The incident at tonys bu.., p.1
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       The Incident at Tony's Burgeria: A Shady Hollow Short Story, p.1

           Chauncey Rogers
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The Incident at Tony's Burgeria: A Shady Hollow Short Story



  Johnny Bologna stood in front of the deep fryer, despondent. He knew, deep inside, that this was destroying him. He had worked at Tony’s Burgeria, with its ridiculous winking mascot, for far longer than he had ever anticipated. What had initially been a part-time job to pad his pockets with a little spending money had turned into...this. His life. Soul-sucking and mind-numbing hours standing in front of the frying vat, and seemingly nothing else.

  He looked into the glossy surface, where his reflection looked piteously back at him.


  The fryer muttered angrily to itself, as if under its breath, each bubble rising to the surface with a slight plip, and then popping only slightly louder. It appeared that the deep fryer had also been given the lecture on keeping language family friendly while inside the restaurant.

  Johnny huffed and wiped the back of his hand across his chin. He knew it was a dreadful mistake—tomorrow morning a smear of red acne and other skin problems would appear there. He reached for the corner of his apron, more out of habit than out of hope. Once, a different man ago, he would have scrubbed carefully at his chin after such an incident, trying to keep his face bright and clean to match his dreams and aspirations.

  Not anymore. His hand abjectly rubbed the grease onto his apron, but the gesture seemed more of a mumbled apology to his appearance and memory than it did an effort to clean himself.

  A bubble rose to the top of the fryer, summoning itself to the reflection of Johnny's chin.


  It sat there as a greasy portend of the zits to come.


  Another bubble rose, followed by another.

  Plip plip

  They burst.

  Plop plop

  Another rose, roiling its way towards the surface. When it arrived, the plip and plop seemed to speak to him. He could hear his name in those grease bubbles.


  They were speaking to him.


  He leaned closer, the grease beading on his face as if it were sweat.


  Johnny jerked himself away from the deep fryer. The graveled voice that replaced the bubbles' plopping belonged to his boss, Mr. Anthony Olgen.

  “Yes, Mr. Olgen?”

  “Dangit Bologna, how many more times will I have to tell you to keep your face away from the fryer?”

  “I dunno.”

  It seemed to be the wrong answer. Mr. Olgen's cheek twitched.


  “I mean, uh, none. Zero. That's how many more times. You don't have to tell me again.” He wiped his hands on his apron. “I won't do it again. I'll stay away from it.”

  “Honestly, boy. Nobody else around here does anything like that, but it seems like every other time I look over here, you're about to rinse your face in that thing. You're liable to get burned if you aren't more careful.”

  Johnny didn't say anything. He was trying to decide if Mr. Olgen was showing genuine concern or delivering a veiled threat.


  It could be so hard to tell, sometimes. Mr. Olgen would occasionally seem concerned, but then there were the lingering rumors about Arely and when she was injured that made the supposed concern sound more menacing. The story had been that the burns had been an absent-minded accident, but—


  Johnny flinched. “Yes, Mr. Olgen?”

  “Yes?” He rubbed at his temples with frustrated exasperation. “I asked when you were going to clean that thing.”

  “What thing?”

  “That!” Mr. Olgen said, his face flushing as he pointed at the fryer. “Jimminy Christmas boy, I—” He stopped himself and craned his neck to get a view of the dining area. A lone customer sat there, a man in a clean, dark suit, sitting and staring out the window with the cold remnants of a meal scattered on the tray in front of him. Mr. Olgen turned back to Johnny, lowered his voice, and began again. “Listen, boy. You said you would clean that thing a month ago, and it's just sat there since. You will clean it today, or else.”

  “Yes, sorry. I'll, uh, I'll clean it right now.” Johnny said, wiping his hands on his apron again.

  Mr. Olgen reached out and grabbed Johnny's shoulder in a firm grip. “Are you okay, boy?” The worried tone of his voice did not match the strength of his grip. “Do you get enough sleep at night?”

  “Ye—” Johnny cleared his throat. “Yeah, I— Yes. I do.”

  “Well that's good to hear,” the grip tightened, “’cuz you seem a little drowsy in here sometimes. I need you awake and aware. A kitchen is no place to be half-minded.”

  “Sorry. I'll do better, Mr. Olgen.”

