dinner parties to attend and to give, babysitters to pick up. Sundays, people were just wandering listlessly, looking for something to fill the hours between when they weren't able to sleep any more and when they could go back to bed.

The store was open from one to five on Sunday, and normally we worked with a skeleton crew. I was the sole proprietor of the Liquor department, Herbie was the sole person in Antique Books, and Kate and Betty were in Gourmet Food. The boss, a slight man who smelled as though he never bathed and whose voice carried the traces of a French or German accent, was there, mostly to ensure that I had made it on time and that I was doing something the whole time I was there. He had made me his own personal project, for some reason, maybe because he didn't like me and the feeling was mutual. Any opportunity to carp on me about my hair, my clothes, my attendance or my apparent attitude problem was fair game for him to criticize me on all counts. I didn't know why he didn't just fire me, but I wasn't in a place where I could ask him that and suffer the consequences. I needed the job too badly so that I could afford my carfare to school and to work during the week.

This one particular Sunday was the day after one of the wilder nights before that I had ever had in my nineteen years on earth. After work on Saturday, I met some friends from my old job at one of the bars on Rush Street, and we spent the evening bar-hopping, finishing up sometime around three A. M. at a restaurant at Rush and Oak. I had made it back to my dormitory sometime around sunup, and stole a quick couple of hours of sleep before having to get up and face Mr. Smelly.

I made it to the store seconds before it was time to punch in, and was at my post just as the boss was making his rounds. "Good morning, Mr. Reardon, I see you've made it on time."

"Yes, sir, I paid attention the last time we had one of our conversations."

"I'm glad to hear that. Now, as you can see, you didn't do a very good job of keeping the wine bins filled yesterday."

"It was busy, sir."

"Well, you should have stayed until they were neatly stocked."

"Sir, I knew that I would be in early today, and that Sundays are usually pretty quiet. I planned on doing it today."

"Yes, that's all well and good, but that's not the point. From here on, the bins are full before you go home in the evening."

"Yes, sir." I had a bad enough headache from the night before. I wasn't about to make it worse by arguing with him. I was sure that he would, before the end of the day and before I would have a chance to have some coffee and a cigarette. I slipped off my jacket, put on one of the store smocks and went back to the stockroom. I took a trolley and put a case of Merlot, a case of Zinfandel, and a case of Zeller Schwartze Katze onto it, then wheeled it carefully into the sales area.

Kate was standing there as I emerged from the back room. "You got in trouble," she sing-songed.

"Oh, geez, now don't you start," I said.

"Rough night last night?" she asked.

"Oh, yeah."

"Where did you go?"

"It's more a case of where didn't I go. I think we hit just about every bar on Rush and Division. Mostly we were at Butch McGuire's, but we went to some disco later in the evening, then one of the guys decided that he wanted to follow these women someplace else, so we went there. You know, the usual BS. We had a late supper at The Oak. More like breakfast, really."

"I'll bet the train ride was a lot of fun."

Noting the boss strolling nearby, I opened the flaps of the top case, took a rag and started dusting each bottle as I put it up on the shelf. "Oh, loads of fun. Not anywhere near as much fun as the one here this morning, or whatever it is."

Kate laughed. "Well, I'd better get back. You've got the early break today, since you had the late one last week."

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart," I said as she left.

I finished stocking the remaining bottles onto the shelf, brought the empty boxes back to the stockroom, loaded more onto the trolley, and came back out. By now, the store was open, and customers were starting to wander through the department. I pushed the trolley into one corner as I helped a nicely dressed middle aged man who bought a bottle of Liebfraumilch, some Brie and a box of water crackers. I discussed the differences between Italian and French wines with a young woman who bought the Chianti when she realized that it was cheaper than the Burgundy. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the boss moving the trolley into the back room. He came out as I was ringing the young woman out.

"You shouldn't leave open cases of wine out like that, Mr. Reardon," he said.

"Yes, sir, I know that, but I had a couple of customers waiting," I replied.

"Well, you had time to push it in the corner, why didn't you push it into the back room?"

I stopped in mid-transaction and turned to him. "Because I didn't think of it, sir." I turned back to the register and promptly made an error. I voided the transaction and started a new one, slipping the sales slip into the envelope beside the register.

"Another void," he remarked as he left the area.

