“You just couldn’t take it out there now, could you?” snarled Oliver Simonson, while his doddering old hands scooped money out of his safe under the counter and dispensed them into the bag set upon the register. “By Joe, couldn’t find no means to work for your own sport, could you? Y’know what the Good Lord does to lazy, no-good thieves, lad? Oh! He’ll give you such a dose on Judgment Day, m’boy, he’ll send…”
“Belt up, Ollie!” barked Martha Simonson, the heavy-set old woman next to him. “The cacky little shit’s got a pistol, don’t he?” Her nostrils whiffed the air and her face contorted with disgust. “Bloody Nora! And what’s worse, he’s stinking of whiskey! Don’t think that any of your pompous preaching won’t fall on deaf…”
“Bloody hell!” the hood with the pistol shouted, his voice muffled under a black scarf. “I want both you two stinky old gaffers to just shut the fuck up an’ empty what dosh this rat-trap has into me sack, understand?”
What few regulars the Anchor Grill had that morning vacated the restaurant from both the dining room and the counter, at the sight of the adolescent gunman, except for Fat-Bottomed Bill; a rich old gaffer, who remained at the counter with an aroused smile under the furry whiskers of his white mustache. He continued to watch the youth, while finishing his pork banger over the black beans on his plate that were so dark, that they looked blue.
“An’ I want me a sammich, too!” the thief shouted. “Ya know, the one with the turkey an’ bacon that ol’ Mrs. S recommended for me dear old mum last week.”
“Oh my,” Fat-Bottomed Bill said, winking at the thief, “Quite a lot o’ meat in that sandwich for a skinny young boy, Martha. I’ll buy the young gentleman a butty if he’s hungry enough.”
“Piss off, you old tosser!” Martha picked up a spatula and attempted to scurry away the old pervert with her frightful size and temper. Startled, Bill dropped his fork and wobbled back in his stool to avoid her attacks, but remained in his seat. Martha turned to her husband. “Ollie! Hurry the hell up with giving the nasty little pisser all of our money so that he’ll get the hell out of our bloody restaurant.”
“Yeah, an’ don’t forget me sammich neither, ol’ man!” the thief added.
“Right! Mustn’t forget the little shit’s sandwich!” Martha threw her flabby arms in the air and stormed back into the steamy kitchen, leaving her grumbling husband with a pistol pointed at his balding head. Her screeching voice called for their cook. “Lafayette! Lafayette, Damn it, I need a Tuesday Special, right now!”
“Que?” A voice answered from the kitchen.
“Oh for shit’s sake, Lafayette,” Martha shouted, “Don’t pretend that you don’t understand a bloody word I’m saying! You speak English better than you can even pronounce what little French you still know!”
“Je ne comprend pas.”
“Like Hell you don’t! J’ai besoin une sandwiche de Mardi pour A WRETCHED LITTLE THIEF! SI’L VOUS PLAIT? I want a turkey and bacon sandwich for a sniveling little mug who’s trying to knock over the bloody Anchor Grill!”
“Hey! Keep your voice down back there, ya ol’ crow!” shouted the thief. He scratched his ear with the nozzle of the pistol and then stuck it in the pocket of his coat. He pulled his scarf down under his cracked lips, took a fag out from behind his left ear and lit it. “I can still hear ya jestin’ me, I can! Wouldn’t think twice to be puttin’ a bullet in this ol’ gaffer’s head.”
“Listen to him, Martha!” Oliver pleaded. “The boy must be loony, by Joe, he’s all dressed up like some angry, little mug in backalley Albion!”
The towering frame of a man with a sharp nose and hairy arms covered in Caribbean tattoos, strode out from behind the kitchen door with fierce eyes locked upon the thief. Grease and sweat sopped his apron and the skin on his unshaved face, which was scowling like a nun in a whore house. The presence of the man that the Anchor Grill called Lafayette, seemed to grip the intruder’s loose tongue in its place.
That newly-lit fag slipped from the kid’s gapping, freckled jowls and he blew off one, noticeable enough to darken the seat of his trousers.
“Get your arse back into that kitchen, frog!” Mr. Simonson said. “How the bloody hell is an old man supposed to make back the money he’s losing if his staff is gawking at every mug that comes into me store?”
“Monsieur, Zi-mon-zon, you are zo stu-peed,” Lafayette sneered, pushing back the oily strands of dark hair that fell from his pony-tail. He growled at the intruder with a familiar recognition of disgust and spit on the old man’s floor. “You are afraid of zis leetle bast-aird, no? Eet eez just Gremshaw under ze scarf, ode man!” Lafayette lunged forward and grabbed the scruffy kid by the neck before he could turn to run and then threw him upon the cracked maple floor by the front door, which was covered with snow and mud tracks. The cook reached down and yanked the pistol from the unconscious kid’s pocket.
“Oh Gracious, my dear, sweet Gremshaw!” Martha called out.
“Gremshaw?” Oliver asked, still shivering behind the counter. “Why does that name escape my mind, Martha, my woman?” Oliver asked his wife, adjusting his binns back on the bone of his crooked nose.
“Egad! You don’t have the sense the Good Lord gave a blooming goose these days, do you, Ollie? You old goat! You hired our grandson, Gremmy, and his bastard cousin, Mutt Fitzgerald, last week to bus and dish for us!” Martha spit in a brown bus tray on a nearby table, filled with soiled dishes. “And our daft cook just laid him out on the ruddy floor!”
