Welcome to 'I Assure You We're Open', my homage to one of the greatest cult classics of the 90's, Clerks. If you're familiar with the film you'll enjoy the scene parodies and nods to certain events. If not, I think you'll still be able to enjoy this story as a "stand-alone" read (though I highly recommend watching Clerks, it's an amazing movie that helped launch some terrific comedies). To get this out of the way now, some scenes are extremely similar to Clerks, and some are not. Take them at face-value.
The blue jay subconsciously stirred, his lanky body turning over on the torn carpet that was the bedroom floor. Its rough, stained surface groaned underneath his weight, but the avian paid no attention to this; he was lost deep in a world of uneasy sleep.
The phone called to him again like an angry spouse, shrill and demanding. This time, one blood-shot eye popped open slowly, wary and suspicious. "Fuck," was all his incorrect mind could process in this confused state. It was too early to even THINK of the phone and its mystery caller. Couldn't they see he was trying to catch much much-needed rest? No, of course not, just like they couldn't see the pile of beer cans cluttered around him like a river of aluminum.
"Fine," he finally spoke, his raspy voice still lined with sleep. He would play the game, but deep in his gut he knew it was already a loss. Chalk up an 'X' by his name and let's call it a day. The bird sat up awkwardly, feathers ruffling, head slightly spinning with the buzz of a not-so-fresh morning. It was going to actually to some effort to stand up.
"I'm coming you fucker!" he yelled in flat disgust, clutching his head with a wing. With an awkward launch of force he was up, gripping the nightstand for balance. He angrily grabbed the phone above it, its cord caught in tangled knots he never bothered to fix. "Hello?" he spat in an icy, unfriendly tone, ready to reach inside that invisible tube and strangle whoever was waiting on the other side.
"Wow, you finally answered." The recipient's voice was cool, sounding equally tired as the avian felt. Oh crap.
"Why, oh fucking why did I pick up in the phone?" he thought miserably; he had recognized the caller instantly. He glanced at the old alarm clock on the dresser and gawked, horrified.
"Benson, it's six in the morning on my day off, did you need something?" Others might have watched their tone more carefully around their Supreme Ruler of Paychecks, but not our hero. He just wasn't in the mood.
"Mordecai, I need you to come this morning as soon as you can," the gumball machine said simply, as if he were signing a death warrant with a glitter pen.
"What happened to Skips?" he retorted quickly, his temper rising. "This call shouldn't even be happening," he added to himself heatedly. Didn't working eight days in a row constitute at least twenty four fucking hours of rest? Apparently not. Fuck that co-worker of his.
"He called in sick," his boss explained, like that made everything better. No, this was bullshit, Skips NEVER called in sick. How convenient it was today. Perfect.
"Benson, c'mon, dude. I was gonna play the Realm of Darthon today with the guys. I already made plans!" the jay pleaded. This just wasn't fair.
"Gee, Mordecai, that sounds like such an important afternoon. Tell you what, why don't you humor me and come down anyway?" Benson spat, uncaring.
"And what if I say no? What then?" Mordecai challenged, stupid bravery coming over him.
"THEN YOU'RE FIRED!" the gumball machine spat, and the avian flinched, picturing his boss's head turning a bright, crimson red. Well, I guess there's my answer. His bravery faded just as fast as it had come.
"And make sure you actually stay, because I'll check. If you think I won't, you're even more of an idiot than I thought you were," his boss continued, the venom in his voice sharp. "I'll be around at noon to take over for you. Think you can handle that?" Mordecai shook his head in disbelief, clenching his unused wing into a fist. Man, he wanted to smash that fucker's head open and watch the gumballs pour out. Instead, his exhaled sharply, shaking.
"I'll be there," he grumbled.
"Good, you still have your key, right? Please tell me you managed to actually keep it safe."
"I have the fu- frickin' key," the jay caught himself, rolling his eyes. His boss really did think he was a moron.
"Good, thanks SO much, you're SUCH a value to my company," the metal man sarcastically added, an audible click disconnected the two. As the steady hum of dial-tone followed, Mordecai stood there stunned for a moment with his beak ajar from shock, trying not to let the anger consume him. HIS company? He was a manager, not a big-time CEO.
"What a douchebag!" he yelled, finally breaking from his trance. "Why the hell do I put up with this?"
"Because you like money, and a place to live, and food to eat, and-"
"Shut up," he told himself, interrupting his thoughts. On a scale from one to Hell, this was definitely a shitty way to start the day.
