The brewpub's got an interesting reputation, even by Portland standards. Ten years ago- it's always been "ten years ago" in the telling, and probably had been even ten years ago- a ring of conmen had apparently opened it as a front for their shady operation. Alec laughs it off whenever a customer brings it up. "Didn't see anything about that in the records when I bought the place last year," he'll say, and if the customer asks about what he'd been doing before he'd bought the place, he'll usually say that he'd managed a cafe in Akron or Bloomington or Richfield, wherever that is. He keeps it vague. So far, nobody's ever been able to call him on it.
Eliot still gets tense whenever anyone asks, but right now his attentions on the rowdy twenty-something over in Susie's section. She's starting to look nervous, but she hasn't flagged him down yet. He wanders over anyway. They don't notice him at first- it's easier these days, maybe it's the grey that makes them drop their guard, and like it or not, it's an advantage he's found useful ever since the third knee surgery.
The kid's trying his damndest to get back up on the table, or whatever the hell it is he's trying to do, but his friends have him, they're already dragging him out of there. The tall one's buying a round to make reparations for the one they'd made Susie spill on table fourteen, the stocky one's calling a cab. They're all gone a few moments later. Eliot'll go out and check on them in a minute.
No big deal. It's just another Friday night.
Thief Juice, Susie thinks, is a terrible name for a summer shandy, only slightly better than the Iceman Ale, their biggest seller, but she's not about to mention it. If the names of the beers are the biggest problems she's got with the place, she's doing pretty well for herself.
They haven't fired her yet, and it beats the hell out of working at TGI Friday's, anyway.
Parker blinks at the new cook's question, or, more specifically, why he's asking her instead of walking back into the brewery and asking them. But she's the manager. She manages things. "He likes food."
"Walt said that nothing goes on the menu without Eliot's approval," Mark says. "And that most of the recipes are his, anyhow."
"He really likes food?" She knows she's repeating herself, and it's only Mark's second day in the kitchen, but he's asking a lot of questions, for a newbie. Maybe it's not to late to unhire him, but Walt's going on vacation in three days; there's no time to start training someone in from scratch.
"So why's he running the door instead of running the kitchen?"
We've got a fifteen-year backlog in the people-wanting-revenge-on-us department. "Line of sight."
Turns out, it's not really a better explanation, but she grins at Mark's confusion and keeps it casual. It's something she'd learned from Sophie. Make them think the mark's already agreed, that her next words are a logical progression from her last. "He's a people person. Wants to be where the action is."
It would probably go down more believably if they couldn't hear Eliot shouting at Alec about stouts shouldn't be paired with salmon, the usual guy stuff.
Mark's nodding, but he's probably not buying it, and Parker's still the manager, so she widens her smile, makes it reassuring.
"Don't worry," she tells him, as if he can't hear Alec threatening to edit pigtails onto Eliot's DMV photo for the fifth time this week. "You'll be fine."
Eliot, the bouncer, is actually a reasonable guy as long as the food's up to par.
And it always is. The guy's almost as terrifying as Parker is.
Most of Parker's thefts these days involve separating drunks from their car keys. She saves the fun stuff for her days off, and so far, nobody's been able to establish the worldwide pattern of unsolved break-ins to their brewery's ingredient sourcing runs. Nobody ever will, as long as Hardison's days off are spent the way he prefers. Prepping everything she'll need for her next jaunt and cleaning up after her last.
Still, though, her days off are just awful. He's not as good at hiding the worry as Eliot is; the only thing Alec ever really manages to bottle up is beer, but maybe that's why the staff's not terrified of Alec when Parker's out of town.
"He always gets like this, when she's gone. All aggro, you know?" Carrie speaks casually, grabbing the lemons out of the cooler as she nods back towards the front of the bar, where Eliot's probably checking his phone for the fifth time in as many minutes. She's talking quietly enough that if he weren't standing right next to her, he'd probably only be able to hear her if they were on comms. She's not as slick as Sophie would be, but she at least rates a Nate, which is still pretty good. "I think he might be in love with her. You think they've got a thing going on?"
Alec smirks, stock response all ready to go. "I don't know, and I don't ask."
He doesn't need to. He doesn't even need to ask how large the betting pool Carrie thinks he doesn't know about has gotten.
He considers mentioning the conversation to Eliot when they get home, but he probably won't. The bar may have a pool going on the three of them, but it's a two way street. He, Eliot and Parker have their own, and Alec's money is on Susie figuring it out first, anyway.