“Oh…right, Gremmy.” Oliver pondered a moment. “The barmy one that our oldest son swears must have the blood of a retarded chimp. He says the boy goes running all over York, talking and acting like he’s in some bloody Dickens novel! Hang it all, woman! Why the hell would I take on a couple of dumb pillocks such as themselves?”
“Because Gremmy is a nice boy and clever as there ever was one. His mummy says that he just loves Victorian literature. Besides, you said that duckies their age are cheap to hire and dumb enough to order about without giving us too much cheek. Bah! Just like most of the other wretched little urchins you’ve been hiring of late.”
“Now that I think of it, Martha, you were the one who wanted to take on the pair, despite the fact that they didn’t even arrive for their first day of work! I would have been more than happy to have sent Lafayette over to the slums, to offer any parent with nowt a pot to piss in, a bit of hot nosh in exchange for the free labor we would have gotten out of their ankle-biting, little scallywags.”
“If it’s strapping, young boys you’re looking for, old chap, I could arrange to send a few naughty ones over here,” Fat-Bottomed Bill said. “That is, if they misbehave themselves, of course. I do so think they’d prefer that over a good flogging or caning, now and then.” The old pervert rubbed the sweaty palms of his meaty hands. “Do you like blondes, Oliver, old boy? Gingers, perhaps?”
“By Joe, Martha, do you listen to this old bugger?” Oliver waved his arms frantically. “Why the bloody Hell haven’t we booted him out and called a bobby over here?”
“Have you seen the wad that the dirty, old bastard keeps in his clip, Ollie? He keeps us in business with his love for greasy food and the chances he gets to put glances and gropes on the spotty youths that we hire! And he bloody-well-knows it, too!” She glowered at the old skunk sitting at the counter, who continued to eat his meal without so much as a shy glance.
“Blimey!” Gremshaw said, regaining his senses on the floor. “Ya stupid, French nutter. Ya can’t just go ‘bout takin’ a honest man’s shit from ‘em like that! Mrs. S, tell the dumb frog that he can’t just…”
Lafayette kicked the lanky kid’s back with the heel of his boot. Gremshaw let out a howl of pain before shutting his mouth for good. Giving the pistol a quick examination, Lafayette rolled his eyes, sneered and dropped it onto the kid’s head.
“Zis eez a fake, Monsieur Zi-mon-zon! I’d be sure to think about who you peek for ‘ired ‘elp nes time.” Lafayette walked back into the kitchen without another word.
“Oh! Good gracious! My poor, dear, sweet, precious little Gremmy! Are you alright, lovey?” Martha waddled over to help their defeated attacker up off the floor. “Mercy, it’s cold as a well-digger’s arse out there! Ollie! Fetch the poor dear something to bundle up in!”
“Damn it, Martha! The boy just tried to nick us with a bloody firearm. He won’t be staying a moment more to collect another honest day’s pay with his piss-poor work…”
“I was jus’ tryin’ to have a bit o’ fun, Guv’na! Honest I was! Ya really think I’d keep all the money an’ not say a word ‘bout it?” Gremshaw winked at his grandmother, who blushed.
“I know what you were doing, you little pecker and don’t call me Guv’na! It’s the twenty-first century for shit’s sake and this isn’t Oliver Twist!
“Boys will be boys, Ollie! Remember when you were a lad and…”
The door burst open and a squat, piggish-looking boy with stubble for hair and a mean lip tumbled through the door, with the fag-end of a cigar hanging in between two crooked teeth jutting out of his bake.
“Gremmy! Did ya nick all the brass from the ol’ man, yet?” Mutt Fitzgerald asked, as he barged into the Anchor Grill to find Martha helping a banged-up Gremshaw to his feet. He noted the furious scowl over Oliver’s face and his shivering fists with their white knuckles. He took a moment to survey the situation before shutting his mouth of the subject.
“Oh…‘ello all!” Mutt said with an oblivious smile as he took off his ragged hat and patched jacket and hung them over a coat hanger made of antlers by the dusty old grandfather clock. Oliver rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath. He began picking all of his money out of the bag that his grandson had demanded him to fill under the guise of a crook and started depositing it back into the safe, while counting it out loud.
“Mutt!” shouted Martha, “put out that damn cigar in my restaurant!” Mutt trembled at the raised voice of his cousin’s grandma and threw the fag-end of his smoke into a nearby bin.
“Good afty, Mutt, ol’ chum!” Gremshaw said with an innocent nod of his head under the safety of Mrs. S’s pillowy arms. “What brings your smilin’ face to the Anchor Grill, this day?”
“Yes, Mutt, m’boy,” snarled Oliver, who didn’t look up from counting his money or cease the fierce swearing under his breathe, “what are you doing here at this hour, lad? You were only supposed to arrive a day or two ago for your first shift.”
“I think,” Mutt said scratching the bumfluff on his face, “well, Gremmy, weren’t we going to work here for the free nosh an’ to save some money for the diner we was going to make across the street?”
The old man dropped a handful of coins from his hand.
“What did you say, lad?” A threatening look crossed Oliver’s wrinkled face. “Gremshaw! What talk is this, now?”
