A couple of years ago, my family and L’s dad went to LaRosa’s for their Spaghetti-a-Plenty night. We asked for separate checks, one for me and my family, one for L’s dad. It was kind of busy and the waiter was running around in a hurry because they were apparently short-handed. We were there for about an hour or so and when the time came to leave, the waiter brought one check. Z was acting up so I just left the money on the table, took my copy of the bill and we left, figuring that L and her dad would take care of making change and splitting it appropriately. A few minutes later they came out of the restaurant and we said our goodbyes. L’s dad was going to do some shopping somewhere and my family and I headed home.

As we were getting out of the van after pulling into our driveway, L asked S where her jacket was. Surprise, surprise, she left it at the restaurant. L took the kids inside to get ready for bed and I headed back toward the restaurant, calling ahead to tell them about the jacket and that I’m on my way to get it. The manager (Mindy) put me on hold while she went to look for it, but returned to the phone and said, “I’m sorry. We don’t see a jacket here. But we’ll take your name and number if it turns up.”

This totally amazed me, as we had just left the restaurant not 10 minutes prior, and I told her so. “Are you sure? We were just there, I mean…JUST there.”

“No, we didn’t see a jacket. Were you at that table in the back corner? Because there is a matter of an unpaid bill. $7.49 for spaghetti and a salad and a drink.”

I told her about the only bill that was given to us and that we left the money on the table. She acknowledged that one bill was paid, but there was a second bill that wasn’t. I was at a traffic light, so I looked at my copy of the bill and realized that the $20.00 indicated did not include L’s dad’s meal. I then explained the series of events at the table and said there was no way for me to get in touch with the “other party” as he was out of cell phone minutes and I had no idea where he was. Furthermore, I had no money because I had spent all I had on our meal. Mindy then graciously informed me that LaRosa’s would cover the cost of the meal, and if the jacket was found they would call me. I gave her my name and number.

I then called L to tell her everything that had just happened, but she still wanted me to go to the restaurant to see if anyone there might have it in their booth. After all, not a lot of time had passed and maybe, if it had been stolen, those who took it would still be there.

So I walked in, went up the front counter and asked to speak with Mindy. I reminded her of who I was (even though we had gotten off the phone with each other just several minutes ago) and told her that I was just going to double check on the off chance that the would-be thieves might still be on the premises.

I nonchalantly meandered about the dining room looking for the jacket, but did not locate it. At this point, all of the Diet Cokes I drank at dinner were starting to take their toll so I went to the bathroom. While standing there, I decided that I was going to flat out ask the manager if I could see where they put their trash in the store and where the outside dumpster is. I exited the restroom and my former server, Timmy, was standing there. “Sir, can I talk with your for a minute?”

“Absolutely, Timmy. What’s up?” I started walking toward the front counter.

“Well, we found the jacket.”

“Excellent!” Immediate relief. This would have been the second jacket that S had had stolen from her. “I’m happy to hear that.” We arrived at the front counter and there was the jacket, pizza sauce all over it.

Timmy said, “Sir, I need to apologize to you. I accidentally bussed the jacket with the dishes and we found it as we were getting ready to wash them.”

Before I could reply, Mindy (the manager) joined the discussion. “Sir, we’re going to have this dry cleaned for you. As you can see, there is some pizza sauce on the sleeve and we tried to get it out with water but it didn’t work out too well so…we’ll have it dry-cleaned and deliver it to your house. We’ll take care of it.”

I said, “OK, that’s all fine and dandy, but I just want to run over this again. You ‘accidentally’ bussed the jacket with the dishes?”

Timmy was right there. “Yes, sir. I am sooo sorry and I do apologize again.”

I looked at the jacket for a minute and turned to Timmy and said very calmly and with complete control, “So…the jacket was bussed. It wasn’t that you might have forgotten to present the second bill at our table so to cover yourself you claimed that a customer skipped out without paying and, to ‘get back’ at said customer, the jacket was thrown away?”

He shook his head. He didn’t look shocked or offended or appalled. He looked guilty.

“You bussed the jacket?” I said, one more time.

“Yes, sir. I bussed the jacket.”

I looked him dead in the eyes for about 10 seconds and said, “I believe you.” I could see the relief flood over his face.

Mindy jumped right on in. “Like I said, sir, we’ll have this dry-cleaned and deliver it to you when it’s done. Let me just get your name and number.” She had a pen and paper ready. I gave her my information, thanked them and left.

Everyone knows what really happened. But we all accepted the ‘official’ story that the jacket got bussed with the dishes. Sure, I could have gotten angry and demanded that Timmy be fired. But, really, what would be the point? At the end of the day, L’s dad got a free meal and we got the jacket back in better condition than we had left it.