As a consquence of Muriel's impending departure... and in spite of Gwan's hiring, or, perhaps, due to some elemental, psychic forethought... Mr. Z. had finally capitulated to Barry's entreaties and a new day-shift hire had been authorized. Pepe, who was working three day shifts and three nights, was told he would be entirely Louie's problem, effective next Monday. "Cabrn!" he'd told Tex Wednesday afternoon, now that the Oceanside testimony was in the bag, and DP Three back to its routine. "Coupla bigots, the black one, white one... tryin' to cut me off with chicas. My homies are out scorin', makin' sweet love and I'll be on the grill Saturday night... cookin' perros calientes!"

"We'll miss you, bro," Tex said and Ed even grunted. "Tell you what, man, let's make your last weekend out rock the vote. Gwan turned me on to this rave goin' down out in the desert, Mecca... that's this town, really, out around Coachella? Sex, drugs y rockenroll, hombre, one of Gwan's ol' buds from the band is takin' a posse down in a fuckin' hearse..."

"Whoa!" Pepe stepped back, making a cross of his two index fingers...

"Nah, it's not for fucked-up Goths, it's dope... well, maybe a little Gothy but, you know, they have this big space up in the mountains so it can be, like, fifty parties goin' on, all at once. Somethin' for everyone, man... even Ed, wanna come with us, Ed?"

"Fuck you," Musgrove spat, turning a dog over with the aluminum spatula he wielded like a flyswatter. Then, he glared at Walt. "Fuck you, too."

Walt nodded. Since his first disease-throttled day, he'd been casually observing Ed's visits to the parking lot... they occurred twice, sometimes thrice weekly... and he'd even written down the tag numbers on the old jalopies that the dopers drove.

"Elvis might show," Tex baited Musgrove. "No? How about you, Walt... get out of yourself awhile. Pop a cap of E, hook up with a hot mama... somebody's mama, anyway..."

"I was raisin' hell when you little creeps were... were a just couple of stem cells in your mamas' bellies..."

"Hey, smart talk, for an old man," Pepe laughed...

"Walt used to follow the Dead," Tex said. "Un cabeza de muertos..."

"Never saw 'em," Walt denied. "But I did see the Starship once when they were just the Airplane. Before they sucked!"

Gwan had pushed his mop and bucket up into the grill area, a serious evil that wouldn't be punished because Barry had gone out on one of his afternoon adventures after informing them that there'd be a new man joining the team... "Joe, he's got this twisty Polish last name I don't want anyone makin' fun of... you, of all people, ought to understand that, Mister Fales..."

"Journey," the retired popstar smirked. "Boston. Toto!"

"Air Supply," Tex retorted... then, with a glance at Pepe... "Ricky Martin..."

"Fuck you too, man..."

"Spicy Mice?" Walter shook his head.

"Old man still got chops," Pepe taunted and, with a pained expression, Gwan set the mop to lean against the wall. Pork chops.

"Hey, I may be old and ugly, but I've popped more cherries than the four of you losers will ever see in your lifetimes..."

"Too bad they were on undercooked chicken," Tex gave a sly smile...

"Gotta start somewhere," Gwan yawned, stretched, gave a contented grin of his own.

"OK if Pepe rides with us?" Tex asked. "Sort of like a goin' away present... these two old guys, they're the chickens..."

"Who are you to call me chicken?" Walt objected...

"Cuz' you didn't say that you'd come," Tex said.

"Cuz you didn't invite me."

Tex looked at Gwan, helplessly.

"You serious, man?"

"I work harder than both of you together, I can party heartier, too..."

Gwan shrugged.

"Hey, my man' got plenty of room. We split the gas, it's only a dime at the door, but we're all goin' in on a few hits of E, you know?"

"That the best you can do?" Tex sneered. "I'll try to round up some 'shrooms."

"Walt said he followed the Starship around when they didn't suck. So that would be, like... ancient! Used to get his drugs from the CIA..."

Walter smiled, nodding. "Pure shit. Never knock America, boys."

"Change your mind, Ed?" Tex challenged. "Now that Walt's in..."

Ed raised his spatula. "Fuck off!" he repeated.



Because of the new hire and Pepe's relocation, Walt's training on the registers was aborted after only two days... although Eunice as much as admitted it was a job that could be learned in ten minutes. By a chimp. Alongside the numbers on the register were little icons for the dogs, sides and drinks, shortcuts Walt memorized, even though the little stickers on the keys had all but worn off under the pressure of so many sweaty, salty fingers.

