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The 4

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I'm not overly excited about going to work on Sundays. It's our long day at the Catfish House, and I'm stuck there from eight in the morning until around ten at night. Between all of the prep, taking care of customers, and doing inventory, it's not my favorite day of the week. The afternoon typically goes quickly with the church crowd busting in, but the rest of the day drags until I go home. The good news is I'm off the next two days, and tomorrow I can sleep in without worrying about burning the white beans or running out of baked potatoes.

It's hard to believe it's already 1994, and January is almost over. It seems like I constantly second-guess my career choices on the drive to the restaurant each day. Sometimes I wonder if stepping up from serving to management was the best idea. My hours tripled, and I'm missing those big tips and the interaction with our customers. But the goal is to move out of Mom's house soon, so I feel like my decision is solid. Salary provides peace of mind, and I know I'll be able to pay those bills.

The kid in me still wants to follow my dreams to become a writer, an actor, or a radio personality. The adult side of me insists that my life is on the right course, practical, and safe. It's difficult determining who's correct, but the truth will come out someday, and hopefully, that day won't be too late. A visit from future me would be nice from time to time, but that's not going to happen, so I'm stuck here making educated guesses on my destiny like everyone else in the world.

Some disturbing news sounded through my speakers a minute from my destination when I turned the radio on. "Four employees inside a Taco Bell in Clarksville, Tennessee, were fatally shot. Three shot execution-style in the head, and the manager was shot in the leg and chest," said the announcer before the rest of his words faded away into background noise. My heart grew heavy after sitting in my Jeep for twenty minutes, processing the data. The weight of my thoughts amplified with every question leaving me oblivious as to why this had to happen.

My shaky hands did all they could to unlock the door after dropping my keys twice before successfully entering. Reflecting on the tragic news only led to how easily it could have been us the night before or how someone could be in the building now and waiting for me to arrive. After thoroughly checking the space, it's time to begin morning prep. Baking pies and mixing ingredients for crab cakes all felt like a slow-motion flashback scene from a movie. Luckily muscle memory took over, and I could at least function.

The magnitude of my responsibility became more than food cost or payroll. Ensuring the safety of everyone who worked behind our four walls rose to the surface and took priority over everything else. I'd never had any formal training as a manager, especially when it came to the safety and well-being of others. Keeping the back locked at all times, leaving in groups, and double-checking the doors every night would be my new way of life. Taco Bell is only a few miles down the road, and allowing that to happen to people I know and love would be devasting.

Each knock at the door made me jump before dropping what I was doing to let in a server or cook. Silence cloaked a kitchen normally bustling with the sounds of laughter, clattering dishes, and stories of the night before. We mourned for people none of us knew or ever met. Our only bond with the four who'd lost their lives a few hours ago is that we all make our living the same way. That connection was enough to visualize the shock and grief the families dealt with this morning. It was enough to remind each of us that life is transient, and it could have just as easily been the crew on Riverside Drive talking about the staff here on Salem Road today.

The business was slower than average on January 30th, 1994. Anyone could examine the dining room throughout the day and know what folks were talking about or thinking. Everyone in Clarksville felt the impact of that horrific instant when Kevin Campbell, Angela Wyatt, Patricia Price, and Marcia Klopp were selfishly executed. Most of them were in their twenties, but their end was unjust and terrifying for anyone regardless of age. A haunting ambiance swallowed our community, revealing dismay for the four souls and those who loved them. I sat in my driveway that evening and cried for strangers I knew very well.

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