Jenny ducked her head into Ryan’s office and told him, “Chief, we have a problem.”
For nearly an hour, the jukebox had been playing the same song over and over.
“It’s the one with the black guy who sings country,” she said. Then she hummed a couple of bars of the tune before halfway singing, “Cuz I got a hand for you. Cuz I wanna run with you…”
Ryan shook his head. He hadn’t been back for very long from his errand across the bridge, had no idea what she was talking about. He hadn’t been listening.
In his office, the inner sanctum of the Muddy Creek Pizza Hut, he’d been listening to a podcast about getting women to do what you want through subliminal messaging and hadn’t been paying attention to what was going on outside in the dining room.
Bad weather was keeping customers home tonight, so the restaurant was essentially running itself. That was fine. Mr. Moligue, the franchise owner, didn’t seem to care one way or another whether his Pizza Hut made money, which was probably suspicious, but Ryan figured it was all OK for him if anyone came poking around.
He wasn’t expected to know much.
Jenny kept looking at him, like he should do something, so he shrugged, got up out of his chair and walked out into the dining room.
They had three tables: small families eating pizza and salad. At one of the tables, a large, balding man was looking directly at him, irritated.
So, that’s the guy who complained, Ryan thought.
The Pizza Hut manager cocked his head and listened.
“Cause I’ve got a hand for you. I’ve got a hand for you…”
Jenny looked at him and Ryan nodded. He recognized the song and the voice.
“That’s Hootie and the Blowfish,” he said. “I used to listen to them a lot.”
“Yeah, well, it’s all that’s playing right now,” the server said. “And people are complaining.”
Ryan lifted his hand and waved toward the angry guy across the room as if to signify that he would take care of this.
He walked past the video games to the jukebox and looked at the song counter, which usually told you how many songs were in cue. The red digital numbers flickered between 99 and 33.
That was new. He’d have to call Mr. Moligue and tell him about it. Maybe he’d want the juke box fixed. Maybe he wouldn’t. It was hard to say.
The jukebox had been in this Pizza Hut for as long as Ryan had worked here and long before. According to legend, the place was burglarized in the mid-1990s. Thieves broke in and literally cleaned the place out. They took food, silverware, pots and pans –and the jukebox.
Everything had been insured, but when Mr. Molique replaced the jukebox, he had it bolted to the floor, which also made it impossible to hit the reset button on the back of the machine.
You couldn’t even pull the plug. The power cord was fed directly into the circuit breaker, so the only way to turn it on or off was to flip the breaker.
“Right,” Ryan sighed and walked toward the kitchen. “I can fix this,” he said and went to the employee bathroom.
Ryan had no idea why the breaker box was in the bathroom. Mr. Molique had never told him, but he turned on the light, dug his fingers under the latch to the breaker cabinet, but it wouldn’t budge.
It was jammed tight.
He tugged at it, but nothing.
Ryan’s fingers brushed something rough and jagged. He looked closely at the latch. There was some kind of resin coating.
He pulled at the door, but it wouldn’t move. He’d need a crowbar to get this open and Ryan was certain that shoving a piece of metal into a breaker box was suicidal.
Ryan stepped outside the bathroom and looked across the room at Tim, his cook, but he immediately discounted any suspicion. Tim wouldn’t do something like this. He was just here to get along and get paid, nothing more.
“What is it?” Jenny asked him.
“Somebody has doctored the lock on the breaker box,” he said. “Has anybody been back there?”
Jenny, wide-eyed, nodded and said, “Well, yeah. Remember, I had to bring a kid back here. He was this little black kid, very polite. He was alone and didn’t want to use the bathroom while there was somebody else in the men’s room.”
Ryan let what she said sink in.
“A black kid. How tall?”
Jenny held up her hand to about chest level to her, around four feet tall.
“He came in alone and was waiting on his grandma,” she said.
Ryan’s jaw fell just slightly. “Oh, you have to be kidding me.”