Esserine was a married woman with two kids. But more, she was a Bible-thumper, a Bible-quoting woman who attended church every week and listened to Robert and his choir sing. Except she really listened and she really followed what the preacher and her Bible said. She was a God-fearing woman of character and morality, a woman who never stepped outside of her marriage and never would, a woman who would give the man robbing her everything she had along with a blessing from God, all the while telling him he didn’t have to rob her, that she’d happily give it all to him if he needed it.
Robert knew her and her family from the church. Alvin, despite his funkiness, knew of her in the sense that he knew she was a pantry woman at one of the local places at which he went to drink. Robert came to find out that she had been a pantry woman, that the place she worked in had gone under and she was unemployed. He approached her one Sunday, still in his choir robe, and that, as they say, was that.
So it came to be, nice and easy.
Esserine was gentle and quiet-mannered, a much lighter-skinned black than Mary or Alfreda or even Bea who was coffee and cream. She called Tommy Mr. Stevens and Lillian Miss Lillian. Whenever Bill flirted with any of the waitresses she was quick to rebuke him and remind him that God would have His way in the end, that Bill would have to pay for his indiscretions. If Bill went to play with her, she’d blush and tell him she wasn’t about to meet him in hell.
Tommy was so happy he could have cried. Gone was Marie who was corrupting everything. Well, not really. She was just actively participating in and exacerbating the corruption. Or, she was actively indulging herself with two of the key participants of the corruption.
For all her nastiness, and for all her feigned hurt, Alfreda was no better. She was just more quiet about her activities. She liked Bill from the start but had held off until she’d known he was available in the sense that he was messing around. Even sitting there in the church pews, Mary and Bea had told her about him. So, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Or, what’s good to you, as Robert always said, is good for you. Huh glory! And the meat wagon, the van they used to transport the meat from the east to the west, would never be the same.
After Marie was gone, they had some quiet times up on the kitchen floor, at least once Mary and Bea went home. Bill could not flirt with Mary if Esserine was there. It was like they were both shy, as if they felt they were being watched over and judged, which was the truth. If Bill touched Mary, Lord have Mercy. If he kissed her and felt her, Esserine would remind them there were two places in the afterlife and God was always judging.
Bill was fighting with Bea more and more. The more jealous she was of Mary, the more covetous she was of her position, the more Bill took control of the kitchen and was able to handle his position and all the others as well, the more Bea got on his case for any little thing. She yelled at him sometimes. She embarrassed him if she could. Then too, she increased her sexual demands almost becoming like a hussy. At any given time, for any ridiculous reason, she would summon Bill downstairs and make him… Well, at least, from his point of view, she reciprocated every time.
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Strike two: Jim.
Mickey was incorrigible in his own way.
First, he continued collecting the leftovers of all the bar glasses that came in. He dumped their contents into his soda glass (they called it pop there in the Buckeye state) and when the glass, with just a tad of pop in it, was full, he’d drink it down in one quick series of gulps. Thus he was ever inebriated, or he was certainly high most of the time, which in and of itself was not such a terrible thing because it seemed to mellow him out.
But it pissed Jim off interminably. And Jim was ever one to be cross and wanting to fight. Then there was no telling when he would just go off since he was not right in the head.
Second, Mickey continued to try to pimp Bill with the two plump girls in his rooming house. He never went so far as to tell Bill that they wanted stud service and were willing to pay for it, but he came with glossies sometimes. The girls posed in different outfits. You couldn’t do nudies back then unless you had a Polaroid and Mickey couldn’t afford one of those, so he took pictures and had them developed. They were racy but not pornographic.
Sisters, not twins, the girls were usually made up and dressed nicely. They posed showing cleavage or thigh or both. Sometimes they were hugging each other suggestively, even kissing sometimes. In several of them they were fondling each other, or just about, but not quite, reaching up the other’s dress or skirt. In some they suggestively offered their derrieres.
To someone not knowing context, the pictures could have been construed as simple, innocent posing fun, two sisters messing around. Mickey passed them off to Bill as prospective pleasures to be had, the promise of a certain lasciviousness that also paid handsome dollar dividends.
Mickey’s drinking was a continual irritation for Jim. Jim wanted to drink but would never stoop to drinking someone else’s leftovers. A collection of them was even worse. A mixture was even more horrible as a concept. Unless he was desperate. So far he wasn’t that desperate.
Nevertheless, regardless of why, Mickey ticked Jim off incessantly. Maybe it was because Mickey was never unhappy unless he was strung out, and since there were almost always concoction mixtures, he was rarely strung out. Maybe it was because Jim was always ticked off anyway. He had been somebody once, a Derby winner owner-trainer who’d been kicked in the head by his horse, almost killed in fact and never right afterward. He’d been saved by a stable boy who was able to calm the horse down and steady him.
Jim always watched what Bill drank. He had gone off multiple times now, more times than you could count on one hand, each time telling Bill that he could sure use a beer, and when Bill, who could never give him one, didn’t, Jim went into a rant saying, “You really think you’re something, don’t you?” which actually couldn’t have been further from Bill’s reality since Bill really thought he was less than nothing. If Jim had only known that more than ninety per cent of what Bill did was just a cover-up for his insecurity, he might never have gone down the path he did with Bill.
Bill felt he always had to watch Jim, especially when he was hanging around the knife sheath. Those knives were sharp and dangerous, a fresh set professionally sharpened brought in every Wednesday. Marie had fallen victim to Alfreda’s haircut with one of those knives and Bill was ever making sure he didn’t fall victim to Jim who was, if nothing else, wholly unpredictable.
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Jimmy slid off the line, out the door and down the stairs.
Bill said, “Come on, Alfreda, put the knife down. Let her be.” He stood less than five feet from them. “Come on, girl. You cut enough hair already.” He gently stepped closer, but Alfreda stared him down.
