Dante's Kitchen

Chapter 1: Finding Dante

Earl was hungry. Not quite like he missed lunch, but a bit more than needing a snack. It was that little voice just behind his belly button complaining that breakfast was too long gone, and a donut would be appreciated. And maybe some coffee. Yeah, coffee would be good. He'd been sitting at his desk doodling for almost an hour waiting for the Help Desk guy to show up. His workstation had decided to stop cooperating, and he was stuck. But if he ran out for a snack, he might miss his appointment. And the waiting continues while that little voice in his stomach gets more persistent.

The trouble started about two hours ago when a 'small change' came in from the client. They had asked for a old-style feel to be applied to the decorations in the lawyer's office drawing. One change in particular was the couch. They had a very specific couch in mind. Not too long, not too short. Not old, not new, and definitely not "retro". What the heck did that mean? So he started his morning scrolling through page after page of furniture shapes in their database. He had to find something that fit into a 80 inch space, looked vintage, but still modern enough to be in a law office. After hours of trying every search term he could think of and scrolling through hundreds of options, he'd found nothing that would do. Time to see what the online database had to offer. This was going to be painful. In order to save a few bucks, the firm had opted to use the shared internet connection setup for the entire city. This was a great idea when the Mayor had proposed it. Free wifi for everyone! And all it cost was a few nonintrusive ads to help cover the cost. Those ads didn't quite cover the cost of all the people hired on to support the "free" system. So the ads became more intrusive, and more plentiful, and you had to sit through several before getting to anything you considered remotely useful. But hey, it's still free! He opened his browser, typed in the password to get online, and settled in for the long stream of videos telling him how short, overweight, depressed, and hungry he was. The first pop-up was for a new shop: Dante's Toaster. Nothing special, but they had coffee and donuts. Next up, a new series of running shoes that not only reduced knee, leg, and lower back pain, you could also lose weight by wearing them to bed. Interesting, but not really his thing. Then another one for Dante's Toaster. This one showing the wide array of donuts. And a cat. Ok... Oh good, the vacation one. He really enjoyed the beautiful beaches, splashing waves, and young fashionable people frolocking in the sand with beach balls and tropical drinks. Huh. Another video of Dante's Toaster. What's with the cat? And look at all those donuts. Here's where the tiny voice deep in his stomach got its inspiration. The grumbling started as more of a low quiet feeling than a sound. Gradually building to its current state that could be easily heard be the guy in the next cubicle. Ah, finally! The search page. What was he looking for? Oh yeah, donuts! No wait, couches. He entered the terms: couch, 80 inches, antique, leather. Connection lost. Refresh. Page not found. Refresh. Not connected to network. Time to call the Help Desk.

"IT Support and Service. How may we help you?"

"Uh, yeah, hi. This is Earl up on six and the internet is not working."

"Thanks for contacting us. We'll get you sorted out in no time. Let me check the network. Works fine for me."

"That's great, but it's not working for me. I need to get online to find a piece for this project."

"The internet is up and running, so you should be all set. Try it again."

"Same thing. Not connected to network."

"Have you rebooted?"

"Sure."

"OK. I'll send someone up to have a look. We'll be with you shortly. Please make sure you're available when the technician arises or you'll have to call back in. Thanks." Click.

The line went dead. The waiting began.

Now it's a bit past 10AM, he's gotten exactly nothing done at work, and now he's hungry. After twiddling his thumbs for a bit, doodling on some scratch paper, and counting the ceiling tiles, he'd managed to get through almost 30 minutes. Exasperation is setting it. While staring at the ceiling and spinning is his chair, Earl noticed a poster on the wall across the office. A large black cat eating a donut staring right at him. Dante's Toaster, conveniently located on every sixth floor. With his stomach making a new set of noises, Earl's thoughts turned to how fast he could get a donut and back to his desk. Both his office and the shop were on the same floor, so this should be a quick run down the hall and back. Donut craving satisfied, stomach noises quieted. Psyching himself up, I'm going for it, as he stood and began his quest.

