Author's Note: This was written for the "Writers Anonymous Self-Insert Challenge." You might call it a quiet little "slice of life" story, loosely based on something I used to do for hourly wages. (See the note at the bottom for a bit more detail.)
Incidentally: This is set just after the final episode of the JLU cartoons. In other words, perhaps the day after Batman told the villains who had just fought to help save the world that they could have the great reward of a "five-minute head start" before he and everyone else in the League started hunting them down all over again! I assume that at least some of them managed to get away (for the time being).
By the way, the story is occurs in and around a fast food restaurant which is part of a chain that was mentioned in at least one or two DC comic books in the 1980s. The fictional chain was obviously based on a certain real-world chain; you'll probably figure out which one in a hurry!
A Mild Break in Routine
McTavish's. One of the most popular fast-food chains in the United States of America (and steadily spreading its influence to other parts of the world). The chain began humbly enough in California, and since that state is far and away the most heavily populated in the union, it naturally continues to have more "Mickey Tee's" locations than any other.
In one of those locations, in a place along the coast that could qualify as a large town or a very small city, depending on whom you asked, a woman named Rosario Henriquez was currently wearing the headset which let her take orders from drive-through customers. Not that there had been any of those in the last eighteen minutes while she was attending to some routine paperwork; it was the slow part of the day - just past three in the afternoon. The lunchtime mob had long since come and gone, and the suppertime business wouldn't start to pick up until around five. Saturdays were always extra-busy overall, but not at this hour.
Then her lucky streak ended as a vehicle pulled up to the outdoor menu and microphone. Rosario automatically went through her "Welcome to McTavish's!" spiel, and after a moment she heard a gruff voice saying, "Right, let's make it eight Big Tavvies, four large orders of fries, two large strawberry shakes, two hot fudge sundaes, four apple pies, two orders of chocolate chip cookies, two orders of sugar cookies—and wait a moment, okay?" Then she heard his voice saying (faintly; his head no longer turned toward the outside mike): "Hey! Wake up! You guys want anything?"
Rosario sighed silently. Why couldn't customers travelling several to car learn to pool their orders and write it all down before driving up to the mike and starting to order things on a piecemeal basis? Still, she supposed that it didn't really make any difference at this time of day. It wasn't as if six other cars were likely to get stuck waiting right behind this one.
By the time the other customers in that vehicle—three besides the driver, she thought—had passed their orders along via the driver, the total size of the order had snowballed. There were some very hungry people in that SUV. Under other circumstances, she'd've assumed someone was making a meal run to the local Mickey Tee's on behalf of a much larger group somewhere else, but the dialogue she'd heard from that car suggested otherwise.
Given the size of the order, she was justified in warning them, when they pulled to her window, that it would take a little extra time to get all that together on short notice, and could they please pull forward—she pointed to an area—and wait there? The driver took it in stride, and nobody mentioned that this also gave her time to make sure they paid for everything before the special items were assembled from scratch.
Most of that assembly was done by Dell Prather. He still considered himself one of the "new guys" in the store—although after six weeks on the job, averaging about 25 hours on the clock per week, he was no longer the most junior member on the store's payroll; he actually had seniority over five other young people. Pay was low and turnover was fast, with recent hires often simply failing to show up again after they had spent their first three or four shifts entirely on their aching feet, so if Dell kept his nose to the grindstone, it was entirely possible that within another three or four months he would make it into the "upper half" of the roster in terms of practical experience.
Dell had been washing his hands (after cooking up another two dozen meat patties, just to be ready for contingencies) when the tiny printer in the grill area started buzzing. As luck would have it, the driver of the car had just wanted his sandwiches prepared in the regular way, but each of his three passengers had wanted their burgers specially prepared—"hold the mustard," "hold the onion," etc. That required a printed summary of each item, so that a grill worker could take care to add this or withhold that when slapping those sandwitches together from scratch.
There should have been two "grill workers" on duty at this time of day (not counting one person ready to take drive-through orders and another standing behind the counter to greet walk-ins), but instead there was only Dell. The girl who was supposed to be working right beside him (according to the posted schedule for the week) had simply failed to show up today; no phone calls to explain; nobody knew what she was doing. Even so, a few minutes ago Dell had been going through the motions of cooking a little more meat and toasting a few dozen more buns just so he'd look as if he were keeping busy. Now he had to hustle to catch up with the unexpected demand for sixteen Big Tavvies at once, not to mention other odds and ends. (Fortunately such things as the milkshakes and the fries were simply not his problem; Rosario and/or Carlie would be handling those things up front while he concentrated on slapping together sandwiches and then microwaving them.)
By the time Dell had all the required sandwiches piping hot in boxes or wrappers, a group of teenagers had materialized at the front counter—some sort of field trip? Coming back from a sporting event somewhere?—and Carlie was busy taking their orders. Rosario told Dell that she'd asked the SUV to pull forward and wait for its large order to be filled, and now she wanted him to walk out and make the delivery since Carlie was so busy and Rosario had to be ready with a quick greeting if more drive-through customers came along.
This sort of thing was why there should have been two people on duty back in the grill area, even in the quietest part of the day, so that one could be available for miscellaneous chores while the other was keeping an eye peeled for any special orders which might come along. But this time the grill would just have to wait a minute or two, unattended.
