About a year after quitting the Force, my savings growing thin, I saw a sign in a little store front in Evanston. It looked like the kind of quiet shops young women open in memory of their grannies, using all their old childhood favorites to fill the menu. The woman behind the counter said her name was Veronica. She asked if I had any experience baking. I confessed I didn't, but I could follow a recipe well enough.
After what I thought was a dismissive snort, she said, "Fine. You're the first in three days, so it's yours."
She snorted again, shook her head, "Don't mention it. I'll be doing most of the real work. You just do what I tell you when I tell it."
Not feeling a hundred percent in love with the situation I agreed to those terms. I've found it's not always good to complain about your boss before starting a job. It takes a while to find out for certain if the person in charge is really an asshole or simply having a bad day.
Veronica was an asshole, yet her unpleasantness made sense. Up to her eyeballs in debt, the bakery turned out not to be the cash cow she anticipated. Instead, it sucked up money like a black hole. The pastries were good, and I'm not just saying that because I turned on a mixer or slid a tray into the oven. Veronica really knew her way around the baking-verse. She could tell whether cookies were done by the smell, make frostings that delighted the tongue, and she pioneered (as far as I know) stuffed cupcakes. Her secret to the stuffed cupcake is to fill the cake with a jelly, custard, or cream flavored in opposition to the frosting on top -- chocolate top, vanilla middle, or jalapeno strawberry jam contrasted against marmalade. And from what I could tell customers always received bright sunny smiles; she knew when to perform for the public. However, it all came to nothing.
She invested in commercials, flyers, dazzling neon displays for the window. She tried staying open late at night to catch people as they poured out of the nearby bars. Veronica even stood out front with a bullhorn trying to carnival bark people into her shop. Unfortunately, the little business she drummed up rarely repeated.
The only customer we saw on a regular basis: a sweet old lady named Margaret Hendershot, who insisted on being called Maggie. Maggie came in at least once a week. I looked forward to those days because the size of her orders always cooled Veronica off for a few hours. Maggie cleared out whole rows of donuts, bought cakes by the dozen, and always wanted a mountain of creampuffs. That said she never looked thicker than a twig. I suspected it all went to some get together she attended regularly, probably bingo night or cards with friends, and sadly, at her age she might've been taking them to funerals, or distributing them to families with recent losses. Maybe she worked for a center of some kind. We didn't know, and as long as she paid in cash we didn't want to know. Although I chatted with her regularly, often helping haul her load of baked goods to her car, we never really talked about anything in depth.
Then one day, close to closing, the phone rang. Veronica let it ring twice while she composed herself. Grinning as if face to face with a customer, she sang into the phone, "Hello, this is Sweet Treats. How may I help you?"
The smile changed. Where before it seemed like she was trying to smile with weights meat-hooked to the corners of her mouth, Veronica now appeared honestly happy. As I swept up I assumed that meant someone must've died. Veronica scribbled an order down as she chatted with whomever on the other end of the line, "Of course we do... ten is no problem. He'll be there shortly."
Nothing ruins the end of the work day like the unexpected realization the day is not done. Leaning on the broom, I waited for Veronica to hang up. However, when I heard Veronica say, "Thank you Mrs. Hendershot." I relaxed. No need to worry about doing Maggie a favor.
We went straight to work boxing ten pies, as many cherry as possible. Veronica told me Maggie told her some friend of hers arrived from out of town unexpectedly, and that he and his wife had a quote powerful lust for cherry pie end quote. Hell of a lust, I thought tying the sixth box with ribbon, an extra special touch for a preferred customer.
Veronica said, "You don't mind running these over. I've been baking all day. You've just been hanging around for the most part."
I really wanted to argue against her observation, but she was right. She worked harder than I did. For once I could go the extra mile. So I wrote down Maggie's address, loaded the pies into my car, and drove off.
Maggie lived on Thayer Street in a small house tucked back from the road. The drive didn't take long. Just a quick hop from Evanston to Wilmette. The house reminded me of a small cottage situated on the shore of some quiet lake; and it seemed to belong to a different time, when people built their homes with their own two hands.
Carrying as many pies as I could, I went up to the front door, rang the bell with my elbow. I could hear people inside. Music and laughter. It sounded like a fantastic good time. It made me glad to know senior citizens were still kicking at the stars, like old age wasn't something so terrible after all. People still had fun.
