Clara's Country Kitchenbyeclare©
This is a copyrighted original work of fiction. All rights reserved.
All characters featured herein are at least eighteen years of age, even if not expressly stated. Any resemblance between actual persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Song lyrics contained herein remain the original artist's property.
The drive back from Owen Sound is tough at the best of times. In February, during a snowstorm it can be downright brutal.
I had to go up there to update some software. I did it, but then I needed to get back to Toronto. I had to be back the next day.
It didn't quite work out that way.
It was a blizzard. As bad as it gets. Ten inches had already fallen on top of whatever had accumulated during the winter. The windshield wipers didn't help much. The snow just kept on piling up. Visibility was poor. The slippery drive was very slow.
But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood
The Animals played through the car radio. There was nowhere to stop.
I needed to eat and I needed to find a place to park my sorry ass for the night. I'd only had coffee and an apple fritter from Tim Horton's that morning. It was four o'clock now. With this snow there was no way I was going to make it back to T.O. that night. Not a chance.
I knew there was a motel just outside of Carlisle. Hopefully they'd have a room. But I had to eat first.
But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood
Clara's Country Kitchen. I could barely make out the red neon sign "Open". Perfect. I stopped on the slippery highway then backed up the thirty feet to the driveway. I'd driven past Clara's before, but never stopped there. It's in the middle of nowhere. I'd forgotten that it was even there.
Clara's was a fairly large building with just a little restaurant. There was certainly enough parking to qualify the place as a truck stop. Shaking snow off myself as I entered, my first impression was 'wow' -- white table cloths, silverware. Expensive. It didn't matter I needed to eat.
I made my way to a small table and sat down. A pretty young lady with short bright orange hair and a nametag "Hannah" approached with a menu and a smile on her face.
"It the kitchen open?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied with a smile.
I was the only guest. Perhaps I caught them in between shift changes. They weren't quite caught up for dinner. Or so it seemed. Plus, with the blizzard happening, I guess they wondered if they should be open at all. Except for my empty belly screaming at me, I wondered that too.
"Can I get you something to drink?" she asked.
"I warm cup of tea would be lovely," I answered, "with just a little milk." She smiled and went off to the kitchen.
The menu was simple, yet a little odd and a bit pretentious for a truck-stop. Nowhere on the menu were the usual burgers and fries, club-house sandwiches, all-day breakfasts with three eggs any style. Not the usual trash at all. In fact I didn't see French fries anywhere on the menu. Instead there was pork schnitzel with rosti potatoes, grilled strip loin steak with wild mushrooms, pan fried rainbow trout with sautéed mini-potatoes or wild rice, a chicken curry with spiced lentils and saffron rice, veal scaloppini with an orange pistachio cream sauce and sautéed potatoes. My mind was reeling. My stomach was screaming. On a chalkboard written with nice cursive writing was Soup of the Day Mulligatawny and Today's Special Clara's Meatloaf with Wilde Mushroom Gravy and Mashed Potato, Fresh Vegetables.
I went for today's special. I hoped it was today's and not yesterday's. I figured that would be the quickest.
I'd never had meatloaf, wild mushroom gravy and smashed potatoes (with horseradish and garlic) and fresh green beans on the side - so...frikkin' good...in my entire life! Simply awesome. Even my dear mother couldn't cook that well. I also had a small Boston lettuce salad with thinly sliced shallot and a tangy vinaigrette dressing. Absolutely outstanding!
The only thing that spoiled the meal was the occasional glance I would make to watch the weather outside. The blizzard was not letting up. I hadn't seen or heard a snowplow go by.
As I finished the meal, a middle aged woman with "Clara" on her nametag came sauntering over. "Was everything okay?" she asked with a little trepidation.
"Absolutely amazing," I answered finishing off my tea.
"Were you planning to go back out in the snow?" This time she had a genuine look of concern on her face.
"I've got to get to the motel just outside of Carlisle, if they have room. Otherwise, it looks like I'm stuck."
We both looked outside. In the time that I was at the restaurant it had easily piled up four inches of snow on my car. And that was over top the ten that had already fallen. It was looking very dubious if I could make it to the motel at all.
"Maybe I can sleep on your floor?" I asked, regretting what the possible answer may be.
