“Hey,” Stan, the other closer, said looking up from the espresso machine. “I need you to go tell the guys on the patio to beat it and bring in the tables.”
I hunched over my broom and cocked an eyebrow. “Uh, you sure you can’t do it. Or can we get, like, a supervisor to do that.”
He sighed and turned to the hulking stainless steel machine. “Can you just do it? It’s part of the closing tasks.” He yawned and flicked the hot water switch, sending steam up.
I put the broom to the side, untied my apron and tossed it over the counter. I could feel layers of sweat caked on my forehead. My day of learning designer latte’s and avoiding eye contact with indifferent customers came down to this: the good ol’ heave ho.
I pushed my way through the double glass doors into the dry night air. It felt good on the undersides of my arms. The air smelt like, well air, instead of grinding dark roast and heat. I saw the group at the end of the patio, flanked by the shrubs, illuminated by a single floodlight. Multiple coffee stirrers, espresso mugs, and a half-finished pack of cigarettes splayed out on the table. Only one looked up from his phone.
I tried to avoid confrontation, often stealing glances while I noisely dragged the metal furniture across the pavement. Several trips later, all that was left to collect were already occupied.
I cleared my throat. “Er, hey guys, sorry about this but I need to put these chairs up. You’ve got to go.” It was the first time they all looked up at me. Who dared intrude on their night of chain smoking and fidgeting with plastic coffee stirrers?
The eldest of the three looked up and grinned. “No,” he said with a Russian inflection. “Is okay, I know the owner.” He waved me off as one would dismiss a ball boy.
I headed back inside to my broom to pick up where I had left off. Stan looked up from the register and peered outside. His tired eyes swept from the window to me. “Did you tell them they need to leave?”
“Yeah, but one guy said that they know the owner.”
“And?” Stan’s gaze fell back to the stack of ones he was thumbing his way through. “They, need to leave.”
I mechanically put the broom down unable to fathom why this responsibility fell to the new guy. Wasn’t this a manager’s job? I pushed my way through and approached the table. All three looked up once again. The eldest was still grinning, but the other two looked annoyed. “Sorry guys, but you really got to go. I just got word from my supervisor.” Perfect, I thought, diffuse responsibility. Go have a word with him if you want and leave me out of this.
“Listen, er…” The grinner said with a heavy inflection.
“Listen Tom, the owner is a good friend of mine. We’re business partners. We go way back. You do what you’re told, and I like that. You go far this way. But, please. We finish our espresso then go, okay? I tell owner you took good care of us.” He turned to the two flanking scowls and said something in Russian and they softened, turning back to their cellphones. I internally shrugged and headed back inside.
Stan was waiting with his arms crossed. “Dude, what’s so hard about getting them out of here. Tell them you’ll call the cops.”
I thought of the two scowls flanking that devilish grin. “I don’t think that’s a great idea. Let’s just finish our stuff and leave them alone for now.”
Stan sighed, clearly disgusted with my lack of spine. We finished up and closed half an hour later. Outside, tucked under the corner of one of the espresso cups was a note for me. Thanks for the hospitality Tom, –Marco. I didn’t think much of it, tired as I was from my first full day.
I woke up the next morning to a buzz of my phone. Shit, I’m gonna be late, I thought. Nope. A message from the owner? My stomach dropped.
Hey Tom, I heard you met Marco last night. Thanks for taking care of him. Him and I go way back. He said that you have a good head on your shoulders. I know you’re new here, but I wanted to bump you up another dollar in pay. We’ll do that today.
I could feel the tension leave my shoulders. Weights upon weights had been lifted. Looks like the world was coming up Tom for once.