Mary knew she had to do things. She knew she had children to raise and could not be unemployed. She knew she was maternal.
She knew lots of things.
She knew she could get a job quickly in any other kitchen, that she would not be unemployed for long if she lost this job. She knew she did not want to do that. She knew the danger for her was inconvenience, discomfort and the uncomfortable mess of change. But the danger for Drenovis was worse. For him the danger was that she might just walk out or force him to fire her. She knew the other cooks would walk out with her if he did that, so it was improbable he would do anything. She knew their unity was why she could talk to Drenovis the way she did. She knew their unity and Robert’s support were why they could all do the things they did, mostly with impunity.
“He better come down here and ask me to go back into that kitchen,” Mary said. “I ain’t going up there until he does.”
“Be a cold day in hell ‘fore I’d kiss your ass,” Henry Lee said.
“Not me,” said Bill. “I’ll kiss it right now. Turn around.”
Mary smiled. It was the first smile Bill had seen on her this morning except for the time they were together in the bathroom. Then, there, she had smiled several times. Of course he had smiled too.
“I don’t care if all the shit up there burns,” Mary said.
“It just might if you don’t go up there soon,” Bill said.
“Ask me if I care.”
“You care,” said Henry Lee. “That’s the problem.”
“Ain’t no problem for me.”
“It’s a problem,” said Bill.
“You go up,” Mary said. “Tell him if he wants me back at work, he better come down here and apologize.”
“Jesus Christ,” Bill said.
“Jesus Christ nothing. He’ll do it. Watch!”
Mary got a sly smile on her face. A mean streak Bill had never seen before appeared.
“You better do it,” Henry Lee said. “I seen her like this a couple of times. It really ain’t pretty and there’s no stopping her once she gets this way.”
“You owe me big time,” said Bill on his way out the door.
Upstairs Drenovis was on Mary’s station. He was looking at what was there and adjusting some of the flames on the stoves.
“Be best if you left all that stuff alone,” said Bill.
“Be best if Mary comes back into this kitchen and soon.”
“She won’t come back until you go downstairs and apologize to her.”
Drenovis looked at Bill as if he were crazy.
Bill went up and down the line of stoves. He readjusted the flames the way he wanted them and then checked inside the ovens to see where the rib and the steamship round were in their cooking.
“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy,” Bill said to Drenovis with his back to him. “I’m telling you what I know you need to do in order to get her back up here. You don’t like it, too bad. If you don’t get her back up here, it’s gonna get really bad.”
Satisfied everything was the way he could leave it on Mary’s station, Bill walked away from Drenovis on Bea’s side of the kitchen and over to where Bea was. He immediately copped a feel of her butt as he stood next to her. She was still washing lettuce. She did not shy away from his touch; he felt her press into it. Then he reached into the cocktail shrimp and helped himself to two shrimp. He dipped each one into cocktail sauce before he ate it.
From where he stood, he watched Drenovis. Drenovis lingered a moment on Mary’s station, more to show he was the boss than for any other reason. Then he headed off to go down the stairs.
Drenovis did not hurry off. He did not say anything further but stood there and watched as Bill finished his coffee, as Henry Lee told Bill he’d meet him downstairs. Bill stood there and watched Bea as she putzed around on her station.
“I’ll take a case of lettuce over here any time you feel like carting it over.”
“I’ll do it in a minute.” Without being obvious, he checked if Mary needed to make any of the desserts, the jello or the pudding and rice pudding. But he judged there was enough for the day. Then he went over to the reach-in freezers and checked the supplies there, the fried foods and French fries. He noted what he needed to bring upstairs.
Only then did he go out into the hall to get a case of lettuce for Bea. Bea had already filled her sink with cold water so that he could just dump the lettuce into the sink. That done, he carried the empty cardboard case into the hall and threw it outside.
Next, he went back to washing the potatoes. Once the potatoes were washed, he dried them with a clean kitchen towel and made sure they were all perfect enough to bake. Then he turned on the convection oven, set the timer and slid the tray inside.
