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Take A Tip From Me
by Joe Lee



    Jon Marsh entered the Italian restaurant and savored the wonderful smells. A smiling hostess asked if he was by himself.

    “Meeting a man about fifty, dark hair,” Jon said. “Probably in a suit.”

    “Your dad. Right this way.”

    The hostess stopped at a candlelit booth, and Jon Marsh III, dressed in a charcoal suit, rose and clapped Jon’s shoulder. Then he winked at the hostess, which made Jon feel silly. She announced that the server would be right out and started away.

    “How’s the interviewing going?” his dad asked as he settled into the plush leather. Jon sat across from him and watched a waitress walk by with plates of steaming pasta.

    “The daily paper here is interested in freelance work,” he said. “Enough assignments and I might be able to move here and work from home, with everything headed toward the Internet and away from print.”

    “No kidding.” His father squeezed a lemon wedge into his water. “Five years ago almost nobody drove hybrid cars. Now lots of people are, and more will five years from now. May not even be newspapers before long. And since you’re single, you can work nonstop and get all the business you can handle.”

    Jon’s brother was a corporate type like their father, but Jon was a creative nerd. The features and cartoons he wrote for the campus paper paid little and hadn’t opened the doors of the New York Times, but he’d picked up assignments at his hometown weekly and copywriting requests from a graphic designer. Jon had expected criticism from his CEO father toward his plans and was surprised at the encouragement.

    “I’m Terri,” a female voice said and brought him to the present. “I’ll be your server—Jon, right? We had a class together.”

    He looked at the waitress and felt his heart tumble. Terri Conner was a year ahead of him at school and was gorgeous, outgoing…and engaged. She hadn’t crossed his mind since last spring. Here she was, though.

    Without a ring.

    “This is my dad, also Jon Marsh,” he said. “I graduate in May and probably waited too late to interview. But like I was telling him, I may freelance.”

    “He wrote the coolest cartoons,” Terri said to his father. Jon felt his face redden and barely heard her describe the specials. He and his dad both ordered the pasta.

    “She’s cute, son.”

    Jon grinned as he watched her walk away. “Might be a good person to know in this market.”


    ***


    Jon Marsh III reached for his wallet an hour later. “Everything sounds great. And this is my treat, tip included.”

    Jon watched as his father signed the check and left his MasterCard and a five-dollar bill on the plastic tray. He excused himself to the bathroom and asked Jon to meet him at the front door.

    Jon had an idea.

    His roommate once left a five with an eight-dollar check after flirting with his waitress. He even wrote his name and number in tiny lettering on the five and said to call about having a drink. This, as Jon recalled, led to a date. He looked around to make sure Terri wasn’t nearby. Then he pulled out his own wallet. Jon, at the suggestion of his mother the other day, had cut the yard of one of her elderly neighbors. The man insisted on paying him, and Jon accepted a rumpled twenty. The old guy said not to spend it all in one place—which Jon was about to do. But it would be for a good cause.

    After all, he wrote the coolest cartoons, Terri had told his dad.


    ***


    Jon’s mother dropped in a few days later and told Jon that his father had been arrested. She asked if he and his wife Dorothy were having problems.

    “No idea, Mom. What happened?”

    “Dorothy said he left a twenty-dollar-tip for a meal that cost about that much.” Jon’s mother remained hostile toward her ex and seemed to be enjoying this. “And the fool actually wrote his name and number at the bottom of the twenty and told the waitress to call him! She had no trouble describing him to the FBI, and since he signed the receipt, he was cuffed the second he got back to St. Louis.”

    Jon looked at his shoes. Since he and his father had the same name, Terri probably had no idea he’d left the tip—and that it was his cell number on the twenty. And Terri was correct to assume his dad paid for the meal because Jon mentioned his interviewing in front of her. He was about to admit the gaffe to his mother when the rest of what she said got through.

    The FBI?

    “But why was Dad arrested for that?”

    “The twenty was counterfeit.”

    ____________________________


    Joe Lee is originally from Jackson, Mississippi, and has a background in radio, television, and journalism. He owns and manages Dogwood Press, a small but traditional publishing company based in Brandon. Dogwood Press has six titles in print and will publish Brookhaven author Mike Windham's David Earl's ABCs in June and Joe's own The Magnolia Triangle in October, 2009. Six of Joe's short stories, including "Intersection" and "The Saint and the Sinner," are available for download via Amazon Shorts. His novels include On The Record, Dead Air, and Judgment Day.

    Joe is a Starkville High School graduate and received his bachelor's degree in Communication in 1987 from Mississippi State University. He and his family live in Brandon, where they swelter during the humid summers but enjoy the Mississippi Braves being just minutes away.

    ____________________________


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    Read another of Joe Lee's stories: The Temp
    And here's another: Book Signings: Survival of the Fittest



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