Speedy Rewards by Jeff Erno
Release Date: 05 June, 2015
Phil Mitchell pours his heart and soul into his job as manager of Speedy Mart, a local convenience store. He loves his work and he loves his fellow employees, but when it comes to his personal life, Phil is lonely and depressed and still pining for his long-departed ex.
He embarks upon the week from hell where anything that can go wrong does. It begins with a truck crashing into his outdoor sign and only goes downhill from there.
Add an asshole homophobic boss hell bent on seeing him fired and Phil realizes he needs to put into place a plan to save himself and his job.
First step in his plan… do something about his love life.
Meanwhile, Ezra, one of Phil’s team members, is dealing with his own roller coaster ride of a week.
As is Brandon, the local cop…
And Mark, the homophobic boss…
Perhaps, with a little… luck, the next week will be better.
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PHIL GLANCED down at the digital clock on his dashboard to confirm the time, 5:18 a.m., as he shifted into reverse and backed out of his driveway. He left for work at the same time every day and had done so for years. He pulled into his parking space, the same one he chose each and every day, at 5:25.
He then made his way into the store, first glancing at the gas pumps and outside displays to make sure everything was stocked and functioning properly. The Speedy Mart price ID sign, fully illuminated, seemed to be in working order. Once inside the building, he walked his store, checking each aisle to make sure there were no “holes”, empty spaces created by items that had gone out of stock. He fronted and faced a couple of sections that had been missed by the second- and third-shift employees. He then checked his coolers, ensuring they were functioning properly at the correct temperatures. He checked the floors, the bathrooms, the displays. Finally, he made his way into the office and picked up his clipboard, checking for notes that his assistant managers sometimes left him from previous shifts.
The morning crew arrived at six, and at least one of them was already in the building. Janine, by force of habit or sheer anal retentiveness, was as predictable as Phil in her routine. She showed up for her shift at least twenty minutes early every day. His other first-shift employees, Tiesha, Doreen, and David, were lucky to make it within the seven-minute grace period after their scheduled clock-in time.
“Morning, Ezra,” Phil said, nodding to his third-shift cashier as he walked past the front desk. “Store looks good today.” Phil smiled.
“Thanks!” Ezra said, grinning broadly. The twenty-two-year-old college student had worked for Phil for about four months and had proven himself quite competent. He tossed his head slightly to the left, flipping a shock of blond hair from his eye. Ezra had a cute face and a stellar smile, but his dark eyeliner and array of provocative tattoos suggested he was anything but the boy next door. Still, he possessed the perfect personality for dealing with middle-of-the-night customers, mostly drunks who stumbled in after the bars closed.
Phil’s convenience store did a kickass morning business. Within the first hour of his day, the store would fill with commuters and the registers would be rocking non-stop. Travelers on their way to work would stop for their morning coffee and breakfast sandwiches, fueling their cars and purchasing their smokes, munchies, and beverages for the day.
As he slipped back into his office and removed his lightweight jacket, hanging it on the same peg he used every day, he took a deep breath. Today, being Monday, would be extremely busy, and he’d be running his ass off until at least four p.m. That’s when he’d leave the store for the day, if he were lucky. More likely, though, he’d be here until five or six in the evening. The morning would consist of an onslaught of non-stop customers for the first four hours. After which, he’d then face a pile of banking responsibilities and bookkeeping paperwork. He’d have to write the following week’s work schedule, go through about fifty company emails, and check in a half dozen vendor deliveries which would arrive in the later part of the morning. Additionally, he’d count every pack of cigarettes in his store, as he was required to do each and every day. He’d inventory the three dozen books of lottery tickets on display at the check stands, along with the twenty-to-thirty unopened books in his safe. He’d audit all his cash, then prepare a supply order. Writing the order would consume at least two hours of his time, and he’d have to somehow manage to squeeze it in between the breaks and lunches of his employees.
In the afternoon, after all deliveries had been received and posted, he’d spend two to three hours in his walk-in cooler, filling the rows of soda pop and juice that had been depleted since the previous day. He’d spend a good hour or two outside his store, sweeping the lot and arranging his displays, and in addition to all of this, he’d undoubtedly find himself on the phone at least two or three times with his boss, the district manager.
