This story is by Rob Gadtke and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
On the northwest side of the island, there was a resort where weeds grew on the beach. The restaurant near the water opened at lunch, and guests lounged in plastic chairs with sandals dangling off their feet. At the outer edge, there was a thatched umbrella. A man sat under it at a table. It was 2:30 p.m. and the restaurant closed in thirty minutes. Off to the side, a group of families huddled hoping to get a table before the doors closed.
A green-shirted man walked across a cracked parking lot worried his wallet was too thin. All total, last night had cost him $500. He walked in through the bar and out onto the patio, taking a seat across from his boss.
“We should get food,” Green Shirt said. A brown leather bag sat on the chair beside him.
“It does look good,” his boss said, watching a five-year-old spear a chicken strip and twirl it above his plate.
“At least something to tide us over. You know how I get when I’m hungry.”
The boss lifted his index finger to signal a waitress carrying a tray of food. “We’re ready,” he hollered.
“Be there in a sec,” she said.
“We always get bad service,” Green Shirt said.
“It’s why our job is so tough.”
“Didn’t I do great last time?”
“You know we don’t give out medals, right?” the boss said swatting a mosquito. He pulled a cigar from his shirt pocket and lit it.
“All I’m saying is that I did it as you said. Small stuff even.”
The waitress walked over, pen on the pad. The boss motioned to Green Shirt.
“Is the conch always fried,” Green Shirt said looking at the menu.
“Only way people eat it,” the waitress said.
“Tell me about the oil. Is it cold-pressed?”
“What the hell does that mean?” the boss said. “Stop being an idiot. Order something.”
“She knows what I mean. I’m trying to take care of myself,” Green Shirt said patting his round belly. No one would have believed he won the Medal of Honor years ago for a moment’s work.
“It comes in a jug,” the waitress said.
“Hum, that’s not right . . . What about the jerked pork. Is it spicy? I don’t like too spicy.”
“He’ll have the ribs,” the boss said grabbing the menu from Green Shirt. “Bring extra sauce. And we’ll take two 7 & 7’s to drink.” The waitress made the note and disappeared.
“Stop treating me like a child.”
“Then stop acting like a woman,” the boss said.
The kid who speared the chicken strip knocked over his apple juice, causing his mother to rocket out of her chair. She mopped up the mess using napkins. As she headed back to her seat, her eyes met Green Shirt who was trying to peek inside her top. He nodded approval.
“I’ve worked a lot this year. Haven’t I?” Green Shirt said still lingering over the mother.
“Not more than me,” the boss said.
“Of course, not more than you. But still a lot, right?”
The boss didn’t say anything, taking another puff from his cigar.
“All I’m saying is that most people get paid more when they work more.”
“If you want more, talk to Jimmie,” the boss said.
“I ain’t talking to him.”
The two men stared at the ocean, watching a boy splash his sister. She ran to her mother for help, who stood up and waggled a finger at the kid.
“That’s why I don’t have kids,” Green Shirt said. “If she was my daughter, I would’ve told her to clock him.”
“He would’ve had it coming, that’s for sure,” the boss said.
The waitress returned with their drinks and two small plates for the ribs.
“When’s your guy gonna show up?” Green Shirt said holding a rib like an ear of corn. “I put down money on one of them parachutes rides. The ones they pull behind the boat.”
The boss sighed. “Shut up you, idiot. They’re right there,” he said motioning with his head to the table next to them.
Green Shirt leaned forward and whispered: “You mean Chicken Strip’s dad?”
“Knock it off.”
“How was I supposed to know you’d sit right next to him?”
“The picture was in the file,” the boss said showing his teeth.
“I don’t read the files.”
“I know. That’s why I’m babysitting you,” the boss said a little too loud. The Chicken Strip family turned to look. The men smiled.
“Look what you did,” the boss said. “Be quiet. Finish your food.”
Green Shirt dropped the last remnant on the plate and licked his fingers clean. His eyes drifted back to Chicken Strip’s mother. The boss pushed a plastic keycard across the table.
“Room 1235. Be careful. Toys are all over the floor.”
“The kids too?” Green Shirt said.
“Yes,” the boss said heavy with exasperation.
“I don’t like it.”
“Because of the kids?”
“Uh-huh,” Green Shirt said.
“How about I take care of you instead?” the boss said stubbing out his cigar.
“Come on, now. A big job like that weighs on a man.”
“Weighs on a man.”
“I’m not saying I won’t do it. The kids just look so innocent.”
The boss looked over at the family. Chicken strip boy was holding his sister’s Oreo above his head taunting her.
“Drop the boy scout routine. Do your job. I know you won the Medal for being a psycho. One who got the job done, of course. I’ll give you an extra $500 but not a penny more.”
“I’d feel better with $750.”
“I’ll give you $550 if you promise not to talk on the ride home.”
“Fine. But only this once,” Green Shirt said before grabbing the brown leather bag and heading off to the hotel. “I’m not a monster.”