Dahlia MacKammon desperately needed a job. She'd already tried her luck at the pharmacy, the Laundromat, Miller's meat market, Hennessey's Pub, and the 7-11. She'd even filled out an application at the foundry, in the dim hope that they might have an opening in their office. But none of these places were currently hiring. The only business in Monotoning she hadn't tried yet was the old Hotel.
At four o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, she opened the side door and boldly entered the bar room, without being invited. She was surprised to find that the bar was empty, except for Goody Carlisle, the proprietor, who sat on his favorite stool, at one corner of the long, horseshoe-shaped bar, scanning that morning's edition of the Morning Ledger. An old china cup, with a hair-line crack running down one side, sat on a chipped saucer, an inch away from Goody's fat, left hand. On the stubby pinky of that hand, he wore a ruby ring. While he perused the paper, he continuously tapped the ring against the rounded edge of the bar, an annoying and irritating habit of which he was obviously unaware.
Goody Carlisle may have been, as many said, the richest man in the Valley and in that part of the state, but Dahlia was not at all impressed by her first glimpse of the man. Her nostrils flared in silent contempt at the sight of his short, greasy, black hair and bulging, beer keg-like belly. Goody's wrinkled, blue sport jacket and soiled, white shirt looked like he'd slept in them. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone and his broad, blue tie hung like an ioen noose around his thick, red neck. A miniature American flag decal was affixed to the right lapel of his jacket, a silver Jesus Saves pin to the other. Dahlia quickly stifled a desire to laugh out loud. Who was he trying to kid?
Goody didn't move or speak for what seemed to Dahlia like an interminable amount of time. Just as she was about to turn and walk back out the door, Goody suddenly stopped tapping his ring on the edge of the bar. He closed and folded his paper, and placed it next to him, on the bar.
Slowly, like a big, dumb animal, he turned his head, scrutinizing her coolly, with his small, dark eyes. "You want a cup of coffee?" he asked her.
Dahlia was so surprised by his question that it took her several seconds to respond. "Sure."
"Have a seat."
Goody groaned as he hoisted his cumbersome body from his stool and waddled behind the bar. He set a china cup and saucer in front of her. This cup, Dahlia was happy to see, did not have a hairline crack running down one side and the saucer wasn't chipped. He poured her some coffee from a steaming carafe.
Goody returned to his stool. He watched her take a small, tentative sip of her coffee. Then he said, "So, what else can I do for you?"
"I need a job," she said, looking him straight in the eye. "I don't care what it is. I'll do anything."
"Sorry. I'm not looking for anybody new, right now."
Her nostrils twitching, Dahlia made as if to rise from her stool.
"No, sit," Goody told her. "Finish your coffee. I hate to see good things go to waste."
Dahlia could feel Goody's eyes focused on her, as she reluctantly took another slow sip of her scalding coffee.
"I know you," Goody said. "Your name's Dahlia MacKammon. You live with that no-account cousin of your's---what's his name?"
"Cole," an unbelieving Dahlia heard herself reply.
"Cole." Goody snapped his fingers. "That's the one. You two rent one of those crummy rat-traps, above Hennessey's Pub. You and Cole are actually first cousins. But you go around telling everyone you're man and wife. You did have a husband, once---still do, as far as I know. You never did get a divorce, did you? You had a husbant, a nice home, a beautiful, little boy. But your hubby beat you and you didn't like that. You waited until he lost his leg in a motorcycle accident, last year. And then you ran straight into the consoling arms of your no-good cousin."
Goody saw the shocked, uncomfortable expression in Dahlia's eyes. He smiled a smug, superior smile.
"Hey, this Monotoning," he said, with a slight shrug of his broad, sloping shoulders. "If there's only one thing I've learned in thirty years of living here, it's this. You keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open, and sooner or later, you'll see and hear everything in a small town worth seeing and hearing. Besides, I own a bar, as you can plainly see. The people who come in here talk alot. And I'm a real good listener. I like people---up to a point.
"You just got out of the Boone County Correctional Facility," Goody went on in his brusque, matter-of-fact voice, "where you served nine months. You let Cole fill you up with beer, one night, at Hennessey's Pub. Then you and he,in your car, followed an old prison buddy of Cole's, in his car, down to the warden's house, next to the prison, in Boone County. You sat in your car and acted as a lookout, while Cole and his buddy broke into the warden's home and stole a collection of antique pistols and rifles, and some other valuable items, which they tossed in the trunk of your car.
"Then Cole hopped in his buddy's car and they tore out of there, leaving you to get home as best you could. Only you were drunk and stoned and didn't know your way around that neck of the woods very well. The next thing you knew, you were stranded on a dead-end road and a state cop was shining a flashlight in your eyes, and asking for your keys, so he could look in your trunk.
"They offered to let you go if you'd tell them who really robber the warden's house," Goody said. "But you refused to rat out your precious Cole and his buddy. Cole and his buddy got away clean. The police arrested you for possession of stolen goods and for being an accessory to a crime. Like I said before, you spent the last nine months in the Boone County jail. And while you were in there, your precious Cole spent his nights in Hennessey's Pub and in here, bumming beers and cigarettes, and whateve money he could get his slippery hands on. I finally got sick and tired of it and told him to get ouf of here and never come back, or I'd call the cops on him.
"Cole hasn't worked a single day in all the time you've been away. He's three months behind on the rent. They're threatening to cut off your cable and electric, and your phone service, any day, now. And unless I miss my guess, someone from the burrough's already come around to shut off your water. And now, you're scurrying around town like a starving rat, trying to find a job, while he sits at home, on his fat, lazy can, all day, and drinks beer and smokes cigareets, and watches kiddie cartoons on television...You're not gay, are you?"
"No," Dahlia replied slowly, startled by his abrupt and unexpected change in topics."
"Now, I don't care if you are a lesbian," Goody said. "Your sexual preferene is certainly no business of mine. I have this kid who works for me. His name is Gino. He does my books. He's gay and it doesn't seem to affect his work one bit. Do you do drugs?"
"No," Dahlia huffed indignantly.
"And I don't care if you do drugs, either. As long as you do them on your own time and far away from here. If I ever catch you doing them in the ladies' room, or in your car, out in the parking lot, or trying to sell them to anyone of my customers, I'll call the cops so fast it'll make your head spin. Unless, of course, you give me a cut." He smiled a sly, cunning smile.
Goody folded his plump hands prayerfully on the bar. He bowed his head and took a long, deep breath. Then he turned his head and looked at Dahlia, again.
"Here's the deal," he said. "Right now, I have two openings. I need someone to work behind the bar from nine until five. And I need someone in the kitchen from six 'til closing. Which one of those positions would you be interested in?"
"I'll take 'em both," Dahlia said.
"Then get behind that bar and start washing glasses,'" Goody said. "The after-work crowd should start trickling in here any second, now. If you have any problems, just call Lenny. He's back in the kitchen. Right now, I have to drive over to the courthouse, in Ellentown, and see if I can bail my worthless nephew out of jail. The kid has a nasty habit of trying to burn things down."