When the owner of the Bully Pulpit Diner decided to stop letting servers accept tips, he figured the raise he gave them would keep them happy.
Apparently not. Or were some of his other hobbies what got poor Ben Addison killed?
Police Chief Elizabeth Friedman contends with, angry food servers, rowdy frat brothers at Sweathog Agricultural College, a batch of customers who seem to know nothing, and a thief who must have really wanted something from Ben.
One of them keeps a good secret in the small town of Logland, Illinois.
Join Elizabeth, Medical Examiner Skelly, and an offbeat group of characters who will tickle your funny bone.
EARLY OCTOBER WAS USUALLY one of the quietest months in the Bully Pulpit Diner. Students at Sweathog College were six weeks into their semester and scared they would fail at least one class. The Frisky Heifers had lost at least three football games. That shut up the loud mouths. At least during the week.
This was not a quiet October.
“What do you mean no one can tip us?” Marti Kerkoff glared at her boss, one foot tapping on the black and white tiled floor. The right side of her mouth started to turn down. “I pay my chiropractor with that money.”
Nick Hume’s five-foot-ten frame was almost rigid as he stepped closer to owner Ben Addison. “That’s my beer money.” He looked at Marti. “What the hell do you need a chiropractor for? You sit on your butt half the time.”
She stood up from the counter stool, faced Nick, and balled her fists. Marti was short, but no less fierce because of it. “I sit down sometimes because I work my ass off bringing water to other people’s customers.”
Ben stepped between the two of them, which gained his nose some of Nick’s spittle. “The Weed and Feed stopped tips last week. This is how it’s gotta be.”
Nick’s face reddened. “The potheads who eat there don’t care what they pay. You try to increase prices to,” he raised his fingers in air quotes, “pay us more so no one has to tip,” he stopped air quoting and pointed a finger at Ben’s still-damp nose, “and no one will eat here.”
“Leave him be, Nick,” Marti said.
When Nick stood back a few inches, Marti stepped between the men. Because Ben matched Marti's height of five-six, they were eye to eye. Marti glared at him. “Everyone knows you’ve been putting cracker meal in the hamburger.”
Ben reddened. “Only if you told them!”
“The gluten-free mafia said they have to use the can more,” Nick said.
A raised voice came from a nearby booth. “Hey!” Gordon Beals was an actuary with a local insurance firm. “I don’t eat gluten. What you doin’ to me, Ben?”
Ben regarded Gordon and shrugged.
Gordon, his deep voice grumbling, went back to his morning Sudoku puzzle.
The glass front door banged and the three Bully Pulpit staff turned. Just-Juice Jenson and Herbie Hiccup entered and made for the counter.
The wait staff might not have called them these names behind their backs if Herbie’s hiccups didn’t stink so much.
Just-Juice sat down and spun on the stool to stare at the now silent workers. “What’s up? You squeeze any fresh OJ yet?”
Ben used the towel he always had over his shoulder to wipe an imaginary spot from the Formica counter. “Marti’s just getting on it. Nick’ll take your order.”
Saying nothing, Marti moved to the right of the customer counter and headed for the kitchen. She walked flat-footed, her version of stomping. It let everyone within thirty feet know she was ticked.
Ben turned and headed to a booth at the far left of the counter. Unlike the other booths, its red plastic seats had half-inch wide slits through which white stuffing poked. Ben said it was his office, but half the time he checked his phone for football scores so he could decide which teams to bet on that weekend.
Nick took out an order pad and stood across from the two customers. “Early for you guys. What’ll it be?” He glanced at the pass-through window that separated the kitchen from the eating area and watched Marti mouth two of the expected words.
“Just juice. I’m on that fruit diet thing again.” He shifted his hefty frame on the stool.
“We studied all night,” Herbie said. “Two eggs over easy, and coffee.”
“Except when you slept under the library table.”
“Except for that,” Herbie agreed.
Just-Juice’s voice rose and he laughed as he pointed at the wall. “Check out that sign, Herbie. No more tipping. We gotta tell all the guys!”
Ben called from his booth. “Maybe I’ll put up signs on campus.”
Nick turned toward the kitchen without saying anything else to Just Juice and Herbie. Marti’s slam of the huge refrigerator’s door was probably heard on the street.
Yes, raising Bully Pulpit prices ten percent instead of requiring customers to leave tips seemed like a good idea, but it ended up being a blunder. A really bad one.
Not only did wait staff see no point in smiling when their backs or bunions hurt, the talk around town was that it could have been what got Ben killed.