I completed the sale and handed the sales slip to the customer, who signed it. "He was a real jerk to you there," she remarked. "I was ready to say something."

"I appreciate that, ma'am," I said. I pulled the sales ticket apart and slid her copy into the box beside the bottle, then closed the box. "Have a nice day."

"Hope yours turns out better," she said.

I watched her climb onto the escalator, then went back to the storeroom and retrieved my trolley. For the next forty-five minutes, I did nothing but stock wine bottles into bins. By breaktime, I had managed to fill all of them except for two along the floor. When Kate relieved me, I made a note to check on what we had the most stock of, and to put extras in those bins.

I went to the break room, bought a hamburger out of the food machine and microwaved it while I got a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette. I found a table by myself, pulled out the paperback novel that I was reading, ate my hamburger, and drank my coffee, then lit another cigarette after I had eaten. A familiar odor wafted past me, and when I looked up, the boss was sitting there.

"You know, smoking is very bad for you," he said. "You shouldn't do it."

I could have said something about bathing helping to reduce the smell of the body, but chose not to. I merely stubbed out my cigarette, got up and left the break room. I spent the remaining ten minutes of my break in the mall, reading and smoking in peace.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet. The floor area was clean and well stocked, I had straightened out the bags and boxes under the counter, even cleaned up around the wastebasket area. I ventured out of my area and noticed that Kate and Betty were just standing there as well, so I wandered over in their direction.

"Excuse me," a voice behind me interrupted. I turned and saw an attractive woman in what I guessed was her mid- to late thirties smiling at me.

"Yes, ma'am, may I help you?" I asked.

She smiled. "You don't remember me, do you?" she asked.

"Um, I..." She was the kind of woman that I would have remembered. Gorgeous dark brown hair, warm brown eyes, straight white teeth, nice figure. When she smiled, she had small dimples at the corners of her mouth and faint lines at the corners of her eyes. She was dressed in a maroon turtleneck and dark wool trousers, both of which fit her perfectly.

"Rosalie! From last night? Butch McGuire's?" She gave me a sidelong glance and winked.

"Oh! Yeah! How are you doing?" I had lent her a cigarette and bought her a drink, then she and her friends took off for parts unknown. "You kind of took off on us..."

"Well, we had places to go, things to do, people to see. You know how it is. So, how are you feeling today?"

"Not bad. A little rough, but aside from that, doing all right. It's nice to see you again." I glanced around for the boss, who was nowhere in sight. "I work over in Liquor."

"You're well suited for it," she joked. "Want to sell me a bottle of wine?"

We walked over to my area. "So, Rosalie, tell me, what kind of wine do you like? White or red? French, Italian? We have a couple of wines from Greece here..."

"Oh, I don't know. What do you like?"

"Oh, uh, I really don't have a preference. I'm more of a beer man, myself. When I do drink wine, it's generally something more on the fruity side. I don't care so much for the dry wines, although they can be very..."

She picked up a bottle of Liebfraumilch and held it up. "How about this one?"

"That's a good one," I said.

"OK, you've got a sale." She stepped over to the register with me, and handed me a $20 bill to pay. When I handed her the receipt, she took it, pulled the pen out of my pocket, and wrote an address and phone number on the back. Handing it to me, she said, "I'll go home and put this on ice. See you in, what, an hour and a half?"

I was surprised at this overture, but I played it cool. I wasn't about to let on that I couldn't believe her forwardness. I looked at my watch, and at the address. "This is right around the corner..."

"Right. The Hancock Building, suite 6703."

"Yeah, an hour, hour and a half. Sounds about right." What the hell was I doing? Acting all cool like this?

"All right, then. I'll see you soon." She blew me a kiss and disappeared down the escalator.

I stood there watching in a state of shock. What had I just done? I had no business following this woman to her apartment. I had to get back to the dorm and do homework. They were having roast beef tonight in the cafeteria, my favorite. I had a paper due on Tuesday, and I really wanted to get working on it so I wasn't pulling an all-nighter on Monday night. And I was still worn out from last night, for crying out loud. What, was I nuts or something?

Kate and Betty wandered over in my direction. Hey, there was no one else on the floor besides us, Herbie (who spent most of his time in his own area, preferring not to have to deal with us riff-raff) and the boss, who was off smelling up someone else's work area. I could tell by the look in Kate's eyes that she knew just what had happened.

