I am once again taking a short break, as I don’t have much interesting to tell. Nobody’s really all that interested in small town politics and my dating life. At least, not a real dating life. They want action movie romance, like that bizarre kiss from Agent Clark. Not that Sam would object to me dating someone else. She didn’t mind about Medusa and I dating before I realized I wasn’t into her so much.
See, this is the kind of rambling y’all don’t want to hear. So for now, let’s go back to throwing on a story from Outlaw X. Meanwhile, Sam is taking me to dinner and a concert while Qiang stays at a friend’s house.
Rebel Rebel, the hot tramp, is back and I look divine on the criminal underworld’s number one pirate radio station! That’s right, the station’s own Outlaw X that we named the thing after has the night off tonight unexpectedly. I know, sad to hear, but don’t worry: He had a bank robbery come up suddenly. Someone decided to move their pile of gold at the last minute and now you’ve got to rush it.
I’ve got some great music lined up for you folks. First, we have an hour of yodeling. Next, an hour of polka. Finally, five straight hours of Gregorian chants. Now, before you fine felonious folks out there call in telling me to get my finger out of my ass, I’m just kidding. I’m going to put on one of our stories, then we’ll have ourselves some blues rock for you outlaws.
Our story tonight has Made Men, main dishes, and murder most foul. It’s a story of the hottest franchise out of New Jersey, New York, and Chicago. Ladies, gentlemen, pirate bisexuals, and transbians: I give you the story of Mafia Garden.
“When you’re family, you’re here.” That’s the motto here, at our completely legitimate business. Mafia Garden’s a special place, not just for the food, which is fantastic. It’s amazing food. Spaghetti you could strangle someone over. Pizza pie so good, you’d pay a fifty percent tip to the waiter or else. And the gabagool? It grabs you and just won’t let go. Say, that’s a nice watch you’re wearing. Is that real gold?
We’re good to customers, we’re good to our workers, and we’re good for the community. Leftovers go to the homeless, if they can. If they’re outside the bounds of human consumption, we make deals with pet shelters and pounds to feed the animals. And we have no problem hiring convicts. That alone is reason enough to advertise on this here pirate radio station.
Enough with the hard sell. My name’s Herb. Not “Herb the Hook” or any funny nickname like that. I’m just a regular guy who got a job at an up-and-coming Italian restaurant. I need money. I have bills, that’s all. Sure, I’m a workaholic, but that doesn’t mean I’m in the back room breaking kneecaps. I’m just a guy who needs a job. Mafia Garden pays good and our reputation scares customers off making a scene.
We’re hardly supervillains, but we’ve had our fair share of them. I wanna tell you about a time we had a close call at our location.
I remember it was around the time school started up. We’d lost some of our younger staff to the educational system, and the rest of us were getting used to picking up the slack. We had a new guy with us, no real experience in the industry before and he was eager to learn. Did everything anyone asked of him. Normally, he was a busboy, but the guy sprinted all over the kitchen. Silverware, restocking, washing dishes.
I took five to go out back and have a vape. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s better than sucking on cigarette smokes and there are some good flavors out there. Heard someone say they got some vapeable sex packets, but that’s asking for trouble at work. I’ve never been so busy that I needed that extra limb to help me carry dishes out to a table.
So I was out back and this guy approaches, like a wannabe Robocop. Black boots, dark blue pants tucked into them, with a police dress jacket. The badge was bent like it took a bullet and I I could make out that he had a vest on under it. He had a billy club in one hand with some metal coils around the end, was smacking it into his black-gloved hands. The arms went like gloves on the hands, then bracelets of bullets around the wrist, then the blue of the jacket sleeve. He had a metal helmet with a couple of red horizontal visor eyepieces, one over each eye.
“Where is he?” he asked, then said the name of my coworker, Bud. I knew who he was asking about, because that was our busy busboy. Then he asked, “Where’s Deletion?”
“Deletion?” I asked.
“Bring me your manager,” he ordered.
“Fuck you. Tell me why?” I said right back. Rent-a-City Robocop thinks he can intimidate me, he’s obviously never dealt with a six year old’s birthday party. I once walked in on a bathroom where some guy got sick coming out of both ends.
Robodouche grabbed my collar. “Because I’m here to warn your manager about a dangerous criminal who is working for you.”
“Who’s that, the guy plowin’ your mother?” I took a vape and blew it in his face. He threw me through the door.
“The fuck’s goin’ on here?!” asked our chef. I was a little loopy, seein’ stars still, when Americop over there steps on into the place. “The fuck you do to my waiter?!”
“I am Hardtimer,” the guy said. I heard that part clearly because I didn’t have a head injury or nothing.
“Hardtimer?” the chef asked. “What you come up with that while jerking off?”
“The hell is happening back here, Greg?!” called out manager, Robert. He came striding in, drawn by the noise and yelling. “Who the fuck? Go back to work, Greg, I’ll handle this.” The chef nodded and went back to fixing some more veal marsala. Meanwhile, Robert helped me up, but asked Hardtimer, “Who are you and why you in here beating up my guys?”
With a growl of exasperation, Hardtimer told him, “I’m here to warn you about an employee of yours. I’m Hardtimer.”
