Like that trick where the magician pulls the tablecloth out from under all the dishes and glasses on the table, that’s how it had happened to Bill twice. Talk about insecurity!

Anyone who really knew him, not those who knew the broiler cook but those who knew the person, the boy in a young man’s body, the young adult boy-child, might see a not-so-long-ago pimple-faced kid with fears up the yin yang. Those fears were compounded by excessive drinking and even more compounded by drug abuse that the boy within the broiler-cook-man could not see. That boy-man was stuck. He didn’t know he was stuck, would not discover that he was stuck for many more years in his life. Then he would learn what they say, that when you pick up substances you get stuck at that age. Bill had picked up between thirteen and fourteen.

Alcohol, weed, uppers and downers were part of his daily life. He didn’t use every one of them every day, but the first two were daily staples. Then there was acid and other hallucinogens too. Cocaine would come later.

Mary wasn’t too happy about Bill’s drug use. She had her own demons in the name of Yulie who’d been felled in his prime. Why? Why were so many kids and young men felled? Drugs and alcohol. Of course those weren’t the only reasons. There was war (which so often led the veterans to drugs and alcohol), murder, inordinately high in her community, and the regular stuff like heart disease and accidents. She was desperately afraid her boy, the one who called Bill cracker, would succumb to drugs.

“Enjoy yourself with Bea?” Mary asked when Bill came up, not after Bea, but later, after cutting meat.

“I only did what I had to to get along,” said Bill.

“What’s that mean?”

“You know what it means.”

“No. I don’t. Enlighten me.”

“It means it ain’t worth fighting with her now. So I did what I did and you and me going back to The Upper Room tomorrow night.”

“And why would I go back there with you?”

“Because you want me to make love to you. Because I want to make love to you.”

“Boy, you are crazy.”

Bill smiled at Mary. “See, I knew you’d say yes. I already set it with Robert.”

“Give me another one of them uppers,” Mary said.

“Too soon. Go down and get a drink of bourbon and smoke a joint.” Bill reached into his pocket and handed Mary a joint. He also handed her a Quaalude.

“Goddamn, boy. You a drug store.”

“You want the truth?”

“I wouldn’t pass that up.”

“When you come back up.”

“See you in a few,” Mary said.

Bill watched her walk toward the hallway door. Immediately, he stirred all the liquids working on the stoves. Then he checked all the ovens. Finally he checked the convection oven to see how the baked potatoes were doing.

Assured that everything was okay, he made a mental list for what he had to do. First he would finish setting up the steam table. Mary had only started it and there were more inserts to put in place. Then he would take out the baked potatoes which he’d found were close to done. Then he would pour the au jus into a bain marie and set it in its place in the steam table. Next would be the soup of the day. Then the rice would have to be put into its pan and set on the line. Then the vegetables, mashed potatoes and steamship round would have to be put into their proper pans and tray and set on the line.

He was sure Mary would be up by then, actually by long before then, and he knew she would help him complete these tasks. Once all this was done, last thing for him before the service was to the check the reach-in freezer and make sure they had enough French-fries, onion rings, fried shrimp and pickerel.

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