They worked straight through till closing and then afterward to finish up the cleaning. Bill and Marie were both relieved when Lillian rolled em up, took her dinner and left the kitchen.
Bill was thinking funny how “roll em up” had different meanings. Here in the kitchen it meant Lillian rolling up or folding the kitchen towels she used to keep the dupes in order. In the workhouse it meant you were getting out, to roll up your mattress for the next inmate who would occupy that bunk. That one, the workhouse one, was infinitely better.
“We made a fortune,” Lorraine said when she stopped to talk. She brought Bill a beer and lingered a moment. “You guys did great. You kept pace and we didn’t have to wait. We just kept turning them over.”
“All I got was soaking wet,” said Bill.
“Yeah. You guys have it rough.”
” It is what it is.”
“Well, what can I get for you?” Lorraine made a little suggestive face.
“I’m good,” said Bill.
Lorraine said, “Yeah, you are baby.”
Lexi was next into the kitchen and then Victoria. They were helping the busboys clear the tables. No new customers were being seated, but the dining rooms both still had plenty of people in them. Marie was doing pie and coffee all the while she was cleaning up. The downtown van had come a few moments ago to take the dishwashers. Tomorrow morning they would have plenty to do before the restaurant opened.
When he was able to, Bill ran down to take a drink of bourbon. He brought some up for Marie in a coffee mug and gave it to her with his beer as a chaser.
“My panties are still soaked,” she said. “I’m horny too.”
Bill took her hand right there behind her counter in the kitchen and slid it down his pants for her to feel him. He was already semi-aroused.
She said, “You’re all wet too.” Then she laughed and let her hand linger on him. “Let’s smoke a joint and get us some.”
Bill said, “I still have a lot of work. But I could see us together later on.”
“Cool,” said Marie. She looked at Bill a little apprehensively. “Why you being so agreeable?”
“You kidding? I’m hot as hell. And this wet, I could jump your bones right here.”
“I’m so wet you slide in and all over.”
“That sounds good.”
“We need to try some oil sometime.”
“You like it like that?”
“I’m game for almost anything.”
Marie stepped close to Bill as if to whisper in his ear. But she licked it, ran her tongue deep inside and all around. Then she whispered something to him.
“Later,” he said. “I promise.”
“I got extra panties downstairs,” said Marie.
But then it was back to work.
One good thing about automatic doors was that you could hear them open before they actually did. So Bill and Marie were able to separate before Victoria actually stepped into the kitchen.
“Just came in to give you a beer and tell you we don’t have any more tables getting seated,” she said. “Looks like we’re gonna be here a little longer but not really that late. Almost everyone has eaten.”
Victoria came around the knife-sheath end of the line and stepped on to approach Bill. She reached out to hand him the beer bottle she carried. Bill took it from her and helped himself to a nice drink. Then he offered her the bottle but she declined.
“Think I could have a piece of pie?” she asked.
“Don’t see why not,” said Bill. “Go on and asked Marie for what you want.”
“Thanks,” said Victoria. Then she winked at Bill. “And don’t think I didn’t see you and Marie all up close and personal,” she said.
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Mary and Bea both hung around very late. In fact they stayed so late that Mary could have ridden home with Henry Lee if she’d wanted. It was so busy for so long that neither of them would leave to assure that no position in the kitchen was uncovered.
Bea stuck by Marie even though Marie could handle her orders. Her sticking around meant that when anything ran out one of them was available to make the replenishment. She was also able to watch over the waitresses to make sure that in the heat of the long, hard, furious rush none of them gave away the store. Which some of them would do, for sure.
Attitude! Some of the waitresses still smarted from having to get into the back seat of Drenovis’ Riviera to secure a job. Full of anger, spite, even enmity, they felt nothing about finding ways to increase their tips. Giving bigger salads, more dressing, extra this and that, were ways to accomplish this. Still, overall, doing what they’d had to do to get the job was worth it for some girls since on days like these they could make hundreds of dollars. For the string of days they were having, it would end up many hundreds of dollars if not more.
