jailhouse-door-2Monday, out east, was Bill’s first day as a cook. Robert picked him up downtown at nine  where the van picked up the dishwashers and drove him out personally. On the way, they discussed Bill’s needing a car. Robert said Mr. Bowman would loan him the money and he could pay him back with regular payroll deductions. He told Bill to think it over but there wasn’t much to think about. Sue’s father wouldn’t even loan them money for the rent. If his father gave him the loan that would be better, he thought, but he already owed his father and brother money. Mr. Bowman it was.

Only a week had gone by, but he’d worked all seven days. He and Sue had put away next month’s rent, they’d bought food and they’d opened a bank account and made a twenty-two dollar deposit. Things were definitely looking up.

Robert explained that Bill would no longer be paid in cash. He’d be going on the books immediately, making two dollars and ten cents an hour. He would be working about seventy hours a week, if he could stand it. He would be taught to be a broiler cook and that would be his primary function since Suburban East needed a broiler cook. He would be the night man, responsible for the dinners and the running of the kitchen. At lunch he would work the fryers, doing the French fries, fried shrimp and fried fish.

Robert told Bill he was going to learn to cut meat, do the prep cooking and then learn every job they had including the management jobs. Drenovis, Robert told Bill, would not be an issue. Robert said he’d already cleared all this with Mr. Bowman and he was having a meeting with Bowman and Drenovis that afternoon to make sure Drenovis got with the program.

Actually, once Robert explained it to Bill, it was quite simple. Robert was first cook for all of Suburban and all the kitchen help was loyal to him. Drenovis bucking Robert’s position would cause a mutiny Suburban could not afford. Some twenty years later, after Bill pinched a waitress on her privates with his tongs and she complained to the manager, the manager told her to leave his cooks alone. “Here’s the equation,” he said. “One cook equals ten waitresses.” So all the cooks were worth much more than one manager. An assistant manager could easily step up, but they simply couldn’t replace all the cooks quickly enough to keep orders flowing.

Alfreda, Henry Lee’s wife, and Mary, the East’s prep cook, both sang in the church choir Robert led. Alvin, Henry Lee and now Bill, owed their jobs to Robert, as did Mary and Alfreda. Drenovis didn’t have a chance. He couldn’t win the war with Bill and Bill wasn’t even a trained cook yet.

Bill stepped on the line in kitchen whites for the first time that day after meeting Mary, Bea, the pantry lady, and Henry Lee, the meat cutter. He helped Henry Lee carry up the trays of steaks and burgers to set in the reach-in box opposite the Garland on the line. He knew the cuts of meat, thanks to Robert. He also helped Mary by carrying things from the prep area to the line. Au jus, vegetables and soup du jour he took over one by one. Mary asked Bill to check the baked potatoes in the convection oven, and feeling that they were done, he pulled them out and packed them into a steam table insert. He covered the insert with aluminum foil and brought it out too.

By eleven just about everything was in place. Henry Lee had gone back downstairs to the meat room to drink some bourbon. Mary and Bea were sitting in the hallway resting. Bill had gone out the screen door and was leaning against the side of the restaurant smoking a cigarette. Robert had gone over to the west side to make sure they were all set up. He’d told Bill he’d be back to check in on him. Alvin, whom they all knew, was coming over to work the middle, cutting the round for the roast beef platters and plating burgers and bleus.

All seemed right with the world.

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