She must of come in drunk, or at least that's what I was told. It was almost 3am, last call, and I was sitting in my typically under-sized manager's office in a big restaurant on a lake in the back of a quaint mall in Weston Florida when my bartender Brian, a clean cut kid who was studying to be a landscape architect, stuck his nose in to interrupt my number crunching.
"Coach," he said, he always called me coach, "A woman just came in with Deirdre and Travis and they must have come from a party or something cause they're pretty stewed and I don't want to serve them."
I looked up at him over my reading glasses, "Good, then don't." I replied.
"Yeah," he said, "I'm not gonna. Thing is they're making a big deal out of it and demanding to see you....You know Travis...."
I took a deep sigh, it was the end of a fifteen hour shift and what I needed was sleep not ball breaking from a an affluent red neck dirt bag with a loud mouth and a sense of entitlement (Travis was a regular). I heaved myself off the small desk chair and followed Brian out into the empty kitchen and through the dark dining room up to the dimly lit lounge. The bar sat inside but with big patio doors wide open to treat the guests to a view of the big lake out back and the breezes blowing off the water. There were only a half dozen or so customers left and three of them were the drunken and unwelcome trio; they were perched on stools by the service bar Deirdre and the unknown woman engaged in close tipsy conversation and even sitting down I could tell they would be unsteady on their feet. Travis sat a little off from them seemingly engaged in an enamored stare down with a bottle of whisky just beyond his reach.
Brian was a few feet ahead of me and when he stepped behind the counter Travis glared at him like a spoiled baby and demanded; "Well?"
Brian turned his back deliberately on the guy and jerked his thumb over his shoulder back at me before moving off down the bar to cash out the other three customers.
Travis turned the full heat of his wrathful stare onto me, "Well?" He spluttered.
"Well, what?" I responded tersely having long before reached the age where I'd lost my tolerance for people like Travis.
"Well, what about a round here for last call?"
"Last call was ten minutes before you walked in." I answered.
"Really?" I said, "Do we have to go through this dance, Travis?"
Travis looked at his watch, "It's two forty five, last call is at three am."
"I'm the general manager and last call is when I say it is, at least last I checked."
"Yeah, buddy we'll see if you're still the general manager when you check tomorrow after I talk to Tim. The money I spend in here...." Tim was the owner and he would stop in for a drink about once a month and when ever he did Travis, who was at the bar every day would chat him up. Travis was one of your typical regulars one of God's special creatures. The type who thinks he deserves everything for free and an ass kissing with his peanuts.
I gave him a sour look, "What ever you gotta do, buddy," I replied, "What ever you gotta do."
Brian handed me his drawer which I took it in the back to count, then I returned to lock up. When I got there the place was empty except for Brian and the un-known woman.
Bian was sitting at the bar talking to her, sipping on his shift beer while she toyed moodily with a glass of water, he gave me one of those; 'What are we going to do?' looks as I approached. I sat on the stool on the other side of the woman, the one where Travis had been sitting a half hour before. I looked at her close up, I'd never seen her before, she was very pretty with a South Florida tan and an expensive hair style piled high on top of her head. She reeked of alcohol, but even stoned as she was she exuded a vibrancy.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Clarissa, and your's?" She slurred.
"J.R.," she repeated softly, "what's that stand for?"
"Jimmy Ray. How you getting home, didn't you come in with Travis and Deirdre?"
Brian drained his glass and stood up, "I gotta be up early. You got this, Coach?"
I nodded at him philosophically, "I'll make sure she gets home okay."
Brian left and I turned back to Clarissa, "So," I said, "is there somebody I can call to pick you up?"
She didn't answer me but grabbed my right hand in both of hers, "I tell fortunes," she declared in a boozy drawl.
I smiled, humoring her as she turned my palm over and examined it in the dim light. "You're unlucky in love," she said, "You're a good man but you'll die of a broken heart."
"I'll try to keep that in mind," I said, "but you haven't answered my question-"
"I'm sorry about Travis," she interrupted, "I know he can be an asshole, but he's my cousin."
"He's your cousin and he left you here?"
She hopped off her stool, "I have to pee," she said.
I nodded and watched as she staggered off in the direction of the ladies room, while she was gone I locked up. I was struggling with one of the big sliding doors when she returned.
"Don't worry about me," she said, picking up her purse from the bar top, "my cars parked outside."
"Whoa," I said rushing over, "You're not in any condition to drive. Let me call you a cab."
She looked at her watch, "It's too late and I wouldn't trust a cab driver at this hour."
"You can't drive home. I mean you are drunk."
She stared meaningfully at me for a long minute, "Well," she said at last, "I suppose you could drive me home."
I nodded, "Okay, just stay here for ten minutes I have to shut down the computers and check the equipment in the kitchen, I'll be right back."
She smiled knowingly at me, "I'll be here."
When I came back ten minutes later she was gone. I scoured the restaurant but she was no where to be found and when I got out to the parking lot the only car there was mine. I drove around the mall but to no avail and there was really nothing else I could do so I went home and hoped for the best.
The next day was my day off. It was a mild, sunny South Florida day and I was on the patio cooking steaks for my wife and son and drinking a cold beer when my wife joined me, the cordless phone in her hand, "J.R. honey, its Tim."
I answered with trepidation wondering what could have gone wrong at the restaurant that the owner, who oddly, unusually enough was good about leaving me alone on my own time, was calling me. "Hey boss," I said.
"How are you doing, J.R." he asked, not in the ordinary way one might but with a lot of concern.
"I'm fine," I replied. "Is everything okay?"
I heard him sigh on his end, "I just spoke to the police, there was a woman at the bar last night, well Brian told me what happened, turns out she got on the I75 last night and...well, she's dead."