Next thing for Bill was to go downstairs with Henry Lee. But before he did this he took a trip out through the dining room and knocked on Tommy’s door. Tommy opened up even though he was counting money.
“You better get Drenovis out of that kitchen,” Bill said. “Mary untied her apron walked out. I’m not doing her job because of him. I’ll do it to cover for her, but not because of him. So if you want it lunch to be ready I suggest you find a way to redirect him.”
“Why can’t any of you get along with him?” Tommy asked.
“You know why. He’s an asshole.”
“You should’ve become a manager,” Tommy said.
Like every other morning, Bill went down to the meat room where he would spend some time cutting steaks with Henry Lee and then making the hamburgers and bleus. Last, he would set up what needed to be brought up for the lunch service and carry it upstairs.
He found Mary in her usual spot on the counter, sitting as she always did, her legs crossed at the ankles. She was swinging her feet more furiously than she normally did. Bill could see immediately how pissed she was.
“You better not have done any of my work,” said Mary.
“I wouldn’t touch anything,” Bill said. “Only thing I didn’t was finish washing the potatoes and put them on to bake. But I did tell Tommy to get Drenovis out of the kitchen. I told him you’d walked out.”
“What he say?”
“He said I should have become a manager.”
“Well, stupid, you should have.”
Bill stepped up to Mary and kissed her. After the first kiss, he kissed her a second time. “I should’ve done a lot of things. I know I’m young, and stupid, but I also know I should have done a lot of things differently in the few years I’ve had.”
“You are stupid,” Henry Lee said.
Bill was gonna say something but held it back. “I better put the pot away,” he said instead. He opened the bourbon drawer and retrieved the baggie with weed in it and the Bambu. Then he disappeared out of the meat room and went to his locker where he locked it up carefully. While he was in there, he popped himself a black beauty.
Henry Lee was setting up the grinder when he got back into the meat room. Mary had not moved. She did not look as if she was about to.
“You know you got to go back up there,” Henry Lee said.
“I ain’t got to do nothing,” Mary said.
Henry Lee was drinking coffee over by Bea. Drenovis was standing next to him looking pissed when Bill and Mary came back up the stairs and into the kitchen.
Bill could tell he’d been there a while. He was drinking coffee and drumming his fingers on the glass door of the icebox against which he stood. Mary went directly to her station but Bill went over by Henry Lee and Drenovis. He stopped first to get himself a coffee mug and drew himself a coffee from the Bunn.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Where you been?” Drenovis shot back.
“Well, Mary and I had about two hours extra time, so we took a trip downtown to go shopping.”
“Very funny.” Drenovis shifted on his feet. “You better watch your ass,” he said.
“I heard that before.” Bill stood next to Drenovis and drank his coffee. “You don’t have anything to worry about. Lunch will be ready in plenty of time.”
“It better be.” Drenovis finished his coffee, stepped away from them over to the dish machine. He put his mug in the rack of dirty dishes. Then he took a look around the dishwasher area, the pot washer area, and out into the hall. From there he went around back to where Mary was working.
“Don’t be coming back here.” Mary quickly said. “I don’t want your silly ass back here with me.”
“I don’t really care much what you want,” said Drenovis. “I’ll do my job and you do yours. So I’ll look at what you’re doing if I want to and you have nothing to say about it.”
“Feeling brave today, huh? Well that’s pretty stupid.” Mary started to untie her apron. “Cook the goddamn lunch yourself.” She threw the untied apron on her counter and walked out of the kitchen.
Drenovis didn’t really have anything to say. He had only come out east to talk to Tommy and to take the deposit that Tommy had not made the night before.
It was unusual for Tommy not to make the deposit, but business had been slow and there wasn’t all that much cash. Tommy had reckoned last night that it wasn’t worth making the trip, even though he still remembered the time they’d been robbed and he didn’t want to get robbed again.
Statistical likelihoods had played in his mind. Time had played in his mind. They were almost out early, earlier than most nights, and he had a chance to get home and into bed with his wife at a reasonable hour. So he made the call over to the West side and told Drenovis what he was doing. Drenovis said it would be okay, to let it go like that.
