Bill left the bag of potatoes out in the hall. He took a sheet pan from the kitchen and filled it with spuds then placed them on the shelves of the convection oven. He did not turn the oven on.
Since he was back around where Mary was, he checked the prime rib again. This time he poked it with his fingers, once in the middle and once on each end cut.
“Maybe another half hour,” he said.
Mary was stirring a big pot of Bordelaise sauce. She had just put the pan of yellow rice in the oven. “The rice comes out in about a half hour too,” she said. “Tomorrow we need to make rice pudding for Bea.”
“Big whoop. I may be tripping again tomorrow.”
“That mean you going to be staring into things for hours like you did with the egg wash?”
“You scared me that day.”
“Why you do that to yourself?”
“Stretch my mind.”
“You mean fry your brain.”
“So who cares?”
“What about that girl of yours?”
“She’s got her own world.”
“Well, what about you?”
“Me? That’s a joke.”
“Boy, you don’t care about yourself, no one will care about you.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
“Yeah, it is. So figure it out. It’s a sad day when no one cares about you. And you just a baby, too.”
Bill looked to his feet. He wanted to say something, but he held it in. He wanted to tell Mary, and he would one time when they were at the Upper Room, that no matter who loved him and how, he never felt loved. He wanted to tell her, and he would that one time, that there was an emptiness in the well of his heart that never got filled. He wanted to tell her, and he would that one time, that he did not believe in love. He did not believe in love, he did not believe in justice or in right. He did not believe, not anymore, that doing good got you good. This didn’t mean to do bad or to do wrong, certainly not knowingly. But that moral arc some people talked about, Bill did not see it, could no longer see it, maybe had never seen it.
Bill turned to go downstairs. He’d been standing a protracted moment looking at his feet, Mary watching him look at his feet.
“Cat got your tongue?” Mary asked.
“Don’t have anything to say,” Bill said.
“Boy, you don’t have to clam up with me. You can say anything and it stays with me. Especially this stuff.”
Bill smiled at Mary again. “I’m gonna get high before I come up for the service. Don’t forget to take out the rib and start the baked potatoes. You want to get high, come down.”
Tears formed in Mary’s eyes. She wanted to throw her arms around him and hug him. She wanted to kiss him as if he were hers, to let him know that she cared about him. But she was conflicted. Truth was she was afraid. She knew it was stupid. He was taken. Maybe for the way he was that wasn’t such a good thing. But it was the reality. She wanted to say the hell with it and take a shot, but Mary, like Bill, was not one to just take a shot. She had to reason it out, like Bill did, and justify it to herself, like Bill had to. So they were stuck. Maybe it was better they were stuck.
Bill took a long drink of bourbon before he went back to cutting steaks. He had come down from being really drunk and was now maintaining his head, keeping himself comfortably high, how he would stay until about ten o’clock when he had to let himself get straight to drive home.
The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide
Bill gave the bottle to Henry Lee. Before he started cutting steaks, he said he had to take care of something upstairs and excused himself. He went up the front stairs, the stairs customers used when they went down to the customer rest rooms and the party room.
Out in the front of the house, he went to Tommy’s office and knocked on the door. When Tommy called out to come in, he opened the door, stepped into the office and closed the door behind him. Tommy was sitting at his desk.
“What can I do for you?”
“Nothing. I just wanted to say I was out of line before and I apologize.”
“I understand,” Tommy said.
“Do you?” Bill asked.
“I know you have a part to play and you’re finding your way. But remember, you’re a college graduate. I expect more from you.”
Bill shifted on his feet. There was nothing to say to that. He looked away, not making eye contact.
“The drinking and smoking marijuana is no good for you. But you’re right,” Tommy said. “I’m not your father or your priest. And I won’t even talk about the carousing.”
“I know,” Bill said.
“I hope you do.” Tommy smiled at Bill. “I have a part to play too,” he said.
“Well,” Bill said, “that’s all I came up for.”
“We’re starting two new girls this week,” Tommy said. “Do me a favor and leave them alone.”
Bill smiled. “I got steaks to cut,” he said. He turned and left the office, walked through the front dining room and into the kitchen. Only Bea was there and she was sitting on her stool reading the racing page again. He walked through the back, checked everything on the stoves, peeked into the oven with the towel-wrapped handle. The prime rib was in there cooking away.
This was a quiet time. The dishwashers were not doing much, mostly just hanging out. They had pretty much finished up everything and were waiting to get off work, waiting for the van to take them downtown. The dish machine was idle. The only noise in the kitchen was the deep base-like droning of the exhaust fans. Those fans ran start to finish, open to close.
Mary was sitting on the stainless steel counter in the meat room. Her legs were crossed at the ankles and she was swinging her feet to and fro.
