Stirring Up Trouble
She’d been eyeing that bag since the man dumped it into the trash.
Something about it rubbed her the wrong way. “It’s nothing,” she whispered as she approached the trash can.
She quickly looked outside the restaurant’s window before digging into the used cups and paper bags pile. She had no clue what trouble she was stirring up.
Leave It Alone
Some things are meant to be left alone. For Kiara Johnson, reaching into that trash bin would hurl her down a perilous path.
She knew it was dangerous, especially after how much fear and anxiety flooded her veins when the man had walked into the restaurant.
She should have left it where he threw it. But what kind of manager would she be if she didn’t look out for her staff and customers?
A Dirty Bag
The brown paper bag was heavy, dirtied by the leaking ketchup and mustard packets that littered the pile.
Clearly, the man had disposed of something at the restaurant, and that realization alone should have made Kiara throw the bag back.
But she didn’t. With one swift move, she would awaken a hellish nightmare that she should have left sleeping.
Not A Quiet Week
That week was meant to be a quiet one for twenty-seven-year-old Kiara Johnson.
After a challenging year of job searching while simultaneously trying to provide for her daughter, Lily, the Tampa native was at her wit’s end.
She’d graduated with an art history degree, a highlight of her adult life. But she soon learned that the job market for such a career path was almost nonexistent. She needed a way to make ends meet.
Working at a McDonald’s was never in the cards for her.
She’d always pictured herself in an art museum somewhere in Miami or New York, enjoying all that art and history had to offer.
But the real world is very different from dreams, and Kiara had to accept this. Her bills were piling on each other by the month, and she was already behind on her rent. She needed to pay her car note, and Lily was about to start school. It was now or never.
Applying For The Position
The single mom was already frustrated and helpless when she ran into a job listing for a manager position at the local McDonald’s in Ybor City.
After months of fruitless job searching, this was a Godsend for her, and she didn’t hesitate to throw her name into the pool.
If only she knew what a terrible future awaited her at the restaurant.
When Can You Start?
Kiara was thrilled to hear back a few days later with the news that she had been hired.
She started immediately. Contrary to her expectations, she really enjoyed what the job entailed.
Learning the ropes was easy enough since Kiara had minored in business management in college. She’d check in early in the morning, run through the day’s logistics with the staff and start on breakfast and lunch preparations. Her life was finally looking up, but it wouldn’t last long.
The day that the incident happened was like any other for Kiara.
After dropping Lily off at her sister’s, she took the train into Ybor City, hoping to start her day.
As always, the restaurant was filled with customers as soon as she opened the door for business. Construction workers and city vendors came in for breakfast, thanking Kiara for always keeping them fed. It was then that the man walked in.
Not Your Typical Customer
Given how close-knit the area’s community was, Kiara knew almost everybody who walked into the fast-food restaurant.
So when the man walked in, her interest immediately flew to him.
He looked out of place. He was tall and lanky, dressed in jeans and a dark hoodie. His face was hidden under a cap and wild locks of dark hair. Kiara didn’t think much of him at first, not knowing what danger he posed to everyone in the restaurant.
The man waited in line like everyone else.
But his eyes, under the protection of his messy bangs, kept looking everywhere. He seemed on edge like someone was chasing him, and he’d come here to hide.
Kiara had watched enough movies to know what trouble looked like. Although she’d never been in a threatening situation, her intuition told her she might be in one now.
However, Kiara had never been one to judge people from their looks.
Yes, the man seemed on edge, like he was hiding. His clothes were well-worn, his boots dirty with dried mud, although he was in the middle of the city.
Judging from the dirt on his clothes, it seemed he’d traveled far. Maybe he was from the countryside visiting and needed a quick meal before continuing his journey.
Up Close And Personal
The customer line went on swiftly, and before Kiara knew it, the man was standing right in front of her.
He looked calmer up close, with a piercing gaze that had her slowly stepping back.
But he still looked out of place, his gaze still inching to his side where the restaurant windows were. Was he waiting for someone?
Nervously, Kiara asked him what he wanted to eat. She had to use everything within her to keep her composure.
The man smiled, displaying a row of rotting teeth, before pointing at a double cheeseburger on the menu.
“Two double cheeseburgers with extra pickles and a large Coke. Takeaway, please,” he said. Kiara couldn’t place his accent from these few words, but she was still sure he wasn’t from around. “Coming right up,” she smiled.
Is There A Problem?
The man nodded and handed over a ten-dollar note.
The tips of his fingernails were stained black, his forearm dirty with the same dried mud that discolored his jeans.
