I walked back to the dry goods storage shelves in the back of the kitchen and started counting the boxes of napkins again. The restaurant was slow and Lance wanted me checking dry goods inventory when we were slow. He was sure someone was swiping. No one did. No one stole crap from employers since the Shrinkage Act of 2009 made it punishable by death.
Stupid recession. Stupid shit job.
Still, it could have been worse. Could have been no job. Or, I could have been checking patties in the walk in freezer like Fred. At least I wasn’t frost bit.
Lance took the place so damn seriously since they made him shift manager. As if that meant he didn’t work at a Burger King like the rest of us. We all pretended to be gung ho; Lance was gullible enough to fall for it. And he was in charge, even if that was in charge of nothing.
The napkins were all there, except the ones we’d actually used. One napkin per purchase. Rationing. No free lunch; no free napkins. I would have to count again later.
I did see something weird as I was counting, though. It wasn’t the actual wall behind the dry goods shelf; it was a back tacked on to the metal rails that just made it look like the wall. I’d never noticed that before. Why would someone do that? The boxes couldn’t fall out through the wall. No need to brace them. What was behind it?
I pulled the shelf out a little ways and some dude sprung out from some hole carved in masonry back there like a trapdoor spider. One of the big ones. I almost screamed, but the guy grabbed me and put a sharpened spork to my throat before I could.
“Any sound and I end you,” he whispered angrily, spitting a little.
He was a little guy, but fast. Ragged, old looking. He had on a dirty, faded grey suit. The pant bottoms were flooded and he had on white athletic socks with scuffed black dress shoes. His head was shaved bald, nicked here and there like he’d been cutting it himself with the spork, and thick-rimmed glasses with big assed fish eye lenses covered most of his face. He was a nerd gone native.
Who was this guy?
Mind you, I was thinking all that and I wasn’t I’d about pissed myself when he jumped out and I wasn’t doing much better after that with the sharpened spork at my throat.
“Think you found me, dead man?” The freak kept talking. “They all want to find me. They all want the five grand and entry into the drawing for a million just for being in the restaurant when I’m found. Never had a burger here? Man…what do you think I’ve been eating back here all these years?”
What the hell was the guy babbling about? The spork point made it kind of hard to think straight.
“You didn’t find me; I found you. Nobody finds me. I kill them first. I’ll kill them all with my bare hands.”
That’s when it hit me. How could I have missed it? Dorky outfit? Five grand for finding him in the restaurant? Never at a Burger King burger? Drawing for a million if you’re there when he’s found? I knew this dude. Everyone did…or at least they used to.
“Herb?” I asked, trying not to move my neck enough to get stabbed. “That you?”
“You know it’s me,” he growled. “There’s probably a cardboard cutout of me standing in the lobby right now. You know my face.”
I couldn’t believe it. The guy really didn’t know. He’d crawled in that hole thirty some odd years ago and didn’t know the war was over. Never surrendered, never taken, never compromised. Dude was a hero, the last soldier still fighting.
“Herb,” I said gentler, respectfully, “that’s all gone now. It’s been gone for a long time. The Burger Wars are finished.”
He paused. I could feel him thinking, panicking. I didn’t move, not sure if he’d even listen. Maybe he’d gone crazy in there. I wouldn’t want to get a hero like him hurt over a misunderstanding. I didn’t want him to hurt me either, which seemed more likely.
Eventually, he let me go. He pushed me away quick, spinning me around so I faced him. The sharpened spork still brandished in my direction. Wary. His eyes darted paranoid around him and all around behind the kitchen, trying to take everything in at once.
“You feeding me a line? What’s the game here?”
“It’s over, Herb,” I reassured him. “You can relax.”
He blinked. He gritted his teeth and his grip on the spork tightened. “Who won?”
I shrugged. “Nobody, Herb. It turned into sort of a cold war. The two superpowers slammed away at each other, but nothing was going anywhere. No lasting victories. All the while, barbarians trickled in and chipped away at both of them.”
His eyes widened. Fear.
“Not literally! Deli sandwiches. Chicken. Chinese food. Burritos. Neither of the powers were strong enough to end the other and fighting left them open to the little guys. It was hopeless. President George Foreman finally got them to sit down and call truce, in the interests of the cheeseburger. It was better for everyone.”
He sagged, but it seemed like a mix of disappointment and relief. Maybe more relief than anything else. His grip on the sharpened spork lessened.
“Really? It’s done? I can come out from back there? No one is hunting me anymore?” His head tilted a little to the left. He looked that happy kind of stunned.
“Really, man. They declared amnesty for all soldiers. You’re safe now. There’s nothing more to worry about.”
It jazzed me to be the one to give him the good news, to see that smile start to creep across his face as the weight of thirty years lifted form his shoulders. War over or not, the dude was a bad ass. It was cool I could be the one to do that for him.
“Wow,” he muttered. “Wow.”
“Hard to process all at once?” I smiled.
“Yeah. I mean, I’ve been in there alone for…what? Years? Way too long. Then it’s all just done and the world is all sunshine and rainbows. How does a man even shift like that?”
“Just take things one moment at a time, man,” I replied. “Just take it as it comes. Think–what was the first thing you wanted to do when the war was over? What’s the first thing you’re going to do in the post war world?”
He grinned. Big. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to get me a Pepsi, would you? I’ve been dreaming about one all the time I’ve been stuck back in this kitchen. All I can think about is finally having one now.”
I, literally, felt my jaw clench as that son of a bit dared to say that. My throat burned with stomach acid boiling up my esophagus and I swear my vision actually went red. The fucker. He actually had the fucking gall to say that.
I snapped my wrist up and pressed the crown on my ‘polar bears drinking soda’ watch. I heard a TING! as the glass capsule inside shattered. Then a small compressed gas jet shot the prussic acid powder into that smug bastard’s face.
Herb gasped, sucking the powder right into his lungs. Stupid bastard. He gagged, his pale face going bluish. He clutched at his throat vainly. It wouldn’t do him any good. Neither would that damn spork. He fell.
“The cola wars are over too, Herb,” I told his corpse. Prussic acid worked fast. I spat on his body. “Maybe you should have thought to ask about that. It’s over and we make sure what we say is respectful toward the great master Coca-Cola. Asshole.”