kitchen-4All was right with the world, but that didn’t make everything perfect or even right.

Alvin went down to be with Henry Lee and when they came back up  at eleven-thirty they were both near drunk. Bea had spent some time informing Bill that she was the boss. She had the keys to all things including the linens and she made it clear that she ran the show, meaning the dishwashers and the kitchen help. Of course Henry Lee and Alvin scoffed at this, laughing at her but not challenging her unless her orders were specifically aimed at them. Then they told her to kiss various parts of their anatomy, not just their butts. Mary, whose only female camaraderie in the kitchen was Bea, steered clear of all the BS, but when Alvin grabbed her and started to cop some feels, she smacked him upside his head. “Go back out west, asshole,” she said. Alvin laughed at her and told her she needed to get some. Henry Lee told Alvin she didn’t need his ugly black ass and they both laughed.

Stricter decorum took over when a waitress brought in the first order. The three dishwashers were in place now and Mary was back on her station in the prep area of the kitchen. The prep area was directly behind the line. The line equipment and the prep stoves and convection ovens were back to back and what separated them. This way the exhaust fans in the hoods overhead served them both. Mary could not really see through everywhere, but she could see some.

Mostly the line cooks were looking toward the waitresses and the serving shelves with the warmer lights. Bea’s pantry station was to the left of the line and even with it. She worked facing the line, her serving shelf set in front of her so the waitresses could move along, pick up salads and hot foods without having to go around anything. It was an L. Next to Bea as she faced the line was her reach-in box where she stored salads ahead, dressings and desserts.

Opposite Bea, on the other side of the kitchen and just before the door to the hall that led to the back door one way and down to the meat room the other way, was the dish machine and pot washing sink. Three men stood there now. They were all smoking cigarettes even though no one was supposed to smoke in the kitchen. At the very end of the line, attached to the stainless steel counter was the knife sheath. In it were two chef’s knives, a carving knife, and three boning knives, each a different length.

The first order was a single bleu with French fries. Bill watched as Henry Lee used his tongs to pick up a clean kitchen rag. He walked over to the fryers and dipped the rag in one of the two of them. Realizing he had nothing to catch the dripping grease on, he asked Bill to hand him one of the sizzling platters stacked up on the charcoal grill. He did not consider that Bill was a new cook, a novice, and that Bill would take that request literally. He didn’t mean Bill to reach for it. He meant Bill to take up a tongs to reach for it, or maybe a kitchen fork and use the prongs to hook it so Henry Lee could drop the grease-soaked rag on it and take it from him with his tongs. That’s what Alvin, a seasoned veteran cook would have done.

But not Bill. It was his first day as a cook. He was trying to please. He was trying to do good. He was trying to get by. He reached for the sizzler with his bare hand never even thinking it would be red-hot.