Prime Rib Night
December 17, 2019
The light snow crunched under my boots as I stepped out of my truck outside the brown single-story building. “Wiederholt’s Supper Club” was in big letters on the left side of the bump-out entrance, “Bar-Lounge-Liquor” on the right. I slammed the door closed as traffic passed on Highway 61. Miesville wasn’t even a one-stoplight town; all you got was a short 30-mile-an-hour zone as you passed. On my side to the west was the old Catholic church, graveyard, and an amateur baseball stadium for the Miesville Mudhens. Across the two-lane highway, there was an antique store, a combined gas station and feed store, and a bar called King’s Place with the best burgers in the state.
Tomorrow night I’d be there, but Tuesdays were Prime Rib Nights at Wiederholt’s. The best prime rib in the state.
I hadn’t skipped a Tuesday here in over three years.
I walked towards the entrance as the ten-degree cold blew across my beard. The snow wasn’t a problem now, but it was supposed to start coming down faster later tonight, and by tomorrow morning, the winds would be blowing it around. Christmas lights surrounded the entrance, and I stomped on the mat to get the snow off in the vestibule.
The smell of the food hit me as I opened the second door, causing my wolf to stir a little. I rarely hunted anymore, my wolf didn’t feel like chasing rabbits or squirrels, and for me to take down a deer would waste a lot of good meat. No, I preferred my meat to be seasoned to perfection, roasted not beyond medium-rare, and served on a platter with a side of ground horseradish and au jus. “LEO!”
“Merry Christmas, Mike,” I responded. He was one of the owners and the bartender tonight. His bar was long, running a good forty feet with a wide selection of liquor behind it. Mike and I had a close relationship. I needed to drink, and he served the best.
I’d barely made it five feet before Olivia appeared before me. “Welcome to Wiederholt’s, Mr. Volkov,” she said with a smile. Liv was my favorite waitress. Hell, she was my ONLY waitress. It ruined my night if she called in sick, and I had to deal with someone else.
“Can’t you call me Leo,” I asked, just as I did every time I came in.
“You’re almost my Grandmother’s age, Mr. Volkov, and you’re my customer. Come with me, your table is ready, and your food will be out in two minutes.” Liv was young, her dark-brown hair gathered back into a ponytail, with the face and body of a Greek goddess. If I was twenty years younger and unmated, I’d be joining the line of men seeking her favor.
Instead, I was widowed and reminded Liv of her grandfather. It was just as well; I couldn’t bear to be with another after losing my beloved Catherine.
She pulled the “Reserved” sign off the small table, just around the corner from the bar tables but still within sight of the television. I dropped my coat on the chair, then took a seat with my back to the wall.
Old habits die hard, and I was now a creature of habit.
Liv grabbed my bottle of Sam Adams from Mike at the bar, setting it on the coaster with a smile. “I’ll be right back with your food.”
It was less than two minutes. The piece of prime rib was perfection, covering almost the entire plate. The special was for the regular cut, but I paid extra for the large. It was over two inches thick, easily a pound and a half, and covered with mushrooms. Two cups held my ground horseradish, raw, and the au jus. Liv set a salad to the right and a baked potato with sour cream and bacon on the left. I reached for the A-1 to pour over the top. “Thank you, Liv. Perfect as always.”
She gave me that smile that lit up the room. “Let me know if you need anything else, Mr. Volkov.” She went off to serve her other tables while I dug into my dinner. I kept an eye on her as I ate alone; I tried not to be creepy about it, but she was one of the few friends I had left. It wasn’t that after a lifetime spent in this area I didn’t KNOW people, but most were acquaintances. Werewolves living among humans couldn’t get too close to them, so most rated a smile and a “How ya’ doin?” My true friends, the members of my old Pack, were all lost to me now.
I had finished the Prime Rib and was working on the potato when I smelled other werewolves coming in. Bob and Leanne Parker were here with their son Chris and daughter Lisa. Leanne was from a Pack in Montana, and they had been mated for maybe ten years now. Bob still worked at Volkov Construction Company as an electrician, while Leanne stayed home with their children.
I could see Bob’s nose tilt up to take a sniff before he saw me. He ushered his family past me quickly, asking the hostess if they could be seated on the other side of the room and around the corner. In my mind, I’d accepted they were no longer part of my life. My heart and my wolf still felt hurt by the rejection. I’d held his mating celebration in my back yard. I’d held his children in the hospital room after their births. I’d watched as they learned to shift before running about in the woods behind my house.
Now he couldn’t meet my eyes. I looked away from the family and went back to my salad. I reminded myself that it wasn’t personal; they were all under Alpha Command. No person from my old Pack was allowed to talk to or acknowledge me in any way. Banishment from a Pack meant total separation. If I trespassed on their lands, it was immediate death.
I touched the scar on my left cheek, left with a silver knife as a mark of my status. No other Pack would touch me with a ten-foot pole.
My wolf, already in pain from the loss of his mate, was slowly fading away as the enforced isolation robbed him of the bonds he craved. Four years was a long time to be without a Pack. I probably had another year, maybe two, before my wolf gave up. We would finally join my mate and her wolf in Luna’s embrace.
“Another Sam Adams, Mr. Volkov?” Olivia was standing next to me, reaching down to take my meat plate.
I jumped a little, embarrassed at being so wound up in my thoughts that a human had come next to me without me realizing it. “Yes, please.” She set a new bottle down, taking my old one. “Thank you, Liv.”
