"Good morning," the nurse trilled brightly. The sun streamed through the window as she parted the curtains. "It's another lovely day."
"Mornin'," he answered listlessly.
"How do you feel this morning?"
"Same as yesterday and the day before. Shit!"
"Now then, Mr. Doe, we can't have you talking like that. Besides, you're still alive and not too badly off, all things considered," she said in a semi-serious tone.
"You mean not too badly off for someone who doesn't know who he is or where he's from. I take it no one has come looking for me yet."
"Not that I know of. But cheer up ... it's only been a couple of weeks since your accident. Something ... or someone will turn up. You wait and see," she smiled.
"And if they don't?"
"I don't know. I've never had a patient like you before. There's always been somebody who knew who the patient was. This is a first for me."
"It's a first for me too, I'll bet," he mumbled.
"In the meantime, your leg is healing nicely and the stitches in your arm and head look fine. You'll be fit to travel soon. All you need is a destination," she offered idly.
"Didn't you tell me the police wanted to talk to me?"
"Yes ... do you want me to let them know you are ready? I'll have to get Doctor Leacock's OK first."
"Fine. Let's get this damn show on the road." His tone was angry.
The nurse frowned at him briefly, then walked swiftly from his room.
The policeman didn't show up until after four that afternoon. He strolled into John Doe's room and pulled out his I.D.
"I'm Detective Sergeant Polikoff, Mr. Doe. You up to answering questions?"
"Well, there won't be many answers," the bed-bound man snorted.
"Doc says you don't remember anything."
"Not a fucking thing," he spat.
"Hummphf. Take it you're not a college professor or a preacher."
"What makes you say that?"
"College professors never swear?"
"Beats me. Doubt they sound like you, though," the detective paused, looking over the man in the bed.
"No one's come lookin' for you, if that's what you're wondering."
"How the hell can that be? People don't just drop off the face of the earth and no one notices," the man said, his anger beginning to resurface.
"Yeah ... they do. Not often ... but it happens."
"Great ... lost in fuckin' space. I don't suppose I'm at the top of your list of things to do, am I?"
"Not exactly. You couldn't guess the number of missing persons files there are. I gotta admit, we spend most of our time on the kids. That's what the public expects.
"As far as you're concerned, we've got nothin' to go on so far. Found you lyin' by the road down near the river. Haven't figured out what happened to you. Hit by a car, beat up, can't tell yet. No wallet, no money, not even a receipt or a piece of paper on you. Your clothes are everyday stuff from Wal-Mart or J.C. Penney. You don't have any old scars or tattoos or anything that would give us a lead. Nope, not much to go on," he finished with a shrug.
The injured man held up his hand, indicating a wedding ring.
"Can you have someone look at this ... maybe trace it?"
"I can try," the detective said, holding his hand out as the man removed the ring from his finger. He examined it carefully.
"I don't think this is going to tell us much," he said. "No jewelers mark or inscription. I'm guessing it was just a generic ring purchased at a chain jewelry story."
"Great. So what happens now? They'll kick me out of here at some point. I can't pay the bill, I don't have any I.D., can't get a job. Don't even know what I can do beside sweep floors or dig ditches," he said, closing his eyes and allowing his head to drop back on the pillow. "What about fingerprints?"
"Nope. Nothing. So far as we can tell, you aren't a wanted person and you don't have a record. That's got to be good news, I suppose."
"You think? Maybe if I did, I'd know who the hell I was. It would at least be something. Shit ... I don't have a fuckin' clue on what to do next," he said in resignation.
"There's a couple of halfway houses nearby. A bed for the night and a couple of meals. At least until you can find some work."
"Doing what? Using what for a name? What's the point of these people fixing me up so I can wander out the door and join the homeless, living in some cardboard shack? What kind of fuckin' life is that? What's the bloody point?" he raged.
"Calm down, mister. We're circulating your picture to other police departments. We're also trying to get you some publicity ... someone might recognize you. We'll do what we can," Polikoff said in a tone suggesting he didn't really hold out much hope.
