Alfreda and Bill stayed a while by that rock, Alfreda helping herself to a generous feel of Bill. She looked him in the eyes as she helped herself, noting that she liked what she saw. Not removing her hand, she kissed him, slipped him her tongue. Bill, as if mesmerized, kissed back and allowed her to help herself. He knew he should stop it, cut it off right here, but he didn’t.
“I’m gonna drive you back,” Alfreda said while they kissed. I gotta see if what Bea says is gospel. Or maybe she just getting senile.”
Alfreda stood up. She took Bill’s hand and pulled him up. Still holding that hand, she slid it up under her dress for Bill to discover she wore no underwear. “See,” Alfreda said, “we just one big happy family here. And don’t you give my husband no thought. I’m telling you it’s okay.”
They stood a moment longer. Alfreda reached inside Bill’s kitchen pants so they were both touching bare skin. All the while they kissed. Finally, Bill cut it off saying they should get back inside. But Alfreda did not let him go right away.
“I’m getting what I want,” she said. “I ain’t no old biddy like Bea. I’m young and strong and I got my own needs that you gonna fill. It works on lots of levels, believe you me.”
Bill remembered it was anything but okay. Robert slapped him upside the head two times for Alfreda and called her a shameless hussy. Bill reminded him that Henry Lee was screwing anything that had a pussy and so what difference did it make. Robert informed Bill that they all sat together in church on Sundays, Robert leading the choir that Alfreda and Mary sang in while Henry Lee minded the kids in the front pew.
“Stay away from that shameless hussy,” Robert told Bill before he got in the van with Alfreda.
“I’ll do my best,” Bill said.
“Huh, glory,” Robert sang out.
In the van, Alfreda immediately reached for Bill. Bill slid as close to the passenger door as he could, making it hard for her to get to him.
“I got it all figured,” Alfreda said. “You don’t’ give me what I want, I tell that man of mine you made a pass at me.”
“Oh, but I would. I’ll tell him you made me do things.”
“Get out of here,” Bill said.
This was déjà vu for Bill. Such a thing had happened once before to him in his life.
Alfreda stopped in one of the parks in Whitehall, the actual county Suburban East was located in. She pulled off the road into the most remote section of the park’s parking lot and went over the seat into the cargo area. Bill followed, partly because he felt he had to, mostly because he was young and he really wanted to.
Bill remembered. Her kisses weren’t cold yet when she strode up to Henry Lee and kissed him like nothing happened. Henry Lee was none the wiser. But when he started saying he heard they had some excitement over there, Bill got scared thinking Henry Lee knew, except Henry Lee was talking about the fire because Alvin had called him and told him about it.
“First fire, huh?” Henry Lee said to Bill. He slapped Bill five. “Alvin told me he ran out the door. I’d have done the same.”
“Well,” Bill said, “now I know how to put out a grease fire.”
“Baking soda works too,” Henry Lee said. Then, “Let’s get that meat into the van so she can get back.”
“Nice working with you,” Alfreda said to Bill just before she drove off. “See you again soon, I suppose.”
“I suppose,” Bill said.
Due to several personal commitments, Coming Now In About Another Month:
The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide
Eleanor’s last day was a Saturday, an OSU event day with lots of parents coming in to see their kids. OSU provided stupendous revenues for Columbus and Columbus businesses, especially hotels and restaurants, and both the east and west stores would run full all weekend long.
Bill and Henry Lee had started cutting extra supplies of steaks beginning on the Thursday. The Thursday night inventory was doubled. Friday and Saturday inventories were quadrupled, and then some. Neither Bill nor Henry Lee drank much as they worked now although they did get high in the deep freeze.
Mr. Jim came in to work on Friday. He did the line next to Bill. Bill did the broiler instead of Henry Lee so Henry Lee could stay downstairs cutting meat. The meat delivery had been doubled, up to three thousand pounds. None of it was put into the freezer. The walk-in was wall-to-wall meat and its refrigeration unit was working overtime.