As he briskly walked out of the Decoration and Finishing Department, Earl passed another poster. This one was captioned "This way to Dante's!", and had the cat pointing down the hall. A few minutes of brisk walking brought him to another poster. "Sinfully delicious snacks this way!" Picking up speed and watching for more signs, Earl was now at full speed-walk pace. Passing other employees, entrances to different departments, and vending machines serving up the same stale snacks, Earl was now on a mission to find that cat... err... donut. Yeah, he was on a mission to find that donut! "Try our Carnal Cappuccino! You need this." He thought That sounds good too! as he rounded another corner into yet another nondescript hallway. Continuing on, he passes the Life Modeling Department, the Copies Room, and Artist Lounge. Huh, we have an Artist Lounge? And another poster with that devilish grin appears, "Things are heating up at the Toaster!" directing him left again. As he makes that final turn, he sees the sign on the door in glorious colors proclaiming he has reached his destination: "Dante's Toaster - Café and Bakery. Back in 15 minutes."

Chapter 2: Napkins

Rachel had spent the morning mixing coffees and serving baked goods when she was asked by several customers for napkins. All of the dispenser had run out. Now that she had a minute with no one in the shop, she began her refill rituals. Sugar packets, check. Plastic utensils, check. Napkins... nothing. They're supposed to be in the cabinet under the coffee urns, but she was greeted by an empty shelf. She looked in the backroom, but the gargantuan box labeled Tri-fold Napkins was completely empty.

"Where are those napkins?", she asked no one in particular. The shop had emptied out as everyone had went off the work. Now it was time for the daily 'side work'. All those tasks no one ever thinks of when getting their caffeine fix or carb loaded breakfast. As manager of this snack outpost, it fell on her to take care of everything the other employees neglected, forgot, or simply didn't want to do. She'll have to remind the girls when they get in. A good work ethic was obviously not hereditary. Maybe she can withhold tips until they actually finished. Is that legal? Meh. She'll figure something out. Until then, it's napkins and sugar packets for her.

"What happened yesterday?", still waiting for the empty store to respond. She knew there were plenty before she left yesterday, because she was always refilling the table dispensers since the help tended to be very little.

"Ooookkkk... The napkins will have to wait. Still need to restock the grinders." She grabbed the big bag of espresso beans and started to fill the large hopper on top of the espresso machine, but the beans were sticking together. They were soaked, and sticky, and smelled a bit like soured milk. Shaking her head, she set that bag aside and grabbed the last unopened one. The outside was a little damp, but the beans were fine. Maybe someone had spilled milk and didn't quite finish the cleanup. Oh well, that's what you get for hiring family.

The donuts has nearly sold out as they usually do. They were always the biggest hit. Two donuts and a medium coffee was so popular, they programmed a special button on the register for it. The price had been the same since she started years ago, and the customers here really appreciated consistency with a smile. Good thing there was enough batter in the fridge for a couple dozen more. The lunch crowd will start lining up in an hour, and they'll want another two donuts with a medium coffee to help get them through the second half of their day.

With everything except the napkins restocked it was time to make the donuts. The fry oil never really cooled down, so it was just a matter of batter. This was the only cooking done on her shift. The overnight guy, whom she'd never actually met, always had the display cases stocked and ready before she got in. She grabbed the dispenser and headed for the small 'walk-in' cooler. It was more like a cold closet due to the limited space rented for the shop. But it was plenty of room for the milk, cream, and... batter?

"Seriously? Where's the fricken donut batter?", still allowing her inner monolog to escape into an empty room. She checked the clock on the wall: 10:30. It would take about 45 minutes to make enough donuts for the lunch rush, and they'll be here in an hour. This will take some luck with the elevator timing, but she should be able to make it down to the main kitchen, grab batter and napkins, and make it back here in time. Dropping her apron on the counter, she grabbed the sign and her keys on the way out the door. "Back in 15 minutes."