The man closed his eyes and sighed.
The man knocked on the door of Major Thomas Matthews and received a polite, "Come in please," in response. The Major was rising from his desk in the back of the Salvation Army Thrift Shop. The office was part of the Family Services section.
The door opened and the tall, forty-something man stepped in, closing it behind him. Tom Matthews surveyed him. He looked to be in his forties. An unremarkable face with narrow, prominent long nose, thin dark eyebrows, hazel eyes, square jaw, medium complexion, neatly cut hair graying at the temples, tall with a slim build. He was clean shaven, bandaged along the side of his head, and wearing clean but worn clothes.
"Good morning. I'm John Doe," the man said politely. "Detective Polikoff suggested I see you," he said, glancing about the small office.
"Yes ... Martin called me and asked me if I could help. Won't you sit down, please?"
The man sat in the wooden chair across the desk from the Major.
"I understand you've lost your memory and that you don't have any idea of who you are or where you're from."
"That's it in a nutshell, Major."
"Call me Tom, John. We're pretty informal around here."
The man nodded, wincing slightly.
"You still have some pains?"
"Yeah ... and headaches. They're gettin' better, but slowly."
"Well, I can offer you a place to stay for a few nights with breakfast and supper. I can point you in the direction of some work ... if you're up to it."
"Thanks. I need something to survive on. I can't live on the street. I wouldn't know how."
"Well, you appear to be educated, but I don't suppose you know what at, do you?"
"No clue. I'm hopin' my memory will come back over time. If it doesn't, I'm up sh ... up the creek."
"Don't give up hope, John. We're here to help." The Major pushed a piece of notepaper across the desk to the man. "Here are some people who hire for cash. Usually day jobs, but they're legal and they won't cheat you. I suggest you go see them this afternoon just to get your face in front of them."
The man nodded, again wincing slightly.
"I'll show you where you can sleep and where the bathroom is. Do you have any toiletries?"
"No ... not a thing."
"OK ... we have some. I can get you some soap, razors, toothbrush and toothpaste. The towels are in the bathroom. It gets pretty busy early in the morning, so some of the men shave and shower in the evening, just to avoid the rush. You might try that.
"Thanks. I hope I'm not here for long ... but ... thanks."
"You're welcome. Come and see me anytime if you need help," Matthews stood, extending his hand.
John Doe closed the door behind him as he exited the office and allowed his breath to escape. He now had place to sleep, to eat, and some leads for work.
He took the Major's advice. With a borrowed city map he walked to the three locations noted on the paper. Asking for the contact man, he introduced himself, explained his situation and then moved on the next place. The work was mostly menial tasks; moving boxes, cleaning toilets, sweeping floors. The duration was usually only a day or two.
Sometimes, when you least expect it, you stumble into some good luck. John Doe found that good luck on the third day of his search. One of the Major's references steered him to a Chinese restaurant nearby that was in need of a dishwasher. The pay was low, but it was something. He explained his circumstances to the owner, an Asian man with limited English. The man pointed to an older woman in the kitchen and indicated John should talk to her.
"Hi. I think the boss wants me to talk to you," he said. "I'm John Doe."
"Yeah ... I heard. Tough deal, huh?"
John shrugged. "What do I need to know?"
"Well ... first off, I'm Muriel. I kind of act as chief cook and translator for Mr. Leung. He's not a bad guy," she said, looking over at the busy owner.
"You're a cook ... in a Chinese restaurant?" he said, barely able to contain a chuckle.
"Yeah ... not what you'd call typical, huh?"
"How many days?"
"You mean for this job?"
"Long as you like. The last guy disappeared a couple of days ago. Drank himself out of job, I guess."
"What are the hours?"
She laughed. "How long can you stay? This place opens at eleven in the morning and closes at one in the morning. You get fifty bucks a day. Most people show up early afternoon, take a break before six and after eight and then finish up about two in the morning. No shortage of hours, son," she said with a smile. "It's a six day job if you can hack it. We're closed on Mondays."