So here he was, too early for any of the waitresses to be in so there was no one from the front staff to mess with. If the girls had been there, especially given that he was smarting from Bill and Mary being absent from the kitchen when he’d come in, he would’ve started stuff.
Bill was still over by Bea and Henry Lee. Nothing much Drenovis could do with Mary right now, so he went over by Bill, but before he could say a word, Bill said, “Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.”
“You have to get Mary back in the kitchen.”
“I don’t have to do anything but my job.”
“I just love coming over here,” Drenovis said.
They lingered a moment there, everyone quiet, no one going after Mary or over to her station in the back.
“We love having you too,” said Bill. “So the quicker you get your ass out of here the better we all are.”
“Maybe I’ll wait around for a bit.”
“Your funeral,” Bill said.
Bill made the second trip quickly and set the rib down on Mary’s counter. Mary had tied an apron around her and was starting to work. Because it was second nature, because she really didn’t need her head, because it was all by rote, she went into her routine from where Bill had left off in the time he’d had.
Bill stayed with her. Bea went back to her own station and started work on her salads. Bill knew what she was doing because he knew all the jobs in the kitchen now. So he knew she was cleaning the dressing containers and making sure everything was neat, tidy and covered. Once this was done, she would go downstairs to bring up what she needed and then she would start to wash a case of lettuce.
So the morning wore on, a typical morning other than that Mary was far from herself. Hung-over and being held together with speed, she was edgy and angry. She snapped at Bill several times such that he pondered going down to the meat room and starting to cut meat even before Henry Lee came in. But it was clear she needed help, especially for lifting some of the things she would normally have handled herself.
Bill was tolerant. He knew she was angry with him for his going with Arlene. He knew she was starting to feel that in about six weeks when his fiancé would be graduating, in all likelihood he might be thinking about making a move. He knew she had feelings for him. He knew, all together and all around, it was all messed up.
The third time she barked at him, he stopped what he was doing, which was washing the baking potatoes, and went down the stairs. He went into the meat room, straight to the bourbon drawer, took himself a long drink then leaned up against the counter where Mary usually sat. Standing there, he lit a cigarette.
A moment later, Mary came into the room. She didn’t say anything. She sidled up next to him and stood so that her hip touched his. Although she didn’t smoke, she reached for his cigarette and took a puff.
“Need another black beauty?” he asked.
“I want something.”
“I’ll roll a joint,” Bill said. He took his cigarette back, handed Mary a black beauty and the bottle of bourbon. From inside the bourbon drawer, he took a baggie with weed in it and some Bambu. He proceeded to roll two joints, then put the weed and papers back in the drawer.
“Ain’t what I want,” Mary said. “But I’ll take it.”
“I know what you want,” Bill said. He leaned in and kissed her, a long, passionate kiss. Then they wrapped themselves in the arctic parkas and went into the deep freeze to get high.
“I got to pee,” Mary announced when they were back out and had hung up the parkas.
“I got to pee too,” said Bill. He followed her out of the meat room and around the corner down the hall to where the staff bathrooms were. When they were both in the female bathroom, he locked the door behind them.
“We have time?” Mary asked.
“Everything okay upstairs?”
“Far as I know.”
“So we got time.”
“Kiss me like you mean it,” Mary said.
“I do mean it,” Bill said.
He took her in his arms and kissed her, long and deep. Then he held her tight against him. They stayed that way a good while just feeling each other against each other.
Then, “I really do got to pee,” Mary said.
“I hate you,” Mary said. She was talking to Bill’s back as he turned to put the bottle back in the drawer.
“I hate you too,” Bill said. He turned to face her again.
Mary was leaning against the counter that she usually sat on. Bill got on his knees before her and began buttoning up her dress. As he did so, he reached underneath and slid his fingers up there.
“Sure,” said Mary, “take advantage of me while I’m messed up.” But she smiled as she said it and Bill could feel her spread her legs more so it was easier for him to do what he was doing.
