Second verse, same as the first. The beer was waiting for him, unopened, tucked in on the line on the steam table’s upper shelf. He used a knife to flip open the beer bottle and walked over to Marie so she could get some. He was ever conscious of Jim watching him. He could sense Jim kind of licking his lips, as it were, over that beer. While Marie sipped at it, he reached up the back of her dress and helped himself to some more of her. He was clueless as to why he did this. He hadn’t planned it, hadn’t desired it, hadn’t even thought about it other than to not do it. Yet here it was, here he was, just doing what he knew he should stay away from doing.
Marie didn’t stop him, didn’t let on to anyone who might have come into the kitchen and glimpsed their way that anything was happening. She stood close to her counter with the beer so Bill’s hand and arm were as hidden as could be. He could tell she was getting aroused; he knew she was cause he was. She inched close to him as she could get and whispered “Don’t stop.” But Bill had to stop. He had to do that second fryer and finish up his work. More important, they were in the kitchen.
So he went back to work. Marie told him, while he was down on his knees draining that second fryer, that she was going down to pee. This meant he should watch her station. But they were pretty much through with orders. Victoria had brought him another beer and told him no one else had come in. It was getting on toward eleven-thirty. Most likely they had seen all the business they would for the night.
He was still on his knees when Marie returned. She stopped by him and sipped from his beer, told him she’d stopped in the meat room and taken some more bourbon.
“I am so messed up,” she said. “Don’t know how I’m gonna drive home.”
She was standing over him, kind of, but not quite. As she admitted how messed up she was, she spread her legs for Bill to look up them. He saw she had taken off her panties and was showing him what she had.
“What should I say?”
“Say you like.”
“Gonna drive me home?”
“I’m not gonna let you drive if you’re too messed up.”
“I’m too messed up.”
“What about your car?”
“I’ll get a ride here tomorrow.”
“Maybe Tommy drop you off.”
“Get out of here. I ain’t riding with him.”
“Okay. But all I’m doing is dropping you off. I’m tired and I need to get some sleep tonight.”
“No problem.” Marie laughed.
“What you laughing at?”
“Just a crazy thought.”
Marie took another sip of the beer, put the bottle down and passed through to her station. Bill kept at draining that second fryer and when he was done, he did the same as with the first, got water and poured it through to clean it out. Then he wiped down the fryer with an already used kitchen towel.
After he’d double-checked everything, he lit that second fryer and watched the gas jets fire up. He wanted to make sure the grease was melted and was set for the morning before he went home.
Once he saw it starting to melt, he dragged the stock pot to the end of the line. There, he picked it up and carried it outside. Outside, he set it down by the grease drum. He took the metal cover from the drum and then very carefully hoisted the stock pot up so he could dump the hot oil into it. That done, he covered the drum and headed back inside with the last pot from him for Andy to wash.
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Bill found the orders tucked underneath the bell. One was for three hamburgers medium-rare. The other was for two Supers, one rare and the other well done. That was a couple, he thought. They probably disagreed on lots of stuff. He laughed to himself, took a moment to grease the grills with oil from the fryer he had not cleaned yet. He did this because the grills had been idle for awhile and they were very hot. He didn’t want anything to stick, especially the hamburger meat.
The meat sizzled loudly when he put it on the grills. The two Supers he placed carefully and rotated quickly to diamond-mark them. The rare one, once marked, he flipped and pulled to the front of the drawer so it was not under the heat. The other he left to cook. Next he put the burgers on. These he left awhile so they could sear on the down side and cook some on the top side.
Meanwhile he fetched two orders of vegetables and heated them in a sauté pan he placed on the charcoal broiler, one side of which he kept lit until the end. He also fetched two baked potatoes.
By the time the sides were plated before him, the steaks were ready. He flipped the burgers, plated the steaks, speared the rare one with a red rare-sticker arrow from his supply. He tucked the tongs under his elbow, set the plates up under the warmer lights, tapped the bell and headed down the line for French fries. He poured and dropped three orders of fries, reached into the cooler for three set-ups. They kept a tray of set-ups on the ready: lettuce slice, tomato slice, two pickle chips. All he had to do was get them and set them on the plate. Next were the buns, which he toasted under the broiler. They only took a few seconds. He flipped the burgers another time, went down the line and picked up the fries. When he saw they could go another minute or two, he dropped the basket back down, went back to the broiler, plated the burgers.
