Danielle could feel the cold ground through her shoes, and it wasn’t until she saw the building again that she understood what she was in for. The Voracious Beagle stood on that corner for decades, and just a year ago Danielle thought she left its embrace for good. She crossed the empty street outside the shop and heard a bell chime when she opened the door.
The Beagle was a sandwich shop and in spite of its boastful owner, and largely unmotivated staff, it managed to find a financial foot hold in downtown Chaplin Field. Many of the youth in town avoided the Beagle when seeking places of employment partially because of better paying jobs in the city’s nearby mall, and also partially because it was unclear how to apply. This didn’t stop Danielle however, all those years ago. She had been eating sandwiches there with her Aunt since she was nine years old. Even standing in the doorway now reminded her of that first visit. The walls of the store were faded red brick and all of the tables and chairs were made of old wood that had been built and donated by a friend of the owner’s. The lights were sparse and consisted of a few fluorescent in the rafters above them. Posters and pictures from old movies and sporting events hung haphazardly on all of the walls and hadn’t been adjusted or replaced since Danielle left.
Behind the counter, on sandwich duty, was Scotty and Max. Scotty was a high school drop-out that turned making sandwiches into his passion. He worked at the Beagle since he was fifteen years old and was always the one who got called in when things started falling apart. His large afro was contained by a hairnet. Max started about a year before Danielle left, and didn’t burst out of the gate the most talkative person, but eventually came out of his shell. He wore one of his signature flannels and an old Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap.
The store wasn’t very busy, and the only person sitting in the dining area was Cynthia. She was wearing a maroon dress with long sleeves and a skirt that went down to her ankles. Her hair was down to her shoulders and dyed a gray that was almost white. She was messing with an old tattoo machine, apparently trying to get it to make marks on a large grapefruit that sat on the table in front of her.
“Damn it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, guys, I can’t get this fucking thing to just fucking work.” Cynthia said letting the machine fall from her hands on to the hard wood of the table. She finally saw Danielle standing awkwardly just inside the front door. “Holy shit Danielle’s back.” She nearly screamed jumping out of her chair and running over to great her friend.
“Hi everyone.” Danielle mumbled with a pitiful wave as Cynthia nearly tackled her with a hug.
“Hey, it’s been a while how’s college been treating you?” Scotty asked leaning casually against the counter.
“I actually, um, dropped out of college.” Danielle replied turning red like she always did with stuff like this. Scotty chuckled.
“Well, welcome to the drop-out club.” He said before running to address a beeping oven in the backroom.
“What made you decide to drop out.” Max chimed in, walking around the counter and taking a seat at a nearby table.
“She doesn’t need to talk about that right now.” Cynthia snapped. “For Christ sake, she just got here. Can we at least get her a sandwich first?”
“Oh, you guys don’t need to do that I can make my own.” Danielle interjected, moving behind the counter and putting on gloves to begin crafting her sandwich. She grabbed a loaf of the Beagle’s famous bread, cut it down the side like she was trained to, and then held it open like a book against her face. She missed that smell.
“You missed a lot of fucked up stuff while you were gone.” Max said coming back around and looking over her shoulder. “Scotty and Hermin aren’t speaking to each other.”
“Seriously Max? Why are you always trying to stir shit up?” Cynthia yelled.
“I’m not stirring up anything, go play with your grapefruit.” This made Cynthia clench her fists.
“What happened exactly?” Danielle asked in a slightly higher pitch voice, on accident, while spreading some tuna on the bread.
“Just some bullshit ego stuff. Hermin won’t put Scotty’s sandwich ideas on the menu and he’s being pouty about it, but he’ll come around eventually.” Cynthia said.
“That’s a pretty rough way to put it for someone who doesn’t want things stirred up.” Max replied. She brandished her middle finger in response. “It’s starting to affect the day to day around here. The two of them can’t even work with each other anymore.”
“That’s not true they work together fine for the most part.”
“Why are you so bent on denying this? Yeah, they get the food out if that’s what you mean, but they don’t communicate, and they give each other silent death glares the whole time. It makes me uncomfortable.”
“Oh, Christ forbid you ever feel uncomfortable, and if I’m denying anything it’s mainly to get us off this topic because Danielle hasn’t seen us in almost a year, and I’m sure the last thing she wants to hear about is work stuff. Am I right?” At this point Danielle was on bite two of her sandwich and it tasted just like it always had. The nostalgia was so strong she could barely hear what Cynthia and Max had been saying.
