It was bad enough working in the kitchen of a doughnut shop for minimum wage, but having to wear a hairnet was even worse. Especially since the Tim Hortons uniform they made Jose Sanchez wear was at least a full size too big. Made him look ridiculous. Made it hard to talk to Suzanne, the pretty young server who worked out front. Not that it mattered. She had a boyfriend, a punk named Jet. And why would she be interested in an illegal immigrant to Canada whose real name wasn't Jose Sanchez but Dragomir Ozera. And who wasn't a chef from Portugal, as he'd told his employer, but was a Romanian linguistics student with a warrant out for his arrest. Fucking hairnet.
Suzanne and Ozera liked to hang out together on their breaks. He'd sneak her a doughnut from the baking tray, she'd snag him a coffee, Suzanne was sitting in their usual spot on one of the overturned milk crates with a pack of Players in her hand. He bent down to take a cigarette, and it took three tries to light the bloody thing. The wind was strong and chilling.
He stood up, took a deep puff, and exhaled into the scant light. Then he saw it.
"It's snowing. I can't believe it."
Six years ago, when Ozera first arrived in Toronto from Romania, he was excited about the idea of experiencing a real Canadian winter. But now all he could think was, November fourteenth. December fourteenth. January fourteenth. February fourteenth. March fourteenth. Somehow he had to get through another four months of ice and snow.
"I guess winters aren't like this in Portugal," she said.
"I never saw snow once before I came here," he said.
Of course he'd been born in the mountains of Romania and was in fact an excellent skier. These days he was having fun pretending to be Portuguese and had even grown sideburns to fit the part. At his last job he was Argentinean, complete with a long twisty mustache. Luckily, his facial hair grew real fast.
She handed him the coffee and he took a sip. He winced. At Timmy's they served something called a "double-double." Watery coffee with two creams and two sugars. He didn't have the heart to tell her how horrid it tasted. Who in the world would put cream in anything you'd want to drink? he thought as he struggled to keep the coffee down.
She reached for his cigarette and took a long drag. Her shift was over. She was waiting for Jet, who always picked her up at five in his big, old Cadillac. Guy was never late. She seemed fidgety.
"What's up?" he asked.
"It's my ex, Dewey. Got out of jail three days ago, and I hear he's looking for me." She twirled her long, curly hair between her fingers.
She returned the smoke, and Ozera took a puff.
"He just finished three years for a drugstore robbery. I took the bus out to Kingston every third weekend for eighteen months." She rolled up the sleeve on her right arm to show him a tattoo on the underside. It read: "DeWEy." A red heart was drawn over top of the "WE."
He offered her back the cigarette, and she grabbed it.
"I couldn't take it anymore. Those stupid trailer visits made me feel like a sex slave. And he was calling me collect every night. Cost a fortune." She exhaled a line of smoke that danced in the wind. "Dewey's a jealous asshole, and he's smart. He already knows I work here, my shift, everything. And he hates Jet. We all grew up in this little place called Pelee Island."
The name of so many things in this country ended in the "ee" sound, Ozera thought. Timmy's. Harvey's, a hamburger chain that competed with Wendy's. Hockey. The manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs was named Burke, but everyone referred to him as Burkee. Now there was Dewey.
"What's he look like?"
They shared the smoke as she described her former boyfriend. Real short. Spiky red hair and a squished-in face. Scary dark eyes. Usually hung out with his buddy Larkin, who was a foot taller and had long hair all the way down to his ass.
"I'll keep my eyes open for them." He butted the cigarette on the curb and headed back inside. In the kitchen, two fresh racks of cinnamon crullers were ready. He pulled them from the oven and headed out front.
Excerpted from Stray Bullets by Robert Rotenberg. Copyright 2013 by Robert Rotenberg. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster Canada.