Jason was the start of the story. You can see where I started with him in “The Job Offer”. But then I started writing about the Finder and then I felt like it needed to be in an earlier era and… Jason was the central figure of the contractors in the Recruiting Matter. It was his story (at least until Eleanor got abducted). Now he is on quest to find his parents who are probably still alive.
This entry is longer, but I will justify my rule violation by saying I condensed two chapters. I picked the best parts from “The First Day of Work” and “A Night at the Pub”. Unlike other cuts, this is probably better than the originals. I have lots of detail I’ll miss but you don’t need to know about dishwashing, cleaning stables, or closing up a pub. I spend some time introducing the pub characters and I work with them later in the Recruiting Matter, but there is no great loss since this is about meeting Jason. You also meet Findley Brown and the mysterious Stephan.
For your enjoyment -“The First Day of Work” and Jason. Look for more this weekend.
The First Day of Work
Jason McNeill arrived at the door of the pub and sighed once more at his predicament. If only he had focused on school a bit more; if only he asked for a bit more help from others; if only he was wired for book learning instead of experience learning; if only he wasn’t a foster child to a dairy farm in a small town. All those; any of those and he might not be stuck in the town bar in a backwater town serving to louts who wouldn’t know a metric wrench from an English hammer. All of his learned skills were going to be applied diligently to sweeping floors, clearing tables and doing dishes.
But life hands out no “do overs” and the pub owner was a valued customer to his foster parents. The pub was well respected (at least in his town) and Stephan did not have to offer work to him. Money was needed to pay off loans and he would do his share as needs must. He squared his shoulders and strode in.
It was a bit dark with morning light and old wood. The heavy doors opened to a landing that was four steps above a sunken floor. He faced the bar which dominated one leg of the L shaped room. The bar was Stephan’s pride and the focus of the room. At the foot was a polished brass rail for propping boots. The bar itself was a massive construction of oak a bit more than four feet high. The wood was polished, oiled and varnished. Inlaid wood designs showed various scenes of the country life such as harvest, hunting, the market, and (of course) drinking. Those who could look closely rarely appreciated the fine carving. On top of the bar was a massive 30 foot slab of dark fine grained granite. The smooth surface cleaned easily and Stephan was known to slide a mug to prepared customers in a bit of show. Jason knew the granite was all the more amazing since there was no dark granite for 700 miles and this was in one piece. How it was cut, polished and transported remained an utter mystery to him.
Behind the bar, a huge mirror framed in more carved oak allowing the bar keep to keep watch of customers while mixing or cleaning. The called liquor lined the bottom of the mirror like fancy dress soldiers. Stephan was behind the bar tallying last night’s receipts as Jason walked in. He glanced at the clock on the wall. “A little early – a good start. Head into the kitchen and Jolene will get you sorted. “
End of the Day
He wasn’t expected at home soon so he sat down at the end of the bar. Jolene pulled a pint for him and said “The first one is on the house.” The diners were almost gone now. Rob, the bus boy was clearing tables in the main room. One table was still drinking and had been for a while. Candace, one of the waiters, was managing to keep them happy, but the effects of the alcohol were starting to show. Geoff, a second waiter, was done and sat down next to Jason and ordered a pint. “Cheers, and welcome to the Pig and Cow and may your stay be long”, Geoff said raising his glass.
“Probably will be.” Jason drank his beer and mused, “I’m thinking of a mechanism to make hot water on demand. I’d like to ask Stephan what he thinks. “
“Such the working boy. Relax. You’re off duty. This isn’t class; you’re not graded in here.”
Jason smiled into his beer and thought that one is always graded. Not everybody knows it or knows the subject, but one is always being graded.
Geoff whispered conspiratorially, “Here’s the trick. It is enlightened self-interest. You might be low man on the totem pole, but if you shrug, we all shiver. Now drink up you boring sot and tell me about Jason McNeill”.
Jason grimaced. He was never much good at the pub scene at University. Sure, he and his mates could talk, but they were classmates: they shared classes, demonic professors, and hellacious homework. There were the girls pined for and games lost to rival schools. What was the common ground here?
“Cor. You are a quiet one. All right Uncle Geoff will start slow. Where do you live?”