I watched her as she walked away; we’d known each other for years, but I didn’t know that much about her. I knew she lived in Hastings, a town of 30,000 about eight miles north of here. She was twenty-three years old and was a single mother to Vicki, who would turn five in late March. Sometimes when things slowed down in the evening, she’d spend a few minutes with me and show me photos of her.
I read my newspaper and watched the news coverage as I finished my dinner; I always ate the salad and bread last as they didn’t have to be hot. The winter storm was the main topic; the radar showed the heavy snow bands moving in by ten.
Liv removed my dinner plates and brought me my turtle cheesecake. “The storm is scaring people off, so Mike is cutting me loose early,” she said. “Do you need anything else tonight?”
“I’m fine, Liv. The food was excellent as always.”
“Thank you, Mr. Volkov. I’ll leave your bill.” She left the bill on the corner of the table, not that I needed to pick it up. Every Tuesday was the same. I pulled three twenty-dollar bills out of my wallet and put it with the bill, leaving it on the edge of the table for her. The turtle cheesecake was my favorite dessert of the whole week, so I took my time with it. Liv stopped by a few minutes later. “Any change, sir?”
“The rest is for you, Liv. Have fun with Vicki.” She thanked me again as she left, heading for the office to get her stuff.
I finished the cheesecake, noticing the restaurant had almost emptied in the two hours I had been here. I visited the restroom and was coming back to the main hall when Liv came running back in. She looked like she was about to break down in tears. “Liv? Are you all right?”
“My car won’t start,” she said.
“I’ve got cables in my truck. Are you parked in the back of the lot?” She nodded. “Go back out there, and I’ll pull around.”
“Are you sure? I can get one of the managers.”
“Liv, please. I’m heading out anyway, and I get so few opportunities to rescue a damsel in distress these days.” She snorted but nodded. “I’ll be right there.”
I fired up the truck and drove around to the back lot, finding her car with the hood open. Parking in front of it, I grabbed jumper cables from the toolbox behind the seat and popped my hood. “Have you ever done this before,” I asked.
“No,” she replied.
“OK, go sit in the car and wait for me to tell you before you try to start it.” I connected the cables between my battery and hers, the old Ford Taurus having seen better days. The battery terminals had heavy corrosion, and I could smell scorched oil in the engine compartment. I shook my head; the car would need a lot of work to be reliable, and I was sure she didn’t have it. “Start it,” I said.
The engine cranked for about fifteen seconds before it fired up, sending smoke out the tailpipe. I disconnected the cables and put them away before going to stand by her driver’s side window. “Thank you SO much, Leo,” she said with a relieved smile.
I smiled; at least off-duty, Liv would use my name. “It’s not a problem. I don’t know if it is your battery or your alternator; if your car isn’t charging, it could die on the way home. I’d feel better if I followed you and made sure you got home safely.”
“I don’t want to be any trouble,” she said.
“Trust me, Liv, I have nothing better to do. The old man will sleep better after getting you home to your daughter.”
I could see her shoulders relax. “All right. It’s up Highway 61 towards Hastings, turning left just after 190th.” I backed the truck up to let her out, then followed her onto the road. She drove the speed limit as the snow was coming down a little harder now. It took ten minutes before we pulled into the parking lot of a fourplex. She pulled into the spot marked “3” while I took a guest spot; she came to my window as I lowered it. “Thank you so much, Leo,” she said.
“You should clean the battery terminals and have your battery checked,” I said. “It’s just going to get colder.”
“I know,” she said as her shoulders slumped. “You should get home before the roads get worse.”
“I’ll see you next Tuesday, Liv. You’re working Christmas eve?”
She nodded. “I take all the hours I can get while Grandma watches Vicki.”
“Then, I’ll see you next week.” She walked off, and I drove out of the lot and back home. Heading back to Miesville, I went south on County 91 past Gopher Hills Golf Course, crossing the Miesville Ravine and finally turning into my driveway. I parked the truck in the garage and went inside, grabbing a fresh bottle of Jack Daniel’s out of one of the cases by the door. I left that on the kitchen table as I pulled off my clothes and laid them over a chair.
It was a good night to run for two reasons. Deer hunting season was over, so there wouldn’t be a bunch of people with guns out there. The snow was my friend tonight, as any footprints would be covered up minutes later. Once naked, I grabbed the red collar with the dog tag saying “MAX” and my address, plus a rabies tag. It was a necessary disguise; it might give a hunter or farmer pause before he took a shot at me. Putting it over my head, I shifted into my large wolf and shook my fur out. Walking to the kitchen door that headed out to the expansive deck, I used a paw to press a hidden switch that opened it up. The motor closed it behind me as I moved out into the darkness.
My wolf vision was much better at night than in my human form, but there was little color sensitivity. It didn’t matter tonight; I knew the trail by heart after all these years. I worked my way along the edge of the ravine, working to where it connected to the Cannon River basin. Sitting on a rock above the cliff face, I let the wind and snow blow into my fur as I looked over the valley. Catherine and I had found this spot on one of our midnight runs, making love in wolf form under a full moon. It was the reason we had purchased the land and built the home we did, so we could come here and lose ourselves in our wolves, yet be on the edge of a major metropolitan area for my work.
I sat for an hour, thinking of all the happy times I’d had here. Wolves can’t cry, but we can howl. I pointed my nose to the sky and let my sorrow travel up to the moon.