About an hour later, both Jenny Tierney and the other cashier were on break.
I was a few minutes away from yet another shock.
For the time being, however, I was reenacting the running joke that Louis and I had discussed earlier in the afternoon, when he’d called me to request that I take the extra shift.
“No,” I was telling a thirtyish couple with their grade school-age daughter. “We don’t have the Arctic Orange Shakes.”
“McDonald’s is running ads about the orange shakes nonstop,” the man said. “What do we need to do to get one?”
Both the man’s wife and his daughter produced disappointed facial expressions. The little girl frowned and stuck out her lower lip.
“To be honest with you,” I said, “your best bet would probably be to go to one of the McDonald’s locations in Cincinnati. I don’t know when we’re going to have them here.”
The man turned to his wife. “Do you want to go to Burger Chef?” he asked.
“Does Burger Chef have Arctic Orange Shakes?” the little girl chimed in.
“No, but they have their act together, Holly—which is more than I can say for this McDonald’s.”
“Let’s go, Frank,” the woman said.
The whole family abruptly gave me their backs and headed toward the exit.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
They didn’t turn around to reply.
The red-haired young man walked in at almost exactly the same time that the family of three walked out. He might have passed them in the double glass doors.
He was wearing blue jeans and a white tank top.
I recognized him immediately as the same fellow I had seen walking down the access road beside the Pantry Shelf. It had been only a matter of hours since then, after all.
And now he was here. At my workplace.
I didn’t believe this was a coincidence. Not after all the weird coincidences I’d already experienced today.
I braced myself. But at the same time, I took pains to remember: There was a chance (even if an increasingly small one), that the red-haired youth was just another customer, that there was a logical explanation for everything I’d seen, heard, and felt today.
As he walked up, he looked directly at me, just as he had on the access road beside the Pantry Shelf.
He was already giving me that smirk.
He had known that I would be here. But how was that possible?
He made a beeline for my cash register. With the other two cashiers still on break, I was the only one present.
I was about to speak, but he beat me to the first word.
“What, are you just going to stand there like a lubberwort?” he asked.
His use of this strange vocabulary (which I was not familiar with, but which I knew to be an insult of some kind) made me instantly certain that he was the one who had called me at home this afternoon, and issued that string of odd invectives.
Also, he spoke with a distinctly British accent.
But how was any of that possible? How had he known my phone number? How had he known that I worked at the McDonald’s?
“What do you want?” I asked him.
He laughed. It was more of a snort. “Oh, I wants me a lot of things.”
“What’s your name?” I asked him. “Who are you?”
“You can call me Banny.”
At the time, I took his name to be nothing more than some unusual nickname. (But I wasn’t totally surprised by this, as I figured that different names were common in the United Kingdom.)
Somewhat later, I would learn his full name.
But right now, I was mostly concerned with meeting his obvious challenge. The challenge had begun at the Pantry Shelf, and continued when he called my house. It was now entering its third phase.
“Did you call me earlier?” I asked.
“And what if I did, plague-sore? What are you going to do about it?”
While so many of the unwanted visitors of that summer inspired fear in me, Banny immediately stoked my anger. (And that was before I even knew who he actually was.)
I took a moment to ponder my next steps. I was seized by a sudden desire to walk around from behind the counter, and give this guy a punch in the nose. At the very least, I would have given him a good shove.
Then I remembered where I was. My role here at Ray Smith’s McDonald’s.
“Are you going to order anything?” I asked. “Would you like an order of fries? A Big Mac, maybe?”
“Are you bleedin’ serious? You think I want to eat here?”
“Why else would you be here? Banny.”
“Just remember what I said. Whatever you see, whatever you think you understand, leave it alone. Stay out of it. Otherwise, we’ll be makin’ you sorry.”
He paused and looked me over. “You fopdoodling cow dung,” he said. “Best you keep to your place.”
Then Banny, just like the family of three, turned and walked away from the counter without ordering anything.
I wanted to run after him, to knock that smirk off his face.
But he was still a customer of Ray Smith’s McDonald’s—on some level, at least. If I made a scene, I would risk losing my job.
I wouldn’t be able to count on the good offices of Louis. Louis was certainly my benefactor, but even he couldn’t excuse me from starting a fight in the dining room of the restaurant.
It was now around seven o’clock. And while the twilight was still a full two hours away, the sun was at a low angle in the sky, and orange light was glinting off every polished and metallic surface in the restaurant.
The restaurant faced west, so that I had to squint against the glare when I looked toward the parking lot.
I watched Banny take a turn toward the twin sets of doors that comprised the main entrance and exit of the restaurant. You’ve seen them: Every fast food establishment in the world is constructed in the same way. There are two sets of glass doors, with a small foyer in between. This helps keep the warm air in during the winter, and the cool air in during the summer.
But Banny never completed the turn to the first set of double doors. It appeared to me that Banny just…
One moment he was there. And the next he wasn’t.
No, I thought. I did not just see that.
I blinked, and squinted, and still couldn’t see Banny.
“What’s up with you?” someone said over my shoulder.
I turned and saw Jenny Tierney and the other cashier, returning from break.
“Nothing,” I said. “I’m fine.”
“You look a little pale,” Jenny said.
“Like I said, I’m fine.”
“If you say so, Steve. But you look pale to me.”