By Jeff Baker
“I still don’t believe you have the key to this place,” Nick said as his brother fumbled with the door.
“I still don’t believe we paid all that money for this place,” Phil said, finally getting the old lock to turn. “First thing we do…”
“New locks.” Nick said as the old, wooden door opened with a shuddering CLUNK!
The two of them stepped in the big room under the weathered sign that had proclaimed some kind of soft drink years ago when the street had been the main highway. Inside it wasn’t as dark as Phil had expected. Light was streaming in around the boarded-up windows. He could make out a counter, a few tables and some shelves.
Nick shone the light from his cellphone on the ceiling, floors and the doorway to the kitchen.
“You sure the building’s okay?” Phil asked. “Structurally, I mean?”
“Yeah. I was only in here once but I had it checked out.” Nick said. Nick was thorough that way. “Me, I can’t believe Dad used to come in here before we were born.”
“A lot of people used to,” Phil said. “Back before they opened the highway. Still think we can make a go of this place?”
“Now that they’ve opened an off-ramp down the street,” Nick said felling around the wall. He flipped a switch.
“Hey! The lights work!” Phil said.
“Uh huh. Wiring is in good shape,” Nick said. “Plumbing works too. This place will make a nice restaurant, with stuff for the travelers.”
“You know what else is in good shape?” Phil said. “I don’t think there’s any dust around here.”
“Wha?” Nick said. “The place isn’t dirty but it’s been shut up tight for about thirty-five…” He ran his finger on a counter. “Sunofagun! No dust!”
“I kept the place clean. I hope you don’t mind,” came the voice from behind them. The two brothers wheeled around. There was an old man in coveralls standing in the doorway to the kitchen, wiping his hands on a rag. Before they could react the old man went on.
“I’m Sam Gardner. I used to work here. Handyman. Doing odd jobs, whatever. They call me Old Sam. Oh, and you’ll have to replace that garbage disposal. I’ve tried working on it but it’s just no good anymore.”
“Nick Harris,” Nick said warily, thankful for the stun gun clipped to his belt. “This is my brother, Phil.”
Phil waved and said “Hey.”
“I just bought the place,” Nick said.
Í know,” said Old Sam. “You seem like nice kids. I was wondering if you’d sort of keep me around. I’m a pretty good handyman and since I’m retired I wouldn’t really charge much.” He grinned broadly. “Maybe an occasional piece of pie though.”
“We don’t really need a handyman,” Nick said. “What we need is a new dishwasher. That one in the kitchen is at least forty-five years old and I couldn’t get it to work…”
“All fixed,” Old Sam said. “Works fine now.”
Nick and Phil looked at each other for a second then went into the kitchen with Old Sam following and sure enough the dishwasher now worked “as good as new,” as Old Sam described it. When Nick finished trying out and examining the dishwasher to his satisfaction, he stood up, smiled and shook his head.
“Amazing!” Nick said.
“Now, I will tell you, I’m not very good with those modern computers, but I’m a whiz with the kind of gadgets you have around here.”
“That’s what I have Phil for,” Nick said.
Before he could say anything more, Old Sam stepped into a patch of sunlight from a boarded-up window and the sunbeam streamed through Old Sam rendering him partly transparent.
“Well, I told you two boys I’d been here a long while,” he said as the two brothers gaped. “I suppose I’m set in my ways, but I do intend to stay. And I can be a help, you’ll see.” He walked over to the kitchen door, turned and winked at Phil. “You don’t have a girl named Alice, do you?” Then, Old Sam blurred and was gone.
Nick and Phil silently stared at the doorway, then at each other. Phil reached for a chair and sat down. Nick sat down on the floor.
The first two weeks after they opened the café had gone pretty well for Nick and Phil. Business was brisk and they’d even got a nice review from the newspaper over in Wichita. Between the truckers and people from the neighboring towns, to say nothing of the farmers they had a steady customer base. That particular evening was busy and Melinda, one of the waitresses they’d hired walked up to Nick who was behind the register.
“Hey, Nick,” she said. “The ice machine broke down again, right during a rush.”
“Uh, it’s okay,” Nick said. “I have someone on it. It should be working now.”
“Well, I hope he gets here soon because…well sonofagun! It is working again!” Melissa said. “I didn’t even see the repairman come in!”
“It’s this guy we have, Old Sam.” Nick said nonchalantly. “When he wants to be, he’s practically invisible.”
Author’s Note: Again, the story went longer than I intended (800 + words) but it still looks good. Oh, and the picture was taken by me.