“Don’t you yell at Gremmy, you sallow-skinned old git!” Martha shouted.
“Martha, my woman, our own kin is kindling a mutiny! He’s planning on cheating an old man out of the fodder of this business and then opening up for himself, a diner of his own to drain what business you and I have left here in York!” Oliver turned to his grandson, who now had loosened himself from his grandmother’s arms to help Mutt put on his apron. “Oh-ho, child, the Good Lord keeps his deepest circle of Hell for betrayers, m’boy, you’ll be burni…”
“Ollie, shut the bloody hell up! They’re just children. Its bait that these here duckies couldn’t even open up a squash-stand in a place like Liverpool.”
“Yeah, come off it, Guv’na, don’t go makin’ a dear ol’ dove like Mrs. S kick up such a fuss as that.”
“Stop calling me, Guv’na!” Oliver shouted at his grandson. “And Martha, my woman, they are not children.” He stomped his foot like a child throwing a benny. “Our son’s oldest has got to be sixteen or seventeen and so is her drunken husband’s bogtrotter of a nephew over there! Yes sir, them two conniving little sneakers are quite capable of doing something of the sort that would banjax the Anchor Grill and leave us flat!”
“Come on, dearies,” Martha said, ignoring her henpecked husband, “Let’s get the both of you into aprons and I’ll put you to some chores. Gremmy, you can sit with me while I take carry-out orders, so one day you’ll be able to do it all by yourself. I’ll get you a lemonade and some crisps to munch while you work,” Martha scuttled her grandson up on a stool on the right side of the counter, farthest away from old Fat-Bottomed Bill, who brought a cup of tea up to his mustache and waved his pinky at Gremshaw with a wink. She fetched he grandson his snack and set it on the counter by an old, avocado-green phone.
She then turned to Mutt, who stood there catching flies. “Mutt! I want you to bus these tables all over the shop and then go in the back to help Lafayette peel the taters and onions, and then run some raw chickens through the spits. After that, I want you to mop all the shit up from the bloody loo. Lord only knows it’ll need it, since Frankenstein the Frenchy is doing all the cooking for us until eight o’clock tonight. Hurry along, now!” She grabbed Mutt by the ear and jerked him into the back.
“Hey, Mutt, don’t bogart all the fun for yourself, now!” Gremshaw smiled to his pitiable cousin from the comfort of his cushioned stool. Oliver Simonson stood there with his unorganized funds spread about the counter and glared in between his grandson’s smirking face and the lusty, wrinkled bake of his most despised, yet profitable customer.
“By Joe, the people here are to be the death of this place,” he muttered.
The office of Old Man Simonson laid in ruin. That faint, musty smell of aged housing familiar in buildings of historic districts was masked by the sulfuric odor of a hidden pile of feces, purposely placed somewhere out of sight. Shelves were knocked over; the fish tank in the corner was cracked and leaking upon the Victorian carpet; the windows were smeared with soap and the desk and sofas were torn and piled with junk from all about the room, including a dusty elk head, a large stuffed marlin, several pictures, busts, statues, a dislodged old captain’s wheel and an antique, bronzed diving helmet.
Although it wasn’t particularly glamorous, it was the biggest of only three rooms found up the narrow, rickety stairway hidden behind a door that was small enough to be commonly mistaken for a supplies cupboard. The door was marked, Quarters: Keep out, on a rusted plaque nailed into the doorframe. A booth in the dining area was strategically placed near the door that that nobody ever sat in because of what was kept directly across from it: a stinky, saltwater fish tank filled with algae-and-slug infested water that could be heard gurgling in the corner anywhere in the diner. It was home to a sour-faced moray eel. The slimy, grinning fish was the only possession that Mrs. S’s father left in his will to his miserable son-in-law, Oliver.
Lined up in front of a large bookcase filled with musty books, yellowed magazines, tacky book-ends and gaudy knick-knacks, stood the irritable Lafayette, in between Gremshaw and his bumbling cousin, Mutt. Mr. Simonson shook in leftover rage as he fumbled over his keys to lock them all in his office with him, sputtering curses to the devil and his wretched life of misfortune.
“Psst, Mutt, ya think that the ol’ man bubbled what we was up to?” Gremshaw quasi-whispered to his cousin with an arrogant smirk, loud enough for the whole room to hear. Lafayette growled and rubbed his temples, as if overwhelmed with petty drama.
“What-ev-air you two deed to ze ode man’s off-eez, leave me ze fuck out of eet,” Lafayette hissed. “Just because ze ode man eez too stu-peed to figure anything out on ‘is own, doesn’t mean I should ‘ave to suffer more zen I already do everyday.”
“Blimey,” Gremshaw said laughing, “ya catch a whiff o’ that, Laffy ol’ chum? Ya should have seen the monster shit that ol’ Mutt took under the ol’ man’s desk when we broke in last night!”
“Yeah,” Mutt added, choking on suppressed laughter “and then I wiped me hairy bum with a few ripped leafs out from his newest issue of The Distinguished Gentleman, I did!” Adolescent laughter erupted in the room.
