An oil lamp by the door burned low and threw soft black shadows around the stock room. A rustling in the corner grabbed Vi’s attention and she stood rooted to the spot. The occasional rat was to be expected, but this sounded much bigger. She reached out and turned the screw on the lamp to feed it more wick and flame blazed to life. The rustling grew frantic, accompanied by a yelp and the unmistakable thud of a human skull meeting wood.
Vi’s heartbeat dropped back to normal and she kicked the crate nearest to her. “God dammit, you two! You scared me half to death.”
The round face ringed and mussed yellow curls a serving girl called Caroline peeked out from behind a wooden carton. “It’s just me, Miss Viola. Just…um…looking for some rum!” She grabbed one of the bottles in front of her and tried to look innocent.
“Uh-huh. So what you’re telling me is that when I go through that door, I’m going to find my bartender behind the bar, right where he belongs?”
“Well, see,” the waitress sputtered, “Jimmy went out a couple of minutes ago to—”
Vi sighed. “Jimmy?”
“Yes, Miss Viola?” squeaked a male voice from somewhere behind the stack of boxes.
“I want you back behind that bar in five minutes.”
Caroline had the good sense to look guilty when Vi shifted her gaze to include her. “But then this never happens again during working hours. Understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” the couple chimed in unison.
Vi reached to take the bottle from the blond woman. “Also, this is bourbon. I trust you can tell the difference when you’re serving the customers.” She winked and leaned in for a conspiratorial whisper. “Five minutes. Make them count.”
“Yes ma’am!” Caroline giggled and disappeared behind the crates again.
With a shrug, Vi turned down the lamp before leaving the stockroom as she’d found it. “Newlyweds.” She sighed and looked at the whiskey in her hand. A little hair of the dog might be just what the doctor ordered.
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