Patty, the harassed-looking caterer, arrived punctually at 5:00 p.m. with a car load of food—and no staff.
“They’ll be here soon,” she said brightly, darting a glance at her watch. “I’m absolutely sure.”
Her certainty made me absolutely sure they’d be late.
“What time are they due?” I asked.
“About five minutes ago.”
I helped her bring the food inside. It looked delicious, though a little skimpy. “We’re expecting about 50 people, you know,” I said, pulling back the tidy foil coverings.
“And they’ll eat a lot,” I rambled on. “People always eat a lot at my parties. I’m not sure why. I always serve lousy food.”
She seemed unfazed. “There’s plenty. And anyway, people on Vieques drink a lot more than they eat.”
Drink. Did she say drink?
“Oh my god,” I gasped. “Where’s the booze?”
Her face assumed the same dodgy expression. “The bartender’s bringing it.”
So I was expecting fifty guests in less than an hour and there was no alcohol in the house–except for my usual stash of a case or two of vodka, but that was beside the point.
Hyperventilization was just around the corner.
“And when is the bartender coming?” I asked.
She consulted her watch again. “About ten minutes ago.”
I was tempted to grab her by the shoulders and shake hard. “Call him!” I barked. “Now.”
I hardly knew myself anymore.
She peered at me tremulously from under her henna-dyed bangs, reaching for her cellphone.
Short pause. “Pablo, you bastard, where are you?” she growled. Another pause. “I see. And how about the party? Mr. Patrick is really counting on you.”
So true. Mr. Patrick really was.
“No? Then go to hell!”
She ended the call with a sharp tap of her brightly-lacquered index finger. “He’s not coming,” she murmured to no one in particular.
“Could you repeat that?”
This was the first time Patty appeared visibly afraid of me. “His mother’s sick?” she hazarded, backing away just beyond my reach.
“He’s not super dependable, I admit.” She appeared to be on the verge of tears, or at least she was pretending to be.
“So who’s your back-up?”
She swallowed hard. “Sorry?”
“Who’s your back-up bartender? I assume you have someone on call in case Pablo’s mother gets a hangnail.”
She all but whimpered. “Not really.”
I let this sink in.
“Then get in your car and drive to the store as fast as you can. When you get there, buy every drop of alcohol they have, rubbing and otherwise, and get back here pronto.”
I shoved my credit card toward her.
“And, by the way, you’re the new bartender.”