He was sitting quietly when Mary came in. She sat in the seat next to him, unscrewed the cap of the bottle and took a drink. Her kitchen dress was mostly open now. She’d probably unbuttoned it on the way down, Bill thought, as he’d seen her do lots of times. She was coming down to change into her civvies but since she hadn’t seen Bill, she’d probably gone looking for him and buttoned one or two buttons again on the way. He could see just about her whole bra and then just about all the way up her legs to her panties.
“I just came from the meat room,” she said. “Henry Lee is waiting for you.”
Bill told her okay. He didn’t know what she’d seen, if anything, and he wasn’t letting on what he’d seen. He took another drink.
“You gonna be okay to do your shift?” she asked.
“Don’t think you moving too fast?”
“What you mean?”
“Two waitresses. Messing with me and Bea, maybe gonna do something you really don’t want to do. Drinking, drugging. And you on probation too. We been through this before.”
“Very funny, fool. I care for you.”
“How do you know I don’t want to do what I’m doing?”
“I don’t think you know jack.”
“Maybe,” Bill said. He reached his hand to her lap and unbuttoned the buttons holding her dress closed. The dress fell open so he could see her white panties.
“Maybe,” Mary said, mocking him. “Maybe,” she said again. “What would make you happy?”
Bill reached his hand to her and felt her along the inside of her thighs up to and on to her panties. He smiled at her. “I’m gonna owe the boss a bottle,” he said.
“I’ll take one from inventory and put it back in place,” she said. “Yulie was crazy like you.” She held his hand on her a moment then kissed it and returned it to him. “Too bad you’re white,” she said. “Otherwise I’d steal you away.”
“I’m the one that’s tripping. I don’t believe that for a second.”
Mary stood up and gathered the dress around her. She leaned in and kissed Bill full on his lips. “Believe it,” she said.
Bill watched her walk out of the party room then took the bottle with him and returned to the meat room. Henry Lee was cleaning his knives having finished his work. Bill handed him the bottle, watched him take a long pull after which he put the bottle in the drawer next to the one he’d brought with him in the morning. Then they both donned the arctic parkas and went into the deep freeze.
When they’d come out and hung up the parkas, they took a drink then started carrying up the meat trays.
Marie was over on the pantry station with Bea. Bea was showing her what was done and what was left to do. Finished the briefing, she walked through the line to the door. Bill was bent over arranging the meat in the reach-in. She goosed him as she went past and told him have a good night. Then she told Henry Lee to go straight home and headed downstairs to change her clothes.
Alvin and Jimmy came in at five-thirty. Jimmy was the night line cook, the only part-time cook. Alvin had come from the west store. He would leave around eight and take Henry Lee home. Tommy came in shortly after they arrived. Bea and Mary were in their street clothes saying goodbye. It was the end of another day for them, the midst of one for Bill, Alvin and Henry Lee, and the start of one for Marie and Jimmy. Grandma had not come in yet.
All was set. All was as usual. Bill, still tripping, was on the way down.
Bill’s only thought heading downstairs was to get into the deep freeze to smoke a doobie and then get to that bottle of bourbon. He had filed the meat count in his head and was intent upon smoking the weed before carrying up the steaks. His goal now was to take the speed edge out of the remainder of his trip.
What a difference a day makes! He was proficient at carrying trays balanced on his shoulder now, and thinking about it, he remembered that first day, not even a full shift, that he was a busboy. He spilled the soup, he got a waitress, Eleanor. Or, he thought, Eleanor got me. Then there was Norma. Norma lost favor with Drenovis once his scheme to use her to antagonize Eleanor failed and he discovered she was ready, willing and able to do the cook he would have fired if he could have. Eleanor was wild. Norma was downright crazy.
He stopped in the bathroom to pee on his way to the meat room. Finished, he washed his hands carefully, spent a long while looking at his trippy face in the mirror. He watched his face do contortions even though he wasn’t moving, watched it melt into the mirror, watched the mirror melt into the wall. Time to go, he thought. Mesmerized by his trippy face, he had to pull himself away, which he finally did. He turned the corner for the meat room.
This time of day Tommy never came downstairs unless they were getting a meat delivery. Tommy was busy closing out the paperwork from the lunch, checking out the receipts, tallying and paying out the tips to the day-shift waitresses. When he finished his paperwork in the office, he checked the line in the kitchen to make sure it was completely set, then he went back out front to monitor the incoming waitresses and assign stations.
Bill counted on Tommy not coming downstairs. Apparently Henry Lee counted on it too. When Bill turned into the meat room he saw Marie bent over the band saw on which they cut the steamship round, her dress up over her back, her panties down at her ankles. She was bare-ass and Henry Lee was mounted on her like a male dog. He was pumping away.
Marie saw Bill. Henry Lee saw him. Neither one of them stopped or made any attempt to cover up. Bill lingered a moment. He was surprise-frozen and his feet felt cemented in place. To him, it wasn’t sexual per se. It was more existential, there but abstracted and non-linear, at least on one level.
“I’ll come back,” he said when he got his wits about him.
“Yeah you do that,” Henry Lee said. “You can have a turn if you want.”
