The trio of texts comes across the phones of the Fast Fred’s employees at 11:43 P.M. on Thursday night. They lift their phones off nightstands, slide them out of pockets, and scootch them free of significant other’s backsides, all seeking to know the reason for this late message on, what is for most of them, a school night.
— FF secret staff meeting. Conquistador’s back room. Noon Sunday. Free 🌮🌮🌮 for anyone who comes. —
— More details at meeting. —
— Obviously. 🤦—
For many, the first reaction is a burst of laughter, followed by a sloth-speed shake of the head in either second-hand embarrassment or annoyance—or more than likely both. Without looking at the number, it’s obvious they’re sent from their assistant manager, Nadine, who has a deeper love for emojis than a Millennial Apple employee and a penchant for run-on texts. What’s less obvious is the reason behind her message. She’s not one for drama. That’s reserved for one of their cashiers, Brent, who survives off reality television like its oxygen and serves up gossip faster than one of their burger baskets.
What could it be?
Side conversations pop up amongst the group, leaping from clique to clique, employee to employee.
— Since when do we need secret staff meetings? What’s the tea? —
— If it’s secret, do we not get paid? —
— But Sunday is my day off! —
— What the hell is this about? Did you tell someone we made out in the fridge? —
— Do you think there will really be free tacos? —
A hostess donning a sombrero waves them to the back room where they find Nadine perched on a chair with a clipboard in her lap. As promised, a platter of both hard shell and soft shell tacos is displayed on the table across from her along with nachos, and pitchers of cola and water.
“Thanks for coming. Help yourself,” she says, climbing off her chair. She bites her fingernail and watches her coworkers take their spots at square tables with piñata napkin holders situated throughout the room. “Sorry about this place. It’s a bit much, maybe could be considered offensive. I don’t know.”
“Nadine, are you okay?” Bianca, one of the fryers, asks as she tips herself a glass of Coke.
“Yep, yep, yep,” she says, each word sounding like it’s a ball rolling down a stairwell, bouncing farther and farther way. “Well, not really fine, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”
“Yeah.” Another cashier, Ramona, throws herself onto a seat and pulls up another to rest her feet, one over the other. “Why are we here?”
“And why did this have to be a secret? We’re all here,” Eric asks, already halfway through his first taco.
“Certain people aren’t,” Nadine says. The group takes an inventory, whispering names under breaths, and counting heads, as Nadine plants herself between two fake cacti, locks her knee into place and her knuckles around the board.
The room goes quiet, with the exception of the coughs Eric hacks out as he chokes on a piece of taco shell.
“Devin? As in our manager, Devin?” Rodney asks, but he’s the only one who looks like he’s at the wrong party.
“Devin, as in the guy who sits in his office ‘working’ without actually working,” the drive-thru attendant, Grant says, punctuating his sentence with air quotes.
“Devin, as in the weirdo FF Corporate sent from two states away to run us and treats like a god even though he doesn’t do shit,” Ramona says.
Brent lifts a finger and clears his throat. “I’ve had to clean the bathroom after him, and I think that’s the one thing he does do on the job.”
She draws her chair over from an adjacent table to the group and sits. “I’ve just had enough. It was one thing when he started, and we could play off his laziness and ineptitude as just starting, but it’s been a year and he’s still like that, if not worse. He mistreats us all. Like you, Dani.” Nadine waves to a girl a couple tables away who is dragging a chip through a heap of salsa. “How dare he criticize how you mop the floor? It always looks immaculate, and he’s never once picked up a mop.”
“He’d have to know where it was to do that,” Dani says, resulting in a wave of chuckles rolling through her fellow employees. On more than one occasion, they’d discussed how Devin, in all his short-sleeved button up glory, could most likely ace a quiz on the precise location of each scrape and dent on the wall of his office tucked between the supply closet, and the back door. He most likely could get from his office to said back door in less than five seconds based on how fast he’d been known to disappear.
A boy named Brayden leans forward on his forearms to see across the tables and over the mountain of tacos to Dani. “Remember the time we had a rush and instead of helping, he grabbed a customer’s burger off the rack, and decided he needed to go on break?”
“Unfortunately, I remember more than one time of that,” Bianca says, her voice wry and monotone.
By now, the nods are no longer reserved only for Nadine.
Each employee has multiple stories about the boss who first arrived at their cash register still wearing a pair of Ray Bans and with a crumpled McDonald’s bag—their nemesis—easily visible in his messenger bag.
“Exactly,” Nadine says. “Over and over, he’s stepped back instead of stepped up, and we’ve paid for it. It’s about time he did.”
Dani folds her arms over chest. “What are you thinking?”
“A campaign of sorts,” Nadine says, a smile forming on her lips.
“Smear?” Eric asks.
Ramona smirks, flies up from her chair in a flourish, and grabs a softshell taco by its aluminum foil wrap, hoisting it high like a grail. “Let’s take this bastard down.”