Jason looked at the row of liquor bottles and said quietly, “I live on a farm outside of town. And if you talk to me like that again, you will wear this beer.” Jason said in a good natured tone, but there was enough heat in it to say he meant it.
Un perturbed, Geoff continued, “So Mr. Friendly does have a limit. Good. I prefer limits. What kind of farm? A big one?”
“It’s a dairy farm. We’ve 20 head. Milk, butter, cheese. Stephan and Jolene buy a lot of our butter and cheese. The milk goes to market. “
“How many hands to help?”
“My uncle and aunt, myself, Bob Wilkens. Larry does handy man work and delivers milk to the market. “
Geoff paused mid drink. “You help on the farm too?”
Jason felt a bit defensive. “Well , I have to. Uncle and Aunt need the help and farming isn’t what it used to be”
“No, No. I am impressed. When do you sleep? Never mind…dumb question”
“When I get home” Jason grumbled. “What about you? How did you end up here?”
“Me. Oh it’s complicated. I’d been on the road awhile. I was doing odd jobs when Stephan offered me a regular job here.”
Jason asked, “You were on the road because…”
Geoff shrugged and said, “As I said it’s complicated.”
Jason raised his voice in protest, “Oh come on old boy. Fair’s fair. I spilled a bit of my life spill a bit of yours”
“Jason, leave him be”, Stephan said from down the bar and nodded at Geoff. “He’s got his life now and we all best leave it at that.”
“Good lord it makes me think you have buried bodies somewhere,” Jason said
At that moment, Candace shouted, “Last time. Hands off” and slapped away the hands of a patron at a table. Stephan looked in her direction then he nodded to Geoff who nudged Jason. Stephan head around the bar, while Jason and Geoff followed.
“Is there a problem, Ms. Candace?”, Stephan asked somberly while staring at the three young men. All three were smartly dressed with fancy embroidered vests and tailored jackets. Jason and Geoff flanked him.
There was a thin young man in the center said, “Ease up a bit old man. We were just joshing a bit with your barmaid. Not need to get all severe with us.” He was short, of typical build and wore a bright blue paisley vest and gold chain across his belly slurred his words just a bit. His black hair was pomaded straight back. He tried looking reasonable, but mostly looked lecherous. On his right side, a taller stockier young man wore a bowler and had a handlebar mustache. His expression had a dull look about him. On the left side, the man was thinner and his mustache was a trimmed line above his lip. The thin man’s pants were striped and the vest was a bright blue with subtle patterns. He looked intently at Jason as if he knew him. Jason was staring back and realized who he was looking at and clenched his fists.
“Candace? A bit of jostling? ” Stephan asked.
“Chester there was copping a feel every time I stopped by the table. I got tired of it,” Kimberly said in protest.
“It was just a bit of fun. No harm intended bird, ” Chester tried to sound calming.
“Gentlemen, your tab is now due. Candace, finish out their bill. They will be leaving presently. The lads and I will make sure their needs are attended to.”
The thin man on the left, blurted out of nowhere “Jason, Jason McNeil. Fancy you here. I see Stephan has you working. I’m glad you found a career. What is it? Bartending? Cooking? No… Jolene is particular…You’re dishwashing of course. So much practice back at University. Living up to your potential I see”
Jason grimaced at being recognized by mayor’s son and his nemesis at University. “Findley Brown, I see you and your pretty boys haven’t improved manners after leaving University. I suppose here you don’t have to worry about passing classes. However did you pass your third class honors? Did Chester here help you?,” nodding to the standing man in the middle, “or did you seek the truly astounding academic skills of Cedric?”, waving at the large man on the right who grunted unintelligibly ” Or did you use some of your trust to pay off some poor invigilator? I swear I think you had problems in sums when we were lads.“ Jason put his finger to his chin as if considering a problem. “I suppose one can’t really expect someone of your learning capabilities to understand basic politeness.” Jason then leaned in. “But then you never have to because Daddy always makes things right. “
Findley smiled thinly saying, “Why Jason, do I detect jealousy? The school charity case couldn’t find a proper job?”
Jason tightened his fingers at the dig.
Findley continued, “Ah of course not. All the firsts in the world, and what do you have: a job as a dishwasher in a second rate bar in a third rate town. Your parents were failures and I see you’ve inherited their poor sense.”