"And it's probably gonna get worse," he thought. He reached for his keys on the table, hesitated, then grabbed them angrily in a huff, walking outside into the cloudy, New England morning.
The clunker's engine puttered to a stop in front of the Quick Stop, the decaying building looming in front of the overcast sky like a beacon of death.
"I hate this place," Mordecai thought absent-mindedly, stepping out of the car. He had hoped by rolling down the windows on the drive over, he would shake some of the sleepiness that clouded his brain, but it hadn't worked well. Sighing, he glanced over at the video store next door, hoping his best friend Rigby was working today. Knowing him though, it would be miracle if he even showed up at all.
Now at the door, he unlocked the gate and raised it with a grimace, struggling against its weight. Finally, he pushed it to the top, and it clicked into the track. He unlocked it, the glass graffitied with decal ads, one claiming that purchasing tobacco was against the law for those under 18, another claiming the same for alcohol under 21.
The dim flood lights greeted him, the rows of food and items dark like the halls of a morgue. He walked over the panel in the back, opening the half-door that separated customer from clerk. The jay switched on the four lights one by one, watching the store light up in sections like a bizarre theater stage. Satisfied, he went back onto the floor, this time to the coffee pots. He ripped open the pre-made packet and sniffed, recoiling a little. "Should have stopped and gotten a cup of the real stuff," the bird thought, but it was too late now, he'd have to make due with the cheap shit like everyone else.
With the pot brewing, he looked over and noticed the empty newspaper rack. "Damn." He didn't bother with the door's lock as he walked across the street to the dispenser; if anyone wanted to steal anything, that wasn't his problem. After all, he wasn't supposed to be here today.
He popped a quarter into the slot and the plastic door unlatched, allowing him access. Mordecai grabbed the entire stack, smirking. These things were pretty stupid. Shouldn't there be an alarm that goes off if you take more than one? As he walked away, he heard a metallic clack and realized his quarter had been returned, and stepped back to grab it. "Damn right."
As the jay walked back to the Quick Stop, he started to feel a bit better. Benson would be here at noon to relieve him, he would have extra pay in his pocket, AND he'd be able to play Realm of Darthon with the guys. He felt confident enough to whistle a tune to himself; now all he had to do was open the main shutters. He picked the last key, twirling the ring with a musical jingle. He started to insert it into the lock's slot...and found he couldn't.
"What the fuck?" he simply stated to no one in particular, puzzled. He tried the other, and the same result awaited him. It dawned on him in a sudden dread: the locks were jammed with God knows what. A primal yell, followed by a sharp band against the shutter, was the reaction.
Muscle Man and High-Five
As a certain blue jay scrambled to work around the broken locks, a duo walked...and floated casually up to the split-building, taking their normal spot to the right of the empty video store. Above them, a sign advertised "the newest VHS and Nintendo games" for rent, but these particular two weren't exactly selling technology, nor did they work here. They were, however, selling some sort of entertainment.
"Hand it to me, Fives," the green, tubby man, fondly nicknamed Muscle Man, said to his ghostly counterpart. The transparent Pac-Man-esque figure handed him a soda, and the green man opened the tab with a fizzing pop, downing a gulp. He took another, this time spitting it in a projectile spray in front of him.
"Thanks," he mumbled, handing it back to his friend. Fives nodded, watching the display apathetically.
"Oh yeah!" Muscle Man suddenly screamed, yanking his shirt off like it had been on fire. He twisted it into the air, lassoing it like a cowboy ready to rope some cattle, rhythmically humping the air in front of him. His hips thrust like some ritualistic dance.
"What's up ladies?" he challenged, eying a couple of annoyed-looking women walking past the duo, shaking their heads in disgust. He shrugged them off. "Sluts."
Tossing the shirt backward toward the building, he stopped thrusting, and walked back to the wall where High-Five was still floating, watching. "Sluts, sluts man. Tonight we're gonna party right? Bag us some ladies and party. Wooo!" he laughed, raising a hand for his friend. The ghost raised his only one back, meeting them together.
"I oughta bag you Fives, you're so hot for a pale motherfucker," he teased, making another humping gesture at his friend. As usual, Fives looked unimpressed.
"No way, dude, I LIKE THE LADIES!" Muscle Man replied to his own notion, laughing again. The laugher stopped abruptly when a hooded junkie approached them, his body noticeably shivering. The duo eyed him over, recognizing him. He was one of their best customers. A sort of VIP, if you will.
"Muscle Man, hook me up bro," the figure rasped.
