kitchen-4Mary sat next to Bill in the booth, not opposite him, not to be close to him but to stop him from getting up. Bill drank coffee, Mary talked.

Yulie was related to Alvin which was how Alvin had gotten his job. Yulie was one of the original cooks at Suburban, him and Robert.

Robert had known Mr. Bowman when he was a manager at one of the other steak houses in Columbus. Robert was the broiler cook and he and Mr. Bowman, over there, established a most complex relationship. First, Mr. Bowman ran a numbers game and Robert, who had tons of friends and acquaintances, mostly from his position in the church, became a numbers runner. That was how Bill had met him downtown that day he’d gone to check in with his PO. Robert had been busted for running numbers and was sweeping out the City Hall Annex, where Bailey’s office was located. That was his work detail. Not for nothing, but Bailey played the numbers with Robert and had seen to it that Robert got an easy sentence and easy work detail.

Robert was wildly gay. Mr. Bowman was bi. He was married with two kids, long-time married, in fact, and he was crazy about his wife and kids. But he was also crazy about Robert. Robert was a loose cannon. They became an item, hush hush around Suburban of course, even though everyone knew. At Suburban, everyone knew everything though no one said anything. That’s how kitchen families were.

Mr. Bowman made a lot of money with his numbers game. One day he and Robert were talking after they’d been together at a place Robert kept but which Mr. Bowman paid for. It was a simple, one bedroom apartment nicknamed The Upper Room, a place where the people at Suburban went to mess around with people they weren’t supposed to be messing around with, a place where Bill and Mary had not yet been but would end up going. Robert was joking and suggested that Mr. Bowman should start his own steak house. Bowman would bankroll it and run it. Robert would arrange and maintain the kitchen crew. He was sure they could do a better job than any of the other steak houses around.

“Finish the coffee,” Mary said. She got up from the booth and got him another cup of black coffee, this one with an espresso mixed in. “How you doing?” she asked when she sat back down.

“The fat lady still singing,” Bill said. “Literally.” He laughed. “I’m fine,” he said. “I’m still tripping and hallucinating, but I can work now.”

“You sure boy?”

“I’m sure. How you doing?”

“My panties are wet, thank you very much.”

“Lucky you.”

“You know we’re gonna have to finish this.”

“Of course I know.”

“Good,” Mary said.

She went on with her story. Robert and Mr. Bowman started making the rounds to all the steak houses to see what they were about and gather ideas for what they wanted. Then one day they saw the  for sale sign at the place where Suburban West opened. It had the restaurant curse: the place had opened and closed multiple times and no one could seem to make a go of it there. They agreed it was perfect. Mr. Bowman got it cheap on a fifty-year lease with an option to buy. Suburban was born.