Episode FORTY



        Louie wobbled in at quarter to five, Weng trailing him like strands of seaweed in a speedboat's wake.  The boy was pallid, eyes bloodshot, moving like a man underwater and, after humming a couple of bars of "Down on the Boardwalk", Walt decided that no measure of taunting could hurt worse than that hurt still grasping his head and guts... he looked like he might even throw up at the register, so Walt filled up an extra large cup with ice and Spash!... which was the DP's cheap citrus soda Mister Z peddled as an alternative to Sprite! and Squirt! and Slash!, which were, themselves, cheap alternatives to Seven Up... and the ice dispenser just came away in his hand.  Ice kept tumbling out of the drink station and Walt set the Spash! aside... icecubes tumbled to and across the dark red tiles.  He pulled the bucket over so that it would catch most of the overflow, and called out to the temp on the other register, "...get the manager!"

        "Which one?" said the girl.

        "Don't give a rat's ass... get 'em both!"

Kenny and Lou were having words in Barry's office, there were still two or three minutes to the former's shift, so he stuck his hand up among the cascading icecubes, grasped the side of the machine and shook it, kicked it, trying to remember the process that he'd been taught at Zweiss Interplanetary."

"May I?" Lou suggested and Kenny stepped away, nearly slipping on the ice that had overflowed the chemical bucket and was pouring out onto the floor.  Louie unsnapped two hinges on the rear of the soda bar, reached in... twisted something... and the icefall slowed to a few cubes tumbling, spattering... then nothing at all.  He took the snapped-off handle from Walt, held it up, looked at the ice dispenser and ran a finger around its lip, glared at the useless Kenny.

"I think there's a flashlight in the bottom drawer of the desk," he said, "get it... and get me some of that Fix-All cement, oughta be a tube in the chemical closet.  And the duct tape..."

Kenny looked at his watch...

"Get it!" Louie dictated, "...if you clock out late, I'll fix it with Barry.   An' if you can't find something, don't waste time, go to the Double Dollar, that's what it's for... Walt, get rid of those people..."

An elderly couple, clueless, were approaching the drink station with the huge all-you-can-drink cups, skidding on icecubes as if deliberately courting broken hips (and the life of ease thereafter, as the television lawyers promised) obsessed with their refills...  Walt led them away to the condiment bar, took their cups and filled one with Spash!, the other with Mr. Z's generic cola.

"It's not cold," the old gentleman objected, so Walt reached down and took a fistful of cubes from the bucket... dropped half into one cup, half into the other.  Kenny, fumbling with the flashlight, cement and duct tape, dumped it all into Louie's arms and shrank back, as if intuiting a danger of electrocution... not baselessly, as the drink station was still plugged in. 

"Unplug that!" Louie pointed and, after Kenny did so, he wiped down the jagged frontier of the handle... holding the flashlight in his mouth... smeared cement over it, and over the broken handle and duct taped them together.  "Oughta be good in five minutes," he forecast, turning to the temp at the register, "but let's give it half an hour, to be sure.  Treina, gimme the out-of-order sign."  The high school girl dutifully looked under the register and proclaimed that there was no out-of-order sign, Louie smirked and said: "Get a napkin and the marking pen, write 'Out of Order' on the napkin and give it to me, is that beyond you?"  It wasn't... and he attached the sign with duct tape, telling Treina and Weng at the registers, Walt, on the floor, the grill boys and Lev, who was doing fries, not to let any idiot use the ice dispenser until he said so.  He filled a few of the extra-large Thirs-T-Dog cups from the chemical bucket, and gave them to Treina to stash under the register if someone absolutely insisted on ice...

Joe Sybco had clocked out, but was staying 'round to watch the fun, and, now that the Slushie, ice and soda station had been wrestled back into semi-compliance, shook his head, pointing...

"Fuckin' Chinese machine!"

"Well, there's a little metal placard back here," Louie said, "so let's just see where this baby did come from.  Uh... some place in Wisconsin, I'm afraid.  American to the marrow..."

"I'm so fuckin' proud," Walter said, beginning to swab the DP floor, pushing glittering little rectangles of litigation towards the door.

And then the floater and the morning shifters went home... the DP got busy, for a while, as the Chargers took, then blew, an early lead against Tampa Bay.  At six, a new flock of temps – most on probation – trekked in, taking up positions warily, cadging advice from Walt or any of the veteran Dog Pounders, purposeful in their jaunty paper hats.  Until a commotion erupted from the windowbox

It was just noise… screaming, then sobbing… but Walt dropped the mop he was holding, explaining to some pimply sixteen-year-old the virtues of bleach, as opposed to ammonia.  In the box, the fat girl taking orders was squatting against a wall… both the wall and the temp spattered with oozing strings of white that reminded Walter of  coffin-worms,,,

“What the hell?” Louie shouted, then pressed a hand to his temple…

“Another one,” Treina pointed.  “Fire in the hole.”

“Shit!” Spicotti exclaimed.

For the better part of a year, teenaged gangs… rich kids, in expensive cars… had developed the practice of driving around the neighborhoods, pulling into fast food joints with windowboxes, hurling objects at the hapless cashiers and shouting “Fire in the hole!”, a military term designating imminent enemy attack.  It had started with water balloons, innocently enough, but had progressed to balloons filled with cream of mushroom soup, stale beer and… recently… various hues and shades of paint.  The fat girl sobbed and wiped paint from her eyes… Louie extended a hand to guide her upwards and let her go for the night, promising that she’d be paid for the full shift.