"Can you show me what needs to be done?"
"Sure. There's a rubber apron, some rubber gloves and a hair net. You'll need them. Detergent's in the big jug. Wash in one sink and rinse in the other. Don't use the same water for more than twenty minutes or for more than one job. Do the glasses first, big plates second, utensils and other china third, pots and pans last. Got it?"
"Yeah. Pretty straightforward. How often does the boss pay?"
"Once a week ... Sunday night. You'll get cash, so be careful. You'll need a place to keep it safe. Where you livin'?"
"Salvation Army. Gotta find a place though. It isn't permanent."
"OK. You got any other questions?"
"Then you can get started," she smiled.
He started on Wednesday afternoon and by Friday, he was coping. It didn't require a lot of thinking or heavy lifting, just developing a method and sticking to it. Muriel nodded her approval at his work and gave him a pat on the back and a smile.
When Mr. Leung paid John on Sunday night, he counted out $250, handed it to John and smiled. Apparently, he too was happy with John's work. He had already discussed putting some money in the safe at the Salvation Army office with Major Matthews. Without identification, John couldn't open a bank account.
Monday was his day off and John spent most of it looking for a place to live. His calculations told him that earning only $300 per week he couldn't afford any more than $150 a week for rent and even then he was stretching it. He could eat for free at the restaurant, but as much as he enjoyed Chinese food, there was a limit.
He trudged through the streets within walking distance of the restaurant, but found nothing in his price range that wasn't a flop house, a crack house, or a whorehouse. Discouraged, he went back to work. It was Muriel who came up with a solution.
"No luck with finding a place, John?"
"No. Some ugly places around here. I'll have to look further out, I guess."
Muriel gave him a thoughtful look. "How much can you afford?"
"I figure I can get by on one-fifty a week. It won't leave much for food or clothes, but I need somewhere to drop."
"I got a spare room at my place. If you can behave yourself, I'll give you a look at it." She was smiling slightly when she said it.
"You're in no danger from me, Muriel," a faint smile on his lips. "Thanks for the offer."
"Yeah ... well ... you seem like a decent sort of guy. As long as you don't cause a fuss or get drunk or something like that, I'll take a chance."
"Thanks ... appreciate it," John nodded.
"Go get your stuff on your afternoon break and bring it back here. I'll take you back to my place when we're done tonight."
He did. Muriel had a car that she parked in the back alley behind the restaurant. They drove in silence through the darkened early morning streets for a few minutes, arriving outside a medium sized brownstone. It was a middle-class neighborhood that had declined somewhat over the years.
"This looks far better than some of the places I was in earlier. In fact, I get the sense that it's familiar ... the neighborhood, I mean."
"It's fine for me ... I feel safe here," Muriel mused.
As they walked up to the third floor apartment, John commented on how quiet it was, unlike the rooms he had looked at earlier. Muriel unlocked her door and stepped inside, John following her.
"This'll be your room," she said, pointing to an open door. It was a ten by ten square with a closet, a set of drawers, a small night table, and a window. It was clean and neat and the single bed was made.
"Since we both work the same hours, you might as well ride with me. A bus trip takes nearly forty-five minutes and there are damn few of them at this time of night."
He nodded. "What time do you get up in the morning?"
"Nine or so. As long as we leave here by ten-thirty, we're OK. Lunch crowd doesn't show up until eleven thirty."
And so it began. Muriel Bartlett, widow, age 61, occupation cook, and John Doe, aged approximately early forties, occupation dishwasher. As the days progressed and Muriel and John got to know each other better, they established a routine for themselves in the small apartment. John would hand Muriel $150 each Sunday night for room and board. Muriel seemed reluctant to take it. She bought all the groceries and household supplies.
It wasn't long before they began to talk about John's circumstances. Muriel was a good listener. She suggested that one way to help was to ask him about the things he liked and didn't like. She explained it was a way to help him stimulate his memory.