Bea and Mary did leave a little after nine. Mary had helped on the line a tad, made it so Jimmy could take a quick bathroom break. Henry Lee did the same for Bill. Bill took a drink of bourbon while he was downstairs, just a small one. He had stayed straight all day, had only popped a black beauty once in the mid afternoon. He drank mostly coffee and soda but started with beer after kissing Mary bye.
Lillian was calling orders when Mary came up in her civvies. Tommy had given her breaks three times. She was getting hoarse. Her voice, already cigarette-raspy, was deeper now and she cleared her throat often. She sipped water to ease the soreness.
The west had come a second time for meat. Henry Lee cut nonstop so on that second trip they took all the meat he had to give, went back with every shelf in the racks full and several of them doubled over one tray on another.
“Goddamn,” he said at ten when he came up dressed to go home.
“I just turned off the second Garland,” said Bill. “Tommy says they still have people waiting.”
“Bowman better pay my babysitting costs.”
“It’ll be slower tomorrow and Monday. We’ll catch up.”
“I copped three bottles of Jack Daniels.”
“Drenovis gonna get on Tommy’s case. Then he’s gonna get on us.”
“Fuck him,” said Henry Lee.
Bill said, “I got your back.” He and Henry Lee slapped five. Then Henry Lee said he’d see him tomorrow and he went out the back door.
As soon as Marie had a lull in her orders and a moment when she had nothing she needed to, she walked over by Bill. She leaned against the counter next to him, the one opposite the charcoal grill, and helped herself to a sip of his beer.
She said, “I’m hungry. And my panties are soaked through. You got a piece of meat for me?”
“How you want it?”
Bill stepped past her on the line. When Lillian saw he was going to cut rib, she told him to cut three slices because she had an order coming up. Bill acknowledged and quickly did what she asked.
Things were quiet at the moment because all the tables were full. People were still waiting to be seated, but handling this type of situation was a different animal than handling a slam-bam rush. So Bill cut Marie’s rib into bite-sized pieces and slid them on a plate for her. He ladled on au jus and handed her the plate.
“My drawers are soaked through too,” he said.
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Drenovis made the meat run. He backed the van right up to the back door and came in from there as they all found out when he appeared in the kitchen. He did not linger. He said hello then went to the back to see what Mary had working. From there he went over by Bea and checked out the pantry. He had a quick conversation with Bea then headed out the door to the side dining room. A brief moment later he came back into the kitchen through the front dining room doors along with Tommy.
The two of them headed straight through the kitchen and down the stairs to the meat room where Bill and Henry Lee were cutting meat. Tommy and Drenovis were having a heated discussion about something. Tommy did not look happy.
Bill and Henry Lee were busy. Henry Lee had finished the strip loins, which made the New York Strips, and enough tenderloins, which made the Kings and Queens, the two different-sized filet mignons, for the west side. Bill was working on the top butts still. He’d cut tray after tray of Tops and Supers, the two different-sized sirloin steaks, and Bostons, the top-sirloin strip steaks. The trays were all wrapped and ready to go.
“Gentlemen,” Drenovis said by way of hello as he and Tommy entered the meat room.
“We all ready for you,” Henry Lee said, not stopping what he was cutting.
“Good. Our numbers have been outstanding and they’re going to be outrageous today.”
“Then pay for my babysitter,” Henry Lee said. As he said this, Bill put down his knife and wiped his hands on his side towel. He’d already changed side towels once.
“I’ll start carting that meat up,” Bill said.
Bill went into the walk-in and came out with two meat trays hoisted on his shoulder. He marched out of the meat room, through the hall and on up the stairs. He went straight out and placed the trays on the racks in the van. The van had some empty trays in its racks. Bill took the first three and carted them back down with him.
Trip after trip Bill made. No one helped him. Tommy and Drenovis stayed with Henry Lee. They discussed, Bill would learn when he had finished loading the van and Drenovis was gone, the meat count and what time they were coming back for the second load. They had discussed drinking, that more than a few bottles of bourbon were missing from the party room inventory. Drenovis had warned that he didn’t want to find any more bottles gone.
“I told him kiss my ass,” Henry Lee said. “I told him I’m going right over right after he leaves and taking a bottle. Then I told him he better pay for my babysitter too.”
