I don't remember the date anymore, but it was in October. I know this because it was just before Halloween. He was wearing a mask, and it didn't trigger too many alarms.
I used to live in Santa Fe and had a job as hostess at a very popular restaurant. Hostess is a busy job, and I was also cashier and general organizer of how the night would go. We have kitchen manager and floor manager and bar manager, but it was mid October and the two main floor managers were gone for their much needed vacations. Our kitchen manager was on the floor, but she was a chef. So, I got a back up hostess to help with "flow".
It had been a lousy fall for most people in town. A warm, dry winter had left little snowpack, which left the ski basin and the surrounding economy a little straggling. The warm, dry summer and some fires dropped the tourist season. This was a land of 500 restaurants, we were almost all of us part of the tourist economy. Waiters fought for shifts, restaurants cut off staff and closed. I was lucky, my job was pretty secure in that I got an hourly. Not loads of cash, but a steady check. And we got meals. Our boss Beth was generous that way, we all got a meal and drink for every shift, none of us would go hungry. Even if we were living 5 in a 3 bedroom just to make it by.
October isn't a busy time of year in Santa Fe anyway, but our diner was bustling despite the lousy economy. We were a place to eat and see and be seen. Comfort food that drew families on a budget and celebrities alike. We all secretly thrilled at being able to make them wait for their table, like everyone else. They eat food like real people, and everyone wanted to eat our food. So, it times of lean, the Zia was the place to still be seen eating.
I think it was a Tuesday, but I really don't remember. We stop seating at 10, and usually close shop around 1130. The tables usually stop filling up at 9, and then I would go do my dinner list. Taking the food order for all the servers, all the cooks, all the kitchen staff. I would normally go nine, because I needed to batten down the hatches. I had every spare table cleaned and set, all the menus stacked and wiped, every guest seated, every need met. Not because my support hostess couldn't do any of it, but because I knew our manager that night could not. I was just dotting the i's and crossing the t's, when I heard a "psst" out of nowhere, it was about 8:50. "Psst, go in the back, now," with a tap at my shoulder. Realizing it wasn't my manager, or anyone else, I just went. My father had died some years before, and periodically I felt like he would visit. It sounded like him.
I made quick rounds of the front, and headed to the kitchen. Our staff was the best, mostly from Guatemala and Mexico. I got to practice spanish and they got to practice inglés. Papas, zanahorias, pollo, sopa. I took my time, and strolled out to the front, but it was already too late.
Screaming everywhere, bodies piled where my hostess stand used to be, the cash register computer and tip jar glass shattered all over the front. I froze, watching the place where I had stood guard all night, like a scene from a movie, slowly discerning that the bodies were moving, and this was not a CPR in progress. "He still has the gun," someone shouted, and I turned and ran. I ran to the back, ran up the stairs to the office, to call 911. Only in those dark moments did I realize I was alone in the office with the safe, and no way out but through the door, down the stairs. Shouts came from the kitchen, "close the back door". Could this be an ambush?
I locked the office, turned off the light, and pulled the phone under the table with me. There is a window, and I didn't want anyone seeing a light on the phone. Legs came pounding up the stairs, fists came banging on the door, hands came grabbing at the handle. I sat in silence, not breathing while 911 was on the other side. "Please, send an ambulance. There is a gun, I don't know if anyone has been shot."
No one had been shot. It was a miracle. A regular bar patron, realizing what was going on, had slipped out the back unseen, come around to the front of the building and slowly sneaked in. Mike jumped the gunman from the back, cold cocking him while taking out the podium. It was a dangerous risk, but it had paid off. The body pile was all the waiters and patrons who sat on him until the cops came.
The gunman had been watching us all night, me and Lisa, just outside our big glass doors. Watching, waiting, for the crowd to pipe down, for one of us to leave. My signal to go the back had cued him to enter. He had worn a mask, and Lisa had laughed at him, thinking it was an early costume and a friend of the bar. He pulled out his gun, and hit her in the head. Not my head, her head. This haunted me for years. She is sweet and shy, and I am not. Would he have shot me instead?
He had just been released from prison in Arizona, 20 years for murder. He moved to New Mexico, bought a gun (illegally) and looked for an easy hit. In the slow economy, our place was booming. We had cash. A waiter pulled off the mask and recognized him. He had come in the week before and dined, had asked about how busy it was there, how was it we were doing so well when so many other places struggled. Later, when he was in the back of the squad car, I saw the gun. Sawed off rifle. That is when I started to freak. It wasn't a vague or idle threat at all, he was prepared to shoot anyone who stood in his way.
Lisa was okay, eventually, she was moved to the day shift I had coveted so long. The gunman went to jail, and committed suicide while awaiting trial. His list of felonies so long he would never see sunshine again.
Me? I don't think about it much anymore. Less than a week later, I chose not to confront a counterfeiter who passed a fake bill to me at my other job. I couldn't tell if there was a bulge under his coat. I worked a concert for a local book and music store that weekend, a big event that drew hundreds. And dozens of people knew me, my face, the face of Zia Diner. The hostess who had seated them and their families, or checked out their groceries, for years. They had read about the holdup, and expressed their relief that I was unharmed. I had a community of people I didn't know were praying for me, who would have missed me, if it had been me and not Lisa, and Mike had not been there, and the gun had a chance to go off.