Short Stories by Rick Jankowski

Speculative and Sensitive Fiction



"You Deserve a Break Today," was published in Bewildering Stories in 2016.   A few years ago, I read a newspaper article about a fast food restaurant manager who put each night's proceeds into a paper bag and delivered them, unmolested, to his bank's night deposit box.  Then one day, he accidentally handed the bag of cash to a drive-thru customer.  This is my fantasy about how that might have happened.

You Deserve a Break Today

 


Hey, Jimmy!" Check out monitor two.

Head down, Jimmy raised a pudgy index finger. “Gimme a minute,” he said, running his hand through greasy black hair. “I’m counting tonight’s haul.” His thin lips moved as he thumbed through the greenbacks stacked in front of him.

“Count fast or you’re gonna miss it,” said Andy, a freckle-faced boy in a grease-stained shirt and cap. “Double vanilla shake shake shake!”

Jimmy’s head snapped upward and swiveled toward the monitor. Outside, a woman leaned toward a speaker. Above her, a security camera peeped into her driver’s side window. Inside the restaurant, monitor two displayed a low-cut black blouse that exposed the top half of two creamy mounds. A high voice with a hint of the South said, “A small fry, double cheeseburger and a diet coke, please.” As she spoke, the mounds undulated, briefly exposing large dark half circles.

“Whoa, baby,” said Jimmy, his eyes opening wide. “Double D vanilla shake! Ask her to repeat her order!” Eyes focused on the monitor, Jimmy mechanically scooped up the greenbacks and plopped them into a paper bag with yellow arches on it.

The woman spoke again, the mounds danced, and the dark circles slid into and out of view.

Jimmy licked his lips, then creased the top of the bag and folded it over. “Gimme that order,” he shouted. Bag tucked under his arm, he bolted toward the pick-up window, where a slim boy with long brown wavy hair was placing a burger and fries into a paper sack.

“That’s mine, Ricky me boy,” shouted Jimmy, his barrel chest quivering. “This order needs special handling!”

Ricky shrugged muscular shoulders. “You’re the boss,” he said, handing him the bag.

Bag and diet coke in hand, Jimmy sidled to the pick-up window. A red Ford Mustang slowly rolled forward until it was across from him. From his vantage point slightly above the car, Jimmy could see long blonde hair framing a heart-shaped face and a long, ivory neck. The bottom of the golden tresses swayed, gently caressing the tops of two freckled breasts

Jimmy licked his lips, leaned forward and peered into the car. “You’re the hundredth customer,” he said, “and, with our special promotion going on, that means your order is free!”

“This must be my lucky day,” said the blonde. She giggled, and her breasts jiggled independently.

“We need your name and cell number,” said Jimmy, handing her order though the open window. “C’mon in. We’ll click your pic to display in the lobby.”

“Well, isn’t that special?” said the blonde peering into one bag and then another. Her breath caught in her throat, and the fair skin on her neck reddened. “This truly is my lucky, lucky day,” she said, her voice turning husky. She placed the coke in a cup holder. “I’ll just park and be right in.” Her window hummed as it slowly rose, and then her car pulled away.

“Yes!” said Jimmy. He raised his fists above his head, pressed his lips tightly together and, stomach jiggling, wiggled his hips. Then he stopped, looked at Ricky and said, “Master at work.” He tapped Ricky’s chest with an index finger. “Gotta make it look official. Get me that Polaroid Snap digital camera. The one corporate gave us to take pics of Ronald Freakin’ McDonald when he was here last week. We got a wayyyy better use for it today!”

Andy glanced out the window as Ricky scurried away. “Um, Jimmy,” he said, “I don’t think you need that camera.”

“Whaddaya mean? Of course I need that camera. And I’m gonna get her to bend over somehow so we can take a picture of her—”

“I mean,” said Andy, “you don’t need the camera, ’cuz she just pulled outta the parking lot and drove south down Harlem Avenue.”

“Dammit,” said Jimmy stomping a foot. Then a smile slowly spread across his face.

“Hey, Ricky,” he shouted. “Forget the camera. Instead, replay the last couple of minutes on monitor two.”

Jimmy watched overhead as the digital footage began to rewind and play backwards in high speed. “Ricky,” he said, rubbing his hands slowly together, “slow it down and then play it forward so I can see that vanilla shake shake shake again.”