  “Good. I'll be watching for it.” Mr. Olgen released Johnny's shoulder, and the blood rushed freely back into his arm. “Now get back to work.”

  Mr. Olgen turned and walked towards the very back of the working area with his limping gait, going around the corner and out of sight, audibly mumbling about idiot kids the entire way.

  Johnny felt his shoulders slump back down again as he faced the fryer. He reached for it, then stopped. A girl's voice called from the front register. “Hey, Bologna.”


  “I have to step outside for a minute. Watch the register for me. I'll be back soon.”

  “I can't Lacie. I've gotta clean the fryer; told Mr. Olgen I'd do it right away.”

  “Okay, thanks Bologna.” He heard the front bell chime. She hadn't listened.

  She hadn't listened six months ago, either. Back then she had still called him Johnny, not Bologna. But no more.

  Johnny wiped his face and hands on a paper towel, and then stood at the register. And stood. And stood.

  Nobody came in. Not Lacie, and not any customers, either. And there Johnny stood, not cleaning the frying vat.

  He sighed. And waited. The man in the dark suit—their only customer all day—looked at Johnny with a raised eyebrow, then turned back to staring out the window.

  What is he doing here, Johnny wondered. He had been there for so long, just sitting and staring.

  “Sir, can I help you?” Johnny called to him.

  The man turned his gaze from the window. “No, thank you. I'm just waiting.”

  Johnny's face apparently did not look satisfied with the answer. The man, in an attempt at being polite, held up a piece of his meal, and Johnny noticed for the first time that a small, glass probe with wires encased inside it was jammed into the food.

  “It's an older model, but I find it more dependable,” the man said with a tight smile. “It can take a little while to run the analysis. Should be done any minute, though.”

  Johnny opened his mouth. “Uh, okay.”


  Mr. Olgen called from the back area. Back where the fryer sat, uncleaned.

  Johnny stepped to the corner. “Yes, Mr. Olgen?” His voice sounded so small to him.

  Mr. Olgen began limping towards him, one foot slightly dragging as he advanced. “What did I tell you, boy? If you're up there trying to spark with Lacie, I'll—”

  “Oh, no, sir, I'm—” Johnny stepped backwards and bumped into a stainless steel shelf.

  Mr. Olgen stopped in front of Johnny, his face close enough that his hot breath was all the air Johnny could breath. “Why,” he said, his cheek jerking up in a spasm, “are you up here, instead of cleaning that fryer?”

  “I was about to clean it, but Lacie had to step out. I'm sorry, Mr. Olgen,” Johnny said, wincing. “I tried to tell her, but
she must not have heard me. She stepped out, and I've been watching the register for her.”

  “How long ago'd she leave?”

  “About fort—” Johnny halted as he reconsidered the truth. He'd rather have Mr. Olgen mad at him than at Lacie, an insane ember of protective feelings for her that lingered from months gone by. “About fourteen minutes ago. She should be back any second.”

  “I talked to you almost forty-five minutes ago. Why didn't you clean it during the thirty minutes before she left?” He was still breathing directly into his face—a hot breath that smelled like sour-kraut.

  “I had to use the bathroom,” he lied. “And it was a bit dirty, so I cleaned it up. There were paper towels on the floor.”

  Mr. Olgen stepped back. “Fine. Good. Glad you took initiative with that problem.”

  Johnny breathed in the semi-fresh air now available to him. “Yeah, no problem,” Johnny said, surprised that Mr. Olgen had been defused so easily by his lie.

  “I'm on my way to use the bathroom m’self, as a matter of fact.” Johnny felt his heart drop. “So I'll get to see what a difference your thirty-minutes made.”

  Mr. Olgen walked around the counter and headed towards the men's room, which was undoubtedly still an atrocious mess.

  Think. Quick.

  “Mr. Olgen,” he called. “I, uh— I had to poo. And so, I didn't have the full thirty minutes to clean. Sorry.” He shrugged. “Not enough fiber, I guess.”

  Johnny couldn't see Mr. Olgen's face—he had never turned—but he heard him snort, and then walk around the corner towards the bathrooms.

  “Anytime now, Lacie....” Johnny muttered, looking at the door.

  A few seconds later, Lacie appeared in front of the glass doorway, a man in tow. She turned back, presumably to kiss him goodbye. She did this rather
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