“Phil, the register’s froze,” Janine said as she popped her head into his office.
“Seriously?” He shook his head and sighed. “Shit.”
“Welcome to Monday,” she replied, beaming a brilliant, sarcastic smile.
He followed her out of the office to the check stand. The register to which she referred was the first of four. “Did you try the other two?” he asked, aware that the fourth register was currently still being used by Ezra.
“I always use this register,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I don’t wanna be clear down there on the end.”
“Okay, I’ll sign on the end register under my numbers. You can run it while I get this one fixed; then you can move back over.”
“All right,” she said, pursing her lips.
Phil looked up at the line of customers already forming. They stood there glaring at him, obviously impatient and not wanting to wait even a few seconds. Why were people in such a damn hurry to get to work anyway?
He walked over to the far register and signed it on for Janine. Quickly he counted the drawer contents then stepped back so Janine could take over. He told Ezra not to begin closing out his shift until he had the broken register fixed, so at least he’d have two functioning registers operating to deal with the line of customers.
Rebooting the register wasn’t rocket science. He simply had to tilt back the monitor, locate the reset button underneath, and then wait for it to restart. While doing so, he checked all the cords to make sure everything remained securely plugged in, and by the time the register came back up, he noticed David had finally arrived.
“David, take over for Janine. You can run on my numbers until Ezra gets his register closed out. This register’s ready for Janine.”
“I’ll just take that register,” David said.
Janine turned from her customer and glared at him. “No way!”
“I want Janine on this register,” Phil said. He knew David really didn’t care which register he was on. He just liked jerking Janine’s chain. Everyone knew how bunched up she got about her routine, and the other employees sometimes deliberately goaded her by challenging her OCD. “Just do it, David. I’m not in the mood to argue,” Phil intoned.
At one time Phil had held high hopes for David. Surely the kid would quickly advance beyond his cashier position into management. He seemed bright and motivated when he first started, but after a few months, it all went to shit. Now he didn’t seem to care one way or the other, and Phil seriously doubted he’d stay with the company for long. This was just a job to him, a paycheck, and Phil really couldn’t blame him. Even if he did advance in the company, he’d never get to a point where he made a truly livable wage.
And therein lay the perpetual challenge Phil faced. He constantly battled staffing issues because it was difficult to find motivated employees willing to work long term for such low wages. In a retail environment, cashiering positions were considered entry level, and they paid little more than minimum wage. That kind of salary was not enough for anyone to live on, and most employees quickly grew discouraged. They got tired of working their butts off for a company that never rewarded them, and on top of everything, they also faced a barrage of often hostile, ungrateful customers who tended to look down their noses at the menial laborers.
Doreen and Tiesha breezed through the door next, sailing past Phil on their way to the time clock. Tiesha, the food steward, would man the coffee bar and restock breakfast sandwiches and roller-grill items. Though trained on register, she primarily focused on food and beverage and only operated the till during emergency situations like massive rushes or to cover for another employee’s break. She stood by the time clock tying up her apron when Margo stepped out of the back room.
“Girl, get a move on,” she said, one hand on her hip. “I got sandwiches getting cold.” Margo, the other food steward, worked in the back kitchen area, and had been slaving away for the previous hour preparing the breakfast offerings.
Tiesha waved her hand dismissively. “Fuck that,” she said. “Brianna kept me up all night, cryin’ with a earache.”
“Aww,” Margo said. “Poor baby, you got any drops?”
She nodded. “Yeah, took her to the free clinic yesterday and they gave us some drops, but they ain’t workin’ yet. She’s okay now, though. My ma’s at the house.”
“Do you need the day off?” Phil said, interjecting himself into the conversation.
She shook her head. “I need the money, and Ma knows how to take care of her.”
“Well, if you change your mind, I’ll put Doreen on food today and give you the day off.”
“No, no… I’m fine.”
“Doreen, you can take the open register,” Phil said. “Ezra’s closing down now.”
Phil had worked with a variety of employees over the course of the previous ten years at the store. Though confident he had a fairly stable staff, he knew in this business nothing lasted forever. The majority of retail service workers did not remain at one job for exceptionally long periods. He had a couple employees who’d worked for him more than five years, but most were lucky to remain employed with the company over a year.
