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Six Underground

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Kara Marlowe thought that if she could just get far enough away from all the people that have caused her heartache, that she could leave her painful past well, in the past. Desperate for a job due to dwindling funds, she finds herself applying to Six Underground, an eatery slash brew pub located across the street from the oldest and most densely populated boneyard in the city. As if landing the job with minimal qualifications wasn't suspicious enough, the clientele tend to be a bit...unusual. Kara soon finds herself in the cross hairs of an ancient battle between good and evil, and with her growing attraction to Stefan Amorini, a man with a past more mysterious than she could ever imagine, Kara ends up an unwitting player in the Game, but whose Side will she choose?

Fantasy / Romance
Candace Redmayne
4.8 8 reviews
Age Rating:

Six Underground

Memento Mori.” I squinted up at the spidery silver script running up above the bar’s mirror-like surface. I knew that I’d heard it somewhere before but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what it meant.

“Uh, we’re closed until five. Can I help you?”

I turned at the sound of the man’s voice inches away from my left shoulder and quickly turned my frown into a small pleasant smile. Things had not gone well this morning, or for the last six mornings to be exact. If things didn’t start looking up fast I could very well end up stranded here overnight. “More than I care to admit.”

I gave myself a mental shake. I hadn’t actually meant to say that out loud and honesty aside, this was not the first impression I wanted to give the guy who had the potential to become my newest employer.

Dark eyebrows rose quizzically and he hastily stuffed the cleaning rag that he held in his left hand into his back jeans pocket. “Look, if you’re selling anything, we’re pretty well-stocked when it comes to the funerary and memorial regalia. Lazlo’s Funeral Parlor already has exclusive advertising rights with us, and unless you want a drink or a basket of fried pickle chips, I’m afraid that there’s not much I can do about…well, whatever it is you need help with.”

My own eyebrows rose in question. “Er, no I’m here about the job.” I indicated the Help Wanted sign laying on the top of the bar. I hadn’t actually known that this place was hiring, but by some odd stroke of luck I had wound up here after I had taken a wrong turn and spent over half an hour navigating my way through the rabbit warren that was the east side of town. The only thing out in this neck of the woods was the local burying ground and a brew pub called Six Underground, which kitsch factor aside, seemed to be doing fairly well when it came to business. I had stopped in hoping to get directions and lo and behold, there was the sign laying on the bar top as if had been waiting for me.

“You are still hiring, right?” Hopefully my voice didn’t indicate how desperate I was. I really needed the job and all the other places that I’d been to this week had been a bust.

“Oh.” He tugged absently at his ponytail. “Yeah. Hell, yeah we still need help filling that position.” He reconsidered. “Actually, we need help filling a few positions. Have you ever been a short order cook?”

I felt my spirits plummet. “Not exactly.”

“Ever been a waitress? A hostess?” he asked as each time I shook my head no. He sighed and indicated the bar behind me. “So what can you do? I mean, can you at least cut limes, wash glasses, bus tables and take drink orders? ’Cuz frankly that’s what Luz has trouble with even if she can slum drinks like no one I know.”


“The head bartender. Her twin brother Celestino is the DJ here and we share ownership of the place.”

“It is a nice place,” I offered. And it was, even if the location was a bit…off. Six Underground was located directly across the street from the largest and oldest still-operational burying ground in the city. That was how the brochure I’d seen at one of the convenience stores I’d stopped at worded it, and aside from being the only type of business in the area, it did have a reputation for serving some of the best burgers and brew in the state.

He grinned and I caught a flash of silver lining the bottom row of his teeth. “Yeah, well you know what they say: location, location, location.”

“At least the neighbors won’t complain about the noise.” Besides the food, Six Underground purportedly had an impressive roster of live bands who played there every weekend.

He cackled laughter and it quickly turned into a dry, rattling cough.

“Hey, are you okay?” I reached over to try and assist him and he waved me away, his face flushed.

“I told him to quit smoking years ago, but did he listen?”