The green man smiled knowingly. "Business has be-gun!"
"Just a RadiCola," the exhausted customer grumbled, tossing a single on the counter. Mordecai quickly replaced it with three dirty-looking pennies, their shine long gone from each passing hand. The man scooped the pennies into his open palm and nodded, cracking open the tab to his soda as he walked out of the shop.
The jay sighed; he hated working mornings. Sure, at night you got the tweakers and the freaks, but honestly Mordecai would rather have dealt with them over the morning-asshole crowd. Being in there with the shutters still closed made him think of prison. "Not too far off," he thought with mild amusement.
Another customer walked in, holding a briefcase. His wide, plastic smile amongst the horde of zombie-like patrons seemed...off. He approached the counter, placing his briefcase on it without a word, snapping it open.
"Uh, hey, can I help you?" Mordecai asked curiously, watching him.
The man looked up, that creepy smile still plastered to his face. "Well, maybe you could answer a question for me. Do you carry Four And A Half Hour Power?"
The jay looked at the man like he was insane. "What the hell is that? Look, if you're looking for some kinky stuff, the video store opens in-"
"No, no, it's a drink," the man interrupted him, laughing. "Well, to be precise, an ENERGY drink."
Mordecai's stare didn't waiver at this; if anything he truly believed this guy was a wacko. What the hell was an ENERGY drink? The closest thing he could think of was Gatorade.
"I'm guessing you don't then," the creeper noted, looking at the bird's expression. "Thought so."
The door's sensor chimed behind them. "Are you open?" called a tired voice.
"Yeah," Mordecai called back, annoyed. He would have been better off not making that make-shift 'open' sign anyway; people were still going to ask because of the damn shutters. The customer walked over to the coolers and opened one, grabbing a RadiCola. They were a popular morning item because of their 'pep' you couldn't find in a regular soda. They sold better than coffee, for God's sake.
He approached the counter, and started to fish out his wallet, when Briefcase grabbed his arm. "What the hell man?" the customer retorted angrily, trying to brush him off.
"Sir, how long have you been drinking RadiCola?" Briefcase questioned curiously, smiling at the irate customer.
"Years, who wants to know?" the man growled, and Mordecai couldn't help but panic. He didn't want to deal with a brawl, especially so early in the morning. Fuck that.
"No reason, just a little polling," Briefcase replied, unphased by the anger directed at him. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a tiny capsule that was smaller than a shot glass.
"What's that?" the customer asked, curiosity overtaking his fury.
"Four And A Half Hour Power," Briefcase smiled even wider, if that was possible. "Gives you a burst of energy just as powerful as RadiCola, without all the side effects."
"Side effects?" The customer raised his brow, questioningly. "What side effects?"
"Funny you should ask that," noted Briefcase, reaching back into his case, and pulled out a stack of photos, glossy and what looked like large-print. "Take a look at these."
The customer warily reached out and grabbed them, hesitantly glancing down at them. He shuffled through them, his facial expression slowly morphing into something of disgust. "What the fuck IS this?" He threw the photos back to Briefcase, who just kept on smiling, putting them back into his case.
"Those would be your organs after years of RadiCola consumption," he shrugged. "It's a scientific fact."
The customer's face had turned a couple shades paler. "That's...fucking sick, man." He looked to his side at Mordecai, the anger returning in his voice. "And you guys sell this shit knowing what it does?"
Mordecai backed up a couple steps despite the counter separating them, throwing his wings in front of him. "Hey, dude, I had no idea. How do you even know those are real?"
At this, Briefcase's smile wavered, like a man who realized he had stepped in dog shit. "Excuse me, Mr. Merchant of Death, are you calling me a liar? I'm a concerned citizen here!"
"I never called you a-"
"No, I get it," the customer interrupted, defending Briefcase. "It's the money. It's always the money with you greedy bastards."
The jay's jaw dropped open. "Dude, I just WORK here, I don't even choose what we-"
"Here comes the speech about how he's 'just doing his job', I've seen it a million times," Briefcase smirked knowingly. Mordecai looked desperately to the entrance of the store and noticed more customers coming in. A few seemed to be interested in the exchange taking place, and had stopped to listen.
"You know another group of people who were just 'following orders'?" Briefcase continued, raising a pointed finger at the bird. "Nazis!"
The small crowd that had built up let out mixed yells of agreement, staring coldly at Mordecai.
"That's right, we need to stand up to these merchants and refuse to be slaves to their death machine! Sure, we're going to pay for drinks and food, but should we have to pay to DIE?"