“Alright!” Oliver said turning about, “I want to know which-ough-oooww” he stumbled over an overturned bust of some salty captain, but regained his dignity by finding his feet and ignoring the laughter of Gremshaw and Mutt. What was left of his coarse, grey hair was standing on end over his ears and his crinkled face was red under his wire binns that wouldn’t stay on the bridge of his nose. “Alright, you little sacks of shit, I want to know which one of you little motherfuckers ransacked my bloody office and shit on my carpet!”
“Monsieur Zi-mon-zon! Zis eez a complete waste of my time. I am not a child! Let me keep what dignity I ‘ave left in zis dump! Eef you keep me standing ‘ere with zeez two baffoons while you-”
“Belt up, frog! If I say that you’re going to stand here and have a dose from me, along with these two colleagues of yours, then so be it. You were scraping pubic hairs out of piss-pots before my wife took the lice out of your grimy hair, gave you a job and the room across my own office!”
“Ze room eez not a room at all. Eet eez a janitor clo-zet!” Lafayette exclaimed.
“And a rather spacious janitor’s closet, at that. Just be grateful that it isn’t a jail cell for French, ex-criminals who aren’t qualified, in my opinion, to work a single job in all of bloody England and don’t speak enough of the language to swim the English Channel back where they right belong! And you two!” he sprung on the boys, “Stop your God-forsaken snickering before I box your ears into your fat pates!”
“Tsk-tsk, Guv’na,” Gremshaw said. “Mutt an’ I just wanted to know if dear ol’ Mrs. S knows ‘bout what a pigsty you’ve let your office become. Ya know what a fuss she kicks up ‘bout keepin’ the Anchor clean.”
Mr. Simonson looked like he was on the brink of hurling himself out of his office through the glass window and onto the street two stories below.
“And that is another reason why I have you three baboons in my office right now, Gremshaw! Martha’s mother is the old goat that gave us the funds to raise this junk-heap of a mess hall into a reasonable establishment for food and drink.” There was bitterness in the old man’s voice as he added, “Lovely woman, really. She’s coming over here from London to eat with us tonight.
“Bloody Nora, Guv’na! Ol’ Mrs. S has a mother that’s still alive?” Gremshaw asked, slapping Mutt’s back and sounding off another round of laughter.
“I thought I told you to stop calling me, Guv’na, you nasty, little maggot! This isn’t Great Expectations!”
“Nasty ol’ crow has got to be ten years older than water, she has!” Mutt added with his stupid-toothed grin. Even Lafayette seemed interested in the news.
“Nasty old crow, you say, mick?” Oliver asked.
“It’s Mutt,” Mutt corrected, “Mutt Fitz…”
“By Joe, I know your bloody name, Irishman! And Martha’s mother is not a wretched ol’ crow, neither. No. She’s a cruel, bloodsucking, decrepit old harpy with a heart as black as burnt cheese and cold as the lips on a bloody corpse! By Joe, the only reason that monster of a woman allowed us the money to bring up our dream of owning a restaurant was to see me bring it down by the likes of my own incompetence.
“Hah! But By Joe, I’ve kept it alive these past forty years, so help me I have! Oh, you better believe that the wretched old crow will take that to the grave with her, m’boys. I haven’t told any of you about her all this time because I believed that none of you would ever be granted the pleasure to face the likes of her until she greeted all of you in Hell, after you’re all dead. She doesn’t come around because she knows the Anchor Grill stays afloat!”
“But I thought you said, she weren’t no wretched ol’ crow?” Mutt said.
“Zis eez all very touching, Monsieur Zi-mon-zon, but what does zat ‘ave to do with zis office being a mess?”
“Everything! You idiots are what brings this dump to the brink of Hell and back! Tonight, when the devil boards the Anchor Grill and stinks the place up with sulfur and brimstone, I want everything to be perfect. My dream for the past thirty years has been to see the ugly look on that vile woman’s bake when she sees her dear son-in-law, running a successful business with her precious daughter. I want her to remember that it was she, herself, who handed over the funds to make it all possible, so that when we seal the old devil back into her crypt and Hell welcomes her home...”
“I dunno, Guv’na,” Gremshaw interrupted. “I’m not sure if it’s possible for me an’ Mutt here, to meet such expectations with what little trainin’ we been getting’ from dear, ol’ Mrs. S, bless ‘er heart,” a bait smirk crossed Gremshaw’s pasty face.
“Nasty little pisser! What do you want from me? Name it! And by Joe, quit calling me that wretched pet name, you self-absorbed, little git. This isn’t fucking, Hard Times, lad!”
“My word, Mr. Simonson! Are ya suggestin’ that Mutt an’ me want a backhander in exchange for behaving ourselves whilst workin’ tonight?” Gremshaw smiled sheepishly.
“If it’ll get you chimps to run this place right-well for just one blooming night, then whatever it takes, I’ll see to it done.”
“Haw! Zen I want in on zis leetle deal, ode man, ozerwize I might forget that ze limeys pre-fair shicken ov-air frogs and snails,” Lafayette said, as Mr. Simonson pulled what was left of his hair out in rage and then buried his face in his worn hands.
“An’ what ‘bout you two? What do you two codfuddles want to take from me in exchange for what should be an expected hard-night’s-work?”
“Well, we want…” Mutt tried to say,
“We want the wheel to the Anchor Grill, ol’ man,” Gremshaw finished.
