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A New Beginning

Don't let the headline fool you.

I'm redoing the cover for my first novel, Table For One: The Standard. The original was okay, but I had an opportunity to work with a very cool, accomplished graphic designer and I took it. All three of my novel covers are getting a makeover. Look for them soon, as in days.

More to the point - I've rewritten the first chapter.

I needed to set my table to more exacting standards and I've done so now. For the thousands of you who have read either the paperback or the Ebook/Kindle versions, this is for you. I leave the chapter here, in its entirety.

I hope you enjoy it. Bon Appetit. -JLL


Table For One: The Standard


    John Louis Lauber

Chapter 1

Rudy Tufton awoke that morning, as he had every morning for the past 52 years—he just didn’t know today would be his last. It wasn’t God or Fate that cast death in his particular direction that day but a darker, more malevolent force than he.

Rudy was the sector health inspector for Cook County and had policed Chicago restaurants since the 1990’s; he dealt with people every day, but he was not prone to warm and fuzzy kindness, not a man to try work cooperatively with his restaurant owners — just the opposite — he loved bullying people in his job. Rudy Tufton was a five-star bastard and he couldn’t care less about his bad rep. No one could touch him.


Later that night, Rudy would be collecting after-hours, because blackmail was always better done under the cover of darkness; it was the only reason Rudy kept his job. He was forced to give regular kickbacks to his own superiors, a deal they had made with him years ago after he was caught humping a plump waitress behind some trash cans one afternoon following one of his inspections. He was going to close the place down, and the owner’s only move to prevent shuttering was to convince the waitress to have sex with Rudy, who had long coveted the buxom woman, and he grunted and sweated over her backside right up until a rookie beat cop busted him in the alley as he was finishing.

The bigwigs at the Health Department bailed him out on the public obscenity charge and let him keep his job after the dust settled, but their deal came with strings attached. 


THE DINING ROOM at Chicago’s La Cantina Morelo restaurant hummed with activity later that night, atypical for most Chicago establishments on a Tuesday. The place was jammed because diners knew the formula: great ambiance, convivial service, and the very best Hispanic fare.

La Cantina Morelo served the finest Oaxacan dishes in Chicago and had ever since John Fitzgerald Kennedy blessed the place with his imprimatur in 1960 when he ate there during his first campaign stop. After he became President, JFK would drop by LCM whenever he was in Chicago and Jose Morelo, the current owner Mario’s grandfather—his abuelo—served the President personally. 

  Tonight, though, the mood in the kitchen was tense.

Third-generation owner, Mario Morelo, was trying his best to placate the notorious food inspector, Rudy Tufton, who had popped in at closing time for a “surprise inspection.” 

“Please, Mr. Tufton. Don’t shut us down. This was my papa’s restaurant and my abuelo’s before him,” said a beleaguered Mario. 

“What the hell is an abuelo?” the inspector asked, uncaring. 

“My grandfather,” said Mario.  “He was a great man.”

“Not my problem, Chico,” said Rudy, fully knowing what abuelo meant.

La Cantina Morelo was an impressively clean place, but in the years since Kennedy, it had become harder and harder to run a restaurant in the city of Chicago; having a health inspector shaking you down didn’t help matters. 

Tufton thrust a hammy hand in Mario’s face, a thick finger extended menacingly and growled, “You know what, Morelo? I’ve cited you twice before about those damn, dirty planchas of yours. Third strike and you’re out. I’m shutting you down,” he said. 

It was a ridiculous remark. Every restaurant in America had little smudges here and there. Rudy was merely exploiting his position and tonight’s mark was the kindly Mario, who ran a very clean and sanitary operation, just as his father and grandfather had done over the decades. 

As Mario’s fear rose, Rudy uttered his trademark line, words that had grown to a sick lore in the Chicago restaurant community, “And you know what, Chico? There ain’t thing one you can do about it.” 

It was Tufton’s catchphrase. There was nothing any owner could do; no higher court of appeal was available, and he abused the notion constantly.

Mario stood near Rudy, leaning against a stainless-steel prep table and pleaded, “But Mr. Tufton, my planchas are absolutely necessary. We do our best to keep them clean when it’s busy. You know how it is.” 

He waved his arm around to show Rudy his employees, all cleaning up for the night after a busy dinner rush. It was now 11 p.m. 

“The planchas were slammed tonight because people like the grilled tacos and Cubanos and there’s no time to clean during the rush…but we’ll clean them now for you and we’ll clean them very well,” said Mario. 

Rudy stared blankly. “Yeah? What else you got?” 

Mario sighed. He reached into his front pants pocket and removed five $100 bills and held them out to Rudy. 

“Here. Can we stay open? I’ll make a promise to you…the planchas will be wiped down during the shift.  We won’t wait until the evening service is over,” he said. “Good enough, Mr. Tufton?” asked Mario with a weary voice.   

Rudy leaned in and his eyes moved from the sweaty money up to Mario’s face. “Look at me, Mario.” he said. Mario looked up - his humiliation was showing. Rudy spoke in a low tone.

“Next time, Morelo…there’ll BE no next time.” 

He reached over and swiped the bills from Mario’s hand and stuffed them in his pants pocket. 

Satisfied, Rudy stood erect and shot the cuffs on his worn, wrinkled blazer and grunted. He wore no tie, which couldn’t fit around his fat, perspiring neck anyway. 

Mario breathed a sigh of relief and put both his hands to his face, his tears and sweat making his hands dripping wet and he rubbed them on the front of his chef’s coat to dry them off and continued hanging his head. 

Rudy smirked at this and turned to leave, then turned back. “Oh, one more thing.” 

He spat in Mario’s face.

The timid Oaxacan merely wiped the mucus off with the sleeve of his chef’s coat and said nothing. 

Tufton did that sort of thing because he was a colossal dick and no one could stop him. The gesture revealed far more about him as a man than any tangible effect it may have had on Mario Morelo. 

Rudy looked at Mario one last time and winked, then walked out the back door of the kitchen, his thick cigar smoke trailing behind him like a dirty, ragged blanket. 

Mario simply went back to work, cleaning and thanking everyone for their efforts. Word spread quickly throughout the place about the inspector and their brush with closure. The business would continue unaffected as it always had, at least until Rudy’s next “inspection.” 

He would worry about that when the time came, for Mario, in his calm and gentle persona, possessed the infinite patience of all of Mexico. Mario Morelo was a good man and he had many friends...some of whom he didn’t even know.


OUT IN THE STREET, the inspector moved slowly and intently like a newly sated walrus, fresh from a big feed. This was his turf and he didn’t move fast for anyone. Tufton had a certain power, or so he liked to think. He walked up Schiller Street toward Wells Street and turned right, heading for his favorite watering hole, McBride’s. 

The night was cool after an early evening spring shower and the air was freshened from its usual mix of dust and exhaust and urine and resignation. Rudy needed a drink.


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