Victoria came in for the steaks. Bill watched her take them with no caps, both in one hand. She went back out the door, but not before Bill told her to come right back for the burgers.
He was spilling the fries onto the plates when she returned. As he set up the burgers for her to take, he asked her to bring him another beer. Only then did he reach under the steam table to the shelf and take up the beer that was there. He finished it quickly, then opened the case of cubed grease, cut open the plastic, hoisted the case and spilled out the cube on top of the empty fryer’s gas jets. For that fryer, he double-checked. He made sure the gas was off and had been off. He made sure it was clean. He made sure the drain was shut so nothing could spill out. Only then did he retrieve the small pot, take out the towel on which it sat, replace the towel with a clean one folded to fit the space. Then with the utmost care, he lit the fryer’s pilot light, turned on the gas and watched as the gas jets fired up.
“Come on Marie.” He motioned with a head gesture for her to go out with him.
Outside was chilly. If he’d had to guess, it was pretty near the low forties, high thirties. He lit the joint before they stepped out the door, but they didn’t smoke until they were outside and around behind the building, which was not far from the back door. As they smoked, he reached up Marie’s dress. She shifted how she stood so he could help himself to whatever he wanted. Unshyly and completely without inhibition, she helped herself to some of him too.
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Bill’s instinct was to tell Jim to step away from the knife sheath. His gut was screaming at him to say something and somewhere inside his brain he knew that he should listen to his gut. Nevertheless, the kitchen door opened and Victoria came in carrying a beer for him. She handed him the beer and took the plate for Bebe. Bill watched Victoria walk out of the kitchen, checked out her ass, then he noted Jim staring at that beer.
He went back to work on his knees on the rubber mats. Pot by pot, over and over, he drained the grease, poured it from the small pot to the big stock pot until the fryer was empty. Then he washed out that fryer by taking pots of water and running it through, emptying the water pot by pot into the big stock pot. The water still bubbled and popped since the grease was hot.
When he was satisfied it was clean, he left the fryer to drain whatever water was left inside into the small pot. It was just drips now and so he was not concerned about an overflow. He took a good swig of the beer then hid the bottle on the steam table’s underneath shelf, stood up, lit a cigarette, told Marie he was going downstairs to get a cube of grease.
Marie had already finished her clean up and she was sitting on Bea’s stool. She was smoking a cigarette, which she did not often do, and she was drinking coffee. When she saw Bill head out the door and knew he was on his way downstairs, she got up and followed after him. She caught up with him, as she knew she would, in the storeroom. He was about to hoist a cube of the solid grease onto his shoulder.
“What’s up?” said Bill, seeing her.
“I was wondering if you got any weed. And maybe a good stiff drink.”
“I can’t stay down here too long.”
“And I don’t trust that one dishwasher. I’d fire him, but he needs the job.”
Bill led Marie into the meat room, to the bourbon drawer. He took the bottle from where it was hidden under a stack of kitchen towels, handed it to her, watched her as she twisted the cap open and wrapped her lips around the bottle. He could not help but note her skinny, shapely fingers as they grasped the bottle. His eyes were also drawn to her lips surrounding the neck of the bottle and how she sipped, how it passed down her throat as she swallowed. He was tired, but not that tired, and a faint desire stirred in him which he quickly tossed aside.
“I can’t go into the deep freeze. But here’s a joint.”
“We could go out behind the building. Tommy won’t care even if he catches us.”
“He’ll care. He just won’t say nothing.”
Marie stepped close up to Bill and kissed him. “So let’s go get high.”
“I have to finish the grease.”
“Why you stay away from me? Henry Lee said he don’t mind. It’s all good fun.”
Bill didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. Literally, he was saved by the bell since they both heard the bell being rung from upstairs meaning there was an order.
“We got to go.” He took the bottle back from Marie, grabbed a quick sip then capped it and replaced it in the drawer. As he was following her out, he copped a feel of her ass. He couldn’t say why he did it, just impulsively. Marie, for her part, stopped and bent slightly over so he could get a good feel.