"You could," she answered, "but you would probably be more comfortable in a bed."
Clara was Filipino? Thai? Indonesian? She had a Germanic accent though. Austrian? Who knows? Plus the name Clara hardly seemed Oriental. She was maybe about fifty? Short, a little stout, huge knockers though. Clara wasn't gorgeous pretty, but certainly not ugly. She had a soft cuddly feline aura to her. She wore her black hair in a bun, had brown eyes that sparkled with intelligence and full lips that seemingly betrayed every emotion. She was dressed in a plain white shirt with collar, an embroidered gold vest, plain black pants and black shoes with just a little hint of a heel.
Her image, her voice and the reality of the situation -- none of it synched up. She seemed a bit out of place, too exotic and a bit of an enigma for just outside of no-where's-ville Ontario. She and the establishment were all very strange, yet somehow, very alluring.
Puzzled, I asked, "Do you have rooms that you rent out?" I didn't see a check-in counter or a sign to that effect. Clara's Country Kitchen doesn't even imply bed and breakfast. I didn't want to impose on her.
"We have four," she said as she turned and walked away from me, "and they're all empty tonight."
I looked around at the place. Like the food everything was first rate, neat and tidy. I decided that I'd stay the night. Hopefully the snow will let up enough and the roads get plowed so that I could make it to my nephew's twenty first birthday luncheon tomorrow.
"How about a drink? she asked as she returned with two brandy snifters and a bottle in the other hand, "it doesn't look like you're going anywhere. Mind if I sit down?"
"Please do." I held out my hand as I tried to stand-up to my feet, "I'm Mike Webb." She put the bottle on the table and shook my hand.
"Pleased to meet you Michael," she said calmly, "I'm Clara."
"And I'm so pleased, and clearly very lucky to have come here and to have met you. Thank you so much for your offer to let me stay the night. And I have to tell you this Clara. That was the best damn meatloaf I ever had in my life. And I am a big fan of meatloaf. That dinner wasn't just a nice dinner, it was artistry. I'm totally blown away by your cooking and the presentation and everything."
She smiled at me, "Interesting choice of words, but thank you. It's certainly nice to be reassured that my work is appreciated."
"Would you care for some dessert? We have homemade ice cream. Ripple."
I glanced outside at the snow blowing at an angle. "No, nothing more to eat. Thank you so much for offering."
"Brandy?" she asked.
"Only if I'm buying," I answered with a smile.
Her eyes twinkled as she poured two generous snifters. Hannah came by to clear off the table. I thanked Hannah too. I think Clara caught me checking out Hannah's cute little body. I could feel myself blush. Clara handed me one of the snifters and stared in my eye. "Cheers," she said.
"Cheers," hoping my blush was receding.
"Tell me about yourself Michael," she asked sipping her brandy. "What brings you by Clara's on a Wednesday night in February?" Was she genuinely interested, just being nosy, or just making small talk?
"I'm an IT guy that looks after some of the coast guard and port authority's data and communication systems. One of the broadcast stations is in Owen Sound."
"Sounds very sophisticated."
"It's not really." I wondered where she was going with this.
"Do you come by here often?" she asked with a bit of a suspicious look on her face.
"Half a dozen, maybe seven or eight times a year."
"Have you stopped here before?"
"No, but I sure will next time. I had no idea the food was so good." I felt on firmer ground now.
I explained to her that I normally drive to Owen Sound and back to my apartment in Toronto in one long day. Usually I don't get back home until well after midnight. Today I left early because of the snow.
"Are you married, got kids?" she asked. Oh boy.
"Separated. Two girls, both at university, but they still come back home to their mom." What is this an inquisition? I sipped my brandy and studied Clara for a moment.
"I'm sorry to hear you are separated" she said, but her eyes didn't match the words.
"I'm not," I answered, "not anymore. Are you married Clara?" Right back at her.
Clara blushed a little at my intrusion into her private life but answered in a steady tone, "No, I never married." She just looked me straight in the eye.
Hoping to steer the conversation away I asked, "I didn't see a sign for rooms, have I just missed it all this time?"
"No, we don't advertize, there's no need to."
"So it's not like a legal business?" as soon as I said it, I wished I hadn't.