Hardison's been working from his apartment upstairs for four days, now, and they're not supposed to disturb him, not that Carrie thinks anyone will get the chance. The odds of Eliot letting anyone up there are slim to none, but seriously, someone has to talk Parker into turning C-SPAN off. It's Super Bowl Sunday, and the joint's practically empty. Mark's doing crossword puzzles in the back and Susie's about to mutiny, from the looks of it.
"The concierge at the hotel mentioned that this place had an interesting history," the white-haired man at table 4 says once he's ordered their drinks. Neither he nor the woman are at all interested in trying any of the beers- their eyes had widened in horror at the suggestion, though the woman's perusing the menu with avid interest.
What's really strange, Susie realizes, is the surprised look on Eliot's face when he comes out from the brewery. He obviously recognizes the two of them, but he's wandering towards his usual post by the door instead.
She lets the customers be for a moment, and snags Carrie, dragging her back into the kitchen under the guise of needing her help with the ice machine.
"What is it?"
"I don't know. Something's up." Maybe she's misreading it, maybe it's her imagination getting away from her for a moment- like that month she'd convinced herself that Eliot had done some sort of stint in Black Ops off the most random details. She moves over so Carrie can peek around the corner; Mark's coming up behind the two of them, curiosity roused, wiping his hands on his apron.
In the restaurant, Eliot's approaching the table with a grin. They can't hear the words being exchanged, and the four of them duck back the moment it looks like Eliot's about to turn.
Mark manages not to shout as he bumps into Parker, who's craning her neck to see what they're looking at.
"What's going on?"
"Eliot's got a visitor," Carrie shrugs with a smirk that she doesn't even need to direct at Susie.
"Are they armed?"
"What?" Susie blinks. Carrie's smirk becomes a frown.
"Nothing." Parker takes one step around the corner, her face brightening when she sees who they're talking about.
"Who are they?"
"I don't know," Parker says, then grabs her phone and completely contradicts herself. "Old Nate's in here. He's got a Sophie." And she strides out into the restaurant, practically running.
Carrie and Susie have gone back out front, and when Mark glances up to get the food order from Susie, he finds Eliot standing there instead, arms crossed.
"I'm taking over your kitchen," he says, then relents with an apologetic grin. "Just for a bit."
"You got it. Need any help?"
"Nah, I got this. Go hang out front. You and the girls want pasta? I'm thinking pasta."
Mark nods, suddenly curious as all hell about whatever's transpiring in the bar. Besides. Now's as good a time as any to go on break.
Susie, Carrie thinks, has a terrible poker face. She totally sucks at this spying thing, hovering over the table so obviously that even Parker's picking up on it. She's on her way back, though, and maybe she's learned something. Aside from the random bouts of laughter, Carrie can't hear a damned thing from here.
It's obvious, by the time Hardison joins them, kissing The Sophie on the cheek and hugging her and Old Nate both, that the five of them old friends, family maybe, though it's impossible to tell if there's any blood connection.
"What've you got?"
"Another chardonnay, an Iceman, a Sterling, and Hardison's nasty orange soda." Susie leans over the bar next to Mark with a frown. "And no idea why Eliot's in the kitchen."
The door opens, half a dozen more customers come in. Eliot's left them plates in the back, probably getting cold, though Mark pokes his head around the corner to announce that the pesto is killer. As the evening picks up, Carrie loses all track of what's happening over at table 4.
It's not until later, nearly closing, when Nate and Hardison are playing pool and Parker and Eliot's bouncing between the table and the door that Carrie gets the chance to think about it again. She's just about ready to close the till when she glances up from the glassware to find The Sophie smiling at her from behind the bar, brushing her silver-streaked hair back over her ear surprisingly elegantly.
"This is a lovely place you've got here," she smiles. "I'd like to settle up."
If she paid with a credit card, she could at least get a name more accurate than "The Sophie," but Hardison would probably have a fit. Besides. She's supposed to pay at the table. Maybe she's trying to snipe it before someone else does. "Nah, you've got the family discount." She's fishing. If The Sophie notices, she doesn't let on.
"Oh, that's sweet! Thank you." The reply gives her nothing, so Carrie tries the more direct approach.
"So how do you know everyone? I'm Carrie, by the way."
"I'm Sophie," she says as they shake hands, and apparently, Parker's just weird and all that, earlier, was just an inside joke. "Pleased to meet you."
"We all met on the job, some years ago. More interesting than it sounds, I promise."
