Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Waiter is Practicing Politics

L.B.: Two swell guys, Left Behind, pp. 381-384

George looked out across the nearly-empty floor of Giuseppi's, reflecting on the dark days that had come to the restaurant since the Event. Two of the waitresses had gone missing that day, and the chaos in the streets had caused both of the busboys to miss work. Since he lived within walking distance, George had been filling in every day.

The first day had been bad, but things had been getting worse ever since, though in a quieter way. Food deliveries had been erratic; he had heard on the news that about a third of the truck drivers in the country had disappeared, and many of them had been driving their rigs at the time. What food was available was going up in price, fast, and the restaurant had to raise its prices accordingly. You heard stories about shops being looted by mobs. George was perpetually worried that a mob might eventually decide to loot Giuseppi's.

And everybody you met, everybody, had a haunted look on his face. People had lost family, friends, co-workers. Everybody had lost somebody. Not a day went by without somebody, either an employee or a customer, breaking down and crying.

George's neighbor, a sweet old lady named Mrs. Hutchinson, was gone. Her car had been sitting out next to the curb ever since. The day after the Event, he had heard her two cats crying, and he had finally persuaded the super to let him into her apartment. They were living with him now, and every time they heard somebody walk by outside his door they ran up to it and started meowing. Mrs. Hutchinson had had a bag of cat food in one of her cupboards, but George couldn't help wondering whether there would be any more to buy after it ran out.

George's gloomy musings were interrupted by the arrival of four people, two men and two women, their ages ranging from mid-40s to college-age. The two women were both good-looking and fresh-from-the-hair-salon stylish, though their subdued expressions didn't accord with their festive clothes. The two men both wore conservative business suits; the older one was rather stiff, while the younger one, a balding man about George's age, had an expression that ranged from alert to ADD.

It wasn't hard to guess which member of this particular group was the leader. George addressed the older man. "Table for four, sir?"

The man agreed, and George led them to one of the tables near the fireplace. The only other group dining in the restaurant was seated on the other side of the room at a booth with a view of the street. The younger woman was saying to the older one, "Have you ever eaten here before?"

"Your father brought me here a few times," the older one answered. They seated themselves at the table, the older woman beside the older man, the younger woman beside the younger man. George gave them their menus and took their drink orders.

While he mixed the drinks, Phil the bartender gave George the look that said, What's the story with them? George shrugged. "The girl is the Stiff's daughter, but she's sitting next to Baldy. The woman's apparently been dating the Stiff, but they look like they just broke up. Baldy is giving the girl the eye, but she's playing it cool in front of Daddy. A regular soap opera."

Phil finished with the drinks, and George carried them over to the table. The Stiff was talking about shopping for souvenirs in Tokyo and pointedly ignoring the woman sitting beside him. Yeah, breakup, no question, and from the looks of things, incredibly, he had ditched her. And then invited her over for dinner with his daughter and her new boyfriend. Yeah, they were definitely entering soap opera terrain here.

"Have you decided on your orders?" George asked, and the Stiff's story was interrupted as they talked over their options. The menus had come from the printer's that morning, and reflected Giuseppi's unfortunately limited selection. George took their orders and departed for the kitchen.

Two more groups arrived while the Stiff's group ate, and the group in the window booth finished and left. Subdued chamber music played over the restaurant's sound system. It looked like a typical post-Event evening in Giuseppi's.

In due course, George removed the now-empty plates from the Stiff's table and asked if they would like dessert. All of them declined, which was just as well considering the dessert menu was even more limited than the dinner menu. As George went to fill out their check, the Stiff followed him to his desk.

"We'd like to spend another hour or so here, if it's all right," the Stiff said in a low tone of voice.

George sighed to himself. He answered, just as he would have before the Event, "Sir, we do have an extensive reservation list --"

"I wouldn't want this table to be less than profitable for you," said the Stiff stiffly, and he slipped a hundred dollar bill from his pocket and pressed it into George's hand, "so boot us out whenever it becomes necessary."

George hesitated for a moment while he looked at the C-note, wondering whether to hand it back. In the end, thinking about the two cats waiting for him back at his apartment, he decided that he would need to make as much money as possible for as long as the restaurant stayed open, and he pocketed the Benjamin. "I'm sure you will not be disturbed," he told the Stiff, who returned to his table with an air of great satisfaction. Rolling his eyes, George went over to the bar to split the hundred with Phil.


Abelardus said...

A touching story; especially good to see the waiter didn't get screwed during the bribe. And you at least give him a reason to need the money -- and someone to sympathize w/ behind the bar.

And, of course, giving us reasons why the world's changed after The Event.

Salamanda said...

Buck's balding! *snicker* I love it.

Jesurgislac said...

Never was obsessive thinking about how a stupid plot point in Left Behind might work rewarded so well!

George! And the cats! Aw. (And Rayford tips a hundred! Hee.)

Alan said...

It's interesting to me that you assume Rayford gave George $100. The original text, as quoted by Fred, just says it was "a large bill," and Fred himself jokingly assumed it was just a $10. It baffles me that Rayford would feel the need to give his conversion speech in the middle of an up-scale restaurant, to the point of basically "renting" out the table for $100 an hour.

I think doctoral dissertations in English literature could be written about LB. Even the smallest, most innocuous details yield bizarre, gapping plot holes if given the slightest scrutiny.

PS -- Congratulations on creating in George a character more fully realized in 17 paragraphs than any of the LB characters are in 12 books. Heck, the unnamed, Raptured neighbor with the cats is better developed than Buck and Rayford.

Johnny Pez said...

Abelardus, I set out meaning to write a bit of slapstick, and it got away from me. And I've been reading SF too long to be comfortable with sloppy world-building.

Salamanda, if L&J won't fill in the details, we'll have to. Expect to see a balding Buck in all my foefic.

Jesurgislac, the cats just snuck into the story (as cats so often do). L&J don't give any thought to abandoned pets, the bastards, but I mean to.

Alan, as I noted in the comments, Ray's only been a RTC for a couple of days, not long enough to internalize the lousy tipper mindset. He still thinks like a big-shot airline pilot, hence the century-note. And thanks for the praise, everyone.

Btw, the restaurant will be going out of business soon. When it does, George will load up Mrs. Hutchinson's Volvo, and return to his hometown in upstate New York. The cats will like it there.

Sue Bailey said...

This is great! I'm so glad the cats are being looked after: ever since I heard about the rapture, I've been really worried who's looking after the animals.