Marie waited for Bill to go down to change. She could have left earlier but she hung around. When Bill asked about it, she said she was in no hurry to get back to where he was. The longer she stayed out, she told him, the greater the likelihood he’d be asleep.
Marie wanted to talk. Bill indulged her, but when she started to indicate she wanted more than talk, he gently kept her at bay.
“Didn’t you like it?” she asked, referring to the night before.
“I thought it was really special.”
“I did too.”
“Well, don’t you want more?”
“Honestly, I do.”
“Let’s see how it goes.”
“I could just, you know.” Marie made a gesture with her hands and one with her lips too.
Bill smiled at her. All the while they talked, they stood by each other out in the hall and changed into their civvies. Bill was changed. Marie was still standing around in her slip. But then she pulled her clothes on.
When they were both fully clothed, Bill took Marie in his arms and kissed her. After the first kiss, he kissed her a second time. This time he held her close to him so he could feel her against him.
“I could, you know, too,” he said. He made a gesture with his tongue.
Marie slapped him on the shoulder. “I’m gonna hold you to that, but not now.”
“You got it,” said Bill.
Together they went back upstairs. Marie said good night and went out into the dining room from where she could go out the front door. Bill stayed in the kitchen. He made sure the fryers were okay and that the gas jets were turned off. Then he went around back to where the leftover food still sat out on Mary’s counter. He opened the walk-in and one by one carried the bain marie pots and the tray of leftover rib into the box. He made sure all the food he put inside was properly wrapped then did a full survey of all the walk-in’s contents. The weekend was rapidly approaching.
Done with all his work, Bill went back across the line and triple-checked everything. Then, knowing everything was turned off, he finished the beer he still had and walked to the switch for the exhaust fans. He flipped the switch and the fans shuddered to a halt.
The quiet was deafening. Bill could still hear the noises ringing in his ears. He knew from experience the ringing would linger a long time.
Downstairs, he took some Quaaludes from the bottle he kept in his locker. He also grabbed two joints, thin ones, ones just for him because Lorraine did not do drugs. Every now and then she would take a toke on a joint, but nothing more than that except for an occasional Quaalude with a glass of wine.
Upstairs, one last time he went through the kitchen, front to back. This time he checked all the leftover salads, desserts and especially the pies. He made sure they were all wrapped and stored neatly. He checked the coffee urns. They were off and cleaned. One Bunn coffee pot still had coffee in it and was hot. He could see the warmer was still on, so he went through the kitchen door into the front dining room where he could see Lorraine, Tommy or Bebe. Lorraine came first. She told him he could shut the warmer off, that she’d still be a few moments and would bring him a beer.
In other places, later in his kitchen career, after his shift Bill would sit at the bar and drink. Here, the cooks did not do that, not because they couldn’t—they could if they really wanted to—but because it just didn’t seem to fit.
So he sat on Mary’s counter in the kitchen and waited for Lorraine.
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Mickey and Jim did not fight. Bill had a flurry of late orders, and it wasn’t until almost closing that Lorraine came in and asked him if he had anything to eat. She had never ordered her own dinner and told him she was hungry.
He was in the midst of changing the grease in that second fryer. He had emptied all the grease, spilled it into the barrel outside and was in the process of rinsing out the fryer. Almost all the food was wrapped and ready to be put into the walk-in. The food sat around back on Mary’s counter.
“I’ll cut you a piece of rib,” said Bill. He did not stand up. He kept working and didn’t even turn to face her. “I’ll put some veggies and a baked on the plate. You should eat it in here if you can.”
“I still have a couple of tables. But I’ll come in and out.”
“Give me a minute or two,” said Bill.
The dish machine was halted and the kitchen relatively quiet. It was the end of a long day for Bill. He was tired and the only thing keeping him going were the black beauties. In this regard, he was glad he did not have to drive all the way home. He knew he would sit with Lorraine, smoke a joint, have a drink, chill out. Lorraine was much like Mary, older, calmer, easier to please and eager to please him. She was softer, more curvy too.