People who made a living from paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth, generally felt dissatisfied. Often they didn’t know exactly who to blame for their situation—the company, their boss, the customers, or themselves. They just realized there had to be more to life than working a thankless job and collecting a meager paycheck.
As Tiesha sauntered out to the coffee bar and began brewing some fresh pots of java, Phil watched her turn to smile at the customer who’d just walked through the door. One of the regulars, the tall, muscular African-American dressed in hip-hop fashion complete with a cap resting slightly askew atop his head, nodded to Tiesha and grinned. “Too damn early,” he mumbled.
“I hear that. You workin’ this early?”
“Else you know I won’t be outta bed, girl. Course I’m workin. Sucks… till now.” He stepped back and looked her up and down in an obvious manner.
“Get outa here,” she said, waving her hand at him. “I got me a man.”
“But you ain’t got this.” He held his arms out and pointed to himself.
“Pfft.” She rolled her eyes and turned away from him as he continued to stare at her booty.
“Buenos dias. ¿Como está, mi amigo?” Phil turned to greet the customer who’d just approached the counter.
“Bien, bien. ¿Y usted?”
Phil had learned conversational Spanish expressly for the purpose of communicating with the Latino customer base in his store. He began with an online software and studied for three years to get to a point where he could actually converse. The Latino customers, most of them drywallers and landscapers who frequented his business every morning, seemed to respect his efforts and often went out of their way to talk to him.
If he were completely honest with himself, he’d admit that he felt flattered, especially when a guy as hot as Humberto showed interest in him. He wasn’t delusional, though. He knew the young Latin stud had zero designs on him. Phil wasn’t young and hot, and the Latino construction worker probably wasn’t even gay.
When he first started at the store, Phil would listen to the Latinos speaking to each other in Spanish, and it all sounded like gibberish to him. He felt self-conscious, not knowing what they were saying and wondered if they were talking about him or his employees. After he began to learn the language, he realized this was not the case at all. Usually the young guys were talking about the same things the young English-speaking guys were: young girls.
By far the majority of the customers who came in and out of his store were straight, but not all of them. They had a few regulars Phil knew for sure to be gay, and one time he had to ask a lesbian couple to take it outside when they stood in front of the fountain machine making out for about ten minutes. They cussed him out and called him a homophobe, but he just rolled his eyes and walked away. He’d have done the same thing with a straight couple, though probably wouldn’t have allowed it to continue a full ten minutes.
He didn’t hide his sexual orientation, but he didn’t broadcast it either. His employees all knew he was gay, and no one really talked about it. Up until four years ago, he’d lived with his partner, Darren. They’d been a couple for almost seven years until Darren up and left one day. He’d met someone else online, someone from Chicago, and he hopped on a train and disappeared. Phil hadn’t seen or heard from him since.
So his job pretty much was his life now. He maintained friendships with a couple other store managers within the company, but he didn’t really have any other gay friends. He didn’t go to the bars or social events, mainly because he worked too much. Even on his days off, he’d find himself at the store for one reason or another, and at thirty-five, he didn’t really expect anything to change for him. He didn’t have the looks or the quick wit to feel comfortable in social settings with other gays. Those environments always made him feel out of his league, and he sensed that other guys looked down on him, either for not being attractive, not having enough money, or simply for being too much of a nerd.
When he and Darren met, Phil thought they were a match made in heaven. Darren, also on the shy side, had gone through many of the same life experiences Phil had endured. They’d both lost their parents, and Darren had cared for his mom until she died a few years prior. Phil had done the same, taking care of his own mother after she’d suffered a stroke. Darren also worked in retail, a front desk clerk at Walmart. Though technically he wasn’t in management, he did work in customer service, and therefore they shared an understanding of the unique set of challenges a retail job presented. Darren had felt the same frustrations, constantly dealing with rude or unsatisfied customers, not to mention the shit-for-brains bosses who always seemed to get chosen for promotion.
Phil had started out in retail back in high school, working as a bag boy at the local supermarket. He took some community college classes but did not complete his degree. It didn’t matter, though. Back then, a college degree wasn’t required, especially not for retail management. He rose quickly in the company, advancing to a management position.