I turned as a tall, slim woman in a dark blue tank top and black jeans strode from the Employees Only doorway behind the bar. She reached under the counter and uncapped a bottle of what looked suspiciously like tequila and raised it to her lips. “He never listens to me.”

“Oh, and like you do?” He fished a handkerchief out from the depths of his shirt pocket and dabbed absently at his forehead. “How many times have I told you not to treat the top shelf stock like your own personal mini-bar?”

“This many times.” She offered him a one-fingered salute and took a long swig from the bottle.

I snorted laughter and tried unsuccessfully to hide my reaction behind a cough. She flashed me a warm grin. “Who’s this?”

She,” he tucked the handkerchief back in his pocket. “Is the new assistant bartender slash table busser, at least until we can either get her trained as a waitress or a whole busload of people shows up to fill the other positions.”

I nearly fell off the barstool. “I’m hired? Just like that?”

He held his arms out and indicated the otherwise empty room. “You see anyone else around? Besides, you never actually said you couldn’t do all that stuff regarding the bar, so I figured what the hell, why not?”

I actually hadn’t said yes either, but that was beside the point. I looked at Luz when I spoke next. “Of course I can do all those things, only I don’t have much experience actually tending a bar. The only drinks I ever mixed was during high school when my best friend and I raided her dad’s liquor cabinet.”

Not to mention all the times you fixed Jason a drink to keep his bad side at bay and yourself off his Greatest Hits List. How’d that work out again? Oh, right. It didn’t, and now here you are three states removed with no money, no roof over your head and absolutely no future prospects under your belt. This was supposed to be your “big break,” but all you’ve managed to do was end up broke.

The little voice in the back of my head that always managed to sound like my condescending and abusive ex laughed harshly, but it had lost most of its emotional impact. I had been hired on the spot just like that because somehow, someway, the universe hadn’t completely turned its back on me. Things were beginning to look up slowly if not surely, and I was confident that once I managed to find a place to call home for the time being, then perhaps working at a place like this would become my new normal. I could finally pick up the threads of where my life had gone astray years ago and get back on track.

You were wrong, Jason. I am strong enough to be on my own and I can finally lay your ghost to rest, one way or the other.

Thankfully, neither Luz nor the man noticed this little side conversation in my mind and the corners of her mouth quirked up in amusement. “I’m pretty sure that’s how everyone got their start. If you’re willing to learn I’m willing to show you the ropes.”

I smiled back. “I’m willing.”

“Okay, then. Consider yourself hired.”

I was so relieved I nearly laughed out loud again. Finally, after all this time perhaps a second chance was within reach. I slid off of the barstool and shook the man’s hand. “Thank you, uh….” It just now struck me that I knew his name no more than he knew my own.

“Dani.” He pumped my hand vigorously.

“Kara Marlowe.” I returned the handshake with a firmness to match his own and the woman stepped out from behind the bar.

“Luz Alvarez. Nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

“So when can you start?”

“How about tonight?” I hoped that neither of them could tell just how desperate for money I was, but I also wanted them to know just how thankful I was for the opportunity.

Dani slapped the bar with his palm. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about! We need go-getters around here and not slackers like mujer over there.”

“Up yours, Dani.” The grin tugging at the corners of her mouth let on that she was only kidding and he returned it.

One of Dani’s eyebrow rose conspiratorially. “Don’t let Luther hear you say that—you know how jealous he gets.”

Luz nodded sagely and then turned to me. “Luther’s the bouncer. He and Dani are,” she leaned forward and replied in an exaggerated stage whisper, “together.”

“Ah.” I nodded in understanding. I liked them both immensely and felt touched at their candor given that I was still a relative stranger. “So, how do we do this?”

“It’s easy: just smile and chat up the customers when they approach the bar and get their drink orders. I’m pretty sure that you can handle the bottled beer and can fill a mug with our house brew, but if they happen to order a Cherry Whiskey Sour or some other frou-frou shit, let me handle it. If you’re really personable they’ll keep coming back and will hopefully open up a tab.” She took another swig at the bottle and then capped it before returning it to its customary spot under the counter. “Just be sure to keep an eye on our stock of limes, olives, clean glasses and whatnot. Most times I get so busy slumming drinks and visiting with the clientele that I tend to run out.”

