SPEEDING BACK TO THE Pizza Dude, Oliver examined the ring by the light of the dashboard.
Crazy old man, he thought, his eyes bouncing back and forth between the ring and the road.
Mr. Pembleton had claimed, as he had handed over the ring, that it was magic, and with it Oliver could make all of his dreams come true. Oliver had just nodded and smiled, took the ring, and got out of there as fast as his legs could carry him.
“Magic ring,” Oliver said aloud. “Bat freaking crazy.” He laughed and dropped the ring next to his phone on the console between the front seats. Three seconds later, the phone vibrated.
Oliver picked up the phone and looked at the screen. It was Elyse. He pushed the Talk button.
“Hello?” he said into the phone.
“Hi, sweetie,” Elyse said. “You about done for the night?”
“Yeah, I just finished my last delivery, I’ll be home soon.”
“How’s Mr. Pembleton?”
“Crazy as ever,” Oliver said.
“Hurry home,” she said. “The girls are asleep and I feel like I haven’t seen you in days.”
“I know that, Hon,” annoyance crept into Oliver’s voice. “But I have to work. If I don’t work, we don’t eat.”
“Oliver, that’s not how I meant it. I know you work hard, and I appreciate it. The girls do to. It’s just that I miss you.”
Now he felt like a complete jerk. His temper often got the better of him.
“I’m sorry,” Oliver said. “I know you do. I miss you too, I’m just tired. I’ll see you soon. I love you.”
“I love you too,” she said into his ear.
Five minutes later Oliver pulled into the lot of the Pizza Dude. He snatched up the ring and phone, sliding them both into his front pants pocket, and headed into the building. As he entered, he nodded to Mr. Crackenmeyer who stood at the counter flipping through a stack of receipts. He could see the rest of the crew sitting at one of the tables in the dining room. They looked annoyed—as if they had somewhere better to be. Of course, they were teenagers, and teenagers always looked like that.
He ignored the looks they threw his way, hoping that their moody sit-in meant that the dirty pans were all washed and that they would soon be leaving.
“You still have a lot of pans left to wash back there,” Crackenmeyer said, not looking up from his receipts as Oliver approached the counter. “We’d like to get out of here before midnight.”
“Why didn’t you have someone else wash them while I was out on delivery?” Oliver asked. He couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.
“Last time I checked, Oliver,” Crackenmeyer said, finally looking up from his receipts. “Washing those pans was your job. Now get to it.”
Oliver sighed and made his way to the back and the sink of pizza pans. Oliver found about fifteen pans waiting to wash. It was so unfair. There was no good reason one of those kids couldn’t have finished up for him instead of sitting around a table texting each other. As nice and understanding as Albert Crackenmeyer could be on occasion, he could also be a real jerk.
Oliver toyed with the idea of quitting, just throwing down his apron and walking away. For a moment his heart soared at the thought of such a bold move. He could almost taste the freedom.
But then reality slapped him in the face like a wet fish.
Quitting wasn’t an option. His family situation was such that you just didn’t walk away from a paying job without having another one lined up and ready to go. Not with the job market the way it was. But that didn’t stop Oliver from fantasizing.
He imagined stripping off his apron, walking calmly to the counter—to Albert J. Crackenmeyer—and telling the man he could finish his own stupid pans, thank you very much. Then he’d just walk out the door, head held high. And hey, because it was a fantasy, he imagined Crackenmeyer chasing him out of the store, begging him not to leave, pleading with him that Crackenmeyer needed him—that Oliver was worth ten of those stupid teenagers. He smiled as the fantasy played out in his head.
It was only after washing the tenth pan that Oliver had come upon a devious plan to strike back at Crackenmeyer and the rest of the crew the only way he knew how. He dried his hands on his apron, hung it on a rack next to the sink, and walked out of the back room and into the dining room.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Crackenmeyer, now sitting with the teenagers, asked.
“Bathroom break, boss?” Oliver asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. He continued on through the dining room to the public restrooms at the back near the jukebox.
Once in the bathroom, he locked the door behind him and smiled at himself in the mirror in smug satisfaction. Maybe now they’ll think twice before messing with Oliver Q. Jordan.
Before taking a seat, Oliver dug the phone out of his pocket. He’d once had his phone fall out of his pocket, and into the toilet, while he had pulled his pants back on... he’d since learned from that mistake. As he pulled the phone free from his pocket, something else came out with it and fell to the tiled floor with a dull thunk. He glanced down and saw it was the ring that Mr. Pembleton had given him. The Ring of Might, the old man had called it.
Oliver retrieved the ring, surprised once again by the weight of the thing, like it was five rings in one. Suddenly, he felt a pulse of energy course through his hand and up his arm, flowing throughout his entire body. It had come from the ring. The pulse had gone as quickly as it had begun, but it had left Oliver dizzy and shaken.
He stared at the ring in his hand. It almost felt alive. He wanted to put it on, needed to put it on, slide it onto the middle finger of his right hand. His mouth had gone dry as a bone and a low ringing filled his ears. He licked his lips.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there, but soon his eyes began to water. He hadn’t blinked. Not once. He just couldn’t take his eyes off of the ring.
He slid the ring onto his finger.
He wasn’t sure what he had expected—an earthquake, a chorus of angels, or even a rain of gold falling from the ceiling—but all he got was a great big bunch of nothing. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Not nothing exactly. His mouth was no longer dry and the ringing in his ears had stopped, but he just figured that there would be more to a magic ring.
He shook his head, dismissing it all as the crazy nonsense of a senile old man, dropped his pants, and sat down on the cold toilet seat, the ring all but forgotten.