Excerpt- A Charleston Tale

Chapter One- The Meeting                

 

Brenton Windsor exited his state car and stepped right into the heat and humidity of Charleston, South Carolina. He’d moved here two months ago; knowing that it would be a lot less stressful than Washington D.C. He hadn’t considered that it would also bit of a culture shock he thought. As he walked towards the popular Broad Street eatery Thomas’ Chicken & Chips he thought of how odd it was to see a restaurant next to a small park, and across the street from The Diocese of Charleston. He stopped in front of the green three story building with a wooden plaque hanging from it that carried the name of the restaurant and the year established.  Although it was just after two the place was packed. There didn’t appear to be any free tables. As his eyes adjusted to the low lighting inside, he allowed his gaze to roam over the eatery’s interior.  He stood at the entryway beside the sign that asked customers to “wait for a server.”

Brent waited as a hostess wound her way through the tables, her hips beat in time as her heels clicked on the hardwood floor. She wore a teal off the shoulder draped tee, khaki wide legged linen slacks and a smile. Her caramel skin was emphasized by the matching tips of her short spiky haircut. And he noticed her toes peeking out of the tips of her printed pumps.

“One?” she asked. When he nodded, she crooked a finger and led him to the bar. “You can sit here ‘til a table opens up. As you can see we’re a little busy right now. Can I get you something to drink?” she said as she walked around the bar and looked for a menu to give him.

“What do you recommend?” he asked. He skimmed the menu and was shocked to discover that in spite of the name of the restaurant, Chicken & Chips, he hadn’t expected everything to be chicken.

“The lemonade is great but so is the sweet tea. Or you can get an Arnold Palmer, that’s half tea half lemonade,” she said.

“I think I’ll try the lemonade.” Brent decided.

“Today’s specials are the chicken salad club, the hotter than hell chicken tender combo, and the chicken barbecue platter; but T did his famous barbecued chicken today too so I’d recommend you get one of each.” she said with a laugh.

Brent laughed too as he tried to decide on what to order.

“Not from ‘round here huh? Where’d you find out about us, the African American visitors center?” she asked with a laugh as she placed a glass of lemonade in front of him.

“No, I’m new to Charleston,” he said while perusing the board that hung over the bar.

She wiped her hands on a towel and smiled before saying, “I’m sorry. I tend to get a kick out of first time patrons. You know this place only serves chicken dishes right? So the chips are hand cut fries, we have plain and sweet potato and you can select whole wavy cut, crinkle cut, or waffle. ”

“Ok, so give me a serious recommendation. I definitely can’t take anything hotter than hell today. It’s already hot outside. I don’t know how people stand it.”

She laughed again before saying, “You kinda get used to it after ‘while. I’d go for the chicken barbecue platter which includes your choice of two sides, a small order of fries and dessert. Chicken barbecue is grilled chopped chicken cooked with spices and hot sauce. All of the specials are good but that’ll be the perfect first taste of Thomas’,” Sky said. She smiled at him then tapped the bar and said, “A small booth just opened up. I’ll take you back and give you some time to think about it.”

He followed her and by the time he was seated he’d decided to go with her recommendation. Afterwards she introduced herself as Sky and told him to let her know if he needed anything.

He spread out the newspapers and apartment guides and leafed through them until a waitress brought his order to the table and refilled his glass of lemonade. “These are your ruffle cut chips, your peach cobbler, macaroni and cheese, fried green tomatoes, and this is your chicken barbecue sandwich fully loaded. That’s with coleslaw, a pickle and sauce. Extra sauce is right here and I brought you some extra napkins.”

His first bite of the sandwich made his eyes close. When he opened them Sky was there wearing a knowing smile. Each thing he tasted was so good he could imagine gaining at least a hundred pounds in the next three months.

“Delicious, right? T is magic with all things chicken. I bet now you wished you listened and ordered one of everything, right?”

Brent nodded and she laughed.

“So what brings you to Charleston?” Sky asked. She walked to the table and filled his glass.

“I moved for a new job plus it’s a great city,” Brent said. He stared at her hands quickly assuring himself that there were no rings on her fingers.