“And he said?”
Henry Lee guffawed. “He turned red in the face and didn’t say anything.”
“What about Tommy?”
“Tommy said he was locking up the whiskey.”
“We better get a few bottles before he does,” said Bill.
“My thoughts exactly,” said Henry Lee. “At least two or three.”
“That’s kind of piggy,” said Bill. “But what’s good to you is good for you.”
“Robert keep us out of trouble,” said Henry Lee.
“Maybe yes, maybe no,” said Bill. “He will if he can.”
“You know he can. I know he can. We all know he can.”
They went back to cutting meat without any discussion. Bill lit a cigarette and Henry Lee did too even though he didn’t smoke much, just sometimes. Mary came into the meat room while they were busy butchering. She sat herself up on the counter, like she always did, legs crossed at the ankles.
“Lord have mercy on these bones,” she said.
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Bill changed shirts the first time after about two hours straight work on the Garland. He was sweated through almost immediately and he wouldn’t have changed at all except that he had to pee. So he ran down quickly, did what he had to do, changed his shirt and put on a fresh apron. His drawers were sweated through too. He could have peed in his pants and it wouldn’t have mattered much in terms of how wet he felt.
Lillian was calling orders now. Jimmy and Bill had read the board for as long as they could but it was clear almost immediately they were getting swamped so Bill had called for Tommy to come in to expedite.
People had been waiting at the doors even before they were open. Tommy, not wanting to turn away business, opened up before noon, before he was supposed to. This meant they all had to scurry a bit to be in place to start the first orders.
Henry Lee had waltzed in a bit after ten. By that time Bill had already cut several trays of sirloin steaks. This was a good thing because once you got behind you stayed behind the whole way through. The moral of that little tidbit was never get behind.
“Keep cutting what you’re cutting,” Henry Lee said. “I’ll start on strip loins and then do the tenderloins. When we get enough ahead, I’ll grind meat for the hamburgers and chopped steaks.”
Bill did not say anything but he acknowledged with a nod. Every so often, he wiped his blade on his side towel and then honed its edge on the sharpening steel. He had a little buzz on by the time he finished the bourbon-laced coffee, nothing much to talk about, just enough to smooth him out.
Even before he’d tied his apron, Henry Lee went to the bourbon drawer and took himself a good, long drink. He passed the bottle to Bill who took a small sip and returned it to Henry Lee to tuck away.
“Tommy already said he hoped I wouldn’t get drunk,” Bill said.
“The hell with him,” said Henry Lee. “The hell with them all.”
“Well you’re in a good mood.”
“I just need to get some more bourbon in me.”
“Freda get in late too?”
“We slept in a bit. We had to wait for the babysitter anyway. Almost ain’t worth working if you have to pay a babysitter. She gonna talk to Mr. Bowman about paying for that on days like this. It’s the least he could do.”
“I hope you get what you need,” said Bill. “I agree. He should pay you for it.”
“Usually Alfreda’s mom watches the kids. But they busy today and they going someplace where they can’t take the kids with them. I tried to get Eddie to babysit, but he’s working over on the west side. He got a chance to make a lot of money on a day like today. More power to him. Robert was having a hissy fit knowing we were both late. But he understands what it is.”
“I have some weed if you want. I’m about to drop some speed.”
“Don’t get messed up.”
“Just fixing my head. Maybe Mr. Bowman pay for my black beauties. What you think?”
“He probably would if you give him some.”
“He do that, I’d give him all he wants.”
“We ain’t getting no pussy today,” said Henry Lee. “My guess is you gonna be running both Garlands all day long and all night long too. My guess is I’m working late and only ones getting out anywhere near on time is Mary and Bea over here and Alfreda over there. That’s if she don’t go on the line to help the pantry girl.”
Henry Lee took a moment and looked at Bill. He said, “Least I can stay down here most of the day and I don’t have to listen to Lillian.”
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Given the fact that they’d used almost all the meat they’d cut, Henry Lee should have come in earlier. But he was not in yet. Bill thought, they all thought, they’d have plenty extra, but the extreme busyness of the Friday night proved them wrong. Tommy had already gotten the call from the West side saying they needed meat, a lot of it, and they needed it early.
