Mr. Dubecki is the first person I tell about the people humping in the men’s restroom because he is the franchise owner slash store manager for one thing, but also because he’s the only other person here after Greg went home sick and Rocky’s brother picked him up early and the new girl who’s training on the window would only get in the way, so she got cut and Mr. Dubecki said he’d come by to help me close.
Near the end of the shift I go to clean the facilities and what I find is that it’s a four-legs-under-the-stall kind of situation, which I relay back to Mr. Dubecki, who rubs his face like this is the last thing he needs, people humping in the bathroom, oh perfect. I don’t think this is the only Taco Bell he owns, but I can see from his face that this was the Taco Bell Mr. Dubecki had hoped people would never hump in.
I follow him into the bathroom and you can basically tell from the noises that it’s two guys and they’re not hiding it, not even close. We’re both standing outside the stall and I’m waiting for Mr. Dubecki to lay down the law but he doesn’t. The panting and grunting is coming from the stall but when I look at Mr. Dubecki his face is far away. I nudge him and he clears his throat real loud but that does not stop the humping. Mr. Dubecki knocks on the stall door. Hello, Mr. Dubecki says. The humping stops.
What do you want, a voice says.
Mr. Dubecki sputters without sound, like his mind is grasping for a response that makes sense and cannot find one. I jump in and say, We want you to stop humping in this Taco Bell.
This seems to put the world back together for Mr. Dubecki. He follows up by saying, Yes, please leave this Taco Bell. We allow them a moment of silence to consider our demands.
Fine, okay, whatever, says the voice.
We wait outside while they reorder themselves and Mr. Dubecki holds the door open for them. They’re two pretty regular looking guys. Mr. Dubecki asks them to please not come back to this Taco Bell.
After we close up, when Mr. Dubecki is locking the doors, he says, Thank you for that back there, and nods in the direction of the bathrooms and I tell him, No problem. He says, You’re okay, you know that? When you started, I was eh, not so sure about you. Thought you’d be here through the summer and then go back to school. But hey, you stuck around and I’m happy, really. You’re one of the good ones. He says it like I’ve cleared some bar with him on a personal level and what comes next is going to be a whole new thing between us.
He says, I have two questions for you. I say, Okay. And he says my first question is this: how would you like to make five hundred dollars and my second question is this: do you believe that stealing something back that was yours first, yours to begin with, that someone stole from you, do you believe that has both a legal and moral justification?
I think about it for a second and then say yes to both.
There are some things, Mr. Dubecki explains, some things in the basement of his house that belonged to him and there had been a situation where now he wasn’t allowed back there so much on the order of the future ex-Mrs. Dubecki who was being pretty unreasonable, truth be told. And what he needed, what he really needed, was someone who could keep their cool, just like I did back in the bathroom, just a guy who calls a ball a ball and a strike a strike. Someone who can find a few boxes of stuff the future ex-Mrs. Dubecki would never miss. He says that she hasn’t even been in the basement for a year. Do it during the daytime when she’d be at work and the kid would be at school. There’s a fake rock with a key in it and he says he can draw me a map, so easy. Five hundred bucks. Mr. Dubecki says that he sure could use five hundred bucks, the divorce and all, but this stuff I’m going to get, it means that much to him.
I think about it for a second and then say, Okay, Mr. Dubecki, and he smiles and says, Please call me George, and I say, Okay, George, and we make a plan for the coming Tuesday.
On Tuesday I find the key in the fake stone just like Mr. Dubecki said and when I open the door into the house everything is covered with buttery light from the big windows and it’s all over the white carpet and all over the white furniture.
I find the basement no problem, find the shelves no problem, find the three boxes no problem. They’re pretty heavy so I’m taking them one at a time. I’m on my first trip to the car when I hear a small voice from above say, Hello?
It’s the kid. Mr. Dubecki’s son. He’s standing at the top of the stairs. I say, Hello, and he says, Hello, and I say, I’m one of your dad’s special friends. He says, Okay, and I say, I came to get some of his things, and he says, My mom will be back later, and I say, Okay, and he says, Okay.
He looks like a little Mr. Dubecki. Same moon face and turned-up nose. He sits on the top of the stairs and watches me go back and forth. Supervising.
This is my last one, I say, nodding at the box I’m holding, and the kid says, Okay.
I ask him what grade he’s in and he says third. He asks me what grade I’m in and I say I’m sort of in college. He asks me what that means and I say, Well, I’m supposed to be in college.
Kind of like how you’re supposed to be in school, I say, and he says, Yeah but I got sent home. My mom had to come get me.
Some kind of fight, I say and he shakes his head.
He asks if I’ve ever heard of a game called Charlie Charlie and I say no and he asks me if I want to play, and I say, Does it take very long, and he smiles and runs off and comes back with two pencils and a piece of paper.
We go to the kitchen and he draws a cross in the center of the paper, making four boxes. In the top two boxes he writes YES and then NO and then on the bottom two boxes he writes NO and then YES so that each quadrant contains a word and is reflected diagonally across from the other. He lays one pencil down along the horizontal line and the other one he balances on top except this one is along the vertical line and he asks me what I want to know.
What do you mean, I say.
You ask Charlie what you want to know, he says. Any question, yes or no.
Who’s Charlie, I ask and he says that Charlie is a demon or something and so I think about it for a second and then say, Will I be rich one day?
