A week later Mark and Dana visited the restaurant in the early afternoon before the dinner crowd started arriving. Sandy greeted the pair as if she didn’t know them. “Good afternoon. Can I get you a table?”
“No,” Mark said sitting at the bar. “I would like a Kentucky ale if you have any.”
Dana sat next to him. “I’d like a glass of white wine.”
“Kentucky?” Sandy asked as she pulled a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel out of the cooler behind the bar and opened it for Mark.
“If you have it?” Dana said.
“I try to carry as many Kentucky products as I can. I’ve got a nice white from Echo Valley,” Sandy said and pulled a bottle of chilled white wine from the cooler. She poured Dana a little in a glass and put it in front of her. “Try that.”
Dana picked up the glass and sniffed the wine. It had a sweet fruity aroma. She took a sip and twirled it around on her tongue. “Umm, nice.”
Sandy filled Dana’s glass over half-way. “Can I show you a menu?”
Mark looked at Dana. “I am a little hungry.”
Dana raised an eyebrow, wondering what he was doing. They were just supposed to talk to Elliot for a few minutes and then head to Lexington where they were meeting with another FBI team involved in trying to shut down the Cobra Cartel. “I guess a sandwich before we hit the road would be okay.”
“Can we ask the cook what’s good?” Mark asked.
Sandy raised an eyebrow. “Sure.” She turned and called in the direction of the kitchen. “Elliot!”
Elliot came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a towel. “Yeah?”
“We have a customer that wants to know what’s good to eat,” Sandy said and pointed at Mark.
“Uncle Mark!” Elliot exclaimed and went around the bar to where Mark was sitting.
Mark stood and wrapped Elliot in an affectionate hug. “Hey boy!” he said and clapped Elliot on the back. Mark leaned in close and whispered in Elliot’s ear, “We need to talk.”
Elliot let go of Mark and leaned down to kiss Dana on the cheek. “Hey, Aunt Dana. How are you?”
“Good,” Dana said and gave Elliot a kiss on the cheek. She pulled away rubbing her face. “You need a shave.”
“Nah,” Elliot said rubbing his stubble. “The girls love it. Gives me a rakish look.”
Dana rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
“So what ya cookin’ that’s good?” Mark asked.
“Everything I cook is good,” Elliot said, putting his hands on his hips and rocking on the heels of his biker boots. “What ya hungry for? Fish, chicken, bison, rabbit stew?”
Dana choked on her wine. “Rabbit stew? Really?”
“Yeah,” Sandy said. “Wild game dishes are part of our distinction from other restaurants.”
“I think I’ll try a bison burger,” Mark said, sitting down to take a drink of his beer.
“All the fixings?” Elliot asked.
“No onions,” Dana said wrinkling her nose. “I have to spend another two hours in a car with him.”
“Okay,” Elliot grinned. “What about you, Aunt Dana?”
“A simple salad,” Dana said.
“Oh come on,” Elliot said. “I’ll fix you a good salad. No wild animal meat, promise.”
“Okay,” Dana agreed.
“I’ll be back in a jiff with the food, and you guys can catch me up on the family gossip,” Elliot said and headed toward the kitchen.
Steven was standing in the kitchen door way when Elliot got to the back. “Who’s that?”
“My aunt and uncle,” Elliot said. He went into the walk-in cooler and came out with a bison patty and chicken breast.
“They live around here?” Steven asked still standing in the door way staring out at the couple sitting at the bar.
“No. They live in Springfield,” Elliot said and started cooking the meat.
“Illinois?” Steven turned and looked at Elliot.
“Kentucky,” Elliot said and went back into the cooler for vegetables.
“What they doing here?” Steven wanted to know.
“Came to see me, I guess. I didn’t ask,” Elliot said and started cutting vegetables.
Jason came into the kitchen. “What’s up?”
“Elliot’s kin is visiting,” Steven announced.
“You have family? I thought you just popped up out of nowhere,” Jason mused.
“Yep,” Elliot said. “There are a few people out there who still claim me.”
Steven turned back to the couple but asked Elliot, “What about your folks?”
“Dead,” Elliot said without hesitation.
Steven and Jason both turned to look at Elliot, who looked up. “What?”
“What happened?” Jason asked.
“Murder-suicide,” Elliot said.
“No shit?” Jason’s mouth dropped open.
“Yep. The old man came home from Afghanistan, found out Mom had been cheating on him while he was gone. Shot her and then shot himself while I was at school. Fortunately, the neighbors heard the gun shots and called the police or I would have come home from school and found them,” Elliot said, a practiced hardness in his voice. He’d rehearsed this story so many times; it came out naturally. “Aunt Dana is my mom’s sister. She and Uncle Mark took me in for a while, and then I moved in with my maternal grandparents. Uncle Mark and Aunt Dana are workaholics, so it was hard for them to try to take care of a traumatized kid.”