As soon as he was changed, Bill went into the meat room. First thing, he took out and unwrapped two fresh ribs. These he put on a tray and carried up to Mary. He found Mary mixing and stirring the au jus. Next to the au jus was a pot of Bordelaise sauce. Next to that was the soup of the day, a simple chicken noodle soup.
“Potatoes still need to be washed,” said Mary. “And I need to make rice pudding. I also need to start the rice.”
Together, Bill helped Mary put the ribs into a roasting pan. He took a moment at her cutting board to cut the mirepoix. Once that was cut he covered the ribs with it. While he’d been cutting it Mary rubbed ribs with salt and pepper. Then, each one holding one handle on the roasting pan, they slid the pan into an empty oven.
After Mary had shut the oven door, she tied a towel around the handle. While she was tying it she looked at Bill as if to say “Remember the time, stupid, that you burned up the rib?” What she might have said, what she might have asked, if she were talking about it, was how much more in his life he planned on losing because of substance abuse and pussy. But at this particular point in the day, conversation, except for business talk, was pretty much sidelined. The only thing on the agenda was work.
“If Henry Lee had gotten here on time,” said Bill, “I’d be able to help you with the things you need to do. But as it is, I’m heading back into the meat room to start cutting steaks.”
“What are you cutting first?” Mary asked.
“Tops and Supers. We sell the most of them. By the time I get those cut, Mr. sleepyhead should be in.”
“Maybe he getting lucky,” said Mary. “I wouldn’t mind getting lucky myself.”
“You never know how that luck thing works,” said Bill. “Might be time for a quickie.”
“Might not too,” said Mary. “You’re right about that. You never know how that luck thing works.”
Bill stopped at the coffee urns again and took himself another coffee which he carried down to the meat room. Before he actually started cutting meat, he opened the bourbon drawer and retrieved the bottle. He took a drink for himself, then he poured some bourbon into his coffee cup. He’d just gotten the bottle back into the drawer when Tommy appeared in the doorway.
“Henry Lee said he’ll be in in a bit,” said Tommy.
“No problem,” said Bill. “I’m about to start cutting top butts and will get as much done as I can as quickly as I can. Would’ve been better if I could’ve been upstairs to help Mary, but it is what it is.”
“You gonna stay sober today?” Tommy asked.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Can’t quite see the day yet. But you don’t gotta worry. I’ll make sure I can do my job.”
“All the girls are working,” said Tommy. “My guess is that we set another record today. Someone will be by from the West side in about an hour and a half to pick up whatever meat is ready.”
“Well then,” said Bill, “I’d better get to work.”
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Saturday night could not come fast enough. With the Buckeyes holding top spot in their division in basketball and enjoying a long home stand during which they’d already won the first three games, both East and West were doing record business. That double piece of pie yesterday? Tommy wouldn’t have cared if Bill had given away the whole pie, at least not then or at the moment because he’d just gotten off the phone with Mr. Bowman to discover how really good the numbers had been.
Everyone had dragged themselves home. Bill had found his fiancé awake and waiting for him, something entirely unusual. She was dressed up too: high heels, dark stockings, mini skirt, low-cut blouse showing cleavage, heavy makeup including dark lipstick and eyeshadow. Bill was taken aback.
“No friends tonight?” he had asked. “No Tim?”
“No friends. No Tim. Just you and me. And plenty of time since you don’t have to go in early tomorrow.”
Bill had kissed her, first thing. Then he’d excused himself to go take a shower. Kitchen funk, he’d explained, which was true because, and he was thankful for this, he had not done any fooling around. He and Marie had gone down to change at different times since she was finished before him. He was just starting the second grease when she’d come up in her civvies to say goodnight. Lexi, Lorraine and Victoria were still with tables when he’d gone out to tell Tommy he was leaving.
After his shower, he’d put on sweats and come out to be with his wife-to-be. They popped Quaaludes, smoked a joint and listened by candlelight to soft rock music while drinking white wine. They sat a long while on the sofa, making out and petting before going off to their bedroom.
