By D. Paul Fonseca
Chapter TWO - Plans
The noise from the contractors, working in the kitchen, was loud enough to irritate Keith. He sat in the large dining room of his new restaurant. Before him, four of the old square dining tables had been pushed together to create a temporary desk. Oversize paper diagrams of the building lay in front of him outlining the work ahead. He had made concrete plans once he embraced the undertaking. There were two floors and an alleyway he had to restore to working order. Plus, he had to get all of the restaurant equipment back into shape to be able to even cook. He never could have anticipated owning a building such as this, however, the thrill of creating something new was something he enjoyed. The grin on his face said it all.
He stared out across the dining room. Most of it had been cleared and swept out. The ugly red carpets had been pulled up and a slab of concrete remained. To the right of the swinging kitchen doors was a counter where waitresses once put in orders. A small window of about two feet square had a red cloth curtain pulled closed.
“That should be bigger,” Keith said out loud, talking to himself. He drew out that idea on the paper plans before him. With a red pen, he marked off a much wider window across the wall behind the counter. He drew a service counter and a high barrier to block the view from diners. They didn’t need to see into the kitchen, he reasoned, but the staff should be able to see the chefs.
To the left of the kitchen door, about two feet away, stood another door. It led to a hallway with a storage area to the left and restrooms at the far end.
He stared around the room, wondering what else he could add to make customers come in and stay a while. Hammers banged on things in the kitchen. Contractors, who came earlier, made good time tearing out a section of damaged wall. Keith was impressed with how quickly the men worked, and loved that they started so early, coming in at 5:00 am.
The hammering stopped, then a dark skinned man, wearing a Padre’s baseball cap, poked his head through the double swinging kitchen doors. “Mr. Patterson?”
“Yes, Miguel?” Keith replied and looked up from the papers.
“Two of my men will be starting to clear the upstairs today, if that’s okay with you?” the man said in a thick accent.
“Yeah, that’s alright. Are you still able to finish the kitchen today? Are you ahead of schedule?” Keith smiled and raised his eyebrows.
“Yes, I think we will, sir. But…” Miguel hesitated. “I am going to have just Arturo help me with the wall. It’s a two man job and the boys finished up with the refrigeration unit. They put on the new condenser and it’s cooling the walk-in now. We’ll check on it in a while to make sure it is working properly. But, I want to get them upstairs, since we have the time this morning.” He smiled.
“Sounds good, Miguel. Keep up the good work.” Keith smiled back and Miguel disappeared into the kitchen.
Keith picked up his cup of coffee. It was cold against his lips and the bitterness rolled across his tongue like acid. Tearing the lid off, he peered into his paper Starbucks cup. A black ring had stained the inside above the dark liquid. He never used much creamer, not enough to lighten the coffee. He realized that he hadn’t refreshed his drink in three hours. He looked at his watch.
A moment later, Scott banged on the wall as he walked into the building. “Hey, man!” He said, stepping into the dining room. “You still want ideas about what to do here?” Scott’s bright smile infected Keith with enthusiasm.
“You have an idea?” Keith paused to reach into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “alright, shoot.” He nodded.
Scott pulled a chair up, flipped it around to face the back and sat down, crossing his arms over the high metal back. “Dude, you need a stage.”
“A stage! Think of it, man. Look. Right there.” Scott pointed at the wall to the left of the kitchen door. “Look how big that empty wall is.” He gestured to the expanse from the hallway door to the wall against the back alley. There were no windows there, only cracking leather booths.
Keith pursed his lips. He said, “I don’t know, Scott. And do what, dinner theater? That might be weird. I mean, this is a restaurant.”
“No, not theater. I’m talking about music! We can host local bands and get some awesome big names, like Stabbing Westward.”
“They broke up. Dude, it’s 2010.”
“Keith, you’re missing the point. Who says we can’t reinvent the place?” Scott smirked. “That wall has to be like twenty feet wide, or something.” He stole the lit cigarette from his friend and took a long drag. He handed it back, slick with spit.
“Keep it.” Keith shook his head. “Okay. Let me think about it.”
“Fine.” Scott got up and walked over to the wall in question. He had a vision. There was no doubt about that. He approached the door to the hallway and went in. “Hey, you got the lights working in here. Cool.”
With Scott wandering off, Keith took time to mull over the idea. It sounded cool, sure. But would it really bring in more people, or more money? He looked out the bay windows to his right. Cars passed by in the daylight.
From the other side of the hallway door Keith heard Scott mumbling something about space. Keith hated to be pushed into things. But, this time, Scott might be right. Besides, this place was smack in the middle of Hillcrest. There are so many people here who dig the night life, he thought. He stood up and walked over to the wall. Old wallpaper peeled away from the surface near the ceiling. Without thinking about it, Keith pulled on the booth. It pulled away from the wall without a fight. It slid across the floor. He grabbed another booth and pulled that one away from the wall as well. He pushed them into the center of the room. Then he pulled the last one out of the corner and did the same.
Scott stepped out of the hallway. His long shaggy hair draped over his shoulders. He blew smoke out of the corner of his mouth. Seeing what Keith had done, he asked, “So we’re going to do the stage thing”
Keith nodded. “Fuck yeah. We’re going to do the stage thing.”