Bill took a curved butcher’s knife from the knife drawer and honed the blade on a sharpening steel.
“I bet he was upstairs kissing up to Tommy,” Henry Lee said.
“I hope you apologized,” Mary said to Bill.
“What do you need cut?” Bill asked.
“He kissed up,” Henry Lee said. Then, “Cut some Kings and Queens.”
Bill went into the walk-in and came out with three tenderloins. These he laid out on his butcher block. Next he set up the scale and made sure it registered zero with nothing on it. He retrieved a boning knife from the knife drawer and honed it straight. He took the first one and carefully trimmed the veins and fat from it. When he’d trimmed all three, he began cutting steaks.
Mary sat quietly watching. She watched Henry Lee and Bill work. When Bill had finished cutting steaks from the tenderloins, she stood and headed for upstairs.
“I need a sac of potatoes,” she told Bill on the way out.
Bill acknowledged. He took the bourbon from the drawer and offered it to Mary. She sipped it and handed it to Henry Lee. He drank some and passed it back to Bill. Before Bill started on more tenderloins, he brought Mary the potatoes.
The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide
After the lunch, Bea, Mary, Henry Lee and Bill ate together in a booth in the side dining room. They made sure no customers remained in that room before they sat down to eat. Over in the west the kitchen sported a table where the help sat to eat. Here there was no room inside the kitchen.
Bill and Henry Lee ate roast beef rare on a hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Mary and Bea ate chicken salad, Bea’s special for the day. They shared a huge plate of French fries and another one filled with onion rings. Bill had Norma bring beers for everyone. She wasn’t too happy about being designated for it, but Bill didn’t care. Bill had learned that he could do just about anything he wanted with waitresses. He promised her a steak for dinner if she kept the beer coming and he promised her a Filet Mignon if she went to the liquor store for him. She couldn’t pass that up. She could already taste the first-class dinner.
Mary was the cook on call, so when the one late order came in—the waitress brought the order to their lunch table—she started to get up. Bill said he would do it, and since he was sitting on the outside, he stood and went into the kitchen.
First thing Bill did was put the hamburger and steak on the broiler. Then he went around back to check that everything was all right. Satisfied, he lit a cigarette and stood by the hall entrance to the kitchen until he had to turn the food. He flipped the burger but he only rotated the steak. This way, when he did flip it, the up side had diamond marks, the cross-cross. Last, he dropped two orders of fries and when they were done he lifted the basket so they would drain. He set up the hamburger plate, toasted the bun, plated the burger and the steak. Finally, he shook fries onto each plate, put the plates up on the shelf under the warmer lights and rang the bell for the waitress.
Bill stayed in the kitchen. Norma came in and he told her exactly what he wanted from the liquor store. He gave her money and since they were alone, he walked her out into the hall where he kissed her. She kissed back, maybe not so much because she wanted to, but because they still met from time to time. Bill reached up her dress and she let him. In fact that started her off so much that she helped him help her have a quick moment of pleasure. She kissed him afterward, one long passionate kiss, and she told him she could reciprocate later if he wanted. Then she went out the back door and off to get the bourbon.
When Bea, Mary and Henry Lee came back into the kitchen, Bill was cleaning the line. Henry Lee brought in Bill’s unfinished beer and Bill took a moment to finish it off.
“Norma go to the liquor store?” he asked Bill.
“Yeah. It cost me a filet mignon.”
“That’s what I say.”
“You better be cool,” Mary said. “Tommy knows everything.”
“And?” Henry Lee said.
“Mary’s right,” Bill said. “I know Robert won’t let anything happen to any of us, especially you guys. But we don’t have to push Tommy into a corner. He’s really a nice guy when all is said and done.”
“He is,” Mary said. “I don’t want to mess him up.”
“You two too easy,” Henry Lee said. “I’m going downstairs.”
“See you in a bit,” Bill said.
He went back to work cleaning the line, breaking down the steam table, scrubbing the grills and the stainless steel and straining the fryers When that was done, he went to the back to see if Mary needed anything. She said she had everything she needed, so Bill sat out in the hall and waited for Norma. When she got back, she handed Bill the bottle of bourbon in a brown paper bag.
“I’m on a split shift,” she said. “See you later.”
“I’ll be here,” Bill said as he started down the stairs.
The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide
Bill and Henry Lee sprang into action. Tommy called several more orders and laid out all the checks in the rows of towels he had set up for the expediting. Bill and Henry Lee worked as he finished calling.