“Go underneath, baby,” she said.
“I got an order.”
Bill stopped in the storeroom on his way up and carted up the first box of grease.
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The night lumbered on. The rush came and went, and like all nights, when it was their time, Grandma and Jimmy changed to their civvies and quietly went out the back door and home. It was another change-the-grease night, so at eleven, after he’d fed the help, all but Bebe, Bill broke down the steam table, wrapped the leftovers, readied them for the walk-in and scrubbed down the line. That done, he went and took himself a coffee.
Marie was already pretty much done. She was sitting on Bea’s stool reading a book.
“Prime rib any good?” she asked.
“Same as always. You want some?”
Bill did not say anything. He walked to the knife sheath and drew out the slicer. Then he walked to the back and set the rib on a cutting board on Mary’s counter. He cut a thick slice, trimmed the fat from the tail, separated the little tail from the main piece of beef and ate it. Then he cut the beef in half, cut one half into eat-size cubes and put them on a plate. He did the same with the other piece of meat and put those cubes on a second plate. The first plate he brought over to Marie. The second he covered and set up under the warmer lights.
Soon after he started on the first fryer, Victoria came in. She was closing girl this night. She ordered Bebe’s dinner. Bill told her to take the plate out to the hall and after he’d emptied the draining pot into the big stock pot, he stood from on his knees and walked to the doorway past which Victoria stood eating the cut-up prime rib.
“I don’t have to you-know-what for this do I?” She shook her butt playfully.
“Only if you want to.”
“I might after what I heard from Lexi.”
“Was I good?”
“She gave you an A+.”
“Is that good?”
“Enough to pique my interest.”
“Well, I feel so relieved.”
“She wasn’t one to be shy about it.”
“So much for discretion.”
“She was pleased as pleased could be. Not gloating or bragging or anything like that. She was just plain happy.”
“She has a really healthy attitude toward sex. Like the women’s libbers over at the University.”
“Yeah. But she ain’t free and easy. She turned Drenovis down. And she doesn’t use her sex to get tips.”
“I respect that.”
“Me too.” Victoria was finished eating. Bill took the plate from her and led the way back into the kitchen. He handed the plate to Paul and watched Victoria head out the door to the front dining room. Then he went to the broiler, fetched a steak for Bebe from the meat cooler and threw it on the grill.
From the corner of his eye he could see Jim watching him. The dish machine was idle now. Having eaten their dinners and finished their break, Paul, Jim and Mickey stood around hanging out. Andy was back to the sink. He was still washing pots.
Bill flipped Bebe’s Super and moved it to a fresh spot on the grill. Then he plated a baked potato, slit it and scooped some butter into the slit. He had to go to the back to get vegetables, which he did, spooning them from the steam table pot he had stored back there into a side dish he carried with him. When he returned to the line, Jim was standing by the knife sheath.
“You want something?” Bill asked. He stepped to the broiler, took up his tongs, plated the steak. He noted that the butter inside the potato slit was melted and sat there in a little puddle that looked picture-perfect. Then he looked to Jim.
“Nah. I don’t want nothing from you.”
Bill saw Jim was studying the knives in the knife sheath. It seemed he was preoccupied with them of late and while there was nothing Bill could put his finger on, it played on his mind. He set the plate up under the warmer lights and tapped the bell for Victoria.
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Marie sat on the lettuce cases. Most of the lettuce had been used already so while sometimes the stack was higher than the milk cases, this time they were about even. She sat with her legs open, purposefully, and she rocked her knees, not nervously, but by habit.
Bill could not help but seeing up there. Having consumed most of his coffee, he dumped the espresso into his coffee mug and put the espresso cup down on a case next to him. He leaned back against the wall and looked out toward the screen door. It was open and a nice late-November chill seeped in.
“Me ’n Henry Lee almost got caught by Drenovis today.”
“I know. Mary woke me up. I was sleeping in the party room.”
“He’s a sneaky bastard, and a nasty one too.”
“I ain’t arguing with that.”
“He won’t be back tonight, though.” Marie winked at Bill and spread her legs wider.
“No, he won’t.”
“Well then, we can do what we do.”