"No!" they shouted, the chatter growing louder and angrier.
Briefcase's smile had returned, but it was icy and determined. "We are going to stop you, Merchant of Death, we'll shut you down and-"
A loud spray erupted through the store, and Mordecai watched as a white foam covered the newly-formed mob, cries of surprise and disbelief muffled over the sound. Eventually it stopped, and moans of confusion replaced the ones of surprise.
The jay turned his head at the source and saw a familiar red robin standing just past the counter, her face determined. In her wings was the fire extinguisher Mordecai had never himself used.
"Alright, who's leading this mob?" she asked angrily at the covered crowd, their faces miserable.
The original customer who had bought into Briefcase's speech first cleared his throat, coughing from the fumes. His extended a finger toward Briefcase himself. "T-that guy."
Briefcase nervously weaved his way through the small mob, and was trying to slip out inconspicuously.
"Hold it," Margaret's sharp voice demanded, and Briefcase halted, slowly turning to face her. She walked over to him, eyes glaring, her wings on her hips.
"Let's see some credentials," she demanded, now holding out a wing. He unbuckled the case again, trying to ease her with his plastic smile.
He paused, then reached inside, grabbing a small index card. He shamefully placed it on her wing, and yanked it hard, gazing at it.
"Four And A Half Hour Power. So you're a salesboy for them, huh?"
Briefcase nodded, his head down. Margaret threw the card back at him, placing a wing on his shoulder and gave him a shove towards the door. "Get out, you sneaky little prick. Trying to wild up a crowd to sell your stupid sugar drink."
She looked back at the crowd, standing there, their eyes gazed over. "And what are YOU people doing? Get out of here and go about your business, sheesh!"
Their trance was broken at this and they all grumbled, filing out like punished schoolchildren. Well, all except one.
"I'll take a RadiCola," he told Mordecai in a quiet voice. The bird huffed, shoving a can in his face.
"Thanks for that," Mordecai thanked his crush, leaning over the counter. "What a fucking mess."
She shrugged it off, but smiled just the same. "It's no big deal. I just didn't want to see you get killed." She hesitated, and looked back at him. "What's with the shutters?"
"Gum or some crap jammed into it. I fucking hate kids," he said, trying to play it cool, but internally his heart was thumping. The jay had no idea if she knew his feelings for her, but he was just too shy to let her know. Margaret was popular around town; she was a tough girl who didn't take shit from anybody, but was still kind to those who deserved it.
"So what're you doing here?" he asked, curious.
"Well, I just wanted to get a soda before work, but instead I was greeted by the Return of the Idiots," she rolled her eyes at this, crossing her arms. "I can't believe people sometimes. Just like cattle."
Mordecai chuckled at this. "Tell me about it. I'm not even supposed to be here today."
"Did you get called in?" she asked, now untwisting the cap to her drink. It let out a small fizz.
"Yeah, my fucking boss decided I didn't need a day off overall. Luckily I'm only here 'til noon and then it's good-bye Quick Stop, hello Freedom." he replied, tapping his wing against the counter.
"I know what that's like, trust me," she nodded, taking a sip. "Luckily Eileen is working the same shift as me today. She doesn't slack off and she's pretty fun to be around."
"Isn't she the one who has the hots for Rigby?" he mused, finding that situation hard to comprehend.
She giggled. "Yeah, Eileen always talks about him, it's ridiculous. I'm sorry, but he's obnoxious. Funny, but obnoxious. He's your perfect match Mordecai."
"Ha ha," the jay said, he rolled his eyes. She was right though, the guy WAS his best friend. Working right next to him was just an added bonus...at least some days. Other days, it was pure Hell.
"Well, I better get going," she said, screwing the cap back into her drink. "I've been late too many days as it is, but I can't help it. Juggling school AND work sucks, Mordecai."
He nodded, but couldn't relate. The jay had only taken a semester before stopping to work full-time.
She looked at him smiling. "You know, you should really try going back to school, Mordecai. You're wasting your potential in this dump."
He groaned. Was his crush trying to lecture him? "I dunno, Margaret, I'll think about it. The boss has me scheduled enough as it is."
"You'll do what's right for you," she shrugged, turning to leave. "See you later."
"Later," he called back, and watched her leave, the metallic chime reminding him of the day of still had left.
I probably should have put this in the intro to this chapter, but I was imagining Margaret with a Jersey accent. Frightening, I know. Next chapter: Rigby, more Muscle Man and HFG and a few surprises.