It was close to seven on Friday night when Nick told Dan to set up the outside board, to promote their special weekend offer for the Angus Burger. Dan scowled, as Nick handed him a crumpled print-out of the copy for the promotion. This was really not cool. His shift finished at seven and the job would take him at least half an hour. He had places to go, things to do, people to see. More importantly, Stu had scored some righteous weed and was waiting for him under the bridge down by the canal.
He muttered under his breath, just loud enough that Nick knew he was pissed off, but quiet enough to make sure he wouldn’t get into trouble again. Nick stared at him and pointed outside towards the sign in the car park. He wasn’t actually smiling but there was a distinct hint of smugness lurking around his mouth and eyes. He knew what he was doing. There was no way he hadn’t noticed the time and Dan’s excitement about getting off. This was pure spite. Prick!
Dan shrugged and turned away. He slouched over to the store cupboard and pulled out the ladder and the plastic box of letters. In normal circumstances this was a job that he would spin out for as long as possible, anything to get out of that stinking kitchen and Nick’s beady-eyed gaze. He would usually take two leisurely trips to carry the ladder and then the letters outside. Tonight though, time was of the essence and it was amazing what you could do when you had to. Aware that he might be setting himself up for more grief in the future when Nick saw that he could do it in one trip, but prepared to take the risk anyway, he dragged the ladder along the floor with one hand and juggled the box of letters in the crook of his free arm.
The ladder made a disturbingly loud metallic clatter that set even his own teeth on edge. A few startled customers turned to look as he passed through the restaurant and Nick shot him a warning glance. In a half-hearted gesture of concession, he hoisted the ladder up under his arm as best he could but continued with his mission to get both items outside in one trip.
It was a warm, still evening. When he stepped out of the air-conditioned building, a wave of humidity washed over him; perfect weather for chilling, for getting stoned. What the hell was he doing here, flipping burgers and kow-towing to that bastard, Nick? Letting the ladder drop again, Dan dragged it across the car park and positioned it against the frame that the promo sign was mounted on. He climbed up until he could reach the letter board and balanced the box of letters between his knees and the top rung.
The pegging system reminded him of the picture boards he had played with as a child. His thoughts drifted to the many happy hours he had spent rummaging in the box of coloured pegs to construct detailed images of cars and trucks on the little white plastic mesh boards. The best part was evoking the pleasing “Oohs” and “Aahs” from Mum and Dad when he showed them each of his masterpieces in turn.
Dan snapped his fingers and shook himself. No time for daydreaming today! He was on a strict timeline. For once, he needed to focus on the job in hand. It was already five past seven!
He looked at the note Nick had given him. It was covered in greasy fingerprints. That geezer was totes disgusting. His job was to replace Double Cheeseburgers, Two for £5.99 with Angus Burger, Weekend Deal, Only £2.99 plus Soft Drink. For Christ’s sake! Who even wrote this? Why use one word when two hundred would do? He was going to have to remove all the old letters one by one and replace them with the new ones. There were going to be no shortcuts on this occasion. The new wording was completely different. Damn Nick to hell! He had done this on purpose. This was going to take forever! Fuck him!
Dan looked at his watch. It was now ten past seven and he hadn’t even started yet. He looked back over to the restaurant. Through the big windows he could see right through to the counter where Nick had his back to him. He was now picking on Gina, the new girl taking the Drive-Through orders. She was watching the supervisor with a wounded expression as he aggressively shook his finger at her and looked as though she was on the verge of tears. Bastard!
Dan looked at board and then at the box of letters between his knees. He looked back at Nick and Gina, then again at the board and then back to the letters. He took one final glance back toward the restaurant. It was the sight of Gina’s pink, tear-stained face that was the final trigger. He would show him! In a sudden burst of energy, he began to pluck the existing letters from the board.
When he had finished, he descended the ladder and, after taking a moment to admire his handiwork, hurried back inside. It was twenty-five past seven when he finally shoved the ladder back into the cupboard. He tossed the box of letters onto the shelf, slammed the door and, with a nod to Nick, who had lost interest in him now that he had had his fun, grabbed his bag and left.
Later, he and Stu shared their last spliff in the bus shelter across the road from the restaurant, giggling uncontrollably as they read the words on the board out loud, over and over again and again, each time using a different voice, mimicking different imaginary character’s reactions as they read the sign. A high-pitched woman’s voice was full of surprise that turned into disgust, a deep male drawl lingered in bawdy amusement on the offending word and a child’s confusion was followed by innocent questioning.
The next day when his alarm went off Dan silenced it then turned over and went back to sleep. An hour later, it was his mum who took the call from Nick telling him he was fired and not to bother going in. He smiled to himself under the covers as his mum stood in his bedroom door, lecturing him about losing yet another job. He waited for her to finish and go back downstairs before he got out of bed and pulled the curtains. It was another glorious day and it was all his. He had places to go, things to do, people to see. Why, he might even call into the restaurant and grab an Anus Burger…