kitchen-4Bill popped the acid at 11:30. He wasn’t going to, but he’d made one of those existential decisions, more like a what-the-hell. He was already playing with his head, using drugs like they were a graphic equalizer. He had popped the black beauties, was drinking bourbon, smoking weed and now the LSD. The worst that could happen, he figured, was he’d end up fall-down messed up like Mary said Yulie used to be. Or they’d be carting him off to the ER with a coronary since he’d put so many stimulants into himself. But that wasn’t likely. More likely was he’d cut himself, or burn himself, or maybe do something really stupid like mess around with one of several people he could mess around with.

He’d walked Lexi out of the meat room and up toward the front stairs that led into the lobby area by the front door. Unless the restaurant was closed, he did not use these stairs. Even when it was closed he generally didn’t use them. Lexi still had to change, or at least fix herself since she was mostly wearing her uniform except for the apron and work shoes. They stopped by her locker and talked. He told her not to worry about Drenovis, that he would speak to Tommy again and get that settled. She stepped very close to him, so close he could smell her perfume. Messed up as he already was—he hadn’t popped the acid yet—he couldn’t help himself. She was like a young flower waiting to be plucked.

“I’m gonna have my way with you, you know.”

“I know,” Lexi reached up and kissed him, once, softly on his lips. “It’s okay. I want you to. I wanted you to even before you stood up for me.”

Bill took her in his arms and kissed her hard, just once.

“I’ll make it nice for you.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

On his way back to the meat room, he’d remembered Henry Lee popping Marie in her face and offering her to him. He remembered Marie offering herself to him that night, and he closed his eyes and pictured her buck naked showing herself off. When it rains, it pours, he’d thought. All those years, even most of his time in college, he’d been mostly without girls. And now…

Up on the line, everything was the same, just another day once they were past the robbery surprise. Mr. Jim was in place. The round was not done yet, but they had roast beef from yesterday to start with. Mary and Mr. Jim had talked about it and Mr. Jim, in his characteristic way, had simply patted Mary on her shoulder and told her not to worry about anything. His soft voice and tender ways soothed an already tense kitchen.

“You all messed up, aren’t’ you?” Mr. Jim took one look at Bill’s eyes and knew right away that he was going to have to guide Bill through the meal. “What the hell you take?”

“He been smoking weed and drinking bourbon.” Henry Lee was greasing the grills with hot oil from the fryers. He was getting ready to cook off some burgers and bleus.

“He probably been taking pills,” Mary said. “Maybe even that LSD shit.”

“You been doing drugs, boy?” Mr. Jim took Bill by his shoulders and shook him.

“Yup,” said Bill. “Gonna be tripping just about by the end of the rush.”

“That’s dangerous, boy. I ought to have Tommy send you home. And don’t think I ain’t telling Robert.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Mary looked at Bill. His eyes were like shiny stars, the pupils dilated. “Goddammit it. Losing Yulie was bad enough. Don’t want to lose you too.”

“Give me a kiss,” said Bill. He reached for her.

“Get out of here,” Mary said. “Go downstairs and get me a sack of potatoes. And after that, get me six bags of split peas for tomorrow’s soup. Then you go out in that hall and you hide out. You hear me?”

“Yes, Mommy. I hear you.”

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