kitchen-4“I’m not too happy,” Tommy said to Mary who still stood on the line.

“Even drunk like he is, he’s one of the best we ever trained,” Mary said. “You give him a few more months he be as good as Yulie.”

“And fall-down drunk like him too,” Tommy said. Then, “And don’t think I don’t know you’re all high too. Smoking that stupid stuff in the deep freeze.”

Mary looked to her feet. “I got things to do in the back,” she said. “I’ll step in if you need me.” She quickly walked off the line.

Bill and Henry Lee were doing the service without Mr. Jim. Mr. Jim had gone to a doctor’s appointment and Tommy had not called over to the west for a cook. Ordinarily he preferred to have a three-man line. It was more efficient and assured them, as much as they could ever be assured, of not running behind.

Bill dropped a basket of fries when he saw the Top just about ready. Next he plated the roast beef he’d sliced. It took mashed potatoes and gravy. He scooped out a mashed potatoes portion with the ice cream scooper they used then formed a pocket in the rounded scoop with the bottom of the gravy ladle. He ladled gravy into the pocket, ladled some gravy atop the meat and set the plate up under the warmer light. The plate was picture-perfect.

Next he tapped the fryer basket handle so he could see the fries easily. He waited that extra moment to make the fries perfectly golden then lifted the basket and shook it vigorously to get the grease off. When Henry Lee plated the steak, he plated the fries and set the plate up next to the roast beef. Tommy rang the bell. He sipped his coffee.

Bill and Henry Lee stepped off the line and went out into the hall. Bea followed since there were no orders. She sat, as she always did, on the lettuce cases, the top of the top case already rounded with her imprint. Bill sat lower down on a metal milk case. Henry Lee lit a cigarette and stood by the door.

“We need more bourbon,” he said.

“I ain’t driving,” Bill said. “At least not till after I eat. I’m too drunk.”

“Send one of your little bimbos,” Henry Lee said.

Bea chuckled, her throaty laugh. She sat, as usual, with her legs spread wide so the air could get up there, so Bill could see up there. She liked when Bill looked and Bill liked to look, especially when she wasn’t wearing underwear, which was sometimes. Today she was just sweaty. Bill and Henry Lee were sweaty too. The kitchen was hot, always hot, winter and summer.

“Close them legs, you old hussy,” Henry Lee said. “He messed up enough already.”

Bea, ever herself, spread her legs wider and reached up there. She moved the panties aside slightly and scratched herself just about inside. “It’s itchy,” she said. She looked straight at Bill.

Bill, crazy drunk and high, stood up and started over to her. He had it in his mind to reach up there and scratch her itch. He’d already satisfied it this morning, so now was just fool around time. He was about to do what he planned when they all heard that familiar word come from out of Tommy’s mouth. “Ordering,” they heard him call.

Like good soldiers, they immediately returned to their places in the kitchen. Bea quickly set up salads she had left prepared in her ice box and started making more. Henry Lee and Bill listened as Tommy went through the stack of orders he now held in his hands.

“A Top medium-rare with two roast beef dinners,” he said. “A Super and a Bleu. Two roast beef dinners solo. A pickerel, a fried shrimp and two hamburgers rare. Put fries on one of those roast beefs. Two burgers medium, a Top and a burger both medium-well and a fried shrimp…”