kitchen-4Two black beauties coaxed him out of his fear and woke him up. He left at five-thirty, after a long, hot shower to warm his bones.

In the car he blasted both the heater and the radio. Leaving as early as he did and coming home so late made the drive both ways quick and pleasurable. The amphetamines and the music kept him awake and focused. Christmas was up next and he was taking the holiday off. Thanksgiving was gone, his first of what would be many Thanksgivings spent at work. Christmas in Cleveland with his fiancé was required, but he was working up until the 23rd and back to work on the 27th. She was staying with her family until after New Years. He’d had to beg for the time off and pay back with covering others on his days off. He owed Alvin three days.

The morning started like always. They opened up, went down to change, had coffee and lingered over by Bea’s station. Bea read the racing pages of the Dispatch and took the numbers which she would pass to Robert. She was feeling frisky and wanted some, but Bill was standoffish since he’d just been with his wife-to-be. He told her later, but that wouldn’t happen because one of the cooks on the west side called sick and Bill was going over there. He didn’t find out about it until nine-thirty when Tommy came in and told them all. Robert was coming to pick him up at ten and either he would bring him back or Bill would ride with the van for the meat pickup.

So off Bill went, not quite at ten but a bit later when Robert sauntered in in his usual way. He sung “Huh, Glory” to announce himself, flirted with everyone, took money from Bea, checked things out with Mary. Then he stopped in the office to speak with Tommy before returning to the kitchen, putting his arm around Bill and leading him out the door.

The west side always needed three. They could manage with two but it was a great hardship, so when any of the cooks called sick, Bill was drafted. Mr. Jim and Henry Lee could handle the east side’s lunch service. If it got crazy, Mary jumped in to help doing the fryers. The west was an open hearth and had to be a good show as well as run efficiently.

On the west side lunch was fast and furious. This day Alvin was out and Bill worked the middle cutting the round. Robert danced and laughed as he did the broiler, and he took time sometimes to slightly rearrange how Bill plated some things. Drenovis called the orders and Mr. Bowman watched things, met with customers, schmoozed as it were. Some of his customers played the numbers, but Mr. Bowman never took numbers himself and never talked about it. It was his game, he was the bank. He would say he didn’t know anything, to ask around, and he would leave it for the customer to find someone who knew. Most all of the regulars knew that Robert had been busted for running numbers and so he was the logical one to approach. With the open hearth, Robert could direct them to someone who would help them out.

“See Lucy,” he’d say.

Lucy was the hostess, on the numbers payroll as well as the Steakhouse payroll. She was a drop-dead knockout of a woman, absolutely gorgeous and in a league beyond any of the Steakhouse waitresses, some of whom were stunning. Many of the single men from downtown, the businessmen, came in just to see Lucy.

Alfreda, who did the prep cooking on the west side, came on to Bill like always. Bill was all business and reminded her that he worked with her husband. She would be the second vengeance encounter he would have, the second woman who would threaten him with blackmail to get with him, not because he was so desirable they couldn’t live without him, but because he met the prerequisite for what they wanted.

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