25 - The Golden Mermaid

The Guardian Dolphin

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Restaurants are almost as important as bedrooms. The world needs a place to sit and eat and drink and talk. A place where you can smell the coffee brewing, where you can see familiar faces, where you can take a break from work and worries and deadlines.

The Golden Mermaid—the restaurant in the drawing on William's writing table—had been that kind of place once, but it had come on hard times. The building needed paint. The asphalt in the parking lot needed patching. The weeds growing through the cracks in the asphalt needed to be pulled.

Even the morning light and the newly washed air after a storm couldn't make the place look inviting.

* * * * *

Ann tripped over a particularly large clump of weeds.

She pitched forward, and only managed not to fall flat on her face by a particularly quick combination of twist and muscle, which pulled something in her back and sent simultaneous shots of pain down her leg and up to her shoulder.

She stood perfectly still for a moment, breathing deeply while the pain subsided, then straightened herself .

"Shit," she said, and then, "Alfred!"

Alfred was just disappearing through the front door of the Golden Mermaid.

Ann took a step, experimentally.

Everything seemed to be working. She'd just have a dull ache for a couple of weeks. She strode briskly toward the restaurant for a few steps, stopped, reassessed the ache, and cut back to a stroll.

The man was God Damn Infuriating. For months he had worked, week in and week out, without ever complaining.

Hardly ever.

She couldn't count the number of times she'd had to ask him to wait a week for a paycheck. Or two weeks. Now, all of a sudden, he had to be paid. Just when the bank was getting tough, when her venders were refusing credit. The man had no sense of timing.

She jerked the door open.

"Alfred! Ouch! Alfred! You can't just walk out. I need two weeks notice!"

Alfred had just disappeared into the kitchen. He answered her from behind the swinging door.

"I quit two weeks ago! And two weeks before that!"

"I didn't think you were serious."

"Just think of all the money you'll save—I won't be 'eating all the profits'"

How petty.

"Is that what you're mad about?"

Alfred came back through the door, brandishing an enormous kitchen knife with its tip bent at a forty-five degree angle. He waved it under her nose.