When he’d finished rinsing the fryer, he closed the spigot. He took a moment to wipe down the inside of the fryer and the gas jets using dirty kitchen towels to do it. He tossed the towels, now finished, into a heap on the floor. They would go into the laundry bin when he went downstairs. Only then did he go around back to cut the rib for Lorraine. He brought a knife and plate with him. He used one of Mary’s cutting boards, sliced a nice piece of meat for her and plated it. Not wanting to go around front again, he used a male kitchen spoon to cover the rib with au jus. Next he grabbed a baked potato from the pan and using the same spoon dished up some veggies.
Lorraine returned a moment later. It was getting toward closing. The dishwashers were finished and had gone downstairs to change. She was carrying a beer which she put on the server shelf. Bill motioned for her to come around and left her plate for her on his cutting board which was atop his reach-in. She stood and ate while he sipped his beer.
“I have to put some things away,” he said. “And I still have to finish that second fryer. How much longer you working?”
“I still have two tables that are hanging around. They haven’t even had coffee yet and I don’t know if they’re going to want dessert.”
“Well, I’m closing down everything except the grill. I’m going to finish up and make sure everyone gets out of here okay. Mickey and Jim are at it again. Paulie is ever himself. Andy, well, you know Andy, he’s looking at you but because of that funny eye he’s only half looking at you. Won’t be but a few minutes till the van gets here to cart them away. I’ll be glad when it does. What’s the snow like out there?”
“Haven’t seen it in a bit,” said Lorraine. “It wasn’t snowing all that hard so I don’t think it can be too bad.”
Lorraine ate quickly. Every so often she reached for Bill’s beer and helped herself to it. Marie, finished all her work, was sitting on Bea’s stool in the corner of the kitchen by her station. Without the dish machine running and with most of the kitchen equipment shut down, the kitchen was relatively quiet. Bill lit himself a cigarette and went about finishing up.
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Later in his career as a cook, Bill would work in a restaurant where the head cook was a cocaine dealer, the chef was a candidate for an insane asylum, not to mention nearly as mean as that guy in the workhouse, Ronnie, who asked Bill on his first day there what his wife was doing, inferring that she was fooling around without having to worry about getting caught since he was there locked up, one line cook was a speed freak and coke-head and the other was fooling around with one of the waitresses, a chubby blonde with a nasty mouth. Bill was fooling around with one of the waitresses too.
That line cook and that waitress, one day in the middle of a summertime brunch rush would have a humongous fight, loud and nasty, so much so that the customers could hear what was going on. More important, it would stop the flow of orders since in the midst of the fight the cook left the line and went in the back with his girlfriend. Bill, who happened to be working that day for the other line cook—Bill was doing a double—did his best to push out the orders as he could. In the end, the kitchen would run more than a half hour behind through the entire meal.
Hence the no fraternization rule.
Bill did not want to fight with Marie. He wasn’t her boyfriend or her lover or her confidante although she was pushing toward speaking to him about things that were sensitive to her. They had had sex several times now, and yesterday’s was beyond the pale in that it was intimate and sensitive. Even Bill had been taken aback not only by the character of their intimacy but by the nature of the feelings. Somewhere, somehow, he felt for her. After all, she had a husband who beat her and who fooled around on her yet she was tied to him by two kids.
The webs we weave.
He had changed one fryer grease when Marie came over. He was just starting to work on the second one. He’d turned off the gas and had set up the pot under the spigot. But Lorraine came in then with an order for a four-top so Bill stopped what he was doing and went to cook.
He had already soaped down and scrubbed clean a good part of the line so he was careful not to make a mess anywhere. Tending to the items on the Garland, out of the corner of his eye he saw Mickey sipping from that glass of alcohol he had collected from the liquor glasses that had been sent in to the dishwashers. Mickey was wobbly, Bill noted, or so he thought as he watched him. Jim was eyeballing Mickey.
“What you up to?” Bill called out in the direction of all the dishwashers.
No one said anything.
“You drinking again, Mickey?”
In a slightly Irish accent, Mickey said that he wouldn’t do anything like that.