John was able to produce quick answers to her quick questions. He liked Chinese food. He disliked Thai food. He liked history books. He disliked science fiction. He liked Mel Brooks. He disliked Woody Allen. And so on. They were beginning to build an inventory of information about John Doe.
"I know I'm learning some things about myself, Muriel. And the game is a bit of fun. I wish that it would stimulate something more dramatic, though."
"It's early yet, John. Give it some time."
"I'm very grateful to you, you know," he said with a peaceful smile. "You've done so much for me. I don't know how I can repay you."
"Just get better, John. That will make everything worthwhile." She had extended her arms and was holding his hands as she spoke.
"Someone out there is looking for you, I'm sure."
"Why do you say that?"
"The ring ... it's a wedding ring. Some woman ... some family ... is looking for you," she said with certainty.
"There's no inscription on it ... not even initials or a date. No clue at all."
"Don't give up, John. Never give up."
While John lived with Muriel, she taught him to cook. In fact, he was now helping her in the restaurant when he had the time. She was a patient teacher and John was a quick learner. Mr. Leung expressed his satisfaction on how well the kitchen was running at the Bamboo Terrace. That admiration didn't extend to his wages. It was $300 a week and that was all.
Muriel opened up to John and told him about her life. She had married young. Ralph Bartlett had met her when she was working at a small diner in the south side and he was smitten with her. He began coming in every day she was there just for coffee, a donut, and a chat. Ralph was a small businessman, running a local delivery service with two medium sized trucks. He made a decent living and was thinking of buying a small house in the suburbs.
They began to date, fell in love, and were married. Muriel was nineteen and Ralph was twenty-seven. They had two children; a boy, Ralph Jr. and a girl, Maureen. Muriel's parents didn't approve of Ralph or the marriage and virtually cut her out of their life, even when the grandchildren came along. They felt Muriel had married "beneath her." Ralph's parents were the opposite. Kind and generous, they welcomed Muriel and accepted her as a daughter. And of course, they spoiled the grandchildren.
The children grew and finished school, Ralph Jr. going off to college upstate while Maureen went to a commercial school to learn administrative skills. Both married, but both were now living far from Muriel and they didn't see each other often. Muriel used her two week vacation visiting her children and grandchildren, spending a week with each. It was her big event of the year.
Ralph was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease, when he was only 55, passing away four years later. Muriel was 51 when he died. She sold her home and put the money in mutual funds and went out looking for a job. When her neighbor, Mr. Leung, needed a cook, she admitted she didn't have much experience but would be happy to learn. She did and had been at the Bamboo Terrace ever since.
When John had been there for a month, Muriel reduced the rent to $100 per week. She said he earned the discount for helping around the apartment and restaurant, cooking most of their meals. He argued with her briefly, but she was adamant and he acquiesced. He admitted to her that he was becoming comfortable living with her, and felt less and less pressure to find something on his own.
"Why did you decide to become a cook?" he asked out of the blue one day.
"Something to do. Something to fill the time. Time I had planned to spend with Ralph. The kids are grown and gone. I have enough money to last me. I don't have to work, but I didn't have anything else that I wanted to do ... so ... here I am," she grinned.
He told Muriel about his dreams ... the ones he could remember.
"Different women. None of them with distinct faces. There doesn't seem to be any pattern or point to the dreams. Just images. I wonder what it means?"
Muriel shrugged. "I have dreams like that. Dreams about Ralph ... about how it felt to have a man in my bed. Just repressed memories, I suppose. What do these women do in your dreams?"
"I'd rather not say," he snorted. "Let's just assume I was sexually active in my former life."
Muriel looked at him and smiled. "That ring says you had someone ... someone to share your bed with."
John nodded. "I wonder who?"
John displayed his pleasure when cooking, often humming or whistling while he prepared a new dish. When asked, he told Muriel it was stimulating, creative and very satisfying. The menu at the Bamboo Terrace was a rigidly adhered-to formula. At the apartment, however, he could experiment and Muriel could quickly compliment him on his successes, or suggest remedies for the not-so successful. Over the next months, John took over cooking all the meals.