“You mean flirting with the clientele if your track record is any indication.”

Luz ignored him and walked around to the back of the bar, the heels of her steel-toed boots clacking against the polished wood floor.

“I can definitely do that.” I indicated the shelves of glasses and their impressive stock of shining liquor bottles in every color of the rainbow. “Do you mind if I take a look around? You know, just to get my bearings.”

Dani cleared his throat awkwardly. “Actually, there’s some paperwork that needs to be filled out and then the processing before you start—the whole background check and liability thing. I was just so relieved that you showed up when you did that I got carried away and said that you could start tonight.”

“No problem.” I had no idea just how long the official process would take and I did a mental count of funds minus my steadily growing expenses just in case I had to stretch things out a bit in the interim.

“Aw come on, Dani I’m sure Kara’s on the up and up. Besides, that paperwork is not going anywhere and we’re opening in a few hours. The last few weeks have been hell and I need all the help I can get. The night shift is the worst considering most of our part-timers are only willing to work the day shift, and the ones that do stick around are incompetent at best.”

Almost as soon as the words left her mouth Luz seemed to think better of it, as if she had revealed more than she’d intended. The pointed look that Dani gave her seemed to underscore this but I pretended that I hadn’t noticed. So apparently there were plenty of people willing to work here but only during daylight hours. Interesting.

Dani tugged absently at his ponytail again and sighed. “Alright, fine. Just start her off on the easy stuff until we can get her properly trained and as soon as you’re done, send her to my office.”

“Thanks again for hiring me and all on such short notice.”

He nodded and retrieved the cleaning rag from his back pocket as he disappeared through the double doors to the kitchen area.

“Ready for the five dollar tour?”

I followed Luz behind the bar and began to take stock of things to see where everything was located. Tucked far in the back and hidden from the angle of the stools where patrons sat to order drinks and drown their respective sorrows, was a small altar. It was decorated with string lights, candles, flowers, and photographs varying from Polaroids to digital prints showing people of all ages. I recognized the altar as an offrenda, a traditional way of honoring deceased loved ones among the Latin community. A red neon clock in the shape of a crucifix presided over the bar and cast a faint glow over the area.

Top shelf liquor was located unsurprisingly on the top shelf, a small refrigerator held cans of Redbull. Limes, pint, shot, wine and Martini glasses were arranged neatly on racks or back shelves, and the taps displayed a decent array of brew. The bar top was black lacquer and was so finely polished that it reflected everything around it like a mirror. A row of red leather stools ran the length of the bar and a red neon strip illuminated the floor. All in all it was tastefully decorated and spotless.

“Catch.” Luz lobbed a couple of limes at me and I caught them one-handed.

“Knives are located here in this drawer.” She took one out and handed it to me along with a glass cutting board. “The layout of the bar is pretty self-explanatory as you can see, and I really just need an extra set of hands. Until we hire more wait staff, Dani might even have you serve appetizers or bus tables afterwards. Is that okay with you?”

I nodded and set about quartering the limes on the cutting board. “Seems easy enough; I’m just grateful for the income.”

She nodded. “In the morning we normally get here around six in order to prep for the lunch rush which begins at eleven to two and then we temporarily close at that time to prep for the dinner and late night crowd. We re-open at around five and run till eleven Monday through Thursday and one a.m. Friday and Saturday. Despite the locale and running theme around here, we’re closed Sunday for family and worship, which applies more to my brother and me than Dani as you can see.” She swept her hand in the direction of the offrenda. “Tino and I originally set this up to honor our family members who have passed on, but occasionally a customer may ask to have something displayed as well. If that happens just go with it, thank them and leave the rest to me.”

“A lot of people put up offrendas in their homes back where I’m from, so it’s cool with me.”