Then craziness got the better of him. With both hands along the outsides of her thighs, he lifted her dress all the way to her waist and kissed her right there on her panties. He began doing things with his tongue he knew he should never be doing in the meat room, especially with his back mostly to the door so Tommy could walk in on him before he would know it.
“Boy,” said Mary.
“Boy nothing.” He slid her panties to the side and continued what he was doing.
Instead of Tommy, it was Bea who walked in on them. Bill would discover later on she did it purposefully because she would tell him so in no uncertain terms. She would call him crazy and ask him what the hell he was thinking. Then, without giving him a chance to respond, she would answer for him saying that she knew he wasn’t thinking at all but that he surely should have been.
Mary was too messed up to be embarrassed. Mary was too messed up to be anything other than messed up. The black beauty had not kicked in yet although the bourbon had kind of helped with her headache.
“Go finish changing,” Bea told her.
“Give me another black beauty,” Mary said.
Bill reached in his pocket, did what Mary asked. She swallowed this one with nothing to drink and walked out of the room. Bill and Bea were left there alone.
“You gonna do that to me?” Bea asked.
“Ain’t nothing new.”
“Well, you gonna do it here?”
“Sometimes.” Bea stepped over to the counter where Mary had been. Without hesitation, she lifted her dress to her waist.
Bill gave her a taste of what he had been doing to Mary and then said, “Later. In the storeroom.”
Bea held him where he was at. “Just a little more,” she said. She closed her eyes and leaned heavily against the counter.
After awhile, Bea said, “Let’s get Mary taken care of and upstairs.” Only then did Bill stop.
Both meats still out on the cutting block, Bea and Bill left the meat room. They found Mary in the ladies bathroom. She was fussing with her breasts, straightening and settling her bra from over the dress. Her shoelaces were not tied and her dress was not buttoned all the way on top.
Bea turned Mary to face her and fixed the buttons. Bill got on his knees again, this time to tie her shoelaces, but while he was down there he reached up Bea’s dress and took some liberties. Bea, never one to be shy about things like this, helped him by spreading her legs wide.
Then they were on the stairs. Bill had gone back to the meat room and was carrying the round on the tray on his shoulder. He was being careful not to drip any blood on him, not because he cared about spilling the blood, but because he didn’t want to have to ask Bea for another uniform.
Mary and Bea followed behind him up the stairs. Bea helped Mary so she didn’t lose her balance, but the amphetamine was starting to kick in and her attitude was starting to change. Since she followed behind Bill, Mary helped herself to some feels of him. As she did so, Bea laughed her throaty, cigarette-laugh.
He woke her with a kiss. It was a gentle kiss on her cheek but it was enough to cause her to stir, to open her eyes. He could see that she was still pretty much out of it and he was sorry to disturb her, but he knew he couldn’t let her sit there like that.
“If you want to keep sleeping, go into the party room.”
“What time is it?” Mary asked.
“About twenty after six. Everything’s okay upstairs. So really, if you want to sleep go ahead. If you want to get up, I have black beauties.”
“I’m getting up,” Mary said. “What you got for me besides black beauties?”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to tell me.”
“Let’s go to The Upper Room.“
“Why would I go there with you?”
“Only you can answer that. You don’t have to go. It’s easy. Just say yes or no and I’ll call Robert and see when we can get it.”
“Do you love me?” Mary asked.
“Change into your uniform,” said Bill. “Meet me in the meat room.”
Bill left Mary in the hall, walked around the corner and into the meat room. There, first thing he went into the walk-in and carted out the steamship round. One was already cut so he did not have to do anything other than bring it upstairs.
The round set on the meat tray on the counter, he went back into the walk-in and took out a prime rib. He set the rib on one of the cutting blocks and took a boning knife from his knife drawer. He used the boning knife to slit open the Cryovac then carried the rib in the Cryovac over to the sink where he turned it so the blood drained out. With the rib there in the sink, he ripped away the Cryovac then set the rib into a steam table pan.
The rib in the pan and the round on the tray, he lit a cigarette and walked over to the bourbon drawer. He had taken this bottle from the party room bar last night since Mary had killed the bottle he and Henry Lee were drinking, how she got drunk in the first place. Bill had swiped the fresh bottle before Henry Lee went home.