He also became the designated shopper, committed to picking his own ingredients and establishing the freshness of each item. They were going a little further afield to find things, visiting shops he had learned about in his local explorations. Muriel would accompany him as the driver while John made notes.
John had lived with Muriel for six months by Valentines Day. He never complained about the tedious work he did at the restaurant. Mr. Leung continued to display his satisfaction with the man, but still paid him the same amount. He expressed surprise and dismay, however, when he learned of John's desire to find a job as a cook. Muriel had warned the owner that John was capable of more than just dishwashing.
John had been stopping in at the Salvation Army once a month, donating some money each time in thanks for the assistance Major Matthews had given him. He kept Tom apprised of his progress and while he had not recovered anything significant of his memory, he appeared to be at peace with himself. Tom congratulated him and thanked him for his generosity. He knew John worked long hours and earned little at his present job.
When John donated a hundred dollars at Easter, Tom expressed shock.
"John, you can't afford this, it's too much!"
"No ... I can't afford not to give it. I owe you a lot. More importantly, it's a bribe," he smiled.
"I need you to help me find a replacement for me."
"Are you leaving us?"
"No ... not exactly. There are a lot of jobs out there for cooks and I'd like to try my hand. Muriel has taught me a lot and I've learned a lot as well. I think I can do it. I know what it's like to run a restaurant kitchen from working with her and I'd like to try it on my own. I don't want to leave her in the lurch, so I need to find my replacement and make sure he or she will do a good job."
"John ... guys like you don't come down the road that often around here. It's going to be a bit of a challenge to find your replacement," he said, resigned. "However, I can understand your desire to do better. How does Muriel feel about this?"
"Well, she's not thrilled, but she knew all along it wasn't going to be permanent. She's a fine lady and I wouldn't hurt her for the world. I won't leave until I've found someone to take my place.
"I've been thinking a mentally handicapped person with a mild disability might be ideal for the job. It's simple to teach and they are usually anxious to find meaningful employment. I've been looking up the handicap associations. I think two or three people would be needed to do that job with the hours being what they are."
"That's a fine idea. I hope it works. I know one organization locally that would be interested, I'm sure."
"It'll be easy to test. I'll just bring one in at a time and see how it goes. It's worth a try."
"It certainly is and I can guarantee you will get great cooperation from the people who are trying to place partially handicapped people."
The Wildwood Outreach Association dealt with adults of limited mental capacity. Tom, John, and Muriel arranged to meet with them one morning and discuss the project. As Tom Matthews had predicted, they were very supportive. John had to temper their enthusiasm with the reality of the situation. Long, late hours and a need to follow the rules. It would be Wildwood's responsibility to provide the transportation. While the counselors nodded their agreement, John cautioned them again that it would be more difficult than they thought.
John and Muriel screened the candidates before taking them to the restaurant. The eagerness of the men and women was encouraging, but the need for them to understand the procedures and not vary from them was the first thing they worked on. Mr. Leung looked on with a suspicious eye. He was quick to tell Muriel how unhappy he would be to lose John. He also voiced his doubts that these recruits could do the job without some disaster befalling him.
It took time. John pointed out the promotional benefits of hiring these people and giving them real jobs for real pay. Apparently, the message was not lost on Mr. Leung. He verbally acknowledged the effort that John and Muriel gave, and he agreed to cover the full training costs. Each Sunday evening, the money was given to the Wildwood driver for safekeeping.
A month after they began, Muriel voiced her satisfaction that two of the new recruits could do the job. They weren't as quick or efficient as John, but then no one previously was, either. They were, however, steady, reliable, happy to be there, and proud of their work. One more candidate and John could begin to look for that next job.
Shortly after their initial success, Mr. Leung approached Muriel and asked for a meeting with her and John. Mr. Leung was considering buying a tavern that had been closed for some time. He wanted to reopen it, but he needed food service to make it viable. The kitchen had been allowed to deteriorate by the previous owners. He asked Muriel and John to survey the kitchen and give him an opinion on what it would take to revive the operation.
