?Yeah. He deserves it, I guess.?

?I need a new produce manager.? Marty's eyes did not blink.

?Uh, yeah, I guess you do. Benny lookin' to move up. He got a wife and kid.?

?How old are you, Mr. Fortlow??

?Me an' sixty's kissin' cousins.?

?And you work harder than two Jason Fulbrights.?

?Not if I sit out here suckin' beer all day.? Socrates bit his lower lip with a row of powerful yellow teeth.

?You could be my produce manager, Socco.?

?Naw, Marty. Not me. I just come in and do what I'm told. Pick that up, put that down?that's me.?

?You're the best man I got, Socco. And I need somebody I can trust in produce. Produce and meat?they're perishable and need a responsible eye on 'em.?

Socrates turned away from his supervisor and looked across the street at the huge supermarket with its vast parking lot. It seemed very far away.

?We better get goin', man,? Socrates said to his boss.

Socrates and Darryl worked next to each other on checkout counters five and six, bagging groceries for the four o'clock rush.

?How you doin' in school, little D?? Socrates asked his young friend.

?S'okay I guess.? The boy concentrated on the number ten cans of tomatoes he was placing at the bottom of the bag.

?Okay good or okay bad?? Socrates pressed. He could bag twice as fast as any child in the store. His hands did his thinking for him? a trait that brought him more trouble than help over the years.

?I already brought my report card home to Mr. and Mrs. MacDaniels. They got it.?

Socrates finished putting his six bags into the wire cart for a small white woman. He recognized her face but couldn't recall her name.

?Can you help me, young man?? The white lady smiled at Socrates while skinny Darryl struggled with the heavy bag he'd loaded. Socrates could have told the boy that he was putting too many big cans in one bag but Darryl needed to learn for himself.

?Sure,? Socrates said to the little white woman in the synthetic brown pants suit. ?Happy to.?

When Socrates returned Darryl was still working counter six but the only other opening was on number fourteen. They worked through the rush until it was time for the late afternoon break. Darryl was the first to get the nod from the assistant supervisor of the late shift, Evelyn Lau.

Darryl left through the deli department. Evelyn always kept Socrates on until the end because he was the best worker at Bounty; the only one who could bag for two checkout counters at the same time.

After Evelyn gave him the nod, Socrates found Darryl smoking cigarettes with some of the other children around the Dumpster at back of the store.

?Come on, we gotta talk,? Socrates told the boy.

Darryl dropped his cigarette and crushed it with his Nike shoe.

They walked around to the ice-making machine at the other side of the store and stood there for a while watching the blue skies darken.

?How much that shoe cost you, boy?? Socrates asked.

?Regular one sixty for a pair, but I got these for ninety on sale.? There was pride in the boy's voice but he squinted and flinched a little because he could hear a lesson behind Socrates' question.

?And you gonna stamp out a cigarette with a rubber-soled shoe that cost you a whole week's salary.?

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