“Really? I figured you weren’t from around here and we normally don’t get too many customers who actually knows what an offrenda is. Did you just move down here?”

“You could say that.” I reached for another lime and began to methodically quarter it and the silence hung uncomfortably between us. I didn’t want to go into details because my wounds were still healing as it were, but seeing as how Luz and Dani had been so accommodating to me, a virtual stranger, I felt that at the very least I owed her a partial explanation.

I set the knife down. “It’s complicated. I just split up from my ex and in the process of trying to put as much distance between us as possible, I somehow wound up here.”

She was silent for a moment. “I get it. Break ups suck, but at the very least you’re here and he’s not. The way I see it, it’s his loss and our gain.” She winked and I chuckled.

“Thanks.” Luz was one of those rare individuals who could not only read between the lines but who understood the inherent value of what remained unsaid.

She tapped the counter with a silver-tipped nail. “Don’t mention it. Generally the bar is not too busy with the lunch crowd, and we would really need your help more in the evening and especially on the weekends.”

“Good thing I’m a night owl then.”

Luz glanced at her watch. “I’m really glad that you stopped off when you did, but truthfully Dani’d just made that Help Wanted sign last night and I haven’t gotten around to putting an ad in the papers or even on the local radio station. How’d you even know that we needed an extra set of hands around here?”

A faint chill crept along my spine and settled in the space between my shoulder blades. I hadn’t actually known that Six Underground was hiring, but having woken up this morning after nearly a week of fruitless searching for a job…something had compelled me to get up, get dressed and drive over to this side of town. There was no valid reason for me choosing this particular location, but I had had such a nagging sense of urgency and certainty that it could not be ignored.

I shrugged, hoping to shake off some of the disquiet that had settled in my gut and put on the appearance of being indifferent. “I heard some guys talking about you being short-handed around here last night at a club. I just happened to overhear their conversation at the bar—which wasn’t hiring by the way.”

For some reason that seemed to satisfy Luz and she nodded. “Figures. Anyway, I’ll be right here with you tonight in case you need anything or aren’t sure what to do. Any questions?”

For starters, why all the job vacancies when the popularity of this place alone would almost certainly guarantee a steady stream of employment?

I wisely kept my mouth shut and settled on the one that had been percolating in the back of my mind since I’d entered the building. “What’s with the quote above the bar?”

“It’s Latin. Loosely translated it means, ‘Remember that you will die.’ For some reason it seems to remind people that life is too short not to have a good time—responsibly, of course. I always seem to get more tips whenever customers read that.” She shrugged. “Works like a charm.”

And what else works like a charm, I wondered as my eyes scanned the rest of the place and settled on the doorways leading to the Employees Only lounge and hallway leading to the men’s and women’s toilets. Small, barely-visible symbols had been drawn around the perimeter of the black-painted doors in pencil and were for all intents and purposes invisible to the casual observer unless the light hit them just right.

Given the relative location of the place not to mention the discreetness of the symbols and altar, I was betting that they served a purpose that went beyond mere decorative aesthetics. I wasn’t necessarily a believer in all that New Age stuff, but if someone else did then that was just fine with me. I had a hard enough time believing in myself much less what I couldn’t see, feel, or touch, but I figured that was a defect in my character and was not worth worrying about at the moment.

I cut another lime into quarters and set them in the iced bucket to my left. “Yeah, it must.” The strobe lights facing the dance floor began to flash and the guitar-heavy strains of Boston’s “Peace of Mind” began to filter out of the hidden speakers set in the walls. Behind the bank of equipment that served as the DJ stand, a figure in profile moved about and Luz brightened.

“Tino’s here. I’ll go get him and introduce you two.”

And how appropriate is a song title like that? Just this morning I was waking up in my car at a rest stop wondering if I had enough money to eat or get around for the day, and here I am with a job lined up and the most decent co-workers I’ve had in, well, ever. Talk about peace of mind indeed.

Maybe all of this was just a coincidence, but my inner voice loudly declared that the universe was rarely so lazy.

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