The smile on Jimmy’s face turned into a straight red gash as the grainy images rolled across the monitor. “Oh no,” he said. He stepped closer to the monitor. “No, no, no! I couldn’t have.”

He ran to his desk and rifled through the papers on it. “It’s not here!” he screamed. “Maybe it fell on the floor!”

Getting down on hands and knees, he circled the desk and then crawled under it, large bottom protruding. His next scream was muffled. “It’s not freakin’ here!”

Bottom first, he squirmed out from under the desk, cracking the back of his head loudly on the metal underside.

“Damn it!” he screamed. One hand cradling the back of his head he rolled onto his back, kicking his feet and flailing his arms in pain.

“Your Peter Griffin, Family Guy, impersonation gets better by the second,” Ricky said, proffering a hand. “Maybe you should go on The Tonight Show?”

Jimmy slapped the hand away, turned over and scrambled to his feet. His face was purple.

“What the heck is wrong?” said Ricky.

“Two freakin’ bags,” said Jimmy, rubbing the back of his head. “I gave her two freakin’ bags.”

Ricky glanced at Andy, who shrugged his shoulders. “So you gave her more than she ordered,” said Ricky. “You always do that with babes on point.”

“You idiot!” screamed Jimmy. “I gave her the bag with the night deposit.”

“The night deposit? You mean all the night’s money?”

“Most of it. There’s still some in the registers, but if I don’t get it back, we’re all gonna be in trouble.”

“All of us? Why? You gave the money away, not us.”

Jimmy aimed an index finger at Andy. “He’s in trouble, ’cuz he talked me into putting the night deposit into a food bag. And you’re in trouble ’cuz you’re a freakin’ smart mouth.”

Andy rubbed his face with a hand. “I only suggested it ’cuz we always did that when I worked at Burger King. When you hired me a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was safer than the way you were doing it. I never thought this would happen.”

“It was a stupid idea. I never shoulda listened to you.”

“Hey,” said Andy, “here’s another idea. She only has a couple minutes’ head start. Maybe you can chase her down and get the money back.”

Jimmy ran his fingers through his hair. “Okay, that one might not be so stupid,” he said. He glanced from Andy to Ricky and back again. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m off in a couple minutes anyway. Andy, you watch the registers until the third shift manager comes in. She’s always late. Ricky, you got the fastest car. You’re driving. Let’s track vanilla shake down.” Jimmy raised an eyebrow. “And, if we’re lucky, we’ll find her, and I’ll get to frisk her for the money.”

* * *

“Told ya,” said Jimmy pointing at the trunk of a red Mustang angled into a parking space near a long, one-story frame building off Harlem Ave. A sign in a grimy window proclaimed: Tuesday/Ladies Night. Half off craft beers and Margaritas

Scribbling on a chalkboard near the front door to the bar said, Gave up Drinking Smoking and Sex. It was the worst five minutes of my life!

Jimmy rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Where’s the first place you’d go if you’d just scored five gee’s?”

“To the bank?” said Ricky.

“When did you get so stupid?” said Jimmy, narrowing his eyes. “You’d go to celebrate. C’mon, park this beast, and let’s check out that car.”

Ricky eased his car into a parking space around the corner and followed Jimmy into the night. A light rain was falling, and steam rose from the glistening blacktop. The sound of country music seeped out of the bar as the front door opened, and a couple scurried for their car. The smell of beer, cigarette smoke, and a sweeter vapor wafted past.

Ricky pulled the collar of his shirt up and slid his hands into his pockets. Jimmy’s rubber-soled shoes squeaked as he made his way to the car. Once there, he pressed his face against the driver’s side window, used a shirt sleeve to clear the rain, and stared inside.

“Look,” he said. “In the back seat, a paper bag that looks like one of ours. This was too easy.”

He grasped the door handle. Ricky leaned close and put a hand on Jimmy’s arm. “What are ya doin’?” he said. “You can’t break into someone’s car. This might not even be hers.”

“Of course it’s hers,” said Jimmy. “Red Mustang. Bag in the back. Ten minutes from work. And, we’re not breaking in. We’re just getting our money back. You’re such an old lady.” He yanked at the door. “Damn, it’s locked.”

“Good,” said Ricky. “I don’t like—”

“But this one isn’t,” said Jimmy. He tugged a back door handle, the door opened, and he slid inside the car. “Get in,” he hissed. “You’re too conspicuous standing out there in the rain.”

