They went straight through. It began slightly after opening. Tommy set himself up to call the orders and the orders came in rapid fire. Bill ran a full broiler almost the whole day. Henry Lee came up twice so Bill could go to the bathroom. Lillian came in two hours early and she relieved Tommy so he could take care of the front of the house.
At the busiest point Bill ran a full broiler, a full charcoal grill and a semi-full second broiler. Mr. Jim sliced the prime rib to order and put the sides and garnishes on all the plates. No matter how busy they were, Mr. Jim worked one speed, steady, and his steady speed matched the rate of the orders going out. He was never nonplussed, never raised his voice and never discourteous. He referred to Lillian as “love” or “darling” or just by her name. Tommy he would talk to, guide so to speak, telling him what Bill needed sometimes even before Bill himself knew. Lillian he would gently coax. “Need to go with some steaks, Darling,” he would say, or “Pick up what you can from the boy, Love. Gotta go.”
Lillian liked Mr. Jim. He calmed her. Her greatest fear was not getting all her orders on the grill and running so far behind they could never catch up. She didn’t care so much that they ran behind, but she was damned if running behind was gonna be her fault. Mr. Jim’s sweet-talk voice, smooth and beguiling, wheedled her into complying with the real needs from the other side of the counter. Every time she adhered to what Mr. Jim had cunningly demanded of her, Mr. Jim praised her and reminded her that due to her expertise, they were keeping on course.
To Bill, quietly, he spoke in confidence. “What’s the point in yelling or arguing? Lillian’s gonna do it as she does it, and you already know how she does it. Find a work around.” Even with a full grill, sometimes Bill stopped to look at Mr. Jim. “What’s your longest cooking steak?” Mr. Jim asked Bill. “Put one or two of those up front, getting ready to get ready. You know how to rotate everything. Think ahead. The busier you get, the more you got to think ahead.” Mr. Jim would laugh sometimes. “When it gets really crazy,” he said, “the sane head always wins out.”
Tommy came in mid-evening to relieve Lillian so she could go to the bathroom and catch a smoke. When he came in, Bill stepped off the line and lit a cigarette. Tommy had Norma, who was a runner this evening, take drink orders from the kitchen. Bill made sure the dishwashers were included in the order, and as he always did when they were so swamped the dishwashers were working non-stop, he sent over steaks for each of them. Drenovis called the dishwasher operation the asshole of the industry. Mr. Jim had taught Bill that life was miserable when your asshole wasn’t working right and reminded Bill that they were hardworking people and deserved to be treated as such.
Bea worked with Marie side by side for awhile so Marie could get up to speed. Marie completely replenished everything on the pantry station while Bea put out the orders. Seemed to Bea now that her and Bill this morning was so long ago, like in a whole other time and space. Mary was cooking fresh pots of vegetables and baking potatoes endlessly. She even set and started a second large pan of yellow rice. Yellow rice—they called it saffron but it wasn’t really—was one of the regular side choices. She and Bea were working overtime and wouldn’t go home until nine. Mr. Jim was working late too, not on any schedule. He had agreed to stick around until the orders started tapering off.
Coming at the end of May 2017:
The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide
Saturday was beyond gangbusters. It was positively wild.
Mary had words for both Bill and Bea when they came upstairs.
“Keep it in your damn pants,” she told Bill. “And you,” she said to Bea. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“The boy’s young,” Bea said. “He be ready for you in twenty minutes.”
“Lord have mercy,” Mary said. But she was thinking about it.
Bill drank another cup of coffee and hid himself in the meat room. Henry Lee put him to cutting Bostons, Supers and Tops and told him Alfreda would be by about noon for the meat pickup. Suburban West had depleted most of its inventory, so they were cutting some thirteen or fourteen hundred steaks for both stores. After the west took its meat, Henry Lee would make sure the East’s supply was plentiful, and then start into the Sunday supply so there wouldn’t be that much work to do. He was already planning to party with Marie and get himself totally drunk.
Saturdays and Sundays were easier in the sense that they had no lunch meal. This meant that Mary could concentrate solely on the dinner. She also had more time to prepare since they opened for business later in the day, at one PM. She had no lunch specials, no steamship round to cook. Bill had brought up two prime ribs. They were in one pan in one oven, the oven marked with a dishtowel tied around its handle.
Bea, sated now, went about her work. She washed two cases of lettuce instead of one and while the lettuce sat in cold water in the sink on her station, she replenished all the salad dressings. She left an extra bain marie filled with each dressing, and she helped Mary by cooking off her own shrimp for the shrimp cocktails. Mary threw her evil eyes each time she walked over to check the shrimp, but Bea assured her it was just…physical…and there was still plenty of the young white boy for her.
At noon, Alfreda arrived with the van. By this time, all the waitresses had been working a full hour. The dishwashers were cleaning up the all the dishes and condiment dishes that hadn’t been finished the night before, so the exhaust fans over the stoves droned mercilessly, the dish machine hummed its annoying, splashing hum and things throughout the kitchen and dining rooms were bustling.
Bill started carrying up the meat shortly after Alfreda popped her head into the meat room. She had stopped upstairs to say hello to Bea and Mary, had drawn herself a coffee and gone downstairs. She kissed her husband hello then sat herself on the stainless steel counter and watched them cutting meat until Bill finished the top sirloin butt he was working on.
She followed Bill up when he climbed the stairs with two meat trays on his shoulder. He pushed through the screen door, her right behind him, and she opened the van cargo doors for him. For each tray he brought up, he took several empty, clean trays from the van.
Alfreda watched. At one point, she climbed up into the van and stood in Bill’s way so he had to get past her to get back out. She reminded him that she had a plan but that he wouldn’t be privy to it until she was ready to implement it. She told him Bea had already told her about their morning quickie and that she was jealous, but not that jealous, just kind of envious. She asked if he liked black girls. Bill asked if she liked white boys. She kissed him once and got away with it because his hands were full. She goosed him every chance she could get, when he was stepping up into the van and when he was loading full trays onto the van’s racks.
“He ain’t getting away with it,” Alfreda said.
“I don’t know nothing,” Bill said. “And I don’t want to know nothing. My name is Been It and I ain’t in it.”
“Oh, you in it all right,” Alfreda said.
Then the van was loaded and she was gone and Bill, Henry Lee, Mary, Bea, Mr. Jim and Jimmy prepared themselves for the gang-buster night.