May I Take Your Order

Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Drive" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 29 April 2010.

Gary took a sip of his diet coke and turned to the next chapter in his textbook: sociological jurisprudence and the rule of law. He was no stranger to studying in the middle of the night, and when he was stuck covering the late shift single-handed at least he got paid minimum wage to do it. Apart from a few stoners on a desperate hunt for late night fast-food munchies, after midnight customers were usually few and far between and he could catch up on reading for classes. Plus he could also stick some Metallica on the kitchen stereo and turn the volume knob up as far as it would go without getting yelled at by the manager – there were worse ways to spend a night.

He'd just struggled through the fairly incomprehensible opening paragraph for the third time and still wasn't getting it when he caught sight of the drive-thru light blinking from the corner of his eye. Swearing quietly he half-fell, half-jumped off the chair he'd been sat tipped back in, quickly ran and hit pause on the stero, then dashed back across to the intercom control and pressed talk.

"Uh hi, welcome to Bazooka Burgers," he recited, slightly breathless, "may I take your order?"

"Oh so there is someone awake in this poor-excuse for a knock-off burger bar!" the animated voice crackled though the ancient speakers, accompanied by a chuckle that suggested either the speaker was amused at his own joke or he was one of the hunting-for-munchies crowd. "Rub the sleep from your eyes and grab a pen kiddo – you really don't want to make me have to repeat myself."

Jerk, Gary mouthed silently as he hooked the pen out from behind his ear and picked up an order pad, but he put on his best extra-happy, borderline-lobotomised, dealing-with-wise-ass-customers tone of voice as he spoke: "That's no problem, sir, I'm ready to take your order now."

"We need one Bazooka Mega-Meal, extra cheese, extra onions but hold the lettuce and tomato. Make sure you layer it cheese-burger-cheese so the bun doesn't go all soggy. That's with a large coke, no ice, and onion rings, extra crispy."

This guy was going to get his burger with an 'extra special garnish' reserved for pain-in-the-ass customers if he carried on with the attitude, but Gary kept up the cheery politeness as he noted the order. "Will there be anything else, sir?"

"What nonsense was it that you wanted that meant we had to drive all the way out here?" The voice asked, seemingly to a passenger. There was some muffled conversation which Gary didn't quite catch, then the voice returned tetchily. "Apparently you're doing a promotion with some pre-teen, glitter-vomiting cartoon tie-in plush toys, and for some unknown reason it's of the utmost importance that we get a Bazooka Kiddie-Meal with a pink plush rabbit toy in it to complete a set of the god-awful things. Otherwise the world itself might come to an end. I don't think she cares what the food actually is, as long as there's the right toy."

"Sure, sir, I can make sure you get a pink Bunnykins rabbit toy with a kids meal," Gary reassured him, trying to hold back a tired giggle at how ridiculous this was. By now he'd chalked the guy up to most likely being both a jerk and stoned, and funny as it would be to make Mr Jerk list silly cartoon rabbit names he just wanted to get through the order and get the weirdo away from his window to go pester someone else.

He jotted down the rest of the order and tallied it on the register. "All told that's $12.97 plus tax. I'll have to cook the burgers fresh for you so it'll be a few minutes, but if you'd like to pull up to the serving window I'll be with you as quick as I can."

Not waiting for a reply he headed for the walk-in freezer, turning Metallica back on at a more moderate volume. This was soon accompanied by the sizzle of cooking burgers and the hiss of the fryers. After rooting around in the boxes of giveaway toys stored under the counter he managed to find one of the last few pink rabbits for what had sounded like the guy's demanding girlfriend, so at least she'd be happy. With any luck that might mellow-out Mr Jerk and he wouldn't come back in half an hour to complain about soggy onion rings.

Once the food was cooked he deftly wrapped it up and stacked it in a brown sack, keeping the toy to hand over separately. He took it across to the serving hatch and slid the security window back.

"One Bazooka Kiddie-Meal, one Bazooka Mega-Meal with extra cheese, extra onions, no lettuce…" Gary tailed-off having suddenly found himself face-to-face with the ghostly-white visage that graced the front of a thousand mug-shots, newspapers and true-crime articles. For a second Gary didn't recognise the man, but as his confused brain caught up he realised it was because in all the photos he was usually grinning, not scowling. He really, really, really hoped that the scowling wasn't because of him.

"Fast-food restaurant is really an oxymoron in your case, isn't it?" the Joker said to him, gesturing at his watch. "You'd better have been freshly slaughtering a cow and grinding it up out the back to justify taking that long."

Gary found himself unable to come up with anything to say in response to that, choosing instead to stand in and stare in slack-jawed horror. A distant part of his brain found it hilarious that the Joker would drive what looked like a pimpmobile in the same colour purple as his famous suit.

"Well hand it over then," the Joker demanded. "It's not going to get any more palatable if you keep it gripped in your sweaty hands for the next ten minutes."

Somehow Gary managed to release his grip on the bag in the vicinity of the Joker's gloved hand, and thanks to the God of terrified minimum-wage burger-jockeys it didn't fall between the window and the car. He was ready to close the window, drop to the floor and hide for the rest of the night until the manager showed up for the breakfast shift, but fate wasn't quite done with him yet.

"But Puddin', where's my toy?" a disappointed voice piped up from the passenger's seat of the car as someone rooted around in the sack of food. "Mistah J you promised!"

If Gary thought the earlier scowl had been terrifying, he had been wrong. The Joker fixed him with a glare that would probably have cut through lead. "Where's the rabbit, kid? This is the fourth of your crummy restaurants I've had to traipse round this evening to find this legendary final rabbit toy that complete the set, so unless you want to join the rest of your hapless colleagues in bearing the brunt of Harley's disappointment and my wrath I suggest you produce the stupid thing in the next five seconds."

After four long seconds Gary suddenly realised that he was still capable of sending nerve signals lower than his neck, and quickly raised his left arm where he was still clutching on to the toy. He tentatively held it out and the Joker grabbed at it and thrust it in the direction of the seat next to him.

"There – satisfied?" There was a happy squealing noise which seemed to signal assent. "Now can we stop eating at these crummy places and go back to Loony Burger? They understand the importance of careful burger layering and the crispness of onion rings."

"Sure Puddin', anything you say! And Mr Bunnykins says 'sure Mistah J' too!"

The Joker thrust the bag of food back into Gary's hands through the window, accompanied by several twenty-dollar bills bearing suspiciously sticky red stains.

"Here kid – knock yourself out. We won't be back. Keep up the shockingly awful service."

With a squeal of tires the car pulled away and Gary was left standing at the open window with the bag of rapidly congealing greasy food, staring at the money in his hand and hoping against hope that the stains were ketchup.