It was Mr. Leung's idea that John could be the head cook at the Tavern and Mr. Leung would hire a bartender-manager and serving staff. John would hire his assistant if he accepted the job. The tavern would open at eleven am and close at midnight. Food service would be cut off at nine pm except for pre-prepared snacks. John said he would consider it, depending on what he thought of the kitchen ... and the salary.
Their first look at the kitchen was dismaying. Grease and grime coated every surface. The only functional piece of equipment was the glass washer behind the bar, and it needed some attention as well. The wall and floor were a mess and any idea that the city would issue a food permit for this kitchen was a pipe dream. It needed a massive cleaning and repainting. The plateware, glasses, utensils and cookware were worn, but still serviceable.
"What is needed for this kitchen?" Mr. Leung asked in his fractured English.
"A nuclear device," John snapped, shaking his head at the mess.
Mr. Leung looked worried. He turned expectantly to Muriel and John.
"We'll have to pull every piece of equipment out of this place that isn't nailed down and steam clean it. The floors, ceiling and the walls the same. We can't move the ovens, so that's going to be manual labor. The same with the sinks. At least everything is stainless steel. That's a help," John concluded.
"Expensive?" Mr. Leung looked fearfully at John.
"Hmmm ... maybe not. Just elbow grease and time for the most part. You'll need a few gallons of epoxy paint and a powerful steam cleaner."
"Who will do this?" the old man asked.
John shrugged and grinned. "Not me. I've already got a job, remember?"
Muriel snorted and covered her mouth to hide her smile. Her eyes gave her away.
"I get people and paint. You make sure it done right?"
"Alright. I'll do that. Just make sure you don't try any shortcuts or the city will have you doing it all over again just for the fun of it," John warned.
"Would they?" Muriel asked in surprise.
"I don't know. But I'm not going to let him think he can get away with a half-baked job. It may be me working in that kitchen and I don't intend to compete with cockroaches and silverfish."
Mr. Leung apparently had quite a few relatives who owed him favors. A couple of them were Muriel's helpers in her kitchen. A hoard of them descended on the Tavern the next Sunday with paint, a rented industrial steam cleaner and a boatload of cleaning supplies.
John grinned, turning to Muriel. "It's going to be the Keystone Cops around here. All I can do is give them instructions about what to do and how well to do it."
Happily, most of the volunteers spoke English and he was able to communicate with them. He broke them into teams and moved the kitchen equipment out into the back parking area of the tavern. The steam cleaning would be done there and the finished items would be brought into the tavern and stored in the restaurant area until the kitchen painting was complete.
The nasty work of cleaning the ovens and sinks had to be done in place and by hand — with the exception of the oven racks. It was hard, unpleasant work, but spelling each other off every few minutes, six people got the job done in less than a day and John complimented their efforts. The ovens were spotless despite their age, and the sinks and drains would easily pass inspection.
Three days later, the epoxy paint had dried and they were ready to put everything back into place and prepare the kitchen for work. John had given it a thorough going-over and was satisfied that no inspector would reject this operation. They had installed a new screen door on the exit to the alleyway and had put a closer on the doors to the cooler and pantry. And, important for a restaurant, they engaged a pest-control firm to monitor the premises.
Every square foot was washable and secure. The fans had been de-greased and cleaned and now worked properly. It would be a monthly job once the tavern re-opened. Even the transom window over the rear door had been cleaned and the woodwork repainted. They were ready for the city inspector on Friday.
Mr. Leung came by after John asked Muriel to let him know the kitchen was finished. As he surveyed the refurbished area, he looked surprised, but pleased. He thanked John and Muriel for their efforts. While John and the crew had been busy in the back, Mr. Leung had been supervising the clean-up in the front.
The physical work was now done, but there were still people to hire. Which brought up the subject; who was going to be the cook? The owner had made no offer to John at this point.
"I hope he doesn't think I'm going to work for $300 a week," John cracked.
