Will was starting to really get on to things and there were even half conversations that he was starting to be included in upon from the Third Man and the Assistant Manager as well. They had come to the conclusion that Will was alright and not a goofy bastard that would talk out of church or do something dumb they could get in trouble for.
The whole staff was easing up on Will, although the Third Man loved to Lord it over him at every opportunity and let Will know that he really didn’t know anything.
Usually some stupid quiz about something pertaining to policy that was way out of the normal events of a given day. Then always an inclusion, that when Will had been around for awhile, he would understand why Sid was quizzing him on such out of the ordinary.
Always followed with a reminder that Sid had been around nineteen months and was due to be considered for full Assistant Manager any time now!
There was a girl that worked at the bank just a few doors down from the store and she was a real knockout. She would come into the store fairly regularly on her lunch hour and Sid would run to take over the register where she would be standing with some dismissive excuse to the clerk on duty or to Will, if he was around. Sid was married with a kid on the way; but it was obvious that there was something going on between him and the teller from the bank. She never made it obvious; but his glances at her, told a different story. Frequently he would take his lunch out of turn, simultaneous to her lunch schedule and they would meet at the side of his van in the back parking lot and from the motion of the rear end of the van, there was no doubt of what was taking place.
Sid would return to the store looking a little glassy eyed and disheveled; but nobody, other than the Assistant Manager would dare say a word to him. The Assistant Manager was a full blown Christian; but had a sense of humor to his personality. Kevin would passively grill Sid about what he had done for lunch. Always pretending that he intended to get together with Sid and go over questions that would be on Sid’s Assistant Manager test. With an admonishment that Sid really should be concentrating on his promotion and that Kevin could give him the inside track, if he cared to.
Sid would shrink every time Kevin would start in on him and dismiss himself to some duty that required immediate attention. If Kevin was judgmental about Sid’s affair, he went about it in a playful “kid brother” sort of approach.
Kevin had adopted mannerisms much like Sam’s figuring that was the quickest way to earn approval and that all necessary Manager’s recommendation; before Kevin would be asked to the Main Office for his interview for full Management of his own store.
Sid held one thing over Kevin, he had been promoted quicker to Third Man by a few days and had already been praised by Sam to the District Manager, whereas Kevin had been obviously held back, going into his fourth year, which was a year longer than the supposed normal transition took. That was Sid’s stopper to Kevin’s attempts at inquiry. Kevin was vulnerable and knew Sid wasn’t beyond setting up a scenario where Kevin could be held responsible for some contrived malfeasance, laid carefully at his feet by Sid, at any given moment. Everybody knew, Sid was a sneaky little shit in more ways than one and his outstanding personality trait was a temper at anything that potentially jeopardized or left him in a bad light, in the slightest way. Nobody doubted that Sid was capable of just about anything, to get his way. A typical short, slender guy with a Napoleonic complex. Rumor had it, that one former clerk had gotten fired at Sid’s explanation of whatever had transpired and there was assumption that whatever had taken place, Sid had lied about.
Will just took it all in. The melodrama and the humor and his place in the whole grand scheme that was Little Price, Bixby Knolls. Two thirds of his time, day or night was spent scooping ice cream cones or serving on the long concourse liquor and photo departments. He had learned to estimate customer’s attitudes and had seen plenty of the strange characters that would stagger in for booze or the hookers that hung out at the lunch counter in the mornings, telling their tales of the Johns they had entertained the night before.
There were plenty of characters to get insights about. One old guy that came in almost every day, would start right out telling Will about his time during World War I in the Cadre, in France. The story basically was repeated daily, culminating in the old boy purchasing a fifth of house brand Scotch. Then he would make his way out the back door not to be seen until the next afternoon. Will screwed up with the old man one day, by having his fifth of Scotch bagged and ready for him. Will was really pressed and didn’t have time for the old boy and that really upset the old man. He wouldn’t come to the liquor counter from then on, if Will was over there; because he thought Will had slurred him by inference that he was an alcoholic.
There was a mousy little girl, actually probably in her late 20’s that would come in at night and insist that she had been followed from her place to the store. The first night Will had encountered her; he took it seriously and had called the P.D., which made him her hero and fast friend for life. When the cops had arrived, they took her out to the squad car and then came back and explained the whole story to Will. He never bothered calling again. Although she would come in fairly regularly at story over and over. Will had convinced her that if he walked her to the parking lot and this unseen malevolent stalker saw Will, she would be okay.
One of the weekly regulars at the liquor counter was wheeled in by his son-in-law and always had a standing order for two cases of half gallons of house brand whiskey. He was dying of cancer and simply said it was so much cheaper than prescriptions that he had been given. The man was always in some stage of drunkenness; but very civil and never a problem and very seldom even slurred his speech. He had a stone look of misery in his eyes.
The hookers that did come in, usually for rubbers or for Astro Glide were unusually quiet at night; but outrageously boisterous in the mornings after the evenings had come and gone. They could see and evaluate a look in Will’s eyes. They didn’t mess with him, barely ever joked or flirted. Once they knew he had been in the Navy, they assumed the rest; He wasn’t going for any of it! Whatever demeanor he had been in moments before would go sullen and evaluating whenever they were around. A lot like a cop’s attitude.
