The original Two Grumpy Old Men Café story appeared on The Scribbler in 2013. This short story is a continuation and takes place a year later.
The Finale of the Two Grumpy Old Men Café.
It’s 6:35am on a breezy Friday morning when Wilmot Parker III is bawling out his partner, CJ Parker (no relation).
“How could you do such a dumb thing?”
CJ is sitting on one of the stools at the counter that surrounds a cooking area in the Two Grumpy Old Men Café or as more fondly referred to by the staff and regulars, TGOM Café. He’s twirling back and forth like a little boy even though he is 76. His chin is down, he doesn’t want Wilmot to see his grin. The lady that helps them out in the mornings is coming in the back door and hears what is being said. Taffy Fitzsimons can see CJ through the back room she has entered, through the open door to the main eating area. He looks sheepish but she knows it’s only a ploy.
“What did he do now Wilmot?”
CJ livens up and says,
“What do you mean “now”? I’m not that bad Taffy.”
“Well goodness knows you’re the one that gets in the most trouble with the loose lips around here.”
“I’m supposed to be grumpy, aren’t I? That word is on our sign?”
Wilmot is leaning against the prep station behind the counter where he is in command.
“Being grumpy doesn’t allow you to be obnoxious.”
Taffy enters the main dining room, placing her purse on the counter, this one is yellow vinyl with orange polka dots the size of golf balls. CJ is five seats down on the corner and stares at her with mischievous eyes. She can’t help but smile at the rascal.
Wilmot already has his black chef’s jacket on, TGOM Café embroidered on the left chest, checkered chef pants which are a tad too short exposing his skinny ankles. He turns towards Taffy putting both hands on the counter to lean forward and says,
“Three ladies came in after you left early yesterday for your dentist’s appointment. I’d guess they were in their early forties.”
CJ sits straighter, into the story now.
“Oh man, were they lookers too, especially the one with the…”
“Shut up CJ.”
Wilmot glares at the interruption.
“So, Casanova here, our smut king, when he approaches their table he says,
“Good morning ladies. How’s your little mustn’t-touch-it’s today?”
Taffy is astounded but cannot control herself and bursts into a surprised chuckle which turns into a hearty laugh. CJ loves her reaction and joins in. Wilmot has his arms akimbo and says,
“It’s not funny you two.”
Taffy is holding her stomach and sputters,
“They got up and left is what happened! That’s not good for business.”
CJ laughs quietly, his body does the motions and says,
“Well it depends on who they tell.”
Wilmot tries to be angry but the joviality of his two closest friends finally gets to him and he gives up.
Several years ago, the three of them were sitting in a hot tub at the back of CJ’s condo. Both Parkers are Canadian snowbirds and Taffy is originally from Hawaii. Wilmot is a widower, Taffy a widow and CJ a dedicated bachelor that has never been tempted to the altar. The second bottle of 16 year old Lagavulin on the sideboard was half empty. The water pitcher and ice bucket had been depleted two drinks before. With too much time on their hands they decided to open a café. It would be opened only for breakfasts, only in the mornings, closed on Sundays and the proceeds would go to charity. None of them needed the money and they wanted their afternoons free.
Wilmot is a retired wealth manager, 78 years old, widower for thirteen, a very poor golfer even after nine years of taking up the sport which he dedicates his afternoons to faithfully, except Sundays which if for church and rest. On the course he’s in the sand so often, his golf crony’s nicknamed him Traps. He is also a fantastic cook. Taller and more angular than his partner, he shuttles the breakfast specials out hot and delicious from behind the counter in an open kitchen that is exposed to the patrons. He’s quieter than CJ but don’t count on him taking too much prodding from his partner or even Taffy if she is in a good mood, he can spar verbally with either of them.
CJ built houses for a living. Quit and sold everything when he was 65, bought two condos, one in New Brunswick back home and one here in Fort Myers. Had many relationships with a variety of beautiful women that usually lasted 6-8 months, what CJ defined as ‘long-term’. He always wanted to be an author and spends his afternoons writing erotica under the alias of John T Boner, except Fridays which is his get-loaded-day and Mondays which is set aside for business affairs. His series of smut is a moderate internet winner, successful enough that he has a fulltime staff of one to look after the website. All he does is write, sign checks and spend the profit shamelessly.
Taffy came here with husband #2. He was from Wisconsin and they met at Fireman’s convention in Las Vegas. Fireworks. Divorce in Reno nine weeks later. Marriage in nine weeks plus one day. Both taking early retirement and moving to Florida, a new beginning, a new paradise. One year into retirement, Ben Fitzsimons is dead. Massive heart attack. Left her all his investments which looked bottomless last time she checked. Two years later she dated CJ. Bad idea. However, they proved the theory that former lovers can still be friends and with nothing better to do she ends up working with the Parkers, as she refers to them.
