"Amelia... Amelia! Staff meeting, over here now!"
The newest member of Kelp's staff glided over to her manager along with the other Maraquan waiters and waitresses to establish why the man was now shaking. He was usually a calm, friendly, happy manager, but today, something had spooked him.
"I have some bad news," he began slowly.
"Is it the Halloween decorations, sir?" asked Amelia. "Are they too scary for you?"
Max, the manager, glared at Amelia. She took a step back. The Scorchio did a double take and looked around. "Why are they still up? Somebody go and take them down immediately!"
"Yes, sir, right away, sir!" Amelia had not worked at Kelp long, but she'd worked there long enough to know who the group's suck up was... Hill. He was constantly acting like Max's best friend – acting like he was superior to the other members of staff. Amelia didn't like Hill.
"Thank you, Hill. At least someone around here has a bit of common sense!" Hill smirked smugly as he swam past Amelia and the other members of staff who had gathered for the meeting. Max coughed slightly and, after a deep breath, addressed his staff as a whole once more.
"Tilly is going to be visiting tomorrow." Everybody gasped; a Uni that Amelia had not yet met begin to sob silently, while a nearby Korbat comforted her.
"Now, you all know what this means. We can't afford any mistakes. I want a spotless kitchen, a spotless bar, and a spotless dining area. I know you are all excellent staff, your standards are just as high as mine and I know I have no problems with any of you. We just need to be extra vigilant today and I expect these usual high standards to be even higher for Tilly's visit. Do we all understand?" There was a nervous chorus of mumbled agreement. "Do we all understand?" repeated Max a little louder.
"Of course we do, sir!" Hill shouted from up a ladder as he removed a string of plastic pumpkins from the ceiling. Amelia rolled her eyes. This Tilly couldn't be that bad.
Everybody else thought she was.
"She nearly had us shut down last time..."
"I nearly got fired because my name badge wasn't straight enough for her!"
"One customer was too full to take his leftovers... We aren't allowed waste. She was furious with us!"
The stories and rumours floated all around the restaurant for the entire day as the staff cleaned and prepared – Amelia was beginning to join in with their panic. She couldn't be fired. What if a hair was out of place, or she served this Tilly an appetiser with an extra salad leaf? She needed this job. Tilly sounded like the type of inspector that would make sure you never worked in a restaurant again. It had taken Amelia a long time to earn a job at Kelp. She was determined to keep it.
Amelia had been paired with Hill to clean the restaurant area – she was not impressed. They had very different ideas about what needed to be done first and where everything needed to go.
"Amelia, look, you're new at this. Just do things my way, OK?" He took a handful of napkins and folded them diagonally before placing one at each place setting.
"Max told me to do it this way," she replied, picking the napkins back up and folding them into a tent shape and putting them back on the table. She was convinced he was trying to get her to do things the wrong way so that he'd get her fired.
"You're doing it wrong," he growled.
"Well, we'll both do half the restaurant each, and we'll see who's wrong tomorrow!" Amelia regretted the statement as soon as it left her lips. She had no idea whether or not she was folding the napkins properly. She'd seen some of the other staff members do it, and nobody had ever told her she was wrong. Max had never batted an eyelid at the napkins. Tilly might.
"That's just childish," hissed Hill, straightening his tie. "Do it your way, and I'll make sure Tilly knows exactly who was responsible." He glared at her before gliding off to wrap up some leftovers for customers on a nearby table.
Amelia bit her nails discreetly – what if she was doing it wrong? She looked round to ask somebody, just to make sure, but everybody was frantically running round mopping the floors, cleaning the tables, washing the windows. Somebody was even polishing the cutlery. The fear had set into everybody. Amelia saw Max out of the corner of her eye as he went into his office – she'd check with him.
There was an audible sigh. "Yes, what?" He looked up. "Oh, Amelia... What is it?" He seemed incredibly flustered, shuffling piles of papers about on his desk.
"Yes, hi, sorry to bother you, it's just..."
"Do you even realise what's happening tomorrow? Come on, girl, hurry up! I don't have all day!"
"Sorry yes. Erm, it's just about the napkins..."
Max looked up, bewilderment etched all over his face.
"You're interrupting me to ask about napkins? Get out, Amelia."
"But, it's just..."
Amelia left the office feeling sick. If Max had got himself that worked up over Tilly that he wouldn't let her ask a perfectly reasonable question, she was surely going to get fired. She decided to stick with what she thought was right and continued making tents out of the napkins under the judging eyes of Hill. She ignored him, and instead tried thinking of new places she could apply for a job. She'd check the Faerieland Job Agency tomorrow afternoon – after she was undoubtedly fired.
The next morning, Amelia was sorely tempted to stay in bed and call in sick for work. But she didn't. She took extra care when getting ready, making sure her name badge was straight and her hair was scraped back appropriately. Her shirt was crisp and white and her tie was clean and neat. She was ready.
She arrived at work early, like the other members of staff had done. They were all lined up to be inspected by Max. Hill was at the top of the line.
"Very smart, Hill. Now go and make sure all the chairs are tucked in properly."
"Yes sir, right away, sir." Hill smirked at Amelia on his way past. Max continued to check the appearances of his staff. Everybody was satisfactory, including Amelia. They'd all been sent away to do final checks when the front doors of Kelp swung open with a bang – everybody froze.
A Maraquan Aisha swam into the restaurant, smiling politely at Max and his staff.
"Good morning – I am sorry about the doors, the winds must have caught them! You must be Max, it's a pleasure to meet you!"
Max stood silently for a few moments, allowing the Aisha to shake his hand. Hill came across and asserted his self-given authority.
"Excuse me, but who are you?"
"I'm from the agency to perform an inspection – you were expecting me, I believe?"
"Ww... what happened to, to Tilly?" stammered Max, finally finding his voice.
"Oh, she's off sick. Ate a bad shrimp at some place in Kreludor – they're standards are being looked into. But I'm here to have a look round today, I'm Klara."
Nobody could say anything. A mixture of gratitude and relief swept over the staff, before a second wave that made them realise Klara could still shut them down. The second wave stunned them into silence.
"Right..." Klara looked around at them all, confused by their reaction. "I'll just get started, shall I?" She swam off into the kitchens with a clipboard.
"She seems nice," smiled Amelia, keen to break the silence.
"Tilly seemed nice," snapped Hill. "You can never be sure."
The staff waited anxiously in silence around the bar, watching Klara's every move. She seemed to be smiling a lot, and nodding, and ticking things on her sheets. Amelia looked around at her colleagues – they were lost for nerves. After fifteen minutes, Klara approached them.
"Marvellous, outstanding, even!" she grinned, tucking away the charts.
Max almost fell to his knees in relief, before regaining his composure. "Oh yes well, I mean, we run a pretty tight ship around here. I expect the highest standards every single day."
"I'm sure you do, it's quite clear from looking around. And I must say, the napkins are adorable! Now, do you fancy whipping me up some food before I go?"
The staff broke into chatter as they got back to work, joyful at having survived the inspection. Amelia glanced over at Hill and smiled smugly. Yes, she thought, I'm going to like working here.