An Uncapped Pen

December 19, 2007

CASUAL DUTY – Chapter Two

Filed under: Dickens Challenge — cindylv @ 5:31 pm

Chapter Two
March 1981
Scotty’s Pub
Twin Lakes, WI

Bridie pushed the tip of the scissors under the edge and squeezed with both hands to crack the shell. She pulled the meat up, pinched the shell closed, spread the flesh and fins neatly, then stacked the tail on the baking sheet. Split, crack, pull, fan — another row completed. She reached into the box for another tail and bumped Sophie’s hands.

“Watch it,” Sophie warned as she tossed another lobster tail on the stack. Smoke from her cigarette curled around her face and then dashed into the exhaust fan. She averaged two or three tails to every one of Bridie’s. “He sign them?” she asked with her lips pressed around her cigarette. A timer buzzed, startling both of them.

“Those potatoes have been in an hour. They should be about done.” Bridie stood up and reached over the shelf to punch the button. She grabbed a couple of pot holders and bent down behind the counter.

“I asked you, did he sign them yet?”

The oven door clanged shut. Bridie rested the edge of the pan on the stove. “You think one pan will be enough, or should I put in a second? I don’t want Millie running out at 9:00 like last week.” She dumped the potatoes into a box under the counter and turned to go into the storeroom. “I think I’ll go ahead and put in another pan, just to be sure.”

“I know you heard me. Being afraid is no reason.”

Bridie ducked into the storeroom, returning with another bag. “He doesn’t listen, and he gets angry.” She dumped the potatoes into the pan and spread them into an even layer. “It won’t do any good to ask him, anyway. He’ll just tell me no.” She slid the pan into the oven, slammed the door, and tossed the hot pads on the counter.

Sophie set down her shears, took a long drink of her tea and wiped her mouth. “Don’t forget the timer,” she said pointing above the stove. One last drag and she stubbed out her cigarette on the side of the trash can. “You’re gonna wake up one day, forty. You’re gonna wake up married to a bartender, or worse – divorced, and you got kids.” She stood up, lifted the tray of lobster tails and walked toward the cooler. “You’re gonna wake up and find yourself sittin’ on a bucket cutting lobster tails in someone else’s kitchen. Ask him. Today.”

Bridie swallowed her comeback and hid behind the refrigerator door. She pulled out two jars, one each of cocktail and tartar sauce, and pushed the door closed with her hip. Red, red, white, red, white, white. She sorted the sauces, arranging the cups into a tight formation, refilled empty cups and three, four, five…Stop it! Bridie slammed the spoon down on the counter, splashing cocktail sauce in all directions. She doesn’t understand. Nobody does. He puts out there like he’s everyone’s best friend, everyone’s buddy, but that’s not him. Not like he really is. If they saw him away from the bar, upstairs, they’d know what he’s really like. Bridie slid the tray back into the fridge, wiped up the mess and carried the empty buckets to the sink. Another timer rang.

“Breads up!”

* * *

The door swung shut behind her as Bridie tore through the kitchen, past the cooks, and ran into the storeroom. Sophie found her cramming towels into the washing machine as the tub filled. She put her hand on Bridie’s back and said, “Well, I guess I don’t have to ask.”

Bridie stood up. “He was behind the bar. Before I could even open my mouth, he wants to know did I wash the bar towels yet. He didn’t even give me a chance to ask.” She measured the detergent, added a good splash of bleach, and dropped the lid with a clang. “I told you…”

“Bridg?” Her father’s voice interrupted.

“You need to find a way,” Sophie said.

“Oh there you are, Bridg. Could you cut the fruit for the bar, darlin’? And not so thin with the limes this time. They’ve got to stay on the picks.” He put his hand on her arm and guided her back toward the kitchen. “I’ll be right up, honey,” as he dropped back to talk to Sophie.

“Dad? I need to … The woman from the financial aid office…She said– .”

“Not now, Bridg.” He turned toward Sophie.

“The deadline, she said they can’t extend it again. The papers have to…”

“Bridg, the fruit? It’s on the counter.”

Bridie watched him bend to whisper to Sophie as he shut the door behind her back. Sophie’s asking him, she thought with a smile. Behind the bar, Bridie found the bag lemons, a couple limes and an orange set out next to the paring knife. Placing the first lime on its side, she sliced it in half lengthwise and placed the flat side down. She trimmed off the ends and made five cuts across. Holding the slices together, she cut down the middle. Twelve neat wedges. She reached for the other half, and started again.

As she finished the last piece, she heard the front door open behind her. Charlie Sideburns limped in and hung up his jacket. Charlie Burnsides, she corrected herself. A quick look at the clock, 4:15. The pub didn’t open until 4:30, but the door was never locked when her dad was downstairs. “Never turn away a dollar, Bridg. Aye, that’s the secret.”