“Don’t you take another step. You come any closer, I’ll cut her skin.”
“Okay. Okay.” Bill put his hands up in front of him in the calm-down gesture and stayed where he was. “You don’t want to do this, girl.”
“Oh yes I do.” She laughed wildly and started cutting at Marie’s hair again.
A big mess of hair was already on the floor at Marie’s feet. “Skinny, skanky piece of shit,” Alfreda said. “He ain’t screwing you no more.”
“Come on Alfreda, calm down.” Bill talked softly. As he spoke now he saw Henry Lee out of the corner of his eye. Henry Lee was limping on his bad leg. “Let her go, sweetie. You know your man loves you like no one else. I have to hear him swearing it all day long down in the meat room.”
“Don’t con me,” said Alfreda. But before she could say anything more, Henry Lee stepped up behind her and snatched the knife from her hand. She turned to attack him but no sooner did she lift a hand than he smothered her so she couldn’t move.
“Thanks man,” he said to Bill.
Bill nodded. Then he smelled the burning steaks and ran to the Garland. He pulled open the drawer and looked at the mess. Every steak was gone, some of them already near ash. He took up the tongs and grabbed them one by one, tossing each one into the garbage.
By this time Tommy was in the kitchen. He knew better than to step between Henry Lee and Alfreda so he came over by Bill. Marie, freed from the clutches of the crazed wife, grabbed her purse, slinked out of the kitchen and downstairs to change into her civvies.
“You got it under control?” Tommy asked.
Bill was already replacing the burnt steaks on the grill. He put them all to one side where there was no char, took a side towel, placed it in his tongs, dipped it into the deep fryer and used it to wipe down the grills, greasing them where the steaks were not. Then he moved the steaks to the cleaned side, diamond-marking all of them by rotating them, and cleaned the remainder of the grills.
“See what messing around gets you?” said Tommy.
Bill shot him bull daggers. He was messing around with Mary, Bea, Marie and three of the waitresses. Alfreda had come on to him too.
“It never leads to any good,” Tommy said. “Now I’m gonna lose a salad girl and there’s gonna be all kinds of problems both here and out west.”
Bill had lined the burnt steaks up on the rim of the charcoal grill. After he flipped the replacement steaks and made sure all the steaks working on the grill were okay, one by one he took up the burnt steaks, examined them carefully checking out both sides of them as he held them in the tongs. One by one, almost as if it were spitefully, he conspicuously tossed them into the garbage. Then he took down all the dupes, handed them to Tommy and told him to start picking up orders.
While Tommy expedited and they worked orders, every now and then Bill checked to see who, if anyone, was coming up the back stairs. At one point, very quietly, Marie crept past the kitchen entrance and slinked out the back. Bill never saw her again.
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A Happy Holiday Season to all.
See you shortly with new Bill Wynn and some new things.
The Bible says that to everything there is a season.
Marie came to work several more times with black eyes and swollen cheeks that were soon to turn black and blue and then yellow over her brown skin. On those days she slinked in and ran downstairs to change quietly. Then she showed up on the kitchen floor with dark glasses.
Bill and Henry Lee had several discussions about possible courses of action, but they decided to keep to themselves and not start anything which might lead to unpredictable consequences. They both felt her husband needed to get his ass kicked and they were willing to do it. But to what end? That’s what they couldn’t see. So they withdrew from Marie somewhat, waited for her to initiate whatever it was she wanted. Mostly with Bill it was talk, a camaraderie of sorts. But sometimes talk turned to more, the more shifting further and further toward the unusual.
Then came the fateful night when Alfreda decided she’d had enough. That was the night when the random factor entered in and things took their own turn. That was the night when about eight or so in the evening, right there in the kitchen, right there on Marie’s station in the midst of the dinner service, Alfreda helped herself to a chef’s knife from the knife sheath and walked through the kitchen over to Marie.
Sometimes, when you can’t see what to do, doing nothing is the best course of action. Other times it ends up that doing nothing is tantamount to doing something. This was not one of those cases. This was a case where Alfreda was the random factor and Alfreda did it all in one fell swoop.
She came in through the back door. Bill thought nothing of it since she came for the meat pickups sometimes and for other business as it happened. Sometimes she came just to say hello and to surprise her husband.
She said “Hi.” Bill said “Hi” back and kept on with working the steaks he had on the Garland. Alfreda said her “hi” like there was nothing wrong or unusual going on and maybe if Bill had taken the time to look into her eyes he would have seen that that was far from the reality. Maybe, if he’d looked he’d have seen her sidle up to that knife sheath and lean against it casually, as if she was gonna stand there and flirt with him like she did sometimes. But he paid her no mind, thought nothing of her being there.
Quietly, she took a chef’s knife from the sheath, went around the front of the line straight to Marie’s station where Marie stood fixing salads. Marie didn’t see her until it was too late. No one did. Alfreda was on a mission. Marie was the mission.
“You skanky bitch.” Alfreda was already behind the counter, ready to pounce. She pushed Marie backward against the wall where she pinned her and grabbed her hair. Marie didn’t scream. She didn’t even resist. She was in shock, caught wholly unaware. She was totally unprepared for the onslaught.
“Mess with my man? Here? Where I work? In my world? I don’t think so.” Piece by piece, Alfreda started cutting locks of Marie’s hair from her head and tossing them to the floor. “I’ll fix it so he never looks at you again.”
Marie stood still. The whole kitchen stopped. The dishwashers froze. Two waitresses were there. They froze. Jimmy and Bill looked up at the sound of Alfreda’s voice. Then they looked at each other. Bill started down the line toward where they were. As he passed Jimmy, he told him to go downstairs and get Henry Lee.