“You better not be,” said Bill. He turned back to the Garland but not completely. The order called for French fries on three of the plates, so when Bill saw that he could leave the broiler, he went over to the reach-in freezer and pulled the bag of fries. He dropped enough to cover the orders into one of the baskets of the fryer where he had just changed the grease. He dropped the fries knowing they would take a little longer to brown since the grease was totally fresh.
Marie was leaning against the steam table shelf. She watched Bill work. “You know they gonna fight,” she said.
“Sooner or later,” said Bill, “but not tonight.”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
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Snow started falling again about the time Bill was going to change the grease. The dinner was pretty close to gangbusters. So far as Bill could tell, from the meat he had used and the two times he had gone downstairs to get more meat, it was pretty close to a Friday or Saturday night in volume.
About ten, the waitresses who were not closing started to come in to order their dinners. Victoria was on. Bill asked her if she wanted something special, but she said she didn’t, that she’d have, if he didn’t mind it, a double hamburger made into a chopped steak. The other girls ate hamburgers or pickerel.
Bill fed the dishwashers at the same time he fed the girls, so for awhile the dish machine was shut down and the kitchen was relatively calm. Bill had, especially through the rush, which was a long, steady rush, kept an eye on both Jim and Mickey. Mickey was sneaking drinks again, or so Bill thought since he couldn’t actually prove it. He did this by combining all fluids left in alcohol glasses into his glass with soda pop in it.
By ten-thirty, all the girls fed and no orders on the board, Jimmy and Grandma said good night and headed out of the kitchen. Lillian had worked. She was finished as well. Bill had fixed her a super. As she usually did, she sat with Tommy in the side dining room and ate her dinner. Tommy had asked for a slice of rib, not too thick, with a baked potato and a double portion of veggies.
“I got to change the grease,” Bill said to Marie. “I’m going down for the first cube. When I come up let me know what you want for dinner.”
Marie was busy cleaning up her station. She had been swamped. For some reason they had sold an inordinate amount of chef’s salads. In the midst of the rush, she had had to cut more ham and turkey. Good thing she had prepared lots of side salad so that the girls could take what they needed while she did this.
For Marie, with the way it worked out, this dinner was no pleasure. She worked harder than she should have had to and ran behind a little bit. But she was a good pantry lady, even with all the extra baggage. In the heat of the rushes she stayed calm and steady, the mark of being experienced. So she muddled through.
“No problem,” she said to Bill. “If any orders come I’ll call for you or send someone down.”
“I’ll only be a minute,” said Bill.
He left the kitchen, then no more than two or three minutes later he returned with a fifty-pound cube of grease up on his shoulder. He dropped the grease box in front of the fryer. Then he opened the fryer door and carefully turned off the gas.
Marie ate prime rib with a baked potato and vegetables. She stood on her station and ate standing up. Bill delivered the plate to her and stood by her for a little while.
“He’s home tonight,” she said. “With some good luck, he’ll be asleep.”
“I’m not going home. She’s sleeping over at a friend’s. Especially now that it’s snowing again, there’s no reason for me to travel.”
“Where you staying?”
“Lorraine let’s me sleep on her couch sometimes.”
“Her kids are there.” Bill knew he was providing information for Marie to draw a different conclusion than the reality. He didn’t want to talk about it and felt no reason to have to.
“Yeah, but you and her…”
“Yeah we do. So what?”
“So nothing,” Marie said. She continued eating. Bill, in what felt like an awkward moment, rubbed her shoulder then went back to work.
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Bea watched the whole thing. She listened to what they were saying. She saw Mary sidle up to Bill and even spread her legs just a bit. She watched Mary lean a little more dreamily, she thought, against the wall.
Bea had not yet sat down on her lettuce cases which were now mostly depleted. If she had sat down on them she would have been about the same level as Bill instead of higher like she usually sat.
Standing opposite them, watching them, she reached up her dress and scratched herself right there. She did not bother to stop the dress from riding up with her arm so both Bill and Mary got a good look at her as she did what she did. This was not the first time that she had done this and Mary, like usual, made a comment.