“I don’t care if we talk about work.” Danielle replied. “We don’t have to do the whole catching up thing it usually just leads to bullshit anyway.”
“See she gets it.” Said Max now making a sandwich of his own.
“Whatever.” Cynthia replied sitting back down behind her grapefruit. “Those two have worked together for so long it’s almost like they’re married.”
“How long has Scotty worked here again?” Danielle asked still enjoying her sandwich.
“Ten years, since he was fifteen.” Max replied. “As far as I’ve seen this is the worst it’s ever been.”
“I would agree.” Cynthia added.
“Have you brought it up with either of them?”
“We have, but both of them refuse to admit anything is wrong, kind of like what Cynthia was doing a second ago.” Max said.
“Yeah, and when they do talk they often are backhanded about things and passive aggressive. Like Max was just now.” Cynthia replied.
“How has business been?” Danielle asked in an attempt to refocus the conversation.
“Not good it dropped off a few months ago and now we pretty much only see business on the weekends.”
“And that’s if we’re lucky.” Added Max.
“Is Hermin here? I was actually hoping to see him. I’m kind of in the market for some advice and he’s usually a decent source of it.”
“He’s in his office. If you’re gonna talk to him though, can you maybe see if you can get him to just let Scotty put one of his sandwiches on the damn menu, please. It would really clear a lot of things up around here.”
“Max, she doesn’t work here anymore. You can’t just ask her to do stuff like that.”.
“She was here before either of us. She knew Hermin and Scotty before all of this shit built up between them. If anyone can barter a truce it’s her.”
“It doesn’t matter you can’t just expect things from people like that.”
“You’re right.” Danielle calmly interrupted. “But it’s fine it really is.” She turned and looked at Max. “I can’t make any promises.” And without another word she put down the rest of her sandwich, walked to the gray painted door at the end of the dining room, knocked, and then slowly turned the knob.
The room was cold, colder than the rest of the place. Hermin looked up from his desk the second she entered the room.
“Are you a ghost?” He asked, adjusting his glasses. Danielle didn’t know how to respond initially, so she just kind of said something.
“It’s only been a year.” The floor creaked a little under her shifting weight.
“It’s good to see you. What made you finally decide to come back and visit? Are you looking for a job?” Hermin looked old with his rounded spectacles and long white beard.
“No, not a job. I was actually hoping you could give me some advice.” Danielle replied.
The gentle wine of a yawning dog sounded off in the back corner of the room, it was Hemin’s dog, Winslow, whose great grandfather inspired the name of the shop. Winslow was an old dog, and was fatter than any beagle should be, but he was happy and lived a very easy life. Hermin was allowed to have him in the store since he had him legally certified as his service dog. This certification was not supplied by a well-respected establishment, but they were licensed, so it counted. Danielle bent down and called the dog over to her. Winslow shook his head so that his ears flopped all over the place then scampered over and greeted her.
“I missed you the most, Winslow, yes I did.” She said into the dog’s ear as she scratched the spot he liked on the back of his neck. This made his back-right leg lift off the ground and twitch.
“He must’ve missed you too. The lazy bastard’s been sleeping all day.” Hermin said peering over his desk at them. “So now what’s this issue you need advice about?”
Danielle stopped petting Winslow and stood up.
“I dropped out of school.” She said. Hermin chuckled at this.
“Weren’t as keen on being told what to do as you thought you’d be?”
“I guess not.”
“So why do you want my advice? If you didn’t want what school was selling what makes you think you’re gonna want what I have to offer?” Hermin asked leaning back in his chair. Danielle rolled her eyes at him.
“This isn’t about my future, Hermin. This is about my parents.”
“What? You haven’t told them?”
“Not yet, and I don’t know how I should go about it.” She replied. Hermin sat forward again and rested his arms on the desk.
“That isn’t a simple problem, Danielle. That’s a long conversation you should have had with them before you decided to drop out. I mean shit, didn’t they pay all of your first year’s tuition?”
“Yes, with my college fund. My Dad saved up just enough for the first year, he said the rest was up to me.”
“Now I get it.” Hermin laughed. “That’s why you dropped out. It’s not worth sticking around if you’ve gotta pay for it yourself, right?”