Dell loaded the bags of food onto a plastic tray and headed out the front door, reflecting that this was another "first" in his short career in the fast food racket; the first time he'd dealt directly with real live customers. It promised to be slightly more exciting than Tuesday afternoon's "first"—the first time he'd been sent into the men's room to mop up a strawberry milkshake which some genius had carried in there and then somehow managed to spill all over the floor. (Dell still didn't understand how that had happened to begin with; had the guy taken off the plastic lid before deliberately turning the cup upside down and letting everything slosh out as an artistic statement of some sort?)
Let it be understood that Dell currently spent a fair portion of his meager income (a part-time job at minimum wage doesn't add up to much after taxes are withheld) on comic books. Also science fiction and fantasy novels, with similar tastes reflected in his occasional purchase of a movie ticket. He also followed with relish the media coverage of the exploits of such real-life superheroes and supervillains as the Justice League and the Legion of Doom, although he was eternally grateful that neither group had ever felt the overwhelming need to start any super-powered slugfests anywhere near his home town. Likewise, Darkseid's parademon legions, when they invaded the Earth just the other day, had never come within fifty miles of this spot; there was nothing here that urgently required their attention when they were planning to destroy the whole planet anyway.
So when he reached the SUV and peered in through the front driver's-side window, he recognized at least three of the four costumes inside the SUV. The black-haired woman in the purple outfit looked like Star Sapphire, the red-headed lady with the costume that was mostly a much darker red was supposed to be Volcana, the guy wearing what had to be a fiendishly expensive custom-made mask with neat special effects to give it that "perpetually burning" look was the spitting image of Atomic Skull . . . and Dell wasn't sure who the brawny, shirtless fellow in the driver's seat was supposed to be, but all those "tattoos" presumably were decals or body paint, meant to make him closely resemble some obscure metahuman or other.
Dell knew he wasn't being paid to make small talk with the customers, but as long as he had to stand there for a minute anyway, handing in bag after bag after bag through the driver's window and waiting while that guy, in turn, handed most of the food over to one passenger or another, he figured he might as well express his sincere admiration of all the trouble these people had gone to. "Those are beautiful costumes!"
"Uh . . . thanks," growled the tattooed guy, and seemed to figure that covered the conversational niceties in full.
The masked woman in purple, however, leaned over to peer past the driver and smile warmly at Dell. "So you recognize us, young man?"
"Sure!" Dell said, seizing upon the excuse to keep talking for a moment now that the lady had asked him a leading question. Tactfully, he skipped the part about how he was only certain of three costumes out of four. "I . . . . I guess you guys decided to buck the trend at whatever convention or party you're going to, by dressing as villains instead of just imitating the Justice Leaguers like most people?"
"That's close enough to our thinking on the subject," the masked woman said pleasantly as Dell finally handed in the last of the drinks and milkshakes and the driver put them in cup holders next to his bucket seat. "What's life without a little extra hint of danger to spice things up?"
As Dell reluctantly turned away from the SUV to head back to his normal duties, the driver was already shifting gears and heading out of the parking lot to get back on the highway.
Trying to make the best of it, Dell told himself that this harmless chatter had probably been as close as he'd ever come to meeting "real" costumed characters. After all, if those guys had been who they pretended to be, they'd probably have been driving along at 100 MPH with a few highway patrol cars in hot pursuit, and bullets and energy blasts flying back and forth . . . all very exciting to watch on TV, but he wasn't dumb enough to want to be within range when it happened for real!
"I told you guys!" said Atomic Skull, more or less coherently, between bites of one of his Big Tavvies. "This is California! In between conventions and costume parties and random weirdoes and especially show biz, who cares what we're wearing? We won't look suspicious if we don't act suspicious!"
"Okay, so perhaps you knew what you were doing when you begged Sinestro to use his power ring to drop us off here before he went his own way," Volcana conceded, "but we can't keep this up forever. Sooner or later the League will finish mopping up the ones who are still on the East Coast, and then they'll start paying more attention to any reports from elsewhere."
"I already told you," The Tattooed Man said through a mouthful of food in a way that made Star Sapphire wince at his table manners, "'nother forty miles and we'll be at a cabin I rent under a phony monicker. I promised Skull once that he could use it in a pinch, and I'm a man of my word. Where members of the Legion are concerned, anyhow," he added as an afterthought before taking a swig from a milkshake. "Do-gooders and civilians are fair game, natch!"
Rosario had a lot of other things on her mind by the time Dell came back in, but a few minutes later she found the time to ask him: "Hey, didn't those guys look an awful lot like some villains I've seen on the news?"
"Yeah, they did," he conceded. "Doing it on purpose, I'm sure. But they were nice and normal when I was handing in the food; they're just trying to look a bit scary."
Author's Note: Once upon a time I was what they called a "grill worker" in a McDonald's franchise. It paid minimum wage with irregular hours and I spent virtually all my time on my feet, but the job was still an interesting experience. The challenge over on our local Writer's Anonymous forum was to write something that could qualify as a "believable self-insert," so I decided to delve way back into some old memories to find a way I could have once "realistically" encountered a few stray supervillains without getting myself killed in ten seconds flat.
Dell is not my real name, but the character is definitely based on my own memories of that old job. Although we never had any superheroes or supervillains as customers where I worked. (Well, not as far as I could tell. Maybe they just did a really good job of guarding their secret identities by wearing ordinary clothing over the costumes?)
And before you ask: Yes, Dell also shares my own level of expertise in judging a person's good moral character or the lack thereof. (Yes, you should pity him. Or me. Whichever!)