Clara stared at me for my affront for a moment, then said carefully, "Clara's Country Kitchen is a legitimate business, we file taxes and I pay my employees decent wages with all the appropriate deductions. It's just that our guests rooms, and there are only four, which are modest, comfortable and each with its own private bathroom are generally booked well in advance. There's no need to advertize. Tonight is a rare exception. The blizzard has kept everyone with any sense, off the road."
Pow. Nice little slab in the neck. Trying to recover I smiled at Clara and said, "I guess it's just my good fortune then that I stumbled across your fine establishment. In spite of my lack of good sense." She smiled and excused herself from the table for a moment, then walked into the kitchen.
As I sipped my brandy I realized that I should have known better. I didn't have an overnight bag, no clean underwear, no toothbrush, nothing. I know to have the bare necessities in my carry-on bag when I travel by air, just in case. How could I be so stupid and not keep something permanently packed in the car for moments just like this?
She smiled at me as she walked back to my table, picking up the bottle as she sat down again, "would you care for another brandy Michael?"
"As long as I'm paying you can keep pouring Clara." She broke out into a wide grin as she poured two large snifters.
She glanced to the floor next to me, "Is that your overnight bag?"
"No, it's my laptop. I don't have an overnight bag."
Without skipping a beat she said, "Not to worry, we'll get you all sorted out."
"Thank you. How much are the rooms?" I asked, I thought innocently.
Clara paused and studied me for a moment while holding her snifter in her hand. In a very measured tone she answered, "Normally they are quite expensive, but you aren't a regular guest and this isn't a normal circumstance. I'll charge you much less."
"No Clara I'll pay the regular rate."
She paused for a moment contemplating her words, "The rate usually includes dinner, breakfast, the room and a variety of other services."
With a hand I dismissed what she was saying, "I'll take it all and have, I'm certain, an excellent breakfast in the morning. I'll pay the full rate Clara. How much is it?" So, what? I just agreed to internet service, cable TV, maybe porno films. I didn't care. I was grateful do be at Clara's and not freezing or dead outside.
"With dinner and breakfast, the room and everything else, it usually works out to anywhere from six to eight hundred dollars. Taxes included."
What? I saw where this was going.
"Per night?" I was glaring at her incredulously.
"Yes. Per person, per night."
"How about if I just sleep on the floor Clara?" It was either that or I'd just pay my bill and get out in spite of the blizzard.
"We don't have to charge you the full rate Michael. I'm sorry if I've startled you. You did ask. You insisted."
I could feel my face flushed with anger. Anger for putting myself in a position where I could be so easily taken advantage of. She was right about sensible people being off the road tonight. I took a deep breath.
"How can you justify eight hundred dollars per night, for a room in the middle of nowhere? Yes, the food is great, but eight hundred bucks appears to be a little steep." As soon as I said that I recalled that she said the rooms are generally full and booked in advance. That was obviously bullshit. It's eight hundred dollars when you're the only guy stuck in the road. What is this place, Bate's Motel? I could envision Clara coming at me with a kitchen knife as I stood behind a dingy shower curtain. Vrreeek vrreeek vrreeek.
As I stared at her in disbelief and clearly still angered I realized that not a single car had come by. It was dark outside and the snow was squalling.
"Michael," she said in a very low voice while staring me in the eyes, "I'm in the hospitality business. I'm not here to take advantage of you and I will not." She paused to gauge my reaction. I think I may have softened a little. She continued, "We offer an old world style accommodation. Good food, comfort and rest for our guests. All of my clientele, with the rarest of exceptions, are recommended before they set foot in one of the rooms. The restaurant of course is open to everyone."
Bingo. It's a frikkin' whorehouse. "What exactly does old world style mean?" I asked nonchalantly. Clearly not free cable and internet.
Clara had an eyebrow lifted and a bit of a smirk to her as she answered, "For millennia, across virtually every culture, travelers, usually men, could find an inn to rest, to replenish themselves and be comforted. We simply carry on the old world traditions."
I wondered what old world she was referring to, Asian or German. "So you have a little brothel thing happening here?" I asked with a bit of apprehension, hoping to break the ice.
With a steely eye on me, she answered, "No. We most certainly do not. That would be quite vulgar and illegal."
I didn't answer her. I didn't know what to say. What was she on about then?