Bill smiled. “We’re gonna put up the dinner, finish out the orders, clean up and go home.”
“Whatever you say, boss. But I got some great ideas.”
“I’ll bet you do.”
“Wanna hear them?”
Before Bill could respond, they both heard a loud shouting in the kitchen. Bill jumped up and went in. Mickey and Jim were at it, fighting over who was doing what spot on the machine. They had had this fight before. Unloading the dishes that just came from the machine was one job and delivering the stacked dishes was another. Jim liked unloading even though the dishes were hot and could scald your hands. Mickey liked that too because the stacks of dishes were heavy and had to be carried to the plate warmers. Carrying them meant they could drop and dropping dishes could lead to losing your job.
Jimmy was standing there looking at them. Grandma didn’t even come around from the back stoves. Seeing Bill come into the kitchen they went about their work. Both Jim and Mickey stopped the loud talk, but Mickey could be heard muttering in his deep voice calling Jim a host of things of which crazy and stupid were the nicest. Jim, for his part, had headed for the knife sheath, but seeing Bill come in he stopped in his tracks and did a right turn which took him toward the front of the dish machine past which was the pot washer sink where Andy stood minding his own business. Paul, the special needs kid who lived in a group home, was guffawing, half laughing, saying “You guys” over and over to himself. He was visibly upset and started pacing in circles.
“Knock it off,” Bill barked decisively. He walked toward the dish machine, toward where they all were. “It’s okay, Paul,” he said quietly. Then, “Cut the muttering, Mickey. I don’t want to hear another word. And you, he said to Jim, “you keep that temper in check. I don’t want to see you fly off the handle again. You got it?”
“Think you’re something, huh? You ain’t nothing but a young squirt.”
Bill stepped right up to Jim, toe to toe. “Listen here, I’m your boss, like it or not. You talk back to me again, that’ll be the minute I fire you. And if you think I’m kidding, say another damn word.”
Jim sized Bill up. They stood pretty much face to face, about the same height. Jim was more mealy, older and grey-haired. He was heavier set, maybe even stronger. But Bill, thinner and more agile at his young age, even tired as he was and still a little high, stood tougher-looking.
Jim lingered a moment, eyeballing Bill. Bill eyeballed him back, even stepped a bit closer so they were almost touching noses. Jim finally backed down by retreating a couple of steps then turning and walking away.
“I told you guys,” Paul said. “I told you, I told you, I told you.”
“Settle who’s working where or I will,” said Bill. Then he walked to the end of the line where the knife sheath was and stood there.
“Ooh, you make so hot,” Marie said as she stepped past him and through the line to her station.
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When they came from the deep freeze, Mary hopped up on the counter and sat swinging her legs. This was her usual spot, her usual way of sitting. Sometimes, often, she wore bobby socks which meant she only had panties or maybe panties and a half slip on underneath. Bill stepped up to her and pushed himself between her legs so he could kiss her. They kissed deep and hard. He reached up her dress, not so much to touch her privates, but enough to softly stroke her bare thigh. Mary put her arms around him and held him close.
“You know this is where you’ll get your real loving,” she said.
“Do you? I mean I know I ain’t got no hold on you and I know you hit anything that moves. I don’t understand you having a fiancé.”
“She’s off in her own world. That will change when she graduates. Right now, she’s focused on her and she’s all that matters to her.”
“Well you matter to me.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t live with me or have to tolerate me.”
“But I…” Mary stopped herself.
“Last night, I didn’t get home till four in the morning and when I called today to talk to her, to make an explanation, she was on her way out with her friends. All she told me was to try to get home earlier tonight.”
Mary kissed Bill and took his hand higher so he could catch a feel of her over her panties. She guided his hand and kissed him more, sucking his tongue like a lollipop. “Just remember, this is where the loving is at.”
After Mary went back upstairs, Bill went into the party room and set some chairs facing each other so he could put up his feet and take a rest. Wasn’t long until he fell off into a good nap, and he would have slept longer if Mary had not found him out and woke him. She did that when she learned Drenovis was in the house. She didn’t want Drenovis to find him sleeping. Drenovis wouldn’t have done anything, maybe said something, but it wasn’t worth the hassle for Bill, Bea or her.