“Ain’t you got no shame, woman?”
“Not here,” said Bea. “Not with you two.” As she said this, purposefully, Bill thought, she adjusted her panties so that the full outline of her womanhood was visible. Then she proceeded to rub herself, scratching and whatever else she was doing, without any sense of shyness.
Mary watched her, shook her head, said, “Girl, please!”
“Wanna scratch for me?” Bea asked.
“Who you asking?” said Bill.
“Anyone who wants to scratch my itch.”
Mary looked at Bill. She moved away from him so that he had to withdraw his hand from her. “Go ahead, scratch her itch. I dare you.”
“Now you’re getting crazy,” said Bill.
Bill saw Mary stare at Bea. “Go ahead,” she said again. “I want you to.”
Bill did not do anything. Instead, he reached into his shirt pocket and took out his Marlboros. He flipped open the box and took a cigarette out then took out his matches and lit it. He took a deep drag and blew gray smoke up into the air.
Seeing that Bill wasn’t doing anything, Bea stepped across to him so that she was standing directly in front of him. From the waist down she leaned forward.
Having been dared, Bea almost touching him with her coochie, right there in front of Mary who was egging it on, he reached up and slid his hand underneath Bea’s panties. Bea took the cigarette from his mouth, took a drag on it and held it in her hand.
“Go on boy,” said Mary. “Take a good feel, give her a good scratch.”
Bea reached down with one hand and guided Bill’s fingers. Mary, standing there, feeling angry, hurt, and excited, feeling, as was totally uncharacteristic for her, sassy, devilish and bawdy, watched a moment then reached her hand to Bea’s and helped Bea guide Bill.
“Maybe we better go downstairs,” said Bea. “Then we can finish off the day like we started it.”
“Okay with me,” said Mary.
“Me too,” said Bill.
Without hesitation, even though the only one left in the kitchen was Marie, the three of them, without saying anything to anyone, went down the stairs and locked themselves in the ladies’ bathroom.
Henry Lee happened to be on his way through the hall to head up into the kitchen when they emerged from the ladies’ room. He had just turned the corner when Mary came out. He stood there and watched as Bill then Bea followed Mary.
“Goddamn,” he said.
“We had to pee,” Bea said.
“Goddamn,” Henry Lee said again.
“We all had to pee,” said Mary.
“I’d like to have seen that,” said Henry Lee.
“Aw, baby, you wanna watch me pee?” said Bea.
“Maybe I want to pee with y’all.”
Bea laughed. “Maybe next time we’ll let you know when we’re peeing.”
Since he was ahead of Henry Lee, Bill ran up the stairs first. Mary and Bea went to change clothes to go home.
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All the meat put away, everything done, Bill went out into the hall and sat down on his milk cases. He was tired. He was weary too. He knew that in a few moments he would head down the stairs to his locker to grab himself a couple of black beauties. Those would certainly wake him up. He knew he had enough to at least get through the next few days but he was already thinking about his supply. He was thinking about a visit to Doc, his dealer, to replenish his stores. He was wondering what goodies Doc would have for him.
Paulie had shoveled the snow. It wasn’t all that much to shovel, and like a true ADHD kid, he did it in a frenzy and finished it quickly. To his credit, much to his credit, he was able to keep the focus and finish the job at hand.
While he was outside shoveling, Jim and Mickey got into it. This was because they had to compensate for Paulie not being there and neither of them wanted to do Paulie’s work. Bill was only sitting a moment when he heard the scuffle and had to get up and go back into the kitchen.
He took a moment to size up the situation. Standing there, them seeing him standing there, they kind of took hold of their situation, took control of themselves and hesitated to continue the scuffle. By this time Mary had come over and Bea, who was already on her way over, was there.
“I need to say anything?” Bea stood there scowling at them.
Bill didn’t have to do anything. He returned to his milk cases. Mary, finished her work, walked out of the kitchen after him. From out in the hall they both heard Bea tell them that she didn’t expect to hear anything more or to have to come back into the kitchen.