Maggie opened the door, "Oh my! You certainly came quickly."
"That's what she said," an elderly voice called from inside.
Maggie laughed, "Calm down Harold, or you won't get any creampuffs." She leaned to whisper to me, "The man has two scotches and turns into a little kid."
"I think I have the same problem," I said. I handed over the four boxes balanced in both hands then took two quick trips for the rest. Maggie stacked the boxes on a credenza near the door, so I didn't really go into the house. However, with the door open I could clearly hear the other partiers, though what they said made no sense.
"She caught it right in her eye, poor thing."
"...not the first or the last time, but it happens..."
"I'm so glad I retired. Now there's time for all the finger games."
"Back in the day I used to break men like him. They never expect the ladies to like it rough dontcha know?"
Maggie asked, "How much dear?"
"Uh, well, ten pies at ten bucks a pop that's a hundred dollars."
Maggie smiled, "And worth every penny I'm sure. Just a moment." She turned her head to call into living room, "Jerry! Come pay for your pies sweetheart."
"Fair enough Mag. Two shakes of a jack rabbit's ass."
Jerry came into the foyer, a barrel-chested man of about sixty wearing nothing but a leather thong. His body, the color of Peking duck, glistened with baby oil, the silver hairs on his chest matted down. He opened a draw in the credenza to get at his wallet.
"How much you say it was?" he asked, thumbing through bills.
"A hundred bucks," I said, trying to seem like I encountered such sights every day. I noticed for the first time Maggie wore a loose velvet robe.
"Goddamn. This better be the best pie in the world then." He handed the bills to Maggie who passed them to me, while Jerry opened a box. He stuck a meaty finger into the pie then sucked the red delicious off his finger. His eyes opened wide in surprised satisfaction.
"Mmm-mmm, damn son. That is fine." He plucked a bit of crust. Tasting it he said, "Oh my god. It tastes like flaky butter. This is amazing. Charlaine, get in here and taste this pie."
A woman came out who looked like she'd taken the hard road to sixty. She wore cowboy boots. And that's it. She waved to me. I waved back. No sense being rude.
When she got close to Jerry she said, "Hit me," and he promptly thrust the pie in her face. Licking her lips, Charlaine said, "That is good." Turning around, she headed back towards the living room saying, "Amy, you got to try this. Come lick my face."
"Thanks kid," Jerry said following after Charlaine.
"No problem," I said.
A glint in her eye, Maggie smiled, "Would you like to come in?"
I should've said no, but curiosity will always be my downfall.
Plastic covered every inch of the living room. Inside a group of people with a collective age of about 690 mingled in various degrees of nudity. At the center of the room a panoply of Sweet Treats' finest pastries awaited the partiers.
A voice I recognized as Harold's said, "We getting started, or should I just jerk off in the corner?"
"Isn't that what you do anyway?" a grey haired black man joked, nudging Harold with an elbow.
Harold shot him a look, "That's it, Louis. Tonight, I'm fucking your wife."
"You and me both," Louis laughed.
Then it began. Food went... everywhere, and tongues followed the feast. I don't think anyone noticed when I left.
There was nothing really grotesque about what I saw. Unusual, perhaps, but it was just a bunch of people having a good time. What are you doing this weekend? Boning at Maggie's house! Good times with good friends. It's not like they dressed in black robes, tied a ten year old kid to a table, and whipped him while world music played in the background.
Still, the next day when Veronica asked me if Maggie liked her pies I said, "I can say with absolute certainty she found them very... satisfying. And I quit."
Because I realized something watching those aged foodies, covered in pastries, sloppy fuck one another in a great writhing pile: life is too short to waste on embittered bosses, and low paying menial jobs. I could've wasted a lot of time drifting along in that bakery. The work wasn't hard, and that was the problem. Maybe preventing Tyranosaurs from being used to win the Civil War killed my lust for challenges, and this had all been a sort of long vacation. In any event, it was time to get back to reaching for the stars. It felt like time to take a real shot at happiness.
COMING EVENTUALLY! WHY I QUIT: MY DREAM JOB, OR HOW HAPPINESS ALMOST GOT ME KILLED, SO FUCK IT I'M STICKIN' WITH MISERY.