Bill put one order of fried shrimp in each fryer basket, the pickerel on the counter by him. He put fries in a basket of the other fryer and dropped them. Then he dropped one order of shrimp. While the fries and shrimp worked, he sliced four roast beef dinners. He set up all four of them, three with mashed potatoes. The fourth he put fries on. By this time, the first shrimp was ready. He plated it, dropped the other order down, put the pickerel in the empty basket of the fish fryer and dropped it.
Henry Lee systematically plated what he had working. Bill set up the burger plates and the Bleu plate. They took setups, lettuce, tomato and pickle. The setups were laid out on a sheet pan in the reach-in box on the wall on the line side of the doors to the side dining room. He dropped another basket of fries, used the fries in the first basket to cover what he could of what Henry Lee plated. Tommy had not called any baked, so Bill knew they all took fries.
Tommy was calling more orders. Bill sipped his coffee after he’d put the sides on what Henry Lee plated, then he went right back into taking care of everything Tommy called. Henry Lee was doing the same for what came from him, and Bill listened for the sides, tracking what got what in his mind and matching it to what Henry Lee put up.
“See,” he said to Tommy. “I can do it drunk too.”
“You shouldn’t be drunk,” Tommy said.
“You ain’t my father,” Bill said. “Or my priest, for that matter.”
“But I am your boss,” Tommy said.
“Pick em up,” Henry Lee said. He purposefully broke in so Bill didn’t get himself in trouble.
“And?” Bill said. He remembered the first time Tommy had said something to him about being drunk, back when he was too new and too shy to talk back. Henry Lee had spoken for him that time. Henry Lee had taught him to stand up for himself. In no uncertain terms, Henry Lee had asked Tommy why he cared as long as the meals went up. When all was said and done, that was the bottom line.
“And don’t you take on those bad attitudes,” Tommy said. “Drinking and smoking that silly stuff is not good for you. Neither is not listening to people who care about you, and worse, treating them disrespectfully.”
“I’m not disrespectful.”
“You are beginning to develop that tendency.”
Bill turned away from Tommy. He was going to mutter something under his breath, but he held himself in check. Meanwhile, the coffee and the heat from the kitchen caused him to sweat profusely. Within moments he had sweat-soaked his shirt.
He worked the fryers, made sure everything down in the grease was okay. Then he sliced roast beef for the orders he had to cover. He pulled out the setups Henry Lee needed and set them on plates he took from the plate warmer by Henry Lee. He used the plate warmer by him, the one on the other side of the steam table, for the orders he had to plate.
Tommy called more orders and they worked the orders. Then Tommy called more orders and they worked the orders. The hustle and bustle of the two-hour, fast-paced meal went along. Waitresses came in and out from both dining rooms. Mary came to check the items on the line, to replenish what needed replenishing. With only the two of them, there was no time for Bill or Henry Lee to leave the line.
Not even fifteen minutes into the real rush, Bill was completely sweat-soaked. His underwear was as wet as if he’d peed himself. In that same fifteen minutes he stopped being drunk. Tommy only made one more comment, that he could smell the booze coming out of Bill’s pores.
The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide
“I’m not too happy,” Tommy said to Mary who still stood on the line.
“Even drunk like he is, he’s one of the best we ever trained,” Mary said. “You give him a few more months he be as good as Yulie.”
“And fall-down drunk like him too,” Tommy said. Then, “And don’t think I don’t know you’re all high too. Smoking that stupid stuff in the deep freeze.”
Mary looked to her feet. “I got things to do in the back,” she said. “I’ll step in if you need me.” She quickly walked off the line.
Bill and Henry Lee were doing the service without Mr. Jim. Mr. Jim had gone to a doctor’s appointment and Tommy had not called over to the west for a cook. Ordinarily he preferred to have a three-man line. It was more efficient and assured them, as much as they could ever be assured, of not running behind.
Bill dropped a basket of fries when he saw the Top just about ready. Next he plated the roast beef he’d sliced. It took mashed potatoes and gravy. He scooped out a mashed potatoes portion with the ice cream scooper they used then formed a pocket in the rounded scoop with the bottom of the gravy ladle. He ladled gravy into the pocket, ladled some gravy atop the meat and set the plate up under the warmer light. The plate was picture-perfect.
Next he tapped the fryer basket handle so he could see the fries easily. He waited that extra moment to make the fries perfectly golden then lifted the basket and shook it vigorously to get the grease off. When Henry Lee plated the steak, he plated the fries and set the plate up next to the roast beef. Tommy rang the bell. He sipped his coffee.
Bill and Henry Lee stepped off the line and went out into the hall. Bea followed since there were no orders. She sat, as she always did, on the lettuce cases, the top of the top case already rounded with her imprint. Bill sat lower down on a metal milk case. Henry Lee lit a cigarette and stood by the door.
“We need more bourbon,” he said.