Bill sat down again and Mary stood next to him. Bea, unbeknownst to them, went back across the kitchen and got her things before coming out into the hall.
“Damn shit,” Bea said. “We need to get rid of that Jim.”
“That would be a good idea,” said Mary.
“I hate to take a job from anyone,” said Bill. But he could no longer count on the fingers of one hand the times that he’d seen Jim hanging around the knife sheath, his eyes somewhat glazed, staring at Bill who was drinking a beer. He couldn’t count anymore the times Jim had said something about wanting a beer or about Bill thinking he was something. So even though he didn’t want to take someone’s job away, Bill knew that some time sooner or later Jim would step over the line. At different times, just looking at Jim, his waxen complexion and his long lanky body, Bill pondered things he could do to intervene to prevent that from happening.
“What you doing after work?” Mary asked.
“I might sleep over at Lorraine’s,” said Bill. “My fiancé is staying over with a friend, Tim, who’s really depressed. So I got no real reason to go all the way home. Lorraine has a good couch and it’s only minutes from here.”
“Boy, you getting married in a few months aren’t you? What the hell you doing? With Lorraine? With everyone else? Especially with me?”
Mary was looking down at Bill as she said this. Bill looked up at her. He didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he reached the hand closest to her legs up under her kitchen dress. Softly, tenderly, he fondled her thigh then slipped the hand further and further up the thigh. Mary made no attempt to stop him. In fact, she moved even closer to him.
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What about me? That was Bill’s first reaction to the last words his fiancé had told him. Then he asked himself what Tim really had to be depressed about. Tim had an Assistantship and was getting his MFA. He didn’t have an arrest record. He didn’t have anything stopping him from being able to get a professional job or job using his degrees.
But then the devil-inside-him-head reminded him he was free to do anything he wanted until at least the end of work the next day. And that’s when Lorraine, interestingly enough, came into the kitchen. She was still in her civvies. She went first to the coffee urn to get herself a cup of coffee. She said hi to Marie and Bea and then walked through the kitchen to the side of the line and said hi to Bill. Bill noted she was wearing snow boots and carrying her work shoes. She stood a moment and drank coffee, then put her cup on the dish machine rack.
“How’s it going?” she asked. She stood by the end of the line again.
“Lunch was good,” said Bill. He took a moment to look at her. Her coat was open and he could see she was wearing a white blouse he had seen before and black pants. The pants clung to her in the places they should. Her face was made up as usual, nothing special, just light makeup and soft lipstick.
“So you’re thinking dinner will be good?”
“It would be a good guess.”
“Well, I could surely use the money.”
“Same crap to me. But I hope you make a lot.”
“Me too.” Then, “I’d love to keep talking, but I got to get ready.” She shifted her weight one foot to the other and kind of smiled at Bill. “What you doing after work?” she asked.
“What you got in mind?”
“Well, my friend isn’t at home. The girls will be sleeping. We could have some time alone together.”
Bill felt a stir in him. That devil inside was doing overtime. He had no reason to be going home after work. He had no reason to worry about anything, at least not at the moment, and he could picture them as they’d been many times before now enjoying each other’s conversation and much, much more.
“You know, seems like a good idea at the moment.”
“I’ll count on it,” said Lorraine. She turned and went down the back stairs to head off to her locker to put her things away and get ready for work.
Lexi came in just as Bill was finishing putting away the meat. “Hey baby,” she said, “I’m all done and heading out of here. See you tomorrow?”
“Where else would I be?” Bill looked at her. She had not changed to her civvies so he could not see how she was dressed to go out into the street. “When you closing next?” he asked.
“Not till Saturday. What you got in mind?”
“What you think?”
“I never know what to think with you. You got some good drugs?”
“I always have good drugs,” said Bill. He smiled. “You wanna do some?”
“I always want to do good drugs.” Lexi smiled back at Bill. “Night darling,” she said.
Lexi did not go down the back stairs. She walked to the back of the kitchen and said goodbye to Mary, then around and said goodbye to Bea and Marie. She exited through the side door of the kitchen only because she was closest to it, and then she was gone.
Bill went back to work.