Brand New MeBy: Meg Benjamin
As usual, to my family, Bill, Josh and Molly, and Ben, as well as my terrific, supportive editor, Lindsey Faber. And to the legendary Texas singer/songwriter Steve Earle, whose wonderful song “Tom Ames’ Prayer” is the source of my hero’s name.
Tom Ames could never figure out the attraction of the Dew Drop Inn. It was dark. It was dirty. The beer on tap tasted like dishwater and the bottled stuff was overpriced. The barmaids looked like they ought to be performing community service, and they acted like they were.
Tom took a sip of his draft, holding back his grimace with an effort. Ingstrom, the owner, was watching him from the bar. No doubt he wondered why the owner of the Faro Tavern was in his place at five on a weekday. Maybe he thought Tom was trying to steal his trade secrets. Tom wondered briefly what trade secrets Ingstrom could lay claim to, besides the flattest beer he’d ever tasted.
The Faro, his bar, had this place beat by a mile. The draft beer was cold, and the bottled stuff included all the regulars plus some microbrews. The barmaids, if not exactly Hollywood material, were still better looking and better tempered than the two women working the bar at the Dew Drop. Now if Tom could only convince the citizens of Konigsburg, Texas, of those facts, maybe he could start doing the kind of business he wanted to do.
Not that the Faro was doing badly, particularly on the weekends when they had music in the beer garden outside. Tom was more than satisfied with the Faro’s take. But the customers were still mostly tourists, out-of-towners. They were drawing young professionals from Austin and the weekend music fans from San Antonio. He wished he had more Konigsburgers drinking in the evening. Sooner or later the tourists always went home. The Konigsburgers stuck around.
Of course, the Konigsburgers all remembered what the Faro had been like before Tom took over. The weekly fights. The scary customers who were more interested in doing some black market deals in the back than sipping cold beer out front. And they all remembered good ol’ Kip Berenger, former owner and all-around shady character, now long gone.
Tom surveyed the customers at the Dew Drop, most of whom were locals. Of course, none of the tourists would put up with the place. But the Dew Drop had longevity. It had been around a lot longer than the Faro, or at least the Faro in its most recent incarnation. God only knew who the customers had been when the Faro had been a barbeque joint back in the eighties. Sometimes he thought the place still had a lingering mesquite smoke musk from that period. However, what little repute the place might have had once had gone missing when Berenger had taken over.
Arthur Craven, the head of the Konigsburg Merchants Association, sat at a table three or four feet from Tom. He’d joined the association after he bought the Faro, but he’d never been asked to do much. Maybe that was because Craven always stopped off at the Dew Drop on his way home from work. And Ingstrom, the Dew Drop’s owner, had been a member of the association longer than Tom had.
The mayor, Horace Rankin, was sitting with his wife in a booth at the side. Rankin was a vet in his normal life, but these days he spent most of his time running the town. The previous mayor was under indictment for fraud, and Horace had a lot of mopping up to do. Drinking a beer at the Dew Drop might make that more palatable, but given the quality of the beer, Tom doubted it. He had a feeling Horace might appreciate some of the IPAs he was getting from Colorado.
The next booth held the Toleffsons, or two of them anyway. Tom squinted in the gloom, trying to identify which of the Toleffson brothers was sitting there tonight, given that they were all the same size—massive—and all had the same dark hair and eyes. He thought the one with his back to him was the County Attorney, Peter, and the other one was maybe the accountant, Lars. Lars Toleffson actually did Tom’s books, and he was damn good at it. But in the darkness of the Dew Drop, it was hard to tell who was who.
The third man at the table was the dentist, Steve Kleinschmidt, the one everybody called Wonder, although Tom could never figure out why. He was smirking, as usual. Tom thought it was a miracle nobody had pushed some of Wonder’s teeth down his throat by now, given the man’s tendency to lethal sarcasm. Maybe that was why he’d gone into the dental business in the first place.
If Tom could only come up with some way to entice the Toleffsons to the Faro, he’d probably be able to siphon off at least some of the Dew Drop’s business. Besides the County Attorney and the accountant, another Toleffson was Rankin’s partner in the veterinary business and the fourth was the chief of police. Anywhere the Toleffsons congregated would be popular with a significant number of the citizens of Konigsburg. If he could build it, they would come.