Bill didn’t answer. He was shied by that remark and he backed out the doorway into the hall. He walked into the party room across the way. It was dark and cool. Only a few lights shone. One was the red exit sign over the guests’ entrance doors across the room. Another was a beer sign above the bar. A few others were floor lights that stayed lit for building code safety regulations. He walked behind the bar and took a fresh bottle of bourbon. He cracked the seal and took a long swig, then a second one, then he sat down at the bar and listened to the silence ringing in his ears. He closed his eyes and watched the dancing bears. Amidst the bears was the image he’d just formed of Marie and Henry Lee at the band saw.
At four Marie came in. She didn’t stop in the kitchen but went straight down the stairs to change into her uniform. By this time, despite the initial delay, the breading was mostly done. Bill was working on and almost finished with the last tray of onion rings. Mary was coasting, all her work done except taking the prime rib from the oven and the baked potatoes from the convection oven. She was waiting for Bill to carry out the rib and cart it to the line. She was also waiting for him to determine that the potatoes were ready and put them into a steam table insert. She sat on a stool. She was resting, drinking a beer and reading the newspaper.
Bea’s station was set, the salad mixed for house salads, the Romaine lettuce washed and cut for Caesar salads. Bea had spent most of the last hour prepping everything for Marie. She’d filled all the inserts on her station, the cold food station, and cleaned away the lunch specials. The tuna and shrimp salad were wrapped and set in the reach-in box, the tuna for tomorrow, the shrimp salad for anyone who wanted it for their dinner. She would tell Marie about the shrimp salad’s availability. Shrimp for shrimp cocktail were set in ice water in a bain marie. All the salad dressing containers were filled for the waitresses and a tray of “setups” sat in the reach-in box. Setups were lettuce, tomato and pickle stacked for garnish for hamburger platters. As a waitress picked up a burger, she stopped first for a setup and put it on the platter.
Bea was responsible for the the desserts too. Mary made the rice pudding and chocolate pudding. Bea set out full pans of each in the reach-in. Waitresses dished them up and put the dollop of whipped cream on. Then there was ice cream and pies, apple, cherry and blueberry. Today’s special was chocolate cream pie. Marie would help the waitresses with these things as needed.
The line was mostly ready. Bill had not done the inventory yet, but since he’d worked lunch and done the breading, he knew there were enough fries in the reach-in freezer and enough of all breaded items too. He would inventory the meat box and carry up trays of the steaks he needed for the dinner.
Only after he’d cleaned up the breading station and delivered the empty trays to the dishwasher did he take a moment to mess around with Mary. He whispered crazy stuff in her ear, things he was going to…
“Yeah, yeah,” Mary said not stopping reading the paper.
“Yeah,” he said. He drank some of her beer, then ambled over to the oven where the rib was. He was unaware that Mary trailed him and when he bent down to check it, Mary goosed him from behind, copping a generous feel of all of him.
“Two can play that game,” she said.
“Watch your ass now,” Bill said.
“Get the rib, stupid,” Mary said. She went back to her stool, her beer and the newspaper.
Rib and baked potatoes set on the line, Bill walked the whole line making sure everything was in place and that each item had a ladle or spoon as needed. Satisfied, he checked the meat box, made a mental note as to what had to be brought up. Then he went around to Mary and told her he was going down for meat.
Mary blew him a kiss bye. She hadn’t budged from her stool and didn’t even look up from the paper. As an afterthought, she called out “Don’t trip down the stairs.”
Bill would never be prepared for what he saw and would never be able to obliterate it from the image file inside his mind.
When Bill did the onion rings, the eggs were still trippy eggs. He saw all kinds of things in them from flowers to cartoon dinosaurs. But he could see things now and still work-function. He could do the onion rings, even keep one hand dry, and he could follow what was going on in the kitchen. He watched Mary, followed what she was doing, watched Bea washing a big sink full of iceberg. He could look down the open part of her kitchen dress as she leaned over that sink, peek in at what he could see of her bosom. At about 45 and a good fifty pounds overweight, that was more than an ample bosom. Bill had felt it several times, two large, floppy mounds capped with big dark raisins. He was going to bite those raisins one day. He knew he would.
While he was on the second tray of onion rings, Mary brought Bill another espresso. He drank it down, but then Evelyn came into the kitchen. She needed some salt and pepper to fill the shakers in the side dining room. Bea went to the store room to get it for her and Bill told her to bring him a beer. She went out of the kitchen and came back with a cold one. Bill grabbed her and kissed her, right there in front of Mary.
“That’s your mind on drugs,” Mary said.
“Is he on drugs?” Evelyn asked.
“He’s all messed up. But he’s cute.”
“He is cute,” Evelyn said. As she said this, Bill reached up her skirt and pinched her privates. She flushed red in the face and stepped away from his reach.
When Bea returned with the salt and pepper, after Evelyn had left the kitchen, after he’d finished the tray he was working on and set it in the freezer, Bill took a cigarette from Bea’s pack and lit it with her lighter. He stood on her station smoking, drinking the beer and watching her work. Really he was looking at her wide ass and thick legs and Bea knew he was looking.