"Our guests are our friends. Yes they pay for room and board. We know how to comfort our friends. There are no girls on display. This is not a chicken ranch. There is not a menu of services offered."
I sipped my brandy and put the glass down. "How do you know how to comfort your new friends then?"
She broke out into a wide grin, her brown eyes were sparkling. "We talk to them." She stood up and pulled at my elbow. "Come, let me show you around." With brandy snifters in our hands we walked off towards the kitchen.
I had to admit, everything I saw was quite nice. Clean. Understated, yet elegant. I did the math in my head. If what she was saying was true four rooms times eight bills per room, that could work out to over a mil, just on the 'comfort'. Plus, she had the restaurant.
The kitchen was nice, clean. All stainless steel. There was a young man in it, perhaps in his mid-twenties, peeling potatoes.
"Michael," this is David, tonight's chef. I held out my hand to him. He cleaned off one hand on a towel and reached for mine standing up.
"The meatloaf was outstanding."
"Thank you Sir." he said with a broad grin.
She led me out through another door and into a hallway. We climbed a narrow set of carpeted stairs. I noticed there were sprinklers, Exit lights. This really was a little business. She opened the door to a bedroom. "This will be your room tonight." It was smallish, I think a double bed, nicely decorated, blue, with maybe a little too much feminine touch. But okay. "The bathroom is through here." Nice, clean, bright. Vanity, toilet and a sturdy shower unit. Fluffy towels. She took an obvious glance at my ass. "I'll have a new pack of underwear and a t-shirt for you for the morning together with a toothbrush, toothpaste and comb. There's shampoo and soap in the shower. I'll have slippers and a housecoat for you later tonight. Is there anything else you will need?"
"No. no. Clara, this is great. Do I have to go to bed now?"
"Don't be silly Michael. Although you can if you wish. The restaurant doesn't close until nine, but I really don't expect anyone else to come tonight. Not with this weather. Come on back downstairs.
She led me to what appeared to be a living room that had a fire roaring in the fireplace. It was through a door off the dining room. I'd not noticed it before. Hannah was in the room, with that cute little body, ironing white napkins. I wondered if she was going to play into the whole comfort thing. Actually, I was hoping she was going to play a central role. She was a hot little thing.
"Have a seat Michael," Clara motioned me to a leather couch in front of the fire, saying, "see we don't bite." Hannah burst out laughing. Clara swung around to gaze at Hannah then said to me in a manner that was clearly directed at Hannah, "Well maybe she does." Hannah burst out laughing again.
I didn't get it. What? Bates Motel is populated by vampires?
"Let me tell you a bit about ourselves. Oh, I'm sorry would you like another brandy or something else instead?"
"I'm done with brandy, thanks Clara. But maybe a beer, do you have a Heineken or something light like that?"
"Hannah honey, would you mind getting Michael a Heineken and could you please pour me a Perrier?" Hannah parked the iron and without a word disappeared through the door.
"Clara's Country Kitchen is one of many privately owned and run establishments found, or rather hidden, throughout North America and indeed, throughout the world. We have a loose network, affiliations really. Circles within circles. Clearly we can't have a public association. Nevertheless we are a cohesive community. It is our clients, our friends that hold us together."
She stared at me for a moment, then continued, "Michael I wouldn't be saying any of this to you if I didn't trust you." She put her hand on mine and gave it a light squeeze. "As I said earlier, it's very unusual to bring someone -- into our confidence -- that doesn't come with a prior recommendation."
I was all ears.
"By far the most establishments within our community are larger, are located in more populated centres and many cater to clientele that prefer a more focused comfort."
Hannah approached with a tray and two full glasses. She was lovely, in her early twenties, perfect complexion with just a few freckles on a cute little face. She had perfect white teeth glistening behind luscious full lips. Her frame was small with little titties. I could just make out a hint of nipple through the white shirt just below her name tag. A short black skirt and black hose hid her cute little butt and shapely legs. Her shoes were flat. It was her smile and twinkling green eyes that could make any man's heart melt. Hannah had this youthful, joyous glow about her. She was full of life, full of energy and that bright orange hair instilled a little freaky, rebellious aura about her.
Without a word Hannah placed the drinks on the coffee table before Clara and me, then picked up the two empty brandy snifters, turned and walked away. When I regained my senses I turned back to Clara who was grinning at me.