Friday night came near to a Friday night record. The first orders started trickling in a little before five. Bill hadn’t even finished setting up the line yet and he found himself cooking steaks and frying pickerel. He made the final trips downstairs for the last of the meat trays between orders.
Alfreda had driven over to pick up the meats for the west side, and at one point Bill had found himself alone with her in the van.
“Bea told me about you.”
“Well she got a big mouth.”
“When I get my turn?”
“When hell freezes over or you get divorced.”
“Don’t let him stand in the way. He’s hitting anything that moves.”
“Me no see, me no tell,” Bill said.
“I’m getting mine,” Alfreda said.
“Yeah, okay,” Bill said.
She winked at Bill. “I got a plan. You’ll see.”
“All right,” Bill said.
By six, when Jimmy came in, Bill was running a board full of orders. Mary had considered sliding in to help him, but she watched him work, waiting to see how he handled what he had.
In fact, she decided, he handled it well. He put out what was ready when it was ready and brought up each order all together so nothing had to wait under the warmer lights. He hit the bell for each order and worked on.
Both Norma and Evelyn were working. Almost everyone was working, and on nights like these two waitresses served as runners. This meant that for the night all tips would be pooled and split evenly.
Norma and Evelyn did not have bad blood between them. Evelyn was keen on Bill, but like Bill she had a live-in. She wasn’t jealous, only pissed at Drenovis for messing her up. Norma wasn’t getting great shifts either even though Drenovis had hired four new girls already, three of whom he’d bedded.
Norma had no feelings for Bill. She’d accommodated Drenovis which had led to fooling around with Bill. For her, it was just fun. After the initial time, she and Bill had several little downstairs trysts–good fun for both of them, but nothing more. Bill made sure not to mess around with her when Evelyn was working.
Alvin came over from the west side around seven. Bea and Mary were gone. Grandma was in back, baking more potatoes, making sure they had enough vegetables and gravy and au jus. When Grandma got an order for fried chicken, Alvin asked her to fry him an order too. He stood on the line eating that chicken while he worked the orders they had.
Tommy called orders until Lillian came in. Lillian was like the little old lady from Pasadena. She had a deep, gravelly voice, only stood about five feet tall. Her hair was completely white and she wore big-rimmed glasses.
Bill already had nightmares about Lillian. In the recurring dream that would last many years post Lillian, Bill was drowning in steaks that had to be picked up but all Lillian would do is order. Ordering, ordering, ordering, ordering–those were the words Bill heard over and over in the dream. Ordering, ordering, ordering, ordering.
Bill didn’t leave the line until after eleven. Henry Lee came up twice to replenish the meat supply. Grandma worked late. Marie found herself having to wash more lettuce. Bill smoked while he worked, careful not to get ashes on anything. He had Lillian have a continual supply of coffee and diet coke brought in for him. Alvin drank beer. Jimmy drank water.
Overall, they performed well. Bill was sweat-soaked and his apron brown from meat grease where he wiped his hands. Also, his shirt was soaked with meat grease under the right armpit where he held the tongs so he could use both hands.
“Goddamn,” Alvin said when they had emptied the board. “That second dining room’s a bitch.”
Generally the west side store beat the east in volume. Not this night. Not this weekend. This weekend the east earned its keep and then some.