Ricky looked around, pressed his teeth into his lower lip and then joined Jimmy in the back seat.

He wrinkled his nose. “What’s that smell?” he said. “Like hair spray and, I don’t know, it smells like my grandma’s place.”

“You must have some kinda hot grandma then,” said Jimmy. “This is definitely vanilla shake shake’s car.”

Jimmy snatched the paper bag on the back seat and looked inside.

“That the money?” asked Ricky.

Jimmy reached into the bag and pulled out a plastic tube. He held it close to his eyes. Moonlight filtered through the back window of the car, casting half of his face in light and half in shadow.

“What the...” he said. “It’s hemorrhoid cream. This ain’t our bag.” He reached into the sack again and retrieved two more items. Palm open, he held them toward Ricky.

“Blue hair rinse and denture cream?”

Ricky rolled his eyes. “Jimmy,” he said. “this ain’t the right car.”

“Wait,” said Jimmy, “there’s one more thing in here.” He removed a small square box.

“Condoms?”

“Okay,” said Ricky, “now it’s getting scary. Let’s get out of here.”

As Ricky reached for the handle, the door to the bar opened and light and sound streamed into the night. A pair of elderly women staggered out. One was heavy with short curly, silver-blue hair. A cigarette dangled from her lip and she wore a black T-shirt with white lettering that read, If it moves, fondle it. Her jeans were skin-tight, exposing a muffin top. She puffed on the cigarette, then flicked it against the wall of the bar. It bounced off the wall, tumbled to the wet sidewalk and hissed out.

The other woman was wearing a paisley dress, knee-high stocking and open-toed sandals. She was slim with long, stringy hair, a craggy face and a pointy jaw. Her left hand carried an open bottle of beer. As she stepped forward, she slipped on the wet sidewalk and waving her arms crazily, managed to maintain her balance and not drop the bottle. Arm in arm, the two of them zig-zagged toward the Mustang.

“Too late to get out,” said Jimmy, peeking out the back window. “Quick, on the floor.”

Ricky and Jimmy scrunched down as low as they could. Ricky’s hand banged into a canister of hair spray that rattled under the front seat. “Not much room back here,” he said.

“Shhh,” said Jimmy. “They’re right outside.”

The heavy woman ambled to the driver’s side door. Three tries and a scratched door later, her key penetrated the lock, and she plopped into the front seat. The slim woman took a swig of beer, placed the empty bottle against the curb, then climbed into the passenger seat and slammed the door. The whole car rocked and Jimmy braced his hand against the floor.

“What a night, Brenda,” said the heavy woman, her voice slurring. “I wuz hopin’ we were gonna get lucky, it being your birthday and all.”

“Me too, Darlene, but them guys was losers. Never paid for a round and that one guy kept scratchin’ his butt, then puttin’ his hand on my leg. Some birthday celebration. Gino promised he’d set us up with a coupla live ones tonight, but eee-ew, we can do way better than that!”

Darlene put her thumb in her mouth and pulled at the underside of her front teeth.

“Damn dentures been botherin’ me all night. Be a sweetheart and get me that CVS bag in the back seat. Need my denture cream.”

Brenda turned toward the back seat and her eyes met Jimmy’s.

Jimmy’s face blanched and he waved a half wave at her. “Happy Birthday?” he croaked. Then he handed her the paper bag.

Brenda stared at Jimmy, her gaze never leaving his face. With her right hand, she hiked up her dress and retrieved a silver derringer shoved into her waist band. She aimed it at Jimmy and cocked the trigger.

Jimmy screamed, “Shoot him, I’m a manager.”

Brenda pivoted the gun.

Ricky glared at Jimmy, then he closed his eyes and braced himself.

Brenda pulled the trigger and a flame spurted out of the top of the weapon.

Ricky opened one eye and then the other. He slumped back. “Oh, thank God,” he muttered. “It’s a lighter.”

Brenda laughed, a high shrill laugh. “Hey, Darlene,” she said. “Looks like Gino came through. You boys want a hit?” she said. “I got more than enough to get us all in the right mood.”

She opened the glove box and palmed a small pipe. She packed it to the brim, lit it using the Derringer, and inhaled deeply. “Straight from Colorado,” she said, coughing. “Rocky Mountain High!”

Darlene turned in her seat. “Did Gino pay by the hour or for the whole night? Either way, he’s a real doll.”