“Damn,” Steven said. “That sucks.”
“Yep,” Elliot said and turned the meat causing the grease to start hissing and popping.
Jason shook his head and gave Elliot’s shoulder a pat. “Sorry, man.” He went to the cooler and brought out the vegetables that would need to be chopped for tonight’s dinner rush.
Steven stood looking at Elliot for several minutes. Elliot didn’t turn to look at him, just kept his head down and started mixing the vegetables for Dana’s salad. Steven went out to the bar where Sandy was talking to Dana and Mark. Sandy introduced Steven to them, and the four of them talked while Elliot finished the food.
Elliot brought the food out to one of the booths. He went to the bar and told Sandy, “I’m going to take a quick break and catch up with Uncle Mark and Aunt Dana if that’s okay.”
“That’s fine, but just keep an eye on how many people are coming in,” Sandy said.
“I will,” Elliot promised.
Elliot had intentionally put Mark and Dana’s plates on the side of the booth, so their backs were to the bar. Steven was too nosy, and Elliot was confident he would be trying to listen to their conversation.
“Where’s Cara?” Dana asked. She was dying to meet this girl that Elliot was terrified would not accept him as a man.
“She should be in soon,” Elliot said. “So what’s up?”
Mark took a bite of his bison burger and moaned. “Oh my God! That is good.”
Elliot beamed at the compliment. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Did you make this dressing?” Dana asked.
“You like it?” Elliot asked.
“Yes. What’s in it?”
“A lot of stuff. Secret recipe. I’ll make some and send it to you,” Elliot said.
“We heard that the get together had been moved to August. There’s a big fishing tournament going to be held at Cave Run on August eighteenth. The meeting is going to be a couple of days before,” Mark said.
Elliot was watching Steven over Mark’s shoulder. “I can try to come home for my birthday,” Elliot said, noting that Steven was, in fact, listening to their conversation. “It’s about a month away, so I should be able to get off.”
“That would be good. You could come home in the middle of the week when it’s not so busy,” Dana said, picking up on the fact that Elliot thought their conversation was being overheard.
“That’s a good idea. I’ll talk to Sandy about it later,” Elliot said. “So what’s happening with you guys? What brings you this far over?”
Mark took a bite of his burger and tried to figure out how to tell Elliot what he needed to know without spelling it out. The Steven guy looked familiar, and Mark was going to do a background check on him as soon as he and Dana got back to the office.
Dana reached over with her fork and took a piece of Mark’s sandwich when he put it down. “I bet Nelson would like this judging by the smell,” Dana said.
Elliot raised an eyebrow. “Does Nelson like wild game?”
“Oh yes,” Dana said nodding vigorously so Elliot would know he’d caught the name. “He says he’s had snake before.”
Elliot wrinkled his nose. “That may be something I have to draw a line on. I don’t like snakes. Even a dead skinned one.”
Dana took a bite of the meat. “That’s not bad. Where do you get the meat?”
“Louisville,” Elliot said.
“Isn’t Cincinnati closer?” Mark asked.
“Maybe, but I don’t think we have a distributor up there,” Elliot said a little confused as to where they were going with this.
Dana took a drink of her wine and turned her head toward Mark so she could see if Steven was still listening. Steven was moving bottles around in the coolers, but still clearly eavesdropping. “Judging from what Nelson said, he might know someone in Cincinnati that could get it for you. I don’t know if it would be cheaper.”
Elliot pulled out a notebook where he wrote recipes and handed it to Dana. “Give me Nelson’s number, and I’ll talk to him about it.”
Dana wrote on the paper. Boone County judge Sam Nelson is involved with cobras. He has links to Menifee County. Still trying to piece together.
Elliot took the pad back and opened a new page. “Here’s the recipe for that dressing.” He wrote, Is he linked to Matthews? How high up the food chain? What do you want me to do?
Mark looked around the restaurant. “I love the way this place has an old world style. I know it’s a new building, but I wonder if there are any restaurants in the area that are really old.”
“Well, there’s Talbot’s Tavern in Bardstown,” Elliot said.
“No, I’m thinking of something closer. Maybe Maysville or Richmond. You should research that and maybe next time we come down, we can all go check it out together,” Mark said and took the notebook. He went back to the page Dana had written her note and wrote; We believe Nelson has a cabin and relatives in the area. Try to find out.
“Okay, I’ll do that,” Elliot said. He looked up when he heard a female voice coming from the kitchen. His eyes found Cara instantly. He tried not to stare. He really did, but she was so beautiful that he just couldn’t stop himself.
Dana followed Elliot’s gaze. “She’s pretty.”
“Yep, but she doesn’t like boys,” Elliot said.
“How do you know that?” Dana asked.
Elliot pointed at Steven and said, “Her and the two other new girls shot Steven down the first night they worked. Brittany has a boyfriend, Megan is engaged, and Cara is gay.”
