Chapter 7: At Our House
Nattie hesitated at the door of the Our House Bar and Grill. It was not a place she frequented when her ex-husband, Nathan, owned and ran it. Since Nathan disappeared over a year ago Our House has been managed by Nattie’s brother, Kevin, and his fiancé, singer Knox DeVilla. According to all reports, Our House still served the best three-dollar hamburger in town. That had been Nate’s idea. Knox added soup beans and cornbread to the menu.
The reason for Kevin’s insistence that Nattie come to the bar that night was the unveiling of a new addition to the Our House menu, “The Natasha.” The Natasha was an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and onion. It was served with a side of tomato soup. There were several reasons why Kevin wanted Nattie to come for the event. The first reason was the sandwich was what their mother, Ingrid, often made throughout their childhood. The second reason was Natasha McMorales was the name of Nattie’s detective agency. Nattie suspected that the choice of her name for the sandwich was simply to get her to come to the bar, something Kevin and Knox had been trying to accomplish ever since they took over.
Just do it. Nattie inhaled as she swung the door open and stepped into the darkness. It took a minute for her eyes to adjust. When they did, she noted the place was almost empty. There were two middle-aged men at a table to her left and a youngish couple sitting at the bar to her right. Kevin was behind the bar, but kneeling down so she couldn’t see him. The place looked about the same as she remembered.
Knox backed through the kitchen door holding two tin pie plates full of soup beans. She noticed Nattie right away and called out, “Kevin, Nattie’s here.” As she was placing the two soup bean dinners on the table where the two men sat Kevin popped his head up over the edge of the bar.
“Hey Sarge,” said Kevin loud enough to draw the attention of the entire bar. Sarge was what Kevin called his older sister to denote she was a take-charge person who had been taking charge of him as long as he could remember. It was almost exclusively meant affectionately and generally, but not as often taken that way.
“Hey Kevin,” said Nattie in a volume meant for just him. She deliberately avoided looking around the bar, so she didn’t see Knox coming to stand next to her until she felt an arm drape across her back.
Nattie stiffened as she turned into Knox’s hug. “I’m glad you came,” whispered Knox into Nattie’s ear.
“Sit there,” Knox pointed at the first stool at the end of the bar and next to the server’s station.
As Nattie took her seat, Knox stepped into the server’s station. She grabbed a basket full of little cracker packets and a bottle of Texas Pete hot sauce and took it to the two men with the soup beans.
“This is my big sister,” Kevin pointed at her with his thumb while wiping the bar between Nattie and the couple sitting to her left.
The twenty-something woman on the other side of one empty seat extended her hand, “You must be Natasha.”
“Actually, my name is Nattie. Nattie Moreland.” They shook hands.
“I’m Kelly Callahan, and this is Peter Lester.”
The man on the other side of Kelly leaned forward and waved.
Knox returned and put her arm around the woman, “You met Kelly I see. She and I went to the same church up in Abingdon. She’s a cop.”
Kelly winced, “I was an MP in the Air Force, and I’m getting an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice up at Highlands.” Glancing at Knox, “I’m not a cop.”
Knox squeezed Kelly’s shoulders, “Yet.”
Peter nodded and lifted his glass of beer, “Yet.”
A group of four women came in and sat at a table. Over the next hour people straggled in, and by five-thirty, there was a dull murmur that made it a bit harder to have a conversation. Nattie nursed her unsweet tea and lemonade while she waited for what Kevin was calling ‘The Big Event.’
Kevin held a pot over his head and banged on the bottom of it with a ladle until the place was quiet. “Hear ye, hear ye. This is a momentous occasion here at Our House.” Grinning he scanned the room.
Standing on the other side of the room Knox put her hands on her hips, “Just tell them, Kevin.”
“Our House is no more. From now on this place is called…” Kevin bent down behind the bar and lifted a placard up over his head. “Dot-ta-da-da,” he turned the placard around revealing the other side.
A large grayish cauldron filled the placard. Across the middle of the cauldron were the words, ’The Soup Sanctuary.” It was well done and easy to read in spite of the fact Kevin was holding it upside down.