“Is there a problem?” he asked gruffly, pulling Kiara from her scrutiny. “No, sir,” she quickly said, forcing a smile as she dialed the man’s order into her tablet. Something didn’t feel right.
Keep Him In Your Sight
The man stepped away to wait on his order, and Kiara kept her eye on him all this while.
She’d tried her best to keep her mind occupied in the minutes he sat in one of the restaurant’s booths.
But her sight kept turning to him. That eerie feeling that had taken over when she first saw him walk in fell over her again. What was happening?
Words Of Wisdom
Kiara had always been an intuitive person.
Her late mom used to tell her to follow her gut. If something felt wrong, there was a high chance it was wrong.
Her mom had always told her to run the other way when smelling trouble. “It’s safer to walk away from a bull before it starts charging at you,” she usually said. Could Kiara apply that same philosophy here?
Leave Before It’s Too Late
Kiara was at a crossroads. Everything within her told her to remove her apron and leave the restaurant.
Something about the man wasn’t right, and the wise decision would be to go before everything hit the fan.
But Kiara was a manager, with an entire staff and customers looking up to her to serve and lead. If anything went wrong, she would be the one to answer.
A Simple Step
She also wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if she left the restaurant and something terrible happened.
“A captain stays with the sinking ship,” she whispered with a tired chuckle.
Kiara waited until the man’s order was done. All she had to do now was hand it over and watch him leave the restaurant. Everything would return to normal. Or so she thought.
Taking The Food To Him
Kiara carried the man’s food over.
But instead of walking away, he opened the bag and started eating. This threw her off, mainly because the man had requested takeaway food.
Her stomach knotted as she tried not to focus on him. She couldn’t pinpoint why she found him so unsettling, but something about his demeanor made her skin crawl.
Kiara returned to her post and continued taking orders and coordinating her team.
But from her vantage, she realized the man’s lips were moving.
At first, she thought he was chewing his food. He still had one burger to go and hadn’t touched any of his pickles. But then she noticed something that sent a jolt of fear up her spine.
What Is He Saying?
The man wasn’t chewing but talking.
But that wasn’t half of it. No one was remotely close to his booth, and he had no phone near his ear.
Kiara’s brows knitted. She pretended to collect a few dirty cups near the man’s booth, hoping to hear what he said. That’s when a realization hit her.
What if the man had escaped from some mental institution and needed help?
Was that why Kiara felt apprehensive since the man walked in? Was her spirit pleading with her to help him?
She got close enough to confirm that the man was indeed muttering things to himself. But she couldn’t make out the words. She needed to get closer.
Does He Need Help?
Closer, Kiara still couldn’t tell what the man was saying.
But he sounded agitated, his ominous voice boring deep within Kiara. Did he need help?
Kiara’s nerves were on edge. She debated whether to approach him and ask if he was alright. She had never been one to beat around the bush and usually tackled things head-on. But then she remembered her mother’s advice.
A Threatening Aura
“When you see trouble, run the other way,” the words played in her head.
She returned to her post behind the counter but realized the man was now staring at her.
His look told her that he didn’t need any help whatsoever. In fact, if there was any danger here, it was him. Kiara should have called the authorities.
The man threw the remainder of his burger and pickles into the paper bag they came with.
In a flash, he produced something dark from under his hoodie and stuffed it together with the food.
He lifted his head to see if anyone had seen him. Kiara, who had been studying him from the corner of her eyes, pretended like she was talking to a staff member.
The man stood and made his way to the restaurant’s trash bin, casually throwing the brown paper bag into the garbage.
With another quick look around, he threw in his large soda cup and left.
Outside the restaurant, he glanced through the window to see if people were looking at him or going to the trash can. Something was up.
Taking Out The Bag
Kiara waited for him to walk away, and as soon as he disappeared behind the restaurant’s corner, she walked to the trash can to see what he’d thrown in with his food.
She fished out the large bag, wincing when the cold ketchup and mustard that had dirtied the bag got on her fingers.
Her heart beat in her ears. This was a point of no return.
Call The Authorities
Kiara stood before the trash can, knowing there was no going back if she opened the bag.
It was heavier than it should have been, indicating the man had hidden something inside.
With a deep breath, she opened it, her heart skipping a beat at what stared back at her. ‘Call the authorities,’ her mind screamed.
The man had stuffed a firearm inside the paper bag and disposed of it in the trash.
Kiara stood transfixed, her mind trying to rationalize everything.
Was this a practical prank, or did she really uncover some sinister plot in play here? Was the man a criminal? If only she knew what she’d stepped into.
Should’ve Gone Home
Kiara couldn’t race to her phone fast enough. She phoned the authorities, who wasted no time in showing up.
