“Please don’t tell me this is the correct place.” Gus stared out the window of Aaron’s car as he pulled up to the animal shelter for his first day of community service. “This is the worst part of town I have ever driven through.”
“Ridden through,” Aaron corrected him. “You won’t be driving for a very long time.”
“Thank you for reminding me,” Gus grumbled.
“And this is actually not the worst part of town,” Aaron said. He pointed east. “If you walk about ten blocks that way, you might want to carry pepper spray.”
“I don’t want to do this.” Gus knew he sounded like a spoiled little rich brat, but he didn’t care. “Why weren’t you punished? You had just as much to drink as I did.”
“Because I didn’t get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.”
“Thanks to me driving you home,” Gus said.
“Technically, you didn’t drive me home. You drove me into a telephone pole.”
“Hmpf. How many hours do I have to stay in this retched place again?”
“Eight,” Aaron said.
“It’s better than jail,” Aaron pointed out.
“It’s like jail for stray dogs,” Gus said.
“And kitties. Don’t forget the kitties.”
“That part might be fun.” Gus perked up a little. “I like kittens.”
“Just treat them all as if they were little princes and princesses, and give them lots of love and affection, and the day will fly by.”
“Who are you?” Gus turned to his oldest brother.
“Here’s the lunch that mommy made for you—okay one of our kitchen staff made for you—and here are your work gloves, try not to get them too covered in dog poop, and I’ll see you in eight hours.”
“I hate you,” Gus grumbled.
“Love you too.” Aaron patted him on the head.
Gus exited his brother’s Mercedes, slamming the door, and trudged up to the concrete building that would be his prison for the next eight hours.
The smell hit him before he even opened the front door and Gus gagged. He stepped back a few feet and took in several gulps of fresh air.
“Quit being a baby,” he grumbled under his breath. “I can do this.”
He strode with purpose and flung open the door. He forced himself not to gag and tried to breathe as little as possible, knowing that wasn’t a sustainable option but it was all he could think of for now.
The man behind the counter looked up from his computer when the bell chimed above the door. He looked Gus up and down and shook his head with a disgusted grunt.
“I’m here to volunteer,” Gus said with as few breaths as possible.
“Is that what you want to call it?” The man raised his eyebrows. His receding hairline was accentuated by an unnaturally large forehead and half spectacles that sat on the end of his nose.
“Look, Ms. Harris is a volunteer. The rest of you hooligans are here because you’re forced by a court of law. Don’t diminish her role as your supervisor by lifting yourself to her level. Until you’ve served your time, you’re just worthy enough to clean the kennels and not much else.”
Gus gulped but nodded his head once slowly. “Yes, sir.”
“You’re late. Get back there.” The man pointed to the door on his left.
“Is there someplace I can refrigerate my lunch?” Gus held up the brownbag his brother had given him.
“You’re having your planning meeting in the lunchroom. Ms. Harris can show you where the refrigerator is located.”
Gus opened the door the man indicated and was assaulted by even stronger blast of dog waste. He was glad he was holding lunch in a bag because if it had been in his stomach, it would now be on the floor. If this was the lunchroom, he wouldn’t be eating until dinner.
All eyes turned to see who had walked in the door, and the guy at the front desk had been right. This group of guys, and two girls, were hooligans. Gang symbols were tattooed on various locations on their faces, arms, and knuckles. They had black and red bandanas tied as armbands or around their foreheads. And Gus swore one of the guys moved his jacket across his hip as if to send the message that he had a gun hidden in his waistband. They wore grubby jeans and had greasy hair.
Without looking down, Gus took inventory of his own clothes, all name brand and freshly pressed. His new work boots, purchased yesterday by one of his servants, had never seen pavement, and his stylist had recently touched up his subtle highlights. He gulped but stepped all the way into the breakroom and allowed the heavy door to slam behind him.
Ms. Harris looked up from her clipboard and narrowed her eyes.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Gus muttered under his breath. He almost turned and ran from the room, preferring jail to this.
“Well, good morning, Your Highness,” she said in the sweetest, most sadistic, I’m-going-to-torture-you-for-the-next-eight-hours voice Gus had ever heard. “What a pleasure it will be to have you serving us.”
He caught the subtle emphasis that he would be serving them rather than he’d be serving with them. Gus raised his chin with confidence, not letting her get under his skin.
“Good morning… Phoebe.”