The Piano Player
Bobby Murillo was waiting for me.
I was on break, carrying a tray with a plate of kung pao chicken and fried rice just past the piano and towards my usual table when I spotted him. He had a grating smile on his chubby face, a shopping bag at his feet, and he was extending his hand toward the open seat across from him. I turned and searched desperately for somewhere else to sit, but at almost noon on a Saturday, the Hanfield Mall food court was crammed with famished bargain hunters. I’d have better luck finding a genuine diamond ring at Zades Jewelry.
Before I even sat down, the smell hit me. Either no one had the nerve to tell Bobby that using six squirts of Drakkar Noir to cover up a lack of personal hygiene was equivalent to pissing on a forest fire, or he just didn’t care. I wanted to tell him that he’d probably sell more albums out of the mall’s only record shop if he didn’t insist on personally greeting every customer who came through his storefront, getting uncomfortably close and pushing excess inventory on kids just wanting to buy the latest Whitney Houston or Bell Biv Devoe tape.
Maybe I didn’t want to tell him, after all. He’d been a dick in high school and he was a dick now. I was pretty sure he wound up manager at Sean Woody’s Music only due to the fact that his dad owned the place.
I felt his eyes bearing down on me as I poked around my plate with a pair of chopsticks. He leaned over and whispered, “Give it up, Timmerman.” His tone was somehow menacing and comical at the same time. “Everyone’s on to you.”
My stomach descended several inches. I looked up at him with half-chewed rice in my mouth, focusing on not choking or looking surprised. I fought the urge to count every stubborn whisker on his five o’clock shadow.
“Give up what, Bobby?”
“You know,” he said.
Did someone spill the beans? Could it have been Mr. Yang, owner of Speedy Koala whose not-half-bad kung pao I was just now dining on? He was always complaining about my prices but seemed to do it in a playful manner. Or maybe it was Shelly Knutzen from the appliance store. From the things she gossipped to me, I knew I shouldn’t have let her in on the secret.
“Darlene’s only nice to you because she has to see your ugly mug every day,” Bobby said.
As much as that might hurt if it was coming from anyone other than a genuine fool, my breath came back to me.
“It’s none of your business who I talk to,” I said.
He laughed hard enough to make the family of four sitting two tables away jump in surprise, knocking a bag of newly purchased shoes on to its side.
“Just trying to save you from embarrassing yourself more than you already do playing your shitty easy listening,” he replied. “Why don’t you grow some balls and play some goddamn Metallica or something? Who knows? Maybe then you’ll get lucky.”
My appetite was beginning to dissipate and I worried it would soon curl up and die in Bobby’s presence. The large, brass clock hanging high above the food court entrance told me I had fifteen minutes to get back to the piano bench. I took a napkin and nervously wiped at my hands, realizing I was due for another manicure.
“As always, I appreciate the advice. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to finish my lunch before I get back to work.”
He stood and hovered over me, one hand on the back of my chair and the other on the side of my tray.
I said nothing, trying only to avoid any eye or physical contact. Just as my chopsticks were heading toward the plate, Bobby pushed down on the tray, which along with my lunch, flipped off the table, spilling sauced peanuts and green onion all over the ground.
“Oops,” he said. “Sorry, dude.”
I glared at him for less than a second before I lost my nerve, realizing I couldn’t let myself get worked up. My arms and hands were shaking. I had to gain control of my emotions so that I could perform my job and deliver what I’d promised.
I said nothing, bent down, and proceeded to clean up the mess.
Bobby Murillo strolled away with a thorough demonstration of his knack for combining a cough with the word pussy.
If you’d like to finish reading this story, along with many others, I’d be ecstatic if you’d consider purchasing one of my books.