"I thought they met at college?"
"The three of them were in school at the time," Sophie nods. "Our consulting firm hired them before any of them even graduated."
"Why don't they still work there?"
"It was time for all of us to move on. Though I'm glad the three of them didn't move far. They've seemed to have made a lovely little life for themselves here. I'm very happy for the three of them, that they're still so happy together."
Carrie has no idea what to say to that, but something in Sophie's tone is throwing her off track.
Or maybe it's just throwing her on.
Mark's going to be so pissed off, but it's the rules, and besides, it's not like it's him that's going to be left hanging out here if they're wrong about this.
Carrie had pulled out the jar from its hiding place underneath the till, and Susie had checked the folded up piece of paper listing all the bets. Nobody's got a prior claim. Sophie's won, fair and square, if Carrie's guess is right.
She swears that it is.
If she's not, she's going to get her ass kicked. Hell, if she's right about this, Susie could get fired for what she's about to pull.
But it's the rules, and it's too late, now. Parker's seen her coming, and she's elbowing Eliot, who looks over and- yeah, underneath the table, he's nudging Hardison with his knee and trying not to smirk.
The three of them aren't often in the same room together, but they're sitting awfully close together. Maybe it just looks that way because the rest of the place is empty, now.
Nonsense. Susie's just being ridiculous now.
"Oh, stop torturing the poor girl," Nate says loudly, and Parker snorts, collapsing in a fit of giggles. Hardison's still pretending like he's got no idea what's going on as Susie finally draws up next to the table.
"So," she manages, emboldened momentarily by the evident support. "We've had this, ah. pool, going, for a while here." She turns to Sophie. "And Carrie, the bartender, she says that you've won."
"What was the bet?" Old Nate asks.
"Yes," Hardison echoes. "Please. Do tell us about this betting pool that you've been running out of here without any of our knowledge. For the past nine years."
Okay, even Eliot's cracking up. Susie's face is burning, but it's okay. She's not going to get her ass canned over this. Maybe just teased mercilessly for the next hundred years.
"It might've been that people were curious about the, ah..." Actually saying this out loud is suddenly impossible.
Carrie, over by the bar- she hadn't even noticed her cutting the music- helps her out. "Exact nature of the relationship between our three beloved employers!"
"Oh." Parker frowns in confusion, and she doesn't even look like she's feigning it. "You mean us?"
Hardison nods. "And what did you find out?"
Sophie just reaches her hands out for the jar. Old Nate just rolls his eyes. "Sophie, were you really running a long con on them?"
"A girl's got to find her fun somehow."
"You don't con your own crew," Eliot mutters, but he's shaking his head. Another one of their weird inside jokes.
The brewpub's got an interesting reputation, even by Portland standards, but Susie's pretty sure the current owners are a lot stranger than whatever conmen might've run the joint a decade ago. For three people who'd met in college- wherever that was, whenever that was- they're still awfully close. They're generally friendly with everyone, though Parker can get a little awkward sometimes. Hardison's the least likely to dodge personal questions, but that's not the point. The three of them, they're just weird about each other. All the time.
The regulars have noticed, though it's usually only the mid-afternoon crowd that talks about it, probably because they're the ones most likely to be here before the owners come in for the night shift. It's what Artie and John are talking about right now, and they really dig into the topic once the brunette sipping white wine at the end of the bar joins their conversation. Nobody's ever seen her before, but she'll be remembered as the one who suggested the bet, but hadn't placed one.
There's a clean jar in the back room, and it's easy enough to hide under the till.
The brunette becomes just another rumor about the place, and like the pool, it's probably the kind of thing the owners don't need to know about.
They're going to need a bigger jar, if things keep going like this.
There's a stack of sequential bills shoved into the jar when Carrie opens it, but there isn't a corresponding bet in the book.
She writes the marker out- another one for Eliot and Hardison- on a napkin and slides it across to Steve. Shoves his twenty on top and wonders if anyone's ever going to figure it out.
When Susie's cleaning up table 4 after closing, there are three thousand dollars sitting at the middle of the table, barely weighted down by the jar. Splitting tips at the end of the night has never been so fun.
The next morning, nobody says anything, but Mark puts the jar where it belongs, and by the end of the week, another bet's been placed.
Hardison, Parker, Eliot- they don't hide it as much after closing time, but they don't say shit. They never let on, when the bar's in full swing.
It's easy enough to follow suit. No sense messing up a good con, after all.