Late Night Drive-Thru
“Welcome to Kickin’ Chicken, can I interest you in the number five on this fine evening?“
Repeat that phrase to yourself once. Now repeat it again, on average, eighty times in eight hours. Such was my shitty, stifling, robotic life.
I started my shift, out here in the sticks, at eleven PM each night. It ended at seven. The hours alone were tough to manage. After a few months; the stress of rough hours, unruly college kids, and minimum wage work caused pure anxiety that seeped into my days off.
My classwork was bombing, my bills were stacked, and for some reason, I still refused to quit that shitty job in Hackensack.
The reason was actually pretty clear. Its name was Arabella, and I was intoxicated.
My first shift on the job, we brushed up against each other accidentally behind the serving counter. Her leather jacket, tossed ironically over her Kickin uniform, felt smooth alongside my skin. Her jet black hair shined and smelled like cinnamon mixed with strawberry at the same time. The overwhelming dose of perfume co-mingled with the shampoo to create a heavenly smell laced with a tiny bit of alcohol.
I was eighteen, after all. It took only one shy smile over a six hour shift for that girl to become my primary objective in life. I checked the schedule incessantly to see if we were working together. But, for the first few weeks after our original run-in, we were on different shifts.
Then, finally… to my luck and surprise, one Winter evening, the tables finally turned.
That night was a blizzard. I arrived early to find Arabella operating the store on her own. Apparently, my normal companions had called out sick, and our boss had asked her to work a double shift. I didn’t have a lot of questions. Honestly, I was too excited at the prospect of my shameless flirting through the morning.
But… nothing happened. Arabella manned the fryer while I took orders.
The hours crept by as we watched snow stack up in layers of white outside the sliding glass window. Our manager had hired a plow to maintain the drive-thru, but even still, not many folks had the courage to come through. After two, there were only a few cars on the highway at all.
I awkwardly used the time to run my best lines past Arabella.
“Where do you go to school?“
“Do you live nearby?“
“Did you grow up here?“
She nodded and mumbled a couple half-hearted replies. Every five minutes, she would run out into the snow with her phone, leaving me alone. I assumed she was smoking a cigarette, or was just catching some fresh air. Or maybe she was bothered by her creepy coworker (me) that would not leave her alone. Eventually, I cut off the flirting and got back to work.
And yet, around three thirty AM, we finally found something odd to bond over.
A repeat customer.
As soon as I uttered my catchphrase –
“Welcome to Kickin’ Chicken, can I interest you in the number five this fine evening?“
I recognized the voice on the other side.
“Yuh, let me get the number five with a cup of water. And some ice, please, if you don’t mind.“
Same order, same exact words. His face was not memorable, but that voice had just pulled through an hour ago. A cup of ice is an odd enough request to remember.
I ignored any suspicion and rang him up. The last thing you are supposed to do at a fast food joint is question the size of somebody’s dinner.
“You got it, Sir. Total will be $8.33, next window.“
“Is the ice free?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” I replied, aware that I was repeating myself. I turned to Arabella, who was staring at me with an inquisitive look. Her green eyes grew wide as I mouthed; Same guy.
I punched the order into the machine. Suddenly, she was super talkative.
“What do you think he wants?“
“What does he look like?“
“Good thing we have some left.“
I mumbled my own replies. I was surprised that she seemed so worried. So what if it was the same guy? Maybe he was just hungry. Maybe he was out plowing the roads. Who cared?
After scrambling somewhere in the back corner of the kitchen, Arabella fired up the fryer and started to cook the man’s meal. I walked to the window and assured the man in the SUV that it would take a couple minutes to cook.
His appearance was truly unremarkable; he had brown hair, brown eyes, glasses, and light skin. The baseball cap on his head suggested he was a Mets fan, and the stickers on his bumper said he had kids. I asked about both casually. The conversation was common and cordial enough until Arabella arrived at sliding window with his order.
“Oh, well, you are the only one back there making this delicious chicken?” the man asked flirtatiously.
I felt my face flush a violently angry red. She smiled and nodded shyly. He chuckled his reply.
“Well, don’t go anywhere, I might be back for more of your cookin’, cutie.“
We all laughed and waved awkwardly as he took his food and drove off the ramp. For the next half hour, the man sat in his car in front of the store and enjoyed his meal. I thought nothing of it. Arabella was a lot more worried.
“Don’t you wish he would just leave us alone?” she said in a mouse-like tone as she drifted over and curled under my sweatshirt worriedly. I welcomed the contact. The smell of shampoo was replaced by menthol cigarettes and something… else.
“Do you think he will come back?” she asked in a whisper. Then she giggled. “Let’s lock him out.“
Arabella strode over to the entrance and locked the doors as if it were closing time. She also turned off the drive-thru light. Then she strode towards me with crystal green eyes lighting up the dine-in lobby. She shimmied a bit, and let the leather jacket fall from her shoulders to the uncleaned tile floor.
For half a minute, I forgot where I was.
Right up until Arabella stuck a four-inch knife into my gut.
“Dolores was a little dry.” She said as she stabbed me again. “But I’m so glad to have a fan. Let’s get it right this time.”
She aimed the blade at my leg, probably hoping to nick an artery. “This will make a much bigger mess. But hey, he’s gotta have his meat!“
The blood loss made me woozy.
I was aware of the glass shattering. I can remember the ricochet of bullets. But the most unforgettable thing was the look on her face when she took several of the bullets in the side and died.
Arabella was still smiling.
A shadow in a Mets hat carried my body out into the snow.
Unbeknownst to me, our manager had disappeared that afternoon after an argument with an employee. Her wife had called several times looking for her. But the calm, confident voice at our restaurant (Arabella) told the woman that our boss had not even bothered to show up that day.
She knew that was a lie. After a few hours, an officer was sent to investigate, but the man thought he’d order some food first.
He was shocked by what he found.
Arabella had cut Dolores into pieces in her large white van outside. She then popped those portions into the fryer, mixed them with the chicken, and handed them off to me as part of the number five.
In total, we served seven different customers human remains. The officer never ate any, but he needed more evidence… so he ordered it on ice.
Kickin’ Chicken closed indefinitely after the incident. The entire store was investigated. I was never charged with a crime, mostly because I cooperated with investigators every time they asked.
I avoid fast food, now. Even if there is nothing else open on my street. This is the reason. You never know what is in your meat.