Vince clenched my shirt collar and pulled me close. “This is not complicated,” he said, slipping the vial into my shirt pocket and giving it a friendly pat. “You dump this into his drink then get the hell out of there.”
His face was up in mine but my heart was pumping hard and his voice sounded far away.
“You calmly serve the drinks,” he growled low. “Tell them you’ll be back with their food, walk slowly through the kitchen, down the hall, and out the back door. You’ll find me right here with the engine running and we’ll be drinking on a beach in Mexico before anyone knows what happened.”
“And you’re sure it will kill him? There’s no way it could just make him sick?”
“He’ll be stone dead,” he assured me. “There’s enough in that vial to kill everybody in the building.”
A sudden wave of anxiety threatened to overwhelm me.”Why can’t you do it?”
But we’d been over this many times. Fitzgerald and his cronies knew Vince. None of them had seen me before.
“How do you know he won’t drop dead on the spot? Shit Vince, there are guns around Fitzgerald all the time. What if he…you know…what if he…faceplants when I’m still standing there?”
“It’s a slow moving poison,” he said. “It takes at least ten minutes to kick in but when it does…”
He let the sentence hang, we both knew the ending.
It was busy that night and the kitchen was an asylum. In the dining room, customers were celebratory and ordering weird menu items many of us had never seen ordered before. Ingredients were running low, tempers were running high, and I was oblivious, consumed by the morbid task at hand.
My shift had begun at 6:00 but it wasn’t until much later that Fitzgerald and his pack of goons finally strolled into the restaurant. I was taking orders from a family of four when the gangsters filed by me reeking of cigars and expensive cologne. My knee bumped the table and a glass of water almost tumbled off the edge. Apologizing over my shoulder, I fled through the kitchen doors.
Rodney was standing in front of me looking concerned. “You feeling all right?” he asked me. “You look strung out, Man.”
“Why? What makes you say that?”
“Cause Man, you look like shit! You’re all pasty and sweaty looking. You look wasted or hungover or something. You’re not supposed to start partying until after work.”
My heart was thumping so hard it was making me nauseous.
“That reminds me, you still owe me for Saturday,” he said. “Fifty bucks.”
“Ok. Ok, yeah,” I said ducking into the bathroom. In the mirror, it was clear that Rodney wasn’t lying. My shirt looked like it had come out of the washer and never been dried. It had to go.
There were extras hanging from a hook in the hallway behind the kitchen. They were for emergencies in case someone spilled wine or spaghetti down the front of themselves. I put one on and hustled back towards the dining room.
“Margaret’s swiping your table, bro,” Rodney said casually as he brushed by me, heading outside for a smoke.
Spinning through the cacophony of the kitchen dodging waitresses and busboys and bursting into the dining room, I spotted Margaret, her dazzling smile in overdrive as she wrote down food orders from Fitzgerald and his men.
They already had their drinks.
Margaret laughed at one of their suggestive comments then headed for the kitchen where she was promptly intercepted by me.
“That’s my section!” I said. “You stole my table!”
Margaret blinked and her thousand watt smile dimmed. She considered feigning ignorance but playing dumb wasn’t going to fly and she knew it. It was a bad habit she had, taking other servers’ wealthy looking customers, and a big table like this had proven too much for her to resist.
She nodded meekly and shuffled into the kitchen to place their orders before relinquishing the table to me. The spring in her step was gone.
“I’ll split it with you,” I told her as the kitchen doors swung shut behind her and she smiled weakly at me through the window.
Just hang here until Fitzgerald needs a refill.
I waited with my arms crossed by the kitchen door ignoring my other tables while servers and bus boys sailed back and forth from the kitchen. My best opportunity had slipped by and I wasn’t going to miss another one. Already, my back was slick. This shirt would soon be unwearable too.
After five minutes or so, the time had come.
“Another drink, gentlemen?”
They barked orders while I scribbled. Fitzgerald wanted brandy.
The bar was a madman so I helped Stan with the drinks. My hands trembled as I reached for the vial.
It was gone.
It must have fallen out of my pocket when I was changing-
Frantically, I wove through the crowded dining room and into the battlefield kitchen spinning, avoiding bodies, and willing my way through the chaos. When I reached the hallway, I sprinted.
The hook was empty.
But it had been hanging right there. Right there! That was right where I had left it.
Mesmerized, I didn’t see the back door open.
“I don’t know how you got so wrecked off that shit,”Rodney said tossing me the vial and rubbing his nose. “That coke is trash.”
This story is a response to the one-word prompt Complicated.
Now try this: The Installer – Short Story