“Yep, you’ve got me all figured out Hermin. Now what the fuck should I do?” She asked getting gradually more tired of the games. Hermin was quiet for a minute and swiveled his desk chair left and right.
“You also had a scholarship, right?” He asked after snapping out of his trance.
“Yeah the cost of my tuition minus the scholarship was only about 8000 dollars.” Danielle replied.
“Well shit, you could pay that back working here in no time.”
“Maybe if you payed me ten dollars an hour, and gave me full time hours, I could.”
“Hey, if it gets you to come back.” He said helping Winslow hop up onto his lap.
“I’m being serious here, Hermin. I need your help I don’t know what to do about this. They don’t even know I’m back in town yet.”
“You seriously haven’t told them?”
“Tell them what, that I wasted my dad’s hard-earned money?” She replied. Hermin shook his head.
“I don’t know what you should tell them, but you can’t just avoid them.”
“That’s the kind of advice you’re supposed to give. I want the kind you actually want to give.” Danielle said with a look that was angry, but not directly at him.
“Well, I hate to ruin your day Danielle but the advice I want to give includes you coming back and working here, and you don’t seem to want to do that. So, I guess we don’t really have anything left to talk about.” He said, looking back down at the papers on his desk, as if he actually knew what they were and filed anything.
“Can I at least hear your offer?” Danielle said stopping herself from spinning around and bursting out the door.
“I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like it would really make a difference” He said still pretending to have important documents in front of him. “Can I ask you something?”
“Yeah.” She replied.
“Where have you been staying if your parents don’t know you’re back yet?”
“I have my aunt’s old van. It’s one of those kinds hippies used to drive around or something, anyway, it has a bed in it and I’ve been sleeping in various parking lots.”
“Well that’s not gonna do.” Hermin said. “You know the apartment above the shop has been empty for years. If you came back to work here I’d pay you ten dollars an hour, and I’d let you live up there rent free. That way you can pay your dad back, and you won’t have to let your parents know your back in town until you’re ready.” Danielle hated how easy he was making it, this wasn’t what she wanted, but it was her only option. “I thought you liked it here Danielle? And now that you’re out of school why wouldn’t you want to come back?”
“I don’t know. I guess I just convinced myself I was done with this place. That I was moving on to the next phase of my life. Coming back would kind of feel like moving backwards.” She replied.
“So that’s a no then?”
A light bulb went off inside Danielle’s head.
“I’ll take the offer.” She said. And Hermin nearly fell out of his seat. “On one condition.”
“A condition? I offered you a rent-free apartment what more could you want?” Hermin asked.
“You need to stop fighting with Scotty and let him put one of his sandwiches on the menu.”
“Oh my god, you too? You just got here. Did fucking, Max, put you up to this? He’s always stirring shit up.” Hermin placed Winslow back on the floor and he waddled back to his corner. “Listen you know I respect you I wouldn’t have made you this offer if I didn’t, but Scotty might actually be out of his mind. I mean, he literally wants me to sell peanut butter and Doritos sandwiches like that’s something that’s possible.”
“That’s the sandwich he wants on the menu?” She replied.
“Yeah, what a complete joke, right. Next, we’ll be doing Lucky Charms with glue on toast, or some shit.”
“Have you even tried it?”
“Of course, I haven’t tried it. It sounds like an abomination for Christ sake.” Hermin’s voice was louder now, and Danielle couldn’t help but picture Max and Cynthia outside the door with their ears pressed against the wall, listening to all of it.
“Listen, Scotty has worked here for ten years, since he was a kid. You owe it to him to at least try the sandwich. I mean, you can’t actually think Scotty’s crazy you’ve know him his whole life. He isn’t in the business of making bad sandwiches.”
“Danielle, what he’s talking about isn’t even a sandwich it’s an insult. I started this restaurant thirty years ago with the intent to serve quality deli sandwiches. Not, fucking, Lunchables, or whatever the fuck Scotty is currently channeling.” Danielle could see that talking wasn’t going to be enough to change Hermin’s mind, so she stood up and walked out of the office. Cynthia, Scotty, and Max all jumped away from the wall, on either side of the door when she walked out.
“I knew you guys were listening.” Laughed Danielle. “Hey Scotty, can I try one of your sandwiches?”
“Funny enough I’ve already got one made for you. It’s why I took so long in the back.” He replied. Meanwhile Hermin also made his way out of the office.
“What’s happening right now, exactly.” Hermin asked, confused.