"So! I take it we have a date tonight?" she said.

I smiled back. "Uh, yeah, I guess. One that involves a bottle of wine and an apartment at the Hancock Center."

"And a beautiful woman who's old enough to be your mother," Betty, who was old enough to be my mother, said.

"Oh, I don't think she's that old," I said, grinning nervously.

"Oh, you might be surprised." Betty tapped me on the shoulder and winked, then returned to her register.

"Probably bored to death, this being Sunday," Kate said. "I take it that you know her from somewhere, considering the overture that she made to you."

"Evidently, I know her from Butch McGuire's," I replied. "I was there half the night last night. I bought her a drink and lent her a cigarette. I'm kind of surprised that she remembered me."

"You're going, aren't you?"

"I don't have any reason not to," I said. "I mean, there are things that I should do tonight, but it's the weekend, and I don't know. Sunday night is always such a bummer."

"Well, good luck. I'm going to want a full report next week." With a wave, Kate was on her way back to Gourmet Foods.

I spent the next hour making sure that there would be absolutely nothing to delay my departure from the store. I made sure that all of the bins were full for the umpteenth time, I made sure that the area was neat, and that all of the supplies were well stocked. All this time, I was getting nervous. What was I getting myself into? Why was this woman interested in me? Why had I been so quick to accept her rather forward invitation? What the hell was I thinking?

The boss came by to do the voids. "Only two today, Mr. Reardon. You're getting better. Of course, you didn't have that many customers, so this is still an unacceptable percentage."

"Yes, sir." I wasn't about to argue with him, nor was I going to point out that he had caused one of those voids himself. I didn't want to spend any more time with him than I absolutely had to.

"Next week, you'll have no voids, or I'll have to send you to training again." He handed me the sealed envelope and told me to close out my register. I emptied the money into the clear plastic bag and brought it to the office, then went back to my station, took off my smock and put on my suit jacket. It was ten to five. I made a quick call to the dorm to my roommate, to let him know that I wouldn't be back for dinner. That took all of two minutes. Eight more minutes to go. My mind started working in circles. There was something not right about this, I thought. What was it? I had no recollection of her from the night before. Of course, I had no recollection of a lot of things from the night before. Why should this be any different? Besides, she was very friendly, this Rosalie, and she was certainly attractive. Better not get my hopes up too high, though; Betty's right, she's much older than me. Which is strange. Maybe she thinks that I'm older than I am. Maybe she thinks I think she's younger than she is. Maybe she knows exactly how old I am and doesn't really care, and wants to see if I care. Maybe she's just interested in me for sex. Maybe...maybe I...My thinking was interrupted by the sounding of the bell, announcing that the store was now closed.

I felt a little wobbly as I rode the escalator down to the first floor and out of the employee's entrance. I'm out of my mind, I thought. This is nuts. I should just walk over to Chicago and State, get on the subway, ride back to Rogers Park, and forget about this. Nah, I can't do that. She'd be back the next week looking for me. She knows where I work, although if it were up to the boss, I wouldn't work there anymore. Besides, I spend half of my life in this neighborhood. There's a better than even chance that I'll run into her sometime, and she's bound to confront me on it, and what'll I say then? Oh, this is stupid. I fished my CTA pass out of my pocket, determined to just go home.

The chill of the autumn air outside snapped me out of the trance I was in. I walked down Michigan Avenue toward Chicago Avenue and stood at the corner opposite the Water Tower. The light changed, and I was still there, people pushing all around me. You know, I said, this could be kind of interesting. Maybe this woman's a millionaire, and she wants me to be her personal assistant. Maybe she is old enough to be my mother, and she has a daughter. She might not be some kind of tigress, ready to chew me up and spit me out. Maybe she's sincerely interested in getting to know me, and while nothing romantic may happen, we could become great friends, and she could be a mentor to me. Maybe I'm passing up the chance of a lifetime. I'll never know if I just walk down to the subway and ride it home to the dorm.

I straightened up, turned around, and walked toward the Hancock Building, feeling lightheaded and weak in the knees, but excited at what might lay ahead. "Here goes nothing," I said, and walked through the revolving door.

Happy Birthday, by the way, to Sir Paul McCartney, who turned 61 today. I feel so old!

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