Not too long ago Mr. Bowman realized that he was not going to stop Bill and Henry Lee from drinking bourbon from his bar without losing them, two of his best employees. Mr. Bowman, Mr. Steakhouse, could well afford the whiskey, but he was unhappy with anyone stealing from him. So they privately agreed that Bill and Henry Lee could take a bottle whenever they wanted. The only conditions were that they not abuse the privilege and they didn’t tell anybody.
In his young hippie-like way, Bill was happy to make it a communal-type arrangement, a barter deal. So he offered Mr. Bowman weed. Mr. Bowman would never take it himself of course but he had Bill pass it to Alfreda or Alvin, whichever one happened to be picking up the meat delivery on the day that he wanted it.
Both Alfreda and Alvin were willing participants since they helped themselves to some on the way back from the East to the West. If it was Alfreda, she never missed an opportunity to steal a kiss and cop a feel on the sly from Bill.
Bill was taking a drink of the bourbon when Mary came into the meat room. He could see she was still a mess. She had not buttoned her dress all the way, her hair was mussed and she was bleary-eyed. He offered her the bottle. “Hair of the dog,” he said to her.
Mary took a swig. “Give me a black beauty,” she said. She swallowed the capsule with another drink of scotch.
Mary was hung over. She was a mess. First thing, when they got downstairs to change into their uniforms, she plunked herself down on the metal, folding chair and sat with her legs spread wide for balance. She buried her head in her hands.
“I had to wake her up,” Bea said to Bill. “When I got to her house she was fast asleep. In her clothes from yesterday too.”
“Least you got her here,” Bill said.
“She babbled some stupid shit and threatened to throw me out, but I dowsed her face with cold water then threw her in the shower, clothes and all.”
“Well she can stay down here and sleep it off,” said Bill. “I’ll do everything upstairs.”
“You’ve done enough,” Mary said. “You can just stay the hell off my station and stay the hell away from me.”
Bill laughed. He had already taken off his shirt and his pants and stood there in his underwear and socks. He walked straight up to Mary, so close to her he was almost touching her. He pressed himself even closer so his male parts were just about against her head where it sat in her hands. He leaned down over her and kissed her on top of her head then tucked his hand under her chin and pulled her face up. He kissed her once on her lips.
“Girl,” he said, “don’t want me on your station, get your gorgeous ass up and get dressed for work.”
Mary did not move. She did not say anything. Bea interrupted the moment by tossing Bill his uniform. He stepped back and got dressed.
Upstairs, without Mary, he drew himself a cup of coffee and took it back into the back on Mary’s station. First thing, he put on a pot of water which he would turn into au jus. Next, he lit all the ovens and set them for 400°. He lowered the temperature in the oven he would use for the steamship round.
That done, he went over to Mary’s bulletin board and read the menu for the day. Mary, he could see, had underlined today’s specials and had circled the vegetable and soup of the day. She had also circled the special salad from Bea’s station.
Everything settled in his head about how he was going to go about the morning, he leaned his butt against the counter and sipped his coffee. When he finished what was in his mug, he went over to the Bunn and refilled it, went through the line and lit up everything there. The exhaust fans were already droning. He stood a moment and looked all around the kitchen. From where he stood he determined that everything was the way it was supposed to be minus one prep cook of course.
Back on Mary’s station he sat his coffee on the stainless steel counter. Then he went into the walk-in to check how much steamship round was left over. Seeing there was enough for the start of the lunch, he began taking things he would use out of the icebox and setting them on the counter near where he had left his coffee. These were mostly the same things he had put away last night, things which would be used first during the service or incorporated into what he was going to cook.
Satisfied he’d taken out everything he wanted, he finished his coffee. On his way out of the kitchen he put the mug into the dish rack on the dish machine counter. Then he went down the stairs.
Mary was fast asleep on the metal folding chair. She was still in her street clothes and sat slumped down with her head leaning back.
Bill noted that she was quite a sight.