Robert patted me on the shoulder. “Go on, go make sure you’re good before you go handle your tables. Hardtimer, eh? You bustin’ our balls because you got tired of workin’ your shaft or something?”
“I’m here to tell you about Deletion. He goes by a different name now. First name, Bud. Last name…” Hardtimer said it, but I’m leaving it out. I’m not outing the guy. He works hard and he’s nice to me.
“I don’t give a fuck what you say, he’s a good guy and he’s working hard at a regular-ass job. He doesn’t need you coming around here reminding him he went to jail!” the manager yelled at Hardtimer. “Matter fact, I don’t need you around here neither!”
“It’s only a matter of time before his criminal instincts take over and he robs you, if he hasn’t already,” Hardtimer added.
“Only person crimin’ in here right now is you assaulting one of my waiters. You gonna pay his medical if you broke something?” Robert said, nodding.
Hardtimer backed off, setting his jaw. I think Robert got to him there.
“Hey, where is Bud anyway?” I asked one of the other busboys, Leon.
Leon nodded out toward the floor. “Mina said someone got sick out of both ends in the Men’s room and he volunteered to go clean it.”
“See? He’s a good guy and there’s no reason to assume he’s still a crook now he’s done his time,” Robert said, pointing his finger at Hardtimer.
The vigilante turned and left back out the door. Didn’t apologize or nothing.
“Schmuck,” Robert said. He turned to me. “You good?”
I did some stretches. “A bit sore, but I’ll make it. Might need an ibuprofen if we got ’em.”
He nodded. “I’ll go get you one. You better go see to that. I’ll go talk to Bud about that fake cop wanting to hassle him and us.”
Another busboy poked his head in. “Someone’s yelling at Mina. Is that masked ass still back here?”
Ugh, yeah, another wonderful night in the restaurant business. We got through it. The only other option was not to get through it. Afterward, Robert gathered the staff around, including Bud the ex-con, and offered everyone a glass of wine for our nerves. It came with a toast. “To getting through it together. Salud!”
“Salud!” everyone said, raising our glasses before drinking.
Bud and I were walking to the entrance when Hardtimer stepped through a door that was supposed to have been locked “Deletion!”
“Come on, man, I’m not doing anything but leaving work,” Bud said to him. It didn’t stop Hardtimer from getting close to us, baton in his left hand.
“Ahem,” said Robert. “You’re trespassing after hours, copper.”
Mina was the first to grab something, a bottle of wine out of a rack behind the host station. Greg had one of his kitchen knives on him for some reason. I edged closer to this big vase sitting on the floor with some plastic flowers in it.
“This is between myself and the criminal,” Hardtimer said.
“Everyone hear me warn him?” Robert asked. The whole lot of us nodded.
Hardtimer’s right hand slid down to the holster at his side and the handgun resting in it. I grabbed the vase and heaved it into his chest the moment I saw him grab that gun and start to pull on us. The vase thumped him in the head. He dropped his gun then. Mina’s wine bottle thunked into his left forearm. He didn’t lose his grip on the baton, and the gun actually flew off the floor to his other hand like it was magnetic or something. How the fuck did that work?
The other busboy, who didn’t stick with us too much longer, decided to join in. He grabbed a mop nearby and threw it like a spear. He got Hardtimer in the face with the wet end. If that didn’t blind him, Greg maybe wouldn’t have gotten close enough to start stabbing. I don’t think he hit anything, but Hardtimer was in a pickle. He had a mop in his face, me winding up with a vase, Greg stabbing him, and Mine bashing him with a wine bottle. He turned and ran off, nearly making me drop my vase.
Robert jogged to the door and called out to him, noting the broken exterior lock. “We’ll serve you your ass any time!”
Bud stood to the side, looking awkward and vulnerable, with his hands in his pockets and looking down. “Geez, guys, you didn’t have to do that. He’s an asshole, but he probably wouldn’t have beat me much.”
“He’s a dirty, rat bastard who doesn’t get that when you serve your time you’re entitled to a clean start,” Robert said. He walked over to Bud and put his arm around the ex-con’s shoulders. “You got anymore problems with him, I’ll pass it up to corporate and let them take care of it.”
“Corporate, as in…?” Bud didn’t complete the question.
Robert laughed. “Lawyers!” I happened to catch his eye and he winked, his hand drifting up to a scar along his cheek. “Those sharks’ll eat him alive.”
“Thank you. Everyone, thank you,” Bud said.
“Thank nothing of it,” Robert said. “When you’re family, you’re here. And nobody messes with the family.”
Wow, outlaws. I think I got a new favorite Italian restaurant. Tell all your friends who want to go legit, I guess. And maybe some of your less-than-legit ones. You know, what’s weird is I heard about this Hardtimer guy. Yeah, an ex-cop. They found out his identity when someone found him beaten in a park and called an ambulance. Weird, isn’t it? Probably nothing, but I think I’ll stick to the pasta and pizza if I go there. Because the only clues they found nearby were crusty, day-old meatball subs that match the bruises all over Hardtimer’s body.
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Herb the Hook seems like a good guy. You could probably make a whole serie centered around a restaurant staffed with ex-cons and supervillains genuinely just trying to live their lives while the world is full of super antics.
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