Emma was running late. Again. If Mrs Stubbs caught her, she’d lose her job for sure. Mrs Stubbs had made it clear that she was on her third and final warning, and that any more issues with punctuality would be the end of her time at the Drovers Inn.

It wasn’t that Emma didn’t try. She did her best to drop Blake off to her Mum’s early enough, but some days it was still a mad rush to make it to the pub by five o’clock. Blake was overexcited today and wasn’t interested in moving faster or helping out at all.

Emma wasn’t sure why it was so important that she start at five o’clock anyway. These days there was hardly anyone in the bar at that time. It was usually closer to six o’clock when people started to appear, tempted in by the daily special in the bistro. Tonight it would be lamb cutlets with salad and chips or vegetables. Two cutlets for $12 or three for $14, and it was popular with the locals. As she ran around the corner she tried to ignore the chiming of the old clock in the post office. She crossed the fingers of her left hand. Please could Mrs Stubbs be somewhere other than the bar or the back door, waiting for her with that gleeful expression on her face.

Emma made it through the back door and was tying the apron around her waist as she slipped into the main bar. She was a little out of breath and still expecting to see Mrs Stubbs at any moment, but it looked like she’d made it. Just. And it was only Fred, Ernie and Jock at the bar, sitting in the same seats they sat in every day.

A quick glance confirmed that they had fresh beers and she said hello and started to clear a couple of tables. Emma was thinking that surely luck was on her side today when Mrs Stubbs materialised at the bistro doorway.

‘Late again, Emma! I warned you.’

Emma’s shoulders slumped. It was too good to be true. That woman had eyes everywhere.

‘No, she wasn’t, boss.’ Fred’s deep voice rumbled across the room.

Ernie nodded at his beer. ‘She’s been here long enough to pour us fresh beers. And you know how long it takes to pour Jock his Guinness. Can’t be rushed, that.’

Jock raised his glass in salute and took a sip.

Emma stood still, her eyes moving from the old men at the bar to Mrs Stubbs, whose mouth was twisting into a sneer. Emma watched as Mrs Stubbs huffed and puffed.

‘I’m sure I heard you come in, Emma. And it was after five. I could hear the clock.’

‘Are you sure? Might have been my phone.’ Ernie turned in their direction and pulled out a battered mobile. ‘My grandson gave it to me. He set it up with the same chime as Big Ben. Here, have a listen.’ He fiddled with the phone and it made a tinny ringing sound.

Mrs Stubbs moved closer to the men at the bar. ‘Listen, you lot. You think you’re the three wise old men of the town, and that you know everything, but if I find out that you’re covering up for Emma then there’ll be no more beer for you.’

Fred looked at Ernie. ‘Did you see anything?’

Ernie shook his head. ‘Nope. What about you, Fred? Did you hear anything?’

Fred shook his head. ‘No. And we all know that Jock didn’t say anything.’ There was quiet laughter between the men then. Jock didn’t say anything at all. Ever.

Mrs Stubbs exhaled loudly. She pointed a finger at Emma. ‘Consider yourself lucky this time. And you lot,’ she cast a blazing glance at the three men at the bar, ‘behave yourselves.’

But the men had turned back to their beers and infrequent conversation. Emma had known them all her life, and she waited till Mrs Stubbs had left the bar before quietly thanking them.

‘No need, love. Bet you didn’t know that Jock pours a mean beer!’

Inspired by Discover Prompts – April writing prompts