Finally, when the company he’d worked at for ten years went belly-up, he found himself in the unemployment line. At age twenty-five, his mom had just died and he found himself completely alone, unemployed. He decided to go back to school to complete his degree. He signed up for online classes and continued with them even after he landed the job managing the convenience store. He received his diploma right around the time he met Darren online.
Looking back on his life, he realized that period, though difficult, had been perhaps the most hopeful he could remember. Though still grieving the loss of his mother, he felt like life had begun anew. He had a new career, a man he genuinely loved, and even a college degree. That was also when he began learning Spanish.
But the honeymoon stage of his relationship with Darren didn’t last long, and when it became obvious Darren was far more interested in spending his free time with a bottle of booze than with Phil, they started to grow apart. Phil devoted most of his energy to the store, and when he wasn’t working, he spent a good deal of time online. The relationship withered on the vine, until one day, Darren was gone.
“You work hard,” Humberto said. “You’re always working, no?”
“Sí,” Phil said, laughing. “Yes, I’m always working.”
“Every day I see you. You no have days off? You work too hard, man.”
“Well, it seems to me you work pretty hard, too, Humberto. You’re in here every day, on your way to work. Come on down to this register. I’ll ring you up.” Phil stepped over to the check stand on the far end, the one Janine had just vacated.
“Gracias,” Humberto said, stepping up to the counter with an armload of junk food. He placed the bags of chips and the Hostess snack cakes on the counter.
“What do you do?” Humberto stared at him, smiling, and Phil wondered if maybe he didn’t understand the question. “¿Cual es tu trabajo?”
“Oh… oh. Soy un manitas.”
“¿Manitas?” Phil had heard the word, but couldn’t immediately remember the meaning. “Oh, you’re a handyman. You fix things.”
“Wow, like, do you do plumbing work?”
“Oh yes, yes of course. Por supuesto.”
“Hm. Ya know, I need to find someone to come fix my sink. At home, I mean. At my house. Do you have a card?”
Humberto cocked his head to the side, as if thinking.
“¿Una tarjeta? A business card.”
“Oh, yes. Yes!” He reached into his shirt pocket and removed a business card, handing it to Phil. “Call me and I’ll come fix you up.” He winked, and as Phil looked into the man’s eyes, a lump formed in his throat. “I have all the right tools for the job.”
Phil quickly looked down at the touch screen on his register, trying to focus on the task of completing the transaction. “Uh, yeah. Um, do you want a bag for this?”
“Una bolsa,” Humberto said, laughing. “Sí.”
Phil placed the business card next to his register and tore off a plastic bag from the dispenser. Then he began filling it with Humberto’s items.
“I’ll let you see my big hammer,” Humberto said, lowering his voice. “Puedes tocarlo. Puedes chuparme.”
Phil’s eyes grew wide as he looked up at him. “Wh-what?” He knew what Humberto had just said: You can touch it. You can suck me.
Humberto did not repeat himself, just laughed. He nodded to the business card. “You call me.” He tossed a ten-dollar bill on the counter. “Keep the change, amigo.” He picked up his bag and turned to walk out of the store while Phil stood there, mouth agape.
“Phil, you all right?” Ezra said, staring at him. “What’d that guy just say to you?”
“Uh….” he opened his mouth to speak and no words immediately came out. “I… I’m not sure. I couldn’t really understand him.”
“I just wish they’d speak English,” Justine shouted from her register. “I mean, if they’re gonna come here to live, they ought to learn our language.”
“Amen! I agree with you,” the middle-aged portly woman Justine was waiting on piped up. “I hate that, when you get some stupid recording saying press one for English. Why should I have to press one for English? I live here! I’m an American citizen. Why don’t they have to press one for their language?”
Phil looked at Ezra and rolled his eyes. “You got your drawer counted? You can go now.”
“Cool,” Ezra said. He grinned as he patted Phil quickly on the shoulder. “Oh, just one thing.”
Phil looked at him expectantly.“Hablo español. Tenga un buen día. Adiós.” He laughed and stepped over to the time clock.
Shit. Phil felt the heat rise into his cheeks as he followed Ezra to the time clock.
“Ezra… uh… I don’t know why he said….”
“Don’t worry, sir. Your secret’s safe with me.” Ezra winked and punched out.
To view Book Trailer, click HERE