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American Contemporary Fiction

It was almost opening time and the whipped cream dispenser was just about empty.

“Max!” Ben shouted. “Didn't I tell you to put in more cream last night?”

Ben came out of the back room where the main freezers were, carrying his usual clipboard. He saw how red-faced Max looked and his eyebrows knit. “Yeah,” he muttered, “you sure did.”

“Well?” Well, here we go again – the usual excuses.

“Well what?” Ben's mouth twitched in a tight-lipped little grin. That lousy innocent look he got when he'd done something stupid.

“Well, why didn't you do it?” Max kept his voice low and even with an effort.

“Because the cream's about to expire. You want to serve sour whipped cream to the customers, hmm?”

Max felt his teeth clench. “Well, why didn't you-”

“Why didn't I buy some more? Because you have to key to the safe, dummy. I don't spend my own money on supplies no matter how much you want me to.”

“Oh, for God's sake!” Max exploded. “You couldn't spend fifty bucks and take it out of petty cash? You couldn't do without it for nine goddam hours?”

Ben's smile withered. “No. Are you going to stand there and shout at me or are you going to unlock the safe so I can go buy the cream?”

Max brushed by Ben and headed for the office and the safe. “Neither. I'm going to go buy the cream myself. You open up.”

“But-”

Max didn't bother to turn around.

Fifteen minutes later, with fifty dollars from the safe, Max was in his car heading for the dairy supply outlet, grinding his teeth to nubs. Putting up with Ben and his stubborn-ass rules...how I deal with it after all these years...beyond me...

Ten years it had been, in fact, and the ice cream shop was just beginning to earn a reputation. Yeah, and Ben was still acting like they had to be super strict, like the product was a group of toddlers that would drop dead if the two of them didn't keep an eye on them every second of every day. Like the customers meant nothing and the ice cream was made of gold. Craziness.

Max parked and went in. At the service counter stood a bored-looking teenage clerk. “Help you,” he muttered, just about barely looking up.

“Ten gallons of whipping cream, please.” Max took his wallet out of his pocket.

“Sure,” said the clerk. “What consistency?”

Max looked up at him. “Excuse me?”

The clerk stared back. “Consistency. You need to pick your consistency depending on how fast it's being whipped and what it's going on. Like cake or pudding or ice cream-”

“Yeah, yeah, ice cream.” Max clenched his fists – told himself very strictly to keep his temper.

“Sorry, man, I'm just the clerk, I can't tell what consistency you need from knowing it's going on ice cream, I need a number.”

Great. Max turned around so the clerk couldn't see him roll his eyes, took his phone out, and dialed the shop.

Ben picked up and shouted “Where the hell are you, I've got a store full of pissed-off people here! You know I'm no good with the public!”

Max nearly growled aloud. “Yeah, yeah, I'll be right back, what consistency whipping cream do we need?”

“What? How do you not know that?”

Max actually laughed. This whole thing was getting ridiculous. “Same way you don't know how to deal with customers, of course! What's the consistency we need?”

There was a pause, and Ben started to laugh too. “You're at Aleph Dairy, right? Hand your phone to the guy at the counter.”

Max did as he was told. While the bored teenager talked to Ben, he looked around the shop. Not much to see, really. Although – what would the business mind of Ben see, looking around here?

Interesting question. And what might he see in the shop right no that Ben wasn't seeing that was getting the customers upset?

“Excuse me...”

The clerk behind the counter beckoned Max over. He had a huge tank on the counter. His face looked a little more relaxed than it had been. “Here's what you need.”

Max walked over and picked up the tank. Or tried to. Should have known – ten gallons of whipping cream, after all. “How much does this thing weigh?”

“Don't know,” said the clerk. “I can get you a dolly for it.”

“God, please.”

The clerk not only fetched the dolly, he loaded the cream onto it, pushed it out to Max's car, and loaded it into the back seat. So much more than Max expected.

He hadn't ever given extra for stuff like this, but - “Do you accept tipping?” he asked.

The clerk smiled. “Not supposed to,” he said, and winked.

Max chuckled. “Gee, that's too bad.” He pulled a twenty out of his pocket. “What do you suppose I'll do with this?”

“Hey, what do you know, that's the rental fee for the dolly!” The clerk winked, took the bill, put it in his pocket and loaded the dolly into the back seat of Max's car.

Wasn't such a bad day after all. Max drove out of the parking lot with a cheerful wave to the clerk, who waved back, and drove off to the shop.

As Ben had said, the place was packed with people grumbling to themselves. Ben was hustling around behind the counter as fast as he could, scooping out cones and taking money, He looked up at Max and gritted his teeth. It was a little surprising that the crowd hadn't just up and left in frustration, and Ben too, for that matter.

Max opened his mouth, about ready to shout at Ben for messing things up so badly and sticking them with a few dozen bad Yelp reviews at that...

...well, what did he expect? Ben was the business guy, he himself was the customer relations guy, and he'd torn off in a huff that morning, leaving both Ben and himself in the wrong place. Not too smart, Ben.

He cleared his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, I'm – we're terribly sorry for the inconvenience, we had a technical breakdown today, but we should have it put right in about fifteen-twenty minutes and then we'll get you all served as soon as we can.”

Ben's face relaxed a bit. Max gave him a wave, dashed out to the car and got the dolly out. Getting the cream pack onto it took a while, but he got it done.

He wheeled it around back, hooked it up to the whipping machine, turned it on, stuck the hose into the dispensing machine with its front facing the outer counter, tied an apron on and zipped out to the service counter.

Sure enough, between the two of them, he and Ben got the place cleared out in less than an hour, partly because they could now serve items with whipped cream, which was what a bunch of these customers were waiting for. As he served them, Max had to bite his tongue once in a while – someone would ask what the holdup had been, and Max would give himself a very sharp reminder that he must not lay it all on Ben, much as he wanted to make himself look good. Remember, dummy, you would have done better to stay here and send Ben for the pickup. It's your own stupid fault.

The rest of the day passed more calmly. When the sun went down and they closed up shop, Ben turned to Max with one eyebrow cocked and asked, in an unusually high voice that said I'm so curious, “How the hell did you calm all those people down today?”

Max grinned. “Same way you manage all the business angles around here.”

Ben blinked. “But I don't know how I do that, I just do it.”

“Right.”

After a few seconds, Ben chuckled. “Okay.”

They finished closing and went off to their respective homes.

May 22, 2021 02:10

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