“Woo hoo! Yes!” Scott danced around the room in a victory lap, pumping his fist in the air and hi-fiving Keith as he passed him. “You won’t regret this! This is going to be so rad! Our place is going to rock!”
“Our place?” Keith laughed.
“Oh come on, man. You know I can help you. I can do your ordering or something. I can get stuff done. And the stage, that was my great idea, right?”
“Didn’t you get your associates in accounting?” Keith asked.
“See! I can do your books, and I can make this place make money! Yes, I can do that.” Scott beamed at Keith, but desperation shined in his eyes.
“What will you do about your job? I mean, sure I can pay you. I have to hire someone, after all. But, this is going to take some work and if we work together, I may not be able to pay you until after we open. Won’t they miss you at the thrift store?” Keith smirked, mocking his friend’s petty employment.
“What if I move into the storage room?”
“You mean here?” Keith wasn’t so sure that would work.
“Yeah. It’s not so bad. Then I won’t need to pay rent at my apartment anymore. Heck, you could move in here too, upstairs. Wait, what is up there, anyway?” The long-haired man finished his cigarette and put it out on his shoe sole.
Things were moving fast. Keith thought about it. “There are three rooms upstairs,” he said. “They are all pretty messed up right now. They look like someone had an office in one. Another one looks like more storage for food. It sat there for god only knows how long and well.”
“Well what?” Scott inquired.
“Rats,” came the response.
“Damn. Ew. Okay, um… and the other room?”
“It’s empty.” Keith said. “In a couple days, the contractors should clear that crap out. The good news is that the rats have left. Nobody has seen them. The food containers were tore open and the vermin made a mess, ate a lot, pooped all over. But seems like now they’re gone.”
A loud banging noise issued from the kitchen. A sound like several pipes hitting the floor at once clanged and shook the building. The hammering had stopped and the two men could hear yelling in Spanish. Something was wrong.
Keith and Scott ran to the kitchen in time to see a cloud of dust swirling around the room. Rusted iron beams lay on the floor haphazardly. Keith asked, “What happened? Are you guys okay?”
“We’re alright jefe,” one of the men said. It was the foreman. He had arms like a steel worker, under his white tee-shirt. His Padre’s baseball cap had been covered in white drywall dust.
“Arturo, what happened here?” Keith repeated.
“We found something.” He seemed shaken. His words came out slowly and he had a hard time breathing. “We pulled off the boards behind the drywall because the wood was rotting. One of those rods was sticking out of the boards at an angle. I thought it was something that came loose and fell from the second floor. But, I was wrong.”
“Well, what is it?” Keith became frustrated at the charade. He couldn’t understand what made Arturo so nervous.
“We used a pry bar to pull on it and another piece of iron moved out from the top. The rod attached to the one we pulled on. So we all pulled on that loose rod together.” Arturo looked around the room and the three other Mexican men nodded but didn’t say anything.
Arturo continued. “We counted to three and pulled and then all these came out, they were in a pile of some kind.” He wiped his sweating brow with a handkerchief. Then he said, “We weren’t expecting to find this, señor.” He pointed to the wide hole in the wall. They had been working next to the kitchen door, opposite the stairs going up.
“The elevator.” He gulped.
Scott grinned. “Sweet! We have an elevator.”
Keith gave a sour look at his friend, irritated again by the 'we' comment. He leaned into the hole in the wall. Warm, stale air blew out of the opening. He asked for a flashlight and one of the workers handed him a red plastic flashlight from a toolbox. Keith looked inside, shining it into the darkness. Cables ran up and down into a large shaft. To his left, a pair of closed metal doors stood against the wall. Looking up, a complex system of pulleys and thick steel cables cast odd shadows in the light.
“Okay then.” Is there a problem with it? Can you guys get it running so we can use it?” Keith waited for an answer.
Arturo called over one of his men, “Miguel, has visto esto? Puedes arreglarlo?”
Miguel took the light from the boss and looked inside. When he pulled his head back out, he spoke quickly, his face had gone white with fear. “No, no, no.” He made the sign of a cross over his chest and asked something of Arturo.
“Si.” Arturo replied. The other men looked at him with pleading eyes. “Go ahead. Take a fifteen minute break. You can all go.”
Scott glanced at Keith and Keith began to ask Arturo, but the man held up a hand. He watched his men leave the room before speaking.
“Señor Keith.” His throat felt dry. He opened a jug of water and took a swig. “Señor. The men can work on this elevator, but they are afraid.”
“That’s ridiculous. It’s an elevator.” Keith grew irritated by the unusual superstitious atmosphere. Scott gave an accusatory look at Arturo.
Arturo stepped away from the hole in the wall. “Mr. Keith, This elevator, it is not on the plans to the building.”
“Okay, so maybe it was installed after the city took in the plans. I don’t see why we can’t use it to move the heavy supplies upstairs.”
“Señor, it doesn’t go upstairs.”
“What?” Keith was taken aback. “You mean, it was never finished?”
Arturo took off his Padres baseball cap, dusted it off, and fidgeted with it in his hands. “No sir. It’s not that.” He said.
“It goes down.”
© 2017 Mayachrome Press & D. Paul Fonseca
Photo, courtesy of Pixabay.com