Chapter 3: The Overnight

"What the heck was that?!" The noise coming for the front was a horrendous screeching sound. Dante dropped the dough dispenser and ran out of the kitchen to investigate. Munch was standing in the middle of steaming puddle yowling at the top of his lungs in front of the espresso machine.

"Are you OK? What happened?"

"It's the milk! All the milk! I spilled it!", he cried. There was milk on the counter, under the machine, dripping into a growing puddle on the floor. It was everywhere, and a little dribble was still falling from the bottle laying on its side.

"OK. Don't panic. We can fix of this. Get something to start wiping everything down. We don't have much time before she gets here." Munch and Dante started looking around for towels, rags, or anything to start the cleanup. Oddly, there were no clean towels. Or rags. Or anything that would help.

"Napkins! Get all the napkins! Hurry up!", yelled Dante. As Munch ran around the shop emptying the dispensers, Dante grab the few napkins left under the counter and hurriedly scatter the on the floor to soak up the puddle.

"Not enough. How much milk did you spill?"

"A lot? All of it?", Munch babbled out still crying.

"Keep trying with these. I'll look out back for more." Dante headed towards the kitchen and its tiny storage closet. On the way through he saw the smoke rising for the fryer. With all the commotion out front, he had forgotten the donuts.

"Oh no. Oh no! The DONUTS! They're burnt!" He started removing the overcooked breakfast treats from the hot oil and moving them to the cooling rack. Maybe he could save them, but that would have to wait. He made his way over to closet and grabbed the few remaining packages of napkins from the box. Taking them back up front, he checked on the overcooked donuts. They were nearly black. Even his extra dark chocolate topping wouldn't fix that batch. Something else to check after dealing with Munch's mess. Rounding the end of the counter, he found Munch sitting in the milk twisting a handful of milk-soaked napkins over his gaping mouth.

"You've got to be kidding me."

"It's still good! Try some.", he proclaimed. Jumping up to offer Dante a handful of mushy napkins.

"Uh... no. Just use these and finish cleaning up. The donuts are ruined, and we've only got a couple hours before she gets here. I need to get back there and figure something out. Can I trust you to finish cleaning this up?"

"Sure. Ya. Of course. I'm on it." No longer crying, the espresso buzz was back in Munch's voice.

"How many shots did have?"

"A couple. Few. Some. Maybe too many. I need to sit down." And he did. In the puddle of milk. Again.

"Ugh. Fine. Just clean up your mess so we can get out of here." Dante returned to the kitchen, and his beloved fryer. The donuts from the last batch were toast, and he'd have to start over. They were so dark you couldn't even see the red coloring. Looking in the dispenser he knew there wouldn't be enough for the usual amount. He checked the fridge and found just enough batter in the bottom of the bucket to make almost enough for this morning. This will have to do. After filling the dispenser, he expertly hovered it over the glistening oil, and turned the crank to dollop out just the right amount of batter in a nearly perfect circle. Over and over the process went until there was a sea of floating red and golden deliciousness. After admiring his work for just the right amount of time, he began flipping them over with his special sticks to brown the other side. Then pulling them from the oil and moving them to the cooling racks. Perfect, as usual.

While the chocolate was warming up and the donuts cooling a bit, he had time to start cleaning up. The extra crispy donuts went into the now empty batter bucket. He'll have to get those in the trash before anyone noticed. Moving his tools to the sink, he looked around for anything else. Always keeping his eye out for low inventory, uncleaned messes, or anything else that would need more attention. The kitchen could use a quick mopping, but he didn’t have time. He’d have to leave a note to remind the girls to do it before they locked up for the night.

By now the chocolate had reached its perfect temperature and these beautiful donuts were ready for their trip through the shimmering waterfall. The enrobing machine was small, but adequate for the task. Lining up the donuts on one end, watching them slowly inch their way along conveyer through the 84% dark chocolate coating, and lovingly flipping them to the paper-lined trays was always the highlight of Dante's early shift. Another night's task completed with such a delicious ending. He took a moment to wash the few tools he used, and they were ready to get back downstairs. On his way towards the front, he turned off the lights and exhaust fans, and heard... snoring.