"Have you looked at what the going rate for a head cook is in this town, John?"
"No ... not yet. Why ... is it low?"
"Far from it. There aren't enough to go around. You can get fifty thousand if you're even half-way decent."
"Wow ... I didn't know. Thanks for the heads up. I'll have to figure out how to work this with the old man. Maybe give him an introductory offer at forty and then a couple of raises to fifty if he's satisfied. Otherwise, I'll start lookin' elsewhere. Just the same, I hate to see all this work go to waste."
"All you can do is try," Muriel shrugged.
He did try and Mr. Leung reluctantly agreed. He was no spendthrift, but he recognized the effort John had put in at his restaurant and the leadership in getting the tavern in good operating condition. A six month trial wouldn't break him. John set about hiring his assistant while the old man looked for a manager and serving staff. It took a couple of weeks, but it got done and the tavern reopened at eleven on a Monday morning.
It worked well. The tavern business didn't return immediately, but when word got around about John's interesting and tasty specials, the lunch patronage improved markedly. The menu was simple, but every item was well prepared and presented. The bar stocked the most popular drafts, wines and spirits and the prices were reasonable. They had to be. This part of town wasn't the businessman's first choice for lunch.
As the reputation for the tavern grew, John expressed a desire to make another change. The neon sign over the front door was a shabby old one-word oval simply pronouncing Tavern. They needed a name and John decided to hold a contest. Free lunch or dinner for two for the person who came up with a new name for the old saloon-like place.
John watched as the new one-word sign was raised into place. Amnesia! The front on the new menus sported the slogan: Come in and forget your troubles. He had declared himself winner of the contest. The back cover had a one paragraph explanation of the name, signed by John Doe.
Mr. Leung had stood still for the new name, sign and menus. John admitted he was puzzled, but they had experienced two months of solid growth and profit under the old name and the old man made it known he was satisfied with that.
"The old guy keeps surprising me. I'm never sure what he's thinking." he said to Carl, the new bartender-manager.
In any event, after another month of solid growth in sales, Mr. Leung never said a word about it to John.
When John sat back one Sunday morning, sipping his coffee with Muriel, he voiced his feelings to the older woman.
"I don't know about my other life, Muriel, but it's hard to imagine it would have been any more satisfying than this. You and Mr. Leung and Tom Matthews have made an amazing difference to my new life in just a few months. I don't seem to care much about my former life any more. I guess that's not a good sign, but I just can't work myself up to worry about it like I used to," he confessed.
Muriel smiled. "It was pretty lonely in this apartment until you came along, John. I miss you at the restaurant too, you know."
He nodded his acknowledgement. "How are my young friends doing in the dishwashing department?"
"Fine. You guessed right again. They learn their jobs and don't forget. They show up on time and if one of them gets sick, another fills in. I think we've got about six of them trained now. Wildwood Outreach is approaching other restaurants and using Bamboo Terrace as a model for the program. You really started something for them. I think they're about ready to elect you president," she laughed.
"Well, it's not an original idea, you know. Lots of small firms have used handicapped people to help out on menial tasks that most adults don't want to do."
"I suppose, but you solved a big problem for Mr. Leung. Until you came along, we were featuring the dishwasher d'jour. You changed all that. I think that's why he didn't put up a fuss over renaming the bar and the sign."
John shrugged. "Muriel ... I was wondering ... about us ... my living here. You've been very kind to take me in, but I'm worried I've overstayed my welcome. I'm cramping your social life. It would be a poor way to repay you for your generosity," he said looking steadily at her.
"I wondered if that's what this was about. All I can say is that having you here is good for me, John. I don't think we cramp each other's style or get in each other's way. You and I talk a lot and that's a good thing for both of us. No ... I'm not anxious to see you go. If you do, make sure it's because it's what you want to do." She was smiling as a couple of tears trickled down her cheeks.
John rose and leaned over the table, kissing her gently on each tear, smiling back at her.
"If you're happy, I'm happy." It was the only time the subject came up.