She’s flamboyant, loves bright colors but the owners insist she wear what she refers to as the lifeless, black “company golf shirt”. They made the mistake of not mentioning her pants, which normally fit snug enough to compliment her smart figure. The ones she wears today are more peaceful, denims with gay flowers embroidered down the side of each leg. One of her finds from Gatsby’s Pre-owned. An exotic blend of Polynesian and Caucasian, she adds delight to the diner. The patrons love her.
The café itself is a work of art. Large portraits of renowned Canadians, hang randomly on the buttery bare brick walls to stare at the patrons; some smiling like Gordon Lightfoot and Terry Fox or the more serious expressions of Alex Colville and Frank Mahovlich. The U shaped cooking area extends out from the back wall and is surrounded by ‘50’s style rotating counter stools scavenged from a diner being demolished in Miami, reupholstered in taupe Naugahyde. Cozy booths line the right and left walls, artsy deco tables along the front window. CJ serves the counter clients and Taffy does the booth and tables.
When the Parkers gutted the building, a former haberdashery and up-scale clothing shop for men of larger girth, they left the overhead steel girders exposed. Electrical conduit, vents, pipes are all neatly aligned. Huge vent stacks go straight up through the roof from the cooking station in the center of the horseshoe. The whole ceiling has been sprayed a soft brown like milk chocolate. The atmosphere is winsome. The outer bricks, below the tinted front windows, gleam from fresh whitewash. A wide awning with bold black and white stripes shades the front sidewalk. It shares a common flat roof with Family’s Hardware on the left and The Author’s Index, a used bookstore, on the right.
The trio finally give the joke a rest with Wilmot shaking his head. Moving wordlessly to the prep counter by the wall, he begins to prepare the batter for the pancakes that the first regulars always ask for. Mini-fridges are tucked under the counter where the cash is located opposite him towards the main floor where Taffy and CJ can both access it. A French door, normally closed is on the same wall where Taffy entered earlier. The back room has another preparation area, ovens, storage of staples, closet, mini office with a narrow desk and the smell of CJ’s biscuits cooking. Taffy re-enters the back room tossing purse and a JC Penny shopping bag full of clothing to drop off at the Goodwill Center later, into the closet. Removing a black waiter’s half apron from the top shelf, she says,
“Better check on the biscuits CJ, smell about done.”
CJ rushes back to the oven, opens it and removes two wide pans of sixteen biscuits each placing them on the counter beside him. The tops are nicely browned, the sides white with minute stretch marks from which delicate aromas flow. He’s all grins, modest as usual.
Taffy is nodding to him as she ties her apron behind her back. She’s eaten too many of his biscuits.
“Yeah, they are CJ.”
He’s sliding in another pan, 48 of the tasty suckers should last until 9-9:30 he thinks.
“Why thank you Taffy.”
He turns to face her.
“Are you doing the happy hour with us later, John and Dora are coming by and he’s bringing his Dave Brubeck collection.”
Taffy remains silent for a few seconds staring CJ in the eye. They can hear Wilmot clanging pots, the bacon sizzling and the percolator gulping. Fresh coffee, pork frying and hot baking aromas permeate the café, a sensible persona. She reddens a bit.
“I have a date tonight.”
“Well that’s great Taffy, you need a guy friend. You’re hanging out with the Chiasson sisters too much anyway, you always tell us they only want to shop.”
“Well they do but they’re so much fun. Anyway, maybe we could join you later on?”
Now she drops her eyes which is odd, never one to be stared down. CJ has a warning bell go off in his head.
“Uum…who’s this date by the way, someone I know?”
She’s nodding her head, looks back up at him again with the Taffy smile. Such innocence has no place on a sixty-eight year old woman.
CJ’s eyebrows go up, the eyes widen. He takes a step back as if unbalanced. His deep voice expresses unbelief.
“Wilmot? You and Wilmot?
Now she has a frown and her hands on her hips.
“What’s wrong with me and Wilmot?”
The noise out front stops and the chef calls out,
“Are you guys talking about me back there?”
The sizzle changes tune as Wilmot turns the bacon over. Taffy hushes with a finger across her lips then says loudly,
“No Wilmot, I was telling CJ about the new cot I bought for my apartment.”
CJ still has a look of incredulity on his face and whispers,
“Well, the old dog. But c’mon Taffy, he’s too anal for you, he even folds his underwear. Besides that, he hasn’t been secretive about having an ED problem?”
“Oh CJ, it isn’t always about sex.”
