Bill could do the job. Not even three weeks later, he was proficient in handling the broiler and on his fourth Friday and Saturday night he handled the heavy weekend dinner rushes without any assistance. Alvin was sent over from the west, but he didn’t have to step in at all. He spent his evening shifts playing around with Henry Lee and getting drunk.
On Saturday, Mr. Bowman, the owner, came to eat along with his wife and kids. They came in the midst of the rush and gave strict orders that the kitchen not know he was there. Even Eleanor didn’t tell Bill. No one would ever cross the owner.
Since Bill did not know he was there, he didn’t know what the owner was eating or which order was his. But he would find out later from Mr. Bowman himself, and he would learn that it was a complicated order meant to trip up even the best broiler cooks in a dinner rush.
First, it came in in the height of the rush. Second, it was a four-top. Third it was meant to be difficult to bring up together: a King medium-well, a Top rare, a New York Strip medium-rare and a Boston medium-well. The thickest steak was toward the well done side and the thinnest was rare and everything had to come up together. The two strip steaks, also not thin ones, were tricky in and of themselves because the meats had different feels to them. That’s what was hardest to learn, the feel of how a steak was cooked by touching it with the tip of the tongs.
Lillian had called the order amidst a whole lot of steak orders and Bill was running a full grill. Alvin and Henry Lee stood in the hall at the doorway. Jimmy was doing the middle, fried fish, fried shrimp, French-fries, and he was finishing the plates with their sides, the potatoes and vegetables. Alvin and Henry Lee were goofing on Bill. Bill gave it back when he could. They were goofing on Lillian who kept ordering and didn’t pick up even when Bill told her he had to. So the kitchen dance went on, Alvin and Henry Lee just messing around until some orders for prime rib came in. Then Alvin stepped between Bill and Jimmy and cut the rib.
Overall, when all was done, they had run well, never falling behind and most orders coming up on time. When the broiler was mostly empty and Lillian had stepped out of the kitchen, Alvin and Henry Lee slapped Bill five.
“Goddamn,” Alvin said. “We got us a new broiler cook.”
“Good job, man,” Henry Lee said.
Bill lit a cigarette and went out in the hall to smoke it. Alvin and Henry Lee cut out, went downstairs and were going to head home. Lillian came back in the kitchen and put in her dinner order. That’s when she told Bill Mr. Bowman was there—she had found out when she had stepped out into the dining room.
About eleven, the waitresses came in ordering their dinners. Bill and Jimmy knocked out their orders quickly and then they took a break. A few late orders straggled in and Bill was on the line alone when Mr. Bowman came into the kitchen. He came around and onto the line where he stepped up to Bill.
“Congratulations,” he said. “I hear you did your first full weekend by yourself. I’m told you did a really good job.”
“Thank you,” Bill said.
“Robert told me you’d be great. Mary tells me you’re learning really fast. We have good plans for you. I had the King, two strips and the Top rare. Everything was just right.”
Bill smiled and thanked him again. He remembered the order.
“Well, I just stepped in to tell you you’re getting a raise. You’ll see it in your next paycheck. Keep up the good work.” Mr. Bowman reached out and shook Bill’s hand. “See you when I see you,” he said.
Bill watched Mr. Bowman head back out to the dining room. A moment later, the barmaid, Bebe, came in. She handed Bill a beer and put in her dinner order. She was the only one allowed to eat steak except for the managers and Lillian.
Just before closing, when all was finished, Eleanor came in to the kitchen and asked Bill if he wanted anything from the bar. Bill told her he wanted another beer, and he was sitting in the hall when she came back with it. She sipped from the bottle, rolled her tongue on it suggestively before handing it to Bill. Bill reached up her skirt and copped a good feel of her. She blew him a kiss and said “Tuesday, baby.”
Bill finished work and rode the Suburban van downtown where he caught the bus for home.