Jack had been walking for days. His shoes were worn, his clothes dirty and shredded, his hair tied in a ponytail and his beard ratty. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the last of his money. He stared at the $10 bill in disbelief, wondering how it came to this.
Too tired to continue, he stopped along the Pacific Coast Highway to rest. He sat on the guardrail and peered out over the vast Pacific Ocean, an orange-gold sun beginning its descent towards the horizon.
With perhaps an hour of light left in the day, he once again was on his feet moving, albeit slow and steady. He came to a street on his left leading away from the two lane Pacific Coast highway he’d been following for the past 8 days.
He recalled seeing a sign a mile back saying ‘Entering San Luis Obispo’. He was roughly halfway between San Francisco, to the north, and Los Angeles to the south. It had taken him 8 days to trek the 248 miles.
Jack had never before heard of the place, but he needed to get off the highway and try to find a coffee shop to rest, and have a cheap meal. He crossed the highway and started up the slight incline as he passed by some lovely homes on his right — set atop a hill, with views to the ocean.
He trudged up the hill. Each step was an effort. He was thoroughly exhausted. At the top crest of the road he looked out over a small town. Walking down the incline was certainly easier than walking up. When he came upon Morro Street, he turned left.
There was a lane for bicycle traffic. He spotted a gentleman preparing to get into a maroon colored Jaguar, a recent model he concluded on quick inspection. It wasn’t so long ago that Jack could have bought a fleet of cars like that, on a whim.
He approached the man: “Good afternoon sir, could you steer me in the direction of a nearby coffee shop?”
The man stood there in his beige chinos and green oxford shirt eyeing Jack up and down, as if deciding whether to help. Jack looked like a vagrant. But after being silent for a moment, the man said “Do you have money for a coffee shop?”
“Yes, I do. I’m not a bum. It’s just that I had gotten rolled, and then left for dead on the PCH and been walking south from near San Francisco for days. But I’m not a bum, not a vagrant nor beggar, and I’m not a danger to anyone. I’m just tired and hungry.”
After slight hesitation, the man continued: “Well if you walk to the corner and go right, walk one more block to Garden and take a left you will find Linnaea’s Cafe. Nice place. Casual, like a country inn, with quiet garden seating. You’re a big ragged around the edges, so if they give you any trouble you tell them George P. sent you.”
“Thank you, that is very kind of you” and set out following the directions.
Jack ordered two eggs, scrambled, toast and coffee. The coffee was hot, and he welcomed it down his throat. He noticed a bulletin board, and after finishing his meal slowly approached to peruse it.
There were announcements, and flyers — there was a community theater production of “Hello Dolly.” There were job postings, and job requests as well.
Perhaps he could find temporary work. He needed money for food. With his ragged look, he looked for some outside work — maybe for a landscaper, a pool company, or even doing construction. Any unskilled labor would suffice, just long enough for him to save up travel and food money to get to Los Angeles. At least there he had connections, old favors due him, and could start over and try to rebuild his business, and his life.
He pursued the board, took a card, had asked directions that had led him to a large house with a sprawling lawn out front; a circular drive separated the drive from the front door with tow large trees in the front yard. .
He stood there a minute, perplexed and nervous. He was also desperate, so here he stood. A minute had passed after ringing the bell. He waited. Two minutes passed, then three. It was on estimate almost five minutes later — after his third ring — that he heard the doorknob turn.
A large man stood in the door archway. He was imposing, with an authoritative swagger about him. He was about 230 lbs on a 6’ 3” frame. He had piercing, stern eyes, and his speech was clear, polite, yet to the point. “Good afternoon, how can I help you?”
“Hello sir, my name is Jack and I am here in regard to the job you had posted at the coffee shop … Linnaea’s Cafe?”
Time seemed to stand still while the large man gazed at him. He seemed a bit confused. Finally he spoke. “Did you fully read the posting? It was for domestic help.”
“Yes sir. I did”
“Well, I was looking for a “female” maid. I didn’t think I needed to specify “female” in the posting, but clearly I did. I’m sorry if you wasted your time.”
As the large man began to turn, Jack spoke. Perhaps the man heard the desperation in his voice. He returned to face him, and heard him out without interrupting.
“Sir, I know I’m not what you were looking for, but I assure you I can clean, wash, and I happen to be a great cook.”