“Have mercy on an old soul, what did you say, lad?”
“Ya heard me. You an’ dear ol’ Mrs. S are getting up there in years, mate. Instead o’ having me an’ Mutt here continue to sabotage this place under the protection of your wife in order to build us our own business just across the road, just entrust the restaurant to me an’ Mutt here. If ya stay an’ work for us, we’ll even allow ya to share a room with Laffy up here, an’ receive two free meals a day.”
“What? I won’t allow zis!” Lafayette exclaimed. “I want a raise and some of ze profit zis feelth-trap makes on a monthly basis. I want ze ozer room to myself, as well.”
“So,” Oliver Simonson said, sitting down at his clustered desk while he shook and cringed. “All you devils want is my soul in exchange for a simple favor, do ya? By Joe, if it means putting that crotchety, old bitch in her grave once and for all, then I’ll just pray and hope that the Good Lord offers me mercy at all your slimy hands when this is over.”
“Aw, now don’t say that, Guv’na,” Gremshaw said. “Mercy from us won’t be nowt worth frettin’ for, next to the mercy you’ll be needin’ from dear, sweet Mrs. S, when she finds out what you did.”
Oliver Simonson cleared the mess from his office all by himself that afternoon. He did it without a uttering a word of complaint to his wife over their heathen grandson’s reckless savagery, or muttering curses under his breath about ankle-biting, little scallywags, brutishly disregarding the sanctity of a poor old man’s private quarters. All the rest of the afternoon, Gremshaw, Mutt and Lafayette worked an honest shift’s work, seeing to it that The Anchor Grill was as spotless as it could have possibly been, while Mrs. S loomed over them all, adding her two bits whenever she felt it necessary.
When the old man walked downstairs in his best grey suit, complete with bowler and walking stick (in an unsuccessful attempt to look smart), he found Mutt and Lafayette sitting in the booth next to the eel tank, dressed in the nicest, second-hand clothes that they could have possibly acquired (which was not saying much). Mutt taped down the slit of a dusty top hat that he found in the old man’s closet upstairs and wore a brown, corduroy suit that was too small to button all the way down his pudgy figure.
Lafayette wore a clean apron over a stained undershirt, stiff blue-jeans, and stuffed the long tail of his greasy hair up under a ridiculous, muffin-shaped chef’s hat. The old man’s grandson was at least in a reasonable-looking pinstripe suit with only minor wrinkles. His wife was combing the mop of his greasy hair back against his bottle-shaped head.
“Oh, my precious Gremmy looks quite the handsome gentleman tonight, he does,” she said, pinching his freckled cheeks and turning to her husband as he entered the dining hall. “Ollie, he’s sporting your old suit from before we was married.”
“Indeed,” Oliver said glaring, “quite an establisment we have here, Martha: a pudgy, Artful Dodger, a pirate dressed like the Swedish Chef Muppet, and a flustered old hen, clucking over her ugliest chick, Gremshaw.
“Very nice old threads do a lot for a gentleman, Martha, my woman. Nevertheless, in Gremshaw’s case, it wouldn’t matter if the suit was made of motley or cassimere. I daresay the boy still looks as ugly as his mother.”
Mutt laughed and even Lafayette snickered at the old man’s sardonic wit. Martha’s enraged face looked like a boiled cabbage, ready to burst.
“A good evening to you as well, Guv’na,” Gremshaw said. “A pity that you was once able to sport such a nice suit, ya ol’ buffer. Tell me, Mrs. S, did the Guv’na always look like a’ bulimic Churchill, minus the cigar?”
Martha and the boys burst into a fit of laughter, while Oliver stood still, his flaky skin, reddened and his body trembling with rage.
“Yeah,” Mutt added. “He looks like a crooked-boned corpse, all dressed up for an open-casket, he does.” The laughter continued, even harder.
“Enough! All of you!” Oliver shouted. “Martha, have we shooed all the customers out of this dive, my woman?”
“All, but Fat-Bottomed Bill and that little boy, Stephen, I think is his name,” Martha said. “The boy who’s parents you paid a cottage pie and a pint of lager, in exchange for him to clean dishes for us for a couple of nine-to-seven shifts.” Growling, Oliver stormed over to the counter where he found the perverted old gaffer, trying to share a hot malt with a little boy too hungry and exhausted to mind.
“Out! I want both of you out!” Oliver scuffled the large man out of his seat and shoved his cane into his hands.
“Now Oliver, my dear chap, it’s not closing time yet!” Bill said, glancing at the pocket-watch he pulled from his suit. “I was just sharing some stories and a scrumptious sweet with this delightful young gentleman, here.” Stephen looked up at Oliver with eyes pleading for mercy. Oliver grinned.
The visitor bell clanged as he shoved the old man out the front door and into the dreadful winter night. “There are far too many devils under this roof everyday, Bill, that we don’t need the lusty assistant of Beelzebub stinking it up any further. Riddance, I say!” Oliver shouted, slamming the door shut with a satisfied smile. He turned to find little Stephen, staring up at him with saucer-sized, brown eyes.
“And what’s your story?” Oliver snarled.
