It's been years since I was an on the police force. Three years ago I retired and joined a friend's business. Well, more than a friend actually, he trained me when I first joined the force. We were partners for ten years when he retired. I have had other partners but none could match up to Hunter. We stayed tight and when I retired it just seemed natural to join him as a partner at the restaurant.
I am not much of a business man or cook for that matter. Mostly cops or ex-cops come to eat and waste time in lengthy bull slinging sessions. One or two cruisers are usually parked out front. This joint won't make us rich but with our pension it pays the bills.
It's just a small place downtown but with a lot of character. The character wasn't actually designed but evolved as a direct result of Hunter's early retirement. Hunter had been married to his job first and spent off time with his wife and family. During those first months of completely free time, he immediately began driving his wife crazy. Mary had soon pushed, bullied and nagged until he bought The Omelettry and stopped rearranging her kitchen.
It had been a real dump when he bought it which was just the challenge he needed. He got in there, cleaned and stripped it down. Cops always do plenty of side jobs so getting help setting it all up was not a problem. The inside was mostly done and it would open next week.
I was to meet him at 6:00 am sharp and we were driving together down to the coast. We had been planning this deep sea fishing charter for months. Hunter had carefully timed the trip with the other guys so he would be back in time for his grand opening. I pulled into the front parking lot with my car packed up ready to leave.
Hunter and his son, Mike, were standing out front arguing. As soon as I saw Hunter and his son's face to face I knew Mike had pushed the wrong buttons at the wrong time. I saw Mike's clenched jaw and the defiance in his eyes as he glared back at his father.
"I don't care if you just won concert tickets. I don't care if this concert has been sold-out for months. I don't care if they are more popular than the f'ing Rolling Stones (Hunter, I thought with a groan, Mike doesn't even know who the Rolling Stones were/are), you are going to paint the store. You are the one that waits until the last minute every time you agree to do a job for me. We made a deal and I have already paid you. You will get your lazy butt over to the paint store TODAY and pick up supplies and paint. If you want to go to that fancy college instead of State, then this place better be painted when I get back." he roared purple-faced at Mike.
Well, Mike painted it alright and now it had character. I just wish I had my camera out when Hunter first saw the painted row of eggs jumping playfully around the building. The front was even better than the sides with a dead-on caricature of Hunter in a "Kiss the Chef" apron holding an iron skillet. Thankfully, Hunter had reeled in his best catch ever which earned him this morning's mega-monster hang-over. Thanks to several spectacular yellow fin tuna (one well over 200 pounds) Mike lived to go on to college and is now really successful as a graphic artist.
One thing about being an ex-cop is that everyone will bring you their crimes as well as other grudges they believe should constitute immediate arrests. This applies to the business owners in our neighborhood as well. We don't mind this. In this neighborhood, we need to watch each other's back.
Luo came in early this morning. He owns the Y2K Nails around the corner. Yes, I know I couldn't believe the name either. We had gotten to be pretty good friends when I helped him negotiate a fender-bender his wife had last year. I could help but ask him about the name of his shop. He grinned sheepishly. He started the business in early 2000 just after the Y2K debacle. In 1999 he had been working at corporation in charge of their IT department. He had told his boss that he didn't need to buy all the expensive computer software but the manager absolutely insisted on having everything advertised to prevent disaster as the new century rolled in. It costs the company a fortune but they were prepared. On January 2, 2000 his boss wouldn't look him in the eye. On February 1, 2000, Luo found himself laid off. He used his severance package and bought the nail store. He thought since the Y2K scare nailed him, it was the appropriate name. The store does a huge business.
Luo dropped by to let me know he spotted this young guy in his store chatting with the girls working up front. The guy had a camera in his hand and a large duffle bag near his feet. He was trying to sell some electronic stuff very quietly to them. He left just as soon as he saw Luo start walking towards him. Luo had gotten a glimpse of his car as he pulled out but not the license tag number. It was an old battered blue Ford Focus with a sticker on the back windshield showing a kid gleefully watering a Chevy.
Normally this stuff is so familiar I wouldn't have thought a thing about it but I had just had my car broken into and someone ripped off my new stereo. I was still po'd. I wondered if this was the same punk.
I left the restaurant that afternoon and just drove around the area. I dropped by the Barr & Purr Pet Center. The woman in the back that clipped the dogs was always eager to talk. I usually stopped by every week or so just to flirt. I knew she was waiting for me to ask her out but my feet were still cold. I wasn't ready to start dating again but I enjoyed the rowdy bantering.
"Hello beautiful," I called to her. Linda looked up at me and winked. "Howdy handsome, did you bring something warm and furry in for me to shave?" she began immediately. Woo, I began to warm up.
"Ah, no..no..not today, " I answered, "This is more business related. Have you had anyone stop by the store offering to sell you some electronic stuff?"
She was surprised. "Yeah, about a half an hour ago this kid stopped by. I glared at him before he could say more than a few words…I knew what he was up to…but he did talk with the girl at the front register for a while. I was too busy with a nasty tempered poodle and couldn't get away soon enough to warn her. She's a nice kid with a couple of little ones and a husband that can't keep a job. "
"Thanks doll," I answered her. I squeezed her shoulder before I turned to walk back up front. The register was empty and the girl looked up at me with tired bored eyes. She looked too young to have a couple of kids. She was just a kid herself. I noticed a DVR sitting by her worn purse under the register. "That's a nice Sony" I told her. She looked up me pleased.
"Yeah, I got it real cheap. This guy said if he didn't get some money today his landlord would throw him out. I mean I felt bad for him having to sell his stuff so cheap but I couldn't pass it up. My kids are gong to go crazy," she babbled on nervously. I looked at her cheap jeans and faded cotton shirt. Her face screamed her honesty to me as well as her total naivety. I sighed.
I drove by The Top Drawer Thrift Store and then circled around to the Wok and Roll. Bingo, there it was, a battered blue Ford Focus with the obnoxious windshield sticker. Though the front glass I saw a guy fitting the right description standing in line waiting to order.
"Oh, this is going to feel good" I acknowledged. I pulled behind the shop and walked casually to the front of the store. With a quick glance to make sure no one was watching I pulled my wallet out dropping it next to the rear of the car. I bent to pick it up and at the same time the back tire went flat. I picked up my wallet and continued walking.
Once back in my car I drove back to our store. Sure enough, a cruiser was parked out front. I slipped into the booth next to Bob. After a short quiet talk I watched Bob's face light up. He picked up his radio and began talking as he walked out our front door.
Soon there was a group of regulars pilled into my car driving over to the Wok and Roll. We saw Bob's cruiser with blue lights flashing along with 2 other patrols that came to enjoy the show. Bob was patting the guy down none too gently and we watched as his cuffs come out quickly securing the punk's wrists. Another badge had a bunch of stuff lying beside the car. He held a clip board registering each item. Several items had bright blue check marks besides the ID numbers. It was easy to spot our tribe standing nearby. We all had the same sh** eating cocky grins whether or not we still flashed sliver.
I could feel adrenaline pumping and more than just a little testosterone flowing. Linda popped into my mind. I dropped back to where I could observe but not be overheard. I pulled my cell out and dialed the number I had memorized. "Hello Beautiful," I began.