Barry seemed more than happy to have Gwan training on the register. "It's better this way," he told his boys. "Gwan, you're a people person... which is not to mean that you're not, Walt, I mean you were in sales, sort of, but I think once word gets around there's a celebrity, well, a former celebrity, sort of, on the register..."

He left the thought hanging, but did remind Walt that he'd wanted to be trained on the grill, this was his opportunity. "You're almost halfway to a raise," he reminded his old, formerly new hand, "it's only proper that you assume more responsibilities. And you can always go back to the register if there's an emergency. I've been keeping an eye on you," he smirked, glancing up towards the blinking red light of the security camera aimed at the counter. "One practice you have not followed is asking every customer who stumbles in if they are alright before taking their order. It's a liability issue. You say - Dog Pound, are you alright? May I help you? Then you take their order. Ka-peach?" he added in what, presumed, was an Italian accent.

The new boy, Joe Sybco-something, was a few years younger than Walt. He was a heavy guy with a mustache and tinted glasses under a white ballcap from Brebco, the dotcom he'd worked for until it went under, "...and that was when I sort of lost myself, awhile." He'd also lost his wife and his home, along with the job, and because he was just ordinary unemployed and not pandemic-related and eligible for the streams of government money oozing out of Washington, he was sleeping under a bridge when he got into some program, which got him cleaned up and sent to the State where a counselor... not Glyniece, some other lady... set him up with Zweiss Interplanetary.

For some reason or another... maybe sensitivity, maybe awe... Gwan had escaped Mister C's cruel initiation rituals, but Joe was fair game. It began with the same public denunciation of Mister Z's insensitivity and the ordeal by greasy grill...

"Faster, you homeless retard, go back, you missed a spot, you fat Polack fuck!" Barry screeched, drool running down the side of his mouth, hair askew, glasses dangling at a weird angle. And Walt realized why none of the DP's customers, let alone staff, had intervened during his humiliation... the day manager was a madman, a gargoyle of hate and vituperation hopping and scratching like some demon cast out during some 14th century exorcism. A full Senator Caputo. And, even when Barry swatted the baseball cap off Joe's scalp, revealing a wide, irregular bald patch, the fallen dot commie kept grinding away at the grill, teeth clenched, eyes shut.

"We don't wear baseball caps here... we wear the official headgear, and if you don't like it, I'll get you a hairnet, like a girl. You work like a girl, Joe, I don't care how many systems you designed, you're a loser, a fry-boy, now, and you're mine. Faster, you Polack fruit, harder... I'll show you how I expect my boys to work!" And, as had happened with Walt, Barry seized the wire brush, actually pushing Joe aside, raking the bristles across the griddle iron feverishly, scaring up random shards of char, knocking a hotdog all the way across the grill and onto the floor.

Tex caught it on one hop. Barry looked over his shoulder... there wasn't anybody at the registers, and he said, "throw it back on and serve it up. Now, you queer... I can give the laid-off Polack nerd your job, and have you scrubbing this grill and mopping floors any time I want. Just because you're pullin' down a dollar over the national minimum, not state, doesn't mean I can't..."

"Hey," Tex said, "it's yours."

The hotdog had bounced onto some dust that Gwan had brushed into a pile, intending to scoop it up after the show... Tex underhanded it across the griddle and something unclean flared up briefly as it passed through the flames, flared up, snapped, sizzled and stank. Barry reached for the atomizer bottle, sprayed chemicals across the hot iron and the sausages then resumed scrubbing as steam wreathed his knobbed, twisted features... he grimaced and scoured for a whole minute, then threw the brush at Joe, who let it bounce off his beergut with a placid, bovine expression...

"That's how I expect my boys to work," Barry straightened. Joe gave him a full minute's consideration, eyeballs widening and narrowing as he clocked Mister C - wiry, disheveled Eraserhead hair to black Rockports with a few puddles of grease and chemicals pulsating on one toe - then leaned over, slowly, picked up the brush and began rubbing it across the opposite end of the grill at a steady, deliberate pace, and Mister C. glared up towards the ceiling, or Heaven, and appealed "Lord, sweet God..."

"Guy has problems, doesn't he?" Joe ventured, once the day manager had gone off to lock himself in his office with the receipts, the monitor bank and Britney. "My stomach don't feel so good... something funny in that fishwich he comped me?"

"Could be," Walt replied. Tex and Eunice nodded, even Ed welcomed the new boy with a malevolent, hooked grin.