CJ rubs his chin.
She tsks-tsks at his wonderment.
“Anyway, don’t say anything, okay? He wants to tell you himself and he has something important to say.”
“Oh, you’re just going to leave me with that. What is so important that it needs a man-to-man?”
She turns to head into the dining section.
“You’ll have to wait and see. Don’t ruin it.”
CJ is perplexed. He covers one of the pans of biscuits, picks up the other and follows her out. When he enters the outer area, he eyeballs Wilmot who is innocently preparing the morning fare. He will be curious all day.
The morning goes quickly as Fridays are normally very busy. Lydia Tucker phones exactly at opening time, everyday, to make changes to her menu that she will arrive to pick up punctually at 7:30am, one order for her, the other for her husband who ”doesn’t get around well”. Today they will have their eggs poached. Before she hangs up she tells CJ to remind Wilmot that the toast was a little too dark yesterday. When CJ passes the news onto his friend, Wilmot gives the same reply, “the old biddy”.
Horatio Rasmussen is the first customer as usual. The only thing unusual is that he’s in a good mood for a change. He’s the night watchman at the marina and things don’t always go well with drunken sailors and their mates and partying that often goes into the early morning. Even though it is only 7am Rasmussen is showered and shaved, dressed in his best jeans and a clean black t-shirt that reads “Get Some” in bold red letters on the back. CJ can’t get him ruffled today.
“I’m going to the airport to pick up my son, I haven’t seen him for over a year. Your rudeness is not going to get me going this morning old man!”
The Chiasson sisters are earlier this Friday. All three of them decide to sit at the counter this morning because Gertrude has a crush on CJ. She takes the same special every time she visits but keeps CJ waiting as he takes her order while she peruses the menu for several minutes. It hasn’t changed in the four years the Café has been open but she has a tough time making up her mind. She gets a little miffed when CJ says,
“Will you hurry up woman? I have other people to serve and you’re slowing me down.”
She scans the restaurant and sees no one else waiting. She’s about to say something curt when she notices the green eyes sparkle and the smile creases on his temples. She blushes.
Delivery people come and go; a few get takeout, one or two might sit and gorge. Most will get some Java to go. Several of them don’t stop talking regardless of whether you’re listening or not. A couple of regulars, Joe, the egg, milk and cheese man from Hebert’s Dairy and Phil from Young Bros. Wholesalers, are hilarious, a fount of foul humour. The foreigners manage a “you sign here”.
“Aah, if only I was a young man again. I’d be making you a happy young lady.”
To the girls, CJ is a relic. They barely look up from their phones when he taunts them. One of the boys wants to show off his knowledge of diner lingo and orders biddy board and an Atlanta special. The Parkers call an egg an egg. CJ passes on the order for French toast and fetches a soda. Tells the kid in his best grumpy voice,
“Smarten up and talk English.”
His friend’s giggles turn to envy when CJ ruffles his hair and offers up the cold drink.
“And here, you can have the Coke.”
The trio never stop until the 9:30 lull. Around that time there are only one or two patrons so CJ makes a fresh batch of biscuits, only 24 this time, enough until they close at eleven. Someone ordered fried baloney and dark toast, distressing the normally inviting aromas. Taffy heads to the backroom to get a clean apron, fix her hair and color up her lips. Wilmot unloads the large dishwasher that belches steam clouds placing the utensils and dinnerware in their proper places. He’s humming “Swinging Doors”, an old Merle Haggard song. At the peak of the morning, he was showing off his egg flipping skills and startled everyone when he burst out in the same song.
“And I’ve got swinging doors, a jukebox and a barstool. My new home has a flashing…”
Taffy and CJ intervened almost simultaneously with a hearty warning,
“Forget it Wilmot!”
“Give us a break and stick to swinging your sausages.”
CJ approaches Wilmot and joins in on the humming. They sound like hornets. CJ gives Wilmot a playful punch in the arm and says,
“So, what’s new Wilmot?
Wilmot looks his friend in the eyes and he realizes that Taffy must’ve said something to CJ who’s been acting odd all day, a little quieter as if he has something on his mind. No Wilmot decides, he’s going to wait until they can sit down. He knows CJ loves the restaurant.
“…aah, never mind CJ. It can wait until after we close.”
Wilmot checks his watch.
“Only another two hours.”
He returns to the toast that has just popped that smells overdone. CJ scratches his head, looking bewildered. A young couple sit at the bench, camera clad, touristy. CJ grabs a couple of menus and heads to serve them.
