Mary was feisty when she came back upstairs. Bill was in the midst of traying up the potatoes. As always, he used both hands and was able to grab the potatoes two at a time in each hand. Once done, he would carry the tray of potatoes over to the steam table and transfer them into the pan that was there waiting for them.
He did not feel Mary sneak up behind him and given the regular noises of the kitchen including the hustle and bustle of the dishwashers busy making sure they were ready to start the meal, he could not hear her. But he felt her hands slide around his waist and then lower. Then he felt her kiss him on the back of his neck.
“I’m taking you downstairs,” Mary said. “Before the lunch starts. So hurry your damn ass up.”
Bill doubled his speed as best he could by moving his hands more quickly. Then he and Mary disappeared down the stairs while Henry Lee was greasing the grills to start cooking off the hamburgers and bleus they would cook ahead for the start. Tommy had not come into the kitchen yet. He was not due into the kitchen for at least another fifteen minutes or so.
She took him by the hand into the ladies room. She locked the door behind them. She sat herself up on the counter, unbuttoned her dress from the bottom and slid off her underwear.
“I’m getting you before that hussy does,” said Mary. She bent her knees and put her feet up on the counter then slid herself as far as she could toward the edge. “Go to work white boy,” she said.
Bill waited for Mary to go up first then followed behind her shortly afterward. He did this in case Tommy was already in the kitchen. But he wasn’t and things looked slow since Henry Lee and Bea were sitting out in the hall.
The back door was open for air from the outside to blow in through the screen door. From what Bill could see as he came up the stairs, it seemed like a really nice not-quite-spring day.
Bill went directly into the kitchen. He walked down the line and checked everything out. He opened things on the steam table to peek inside and make sure everything was the way he wanted it. Satisfied, he walked to Bea’s station and even though he wasn’t hungry he took himself a cocktail shrimp, dipped it in cocktail sauce and popped it in his mouth. Finished the one, he took a second and then a third.
Around back where Mary worked, he looked inside all her ovens. A fresh prime rib was in one. It still had hours to cook. The round was in another. It was done. He looked at it, decided whether he should take it out now or wait till later. He had enough from yesterday to start with so it was not needed yet. But he didn’t want to get caught in the midst of a rush and have to take the time to get it out then.
So he took Mary in his arms and kissed her. He kissed her softly at first and then more deeply. Then he gave her a soft feel on her butt and asked her to help him get the round out.
“Boy,” Mary said, “you done good but I want more.”
Bill smiled at Mary. He would’ve told her he loved her but they were in the kitchen and the walls in the kitchens at both the East and West stores had ears. So he held it to himself, threw her two oven mitts, grabbed up two for himself and opened the oven door.
When she came in, Arlene looked at Bill somewhat shyly. She was not the first girl in. Norma was in first and then Lexi and then Victoria. This meant Arlene was the last girl in and so Bill knew she would be the girl who worked straight through.
She came into the kitchen in her civvies with her coat already open. She wasn’t flashing anything and was careful not to. She drew herself a cup of coffee and went out into the side dining room after saying a quick hello to each of the kitchen staff.
A moment after she’d gone into the side dining room Bill followed out behind her. He found her sitting in a booth all by herself.
Before he sat down he scoped out the whole dining room to see that it was set up. From what he could see, Arlene did not have any work to do except maybe check that everything in both dining rooms was ready to go. He could see Norma filling salt and pepper shakers. She was standing at one of the bus stations, had all the condiments on one tray.
“I only have a moment,” he said. “Everything okay? Speak to your mother?”
Arlene sipped her coffee. “Everything’s okay,” she said. “My mother’s okay for the day. She has some help coming in and she told me she wasn’t in much pain. Her not being in pain is a consolation. I hate it when she’s hurting.”
“I spoke to Tommy. He’s gonna to see what he can do. He said it’s tight here, but he had some other ideas and some friends he said he could check with if he can’t find shifts with us.”
“Thanks,” Arlene said.
“I’m glad I could do something. I’m glad you chose to speak to me.”
“Maybe we can speak again.”
“You don’t owe me anything, you know.”
“I didn’t think I did.”
Arlene smiled at Bill and reached out her hand to him. He let her take his hand in hers and stroke it as she did.
“You know I want to get with you,” she said.
“That’s one of the things we can talk about,” said Bill. Then, “I gotta go back to work,” he said.
“See you through the meal,” Arlene said.
Back in the kitchen Bill set up the steam table. Everything from the back was ready and waiting for him to put in place, so he quickly filled the bain marie with water and set the holders and inserts in place. Then one by one he carted the items Mary laid out onto the line.
That done, Bill went downstairs to start carrying up the supplies. The first few trips were the frozen items. Only when he was satisfied they were all plentiful, did he go into the meat room.
Henry Lee was busy making the hamburgers and bleus. He’d already ground all the meat needed and cleaned up the grinder, its parts and the blade. Bill took a sip of bourbon and then fell into place next to Henry Lee. Together, they weighed and formed the hamburgers, then stuffed the bleus with the smelly bleu cheese Bill could do without.
All those things finished, they went into the deep freeze to smoke a joint.
Mary was waiting for them on they came out. First thing, she told Bill he needed to take the baked potatoes out of the convection oven. Then, she asked if they had another joint. Henry Lee went with her into the deep freeze. Bill went into the walk-in box and started carrying up the meat he knew they needed for the lunch.
Before he made his last trip, before he even started to deal with the baked potatoes that were done, he took himself a long drink of bourbon. Then he popped another black beauty.
Being a cook with a heart was the kiss of death too.