“I like the fat one,” said Brenda, taking another hit. “Somethin’ to grab onto.”

“And you sure are purty,” said Darlene, eying Ricky from head to crotch. “Love your hair. Can’t wait to pull it with both hands. I bet he paid you double!”

Darlene clicked her dentures, then pressed a button on her arm rest. All four door locks thumped closed.

Panic in his eyes, Ricky’s Adams apple bobbed and he started to speak. Jimmy interrupted him.

“Yeah,” said Jimmy. “Gino said to show you gals a real good time. Said do whatever you want as long as you want. He didn’t say you were hot. Gimme that pipe. I’ll take a hit.” Jimmy leaned forward and Brenda passed him the pipe. He clamped it between his teeth and took a long, slow draw.

Darlene patted her hair and smiled. “Well, we do look purty good for being on the far side of seventy, don’t we?”

Jimmy took another draw and sank into the back seat. “Heck, yeah. I woulda guessed 48, 50 tops.”

Brenda laughed. “You talk nice. I like you.”

Darlene took the pipe from Jimmy and then glanced at Ricky through half-lidded eyes, “And you seem like the strong silent type. Gino knows what I like and I bet you can put that tongue to better use than talkin’!”

She took a hit and passed the pipe to Ricky. His hand quivered as he slid the pipe stem between his lips, took a quick puff and began to sputter.

“He’s kinda new to all of this,” said Jimmy. “I’m showing him the ropes, so don’t you worry. He’s gonna be real good!”

“Ohhh,” said Darlene, slurring her words. “A virgin! We got us a virgin. Don’t you worry, cutie pie, we’ll make you do it over and over until you get it right.”

“So,” said Jimmy reaching into the bag and pulling out the square package. “What are we gonna do with these? I don’t know about Ricky, but they’re wayyyy too small for me. Let’s stop somewhere so we can get somethin’ that fits right.”

Ricky glanced at Jimmy and mouthed, “What are you doing?”

Darlene inserted her key into the ignition and revved the engine. “There’s a Seven-Eleven just down the block,” she said and backed out of her parking space. She shifted into drive, turned the wheel and pressed the gas pedal to the floor.

Ricky and Jimmy tumbled against the far door as the car screeched on the wet pavement and shot down the street.

* * *

Jimmy bent to one knee and ran his index finger across a group of colorful boxes as he read the labels aloud. “Lubricated, extra sensitive, reservoir tip, ah, here it is, magnum size! You got 10 bucks?”

“What? You’re not really considering...” said Ricky, his voice sputtering. He glanced out the front window of the store. Darlene beeped the car horn and waved at him to hurry up.

“C’mon,” he said “Look at them. They’re old enough to be our great-grannies.”

“You got a lot to learn,” said Jimmy. “They’re experienced. Think of the things they know, the things they can show us!”

“I’m not sure I want to see those things,” said Ricky. He blinked rapidly. “Besides, every minute we’re here is a minute Vanilla Shake and the money get further away.”

“Damn,” said Jimmy. “You’re right. I sorta forgot. Sex, money... gotta get my priorities straight.”

Ricky bent low and tilted his head toward the rear of the store. “Look, there’s a back door. If we keep down, we can sneak out. It’s only a few blocks to my car.”

Jimmy sighed and slid the magnums back onto the shelf. Then, crouched down so their shoulders almost touched their knees, they crept past the hamburger and hot dog buns to the back door. As they neared it, the store clerk glanced their way.

“Hey,” he yelled, “you can’t go out that way, there’s an...”

Ricky pushed the door open and an alarm shrieked. Jimmy stood transfixed as he watched the doors to the Mustang spring open. Ricky grabbed him by his shirt sleeve and tugged him into the alley and away from the store. A moment later, the clerk appeared with his palms covering his ears. Brenda pushed past him.

“Hey,” she yelled. “Where ya goin? Things were just about to git real good! If you need more money...” She waved a handful of bills at them.

Jimmy turned around, “Another time, babe!” he shouted. “Something really big has come up!” He blew her a kiss and then he and Ricky disappeared into the night.

* * *

The blue light rotated hypnotically and alternate shades of dark and light skittered across Jimmy’s face. “Why are the cops here?” he said, his voice quivering. “It was an accident. I didn’t mean to hand out the money. Now I’m gonna go to jail. Oh, God. You know what happens there! You should have backed out of the lot when I told you.”

