John and Mike had opened the restaurant four years ago. It had taken all the savings they had, and then some. They knew what would be involved, though. They had done their time prepping salads in kitchens, washing greasy dishes, apologizing to rude customers. They knew what they would need to succeed.
They had done a good job of the thing. The décor was just right, the location was tourist-friendly, the food was pretty good. Not good enough that hipsters were lining up to Instagram it, but good all the same. Solid Italian fare. Real ingredients. Accessible. The kind of place you could come on a date, but also take your aunt out for her birthday. The servers were nothing special, but they did fine.
And for a time, it had seemed to work. There were a few regulars, dinner rushes, reservations on the weekends. They had patted themselves on the back. But lately, business had trickled to a halt. No apparent cause, but it could have been any combination of things.
By October, things were getting desperate. Even Vera, the old woman who sat in the back corner every dinnertime and looked sour, had stopped coming in. Sure, she barely tipped and didn’t add much to the ambiance, but business was business. At current revenue they would be able to run for another week, tops.
And so, when the young woman from Vancouver breezed in through the front door to inquire about wedding receptions, the pair had felt like they were about to win the lottery—if they didn’t mess it up. They tried not to convey an air of desperation while they gave her the standard information about rates, availability, capacity and the like. When she left with a promise to bring her deposit in the following day, there was an air of celebration about the place. Mike poured a couple glasses of the good scotch. There was even a bit of a dinner rush.
But the next day went by, and the one after that. No cheque arrived, and no sign of the bride. After a week had passed, John tried giving her a call, but the phone number was not in service.
“Maybe she wrote it down wrong?” he wondered aloud.
“She probably wasn’t even getting married,” Mike said scornfully. “Just seeing what it would feel like. Like those chicks that try on wedding dresses just for the hell of it.”
The pair sat in silence for a few minutes, then opted to close the restaurant early and send the staff home. Mike brought more scotch, and they skimmed through the Wikipedia entry on bankruptcy and drafted an email to their lawyer. Mike brought out the bottle.
Around 9 o’clock, they became aware of a persistent tapping noise. John went to check the kitchen, but couldn’t find anything. Then they realized it was at the door, and opened it.
A middle-aged woman stepped in and looked confusedly around at the dark, empty restaurant, and then at the half-empty bottle on the bar.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your meeting,” she said. “I thought you’d be open.”
“No, not at all,” said John, trying to speak coherently. “We closed early for an, uh, special event. If you’re looking for a table, maybe Benny’s down the street—”
“No, I’m not here for a meal,” she said. “I just wanted to bring you this.” It was a letter. “You are the owners, I suppose?”
“Yep,” said Mike dully. “That’s us.”
She left the letter and hurried back out into the street.
Mike looked at the faint handwriting on the envelope. “What’s that, another bill?”
John slit the envelope open, tossed it into the trash, and began to read the enclosed letter aloud.
Dear Mike and John,
If you are reading this letter, I must be dead.
Mike sat up a bit straighter on his stool. “What? Who’s it from?” John shook his head, and kept reading.
Not to worry, it was always going to happen, and I don’t think there’s anyone around who will particularly care.
I wanted to thank you both for four years of excellent dinners. I should apologize for not tipping better—your servers are abysmal, and we old ladies do like to save our cash. But the two of you always seemed passionate about what you do, and as an ex-restaurant owner myself, I know that it can be a tough business to survive in. I hope this small token of my admiration will help keep things afloat for a bit.
With best regards,
A Literal Angel Investor (assuming all went well at the Pearly Gates)
Mike and John stared at each other. John shook out the letter, but nothing was enclosed. Then they both dove for the trash. Inside the discarded envelope, soaked in pasta sauce, was a cheque for $20,000.