Having a heart seemed to always get Bill into trouble. Sometimes that trouble worked out okay. But sometimes it grew so large that his life was completely changed. That’s what happened when his heart reached out to the poor kid, not even 135 pounds, who was being beaten by the six FBI guys. They weren’t arresting him. They were literally beating the shit out of him.
So Bill jumped in, and now, instead of a teacher or some other sort of professional, he was a cook.
If he thought about it long and hard enough, even at his tender age of just over 20, he could recall multiple times when giving in to his heart’s impulse had caused him more trouble than it was worth.
If he thought about it long and hard enough, his pattern was clear. He’d been taught to put other people’s needs ahead of his own. So in a nutshell, over and over and over again he made choices that reflected putting himself in second place, choices which consistently did not serve him well.
As a result of this pattern, although he did not know it on a conscious level yet and would not understand it until much later in his life, Bill was always needy. He did not know he was needy. He had needs and he had impulses but he did not know them as needs or impulses. He didn’t consider himself needy or impulsive and he did not know, not really, that these were disorders. Worse, he did not know how to control them.
So he did what he did. Usually he did it on a day-to-day basis as events unraveled. And then he was high most of the time which clearly impaired any sense of judgment.
He was young and stupid. But you couldn’t tell him he was young and stupid. There was no accounting for youth or stupidity.
When one is young and stupid one doesn’t consider the consequences of things. Generally, and this was the case for Bill, he thought he knew things and he thought the things he knew were right. He thought, and this was a real kicker, things were black and white. Only later in life would he come to learn that most things aren’t black and white, that almost all things are really gray.
So he followed his heart with that waitress that first night when he was a busboy, when he accidentally spilled the soup on the customer and the waitress, trying to right the situation, got called a cunt by the customer. That got Bill really mad and even though he needed the job, even though he was totally down and out and broke, so poor he was borrowing rent money from his brother from month to month, he went on and spilled the rest of the soup on the nasty SOB. That got him taken off the floor, and it would’ve gotten anyone else fired, except that he knew Robert and Robert was protecting him. Robert, it turned out, was a great protector.
The waitress was very thankful and bedded him down. Mary would remind him that that was his first waitress pussy, and he couldn’t deny that. He could only say that he hadn’t been looking for it, hadn’t really wanted it. But being young and stupid the little head won out in the end.
That little head was a monster. It caused him to do all kinds of things he might never have done if he hadn’t been thrust into the kitchen world.
Heart! A cook with a heart could be a boss’ nightmare. He gave away pie when he knew he shouldn’t. He gave away steaks and sometimes prime rib too. He became friends then friends with benefits with Lorraine, and now it was Arlene.
Henry Lee came in at ten. By that time Mary and Bill had everything they needed to do just about done. Or, as it went in kitchens, everything they needed was either completed or still cooking. The only things left to do for the lunch meal were to set up the steam table, put the potatoes to baking and make sure all the ice boxes were filled with enough materials to get through the meal. So, as per his usual, Bill made another mental list, this time one regarding the pickerel, French fries, fried shrimp and onion rings. This list told him what he needed to bring up from downstairs.
He was not ready to go down yet but he did check the meat cooler, the reach-in box opposite the Garland. Looking at the steaks inside, he completed the materials list so that now he knew everything he needed, altogether, everything he and Henry Lee needed on the line for the lunch.
Mr. Bowman, the owner, was getting off easy. He should have replaced Mr. Jim. He’d been cheap and he was working Henry Lee and Bill way too hard. Sometimes now, if they got really slammed, Mary had to come onto the line to give them a hand.
This might’ve been all right if they’d gotten a better raise. As it was, they got increases, but Mr. Bowman was still making out like a bandit. Bill had talked to Robert about it but Robert had told him that there was no way they were adding staff. The east side was sometimes a drag on the economy of both restaurants although when the Buckeyes were playing at home they more than made up for not always keeping pace.
So just after Henry Lee got in, Bill took a moment to stop and have another cup of coffee, his third. He took it with him as he went out to the dining room and over to the front office. Coffee in hand, he knocked on Tommy’s door. Tommy said to come in. Bill did so and closed the door behind him.
“Got a minute?” he asked.
“What’s on your mind?” Tommy said.
“I wanted to ask a favor of you. About Arlene.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve gotten yourself into trouble.”
“No, not at all,” said Bill. “She needs more shifts is what it is. Her mother’s sick and she needs the money. Drenovis is being a shit.”
“We’re pretty tight,” Tommy said. “Off hand, I don’t think there’s much I can do.”
“What about over on the west side?”
“What’s this got to do with you?” Tommy asked.
“Nothing. I told her I’d see what I could do. I was hoping you could do something so that I didn’t have to ask Robert.”
“Don’t tell me you’re messing around with her too. Please don’t tell me that.”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but no, not yet. I spent last night with her. We talked a lot about life, about her mother being sick. I’m only telling you this because I’m asking a favor of you. I’m asking you not to tell anyone either, except maybe if it helps her get her shifts. Her mother has cancer and she needs some pretty serious medical stuff. Arlene’s in a tizzy. I can’t say I blame her. So I’d really appreciate your giving this some attention.”
“I always knew you were an easy touch,” said Tommy. He smiled at Bill. “I’ll make some calls. If I can’t get her shifts with us, I’ve got some friends who could probably use a part-timer. Then I’d make sure we coordinate so she can work the extra time.”
“I always knew you were a manager with a heart,” Bill said.
“Yeah,” said Tommy. “Having a heart as a manager is the kiss of death.”