“I appreciate that young man, I do, and admire your tenacity. But …” Jack cut him off, “How about if I prove myself?”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me work the week, and then at the end of the week if you don’t think I can do the job you don’t have to pay me anything”. The worst that will happen is he’d eat good and get a roof over his head for the week. “If someone else more appropriate comes to apply for the job, then I’ll leave, no muss, no fuss. I’m just asking for a chance”
“Great cook you say, hmmm.”
“I tell you what, come on in and let’s talk about it.”
With that he turned on his heel and opened the door; Jack followed him inside.
The house was grand. A large marble-floored foyer at the entrance, with a staircase on the left that hugged the curved semi-circle wall that made its way to the second floor.The wallpaper appeared to be silk; a muted ivory on beige design.
The second floor hallway went left and right, with the section between serving as a bridge between them, with open views from either side of the ‘bridge’ to the floor below. The foyer passed under the bridge opening into a large living area with a floor to ceiling glass wall at the far end; sliding doors opening to a large patio terrace.
To the left of the living room, through an arched doorway was a formal dining room. Beyond that the kitchen. Jack followed his host through another archway to the right into a den and library.
He offered Jack a seat on the burgundy leather sofa and walked a few strides to a small bar. “What do you like Jack? I’m having a Scotch myself.”
“That is most kind, thank you. I’ll have the same, neat.”
Sitting across from Jack in a large club chair, the host lit a cigar. The label said Cohiba, though Jack didn’t know anything about cigars — it looked expensive though. He looked at Jack a while not saying anything. He just sucked on his cigar, sipping his Scotch, studying the man.
“Yes, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to have a drink, then drink it correctly. When a friend of mine used to complain because I’d forgotten to serve ice and soda, I finally said, look, if you’re going to drink a man’s drink then drink it like a man — NEAT!” Chuckling Jack continued, “he never mentioned ice or soda again, but did switch drinks.”
The man revealed a slight grin. “Looking at you in this state I wouldn’t have guessed you for a ‘Scotch-neat’ type of guy. “Where are you from Jack?”
“Originally New York City. After college I had settled in San Francisco.”
“You’re a bit of a mystery. You must be really down on your luck to be applying for this job. While at first glance someone might misread you as a drifter, you’re not, are you?
“No, sir, I’m not. Though yes, I’m down on my luck. More specifically some months ago I was robbed of my life’s work by ruthless partners. I spent years building that company, and then without warning a few quick moves and they left me for roadkill. I guess now that my funds are exhausted, I am roadkill. I’m fairly well traveled. I‘ve lived and traveled abroad in the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and Asia
“I’ve often found that it is only friends that can rob you — since most of us have our guard up against strangers and enemies.”
“That is very true sir..”
“You are well spoken, and speak politely and to the point, were you ever in the military?
“No, I never was. Does that matter?”
“Well, being down on your luck, do I need to worry about you trying to steal from me Jack?”
“Absolutely not sir. I am honorable to a fault; loyal to a fault. It’s why I am in this mess.”
“Listen Jack, you look like you haven’t eaten much of late. Go ahead into the kitchen let’s see how ‘great’ a cook you are. Whatever you like, I have a taste for almost anything. The kitchen is through the living room that way, and well-stocked.”
“Thank you for your hospitality” Jack responded, and headed to the kitchen.
Jack noticed fruits and vegetables hung in large baskets, and the cupboards were, in fact, well stocked. There was an island with seats on one end for four. The refrigerator was large, like something you’d find in a restaurant, albeit neatly designed to fit flush against the blonde wood decor.
He served a salad of arugula, mozzarella balls, and a touch of black pepper sprinkled with a raspberry vinaigrette, with a glass of Malbec wine from Mendoza, Argentina from the wine rack.
Dinner consisted of steaks grilled, pan-seared with wine over garlic and onion, black pepper, and other ingredients. Fresh green beans; small new potatoes were sauteed in olive oil, with fresh parsley. A fresh bread loaf was neatly sliced and placed in the center of the table.
“By the way, I’m Colonel Max Burke, U.S. Marines, retired.”
The colonel ate slowly as if he were a restaurant reviewer on opening night. “This is very good Jack, where did you learn to cook like this?”
“Actually my x-wife was a terrific cook. I paid attention.”
“My compliments… to her, and you.”
“This steak has something different in its taste. Why is that?”
“It’s the beer.”
“Yes, I first cook it in garlic and onion, sear it with wine until it makes a nice sauce, but then flash it with beer. That is what gives it the unusual taste.”