“Why you so horny today?” she asked.
“He’s on drugs,” Mary said. “That’s why I’m feeding him all that coffee.
“Shit,” Bea said. “Too bad I didn’t know sooner.”
“Good thing,” Mary said. “If it’s moving…”
“Yeah, I got the idea,” Bea said.
“Ever skinny dipped?” he asked Bea.
“Not with you.”
He remembered the time they’d all tripped and gone to the quarry to skinny dip. He was driving Hank’s ’60 Chevy and the road was going up and down in ocean waves. He opened the driver’s door to make sure he was on the road. It was a three-speed standard on the column, fun to drive. Nina and Tony, in the back, had already gotten naked. Pam, next to him in the front, was stripping. When they got there, Bill stripped and dove in. He remembered that trippy dive. He remembered it all, all the way down the rabbit hole.
“With anyone?” he asked.
“Ain’t had that pleasure. You?”
“No,” Bill lied. He had no idea why he lied, but once he’d crossed that threshold, it was done.
“Why you ask then? Wanna see me naked? Hell, I ain’t shy.”
“Gonna finish those onion rings?” Mary called out.
Bill drank the rest of the beer. He put out the cigarette on the floor and kicked the butt under the table. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m ready now.”
“You could see me naked any time,” Bea said
“Don’t wear underwear tomorrow,” Bill said.
“Crazy ass white boy,” Bea said.
Bill wondered if she would do what he said and he toyed with notion.
Coming soon, a new novel.
Rose’s story is framed by a former Georgia Senator suddenly killed in an alleged murder-suicide just two weeks before publishing a scathing report linking high-ranking Georgia officials and Georgia’s Child Protective Services (CPS) to child trafficking and child prostitution.
In fact, the Senator’s death looks more like a double murder than a murder-suicide by a distraught husband, yet local police and FBI never even explore the possibility. As a result, it is later established that no forensic evidence was seriously collected. Why?
Rose can hire any writer at any price. She chooses Murph in order to stay low key and undetected and she asks Murph to familiarize himself with the Senator’s death to explain her rationale. Rose must tell her story, yet she fears the repercussions of directly challenging CPS.
Look for Rose’s Story to appear during the spring.
“Yulie was a cousin of Robert’s,” Mary said. “He was a drunk and a drug addict, but he was the best as far as cooks go. He and Robert set up the place and opened it. They hired me as the prep cook.
“I was in love with Yulie. My husband, father to my kids, left me cause he didn’t want to support his children. He didn’t want nothing but to hit it with as many young girls as he could. He was finished with me the first time I got pregnant but that didn’t stop him from making me pregnant a second time.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish, I thought. I started leaving the kids with my mother so I could work. I stayed away from men for a very long time. Even Yulie. All together, my experiences with men ain’t been so wonderful. Except for Yulie, I could have… Well anyway this ain’t about that.”
Bill looked at Mary. “How long we gonna sit here?” he asked.
“Till you drink another espresso and I finish my story,” Mary said.
“You know I know you don’t have tattoos. But they were dancing on your arms before. You’re doing a good job of bringing me down when I don’t want to come down. So I’m gonna drink some more bourbon and smoke some more weed. I am sorry about your marriage.”
“Well don’t be. I don’t need you being sorry for me.”
“I’m not sorry for you. I’m sorry you had a crappy marriage.”
“I got three lovely kids,” Mary said. “My big boy and twin girls.”
“Robert told me.”
“Well Yulie, he came out here to work when they opened this one. He used to be so drunk he’d fall to his knees during the service. Alvin be on one side of him and whoever it was be on the other side. They’d pick him up by his underarms and he’d go right back to work without missing a step. He was sweet on me and I was in love with him.”
“Okay,” Bill said. “So what’s the bad news?”
“He killed himself with an overdose. Heroin.”
“That’s too bad.”
“He wasn’t even thirty. You remind me of him, especially today. You’re about as crazy as he was and you do the same stupid shit.”
“Yeah, okay. See what I mean about bringing me down?”
“Tough titty,” Mary said. “You ready to do some breading now?”
Back in the kitchen, they spent the next hour together doing all the breading that needed to be done for what Mary hoped would be the rest of the week. Mary did most of it and Bill still hallucinated in the egg wash. In between trays, Mary put potatoes to bake in the convection oven. She went around to the line and set water into the steam table, then she poured Bordelaise sauce into a steam table insert and set it in place. She did the same with au jus. The one oven that had a kitchen towel tied around the handle contained a prime rib. Mary checked it but it wasn’t quite done yet. Looking at the clock, she told Bill to take it out at four.
When the shrimp was breaded, Mary told Bill to forget the onion rings, that they would do them the next day. She told him to go downstairs to the party room and take himself a good nap. Bill looked at Mary as if she were crazy. Then he smiled at her and said he’d do the onion rings today. “You don’t understand acid,” he told her. “I’m not sleeping for a long time, unless maybe you got some Quaaludes.”
“Boy,” Mary said, “you really are tripping.”
“Girl,” Bill said, “I really am.”