Neil P. Letty was an ordinary man; ordinary in every way but one.

The fake mass-produced burgers sizzled on the grill unconvincingly behind him. Today was Friday, and it was his turn to man the drive-thru. As he wiped the sweat off of his forehead with his paper hat, he heard a sharp beep; a car awaited in the drive-thru line.

“Hello, what would you like to order today… sir?”

“Uhh, give me a double pound cheese burger with a side of large fries, a vanilla milkshake, and 10 chicken nuggets. Oh, and some coke, and you better make it diet.”

“That’ll be 12 dollars and 62 cents, please.” Neil, unsurprisingly, heard no reply.

Letty paused for a second, but then mechanically set to work. He threw the items into a bag and walked to the second window to offer the customer his food. The man pulled up in a Mercedes model E, a sign of undeserved wealth and unlimited pride. Few people in Detroit had both of those qualities, and Neil despised all of them.

E109. Neil typed in the code for a double pound cheeseburger and fries. Routine business. Ordinary work.

“Your order will be 12.62. Would you like to pay with cash or credit?” Neil asked.

“No,” replied the driver.

Neil’s confusion dissipated into a bitter understanding like the scattering of autumn leaves as he saw the man pull out the shiny barrel of a gun. Well, he’d never seen a gun this close before, so he didn’t know for sure.

“Just type in that I paid and no one has to get hurt…”, he squinted his eyes. “Mr. N… Neil P… Pal… Palata.”

My name is Neil P. Letty.

Neil felt the cold rage in him, smoldering, all-encompassing, all too familiar. He was normally a peaceful guy. He never got in trouble in school, never arrested; barely anyone even knew him. But when he got like this it was almost like he was a different person. Frick him. Frick this bastard. He had enough money to buy a Mercedes but couldn’t fricking spare 12 dollars for fast-food?

There was a basin of hot frying oil sizzling on the burner nearby. What if he —

Barely, he restrained himself, forced the anger down.

Neil shrugged finally. “Ok,”, he said, handing the food over.

The man winked. “Glad we could come to an understanding, hombre.” With those signature words, Neil’s mind finally made the realization. How — what — why?

“You’re –”

“I’m Antonio.” The first name was enough to identify him. 136 criminal cases — 70 of them were murders. Leader of a gang small as it was ruthless. Notorious for robbing banks, murdering police officers, raiding drugstores, and now apparently … holding up a McDonalds? As Antonio drove away merrily, a multitude of emotions flashed across Neil’s face.

I will make a monument of your destruction.

Angry and confused, Neil P. Letty turned around. That was when he saw his boss; red-faced, furious, and inarticulate.

“You are supposed to man the register and collect the customer’s money! What part of that do you not understand!” Neil’s boss pointed an accusing finger at him. “You do not give them the food until they give you the money!”

“He was pointing a gun at me,” Neil protested angrily.

“I didn’t see any gun!” shouted his boss. As Neil opened his mouth to reply, he added, “And even if there was a gun, I’d expect you to take the bullet! Not gift him the food!”

Once more, Neil felt the anger coursing through his bones.

With all due respect, you don’t pay me enough to take a bullet for McDonald’s.

He barely stopped himself from saying it aloud.

His boss continued his tirade, “Do you know how hard it is to make food? Do you know how much effort farmers put in to raise the cows that made those hamburgers! That is not your food to give away. That is the company’s property!”

My father is… was a farmer.

“I will be deducting the cost of this little … mishap … from your salary. And if this happens again, I will not be so lenient. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal,” replied Neil, clenching his jaw angrily.

“And I don’t need to remind you that there’s plenty of people who would be willing to take your place.”

As Neil walked home that day, he reflected that his boss’s statement had a grain of truth. However much he disliked his menial minimum-wage job, it was infinitely better than becoming one of the drug dealers roaming the streets.

A voice interrupted his musings.  “Hey man, you look like you could do with some cheering up!”

Speak of the devil.

One thought on “Incubation 1.1

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