Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Hammer

Despite Thomas’s unpressed slacks and ineptly tied tie, the host (who more resembled a bouncer) had let him in. This was most likely due to the restaurant’s current lack of patronage. The near absence of customers was not because of the restaurant itself, but because few people, besides the two well dressed elderly couples near the back, saw fit to visit upscale restaurants at four o’clock. In fact, the restaurant had been just opening and gearing up for that evening’s business.

For hours Thomas had sat at the bar, ordering only as many rum and cokes in that course of time as to keep the bartender happy. Customers started to trickle in as the evening wore on. The dining area quickly filled up with wealthy and important-looking patrons.

Thomas made idle conversation with the bartender from time to time and had struck up an interesting dialog about the current state of the country with a man who had sat next to him for a while. For the most part, though, he stared into his glass and thought about what he’d said earlier that day: "Instead of wasting our time waiting for some ethereal evil shadow to fall over New City, or wasting our powers on stopping misdemeanors, we should be getting at the root of crime. We should be going after drug lords and crime bosses, the real evil in this city?" He waited.

Just as Thomas was starting to get a little buzzed and a little impatient, Harold Kwan, the owner of the establishment, entered the dining area and began mingling with some of the guests of his restaurant. Thomas took notice.

Even he has a cooler name than I do, Thomas thought. Harry "The Hammer" Kwan was not only a socialite and restaurant owner, but also a supposed drug runner and an alleged murderer. He had been arrested on several charges several different times, but nothing had stuck, and each time only one of his lackies had ended up being tried and imprisoned. After so much trouble with the law, Harry decided to "go straight," as he had told one tabloid a couple years ago, right before opening his restaurant. But few people believed his sudden turn to decent citizenship, least of all the local police and the FBI, who hand kept him under constant surveillance ever since. Thomas did not believe him either.

Thomas watched Harry from across the room. Harry smiled as he stepped a way from a table of two – someone who was possibly the channel 5 weather man and a young woman that Thomas at first guessed was the weather man's daughter, then, from the look of the kiss they gave each other, decided it was more likely his trophy wife or his mistress. Harry stopped at another table of two a few feet away and jovially slapped the man on back as he greeted them, an overweight, well dressed couple grazing on two small salads. Two men followed close behind Harry. They resembled the host of the restaurant in stature and demeanor, but were dressed as waiters. Thomas gazed on intently.

Suddenly, the woman sitting at the table yelped and pointed at her plate. Harry was shocked and immediately slid around the table to inspect her plate, but could find nothing wrong. The woman loudly insisted that something was wrong with her dish. Noticing that a few curious eyes from other tables were straying toward the woman and not wanting to cause a scene, Harry sternly instructed one of the waiters to take away the madame's salad and quickly bring a replacement. The waiter left in a hurry.

Thomas smiled as he watched Harry "The Hammer" apologize profusely to the couple. The man seemed happy and a little apologetic himself, but the woman continued to act indignant. Harry asked them something, perhaps what he could get for them as an apology. The two deliberated for a moment. The remaining waiter stood by patiently.

Without warning, the waiter's face changed from being calm to creased with pain. He grabbed at his head with one hand and his chest with the other. He doubled over and let out an anguished groan. Everyone at the surrounding tables looked on in confusion. Harry put his hand on the man's back and asked him something. The waiter suddenly stood straight up. He looked around himself, frightened. His eyes darted from face to face, looking for something familiar or friendly, but he found no one who understood what he was seeing. His eyes fell on Harry and he took a few scared steps backward.

Harry noticed that the strange actions of his waiter had caught the attention of nearly everyone in the room. He turned around and raised his hands to get everyone's attention. In a voice loud enough for Thomas to hear across the room, Harry said, "Please, stay calm everyone. I think Mikey here is just having a panic attack." Harry turned back around to see Mikey pulling a gun from his jacket pocket and pulling the trigger.

The back of Harry's head blew out across several tables of patrons. The accompanying gunshot was followed immediately by a chorus of screams. People scattered. Some tried to run for the exits, others ducked under their tables. The waiter who was returning with a replacement salad dove over a table and tackled Mikey to the ground, wrestling the gun from his hand.

Thomas finished his rum and coke and set his glass down on the bar. He meandered out of the restaurant, a little tipsy and a bit content.

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