They recognized it and stayed away from it and him.
There had been a young man working at the liquor counter a few months prior that had gotten involved with one of the women over services or drugs and she had come in stoned out of her mind; whistled at the clerk and then proceeded to go the length of the Liquor Department knocking the bottles on the first step of the display area off on to the floor and then ran out the door. He had chased after her and her Pimp was waiting for the clerk and beat the hell out of him outside. The clerk didn’t even come back to get his last paycheck after he got out of the hospital.
Will never said anything to any of the hookers and if he had come in early and stopped for breakfast at the lunch counter, it was like they simply didn’t register on his radar.
They would get loud and the waitress and the cook would encourage them at times, to tell more about their escapades; but Will never said word one and usually would retire back into the store office right away.
Sid, over a period of time had come to the conclusion that he was going to get Will’s story.
“So, you got a girlfriend?” Sid was grinning and attempting to open the door to a longer conversation that would undoubtedly lead to bragging about what Sid was getting on the side.
Will looked directly into Sid’s eyes with a cold dead stare and snarled: “Don’t go there with me!”
Will immediately turned and stepped away and continued stocking and left Sid utterly dumbfounded. Sid hadn’t seen a guy that didn’t open up a bit on that particular inquiry.
Will had no doubt that Sid was looking for an “in”, a story, a wedge. Will knew the only way to back Sid off was to back him off. Will hadn’t been particularly open or jocular or excessively friendly in the past and Sid started really thinking about the “whys” of it all. That would go on for the few remaining week’s Will was in the store.
Sid sauntered up to Will on Will’s last week and started a conversation. “Look if
you’re that way or maybe just bent, it’s no biggie! What’s your story though? You like the boys better than the girls?”
In a muffled almost mumble Will looked directly at Sid, with a chilling dead look.
“Don’t try going there with me. I was Naval Security Group, N.S.A. and I don’t have to prove a damn thing to you! I did my time and that means I’m straight and I’ve done a hell of a lot more than you and most of these other’s around here. None of your business hot shot! So back off and leave me alone!”
“You gettin’ kind of cocky trainee! Maybe I can see if we can keep you a bit longer?”
“I doubt it, you aint that much and you have a few problems of your own.”
Will just gave Sid a bit of a smirking nod and a snort and then turned and walked away.
That really steamed Sid and you could see the wheels turning in his head. He was out to do whatever he could.
Will came to work those last few days at Bixby expecting anything and worried he would find himself the point of some doubt or question, challenge or accusation. On the contrary, nothing happened. Seems Kevin had listened to one of Sid’s vents about Will and had planted the idea in Sid’s mind that things could backfire if he made trouble for Will. Kevin reminded Sid that Sam really liked Will and wouldn’t look favorably on anything that put Will in question. That had backed Sid off; because he was too close to getting his own promotion and figured it wasn’t worth it. Although he kept it in the back of his mind, for one day in the future.
The District Manager was in the store on what was assumed to be Will’s last week as a trainee and after some long arduous deliberation had sent word out to the concourse that he wanted to talk to Will in the office.
Will came back quiet and subdued, fully expecting that Sid had probably worked some black magic of a sort.
“Mr. Morgan, how are you on this fine day?”
“Ah, okay, I guess? How am I? Will was giving a quizzical inferred look.
“Oh, not to worry, I want to have a talk with you, let’s get out of here for awhile.”
John Stenz was a huge black man; about six, five and a former pro football player.
He had been given the job of District Manager solely as an identity figure for the ghetto crowds that made up the core of business for Little Price, throughout Southern California. He knew it and didn’t care one whit. The job was a breeze and he had all the time he needed for “outside interests”. Mr. Stenz had been a coup for Little Price and basically called his own shots as to what he did with his time and how he handled his Managers and store people. He wasn’t the racial type in the sense he didn’t have a chip on his shoulder and basically took people as he found them. If he said it, you could pretty much count on it being straight. He did have a bit of a temper at times. Several Managers at various points had found themselves shoved into a shelf or display somewhere if they tried bullshitting John. He had no compunction about grabbing them and straightening them out, on call. He was understandably, a physical guy.
As soon as Will had gotten into John’s car, John seemed to soften and his attitude was entirely different than anytime he was in the store.
“Sam thinks pretty highly of you. Kevin too! Sid doesn’t have much good to say; but then, he’s a little jerk!”
Will fought back a snicker, mostly unsuccessfully and then John just looked over at him. “From everything I can gather about you, you’re okay. I went up to Personnel and looked over your jacket. Straight into service out of High School and I see you had a Top Secret Clearance.”
Will gave a guarded nod in affirmation.
“See a lot of stuff?”
“No, I wasn’t in Nam. Morocco, Spain, TAD on Shangri La and Forrestal.”
“Temporary additional duty.”
“Volunteer stuff huh?”
