Stepping Up

“You’re going to be gone for how long?”  I squeaked.

“A month,” said Mikhel.  “Maybe more, if things don’t go as planned.”  He paused a moment.  “Actually, that’s likely.  So, at least a month.” 

When Mikhel told me he was going to Estonia for a while to “take care of some family matters,” it took a moment for me to realize that meant that I was going to be in charge of Floggin’ Brews while he was gone.  I’d recently been promoted to “Assistant Manager” after Boss had approved Mikhel’s recommendation, which meant that I was responsible for closing most nights and making sure we had enough reliable staff to keep the place going. 

Mikhel saw the look on my face.

“It’s not like you can’t get in touch if something comes up,” said Mikhel.  “Though, come to think of it, I won’t have much internet access. But Boss will still be here.”

I nodded, though privately I worried about my ability to understand Boss’ wishes.  I still wasn’t fluent in Cat.  “Ok.  When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“That’s soon.  Is it an emergency?”

“Not yet,” Mikhel said soberly.  “Oh, and Mercy’s starting tomorrow.  She’ll show up around 4.”

“She accepted?  Great. I liked her.”  

“Me too.  I think she’ll fit right in.”

 We’d been interviewing for some new bartenders.  Mercy was an auto mechanic with impressive tattoos.  She had worked part-time at a number of brewpubs, and knew most of the brewers in town, but as she put it, was “tired of the drama” and “wanted to work somewhere less partisan.”  I didn’t know if she was kinky or not – I hadn’t seen her in the community – but she’d said in the interview that she wasn’t about to get in anyone’s way for doing what they wanted to do.  Unless they were taking advantage of someone, and then she’d get in their way plenty.  It was the right answer as far as Mikhel and I were concerned. 

It was Mikhel’s night to close up.  Before I left, I wished him safe travels, and made him promise to try to keep in touch.  He also gave me his Aunt Grete’s contact information, and said she would be able to contact him in a pinch.  Finally, he gave me a big hug and that direct look of his.  “You’ll be fine, Ret.  You’ve got this.  I wouldn’t trust Floggin’ Brews to anyone else.”

At the same time, I felt Boss rub against my ankle.  “Thanks, Mikhel, that means a lot to me.”  I looked down at Boss, who seemed unconcerned.  “And thanks, Boss. I know we’ll be fine.  But I’ll be glad when you’re back.”

Ok, so the place is going to be in my hands, and Boss’ paws, with brand-new staff.  What could possibly go wrong?

The first thing that went wrong is that I wasn’t sure about the proper paperwork for Mercy when she showed up ready to work.  I eventually called Rita The Accountant (who was never called just Rita), who emailed it all to me and put Mercy on the payroll. 

Fortunately, Mercy was unflappable, and got right to work.  She figured out which beers were at which pulls in record time:   they were arranged by mood, with the brighter “happier” brews on the right, and the darker “moodier” brews on the left.  And she had a nice touch with people, and gave good advice about bad cars. 

The next thing to go wrong happened two days later, on Mercy’s second shift.  The power went out on our block, at 5 p.m. on a Friday night when we had both a munch and a party scheduled.   One of the customers heard from the utility crew that it was a squirrel that had shorted out some wires and started a transformer on fire.  And died in a blaze of glory.  It might be hours before they repaired the damage.

I started thinking fast.  Could we have a munch without power?  How long would the freezer stay cold?  But before I could panic, Mercy said “If it’s okay if I leave for awhile, I can go get my generator.”

I blinked.  “You have a generator?  Big enough for the building?”

She nodded.  “It’s for my shop.  We don’t need it very often, but it’s saved my butt a couple times.”

And it saved our butt too.  The munch and party went off without a hitch, and we were the only building on the block with power until they got it fixed at 10 p.m.

The following week, a fight broke out in the bar between a couple of guys who weren’t part of the community, but had wandered in, I think, on a dare.  I’m not sure what set it off, and I was dismayed that I didn’t see it coming.

I stepped out from behind the bar and headed over to the scuffle.  I’d learned a lot from Mikhel about breaking up that kind of thing, but I also had a two-foot piece of broom handle in my hand just in case.  But as it happened, I didn’t need to do anything.  Two beefy guys came out of the party in the Theatre, as if on cue, and headed straight for the fight.  Neither of them were wearing much, but what they had on involved a lot of hardware and some leather.  The fighters took one look at them and decided to take their disagreement outside.   I immediately forgave the party-goers for the dress code violation (“Vanill-ish in the bar, fetish in the Theatre”), and gave them tokens for a free drink on us. For after the party (“No drinking while playing”).