“I know. I’m Charleston born and bred. It’s a beautiful place,” Sky said. Her tone was full of pride as she spoke of her birthplace. Although she’d spent eight years away from the city, she loved being home.

“I’m Brent,” he said wondering whether he’d said it before.

“So Brent what brings you to Thomas’?” she asked, “Did someone recommend us?”

“Actually I’m here to check on one of my offenders, I can’t believe the owner hired him but since I have to verify that he’s actually employed here I thought that I’d enjoy a meal,” he said. “This place has been recommended to me by a few people.”

“You’re a parole and probation officer? Let me guess, Bobby Giles, right?” Sky was already shaking her head wondering how such a pretty face could be such an idiot.

“Yeah, how’d you know?” he asked.

“I can confirm for you that this is where he’s employed,” she said. Her voice took on a chilly tone and she narrowed her eyes while staring at him.

Shocked, Brent reached out and touched her wrist to keep her at the table. “I understand that you feel some sense of loyalty to Mr. Giles but do you really think you’re safe with him working here?” he asked. “After all, you must know that he’s a convicted murderer.”

“You have no idea what loyalty is about,” she said.

You don’t even know me, so how can you presume…” he began before she interrupted.

“I know that you think we shouldn’t have hired Bobby. You don’t know anything about him except what he was convicted of yet here you are standing in judgment of him,” Sky said.

“My days are filled with men pleading their innocence or talking about how the system railroaded them. If I took the time to listen to every one of their stories I’d never get out of the office,” Brent replied.

“I never said that Bobby was innocent. He did take someone’s life but you don’t know anything beyond that. You haven’t taken the time to learn that he was railroaded because the prosecutor refused to offer him a deal and the judge didn’t ensure that the jury was charged correctly, and that it took eight years for another attorney to even touch his case,” Sky said. “Word to the wise Mr. Windsor, you’re not gonna make any friends in here talking bad about Bobby Giles.” She walked away without a backward glance and entered the swinging doors to the back of the restaurant. A few minutes later a small walnut colored man exited through the doorway and made his way around the restaurant stopping by tables and speaking. Brent watched his progress until he arrived at his table and spoke.

“You the one out here talking about Bobby and pissing baby girl off?” the man asked as he sat across from Brent.

Brent looked at him then answered. “Well, sir. I was just trying to find out why you agreed to employ someone with his record. It wasn’t my intention to make her angry,” he said.

“She doesn’t tolerate folks talking about Bobby. He’s gonna always have her support,” the man said. “I’m Thomas, and this is my place. Bobby’s started working here when he was fifteen,” he finished. They fell silent for a second as Bobby came out of the kitchen and delivered two trays before he walked over to their table. Nearly six feet tall and heavily muscled Bobby Giles stood out in the confines of the restaurant.

“Mr. Windsor?” he asked as he dried his hands on a towel at his waist. “I’m Bobby Giles. Sky said you were looking for me,” he said.

“Bobby, I’m just making an initial visit to make sure that you’re still working and to introduce myself. I’ll be coming around to your apartment to check everything out as soon as I get settled,” Brent said.

“Well, it’ll be a short trip, young fella. He lives right upstairs,” Thomas said with a chuckle. “Hope you enjoyed your meal,” he said before he pulled himself out of the booth and patted Bobby on the shoulder before walking away.

“Look, I know that you have to do this but you can’t come in here upsetting people. I’m here, you just met both of my bosses and T told you where I live. Please don’t come in here talking to Sky about me,” Bobby said. He stood beside the booth while speaking to Brent, the look on his face begging him to understand the point that he was trying to get across.

“I’m sorry if I upset your girlfriend Mr. Giles, I really am. I didn’t know that the fact that you’re on parole was a secret,” Brent said. He was beginning to wish that he’d never come into this restaurant.

At that Bobby shook his head and asked, “Is there anything else you need from me today, Mr. Windsor?”

“No, like I said I’ll be coming through to check out your housing but we might have a few office visits first. Here’s my card, give me a call and we’ll set up an appointment,” Brent said. He passed him a card and asked if he could have someone bring his check.

“Sure thing, Mr. Windsor,” Bobby said before walking away.

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