Charlie settled his bulk onto a stool near the middle of the bar and greeted Bridie with a smile. “Afternoon, lass. Is the Earl of Aberdeen working today, or is he out back burying his schillings?”

“Hi, Mr. Burnsides. You mean Glasgow, and he’s in the storeroom. He’ll be right up.” She placed a pint of Guinness on the coaster in front of the elderly gentleman. “The fish tonight? Dad got some nice halibut in yesterday.”

“Oh aye! With neeps and tatties?” His blue eyes twinkled.

“Tatties, yes. Neeps? ‘fraid not. Millie hates the smell of turnips in her kitchen,” she said over her shoulder as she scribbled his order.

“Order in,” she yelled above the roar of the fan. “Charlie Sideburns wants fish and chips, please.” She passed the ticket stub to Millie, the fryer cook. “Is my dad still in the storeroom?” She walked toward the storeroom door.

“What you need in there, hon?” Millie asked. She darted in front of Bridie and opened the cooler door, blocking her path. “I’ll get it for ya.”

“Just tell Dad Charlie’s here. He’s looking for him.” As Bridie turned to go back to the bar, she saw the door open. Her father breezed past her and out to the bar before she could speak to him.

“Charlie! My good man, you’ve come to buy an old friend a dram to wash out the dust! God bless ya.” His brogue became more pronounced behind the bar. He poured himself a glass of scotch and topped it off with a splash of Drambuie. “What’s the good word?” He raised his glass in salute, sipped and set it down underneath the bar.

“Dad? The forms for college?”

“Get they ashtrays, will you?” he said pointing down the length of the bar. “And see if you can’t find any fish in that kitchen for Charlie here.”

Blinking back tears, Bridie scooped up the ashtrays, dumped the butts in the trash, and wiped the trays with a rag.

“Fancies herself going to college, this one,” he said taking another sip. “Cannae keep her own room clean, but she wants off to university, she does.”

“I’ll leave them here on the bar for you to sign when you have time. I have to turn them in tomorrow.” Bridie placed the stack of forms on the end of the bar and went back into the kitchen to find Sophie. She found her leaning against a stack of boxes, smoothing her hair, rubber band in her teeth.

“Did you ask him? What did he say? Is he going to sign them?”

Sophie rebanded her hair. She raised her head and looked Bridie directly in the face. “It ain’t all about you, kid,” She brushed past and returned to her station in front of the broiler.

* * *

Bridie shaded her eyes from the sun’s glare and stumbled to the kitchen to start the coffee. It was just after 8:00 o’clock and she needed to get the yeast going so she could make the bread. She stopped at the end of the bar and straightened out a stack of menus, placing them in the slot under the counter. She looked under the menus, next to the cash register and on the shelf with the packing slips. Maybe he brought them back upstairs, she thought. She picked up a crumbled napkin and tossed it in the can behind the bar. She froze, then looked back into the trash can.

The neon in the tubes surrounding the advertising flip clock on the wall above the cash register hummed in the background of her thoughts. The clock featured handwritten ads painted in fluorescent colors that flipped at timed intervals. Hum. Click. Flip: Tastee Freeze Ice Cream. Click. Flip: The Fairview Inn. Click: Barber Shop – Open Sunday. Click. Flip.

The phone rang. She fumbled under the bar to pick up the receiver, closed her eyes and swallowed hard. “Good morning, Scotty’s Pub. This is Bridget. May I help you?” she mumbled.

“Good morning! This is Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Lang of the United States Army.”



  1. This is just great. I don’t know if I missed it in the prologue because I’m not quite sure what kind of animal we were with (and I don’t even need to know but I was curious), but I love the sensory description. I had to read the first and second chapters right away. As you know — this storyline hits home with me and it rings completely true. The dialogue is great, there is a ton of tension in every section and I am really looking forward to reading more.

    Comment by Lisa — December 20, 2007 @ 6:34 am | Reply

  2. Thank you, Lisa! I’m still getting over the fear of posting my story. Your kind words help alleviate my fear.

    I’m really excited about this challenge and the boost my productivity has gotten.

    Sorry for the deleted comment. I’m still new at blogging and receiving comments!

    The animal “we” are in the prologue is revealed in a later chapter.

    Comment by CindyLV — December 20, 2007 @ 9:38 am | Reply

  3. Loved it and your layering of the tension:-)

    Comment by liz fenwick — January 22, 2008 @ 2:41 am | Reply

  4. Liz, if you’re gonna praise every single chapter like this, I’m gonna roll over and let you rub my belly!

    Comment by CindyLV — January 22, 2008 @ 5:23 am | Reply

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