“I ain’t driving,” Bill said. “At least not till after I eat. I’m too drunk.”
“Send one of your little bimbos,” Henry Lee said.
Bea chuckled, her throaty laugh. She sat, as usual, with her legs spread wide so the air could get up there, so Bill could see up there. She liked when Bill looked and Bill liked to look, especially when she wasn’t wearing underwear, which was sometimes. Today she was just sweaty. Bill and Henry Lee were sweaty too. The kitchen was hot, always hot, winter and summer.
“Close them legs, you old hussy,” Henry Lee said. “He messed up enough already.”
Bea, ever herself, spread her legs wider and reached up there. She moved the panties aside slightly and scratched herself just about inside. “It’s itchy,” she said. She looked straight at Bill.
Bill, crazy drunk and high, stood up and started over to her. He had it in his mind to reach up there and scratch her itch. He’d already satisfied it this morning, so now was just fool around time. He was about to do what he planned when they all heard that familiar word come from out of Tommy’s mouth. “Ordering,” they heard him call.
Like good soldiers, they immediately returned to their places in the kitchen. Bea quickly set up salads she had left prepared in her ice box and started making more. Henry Lee and Bill listened as Tommy went through the stack of orders he now held in his hands.
“A Top medium-rare with two roast beef dinners,” he said. “A Super and a Bleu. Two roast beef dinners solo. A pickerel, a fried shrimp and two hamburgers rare. Put fries on one of those roast beefs. Two burgers medium, a Top and a burger both medium-well and a fried shrimp…”
“Anyone down there working?” Tommy called from the stairs. They all heard it and they all started out of the meat room.
“Don’t forget the prime rib,” Mary said.
Bill came up last with the rib. He took himself another long drink of bourbon before he went up and he knew it was only by the grace of God that he didn’t fall down. Unsteadily, weaving, he carried up the rib. Then he carried pans from the back to the line. Mary didn’t allow him to carry any hot liquids. She drew him a coffee, fixed it the way he liked it and made sure he drank it before he stepped on the line. She’d done that for Yulie countless times, her heart crying on the inside. Her heart was not crying now, but almost because she knew she was gonna give Bill a good piece of it. She also knew she was heading for a broken heart because sure as God made rain, the boy was gonna leave one day and that would be that.
“I’ll fix you another coffee,” Mary told him after he finished the first one and before he stepped on the line for the lunch service.
“Get me a beer.”
“You had enough. You got to do dinner too, and close.”
“SSDD. I do it every day. So what’s another one? But not so long ago I was crying for a job, any damn job.” Bill reached for Mary. She did not rebuff him or step away. She stepped close to him, kissed his cheek.
“You really like me?” she whispered in his ear.
“More than you’ll ever know.”
“You ain’t messing with my mind?”
“Why would I?”
“Ordering,” Tommy called out.
Bill stepped away and walked to the line from the fryer side, the side closest to Bea’s station and the entrance to the side dining room. His eyes met Bea’s. She leered at him.
“A Top medium-rare and a roast beef lunch,” Tommy called out.
Mary walked to the coffee urn and drew Bill a mug of java. She walked behind Bea and pinched her arm on her way back to the line. “Boy’s so drunk he can hardly stand,” she said.
“He’s still cute.”
“He is, isn’t he? He reminds me of Yulie.”
“That why you sweet on him?”
“I don’t know,” Mary said. “I’m all messed up.”
“Yeah,” Bea said. “You are. Robert would tell you to check out your mind.”
“Ain’t my mind that needs checking out,” Mary said.
“I’m still getting it when I can,” Bea said.
“It’s a free country,” Mary said.
She walked to the line and left Bill’s coffee on the side of the steam table where he wouldn’t spill it. She stood on the line a moment and watched them work. Bill was already slicing the roast beef for the platter he was about to make. Henry Lee was cooking the Top. He had greased the grill and cooked off some hamburgs and some Bleus, the oval shaped hamburgers stuffed with Bleu cheese. In the course of his kitchen career Bill would discover some things he did not care to eat. Bleus were one of them.
“You okay?” she asked Bill.
“Thanks for the coffee.”
“The boy can hardly stand up,” Tommy said. “And you aren’t doing him any favors by encouraging him, either.”
“No,” Mary said. “I don’t think I am.”
“It’s not up to her,” Bill said without looking up from what he was doing.
Tommy shook his head in scorn then went to get a coffee for himself. “You aren’t helping any too,” Tommy said to Bea when he was at the coffee urn by her station. Bea sat reading the racing page in the newspaper.
“I didn’t do anything,” Bea said.
“I know,” Tommy said. “ You’re all just one happy family.” He walked back to the line carrying his coffee and waited for the next orders.