“And go where?” said Ricky. “They’d just track us down. C’mon that cop is waving us in.”

Ricky led the way into the restaurant. Jimmy shuffled behind him. Two police officers stood at the front counter. The officer who had waved them in was short, round and bald. He was munching on a chocolate chip cookie. The other was tall and thin. His shirt was starched and his shoes were a glossy black. He took notes while he talked with a red-haired woman, who stood behind the counter.

“That’s him,” said the red haired woman, pointing a finger at Jimmy.

Jimmy’s face drained of all color. “I didn’t mean...” he said, his voice so low it was inaudible. His leg buckled and Ricky grabbed his elbow to steady him.

“Hey, Anna,” said Ricky. “What’s going on? Something happen on the third shift?”

“You the second shift manager?” said the tall officer, his gaze focused on Jimmy. His voice was deep and commanding.

Jimmy nodded his head imperceptibly. The officer stepped closer. “Seems like you got a problem,” he said.

Jimmy’s voice squeaked and a stain spread under his arms and down his shirt. The air smelled of sweat. “I didn’t mean to...” he mumbled.

The round officer shoved the last of the chocolate chip cookie into his mouth and swallowed. Small crumbs spewed from his lips as he spoke.

“No one means to, son,” he said. “But you should have done a better background check.”

Jimmy stared blankly at the officer.

“I’m sorry, officer,” said Ricky. “I don’t understand.”

“A better background check,” boomed the tall officer. “On one,” he looked at his notes, “Andy Barker. Also known as Andy Rivers, also known as Andy Sparrow, also known as George Malone.”

“George Malone,” said Jimmy. “Who’s George Malone?”

“Andy is George Malone,” said Anna.

“What?”

“Andy lied to you when you hired him, son,” said the round officer. “His real name is George Malone. He’s a con man. He gets hired at a fast food place—”

“Like this one,” said Anna.

The round officer nodded. “Exactly like this one. Worms his way in, then BAM, he creates some kind of disturbance, cleans out the cash registers and disappears.”

“I was late,” said Anna, looking at her shoes. “In the five minutes after you left and before I arrived, he somehow cleaned out the registers. All the money is gone. I’m sorry.”

Jimmy said nothing for a moment. Then he patted Anna on the arm. “Could’a happened to anyone, even me. Sounds like he’s a real professional. Just get here on time from now on. I’ll smooth it out with corporate. After all, you deserve a break today.”

Anna smiled and wrapped her arms around Jimmy. “Oh,” she said, “You’re the best.”

The slim officer stared at Jimmy. “Better talk to corporate about doing better background checks,” he said. “Oh, one more question,” he said, tapping his pen against his notebook. “You didn’t see a good-looking woman talking to Andy before you left, did you? Blonde hair, big busted? She’s sometimes in on the play. Likes to drink diet cokes and distract guys with her... her décolletage.”

“Her what?” said Jimmy.

“Her cleavage,” said Anna.

A crimson stain spread across Jimmy’s face. He gulped and his voice rose an octave. “No,” he said. “No one like that was in the restaurant. I’m sure I would have noticed her.”

“I doubt,” said the round officer, “that you’ll see Andy again. But if you do, call us immediately. He’s dangerous. Sometimes he carries a gun. He hit a Burger King last month.”

“Right before we hired him.” said Jimmy.

* * *

Jimmy watched the patrol car pull out of the parking lot, turn left onto Harlem Avenue and drive slowly away. A minute passed and then another before he turned to Ricky and said, “Not a word to anyone about any of this. You understand?”

Ricky nodded. “Yeah, we’ll look like idiots.”

“And that recording: delete it first chance you get.”

Ricky nodded and the two of them walked in silence to Ricky’s car.

Jimmy opened the passenger door as a car pulled slowly into the parking space next to him. Jimmy’s eyes widened. “A red Mustang,” he whispered. The driver’s side window slowly descended. “Run,” Jimmy yelled. “It’s Andy. He’s back!”

Before Jimmy could take a step, a gray curly head poked out of the window. The sweet scent of weed filled the air.

“There you naughty boys are,” said Darlene. “We told some of our lady friends about you two. Wanna go hot-tubbin’? You won’t need your trunks!”



If you liked this story, you can find more of them in my short story collection, The Sound of Midnight Fire, available on Amazon.com.