“It’s snowing outside, Mr. Simonson, sir. I’m worried ‘bout me mum an’ pa. They haven’t showed up yet to retrieve me. I haven’t had a bit to eat all day, neither.” Oliver sighed, seeing the tears that were forming in the small child’s glossy eyes. Kneeling down to embrace the child around his tender arms, he lifted him up and kicked open the door with his foot.
“But-but-the snow, sir! And that dreadful ol’ man…” Oliver dropped the boy in the snow, slammed the door shut, pulled the shades over the glass door and stormed back into the diner, calling out to his crew.
“Hang it all, the horrible old trout will be here any minute now, and if she finds this place…”
The bell to the front door chimed again and the room flooded with both silence and tension. Lafayette ran in the kitchen to add the finishing touches to the meal. Oliver swallowed the lump in his throat as he watched a hunched old woman step into the dinning hall of his restaurant, with the help of her gnarled cane.
Her presence emanated the lingering stink of talcum powder and Bengay in the air, fused with flowery perfume that smelled like a cheap, retirement home. Skinnier than Oliver, Martha’s mother’s liver-spotted skin hung over the brittle bones of her fingers and gaunt skull. Her thinning hair was wrapped in a wool hat and her body was bundled up in layers of flower-patterned black silk, under a conservative dress and a great white, wool shawl. Her bobbing head shook as her yellow eyes swept the place over.
“Mummy!” Martha shouted, waddling over to embrace her mother with feigned enthusiasm.
“My poor, little girl,” Martha’s mother managed, once released from her daughter’s vast bosom. “By Joe, look at you! That bottom-feeding husband of yours hasn’t kept you fed t’all, has he? Bless your dear heart.”
“Edna,” Oliver interjected, “by Joe, I’ve kept your daughter plenty fed, if your bleeding old eyes can’t see how much weight she’s gained since I married her!”
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“Did you hear how your husband just spoke of you m’dear?! Lord knows my husband, if that man were still alive today, would have done away with such a rodent long ago if he had heard him call his daughter a sow!”“I did nowt of the sort, woman!”“I came here for a nice visit and to share a meal with Martha and our little Gremmy, Oliver,” Edna said, “If you’re going to stand her and shout, and insult us all night, then I’ll take our duckies away and dine someplace else. Now, where is Gremmy?”“I’m righ’ here, Grandmum,” Gremshaw said, approaching the old woman. He took a wrinkled hand from her and planted it with a gentlemanly kiss. “It’s a pleasure to see you.”“My word, Martha,” Edna said, “I haven’t seen the boy since he wore diapers under his breeches. What a delightful young gentleman he’s become.” She stood and stared at him for a moment, before a foul look crossed her face. “Although his hair is far too long, I must add. Martha, why haven’t you seen to it that the boy gets a proper, Christian haircut? And what sort of guttural name is Gremshaw, now that I’ve heard it spoke in my presence? Is it German? Nasty Krouts, the Germans are!” Martha was taken back by the change of tone. She stuttered, not knowing how to protect her grandson from such an offense.“Awful name, really,” Edna continued. “It was a Simonson decision, if I remember correctly. Brutes on my son-in-law’s side forced it upon that poor child who married Oliver’s son.” Edna took her cane and struck out for Oliver’s ankles, but the old man was swift and his reflexes remembered the nasty old woman’s last visit.“And who is that pudgy bloke in the corner with the ridiculous hat, Martha?” Edna asked, pointing to Mutt. “Isn’t that the base-born, great-nephew of ours? Twice-removed, I do hope? Come here, boy, I want a word with you,” she said, raising her cane with one hand as she urged him to come forward with the bony forefinger of her other gloved hand.Mutt took a cautious step forward, but Oliver put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.“Enough! Terrible old trout, I want you to belt up and listen well. I’ve kept this restaurant afloat for the past fifty years!”“Forty,” Gremshaw corrected.“Be that as it may, Gremshaw,” Oliver continued, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow this-this…ancient carrion-eater to set foot in the place of business I call my home and threaten my family like that! So help me, God, I won’t allow it!”Mutt, Martha and Gremshaw were stone-still. The old man had actually stood up for the three of them. Edna, taken back by the outburst, suddenly broke into a fit of laughter.“Oh dear, Martha, listen to the dose that old Colonel Blimp is giving me, this night,”“Why don’t we sit down for dinner?” Martha stepped forward. “Can Gremmy and Mutt take your shawl and purse, Mummy?”“I’d prefer to keep it on. Its dreadful cold in this dive your husband calls a restaurant. I’ll allow Gremshaw to take my purse, Martha my dear, but I’ll not have that bogtrotter touching my things,” Edna said. Mutt held his tongue while his cousin took the old woman’s purse and hung it on the antler coat-rack.“We have a real French cook tonight to make us an authentic French cuisine,” Martha said, as they all sat at the three tables that were pushed together for them all to dine together.