Jason grabbed one of the steins of beer and threw it at Findley. Findley stood up quickly sputtering. His slightly drunk mates stood up as well. Geoff stepped around and clinched his fists.
“Enough” roared Stephan. “You three will pay your bill and leave. Jason go back to bar and I will deal with you presently.”
“Deal with him? You should fire him” protested Findley.
Jason suddenly panicked realizing that could quite likely happen. Stephan looked up at the ceiling.
“Mr. Brown. Did hear I you correctly ‘second rate bar in a third rate town’? If it weren’t a waste of good beer, I might provide a second coat. You will pay now and you will leave or I will call a constable and we’ll all sort this out at the station.”
Findley brushed his coat and blotted his face shaking with rage, “My father will…”
“Findley Brown. Everyone town knows who you are. Your father knows me and he knows I run a respectable establishment. I’ll not have you scrabbling my staff. Your father is an upright man. So if I told him someone was treating Candace, his favorite barmaid, poorly, I would expect him to most upset. Your bill is due Mr. Brown. And I believe you owe a proper tip”
“Your dishwasher just drenched me with beer”
“Pay your bill and we’ll call it even then. Your business is finished here”
Stephan leaned over and pulled Findley’s wet vest over so that he could whisper something in his ear. Findley’s expression took the strangest sequence going from outrage to shock to horror and back to outrage.
“You wouldn’t” he whispered.
Stephan grumbled and cracked his knuckles and said, “Pay your bill. Leave my staff alone and naught more. I have respectable folk in this establishment and I have no need for hooligans who think this is a ‘second-rate’ bar.”
Findley threw some notes on the table and said, “We’re leaving .O’Doul’s has better beer anyway.”
“What did you tell him?” Geoff wide eyed asked. “He looked positively pale.”
Stephan crossed his arms and watched the trio leave saying, “Naught you need to know. A bartender holds a great many secrets”. He turned to Jason and said, “You. Kitchen. Now”
Jason looked down; shoulders slumped, and headed into the kitchen through the swinging doors. Despite what Stephan said, he was doomed to be fired. Great. Aunt will just say he should stay on the farm. Oh, how he hated Findley and all the rich prats of the world. It doesn’t seem to matter what he did: nothing was ever good enough. His parents should have been famous and they were lost and dead because of some mistake they made and now consigned to obscurity. He was left with cleaning dishes.
Stephan came in and hung up his apron. He sat in a chair and looked over at Jason.
“I think tossing the beer was a mite rash. Don’t you think” he said quietly.
“He shouldn’t have insulted my parents.” Jason’s voice seemed plaintive.
Stephan leaned on a table and said, “Aye. He shouldn’t have. And he did. He was baiting you and you rose like a fine trout. Lad, you should know better than that. Now he knows how to twist the knife. Do ye think he won’t do it at every opportunity now?”
Jason turned around and faced the sink. Tears were burning. If Stephan was going fire him, why didn’t he just do it? Jason knew he was better at this. How did Findley push his buttons so easily? He banged his hands on the sink as if it were the source of his frustration.
Stephan continued softly saying, “Ye were doing so well. When I was your age, I’d ‘ve cracked him after the dishwashing nugget. You came back right at him. You know you hit well – he lashed out at you and your parents.”
Jason said through gasps, “He’s right though. All I’ve got for the firsts is debt. And it is a tidy bit of debt for a dishwasher”
Stephan put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Oh I know you’re better than this job. Findley knows it too. Findley knows you’re better than him and that is what he really hates. You’re better than 10 of his lot. Your time will come lad and when it does, I hope to see the look on Findley’s face. You’ve made the working folk of the town proud. Now don’t go messing it up by tangling with that worthless sot.”
Jason looked up at the cement splash block. It was already dry from the evening dishes. “You have the oddest way of firing somebody.”
Stephan laughed loudly. “You are a tool. I was going to toss him out anyway. Please don’t drench the customers again, but come along lad. I’ll pour you a pint for the one you wasted on that bloated fraud”
Jason sniffed a bit; wiped his eyes and continued to stare at the sink. “I don’t know. I am not that festive at the moment”
“I won’t take no for an answer. I’ll not let that nob stop our celebration. Now I’ll give you a moment to straighten yourself out and join us. But if you sneak out the back door, there will be cold food at lunch tomorrow and I will have Jolene double her dish count for you. “