"Don't make him mad," she whispered.
"Why not?" I said. "I'm not afraid of him."
"It's not him," she continued softly. "It's things."
"Things?" I said, getting louder. "What sorts of things?"
"Shh!" she cautioned, glancing back at Werner, who was busy busing tables.
"What do you mean?" I insisted, more hushed.
"Things will happen to you if you make him mad," she said.
A bucket splashed dingy gray slop water all over the entrance. I turned just in time to see Werner stepping clumsily away, his leg soaked to the knee.
"Werner!" I said. Annette grabbed my elbow in begging restraint, but I shook her off.
"Now look," I continued, marching in his direction. "I'm not going to fire you on my first day as manager, but we can't have the patrons slipping. Clean that up!"
Werner nodded, mouth open, and began hurriedly throwing large amounts of the customers' supply of napkins into the pine scented wash water, which did nothing to remove the spill and wasted the napkins.
"Werner!" I said sharply.
"Shh!" pleaded Annette.
"Werner," I continued more evenly, "please go get the super absorbent disposable mop kit from the supply closet. Do not ever waste napkins."
Werner slowly shuffled to the closet, leaving a trail of wet footprints all the way.
"Werner!" I hollered after him.
"Shh!" warned Annette.
"Annette, what's he going to do? Quit? Why should I be afraid of that?"
"No, he never quits."
"Why shouldn't I show him how to be a more efficient employee? What harm is in a little scolding now and then?"
"He doesn't mean to," she said.
"Doesn't mean to what?" I insisted.
Werner returned with an armload of supplies in his same slow deliberate gait. He passed me without a word and began mopping up the floor, this time correctly.
"See?" I said to Annette. "He's making himself useful. He doesn't appear angry in the least, and it's getting done."
I turned confidently toward the grill. The scent of warm, inviting food was still fresh in my mind when I saw stars upon stars eminating from a central focal point. I landed on the floor in a sitting position and held my head, too breathless to speak.
"Ms. Flare, Ms. Flare!" said several employees.
"What happened?" I mumbled incoherently. I looked beside me and realized that a ceiling fan is really quite ornate, especially when there are stars dancing upon the blades. I also realized it had fallen on the floor amid a crumble of ceiling pieces.
Next morning I was back at work with a head bandage peeking out from under my visor. Everyone went about business as usual, including Werner. He seemed to bear no ill grudge for yesterday's incident, but neither did he seem to have learned anything. When he knocked over a customer's drink with his sleeve, he immediately piled napkins in the mess and wasted them. He also ignored the customer--policy was to replace the drink.
"Werner!" I said sternly. "Go apologize and offer to replace what you spilled."
He shuffled to the table and proceeded to speak in a thick but distinct voice.
"I'm sorry your drink got in my way."
"Werner!" I shouted. I smiled appeasingly at the very large unhappy man and his hungry family.
"I'm sorry," I said to them. "New employees don't understand things. I'm going to replace your drink with the same thing but in a larger size, on the house."
I turned to Werner.
"Go get the mop kit!"
The family continued eating until at some point Werner poked one of the children in the eye with the mop handle, resulting in a black eye. Our insurance costs would be going up.
"I'll fire him!" I roared from the break room.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said Marie, another good worker who was freshening her hair and makeup at a small corner mirror.
"Why not?" I asked.
As if in answer the mirror fell off the wall. I rushed to catch it, did so, and hung it back on the peg.
"He's a jinx," she said, "The real thing."
"There's no such thing," I laughed.
"That bump on your head would say otherwise," she warned.
"This is serious," I said soberly. "There are no jinxes."
"What is it that makes him that way, Dr. Travis?"
"Some people were born with mental wavelengths that we don't yet fully understand. They have used them accidentally, but some have learned how to direct them, how to focus them. These are the people who pose the greatest threat."
"No. He doesn't know how. I am convinced he is benevolent. But somewhere inside him is a deep residual rage. Contact this, and his talent awakens. Make him angry, and it will point in your specific direction. I don't think it is something he can help, or even knows about. But it is real, and you're going to have to find ways to deal with it."
I sighed, picked up my crutch, and went back to work.