Shortly after closing, Taffy is locking the doors. CJ is at the counter sitting on the patron’s side. He has the till, a ledger and a calculator. After fifteen minutes, he has an envelope stuffed with the day’s take minus the usual percentage for expenses. Taffy has finished cleaning up the back area. Wilmot places seven take out foam dishes with the usual lunches they always prepare for the homeless that line up at noon at the back door for their free meal. Pastor Noble who runs the Shelter of Hope will be here then also to collect the donation that the Café presents every day they’re open. It’s a non-profit house where homeless can get a shower or an empty bed or a meal or words of encouragement. Taffy had made the suggestion to give the proceeds to the Shelter and the boys agreed it was a good cause.
When the daily chores are done and the restaurant ready for the next day, the three move to a booth on the side with fresh coffees. Taffy and Wilmot sit side by side facing CJ, who is dying of curiosity and says,
“Well, what’s up? Why didn’t you tell me you two were dating? What’s this important news?”
Wilmot holds up both hands.
“Whoa now buddy. First off, it was none of your business that Taffy and I have been seeing each other. You’d only be teasing us in front of the customers.”
CJ sits back in the booth; he’s miffed, looking like a little boy again, spoiled.
“I thought we were friends.”
Taffy tilts her head and frowns in disbelief.
“You know better than that CJ, we’ve been great friends for quite few years and you know how much I love working with you, what we’re doing for others. You just get carried away sometimes CJ with the “grumpy” stuff and your silly book stuff. Surprisingly, our guests seem to like you, you clown.”
CJ is about to respond when she holds up a finger, she’s not through.
“We are both very fond of you CJ, so be happy for us. Now, Wilmot wants to tell you something.”
She turns in her seat to takes Wilmot’s hand in hers, holding it in her lap, looking him in the eyes. For a short moment the only sound is the ticking of the refrigerator. CJ is touched by the glow that radiates from her pretty face. Wilmot looks like he just won the lottery. CJ is still CJ.
“Will you two stop? Or rent a room, for Pete’s sake? Now tell me what is so important?”
Serious now, Wilmot sits straighter, places his elbows on the table, hands around his mug of coffee.
“Taffy and I are moving to Hawaii. I’m giving you my half of the Café so long as it’s for charity. You’ll have to find another pretty waitress.”
CJ is flabbergasted. He thought they were going to tell him they were getting married or something dumb like that. He’s speechless for a change. Sitting back in the booth, shoulders sagged; he looks down at the table top in deep thought. The first thing he remembers is the hot tub of several years ago, he visualizes the toast they had to anyone wanting out, only had to ask, no hard feelings. Taffy and Wilmot respect his concern and sit quietly.
CJ has a dozen notions all at once. Loosing contact with his friends, can he do it alone, who would he hire, they rumble about his head. He’s about to ask when they are leaving when they are disturbed by a knocking at the door. Wilmot gets up from the booth, turns to CJ and says,
“Taffy and I’ll get this CJ, you think about what I said. We’ll get the food dishes out and give the Pastor the envelope.”
“Yeah, yeah, Wilmot. Thanks.”
Taffy follows Wilmot clutching the white envelope stuffed with bills. Wilmot grabs the meals off the counter and they head to the back door. CJ sits slouched, still pondering his future. He listens to the voices in the back. He can distinguish a couple of the regulars, Bobby and Madonna. A higher pitched one he doesn’t recognize. He knows they will all be grateful. The noise takes his mind off his troubles when he thinks of all the good they have done for people like the lot out back.
His mind steps off the curb without looking both ways and it hits him. He jerks upright in his seat, hitting his elbow on the table edge. He can’t get out of the booth fast enough. He rushes to the back door, which is ajar. Outside the mob is shuffling back to the minivan with their Styrofoam held guardedly against their chests. Pastor Noble holds his sweat stained fedora in one hand, his pale white head reflecting the noon light. CJ bursts in looking directly at the Pastor. Interrupting something Wilmot was saying, he blurts out,
“Pastor Noble, how would you and your staff like to have a profitable restaurant, debt free?”
CJ is grinning like he discovered something more valuable than diamonds, his chest is out. Pastor Noble’s eyes widen and he drops his hat in surprise. Wilmot and Taffy are looking at CJ like he lost his mind until they both see the logic and grin wider than their friend. Wilmot pats CJ on the back before putting a protective arm around the diminutive pastor to lead him back into the restaurant.
“Pastor, have we got a deal for you.”
Thank you for visiting the Scribbler. For those that missed the first TGOM Café story, it is available in SHORTS Vol.1 at amazon.com.
Please join us next Friday when you will have an opportunity to read Chapter 1 of Maggie James splendid new novel, The Second Captive. The Prologue was featured here on the Scribbler last month and is archived if you want to check it out first.