The Empress In Her Realm—Clark Humphrey
Annabeth’s posture was perfect, as always. Spine up, back straight, shoulders out, tummy in, she strode through the Empire Tavern and Sports Bar. With absolutely no wasted motion, she scooped up empties with one hand and toweled-off the table tops with the other. The crusty old regulars, some of whom had probably not had sex since Y2K, followed Annabeth’s every move, turning their heads in unison. She remained oblivious, as always.
Annabeth returned to her spot behind the bar, a spot she had had specially lit in the otherwise dim room to give her a subtle, soft-focus spotlight. (She had explained to the electrician that she needed more light to ensure accurate transactions without needing to wear reading glasses.) She placed the bottles and cans in the recycling bins, the glasses in the dishwasher, and the napkins (one lipstick-smeared) in the trash. In the far corner, some man at the juke box had punched up a particularly irritating “classic rock” song. Annabeth silently reminded herself to ask the juke box man to remove it next time.
She turned to her POS terminal to track tonight’s sales. The numbers confirmed to her that business had been steady but light. It was late autumn/early winter. An early-week night. TV sports were sparse this time of year except for football. Baseball was over; college basketball hadn’t begun. Some of her regulars wouldn’t get their Social Security checks for another two weeks; others wouldn’t get their unemployment checks for three days. Annabeth silently thanked the Universe that she hadn’t scheduled anyone else to work this shift with her.
The terminal sounded its regular chiming sound, which meant it was time for Annabeth to make her regular cash drop. The thought came to her that since the previous chime, she had not spoken a word to anyone outside of the perfunctory exercises of greeting, taking drink orders, and accepting money. It could be lonely without Ginny around to listen to her, to compliment her good taste in clothes and in everything else. A shame, Annabeth thought, that she was close to firing Ginny, so young, so perky, so deft at deflecting the old men’s creaky come-on lines. But business was business, and Annabeth was determined this particular business would change.
She locked up the cash-drop box and lifted it from its shelf beneath the POS terminal (lifting from the legs, as always). As she arose, she took a quick look. Nobody was going to demand anything from her for at least the next half minute. She turned around, catching another glimpse out into the room (and at her perfectly made-up face) from the security mirror. She smiled to herself.
As she stepped into the barely desk-sized office closet, the motion-sensor-triggered light came on. This allowed her to keep both hands on the cash box as she neared the wall safe. She gently set the box down on the desk. She got close to the safe’s combination lock, keeping her torso in between it and any potentially spying customers out in the main room. A few twists and it was open. She efficiently stuck the whole unopened box inside and closed the safe door. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done, she silently “sang” to herself.
She turned to face the old institutional steel desk, where a fresh, empty cash box awaited her grasp. How it had ever been gotten into this tiny room through the narrow door was just one of the mysteries of this bar that she had obtained through a fortuitous combination of divorce and inheritance. After five years, the place still bore many such mysteries.
Annabeth looked up to the wall segment just behind the desk. There, as always, hung three framed images. Two of them were the front and back of a mockup menu she’d had designed for her several years before. They bore the name THE GREEN PEAHEN, and a logo Annabeth had paid good money to have designed, back when she still had at least some good money.
The center of the three frames on the wall contained an architectural-style drawing of the outside of this building, all redone and revitalized as Annabeth’s dream gourmet bistro. As she did every time she passed it, she paused to stare into the image. She closed her eyes. She visualized the Green Peahen as a living, thriving concern, with herself in full command, checking each day’s deliveries for freshness, devising daily specials, writing personal thank-you notes to each of her better customers, modestly blushing yet grinning upon receiving yet another glowing review.
Annabeth then visualized that it will take to make her vision become real. She envisions seeing the magic number in her bank account, the number that will allow her to renovate the building, to support herself without current income during the renovation, to restart with a whole new concept, and to slowly build a whole new clientele. Because of the location, she would have to promote it as a “destination” place, at least for the first year or two.
A noise out in the main room brought her attention back into the present. She opened her eyes, picked up the fresh cash box, and strode back out to behind the bar to learn what had just happened. She wasn’t afraid of fights or holdups as much as she was of one of the obese geezers keeling over.
(TO BE CONTINUED, MOST LIKELY.)