Nobody, of course, had noted… let alone written down… a license plate number.

Walt stuck a finger into one of the larger corpuscles of paint on the wall, sniffed it.  “Latex,” he finally said, satisfied, and an army of temps was marshaled to scrub down the windowbox while Lev… still hungover and menacing… manned the register, daring the creeps to come back.  They didn’t.

 So it wasn't until well after seven, while Walt and Louie were prodding dogs across the grill, that the previous night's exhilarations and humiliations arose, if in a clandestine, roundabout way.  Unlike Barry, the night manager didn't mind scutwork, if it didn't last too long, and if he could be seen, and mingle with the public (when they behaved themselves); he'd already said, up front, "...eight o'clock, when the Simpsons come on, gonna find some paperwork to do."  But the rush was over, the night manager, smirking, remarked... "well, how about that little bash, last night."

        "Big three-oh," Walt reminded him.

        "Yeah uh... guess you and Elle hit it off, you know..."

        "I know what?" Walt said, turning a Polish Dog that was rapidly developing a thin layer of char.

        "You know... Elle, that trailer park out by the water tower, isn't it... she let you come in for coffee, or tea..."

        "I gave her lift," Walt said, "...dangerous, waitin' for that bus..."

        "...or me?   Well, you?  C'mon man..." and his voice dropped, "...I go to bed alone, with the Chunk King in my bathtub, moanin' all night... hope someone got lucky..."

        "Well I didn't," Walter snapped.  "Wife kicked my ass out of the house... somebody else noticed too, gave her a tip..."

        "Oh man..." and then, perhaps remembering what had happened to Davy, grasped his tongs protectively, "...I hope you don't think I had anything to do with that.  Hey, I ain't Jesus, but that would be, like..."

        "I got my own ideas... couple of possibles..."

        "Oh... yeah, you've made some real friends here.  Jeez, I hope you're not going to do anything crazy, I mean... without knowing, exactly..."

        "I always get mine," Walter proclaimed.  "First, however, I gotta deal with the immediate circumstances like no money, no place to stay..."

        "Yeah," Louie said, "that sucks.  Been there, done that... marriage, you got kids, right?'

        "Two grown, one..." Walt couldn't think of any reasonable way of explaining that Scotty had been Elle's 'boyfriend', and that he'd fired the Police Special in anger at his father, just that morning.  So he shrugged, pushing the blistered Polish all the way across the grill to the warming zone on the side, away from the gasjets, the other nutcase on the grill, Crake, apparently finding this hilarious, began blubbering with stifled laughter.

        "Yeah, my own kid's eight, now, Doris took him back to Pennsylvania.  I'm one of those hard-ass, old-school guys who still believe in hard work and an occasional spanking... for kids and some adults," Louie's voice darkened, "my ex isn't.  She was one of those self-esteem people, let kids run around gettin' into trouble,  shoplifting and such, and the judge was, too.  He's supposed to fly out here over Christmas... the day after Christmas, and go back the day before New Years," the night manager added, sourly, " we'll see about that.  Costs me plenty, but it'll be worth it... hey, man, you need a place to crash a while, mi casa es su casa..." 

        "Shouldn't make offers you're not prepared to follow up on," Walt admonished...

        "Hey, you wouldn't have to sleep in the bathtub, I gotta fix up that couch anyway, before Jason comes."

        "Maybe," Walt kept the option open.  "Can I make a phone call?"

        "Go ahead," Louie pushed a smaller dog aside, next to the Polish, pointed with the tongs, and Crake began tittering again... "just remember that Barry goes over the phone records, line by line, if you're thinkin' of calling your dealer or a phone sex line, and what do you find so fuckin' comical?"

        "Bishes cut botha yer wieners off..." the nut cackled.

        "Yeah, but mine ain’t Polish," retorted Louie.  “One-hundred percent pepperoni, hard as a rock!”


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        He had to go into Barry’s office to find a telephone book to look up Fran and Elle’s number at Precious Joy; ragged as he was, the day manager’s pre-adolescent cheesecake made him feel unclean.  “Dirty old man, that I am,” he shook his head, waiting for somebody to pick up, remembering one of those old Redd Foxx shows about a janitor or garbage man or someone – someone just like him, now, only black.

        Elle finally picked up.  “Hello?”

        And Walt explained…

        Two minutes later, he clocked out and waved jauntily to the still-haunted Louie.  “Thanks for the offer, but I scored a place to crash.  Bed, broad and beyond, if you know what I mean?”

        Spicotti took it like a man, even smiling at the Walter’s good fortune.  “Hey, you’re missing a chance to help me scrub the vomit out of everything…”

        Bugman’s holiday,” Walt replied…

        “Well, my couch can’t compete with where you’re going.  Good luck, amigo, and don’t let the pedophobes bite…”

        “Hey, she’s free, white and… OK, not twenty-one, not yet, but legal.”  And he let the door of the Dog Pound slam behind him, strolling out into the night and whistling “All I wanna do, is have some fun… I got the feelin’ I ain’t the only one…”