“You sure aren’t much of a talker.”
“Well, most of the stuff, I can’t talk about and what I can, I don’t care to.”
“Ever have to kill anybody?”
Will broke into laughter over that. “Ah, no; I wasn’t a killer! Just Security; I basically evaluated what was happening in our theater and made recommendations.”
“If you had talked to me just out of “A” School I would have told you I was James God damn Bond; but it wasn’t like that! We just listened a lot!”
“Yes, your DD214 really said nothing. Just that you had a Top Secret clearance and where you had been stationed. Were you in Morocco for the big event?”
“Yeh, I was there; but I can’t really say anything about it.”
“These Jews really can kick ass!”
“Yeh, they got their shit wired together.”
As the conversation waned, John pulled his Caddy into the McDonalds, drive up window and gave his order first.
“Two Big Macs, a Double, fries and a Coke. Get whatever you want, it’s on Little Price!”
“Oh, just a Mac and a chocolate shake.”
“You won’t stay big and strong on that! You can have whatever you want!”
“Nah, that’s plenty, after service, you don’t need or want that much in the way of food. I got used to livin’ on not much in the Sahara.”
“So anyway, let me pull over here and put out what I’ve got to say.”
“They’re splitting the District. I’m getting the ghetto, some surprise!” John was grinning at his own comment, he didn’t have to say much further.
“Seem’s I’m their token; but I got the best of them by a long ways. I live in Marina
Del Rey and have a sweet girlfriend and pretty much do whatever I want. They pick up the cost of the car too!”
“Here’s what I’m holding. I have all the ghetto stores from Inglewood, South and one store out in Bellflower. I have a dirty Manager in Inglewood. He’s white and I have to prove without a doubt he’s dirty, otherwise I look like hell.”
“Here’s what I have to offer. What say we shorten Third Man for you and I put you in for full Assistant in a few months. I would like you to do a stint in Inglewood, in return. The Assistant Manager in the store is black. I kind of like him; but he’s a big question mark. The stock boy in the store is the Manager’s best pal and I don’t doubt he’s involved too. They all pack, that I don’t have any doubt of. We’re losing a lot of money out of there, every month, more than we expect to.”
“I just need you to tell me what’s really going on. You’ll have Securities full attention and we’ll clean ’em out as soon as you can tell us anything substantial. Afterwards, I’ll get you out of there and send you to Bellflower and get you a transfer into a white District as quickly as I can.”
Will was completely stunned at the whole proposition and visibly thinking at a about one hundred miles, per.
“You don’t have to agree today, just think about it and we’ll get together again. Don’t say anything around the store. Surprising how things travel in a District.”
“As far as any of them are concerned, I just wanted to take you out to see what kind of guy you were. When you decide just leave a message at the office and I’ll contact you.”
“Make up a pretense when you leave a message, don’t say anything on the tape either. We don’t know how far this goes.”
Will just looked at him with a bit of understanding and just nodded in the affirmative.
“Yeh, I’ll probably do it; but I would like a day or so to think about it. Might come up with some questions.”
“That’s okay, you’re perfect for this, when you get it done - you will be pretty set, at least in my District and probably wherever you go in the Company.”
“Okay, guess it’s time to get me back to the store, huh?”
“Yeh, don’t blow this and don’t start getting cocky on me!”
“No, that’s okay. I know how to keep quiet.”
“Look, if you go the other direction, I can’t guarantee where you’ll get assigned or what’s in your future. You could end up working for me again and this will be old news.” John gave a playful nudge at Will and just smiled a broad, accepting smile.
Will just thoughtfully looked down and didn’t say anything more.
As he was getting out of John’s car, Will just looked kind of defeated and said;
“I’ll do it. Just let me know when I’m transferring.”
John absolutely lit up with a beaming smile. “Monday. I’ll have Sam make it formal.”
“Does Sam know anything about it?”
“No!” John was shaking his head adamantly.
“Only Security and I and you.”
As Will walked back into the store, the very first person to approach him was Sid.
“Well got yours, didn’t you; how much longer you going to be with us?”
“Saturday is my last day hotshot!”
Sid just braced back at the comment and Will breezed on by.
Sid scurried off to the office with a huge perplexed question mark clouding his face.
Sam stopped up at the liquor counter on the way out for the night and smiled broadly at Will. “Boy, whatever you had to say to John, sure impressed him. You’re being transferred Friday, well technically Monday; but John wants you to have the weekend off, so you’ll have to work Thursday to trade for Saturday off. I don’t imagine that will be too hard to take, will it?”
“Nah, I can handle that!”
“Which store they sending you to?”
Sam was visibly shaken at that announcement and looked real puzzled. “What the hell
did you agree to that for? I got some pull around this company you know!”
“Nah, it’s okay, it’s just temporary.”
Sam was really confused and looked doubtfully at Will. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Kind of giving a half wink at Sam; “It’s okay Sam, I know what I’m doing.”
“Hope you own a gun?”
Will kind of posed in a wistful resignation, nodded and summoned a half smile.