"Really?" Walking back behind the counter dragging his burnt donuts in the batter bucket, he found Munch sprawled on the floor sleeping off the caffeine crash he always suffered around this time. Most of the milk had been cleaned, or at least soaked up by Munch. Dante began noisily tossing the saturated napkins into the bucket. When that didn't wake him up, he began stomping around. Still nothing. A swift kick to Munch's backside, and he sprang back to life.

"I'm up! I'm up! What'd I miss?"

"The spilled milk, the donut making, the restocking, the cleanup... pretty much everything that would be considered work. Oh wait, you were here for the milk."

He was supposed to be helping Dante get the Toaster ready for the morning rush. While Dante took care of the cooking and kitchen cleaning, Munch was tasked with cleaning and restocking the front. So far, he'd done less work in a month than Dante did in a single night.

"Anyway, I took care of everything else and we need... Are you covered in milk?"

"Maybe. A little." Munch's legs and backside were soaked.

"Just go. Leave and I'll clean up behind you. Again.", exasperation seeping into every word. They made their way out the front door with Dante wiping up the tiny puddles Munch was leaving in his wake. Just in time too. They could hear the earlier employees getting settled into their work areas. They need to get downstairs, and fast.

Chapter 4: IT Support

Earl couldn't believe his luck. He had plenty, just not enough of the good kind. This whole morning had been one disaster after another. His stomach grumbling, his legs were tired, and he'd hardly done anything today. Should he wait by the door in hopes of obtaining a delicious snack, or hurry back to his desk to meet the IT person?

"Let's give them a minute. I mean, I've already walked all the way here. The IT person will most likely be a while, and I really want one of those donuts. Mmmmm... I hope they're fresh. Yeah, I'll just wait a few minutes." A minute turned into two, then three. He began pacing worried that he might miss his appointment. Looking down at this feet, he noticed a wet spot on the carpet. It looks like someone was dripping down the hall. The longer he stared at it, the more it resembled a paw print. He continued his pacing in front of Dante's Toaster casting the occasional glance into the shop hoping to see some movement. While he was looking in at the trays of glistening donuts, the brightly colored chalk board caught his attention.

"Chocolate dipped devil's food donuts made fresh twice a day! Tre for Six with a medium coffee." written in an assortment of colors. Wow! Three donuts AND a coffee? That sounded too good to give up on. Just another minute or two. They've got to come back... eventually.

His watch buzzed telling him it was now 11. So much for the donuts. He'll have to come back after his time with IT. At this point, with the time spent here and the pacing back and forth, he couldn't remember which direction he'd come from. Mentally flipping a coin, he decided to turn right. If he just got going, he'd recognize something and find his way back. A few steps and a turn down the hall, he came to an intersection. To the left, another long nondescript hallway. To the right, The Decoration and Finishing Department.

"You've got to be kidding me." He hurried back into his department and over to his desk. Stuck to the monitor was a note from IT.

"Please stay at your desk when you are expecting a Help Desk Technician. Our time is just as valuable as yours. Call back into queue to reschedule your visit.", on bright pink paper signed S.C.

This was printed, not hand written. How often did this happen? It's almost lunch time, so no point in calling now. While wasting a few more unproductive minutes, he decided to try connecting to the wifi again. Maybe it 'magically fixed itself' again. Of course, since he'd been offline for more than 15 minutes, he'd have to watch a few more ads. Settling in for the next barrage, he double clicked the browser to see the first ad:

"Are you bored of doing the same job day in and day out?" Yes.

"Tired of feeling like you get nothing done?" Yes.

"Looking to make a career change?" Not really, but sure.

"Come work for us in the exciting world of Technology Client Services! Now hiring for Desktop Support and Network Troubleshooting." Really?