They marked the restaurant as a crime scene and started asking questions. Kiara was in the middle of all this chaos, trying to help as best as possible.
She should’ve stopped and gone home, but she didn’t. She would regret this decision soon enough.
Seeing Red And Blue
The squad car’s blue and red lights flooded the parking lot, leaking into the nearly empty restaurant.
Kiara was sure to give the authorities the man’s description, including the dried mud on his clothes and what he’d ordered.
The officers took the bag, including the remainder of the man’s food, and left. Kiara had to close down the restaurant after a call with her regional manager. She should’ve known that she was being watched.
A few days slogged by, each more harrowing than the last. Kiara couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her.
She even changed the locks of her house and bought a camera for the front door.
The paranoia was even worse whenever she checked in for her shift at work. She knew the man was out there, possibly angry because she’d found his firearm. She shook with fear thinking about the day she’d wake up and find him standing in her bedroom’s corner.
It’s Getting Worse
Kaira’s paranoia made her contact the authorities again. She needed some assurance that she’d done the right thing.
Her mom had always warned her to run when she saw trouble barreling her way. She’d gotten through a lot in life by following her advice.
This was the first time she’d gone against her wise words. Now she couldn’t even sleep at night and was constantly peeping out her bedroom window.
Regrets Set In
The authorities told her they were on top of the case.
She had no reason to worry; they would protect her and her daughter.
Kiara asked if this was a more significant case than they were letting on, and they only smiled and told her not to worry. It was clear that there was something more serious at play here. She wished she hadn’t tampered with that bag in the first place.
Kiara was conflicted, wondering if she’d done the right thing.
She’d endangered herself and her daughter in trying to look out for her customers and workmates.
What was stopping the man from attacking her while she was going or coming home from work? What was barring them from taking her daughter? She was still lost in these dark thoughts when her phone rang.
The call was from an unknown number, shooting a cold shiver through Kiara’s being.
She ignored it at first, but the caller was insistent.
They called three times again, but Kiara ignored all of the calls. She even set her phone on silent and stuffed it into her bag. Out of sight, out of mind. But she saw someone walk toward the restaurant.
It was the man, and he had his malicious gaze set on Kiara.
Adrenaline and fear erupted within her, immobilizing her in place.
She watched as he neared, unable to form the words to tell her staff to call the police. The only thing that came out of her petrified mouth was a helpless squeak. But the man didn’t make it to the door.
Is It Over?
An officer tackled the man to the ground before he touched the restaurant’s door.
Another came above him, handcuffs in hand, as his partner neutralized the man.
They brought him to his feet, escorting him to their patrol vehicle. Kiara watched in silence as all this unfolded before her. She was still frozen in place, terror flowing within.
Calling Her Sister
The vehicle drove away, and Kiara rushed to her phone.
She found it ringing again, but this time it was her sister. Kiara couldn’t unlock the phone fast enough.
She picked up the call, her heartbeat still racing. Was everything okay? What if the man had gotten to her family as a way of payback?
Her sister informed her that the authorities had been trying to reach her for the last half an hour.
One of their detectives had called her phone several times, but she didn’t pick up.
He’d then called Kiara’s sister, who told him she was at work. Kiara asked if the man had come to the house, but her sister said, “No.”
Just then, another call came in. It was the same number as before.
Kiara asked her sister to lock her doors and windows and remain inside. Afterward, she received the call.
It was the detective who, after introducing himself, informed Kiara that his department had the man in custody. He wanted to know if she could come to the station to confirm his identity.
Kiara went immediately, finding the detective she’d just spoken to.
She was apprehensive that another criminal was trying to set her up with that call and had gone to the station to report the matter.
Relief washed over her as she talked to the detective. She finally learned what was happening and agreed to confirm the man’s identity. But she had one condition before she’d help the detective.
Kiara was tired of living in fear.
Being inside the same building as the man again made her feel so uneasy she couldn’t even sit straight.
She asked the detective if her identity could be kept anonymous. She didn’t want her or her family to be the target of any criminal in Florida or the entire country.
A Simple Task
“Of course,” the detective answered.
He revealed that since the day they found the gun, he and his team had been keeping an eye on Kiara, ensuring she was safe.
“All you have to do is stand on one side of a one-way mirror and identify him,” he said. “That’s it. But you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.” Kiara thought about it for a moment. Her mom’s advice surfaced in her mind again. What was she going to do?
A Difficult Decision
If Kiara agreed to help identify the man, then she’d be helping keep her city safe. But the last week had been difficult for her.
She recalled the sleepless nights and the constant looks over her shoulder to see if someone was following her home. Was she willing to do that for the rest of her life?
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.