Drenovis did not stay long. He took a quick look-see throughout. He spoke to Mary about the menu and to Henry Lee, who just made it out of the ladies room, about the steaks needed for the west side. Lexi did not work lunch and had just come in. He caught her still in her street clothes, leered at her and had a few words for her, but he didn’t hassle her too much, just enough to let her know he was the boss. He was biding his time because sooner or later he was going to either get with her or fire her.
Just before the dinner was about to start, when everything was set up, she found Bill sitting out in the hall. Mary, Bea and Henry Lee were gone. Marie was on her station and taking care of everything there. Bill was on the milk cases. He was almost nodding out so she found him with his eyes shut.
“Last night was great.”
“Yeah it was good.”
“When we gonna do it again?”
“Not tonight, that’s for sure. Tonight I’m getting some sleep.”
“What time you get home?”
“What time you get up?”
“Damn, that sucks.”
“Thank God for black beauties.”
“Want a coffee?”
“Nah. I got to get up, so I’ll get it.”
“Let me go in first,” Lexi said.
Bill waited a moment and then went into the kitchen. Over by Marie, he drew himself a coffee and fixed it with cream. “Make me a double espresso, would you?” he said to Marie.
No orders had come in yet and Jimmy was on the line, so Bill sat back on the milk cases and sipped his coffee. A couple of minutes later, Marie came out with the espresso.
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Lexi Greene surely was not shy or inexperienced and Bill Wynn left her apartment at three-thirty AM sated and purring happily. He had to pop two black beauties to steady himself enough to drive and spent the entire ride home formulating what he was going to say to his fiancé. But she was fast asleep in a deeper sleep than usual and he didn’t have to say anything until he called her from work the next evening. Even then, he caught her on the way out to dinner with her friends and he didn’t have to say anything. She told him to try not to be so late to which he said he’d do his best but couldn’t control how customers came in or what the bosses did.
For the most part it was a quiet and easy day. He and Mary did the prep cooking. Bea was ever herself. She read the racing pages in the Dispatch, played the numbers with Robert after getting everyone’s numbers and money, sat on her stool smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee between spells of doing her work. Bill went down to cut meat with Henry Lee when he came in at nine-thirty, and he was downstairs most of the rest of the morning. He went up a few times to check on things or when Mary called for him because she needed help or wanted him to see something for learning purposes.
He took more black beauties to help him along since he hardly had any sleep. He wasn’t drinking yet, and he hadn’t smoked more weed. He did his work perfunctorily and sometimes that was good. Sometimes thinking too much over physical labor was counterproductive unless you were thinking about other things, about external things.
In the afternoon he hung out between meals, cut more meat down in the meat room, worked with Mary starting the prep work for the next few days. On Tuesdays they were usually busy and they got increasingly busy on through Saturday. So Tuesdays started heavier and more in-advance production. They built a bigger cut-meat inventory. They prepped ahead what they could for the daily specials. They made extra sauce, extra rice pudding, jello and chocolate pudding so they kept a running inventory and didn’t run out. The trick was always having fresh food, and this they accomplished with rotation and knowledge of the pattern of business. On Thursday, Bill and Mary agreed, they would do all the breading to carry them through the weekend. On Thursday Bill thought, he would pop some ludes or maybe even smoke some opium.
Victoria, Lorraine, Norma and Lexi were working. The only one Bill had not been with was Victoria, but she knew all. On her own, Lexi told her about her night with Bill, in full, in detail. Bill would see such things cause jealousy and envy in other places later in his career. He would see them cause kitchens to fight, waitresses to fight and waitresses to fight with cooks. But here, in this place, Norma didn’t care, Lexi was a player and Lorraine, older and with different needs and interests, was on a different level. If anyone was jealous, it was Mary. Mary was struck with Bill, mostly because he wreaked of Yulie and she had loved Yulie.
Henry Lee and Marie took some time in the ladies room together. They weren’t fighting anymore, at least not for now. Or so it seemed. While they were away, Mary and Bill got high in the deep freeze. By this time it was the end of the day for Mary. Bill still had a long way to go and he was dragging. No matter what, he decided he was going home to sleep at the end of the shift.
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