Behind The Red Curtain
“I'm sorry, but we no longer carry Tutti-Frutti.”
“Why the fuck not?” the overtly disgruntled man said.
“Because, sir, we rotate our flavors on a monthly basis. We find that our customers enjoy the change.”
“Well not me! Am I not a customer? It is inexcusable that…”
Lucinda could ignore the rest of the conversation, as she had heard it all before. Customers always complained about the flavor changes, and she had already brought it up with the owner several times. His interest was non-existent, being too busy scouring the earth for bugs that he could name after himself. He was an entomologist who just happened to own a gourmet popcorn shop. In fact, he owned the entire strip mall in which Poppin' Fresh resided.
Her preferred method of revenge for unruly customers was calculated apathy, as they hated when she wasn't affected by their ravings. The customer simply couldn't be right all the time, and sometimes Lucy needed a win in her own column.
“We will have that flavor again in a few months. In the meantime, can I offer you our newest flavor – s'mores?”
“I don't want fucking s'mor…
The shop was small, and Lucy only managed two other employees; both as worthless as a vibrator without batteries. Sure, they do the job – but not very well. The male of the two, Tommy, had called in sick. This was commonplace and based on his girlfriend's sexual availability. The female, Cassidy, was present and accounted-for but was predictably hunched over in a corner doing homework. She liked to speak math problems out loud, a habit that Lucy had yet to get used to. At forty-two, Lucy was older than the both of them combined, and she was happy to pretend that she wasn't at all bothered by that fact. But, it was what it was, and nothing else. When it came right down to it, her job was not a taxing one, help or no help.
When the annoying little bell on the front door twinkled its evil sound, and she was forced to stop her paperwork to take care of the front counter so that Cassidy could continue her education, she was dismayed at what was waiting for her there.
The kids had come into the shop twice before, and it hadn't gone well either time. They wore stereotypical black– ripped jeans and bad attitudes. Hooligans all, Lucy's mother would have said. She stayed silent, having learned that the sound of her voice only exacerbated things. Their leader, a slim slime ball of an adolescent, sauntered over to the counter as the other two boys fanned out.
“Hey, hey!” the slime ball said, “Look who it is, guys. The same lady that was so very nice to us the last time we were here.”
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Sure, you can. We just stopped in for a bite to eat. Go ahead and eat up,” he said, motioning to the walls lined with popcorn bags. The other two boys immediately began to rip down bags and bust them open, occasionally taking a bite, but mostly scattering the kernels across the floor, and it wasn't long before everything was covered in a rainbow of tasty treats. Lucy wasn't bothered. A little sweeping was better than letting these guys ruin her night.
She had read The Power of Positive Thinking from cover to cover. Twice.
Cassidy, hearing the commotion, called out, “Is everything cool up there?”
“Yeah, Cass, just do your homework,” she answered.
Their fearless leader looked over Lucy's shoulder to see where the voice had come from. When he saw Cassidy, he smiled and licked his lips in a way that Lucinda had seen far too many times in her life. She hated the perversion that resided in his eyes, and she could no longer play the placid counter girl role.
“Why don't you idiot kids get out of here? You've got nothing better to do with your time than spill popcorn on the floor?”
“You shut your damn face lady! We do what we want, and today we are hungry for popcorn,” he said, pulling a pocket knife from his pants pocket. There was so much shit stuffed in his pants that it was comic gold watching him dig the thing out. Still, the sudden addition of a blade into the mix didn't ease her mind.
“Well, may I suggest our newest flavor – s'mores. It's just 2.99 for a small bag; 4.99 for a large.”
“Shut up, bitch!” the boy said, swiftly reaching out and grabbing Lucy by her shirt collar. He raised the knife up near her face, and she was just about to pull away when the brass bell rang – the sound decidedly less annoying this time than usual. A man, dressed in the nicest suit that Lucy had ever seen, took a single step inside and stood in front of the door.
Authority dripped from the man's skin, and power was his fragrance. All three boys stopped and looked at him, and the slime ball released her collar. A few moments of silence later, one of them politely asked, “The fuck do you want?”
“To get some popcorn, of course. I am in the right place, aren't I?” he asked, smooth as silk.
“Now isn't the time, fella. Fuck off,” said the slime ball.
“That language isn't really appropriate while a lady is present, and it seems to me that you gentlemen have made quite the mess,” the man said, looking down at the floor. “I believe that it the three of you should 'fuck off' instead.”
The boys summoned whatever underlying machismo that puberty had cursed them with, puffed their chests, and stood their ground. The dapper man took a step to the side and motioned to the door, unfazed by the territorial display. Something in his face caused the boys to think again. Lucy could see it too.
The man was stone.
None of the boys wanted to be the first to back down, afraid to be the pussy of the group. But, the man was unwavering, and their resolve was not. All three moved toward the door together. Slimeball made one more gallant attempt to save his masculinity by abruptly motioning to the man's face as he passed, trying to make him flinch. He didn't get his wish, and as he exited the popcorn shop, the words, “Man, fuck off,” could be heard, ever so faintly.
Acting as if nothing at all had happened, the man walked over to the right wall and browsed what was left. As he walked, he brushed aside the popcorn with his fancy clad feet. He looked at the wall for quite some time. Lucy had been planning to thank him when he came to the register, but he was taking so long, that she was beginning to feel like a real jerk for not saying anything already.
She quickly said, “Thank you,” fully realizing that she sounded like an oafish child.