A chorus of “Soup Sanctuary,” rose up all around the bar. When it got quiet again a man standing behind Nattie held up his glass of beer, “I don’t understand. Is this going to be a place to come get a bowl of soup or is it a place to come get away from a bowl of soup?”
Another man stood up in the back, “Or is this going to be a place where a bowl of soup can come and be safe.”
“You should have named it Quasimodo’s soup haven.”
Nattie took a closer look around the room. The clientele was younger than it had been when Nathan was the owner. The general sense of humor in the room also reflected Kevin’s character rather than Nathan’s, the place is definitely Kevin’s now.
The kitchen door opened and a seven-foot tall man wearing the all-white garb of a chef stepped into the room. He stood there silhouetted by the kitchen light holding a plate with a bowl on it and looked around the room.
Kevin, still atop his perch and still holding his upside down sign pointed at Nattie, “Right there.”
The tall man marched towards Nattie holding the plate out before him like it was a pillow and a King’s crown. As he placed it on the bar in front of her, he said, “The Natasha for the Natasha.”
From his perch, Kevin pointed at the tall man with open hands, “That’s Big Ben everyone. He’s the Soup Guy.”
The comedian standing behind Nattie raised his glass again, “Big Ben the Soup Guy.”
Big Ben tipped his head and made his way back to the kitchen.
While all this went on Kevin, put down the sign, and as Big Ben disappeared into the kitchen, Kevin began to bang on the pot again. “We’ll still have the three-dollar burger.”
Knox stood at the far end of the bar, “And we’ll still have the soup beans and cornbread too.”
“But the featured soup tonight is tomato bisque. It’s the same recipe as KP Duty’s before they closed. And as a recommended side for our tomato bisque soup, we are also introducing The Natasha. It’s our form of a grilled cheese. So it’s the Tennessee version of the classic combination, grilled cheese, and tomato soup.” He looked to Knox.
She nodded, “And we’ll be introducing new soups in the weeks to come. Eventually, there’ll be two soups of the day here at The Soup Sanctuary.”
Kevin got off his perch and came to stand directly across the bar from me. “The Natasha I named after my big sister, the famous detective Natasha McMorales.” He stepped back and clapped.
Nattie shook her head, “Stop it, Kevin. I’m not famous.”
There were two Natasha’s, each cut diagonally in half and spread out around the bowl of soup on Nattie’s plate. Kevin took one of the halves and bite off a corner, “What do you think?”
Before she could answer, a man standing behind her tapped Nattie on the shoulder, “Are you the detective with the office down on the other end of State Street?”
Kevin leaned across the bar, “And you thought you weren’t famous.”
“I’m Nattie Moreland. Natasha’s just the name of the agency. Can I help you?”
“Yeah, you can drop dead.”
The remains of the Natasha dropped from Kevin’s hand, “Wait a minute sir. We don’t need any trouble.”
The nostrils on the man standing too close to Nattie flared, and the corner of his jaw throbbed, “She should have thought of that before she ruined my family.”
Nattie slipped her hand around behind her taking hold of the Glock holstered in the small of her back. “I hardly think I’m responsible for that sir, but if you feel I’ve treated you unfairly, then I’m willing to hear you out and rectify any harm I might have caused you.”
The man sneered through clenched teeth, “That’s real pretty talk, but I’d like to know how you can rectify the photos you gave my wife.”
That was the moment Nattie recognized the man confronting her.” Andrew Collinsworth?”
“Now you got it, and now you’ll get it.” With that, he drew his right fist back as he leaned back over his right leg. His head was the first part of his body to uncoil and begin moving towards Nattie, who was in the process of drawing her Glock. She didn’t pull the sidearm all the way out because Andrew Collinsworth’s head was already being jerked backward with the rest of his body. His mouth and eyes made perfect circles as he fell.
“What the…” He hit the floor with his butt and bounced. His head and shoulders were supported by Kelly keeping them from hitting the floor as well. She was kneeling behind him. When his agitation began to escalate, she had maneuvered herself to a position to intervene if he became aggressive. When he did, she used his momentum to pull him off balance and then pulled his arm behind his back and pulled up until he cried out in pain.
“You’re going to behave now, aren’t you?” Said Kelly.
