On a warm Wednesday night in the middle of December, Mr. Paltry attended to his small bar. Four customers sat in his little bar and grill, two of which were his regular townie sport enthusiasts that sat and watched whichever game was on the little Panasonic above the bar. The other two customers looked to be on a date. “Out-Of-Towners,” he though while adjusting his rum bottles for the fifth time that night. He couldn’t complain, though, as the couple racked up an impressive bill for a slow Wednesday.
One of the sportsmen slammed his tankard down in a huff after the ref made a poor call.
Mr. Paltry decided to check on his only cook, Porter. Porter wasn’t a very bright man, but his enthusiasm for microwaving hot wings convinced Mr. Paltry that he was worth keeping.
“Oh, Mr. Paltry, sir! Got an order?” Porter greeted Mr. Paltry with a remarkable grin.
“No, no. I was just checking on you. Have you finished cleaning the grills?”
“Oh yes sir! I mean, pretty much sir. I mean, there’s a few spots I just can’t get out, you know? Like, this little black spot on the left side. It looks burnt on it.” Porter went on and on about a grease spot that was probably on the grill since Mr. Paltry bought it from the discount store.
“I understand, Porter, thank you for trying. I’m going to see if these Out-Of-Towners want some dessert.” He turned around sluggishly while Porter’s grin beemed at him.
“Oi, Paltry. There’s someone up front,” the sportsman said without taking his gaze off the Panasonic.
Around this time of night, Mr. Paltry usually expected one of the local police officers to stop by on the end of their shift. Sometimes it was a lost, drunk college kid. This new customer was neither.
“Good evening,” Mr. Paltry stated blandly.
“Would you mind me sitting at the bar?” the stranger said in a polite, yet gruff voice.
“Certainly. This way.” Mr. Paltry lead the stranger to the side of the bar where the sportsmen were not seated. They had already laid out their newspapers for other games that were coming on later. The stranger took off his wool hat to reveal a long, knotted pony tail. He had a glass eye on the left side, but no eyebrow for his good eye. His teeth were absurdly white while he grinned to find a comfortable position on Mr. Paltry’s worn stool.
“Would you like a menu?” Mr. Paltry stated, still eyeing the stranger.
“No need, sir. I would like your best fish sandwich,” the stranger said pointing towards the ceiling. He was still squirming in his stool. His hat then fell on the floor in the commotion.
“I’m sorry sir, but we do not serve fish sandwiches,” Mr. Paltry stated in a matter-of-fact manner.
“Then I will have anything with Portobello Mushrooms,” the stranger said with even more enthusiasm.
“I believe we only have that in a salad.”
“Then I will buy one, no, three! I wish to have three of these salads!” the stranger exclaimed. The couple were now staring in his direction, slightly startled by his sudden tone.
“Very well, and anything to drink?” Mr. Paltry added.
“I require a glass of milk,” the stranger said sadly.
“I’ll get right back to you.” The stranger now was looking down at the floor. He made a soft sniffling sound. The sportsmen, unabashed and in unison, scoffed as Mr. Paltry walked to the kitchen.
“What’s his problem, eh?” one said while sipping his beer.
Porter gave an expression of pleasant shock to see Mr. Paltry back in the kitchen. “What will they have for dessert?” he winked.
“What? Oh, no. New order. Three salads. Make sure there’s mushrooms in it,” Mr. Paltry said while opening the fridge for milk. In it, there was a small quart of skim milk. Shrugging, Mr. Paltry took it out and shook it. It was still in date, but barely. He placed the glass on the fridge shelf and poured the milk. It still looked good.
Walking out of the kitchen, the couple motioned for Mr. Paltry to come. “Yes?” He stated.
“Yeah, that guy just gave me this,” one of them showed Mr. Paltry a button. It was the kind of button that kids received in school for doing well on their book report. “I don’t know what to think about this. He said I reminded him of his cousin.”
“I’ll check on that. Are you ready for the check?” Mr. Porter asked, slightly annoyed. First, Out-Of-Towners and now a strange stranger? The couple nodded.
“Here’s your milk, sir. The couple over there said you gave them a button?” Mr. Paltry tried to fish more of the conversation out of the stranger. He took a sip instead of answering.
“This is skim milk,” the stranger stated coolly.
“Yes it is,”
“Thank you. I like skim milk the best out of all the milks in the world.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“The button? It is nothing. I tricked them.”
“What do you mean?”
“That button is fake. I made it myself at the craft store. I never won anything for a good book report. Those suckers actually bought it!”
“Oh, well, serves them right…” Mr. Paltry trailed the end of his statement into more of a question. The stranger nodded and took a big gulp of his milk. He took a look around Mr. Paltry to see if the couple was still looking at him. They were not. Mr. Paltry already walked away to retrieve the check for the couple. He walked over and the couple promptly handed him the amount plus a tip. The only good thing about Out-Of-Towners were that they actually tipped. They then hustled out of the establishment without a second glance.
Porter came out of the kitchen with a large pan with three bowls of salad on it. He then asked, in a big grin, “Three salads?”
“Oh! My mushrooms!” the stranger exclaimed raising his hand. Porter wobbled over and placed the bowls in front of the stranger.
The stranger went on to eat all three bowls of salad without another word. Mr. Paltry would examine him from time to time while polishing his tankards. Occasionally, the stranger would take a look at the mushrooms on his fork with great intrigue, but then stuff it in his mouth after nodding his head. When he had finished, he patted his stomach and let out a loud burp. Mr. Paltry slowly made his way over to the stranger.
“Nope! How much do I owe you for those delicious mushrooms?” Mr. Paltry slid the man his check, while taking the bowls and glass back to the kitchen. The stranger looked at the check and coughed. He then felt around his chest as if he was searching for a wallet. Mr. Paltry let out a sigh. Of course this man wouldn’t have money.
“Ah ha! Here it is!” The stranger said happily as he slammed down a bunch of change. “Sorry, I own a laundromat. I can only pay in quarters.” He then got up and left. Mr. Paltry sighed again, now opening the kitchen door and handing the dishes to Porter who took them with great enthusiasm.
Mr. Paltry walked to where the stranger sat. He had placed many quarters on the bar. They were not in neat stacks, but rather in large lump. Mr. Paltry began to count. The bill was six dollars even.
There it was: twenty four quarters. Mr. Paltry felt like an idiot carrying them over to the cash register, but the only people in the establishment were the sportsmen who didn’t really care. As he hit the button to open the till, Mr. Paltry dropped a quarter. Cursing, he placed the rest of the quarters in the till where they made a dull metal clatter and then bent to pick up the fallen one. When picking it up, he noticed something odd. It did not feel right in his hand. He took a look at it closer.
This quarter now had a warped look to it. “I couldn’t have dropped it that hard,” Mr. Paltry thought to himself. He then noticed a chip on the heads side. He scratched it and found a brown layer.
“Hey, Mr. Paltry? Do you want me to run the dishwasher now or…” Porter started but noticed Mr. Paltry’s puzzled look. “What’s the matter?”
“This stranger paid me with a chocolate quarter.”