The original table hadn’t been big enough. They’d had to push three smaller tables together to get everyone to fit comfortably. It was a pretty common occurrence on busier nights, but on a Tuesday morning it was a little strange to see. The bar had opened at six a.m. as it always did, with a full bar and stocked kitchen serving both breakfast and dinner specials to cater to the city’s wide array of night shift workers. It was only Rachel’s third week working the morning shift, but she had already come to know many of the regulars. Most of them were cops or nurses, and every Thursday there was a group of grave shift paramedics who liked to hit the morning beer and bratwurst special, but she didn’t know the group of twelve here this morning, even though they seemed to know the place.
They were well dressed, or would have been if the clothes were fresh, and they had ordered food, but ate very little. Mostly they drank and gave each other those long looks people share after disasters or emergencies. The look of a battle hard fought. Those long looks that convey feelings deeper than the words, “You were there when I needed you,” or “We made it through.”
Through the morning, Rachel studied them from the corner of her eye, wondering. If they’d been splattered in mud or covered in grease she would have known what to make of them. As it was, they were dressed like office workers. Finally the man at the head of the table, sat there by respect and not coincidence, lifted his glass. “To spare parts,” he said tired and triumphant. “May they be there when we need them, and may we never need them again.”
Everyone at the table emptied their glass without hesitation and Rachel bustled to the bar with a quick nod to the table. “Another round for the diesel mechanics,” she said, as her tray slid across polished wood.
Jimmy, the bartender gave her a raised eyebrow, rolling up the sleeve on his pin-striped shirt. “Diesel Mechanics?”
“Yeah, table two.” Rachel hooked a thumb over her shoulder. “I don’t know what else they’d be with a toast like that.”
Jimmy smiled, sliding whiskey glasses and a pitcher of beer onto the wooden tray. “That’s Lincoln Hospital’s organ transplant team.”
Rachel stared blankly for several seconds. “Spare parts?” she squeaked.
Jimmy slid the last drink onto the tray with a wry grin. “May we never need them again.”
Rachel slid the heavy tray onto her shoulder and numbly swapped full glasses for empties. She caught the haggard eye of the man at the head of the table as she accepted his empty glass. “This one’s on me.”
No one at the table tried to cheer, but the round of tired and thankful nods was enough.