Steven turned and glowered at him. “You talking about me?”
“Yep,” Elliot grinned. “Telling the fam about your conquest of the fairer sex.”
Steven threw down the rag he’d been wiping the bar with and mouthed, “Fuck you,” at Elliot before storming into the cooler.
“That got rid of him,” Mark said and then leaned closer to Elliot. “Try to do some snooping and see if anyone around here knows Judge Nelson.”
“Got it,” Elliot said and stood. “I better get back to the kitchen.” He hugged both Mark and Dana when they stood. “I’ll send out a box so you can take your food with you.”
When Elliot got to the prep area, he saw Steven and Cara nose to nose. “You better get your dyke ass out of my way,” Steven growled.
“You’re the one in my way,” Cara said and didn’t move.
Jason said as he hovered close to Cara, “Come on you guys. Both of you back up.”
“Shut up faggot,” Steven bellowed.
Elliot looked around for Sandy wondering where she’d gotten off to. “Come on you two, that’s enough.” Elliot moved close to Cara on the opposite side of where Jason stood.
“I’m not moving before he does,” Cara said defiantly.
Sandy came through the back door. “What’s going on?”
“I’m getting ready to slap the smirk off this bitch’s face,” Steven snapped.
“Try it, punk,” Cara said.
Elliot stepped in between Steven and Cara. He put his hands firmly on her shoulders and forced her to take a step backward.
Sandy grabbed Steven’s arm as he started to raise it and had it pinned behind him in a painful grip. “If I didn’t need a bartender tonight I’d fire your ass right now.”
“Maybe I’ll quit,” Steven said in a half whimper, half whine.
“You do that. I wonder what your uncle would have to say about that,” Sandy said. “He told me that if you lost one more job because of your big mouth, he was cutting you off from the help he gives you.” Sandy let go of Steven. “I’m not sure what that means for you. I’m just trying to help your uncle out because he helped me get my liquor license. But any more bullshit like this and your ass will be out on the street. And you try any punk stuff like messing up my restaurant like you did the last place you worked at, you won’t get off as easy as you did the last time.”
Elliot was trying to listen to what Sandy was saying, but it was hard while he was still holding Cara’s shoulders. She was glaring past him at Steven. Elliot was a little surprised she hadn’t shrugged him off, but she might be glad he was keeping her from punching Steven.
Cara looked up at Elliot and had a sense of déjà vu that was so strong she felt a little faint. She swayed slightly before catching herself.
“You okay?” Elliot asked when he felt her go slack.
“Low blood sugar,” she said moving out of his grip. “I haven’t had anything to eat since this morning.”
“I want you two to apologize to each other, and I don’t want to hear about any more fighting between you or I’ll fire you both,” Sandy said, pointing from Steven to Cara.
Cara looked like she was going to protest, but instead, she sighed and said, “Sorry for being a bitch.”
Steven nodded. “Sorry for being a jerk.”
“Okay, let’s get to work people,” Sandy said and went to greet the people coming in the front door.
Elliot put his hand on Cara’s shoulder. “I’ll fix you a sandwich. What do you want?”
Cara smiled up at him, thinking again how cute he was with his trim beard and messy dark hair. “Just something simple, ham and cheese, or something like that,” she said and patted the hand on her shoulder. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Elliot smiled and turned toward the kitchen.
When Cara went back to the prep area, Steven had moved on to the bar, Jason was in the kitchen with Elliot and Megan was standing there looking at her. “What happened?”
“Steven and I almost come to blows,” Cara explained with a sigh.
“He’s such an ass,” Megan said. “I’m so glad I only have to work with him through the summer, and then I’m headed back to Lexington.”
“Yeah, me too,” Cara agreed. “I’ll be headed to Richmond in August.”
Elliot came out of the kitchen with a ham sandwich for Cara. “When does school start back?” he asked as he handed her the sandwich.
“August twenty-first. My last day here will be the eleventh,” Cara said and took the sandwich from Elliot. “Thank you,” she said before taking a bite and moaning. “Oh my god, that’s good. I am starving.”
“That does look good,” Megan said. “Can I get one too?”
“Sure,” Elliot said and headed back to the kitchen. He let out a long sigh. Thank God, Cara wouldn’t be here when the bust of the cartel went down.
Elliot got a To Go box and wrote a note for Mark on the inside. It read: CM leaving Aug. 11th. Elliot took the box out and handed it to Megan. “Can you run this out to the couple in booth four while I make you a sandwich?”
“Sure,” Megan said. She took the box and headed out to the dining area.
“Thanks for stepping in back there,” Cara said, smiling at Elliot.
“Glad to,” Elliot said, returning her smile, and then turning serious. “Be careful around Steven.”
“Okay,” Cara said, Elliot’s expression giving her a chill. He must think there’s something creepy about Steven too.