The following comes from Then A Penguin Walked In and Other Tall Tales, currently on sale digitally and in paperback.


FRANK FINKLETON HAD BEEN working at the Happy Hamburger for over thirty-six years. 

He’d started with the company as a fry cook when he was still just a freshman in high school. He’d had little ambition and no friends back then. He’d known at the time that college was nothing more than a pipe dream. His parents had no money, and he’d never cared enough about school to pull down anything better than a C minus.

But the Happy Hamburger had changed all that.

Young Frank had found something at the Happy Hamburger that he’d never been able to find in school: A sense of belonging and even a friend or two.

Thirty-six years later and nothing had changed. He’d worked hard for the company. He’d been loyal. And in return the company had repaid him in kind. It took him almost twenty-five years before he’d been given his own store, and he’d worked hard to make it one of the top stores in the nation. He did that by hiring the best people. 

One of those people had been Dominick Hanrahan.

Frank had seen a lot of himself in Hanrahan. And when he’d hired the young man he’d had high hopes for his future with the company.

But for the last year or so Frank had noticed an unhappiness in the young man. Maybe ‘unhappy’ wasn’t the right word. It was more like a depressed acceptance. Like Hanrahan had accepted that his life, his future, was with the Happy Hamburger, and he wasn’t all that happy with the idea.

He hadn’t been putting much into his job over the last year, not like he used to. It was as if he was just going through the motions. Waiting for death. It was all very sad and Frank had been meaning to have a talk with the boy for some time now.

But then today happened.

The morning with Dominick had begun like any other. The boy had swept in through the back door and clocked in just as his shift had begun. He’d worked his way robotically through the various prep jobs to ready everything for breakfast. He did it all with little fuss and even less joy. Not that there was a lot of joy to be had in a job like this, Frank knew that, but there used to be a time when Dominick was happy just to be doing something with his life.

Then, a few hours ago, young Mr. Hanrahan had gone down to the basement to get some fry boxes. It had taken him a while and Frank had been thinking of going after the boy. But eventually he’d returned with the fry boxes in tow. But the Dominick that had returned from downstairs had seemed like a whole new man.

Frank had noticed him smiling a lot more. Dominick attacked his work with a zeal that hadn’t been there in a great long time. He was like a completely different person. And even when he’d asked Dominick to stay and work an extra four hours, though the boy had complained, Frank could sense that his heart hadn’t been in it. Like he’d wanted nothing more than to work those extra four hours, but had to put up a show of fighting back because that’s what he was ‘supposed’ to do.

Frank sat at a small desk in the front of the restaurant. As the Happy Hamburger was a drive in, there was nowhere inside for customers to sit and eat, it was all done out in their car. Because of this, the interior was all business and Frank was allowed to have his desk right up front so that he could see most of what was going on inside, and out, from where he sat.

As Frank sat and worked on the schedule for the next two weeks, he thought about this change he’d seen in Dominick today. For a moment, he looked over and watched the boy work. The lunch rush was over and Dominick was cleaning the fryers. That meant taking one fryer at a time, shutting it down, draining all the oil into a metal box on wheels, wheeling the box out to the grease trap outside to dump, scrubbing the inside of the scorching hot fryer with steel wool, then dumping a cube of solidified grease into the top of the fryer and watching it melt. Dominick had already cleaned two out of the three fryers and was draining the last. He whistled as he waited for the fryer to drain. Actually whistled.

Then, fryer drained, he wheeled the box out the back door.

Frank shook his head and smiled. He didn’t know what had come over the boy, but he liked it. He might still have his talk with Dominick, but instead may discuss the idea of promotion with the young man. He bent back to the schedules and was soon lost in thought when he noticed someone out of his peripheries standing at his desk.

“Hm?” he said without looking up.

“I need to talk to you about something, Mr. Finkleton,” It was young Hanrahan.

“Sure, Dominick,” Frank replied. “What’s up?”

Frank tore himself away from the schedule, looked up at Dominick, and gasped.

This was not the young man that had just walked out the back door with a loaded down grease bucket. Not unless he’d been accosted by a traveling Renaissance Fair.

The Dominick Hanrahan that stood at his desk wore leather pants and chain mail. He even had a sword strapped to his back. But the boy’s eyes, they were what made him gasp. It was if they’d seen everything there was to see in the world. They were serious eyes, and frankly, they were a little frightening.

“Dominick?” Frank said, standing. “What’s all this? You were just in uniform a few minutes ago.”

“I have to talk to you about something, sir,” Dominick said.

It was the sir that got him. Dominick had never called him ‘sir’. The title caused Frank to really take notice.

“Okay, Dominick. What do you have to tell me?”

“I regret to inform you that I am tendering my resignation as of today,” Dominick said. “I’m sorry, but I’m needed elsewhere.”

“Um,” Frank said. “Okay.”

“It was a pleasure working with you, Mr. Finkleton,” said Dominick, holding out his hand.

Frank took it and they shook. “You too, Dominick.” The reply was automatic. A polite auto-response as his mind did its best to make sense out of all this. Though nothing was going to fall in place with a quickness, Frank was aware of his short comings, he was able to wrap his mind around it all just enough to ask: “You sure about this?”

“Very sure,” Dominick said. “But I have to go.”

And without another word, the boy—no, man—turned and left the Happy Hamburger.

Frank Finkleton remained standing for a full three minutes, his eyes glued to the back door. He almost expected Dominick to walk back in wearing his Happy Hamburger uniform and whistling as he pulled the grease bucket along with him.

But Dominick didn’t.

Frank turned to Melissa, the cook, who only shrugged her shoulders at him. He shrugged his right back, sat down at the desk, and got back to the schedules, realizing that he’d have to do them over again to find coverage for Dominick’s shift.

To be continued...


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