It was a good Saturday night at the Grassy Knoll Pub.
Patrons just finished the nightly tradition of singing “Sweet Home Alabama” while the jukebox played. The Tide’s win meant business was up. All this had owner Jesse Custer in a jovial mood from his spot behind the bar.
Custer’s mood gave way to disbelief when two black SUVs pulled up to the curb at closing time.
Here we go again, Jesse thought.
Four Secret Service agents exited the first SUV and swept the Knoll for anything suspicious. Custer broke into a wry smile when a blonde woman exited the second vehicle with two other agents. She took a seat and asked for a glass of Pinot Noir.
“Is the house version ok?” Jesse asked.
The woman blinked. “House version?”
“Around here that’s what we call “whatever’s on hand.””
The woman nodded. Custer uncorked a bottle and poured a sip, then filled the glass at the woman’s nod of approval.
“I guess congratulations on the promotion are in order, Justice Barrett.”
“Thanks,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett nervously replied. “Sorry for the inconvenience, but I was told this was the place to go if I ever wanted to be left alone for a few minutes.”
“Well, we were closing, but for you I’ll make an exception.” Custer said.
Barrett nodded and took a few sips of the wine. After a few minutes, she broke into a smile.
“It’s so quiet in here! I can’t remember the last time I was in a place this quiet.”
“Well, ma’am, you’re in a closed bar, so unless your friends or Cassidy over there by the door flap their gums, yes, it’s quiet.”
“You know, sometimes I actually lock myself in the bathroom so I can have a few moments to myself? I mean I love my kids, but sometimes people need a moment.”
Justice Barrett nervously eyed Jesse.
“I’m not one to judge, ma’am. I don’t have kids of my own. Figured I knew better than to try.”
Barrett relaxed at this, and continued to sip her glass of wine in silence.
Custer spoke next. “So how’s the new job going?”
“No one told me I was going to learn eight coffee orders.”
“Do what now?”
“It’s tradition,” Barrett replied. “The newest Justice is responsible for getting everyone’s coffee orders right and decides what’s on the cafeteria menu. That menu was my first problem on the job.”
“Really,” Custer replied in amusement.
“Oh yeah. I wanted something on the menu for the kids in case I needed to have them at the office. So I put chicken fingers on the draft menu and sent it around to everyone. Alito sent back a memo basically saying it’d be a cold day in hell before chicken fingers were served at the Supreme Court.”
“So how’d you fix it?”
“Turns out Alito was fine with chicken wings. We put that on the menu and he signed off right away.”
“Look at that. Colleagues at the Supreme Court compromising over chicken fingers.”
“Oh they’re still serving chicken fingers in the cafeteria. Justice Scalia told me about the ‘secret menu’ when I clerked for him.”
Custer and Justice Barrett exchanged a mutual chuckle.
“May I ask what Justice Scalia was like as a person?”
“He knew more dad jokes than anyone I’ve ever known,” Barrett said. “His favorites were the ones with stupid puns. He loved puns.”
A few more moments passed in silence. Justice Barrett requested another glass, and Jesse Custer obliged.
“You want to hear something funny?” she asked the bartender.
“Absolutely,” Custer replied. “Have at it.”
“Alito is the biggest nerd. He won’t shut up about his fantasy sports teams and he’s terrible at all of them. Once, Justice Ginsburg’s clerks beat him in a fantasy baseball league. She actually typed up a memo and sent it to the entire court telling him she expected better from him. Just to screw with him.”
“Speaking of Justice Ginsburg, those are some mighty big shoes you’re filling.”
“Statements like that bother me,” Barrett replied.
“I apologize if I offended.”
“No, it’s just no one seems to care that Justice Ginsburg and I are two different women. She had different experiences than I in her life and did a lot of important work. That doesn’t mean I need to be compared to her.” she said.
“And everyone thinks they can read my mind before I’ve written an opinion. The ones I can’t stand are the people who think I’ll do what they want. I’ve got one job. I analyze the law and I apply the law. That’s it.”
“Justice Barrett, as a formality, may I see your ID? I apologize for the inconvenience.”
“These days it’s a compliment,” she said, handing Jesse her driver license. Custer then appeared to snap the piece of plastic in half before handing it back unmarred to a very relieved jurist.
“Learned that trick a few years ago,” Custer said as he returned the ID. “Still use it to mess with folks when they’ve had a bit too much. I did it to you to prove a point.”
“What are you talking about?”
“From everything I’ve seen of you, you’re too worried about how good you’ll be at your job. Your only oversight’s basically the Grim Reaper. Half the country will be upset no matter what you do. It’s like a lawyer that came in here once told me. “No one likes judges,” he said. “They wear black for a reason.”
Barrett digested this. “I suppose you’re right,” she said.
“Just go do your best and you’ll be fine.” Custer concluded. “That’s all any of us can do.”
Justice Barrett nodded as she finished her glass. “I should be going,” she said. “If we leave now I can probably throw another load of laundry in, get a couple hours sleep and then head to work. How much do I owe you?”
“Your money’s no good here, Justice Barrett. Spend it on those kids of yours. Have a pleasant trip home.”
She thanked Jesse and left with her Secret Service detail.
Cassidy grumbled from near the door as the SUVs left. “That was the good bottle,” the Irishman muttered.
“You haven’t touched wine since you were a teenager, Cass.” Jesse shot from behind the bar.
“And you didn’t even get paid,” the doorman grouched. “At least the extra money would’ve been nice.”
“Way I see it she’s better off spending the money on laundry detergent.” Custer reached underneath the bar and poured two fingers of Bowmore 18 from a bottle for himself and Cassidy. The Irishman left his post at the door to join Custer.
“Jesse, we can’t just let people keep coming in here at closing to drink free. It’s not good for the Knoll’s business.”
“Fine. If you want the tab, you can go to Washington and collect it yourself,” Custer replied. “I’m headed home after this.”
With that, the friends locked up and headed home. Neither were morning people.