I didn’t hear from Mikhel, though I’d sent him regular email notes to let him know that everything was going well and that every time I needed help, someone was there to help me.  Which, I suspect, was at the heart of Floggin’ Brews. 

And then, when Mikhel had been gone two weeks, something really bad happened.

Boss got sick.  At first, She just seemed to sleep a little more, but soon, She couldn’t keep anything down.  I had no idea what to do – She’d never been ill before, that I knew of, and I didn’t know if She had ever been to a vet.  There wasn’t any information in the back room about Boss’ care, except a list of food She liked (including cream) and didn’t (lemon meringue pie). 

Brita spent some extra time in the back room, petting Boss and trying unsuccessfully to find something She’d eat.  And I gave Aunt Grete a call, after remembering that she’d been there when Mikhel met Boss.

Aunt Grete picked up the call on the second ring.  “Ret, my dear, how are you?  I hear you’re doing such a wonderful job running the business while Mikhel is gone.”

I didn’t take time to ask how she knew that.  “I need your help, Ms. Kask.  Boss is ill and I don’t know what to do.”

“Please, call me Grete.  And tell me what seems to be the trouble.”

I described Boss’ symptoms, and Aunt Grete made some comforting noises and asked a few questions.  Was Boss’ nose warm? (Yes, and dry.) Had She been coughing?  (No, just wheezing.) 

“Well, I am so glad you called me!  This doesn’t sound like anything serious, but I’ll be down in a bit with something to make Boss feel more comfortable.”

As I hung up the phone, I felt a wave of relief.  Brita had been watching me closely while I was on the call, with a worried look on her face.  I gave her a smile.  “Aunt Grete will be here soon.”

“And she’ll help Boss?”

“Yes, I’m sure she will.”  And I was, though I hadn’t any idea why I was so confident about that.

The answer to Boss’ ailments ended up to be a good dose of Aunt Grete, and some of her homemade chicken soup.  Grete brought a small blanket that had been in Boss’ traveling trunk when She arrived to meet Mikhel, and a thermos of soup that looked like it had a little of everything in it (chicken, herbs, vegetables, spices, noodles, chopped up egg, apple, spices).  It made me feel healthier just smelling it.   Boss ate a small amount, then drank some water, and curled up on the blanket Aunt Grete had put on Her bed and went to sleep.

I invited Aunt Grete to stay for dinner, and sent Brita to pick up some takeout Chinese for us to share.  I also pulled out the bottle of Kännu Kukk, an Estonian liquor I knew she fancied, and poured a shot for me and one for Aunt Grete.  After we’d toasted Boss’ health, we tossed it back.  I managed not to choke, but it wasn’t easy – it tasted like cumin pancake syrup.

“Have you heard from Mikhel?” I asked.

Aunt Grete took a bite of fried rice.  “Just a bit.  He arrived, he’s fine, things are going as smoothly as can be expected.”

I was dying to know exactly what kind of “family matters” were keeping him busy, but Mikhel hadn’t told me and I didn’t want to pry.  And I had a hunch I might not believe it if I knew.  “Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“No.  Do you need him back?”

“Well, no.  Things are going smoothly, so far, except for Boss getting sick.  But I’d feel better if he were here.”

Aunt Grete nodded.  “I’m sure he wants to be back too, he does love this place and the people in it.  I’ll be contacting him this weekend – do you want me to pass on a message?”

I thought about that.  “Tell him about Boss, of course – he should know about that.  Tell him that things are going well, Mercy is working out.  And,”  I paused.  “Tell him that people step up when we need them to.”

“Oh, he’ll be so happy to hear that.”  She gave a warm, favorite-aunt kind of smile.  “I’ll be sure to tell him.  And please, dear, feel free to call me for any reason.”

I nodded, but hoped I wouldn’t have to – I like to feel like I can figure things out on my own.  Though sometimes it’s really good to have some help.

To no one’s surprise, Boss was Her old self the next day.  But She wouldn’t touch Her usual food until She’d eaten every bite of Aunt Grete’s soup.

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