kitchen-4Marie sat on the lettuce cases. Most of the lettuce had been used already so while sometimes the stack was higher than the milk cases, this time they were about even. She sat with her legs open, purposefully, and she rocked her knees, not nervously, but by habit.

Bill could not help but seeing up there. Having consumed most of his coffee, he dumped the espresso into his coffee mug and put the espresso cup down on a case next to him. He leaned back against the wall and looked out toward the screen door. It was open and a nice late-November chill seeped in.

“Me ’n Henry Lee almost got caught by Drenovis today.”

“I know. Mary woke me up. I was sleeping in the party room.”

“He’s a sneaky bastard, and a nasty one too.”

“I ain’t arguing with that.”

“He won’t be back tonight, though.” Marie winked at Bill and spread her legs wider.

“No, he won’t.”

“Well then, we can do what we do.”

Bill smiled. “We’re gonna put up the dinner, finish out the orders, clean up and go home.”

“Whatever you say, boss. But I got some great ideas.”

“I’ll bet you do.”

“Wanna hear them?”

Before Bill could respond, they both heard a loud shouting in the kitchen. Bill jumped up and went in. Mickey and Jim were at it, fighting over who was doing what spot on the machine. They had had this fight before. Unloading the dishes that just came from the machine was one job and delivering the stacked dishes was another. Jim liked unloading even though the dishes were hot and could scald your hands. Mickey liked that too because the stacks of dishes were heavy and had to be carried to the plate warmers. Carrying them meant they could drop and dropping dishes could lead to losing your job.

Jimmy was standing there looking at them. Grandma didn’t even come around from the back stoves. Seeing Bill come into the kitchen they went about their work. Both Jim and Mickey stopped the loud talk, but Mickey could be heard muttering in his deep voice calling Jim a host of things of which crazy and stupid were the nicest. Jim, for his part, had headed for the knife sheath, but seeing Bill come in he stopped in his tracks and did a right turn which took him toward the front of the dish machine past which was the pot washer sink where Andy stood minding his own business. Paul, the special needs kid who lived in a group home, was guffawing, half laughing, saying “You guys” over and over to himself. He was visibly upset and started pacing in circles.

“Knock it off,” Bill barked decisively. He walked toward the dish machine, toward where they all were. “It’s okay, Paul,” he said quietly. Then, “Cut the muttering, Mickey. I don’t want to hear another word. And you, he said to Jim, “you keep that temper in check. I don’t want to see you fly off the handle again. You got it?”

“Think you’re something, huh? You ain’t nothing but a young squirt.”

Bill stepped right up to Jim, toe to toe. “Listen here, I’m your boss, like it or not. You talk back to me again, that’ll be the minute I fire you. And if you think I’m kidding, say another damn word.”

Jim sized Bill up. They stood pretty much face to face, about the same height. Jim was more mealy, older and grey-haired. He was heavier set, maybe even stronger. But Bill, thinner and more agile at his young age, even tired as he was and still a little high, stood tougher-looking.

Jim lingered a moment, eyeballing Bill. Bill eyeballed him back, even stepped a bit closer so they were almost touching noses. Jim finally backed down by retreating a couple of steps then turning and walking away.

“I told you guys,” Paul said. “I told you, I told you, I told you.”

“Settle who’s working where or I will,” said Bill. Then he walked to the end of the line where the knife sheath was and stood there.

“Ooh, you make so hot,” Marie said as she stepped past him and through the line to her station.

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