The Chik-In/Chik-Out on Van Buren didn’t manage itself, and as the most popular restaurant in town with the blue-collar and flannel set (every day except Sunday, of course), there were always plenty of issues.

The manager, Crystal Johnson, held court on weekdays to iron these things out. Taking over the booth closest to the bustling counter, she’d set up her laptop and tackle problems as they arose. There was a manager’s office in back, a dismal closet that could barely hold a desk, but Crystal aspired to be a hands-on manager and to see her customers face-to-face.

She also found that employees tended to behave better in public when confronted with their misdeeds.

“So tell me, Latavius, why did you have to re-make four Chik-In Outer Limits sandwiches during your shift last week?” she said to the young man in a chicken chef’s black uniform.

Crystal was soft-spoken but had a tendency for being a hardass, grilling her employees on minutia even as she casually sat in her booth dangling a ballet flat from one toe. She was young, only 30, and if you’d asked her she would have said that only by being a hardass could she get respect from the people who saw only a young, cute thing with a blond bob cut.

They couldn’t see the mountain of debt built up behind the art degree that was never used, or the prone form of Dave on the couch with a bottle in one hand. So the misery was just shuffled around, from Crystal to the minimum-wage employees at her mercy.

“It was just one lady who kept saying her chicken wasn’t crispy enough.”

“Well, you should have made her a crispier chicken.”

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