The first part of this story: The Aftermath
THREAD #1: JACK’S NIGHT
Sitting in the back, staring down at the sheets of numbers and the piles of receipts, I felt like it was all going wrong.
Although I had put up the token protest that I knew my roommates would expect, I had initially been happy to be given back room duty. Franco, of course, wanted to be out in the front, not doing any real work. Corkscrew, the mad scientist, had elected to work at the bar, mixing up drinks alongside Franco’s bartender friend. Neither of them had really wanted to handle the real stuff, the finances.
Now, that meant that I was in the back room of our makeshift bar, sitting next to a huge crate of booze that would, hopefully, last us through the night, staring down at the disturbingly high piles of receipts. Every few minutes, I would be interrupted by either Corkscrew or the other bartender, whose name I hadn’t learned before the chaos of the night began. The intruder would barge in, grab a bottle or two of the alcohol, and go rushing back out, into the fray of bar patrons.
At first, I had enjoyed being out of the way. To be honest, I couldn’t believe that I’d gone along with Franco’s madcap idea in the first place. Wasn’t I supposed to be the voice of reason? Perhaps not believing that I had accepted a role in this crazy venture had led me to want to stay in back, not mingling among our drunk customers.
Of course, even though neither of my roommates wanted to deal with the finances, they had both tried to convince me to come out into the front room. Franco, of course, had obvious intentions. He had set the whole thing up as a way to meet drunk girls, and what would be a more perfect component of that plan than a private back office? I shuddered to think of the mess he would have caused, had this room been given to him.
As for Corkscrew, he had also wanted the back office as his own. Why? I honestly haven’t the slightest clue. The guy’s unreadable, like playing the Joker at poker. He’s got plenty of expression, but such crazy thoughts that it’s impossible to predict what’s going on beneath that wild shock of blonde hair on his head.
Franco had landed a stinging insult on Corkscrew when he made his office request, of course. “Why in the world would you need a back office?” he had sniped. “The only company you’ve got any shot of entertaining tonight are the voices in your own head.” With this, Franco strode out to the front, leaving Corkscrew sputtering in impotent anger behind.
I had listened to this with a half-smile on my face, but now, three hours into our six-hour night, there was trouble, and the smile had long since disappeared. I did another count of the bottles, trying to be certain, but there was no denying it. Even as I finished my count, Corkscrew ducked into the back office to pick up another bottle of vodka.
“Corkscrew,” I shouted at him, grabbing his arm. “Dude, we have a problem.”
Corkscrew glanced over at me. He had managed to find a black apron somewhere, but his gangly frame and wild blonde hair made him seem like a teenager playing dress-up. “Yeah, no one’s ordering anything interesting!” he responded. “I made up a whole custom drink menu, but no one wants to give it a shot!”
What? I forced myself to stay on topic, a surprisingly difficult task around Corkscrew. “No, we have a real problem!” I insisted. “Look, as we ring up people, the receipts show up on my laptop back here. And I’ve been counting the bottles of liquor as they go out to the front. But we’re sending way more out to the front than we’re ringing up! Somehow, some of the alcohol is disappearing without being purchased!”
Corkscrew’s eyes went wide. “Someone’s stealing from us?” he gasped. “No way! I didn’t think we’d have to deal with this on the very first night!”
“This could be our last night!” I replied. I didn’t know what to do, and felt a rising sense of helplessness. We didn’t have cameras in place to look for thieves, due mainly to our inability to either afford or wire cameras.
Suddenly, Corkscrew opened his eyes wide; I had learned to recognize this as a worrying sign that an idea had entered his head. “I know how to catch the thief!” he shouted. “Watch this!”
Torn between trepidation and curiosity, I watched as Corkscrew retrieved an empty Grey Goose bottle, as well as his jacket that had been hanging over one of the chairs in the back room. Lifting up a bottle of cheap bottom-shelf vodka, he poured it into the Grey Goose bottle, filling it about two-thirds of the way. He then reached into his jacket pocket and, with a flourish, pulled out a small canister.
“Wait a minute. Is that pepper spray?” I asked, taking a step back. Corkscrew was dangerous enough by himself. Corkscrew with a weapon? Get ready to run.
“Oh, relax,” he responded. “I’m not going to use it on you, just put some in the bottle!” He aimed the nozzle into the neck of the Grey Goose bottle and pushed down, spraying the capsaicin down into the cheap vodka. He held down the plunger for several seconds, until the flow trickled to a stop.
Corkscrew tossed the can of pepper spray carelessly onto the table beside the bottle. “Huh,” he commented, patting down his pockets. “I was sure that I had a second bottle of the stuff. I guess one can will have to do.” He put the cap on the bottle of capsaicin-laced vodka, giving it several shakes to mix the pepper spray with the alcohol.
I pointed at the discarded pepper spray. “Look, I don’t think this is such a good idea,” I spoke up. Yes, voice of reason has returned!
“Oh please, this will work perfectly,” said Corkscrew, his tone dismissive. “And don’t worry, this canister’s all empty!” He scooped it up, slamming his thumb down on the top of the can. “See?”
Unfortunately for me, the canister was not quite empty, and one last spurt of mace burst from the nozzle, hitting me directly in the face. I screamed as my vision faded into a white-hot blur, my hands flying up to my damaged eyes.
“Oh,” commented Corkscrew as I stumbled towards the small bathroom branching off the back office. “I guess it wasn’t quite empty yet. But don’t worry!” he called after me. “I’ll take this out and catch our thief with it!”
Even though I knew that Corkscrew’s idea was not one of his better ones, there was no way that I could do anything to protest. I spent at least fifteen minutes standing in the bathroom, flushing my eyes with water and doing my best to take deep, calming breaths. Finally, when the pain had subsided to a deep and persistent throb, and I had regained some blurry semblance of vision, I stumbled back out to the office, half-collapsing onto the small couch against one wall.
I hadn’t been sitting long, still focusing on trying to breathe through the pain, when the back door opened. I looked up, expecting to see either Corkscrew or the other bartender, returning for more liquor.
Much to my surprise, however, the intruder was none other than Franco. Even more to my surprise, he was making small pained noises and holding his face. Wait a minute. Had he been maced as well?
Find out who the intruder is from Franco’s perspective!