Nick Kallias had been in the back office behind the kitchen for two hours trying to sort out the books. He wasn't exactly "cooking" them; it was more like creative accounting. Running a restaurant was a constant battle to stay afloat financially, keep his staff happy, and provide a menu and service that the community would find consistent without being boring.
He'd finished his final office chores for the day: firing the sous-chef for being skunky drunk (no loss) and contacting his supplier about the 30 pounds of slimy rotten eggplant that had been in this afternoon's shipment. A glance at the clock told him it was 7:30. Time to scope out the dining room, see who was in this evening. This was his favorite part of the job, the part he'd envisioned twenty years ago when Taverna was still a pipe dream.
Nick stood and stretched. He was a large man, dark and heavy featured with the prominent nose and brooding eyes of his Greek ancestors. He was the kind of man who should have had sons, but that was not to be. Helen had given him two daughters, both of whom had taken after their mother in looks. The three of them were tiny, delicate creatures with classically beautiful faces, almond-shaped brown eyes, and smiles that could--often did--melt the hearts of those fortunate enough to be in their company. Each time he thought of them, his breath caught. How had an oaf like him managed to surround himself with such women? It was a strange and wonderful thing which he tried never to take for granted.
He made his way through the chaos of the kitchen. Diego, the head chef, was flinging orders and food with equal abandon; one of the waitresses and Rita, the salad girl, were shouting at each other in unintelligible Spanish, all above the normal din of pots and pans.
The dining room, by contrast, was peaceful. Helen was hosting this evening. Nick caught sight of her as she led two older couples to table six, one of the best in the house. He hoped they would order more than soup and coffee. Nick watched his wife work her magic, fussing over the men, charming the cane-wielding old women. Helen acted as if she knew them. He would have to ask her later who they were.
The bar was bustling and most of the small tables there were filled, which was good for a Wednesday night. Nick glanced around, waving to Ben and Violet Johnson at table two, nodding to other patrons he's seen before but didn't know by name. Then, at the edge of the room, he noticed his twenty-two year-old daughter, Selena, with a date. It was not unusual for her to bring friends here for dinner. Nick welcomed it and was happy to comp most, if not all, of their meals. The man sat with his back to Nick, but something about him seemed familiar. As recognition dawned, Nick's face hardened. He strode across the room.
"Hi, Daddy," Selena said.
Nick ignored her. He kept his voice low and his eyes on the man. "What are you doing here?"
Biff Monroe stood, reaching out his hand. "Hello, Mr. Kallias."
"I believe I told you five years ago to stay away from my daughter." Nick's eyes flashed.
"Daddy, don't be so rude," Selena put her hand on her father's arm. "That whole thing was so long ago. I was in high school. I'm an adult now."
"You're still my daughter, and I forbid you to spend time with this low-life." His tone, though soft, conveyed absolute authority.
"What is the matter with you?" Selena allowed her voice to rise a bit. She knew attracting the attention of other diners was a sure way to get her father to back off.
"You don't know what you are dealing with," Nick replied.
If Selena was about to make a come back, she stopped when their waiter arrived, hovering behind Nick with two glasses of red wine.
Selena caught his eye and said, "Oh, thanks, Jack. You can put those right here."
Jack, sensing tension between his boss and his table, put the drinks down and asked nervously, "you guys want to order food?"
"They do not," Nick answered.
"Okay, then." Jack scampered away, glancing over his shoulder. Who the hell was the guy with Selena and what had he done to make Nick so mad? Whatever it was, Jack wanted no part of it. He made his way back to the bar, wondering if Whitney had any idea who the guy was.
Whitney Adams had been the bartender at Taverna for over a year. At the moment, she was multi-tasking, as usual. Four appletinis, a Manhattan (who the heck orders Manhattans?), and a strawberry daiquiri. She had the tray almost ready as Jack approached the pick-up point.
"Is that my table four?" He nodded at the tray of drinks.
"Just about." She poured the daiquiri from the blender into its glass, scraped the overhang with her finger, which she popped in her mouth.
"Hmm. Not bad. How's it going out there?" she asked, topping the Manhattan with a maraschino cherry.
"Okay. Still pretty quiet. Say, do you know the guy Selena's with?"
Whitney looked out toward the dining area. "No. Why?"
"Nick basically told him to get out. Didn't want them ordering any food."
"Jeez." She twisted her California-girl features and brushed a stray blond strand from her face. "I wonder what's up with that."
Across town, Whitney's father, Blake Adams had just called the police.