A few minutes later we were sitting in a booth across from each other with coffee cups in front of us. She said her name was Barb Pannio. Then she asked me what I was in jail for. I told her. She nodded and asked what I did for a living before I went to jail. I told her.
I also told her how I’d been fired as a result of my troubles, filed on for divorce, and fucked in every possible orifice.
Figuratively speaking. Don’t think I got made into an Alice in jail or anything like that. I’m plenty big enough to take care of myself, and anyway, it was just little old Grand County Jail, with a basketball court and red geraniums by the front doors.
I told her that. She laughed. Then she pushed an application across the table to me. I filled it out.
She said, “How soon can you start?”
I shrugged. “Now?” I said, smiling. I was joking. Showing that I was gung-ho. I expected her to laugh and say, like, Monday would be soon enough, or something.
But she looked at her watch. By then it was just about two. She said, “Good. Let’s get you trained. By the time we get busy with the dinner rush you’ll be ready to take deliveries. Okay?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
She said, “How late can you work tonight?”
I shrugged again, thinking how funny that was. Like I had anything else to do. “Until the place closes?”
She smiled and sipped her coffee and, from out of nowhere, I started to get a funny feeling about Carlo’s. I wondered why she was so happy to hire a guy who just got out of jail, and why she was in such a hurry to get me started. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s this: Whenever something seems too good to be true, it is.
I looked around, wondering what was wrong with the place. I glanced at her. She was watching me.
She said, “You’re maybe wondering what’s the big hurry.”
She nodded. “It’s like this. I was already hurting for night drivers and then, night before last, one of my full-timers had an accident.”
“Was he hurt?”
“She. No, just shaken up. Bumps and bruises. But the accident means her insurance rates go up. I can’t afford to keep her driving.”
“You had to fire her?”
She nodded. “She was lucky the job was all she lost. She went into a ditch out on Spencer-Ladonia. You know that road?”
I shook my head.
“Well, it’s rural, lined by drainage ditches. The speed limit’s forty-five, and all the driveways have cement culverts. If she’d hit one of those culverts, it would’ve been bad.”
“Yeah.” You didn’t need a good imagination to see that.
“Yeah. God.” She shuddered. “Anyway, that’s why I need you to start right away. Okay?”
After we finished our coffee, Barb led me down the hall that ran off the back end of the dining room, a few steps along that, and, hooking a right, into a little office. She quickly wrote my name on a time card, showed me the clock and told me to punch in, and then led me back across the hall to the waitress station.
She said, “Beverages are free. Food’s half price. Grab yourself a Styrofoam cup and write your name on it so nobody throws it away. Try to make one cup last all shift.”
I drew myself a Coke. Then I followed her through the hall, past the office, around past the bathrooms, and into the back room where all the food prep and dough making and stuff was done.
It was pretty obvious to me that the guy she introduced me to was the ass-kicker who rode the vintage Harley I’d noticed in the back parking lot. My first sight of him, he was leaning against the work counter, smoking a cigarette, watching a big blob of pizza dough being badly mistreated in a huge metal bowl by what looked like an outboard motor blade.
Barb told me, “Terry, this is Greg Bellini. We call him Bump.”
Bump wore a black leather vest over his black Carlo’s T-shirt, which was tucked into black straight-leg jeans. This is Bump: He’s at least six-and-a-half feet tall and has very long blond hair tied with a black leather strap in a wild hit-or-miss ponytail. His pythons bulge like, well, pythons. His clean-shaven face looks like it was carved out of oak with a chain saw.
Bump Bellini makes quite a first impression.
Barb said, “Bump, this is Terry Saltz. He’s gonna be a night driver.”
We nodded at each other.
Barb said, “Show Terry how to wedge potatoes while you wait for those deliveries to come up, okay?” She turned and started out of the room without waiting for him to nod, but then turned back. “Get him started and then I need to talk to you in the office.”
“Yup,” Bump said. But he didn’t move until he finished his cigarette. When he’d smoked it down to the filter, he slowly raised himself out of his leaning position, slowly walked into the hallway that led to the back door, and slowly ground it out in an ashtray on one of the shelves that lined the hallway wall.
The wall opposite the shelves was metal, with a big metal door in the middle. He pulled the door open, went inside, and came back out a few seconds later in a frosty cloud, carrying a twenty-five pound bag of Idahos. He carried the bag over to a bank of big stainless-steel sinks, dumped the potatoes out into one of them, and turned on the cold water.
He picked up a potato, rinsed it, turned around to the counter behind him, stood it up in a big wall-mounted tool that worked sort of like a drill press, positioned a plastic tub under it, jerked down the handle and voilà. The blade shat out six or seven instamatic potato wedges.
“Knock yourself out,” he said. “There’s more tubs up there.” He jerked his thumb at the shelves above the sinks and walked out of the back room the way I’d come in. I watched him go into the office and close the door behind him.
I went to work on the potato wedges.
You might be thinking I resented having to do that gofer work. How far the mighty carpenter had fallen? Something like that? Naw. I was on somebody’s time clock again. Also, I’d never stopped to wonder how potato wedges get that way. It was kind of fun slamming that blade down through the potatoes and watching the wedges squirt out the bottom.
After a while, a guy came walking in from the parking lot door. He stopped in the middle of the room and stared at me. I glanced at him and went back to work. But he kept on standing there, duck-toed, staring at me, so I looked over at him again and this time I smiled.
He was a strange-looking little dude. I made him to be mid-fifties. He was mostly bald, with just a ratty little fringe of gray hair running in a line around the back of his head. Wilted athletic socks sagged down over black high-tops. Baggy black Bermudas hung down over his skinny, trout-white legs, and a fanny pack was strapped tightly around his waist.
He stared at me, blank-faced, like it was taking him that long to process that there was a guy he didn’t recognize wedging potatoes. I waited for him to say something, or even to develop an expression of some kind on his wide, pasty face, but he didn’t. I turned my attention back to the wedger.
After a few minutes, I saw peripheral movement and realized the guy was walking toward me. He came up close beside me, so that his ear was nearly touching my arm, and said quietly into my armpit, “Y-you’re a new g-guy?”
I had to lean forward and tip my head to get a look at his face. “Yeah. Terry Saltz.”
With him tucked into my armpit the way he was, I didn’t see any good way to shake his hand, so I didn’t try.
“Y-you’re taking C-C-Carrie’s place?”
“Carrie? Is that the girl who got in the accident?”
He snorted. “Accident. Is that what they t-t-told you?”
I took a step back from him so I could see him better. “That she accidently put a car in a ditch.”
He shook his head scornfully. “Unb-believable.”
He glanced around and then closed the space up between us. “Th-that was no accident. S-someone ran her off the r-road on p-p-purpose. Someone tried to k-kill her.”
Then he gave me a look of exasperation, like he thought I was the weird one, and walked away.