“I don’t care for the French, Martha,” Edna said, “Snail-eating, Mary-worshipping, stuck-ups have been almost as much of a thorn in the side of the Royal Crown as the Irish, the Yanks, the Zulus, the Indians an’ the Chinese put together.” She looked over at the fish tank on the other side of the room, to find the moray eel, with its slow-moving jaws hissing at her in its murky water. “Speaking of heathens, I see you still have Mongrel.” She snickered. “Martha, your father was so insistent upon leaving that ridiculous fish to your husband.”“Oh, yes, Papa was very proud of Mongrel,” Martha said.“Proud!” Edna exclaimed. “Your father hated that bloody fish! Such a pain in the arse to take care of, the bleeding thing always was. Your nuncle Albert caught it in a net while vacationing in the Great Barrier Reef and brought it home to his brother. “Although,” Edna said after a vague pause, “I daresay I’m most happy to see it now. If it were missing, well, I can only imagine that frog in the kitchen coming out here moments before my arrival, reaching his meaty arms into that cesspool, choking the bloody thing to death, boiling it, stuffing it with cheese and having it served to us for supper.”“Ze eel was to be for our de-zert, Madame,” Lafayette said, appearing in the dinning room from the kitchen, carrying a steaming tray of cod and seasoned vegetables. “We fry zem an’ zerve zem at funerals, with znails an’ zeaweed.” He towered beside the wrinkled guest and plopped the tray onto the table with a hateful glower. “Bon appétit,” he snarled and stormed back into the kitchen.Gremshaw, Mutt and Oliver snickered, but were silenced by the abrasive stares received by the ladies at the table.“Rude as uneducated savages, everyone of them!” Edna exclaimed, throwing her napkin on the table and getting to her feet. “No wonder this-this-this, rat-trap can barely sustain the funds to survive, let alone not earn a single shilling to improve the likes of it! Martha, fire that brute this instant or I’ll walk out that door.”“I’m getting a bit of tea to calm my fucking nerves,” Oliver mumbled to himself. He got up and walked over to a booth in the corner where he kept a hot pot of Earl Grey seeping by the window. Pouring the tea and squeezing the lemon wedge, he returned to his seat, shaking the entire way.“But, Lafayette ain’t got no where else to go, Mum. I can’t just simply tell him to pack up his bags and leave. We took him in several years ago, after…”“Do I look like I give a damn? How dare you give cheek to your mummy, young lady!” Edna scolded.
“By Joe,” Oliver said and stood, “don’t you talk to my wife like she’s your child, you wretched old trout! My woman has a heart of gold. She went and took that tramp off the streets the day before Christmas, seven years ago, without as much as a second thought.”
“And I’m sure, Mr. Simonson, that it was at your decision. Lord only knows you needed the cheapest help possible and of course you never did allow the angel of the house to make a single, bloody choice on her own during the course of her life,” Edna said.
“Hey! Don’t fuss at the Guv’na like that!” Gremshaw said, pointing at Oliver. “I’ve seen dear ol’ Mrs. S grip that ol’ gaffer’s ball-sack in a bloody vice plenty of times, I have! That one ain’t half the man Mrs. S is.”
“Gremmy,” Mutt said, “Fish smells good. Is it awright if I have bit of nosh, now?”
“Food and drink!” Edna howled, reaching over the table to continually slap Mutt on the hand and arm with a wooden spatula. “That’s all the micks ever think about! Strife, food and bloody drink!”
“Ow, ow ow ow owwww”
Mr. Simonson sipped his Earl Grey to help calm his nerves, but the sudden attack on Mutt threw him off balance. He spit a mouthful of his drink across the table and accidently flung his hot cup at his mother-in-law. Edna screamed as the hot tea scolded her face and stung her eyes. Blinded and enraged, she grabbed her cane and started taking swipes at Oliver.
“Bumbling, stupid, wrinkled old fool!” Edna screamed. Oliver was helpless, shielding his face with his shivering arms.
“Possessed!” Oliver said. “By Joe, the shriveled old harpy is possessed by the devil hisself!” For once in her life, Martha Simonson couldn’t inflict her rage upon her husband. Instead, she found herself helpless against protecting him from the only person in the world she was afraid of. She got out of her chair and waddled to the kitchen on the brink of screaming with anxiety.
The room fell silent at the sight of Gremshaw, pointing a pistol at Edna.
“I want you to sit your wrinkled, moldy arse down righ’ now, understan’?”
“Har! Right, keep the bloody pistol on her, m’boy!” Oliver said. “I’ll get the rope!”
The old woman screamed even louder. Abandoning her seat, she ran without seeing where she was going.
“Gremmy, ain’t that the fake piece that Laffy took from you, back when we tried to rob the place?” Mutt asked.
“It’s what?” Edna asked, attempting to come to an abrupt halt.
But it was too late.
She smacked her head right onto the glass of Mongrel’s aquarium. The tank cracked and came tumbling down right on top of her, like a tipped-over Coca-Cola machine. The room panicked as the glass shattered all about. The slimy saltwater rushed out all over the room and soaked into the carpet. The frightened moray eel slithered and bounced, making its way up the frail leg of the old woman, who was too long gone to feel it slid up her skirt and into her bloomers.
“Fuck! J’ai chaud!” shouted a voice from the kitchen.
“Bloody Nora! You’re not hot, you faux Frenchman! Tu es sur le feu! You’re on fucking fire! FIRE, FOR SHIT’S SAKE, FIRE!” Martha shouted, bursting out of the kitchen. “Everybody out!” Oliver pointed at the kitchen door and screamed as Lafayette came running out of the kitchen with his trousers and the puff of his chef’s hat ablaze with fire.
