kitchen-4About the same time Bill was reaching for the sizzling platter, the screen door out in the hall slapped shut. Robert shuffled in and headed down the stairs. He wasn’t down there even a minute before Mary, who had seen him come in, called for him.

Henry Lee had started to yell “No,” but before he got the word out Bill had already left the skin from the five fingertips of his right hand on that sizzler . Bill was in shock. Henry Lee could see Bill swoon and almost fall. He quickly dropped the rag into the fryer and took hold of Bill before he could actually go down.

“Uh, Mary,” Henry Lee said, “you better come over here.”

Mary came around her stoves and the broiler and onto the line. “Aw, shit,” she said. “Lord have mercy.” She called out for Robert who, a moment later, in his usual style, shuffled onto the line. He surveyed the scene. Henry Lee was holding Bill. Mary held his hand, burned fingertips up. Alvin sat over by Bea, on her stool, having divorced himself from the whole thing. He was reading Bea’s newspaper.

Robert didn’t say a word. He took hold of Bill’s wrist and forced that hand over the open fire of the charcoal grill. He held it there momentarily, cauterizing the burns. “Be mindful what you’re touching, boy,” he said.

Henry Lee took up his tongs, took up a sizzler, retrieved the grease-soaked rag from the fryer. Bill, still dazed, watched as he slid the rag over grills of the broiler. Smoke steamed up. He slid a half dozen bleus and a dozen burgers on the broiler. They hissed and steamed and spit. A moment later he flipped the burgers and rolled the bleus. Another moment later he took off the burgers and set them in a steam table insert with au jus. Then he rolled the bleus again. He took off all but one, let that one cook all the way through. Alvin dropped some fries and when they were done, they plated the bleu with the fries. Henry Lee tapped the bell. The waitress came in for her order.

At noon Tommy came in. He called the orders for the lunches. Lunches were fast and furious, bang, bang, bang and then it was over. Big hitters on the menu were fresh carved roast beef au jus and top sirloin steaks. They sold a boatload of hamburgers too and about a dozen bleus, which were oval shaped hamburgers stuffed with bleu cheese. Bill did not like to make them, let alone eat them.

After lunch, the cooks ate at a table in the side dining room. Amazingly, the pain in Bill’s burned fingers had gone away. He sat with Mary and Robert, Robert talking with Mary about the plans for Bill and the issue with Drenovis. He told Mary to teach Bill everything she could.

“Why’d you put my hand over the fire?” Bill asked.

“So you wouldn’t be afraid of it,” Robert said.

“Lord have mercy,” Mary said.

“You learn everything you can, fast as you can.” Robert smiled. “What’s good to you is good for you,” he said. “Mary take care of you mostly from here on in. I got to be back out west. Remember, be mindful what you touch.”

“Everything’s hot and most things slide,” Mary said. She laughed. She got up from the table. Robert got up too. He said bye and left. The cooks went back to work. Bill followed Mary, checking her out as she walked. “Quit looking at my ass,” Mary said without looking back.

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