The kid nods and grabs my hands to make a circle around the piece of paper. He closes his eyes and says, Charlie Charlie, come out to play. We’ve asked our question, now what do you say? We wait a few seconds and sure enough the pencil on top, the one balancing, starts to wobble and then swivels to point at both NOs.
Well shit, I say to the kid, and he asks me if I want to know the trick.
He says you do it with your nose. Just blow with your nose really lightly and it’s enough to move the pencil but not enough for anyone to notice.
Not bad, I tell him. Why’d you get sent home?
The kid looks away. He says, I asked Charlie if everyone was going to die and then I made Charlie say yes we all would. He looks back at me. Some kids started crying, he says.
Jesus, I say.
But it’s true, he says.
I guess, I say. And then, Don’t tell your mom I was here.
Don’t tell my dad I got in trouble.
We shake on it and I give him a little punch on the shoulder. I tell him, You’re okay, you know that, and he shrugs like he doesn’t really believe me and it’s at that moment when the future ex-Mrs. Dubecki walks in the front door with a few bags of groceries to see a strange man in her kitchen who is touching her son.
Hello, I say, and she says, What the fuck is happening, who the fuck are you, get the fuck away from him, what the fuck, what the fuck, I’m calling the police right now, you sick bastard.
The kid says, Mom, stop, he’s one of dad’s special friends, and I say whoa a whole bunch of times in a row while I try to think of what to tell her.
George, I say, stepping back from the kid. George sent me to get some of his things. The basement, the boxes in the basement. The key in the rock. Then I saw the kid. Jesus, please don’t call the police.
The future ex-Mrs. Dubecki looks at me, looks at her phone, looks at the oranges that rolled out of the grocery bag she dropped when she saw me, bends down to pick them up, starts crying, slumps over, and then kind of rolls to prop herself up against the white couch. The kid goes over to her and says I’m sorry and then I say I’m sorry. And because it would be weird if she didn’t, the future ex-Mrs. Dubecki says, I’m sorry. Then we all do it again. Each one of us says sorry again and then I decide to pick up the oranges which breaks the spell.
I put the groceries on the kitchen counter. Mrs. Dubecki watches me. She’s standing up now, assessing me. You’re pretty young, she says, and I say, I guess so, and she suppresses a sob while saying, Are you happy. I don’t know what to say, so I say, I guess so, and she blubbers, Together, with George, you’re happy together at least?
Well, I think he’s doing okay. It’s not like we work together all that much, I say. The future ex-Mrs. Dubecki’s face changes. She puts her hands on her hips and she asks me how I know George and I tell her Taco Bell, and she says, Oh, Jesus, I thought you were his—I don’t know what they call it—boyfriend, I guess.
Oh, I say.
You didn’t know, she says.
No, I say.
Well, she says. Neither did I for a long time.
The kid runs off upstairs. We put the groceries away together, she and I. After, she walks me to the door. I’m not evil, she says. I’m getting my mind around it. Good days and bad days. I mean, there’s a version of myself that’s happy for him and I’m going to be that woman. Really.
I tell her I think that’s a good way to think about it and she asks me if he’s doing okay and I think of Mr. Dubecki’s face in the bathroom, far away.
Ask Charlie, I say.
I’m closing that night at Taco Bell and Mr. Dubecki comes by to get the boxes from me. He counts out five one-hundred-dollar bills. He asks me if I had any issues and I say, Not really.
Mr. Dubecki is putting the last box in his car when he stops and asks me if I want to see inside the boxes and I say, Okay. We’re standing around the trunk of his Camry in the Taco Bell parking and what’s inside the boxes is yearbooks and photos and letters and book reports and birthday cards and school newspaper articles and Christmas lists and dental x-rays and baseball cards and bronze baby shoes and souvenir mugs and swim meet ribbons and playbills and bible camp postcards and wrestling trophies and license plates and standardized test scores and watercolor paintings and Mr. Dubecki takes out each item, gives a one-word description, then passes it to me and I look at it and then put it back in the box. It feels like church. We do it for all three boxes and when we’re done, Mr. Dubecki steps back to take it all in.
Well, he says finally and grabs a box and starts walking toward the dumpster. C’mon, he says to me, and I grab a box and follow him. I ask him if he wants to maybe just keep the photos and he stares at me. Especially not the photos, he says. We throw it all away.
The purge fills Mr. Dubecki with nervous energy and he bounces alongside me as I walk back towards the Taco Bell to finish my shift. He puts his hand on the door before I can open it.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, he tells me, and I say, Okay.
His mouth is pressed into a hard line and his eyes are narrowed to make two deep creases in his forehead. There’s something called the enchirito, he says. It’s not on any menu, but I can teach you how to make one for your shift meal, if you want. It’s basically a smothered burrito if you’ve ever had one of those, but it’s really, really good. I keep asking corporate to put it on the menu, but they always ignore me. Truth is, they’re not ready for everyone to experience the enchirito.
Mr. Dubecki’s face goes far away. Maybe they’re right, he says. He opens the door for me and we go back to the kitchen and he starts gathering the ingredients. Mr. Dubecki’s skin is shiny under the fluorescent lights. He looks brand new, fresh out of the packaging.
Okay, he says, tying an apron on. What I’m about to show you is extremely sensitive information.
I watch him run around and I write down the recipe. I tell him his secrets are safe with me.