Hospitality Rules

Lina ran her hands under the kitchen faucet, rinsing suds off her forearms before she set the cast iron skillet on the center island to dry. A pile of food-caked dishes remained by the sink, but morning was five hours off. Lina would finish them while tomorrow’s first batch of dough rose. She pulled the apron over her head and surveyed the kitchen, triumphant despite aching feet and her sweaty hair plastered to her forehead.

The modest kitchen was well used with chipped counters, grooved cutting boards, and two massive brick ovens blackened by years of operation. But it was clean, ready, and most importantly hers.

Tomorrow, tourists would stream into the Capitol for the holy week. Her small pizza joint, set in the middle of the temple district, would finally get some attention. The hungry pilgrims and devotees were the key to beating the trendy eateries and brewpubs that continually outshone her unassuming little restaurant. She and her little kitchen were ready.

At least they were, until she heard the footsteps in the front. Lina frowned. The last server locked up two hours ago and left thirty minutes after. Lina stepped up to the door only to have it open as she pressed her ear to the wood.

Lina stumbled back as a man stepped into her kitchen. He towered over her, the collar of his dark jacket pulled up around his face. Still, she blinked up at him. “You were here. You were a customer.” Lina had welcomed him in herself. Now alone, his easy smile turned her blood cold.

“Your waitress didn’t check the bathroom.” He said it with that smile. The door shut behind him and Lina wondered if she could get out into the alley fast enough. The man took another step forward, reaching into his jacket. Lina’s back hit the center counter.

“Please, the safe’s upstairs. I’ll open it for you.” Her voice squeaked.

“No need.” The man withdrew a knife from his jacket. No, Lina thought, confusion cutting momentarily through her fear, not a knife. It was a dagger. The blade looked like something from a movie, curved and carved in yellow white. “The way I figure it, this is temple enough, your holiness. Your place. ” He said.

He was insane. Lina saw it now in the man’s over-bright eyes. Some zealot drawn in by the holy week. He waived the bone dagger between them. The counter dug into her back as she leaned away. Lina groped backward, her fingers scrambling against the counter top until she found it.

When he lunged, Lina squeezed her eyes shut and swung the skillet.

A crunch and then a thud. Lina opened her eyes and looked at the long cut stinging across her forearm. The skillet was still in her hand and the bone knife had fallen at her feet, her blood staining the blade.

Lina gazed down at the man’s body and the pool of dark crimson spreading over her kitchen floor. He was dead, his skull caved by the heavy iron of the skillet.

Slowly, she moved to find her phone. It took her a long time to unlock it and dial the three numbers. Her now bloody thumb hovered over the call button.  The week was over before it had begun. The police would come and shut her down. Even temporarily, it would mean the end of her little pizza restaurant. She needed this week.

Lina took a deep breath and put the phone down. This was her restaurant, her kitchen, and as the man had said, her place. 

She looked over at the two ovens. The upcoming week would be busy, but they’d run with only one oven before, they could do it again. Lina tossed the skillet in first, then her clothes. The rest took longer, but Lina was strong and accustomed to hard work.

Heat waved over the kitchen as Lina scrubbed the floor. Those towels and apron followed the fall out of the night, shoved into the back of the oven. Lina watched them burn for a time, but morning was much closer now. She sighed and decided she might as well finish those dishes.

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