Then the morning came. Saturday morning. Bill was up at eight. His fiancé was still in bed when he was dressed and ready to head out the door. He took a moment to sit on the edge of the bed where he looked at her. He fixed the covers on her. He leaned over her, stroked her hair, kissed her.
“I love you,” she said to him. “Come home as quickly as you can tonight.”
“I love you too,” said Bill. “I have the sense it’s gonna be a crazy night, but as fast as I can get out the door that’s when I’ll be home.”
He kissed her again, this time a long, loving kiss. She sat up and they hugged.
“Please be safe,” she said.
“I’ll do my best.” Bill got up, said goodbye, headed out the door.
A little after nine, when Bill got in, he found the kitchen already in action. Mary had started the prep work. Bea was long past reading the racing page and was busy setting up her station. They weren’t open for lunch, but they opened at noon for dinner. They still had a few hours to get ready.
Bill went over to the coffee urns by Bea’s station where he took himself a mug of coffee. He stood by Bea a moment and drank it down then refilled the mug. He carried it with him back to where Mary was, to see what she was up to. He stood by her and finished his second coffee. Then he went downstairs to change into his uniform.
Mary came down while he was changing clothes. She caught him half-way done, with his kitchen pants on but not buttoned yet. He was sitting on a chair putting on his work shoes.
“Bring me two ribs soon as you can,” she said. “I see you got a little more than half of one to start with. That should keep us till the fresh ones are done.”
“Soon as I’m changed,” said Bill.
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They got high. This time around, with everyone gone, with no late customers, Bill and Marie went out back of the building to smoke a joint. However, for whatever reason she had in mind, Lexi came looking for Bill. He called to her when he heard her calling to him and she came out the door too. So there they were, the three of them, standing on the side of the building getting high.
Lexi did not have any reason to have come looking for him other than to ask for piece of pie for her and Lorraine. Bill would have given it to her right off the bat if they were in the kitchen. But seeing them getting high, Lexi did not ask. She simply reached out her hand for the joint and told him what she’d come for while she smoked.
It was cold. They did not linger. They smoked the one joint, then a second, and only did the second because there were three of them. Bill didn’t care. He had plenty of weed. Lexi didn’t care. She was done with customers. Marie was happy. She was drinking beer, getting high and finally enjoying the white boy.
Bill would continually ask Marie about this. She would continually tell him that he was different from any of the black men she’d known. She’d tell him she was sure he wasn’t different from black men, just from the ones she’d known. The ones she’d known, like the ones Mary had known, according to what Mary had told Bill, satisfied themselves first and if they satisfied the female it was only a side effect.
Mary had described in detail what the men in her life had done to her sexually. She had done this only to characterize for Bill what her life had been like. As for Marie, Bill knew, everyone knew, Marie’s husband hit her. Bill knew, they all knew, he cheated on her. Payback’s a bitch.
Cheating. Down-low. On the DL. In one way or another, in both the west and east stores everyone was cheating and/or on the DL. Everyone. And people in glass houses…
So Lexi went back out into the dining room without a piece of pie. What she actually did was head out and head right back in, out the out-door and right back in the in-door.
“Almost forgot,” she said. “Can I have that piece of pie?”
Bill thought about it for a moment. What he was actually considering was whether or not he could get away with it without Tommy giving him a hard time. The answer to that was a definite yes. The answer was that Tommy wouldn’t care about a piece of pie after the day they’d just completed. So he gave Lexi a double piece of blueberry pie and asked her to do her best not to let Tommy see it.
“What you giving me?” Marie asked when she and Bill were alone in the kitchen.
Unobstructed by having to do other things, Bill was on his knees doing the first fryer. He was tired and high and feeling like he just didn’t give damn about anything at the moment.
“What you want?” he asked.
“That’s a dangerous question,” said Marie.
“Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t,” said Bill.
“What’s my options?”
“Everything’s on the table at this point.”
“Well…” Marie walked up beside Bill, leaned over and whispered something in his ear. It was a detailed something because she spoke for a bit. Whatever she said made Bill flush solid red in the face, a full crimson.
“And what do I get?” Bill asked.
“Sky’s the limit,” said Marie.