kitchen-4Orders trickled in for the rest of the night. Grandma left when Mr. Jim and Henry Lee did. The unwritten rule was that when she left they cut off the fried chicken orders, not that any of the other cooks couldn’t do it, but so that consistency was maintained. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency was the first rule of successful restaurants: everything needed to be the same every time so repeat customers couldn’t say “this isn’t what I got last time I ordered it.”

Jimmy smoked a cigarette out in the hall. Bill saw Evelyn and asked her to bring in sodas for all the dishwashers, a beer for him and a canned soda for Jimmy. Jimmy was in his first year of college and worked part-time so he could afford tuition. He was related to one of the bookkeepers for Suburban, someone Bill had never met. He generally worked from six PM until the dinner rush was over, but he never cut out until somewhere between ten and eleven. He did as much clean up as he could, then he took off.

As far as Bill knew, Jimmy could do anything on the line within reason. He could not handle a broiler the way Bill, now an experienced broiler cook, could, but he could cook the steaks to the right setting so if it wasn’t busy, Bill could leave the line or do some other work like strain the fryers or change the grease while being assured the orders were handled.

The first time the dishwasher stopped running, Bill cooked four steaks for the crew. He brought them over and they stopped working altogether so they could eat in peace. One time Bill had fed them steaks, Drenovis walked in and saw them eating. He yelled at Bill and told him the steaks cost money. Bill stayed calm and replied that without them none of his customers would be eating. Drenovis had cursed Bill, but Bill just laughed and told him he should pay for his own steaks.

Dishwashers fed, a beer in his stomach, no orders on the board, Bill slowly began the cleanup. Jimmy hung out after he finished his smoke and his soda, until it was apparent the rush was over and nothing that Bill couldn’t handle would occur. Of course that was always a speculation. One time a party of twenty had come in about eleven-thirty. Tommy wouldn’t turn them away since it was twenty dinners. A few orders had come in on top of the twenty—that was because some people had seen them go in and get seated and wanted to be seated too. So it was always possible to get swamped late, but it was highly unusual.

Bill drank a second beer while he cleaned up. He started this night with emptying the grease drawer on the second Garland and then brushing down the grills. With that done, he soaped up with the grease-cutter soap they used all over the front, top to bottom, and wiped it down. Satisfied, he went on to the charcoal grill. He shut it down then  brushed and cleaned both sides. He leaned in on the underneath shelf and soaped it, scrubbed it, wiped it. It shined pretty well.

The fryers were next. He knew he should change the grease, but he didn’t. He strained in instead and reminded himself to tell Tommy he would get it in the morning before the Sunday dinner service started. Sunday was like a half day since they opened late and closed early.

After the fryers, he went to work breaking down the steam table. He hadn’t noticed it, but Eleanor had come in the kitchen with another beer for him. She was standing in the doorway to the hall and back door.

“Gonna give me a proper good-bye?” she asked, handing him the beer.

Bill looked at her but didn’t say anything so she took his hand and slid it up under her uniform skirt.

“You wouldn’t let me go without saying good-bye, would you?”

“Guess not,” Bill said.

Coming Soon:

The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide