How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 49

‘Some people are so gullible’ laughed Kevin McNair as he read the stories in the sports papers while nursing a cold beer in his local bar. How they believed that rumour he started off about Gardner quitting Barcelona was brilliant. A master stroke by him using an old contact who by now was probably getting bollocked for not checking his facts before writing a story.

The tricky part was getting a bookie to take his bet that Gardner wouldn’t move during January when all the evidence in the press was saying otherwise. Once one paper published the rumour, all the others jumped on board and printed their own predictions of where he was going to transfer to. When the story had grown arms and legs, that was the time to pounce on some unsuspecting bookie to gladly take his cash. He managed to get odds of 4/1 from some local bookie and put €1,000 on it. Getting him to believe his story that they played together at Hearts (true) and they were best mates now he had moved to Spain (false) was a work of art. Come the first of February, he would be €4,000 richer which would pay his bills for another few weeks.

This was going to be a good year for McNair.

It was also promising to be a good year for his ‘good friend’ Brian Gardner. While Brian and Lucy were enjoying themselves at Bradley’s Christmas, Victor, the general manager, had been running things smoothly at Bistro Lucia with the help of Diego and Delroy. Although it was the quietest week of the year, takings were looking good and they had been fully booked both nights they were away.

They had decided to keep the original restaurant and convert it to a sandwich bar and deli to cater for the locals and employed a couple of young ambitious catering students to run it. Turnover wasn’t bad, but it was small margin stuff and as long as it broke even after all the costs Brian was happy with it. He saw it as giving somebody a chance, much like he had done with Delroy and Diego and they hadn’t let him down.

Brian would regularly pop round to Lucy’s Deli to see how things were going and deal with any problems they might be having. Sometimes, he would take Victor with him as he had far more experience than Brian, and so far everything was going well.

Never in his wildest dreams did Brian imagine himself as a culinary entrepreneur when he was working as a wage slave in IT sales. It was such a different world to what he had been used to and he loved the fact that every day presented new challenges which he was learning to deal with. He certainly hoped he wouldn’t have to deal with any more chancers like Buster and Duke who had been given a long stretch inside once the Police caught and charged them. Great Eastern Street was far more upmarket and although it was competitive, he had got to know some of the other restauranteurs nearby, so if there was a repeat incidence of attempted extortion then he would find out about it.

Friday and Saturday nights were understandably the busiest two sittings of the week and the restaurant was fully booked for those nights for the next six weeks which was pleasing. The rest of the week was more manageable, but even then, there would sometimes be a queue forming on a Monday night.

The reviews had helped spread the word about Bistro Lucia; there wasn’t a week that went by without another magazine or freebie newspaper popping in to try it out. All of them went away happy and most of them gave it five stars, as did many of their customers who, by posting reviews on Trip Advisor, had pushed Bistro Lucia into the top fifty restaurants in London. With eighty-four covers, two sittings per evening and one lunchtime sitting, they were serving over two hundred and fifty largely satisfied customers every day which amounted to over £10,000 per day. After costs, they were still sitting on a nice little earner so long as the bubble didn’t burst and their loyal customers found another great place to eat.

To keep in front of the competition, Brian, Lucy, Victor and Diego met weekly to discuss ways of improving the restaurant, albeit introducing new items to the menu, dropping off the less popular ones, keeping up to date with the latest foodie trends and keeping an eye on costs. These meetings were always held on a Monday morning before getting ready for the lunchtime sitting and were generally very positive. Brian just wanted to make sure they kept bringing in the money so he and Lucy could retire some day and leave Victor and Diego to run the place.

Not that he didn’t enjoy running the place, he loved mingling with the customers and he knew that things like that made the customers feel special. It’s just that he remembered back in the day when he was the customer; it gave him bragging rights to tell his colleagues that he knew such-and-such who ran the more popular restaurants in the City and he could always get a table when he wanted to entertain clients which never failed to impress.

Lucy was also good at interacting with the diners and looked comfortable discussing any subject with them, especially holidays although she and Brian weren’t going to enjoy many of those going forward thanks to Brian’s flying ban.

A few of the regulars knew that Brian was Bradley’s father and they were always happy to talk about his latest game for Barcelona or, for the Arsenal supporters, some of the more memorable performances when Bradley wore the red and white.

Diego and Delroy would also shine when dealing with the customers; they loved to be able to speak to the head chef and tell him how wonderful his confit de canard was, or compliment them on their selection of fine wines which were never overpriced, unlike some places in the area.

All in all, things were going great and Brian and Lucy could go home after a long shift and relax in their new apartment with a glass or two of wine, snuggled up on their plush leather sofa watching some late night film until they felt like going to bed.

Sometimes, he thought back to his old life with Martine when he had what he thought was the perfect marriage with two great kids, a nice house and a steady career which brought in good money and allowed them to enjoy annual holidays in Disney World, all seemingly very happy with their lives, until Brian found out about Martine’s affairs and how he was at fault. That was probably when he started to go off the rails and he had to make sure that never happened with Lucy. He already had a close call when he lost her in Los Angeles after she was shot and blamed himself for not making enough effort to support her which was why she upped sticks and fled back to London.

He couldn’t let that happen again, Lucy was special. She had been there for him when they first met and he had now fallen hopelessly in love with her.

He wasn’t going to let her go again.

Brian and Bradley’s relationship was another challenge for him. Like Lucy, he had lost his son for a while, thanks to his behaviour and now he was back in favour with him, he wasn’t going to let that go. He had always wanted Bradley to be proud of what he had achieved, even when he was working in IT. It was just part of wanting to be the inspiration for your kids to succeed like he had done. Some of his antics over the past few years had undermined that and he understood how Bradley hadn’t wanted anything to do with him for a while. His brother Sam just seemed to shrug it off; he was a far more relaxed son than Bradley was, but then he wasn’t in the public eye all the time.

To keep these relationships on an even keel, he knew he had to work on it, much the same as when he was managing clients and staff. It was hard work, but ultimately it would have its benefits and that should now be his goal.

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