“Danielle is gonna try the Dorito sandwich, thing.” Max replied moving over to the table where Scotty had placed a plate with a completed sandwich atop it.
“You’re actually the first person besides my little brother that I’ve gotten to try it.” Scotty said while Danielle took her seat.
“Are you serious? Neither of you tried it?” She asked directing the question specifically to Cynthia and Max.
“It seems kind of weird, doesn’t it?” Cynthia said. “I’m not a big fan of chips on sandwiches.”
“I almost tried it once, but I was really drunk at the time and actually passed out before I ate any of it. Since then I just forgot to ask him to make me another one.” Max chimed in.
“Dude I’ve offered a ton of times since then.” Scotty replied.
“Well yeah, but I’ve always been busy.”
“Just admit you’re grossed out by the idea of the sandwich, Max. There’s no reason to hide it.” Hermin said while inspecting the plated anomaly.
“I’m not grossed out by it. I just need to be in the right mood before diving in, you know.”
“Yeah that’s bullshit, Max.” Danielle said, swiftly grabbing the sandwich off her plate and biting into it with a crunch.
“Oh, great she ate it. Well I hope she doesn’t shit herself.” Hermin said looking grossed out at the sound of her chewing.
“She’s not gonna shit herself. It’s not a volatile combination as I’ve assured all of you, multiple times.” Responded Scotty, eagerly awaiting the impending review.
“So, what do you think, Danielle? Is it worth trying?” Cynthia asked. Danielle said nothing and kept chewing. When she finished with that bite she took another and then another until the whole sandwich was gone.
“That’s a pretty, fucking, good sandwich” She said looking up at the ceiling now completely full.
“Bullshit.” Said Hermin who had since retreated to a remote corner of the store with Winslow. “You’re just saying that, so I’ll put it on the menu, and guess what. It’s still not happening.”
“Goddamn it, Hermin. She said it was good. Why can’t you just give me a chance, for once.” Scotty yelled, just as stubborn as Hermin.
“I wasn’t lying I really do like it. You should try it Hermin. It didn’t hurt me, and it won’t hurt you. At a certain point, you’ve got to stop being afraid of new things.”
“What, are you some kind of sage now?” Hermin asked moving back toward them. “Fine I’ll try the damn sandwich, but when I hate it this issue is done. I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
The store was quiet while Scotty worked to put together Hermin’s sandwich. He sat at the counter waiting for it, petting Winslow who was curled up on the stool next to him. Scotty was more focused than anyone had ever seen him, placing each individual Dorito as if it were a Jenga block on top of a wobbly tower. When the sandwich was done, and plated Scotty slid it down the counter where it was blocked by Hermin’s large wrinkly hand. After his first bite, there was no emotion. After the second he stood up and walked out of the store, Winslow followed, and after a moment so did the rest of them.
When they opened the door, they could see Hermin in the middle of the street, on his knees, looking up at the sky. Winslow sat beside him and as the rest of them approached the dog let out a soft howl toward the full moon above them, that lasted what seemed like an hour.
“Did I do good boss?” Scotty asked kneeling down by Hermin’s side. Everyone else was silent. Hermin slowly turned his head to face them and there were tears in his eyes.
“You did great Scotty. It’s a good sandwich. Hell, it might even be a great sandwich the way you prepared it.” He closed his eyes and inhaled sharply. The tears continued. “I have cancer I found out last month. I’m sorry I’ve been so hard on all of you. That’s not the kind of boss I want to be. That’s never the kind of boss I want to be. I should have kept you all in the loop.” Cynthia placed her hand on his shoulder. “I hope none of you blamed yourselves for the lack of business recently because it’s not your fault, it’s mine.”
“You don’t have to keep going, we understand.” Max said doing the opposite of stirring things up for a change.
They all just sat there in the street for a while and looked up at the moon. Sometime later a car finally came along, and they went back inside. They closed the store and spent the rest of the shift catching up with Danielle and moving her things out of her van and into the upstairs apartment. Everyone was ecstatic she was coming back. She really was the mediator of the group. After getting her settled they talked until late into the night. Danielle underestimated how much she missed them all. After long apologies and goodbyes everyone left, and Danielle, half asleep, made her way up the splintered wooden steps to her room. The only light was from an old promotional neon sign from back when the store was new. It consisted of five words written in cursive and bent glass. “Welcome to The Voracious Beagle.”