Mr. Collinsworth tried to squirm around to see her, but that only got him another upward tug on his arm and another, more pitiful, cry of pain.
As she torqued his arm with her right arm she patted him on the shoulder with her left, “You are going to behave now, aren’t you?”
He tipped his head in the direction of his torqued arm and nodded. His eyes were narrow slits, and he groaned through clenched teeth.
Kelly repositioned herself into a crouch, “Okay, sir, I want you to very slowly stand up. I’ll help you, but I’m going to keep your arm in this position, so I’ll be careful with it, but if you struggle it’s gonna hurt. Do you understand?”
Kelly put her left hand under his left arm, “Okay, let’s go.”
Together they rose to a standing position as Peter and Nattie stood on either side of them ready to help if they should stumble.
Once they were standing Nattie tucked a business card into his shirt pocket, “That’s my phone number, Mr. Collinsworth. If you want to try to save your marriage, call me, and I’ll give you the name of a therapist who can help you.”
Andrew Collinsworth didn’t acknowledge Nattie had said anything.
Kelly looked over her shoulder at the crowd around her, “Is anyone here with Mr. Collinsworth?”
Another man, looking like an older version of Andrew Collinsworth stepped forward, “I’m his brother. I’ll take him home.”
Kelly made her way between a couple of onlookers. She was holding a bill in her hand, “Wait a minute. Settle up first.”
Andrew’s brother handed her two twenty dollar bills, “That should cover it.” Looking at Nattie, he forced a weak smile, “He’s not a bad guy. He’s had a pretty rough week.”
When Kelly let go of his right arm, he immediately bent forward and began rubbing his right shoulder.
“Maybe you shouldn’t mix a rough week with alcohol,” Kelly patted him on the back.
Peter pointed at Andrew’s shoulder, “Put some ice on that when you get home.”
“I’ll take care of him,” nodded the brother over his shoulder as he led Andrew out of the bar.
As soon as the Collinsworth brothers were out of sight, Kevin began banging on his pot again. “Let’s hear it for Kelly the MP.”
The cheers and whistles were still going strong when the jukebox began to play “We Are the Champions.” By then Kelly was back in her seat covering her face in mock embarrassment. Peter was next to her grinning as he watched most of the patrons take turns patting her on the back.
Kevin leaned close to Kelly, “Your money’s no good here tonight.”
Knox waited until Kevin stood back up, then she leaned across the bar, “I’ll put in two orders of tomato soup and Natashas unless you want soup beans and cornbread.”
Kelly and Peter looked at each other and nodded at the same time. Peter gave a thumbs-up, “Thanks.”
When all the commotion around Kelly died down Nattie pointed at the empty seat between them, “Do you mind?”
Nattie slid her dinner over and followed it, “I want to thank you myself.”
“That was quite impressive.”
“Yes. Air Force.”
Nattie shook her head again, “Very impressive. Listen, Kelly, I’m a private investigator, but occasionally I need bodyguards, and I’ll bet you’d be great at that. Are you interested?”
“Of course for pay.”
Kelly stuck out her hand and shook Nattie’s, “I accept.”
Nattie took a half sandwich and dunked it into the tomato bisque and lunged at it while it dripped on her plate. Licking her lips, “Impressive.”
Kevin chuckled from behind the bar, “Are you still talking about Kelly or are you talking about the soup.”
“The soup’s good, but it would go better in a soup cup. You know, for messy dunkers like me.”
“And me,” said Kelly.
“That’s just another reason for me to like you.”
Kelly leaned towards Nattie, “I’m glad to hear it Nattie. I actually came here tonight to meet you.”
“To meet me. What for?”
“As I said before, I’m studying Criminal Justice at Highlands Community College, and Knox told me you’d be here.”
“And you need to interview me, no problem.”
“I may need an interview at some point, but right now what I need is an internship.”
Nattie looked at Kelly, eyes squinting, and “Are you offering to work for me for college credit rather than money.”
Kelly smiled, “That’s one way to put it.”
Nattie’s eyebrows knit together as she looked at the spot where Kelly had manhandled Andrew Collinsworth, “That wasn’t staged for my benefit was it?”
Kelly smiled back, “I was just wondering if it could qualify as my interview.”