“All you lot, abandon ship, I say!” Oliver shouted, as He, Martha, Gremshaw and Mutt scuttled out of the dining room. Lafayette hurled himself onto the floor to roll out the flames, until the shards of glass all over the carpet started to dig into his skin. Grunting in horrible pain from the fire and broken glass, he saw the big white shawl covering the old devil that had fallen to her death. Without a second thought, he jerked it from the limp, old woman’s body and started slapping out the flames with it. The corpse rolled about from the force of the strong chef’s movement and most of her bundled clothes rolled off her body, revealing her wrinkled, spotted hide as she floppped about all over the hazardous carpet.
“Bloody Hell!” Mutt shouted, pointing, “she looks like some sort of bloody alien or a half-starved manatee, she does!”
“No worries, Guv’na, I got it!” Gremshaw entered the dining room wielding the dusty old fire-extinguisher that the old man was forced to buy upon inspection two years ago.
“Geev zat to me!” Lafayette demanded, as he finished putting the fire on his clothes out. He snatched the extinguisher from Gremshaw’s hands and smacked him across the back of the head. He pulled the pin and went fast to work, putting out the grease fire spreading from the kitchen.
Amidst the chaos of the Anchor Grill, Mrs. S walked back into the dining room from the counter room and paused. There, standing stone-still in utter silence for what seemed like moments, she began to bawl, looking down at the horror of the sight of her dead mother.
Oliver Simonson, her crotchety, but still-loving husband of over fifty years, approached her from behind, and draped a lanky arm across his wife’s wide back to embrace her; offering nothing but the comfort of silence and his caring presence.
Putting his hands in his pockets, Gremshaw walked over to stand beside his grandfather, while Mutt took off his hat and stood to join them, blessing himself with the Catholic sign of the cross.
Cursing out loud in broken-French from the kitchen, Lafayette extinguished the last of the flames and walked out to witness the bizarre scene spread out in dinning room of the Anchor Grill. It was something that he thought he’d never see his entire life. His mouth trembled when he saw the dear old woman, who whisked him away from the cold of winter and the pain of hunger those seven Christmas’s ago, crying like he never thought the woman capable of. Resisting the sudden urge to flee from what was probably the saddest and most nauseating thing he’d ever have to do, he approached his family and embraced them all with his strong arms. Together, including the callous chef, they all started to bawl out loud, ridiculously clasped in one another’s arms.
“By Joe,” Oliver said in between sobs, “if you weren’t that woman’s daughter, Martha, I’d daresay that eel erupted that hideous old woman’s shriveled hymen.”
The authorities arrived not long after the fall of the Anchor Grill. Later on, a pair of incompetent insurance representatives arrived with faulty estimates that just added more stress to Oliver Simonson’s miserable life, but the satisfaction of experiencing his mother-in-law’s death was enough for him to admit he could die happy.
Eventually, the deteriorated Anchor Grill did re-open and was a tad better off, run by the silver-tongued Gremshaw and his bumbling associate, Mutt Fitzgerald. By the request of Martha Simonson, a family funeral banquet was held in the dining room of the restaurant, with only the five of them.
“The Good Lord, will take care of her, Martha, my woman,” Oliver said, as the five of them sat down to supper. “Her black heart meant well. I’m sure The Good Lord won’t fault her for what a menace she was in life.” Martha glowered at her husband’s poor attempt at kind words and spit a mouthful of white wine in his face. Cursing, he removed his binns and wiped them clean.
“Gremmy, didn’t you say that Laffy was going to have some afters for us?” Mutt asked.
“Oh Laffy? Chop-chop, mate!” Gremshaw said, looking at the Frenchman. Lafayette rolled his eyes and got up to fetch the dessert.
“Hey Guv’na?” Gremshaw asked Oliver, “What ever happened to Mongrel after it slithered up ol’ Edna’s beef curtains? Did you ever capture it an’ find a home for it in one o’ the tanks upstairs?”
“For the last bloody time, this isn’t Bleak House, boy, so quit calling me, Guv’na! And by Joe, I didn’t save the damn thing! No. It bit me twice when I tried to retrieve it from between that old wretch’s vile twat, so help me, it did. I had the frog choke it for me, which I daresay he rather enjoyed.” Oliver chuckled to himself, while Gremshaw and Mutt grinned. Lafayette returned from the kitchen with a steaming tray and plopped it down upon the table. Everybody at the table stared at it in with gaped bakes. The exotic dish before their eyes appeared to be a type of fried seafood; long, yellow-green planks cut up in fine slivers and surrounded by escargot and leaves of kelp.
“Bon appétit,” Lafayette said, putting out a fag in one of the planks on the tray. He threw a towel over his shoulder and walked towards the tiny private quarters door, next to the bare space in the wall where the eel tank used to be. He opened it with a swift yank and stormed up the staircase to enter what was now his bedroom: the room that was once Mr. Simonson’s office, now belonging to Gremshaw and Mutt, was transferred to the spacey janitor’s closet across the hall.
“You just couldn’t take it out there now, could you?” snarled Oliver Simonson, while his doddering old hands scooped money out of his safe under the counter and dispensed them into the bag set upon the register. “By Joe, couldn’t find no means to work for your own sport, could you? Y’know what the Good Lord does to lazy, no-good thieves, lad? Oh! He’ll give you such a dose on Judgment Day, m’boy, he’ll send…”
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