The changes and things poor Sky has never seen in her backwater life in central Kentucky continues to come crashing down around her.
I wonder: are they assholes because they are diplomats or because they’re Cuban nationals? Both?
By three o’clock, there were only a handful of customers, professors and students taking notes both physically and electronically, so it was time to unbox and restock. She made for the storeroom only to be intercepted by Bill.
“Sky,” he said in a lowered voice, “I don’t want to see you hefting any heavy boxes, you got that?”
“I’m pregnant, Bill, not an invalid!” she snapped back at him. “I’ve been a tavern wench since I was thirteen. Lemme be.”
“Well, excuse me for caring, miss high-and-mighty princess!” he said, backing away, bowing, while tugging at the gray hair on his head.
Linus and Cletus, who ran the kitchen for their very limited menu, were already cutting open boxes and moving what they might need for the evening rush. Sky carried box after box of booze out front and put them behind the bar. Not being stupid, pregnant or no, she didn’t try to manhandle the kegs into the basement. That was all Bill and the evening bartender, Mace, who should be in just about…
“Afternoon, all!” the man in his early forties shouted, coming in from the back door. He was far enough away to drive so parked behind the tavern. “And how are you, little Witch Girl?”
He reached out to ruffle her white hair. Only one person was allowed to do that and she smacked his hand away. Hard.
“Ow, ow, ow!” he pretended to cry, holding his hand. “Poison! I feel poison in my veins! She is a witch!”
“Fookin’ clock in and get to fookin’ work!” Old Bill yelled through the wall. Everyone, even Mace and Sky, laughed at that.
Mace, she thought, was a retired legionary. Never made it past junior centurion, whatever that means, because, as he said, he didn’t want the responsibility. In at sixteen, out at thirty-two, he had to wait another ten years to sell his land allotment. Which he did. Drifted from town to town, never married. And I’m the reason he works here, dang it.
Sky recalled being at the Second Creek for only a month when she had come out from doing what she was doing now, restocking. A well-worn man stood at the bar sipping at a local ale. The moment he saw her, his eyes were like hen’s eggs. I thought he was some imperial fanboy, but besides the empress, he knew none of us. It was just my looks. “What the fuck is that thing! A witch?” he had shouted. Old Bill leaned over the bar and punched a customer. “She’s my waitress! Shut it!” By closing, he’d asked for a job.
Mace pulled his apron off of the shelf where he always left it, looked around at the kegs, and began levering them down the steps. Hearing a good-sized group come in all at once, Sky went back out front. And froze.
They… they’re not Black. Kinda brown. The one in the lead is White, though. I don’t know what they’re speakin’…
The six of them looked at the one of her. Silence fell.
“What can I get you gents?” Old Bill called from next to her, touching her right arm for her to take a step back. Trouble?
“Ron,” the leader replied, still looking at Sky. “Forgive me, rum, you say here. We are a delegation from Cuba. What rums do you have?”
Speaking with a smile, his manners seemed impeccable. But five years in a tavern told Skylar that something was amiss.
Bill himself waved them to two tables in the back then came back with glasses and an unopened bottle of añejo rum. That’s pricey, she thought. But if they are diplomats, money is nothing. He leaned down to her ear.
“Watch yourself. You feel the slightest bit flustered, get in the back and we’ll handle it,” he whispered to her.
“I can take care – ” she started and got his hand under her chin for it.
“Got it?” he asked with a dire look.
“Got it.” A regular, a nuke professor, came in. Sky waved and asked if he wanted his usual.
By six o’clock, the place was full and fouled with cigar smoke. Many had the habit, the empress did, after all, but the Cubans were like chimneys, laughing and singing a few songs in Spanish, as Sky came to learn from Mace.
“I picked up a little when I was in Mobile,” he said, pouring a Pimms Cup for another professor. “This one, now, is praising the Castro family like gods. They were all killers.”
It was a tone she had never heard from him before.
The bell rang again as a centurion in uniform, somewhere in his thirties, came in. He looked about then went to the back, taking a place at the bar just next to the delivery station, and waved for an ale. Sky saw the look between Bill and Mace. Should I go?
“Ron! Ron! Ron!” the six called, smacking their empty glasses on the two tables, laughing.
“I got it,” she said before either man could stop her. Another añejo rum, that leaves us only two, I’ll order more tomorrow, Sky walked to the end of the bar, past the legionary, and over to the Cubans.
“Here’uns y’all go,” she said with a smile. “Y’all wants somethin’ to eat?”
They muttered something to one another in their language and laughed. Seeing her confusion, their leader spoke up.
“They say you are very… exotic, Señorita,” he said with the fakest smile she had ever seen. “Care to sit with us?”
“Thanks, but I’m on duty,” she picked up the first empty bottle and made to turn about.
“Later, then!” he laughed, leaning forward and pinching her butt, hard.
“You sonofa…!” Sky spun back and hit him across the side of his face with the bottle. It didn’t break but she did knock him out of his chair.
All was silent.