If during ordinary times the help took extended breaks to fraternize, now there was no rest for the wicked. Bill spent the entire morning down in the meat room. Henry Lee came in early and worked late all weekend and no one rested much between meals. Mr. Jim worked with Mary before going to the line so Bill could stay downstairs cutting steaks.
At eleven-thirty Bill carried up the meat trays for the lunch. He made three trips. Then he made sure he had a full case of French fries. Mary and Grandma would both be doing breading.
Friday lunch was gangbusters. They had a reputation, and anyone who was anyone who did any recommending, recommended Suburban. Parents of students who’d been there came back again and again. Newbies made sure it was on their dining out agenda.
Tommy had to step up his pace calling orders. Bill ran a full broiler and he fired up and used both sides of the charcoal grill. That was the grill that had heated the sizzler on which he’d burned his hand his first day as a cook. He had no feeling in those fingertips now, none, zip, zilch. Bea had broken out three new cases of dishes. Nothing was worse than having food that needed to go and not having dishes to put it on.
Bam. Bam. Bam. Nonstop orders started at about twenty-to-twelve and ran till two o’clock when they finally ran out the board. Even then more orders came in, but Tommy drew himself a coffee and went out to check the dining rooms. Bill and Mr. Jim finished up the stragglers, Mr. Jim complimenting Bill on how well he did and how far he’d come along.
Bill took a quick cigarette break out in the hall. He sat on a metal milk case, drank a cup of coffee and looked at the outside through the screen door. Mary joined him, but only for a moment. They were all business. Two prime ribs were cooking. She told him check them at four. Alvin was coming over to help him and Jimmy do the dinner. She thought he might want to fire up the other Garland. Mr. Jim was coming in tomorrow to help out. Saturday of an OSU function or sports weekend was all hands on deck.
Bea came out while they were talking. She lit a cigarette from Bill’s and stood by them. She was sweaty, Bill could see. Her hair was pasted to her forehead in several places and little beads of sweat lined her brow and her mustache. Cigarette in her mouth, with both hands she hoisted her dress, squatted slightly and pulled her underwear away from her skin, adjusting it and resettling it. Then she reached inside and scratched herself, front and back.
“Ain’t you got no shame?” Mary asked.
“Not in front of you two,” Bea said.
“Mercy me,” Mary said.
Coming at the end of May 2017:
The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide
“Damn, damn, damn.”
That was Bill’s initial reaction to feeling the knife cut him. He put the knife down and walked over to the sink where he ran cold water over the cut. Red blood poured out and washed down the sink. He’d nicked the side of his right index finger, not too bad, but no cut was good. When it was clean, he took a paper towel and pressed on the cut to stop the bleeding.
In another drawer on the other side of the meat room, they kept band aids and iodine and gauze bandages—all the things that might be needed to treat cuts and burns. Bill walked over to that drawer. Mary dropped from the counter and went over to look at the cut.
“See,” she said. “I told you to change that goddamned uniform. You never listen, do you?”
“Of course I do,” Bill said. “I listen to all you teach me and everything you say. And I do everything you tell me regarding the work. I just don’t always do what you suggest regarding other things. Mostly I do, though.”
“You’re full of it,” Mary said. Seeing it wasn’t too bad a cut, she went back to her spot on the counter. “Bring the band aid over and I’ll put it on for you. I’ll kiss it too if you want.”
“Kiss this,” Bill said, making a well-known male gesture.
“It’s what I’m waiting on,” Mary said. “But only if you kiss this,” she said, responding to his gesture in kind.
“Now, now, children,” Henry Lee said. “And you ain’t said yet how her panties smelled.”
Mary laughed. She was putting on the band aid and as she did so she reminded Bill that he hadn’t answered her question as to how the panties smelled.
Bill flushed red again. He looked at her. “They smelled like pussy,” he whispered since he was close to her. “And they turned me on.”
“I didn’t hear that,” Henry Lee said.
“And you ain’t gonna,” Bill said.
“He said they got him hot,” Mary said. She was finished with the band aid and reached down to feel Bill up. “I know how to make a boy hot,” she said. She laughed again and patted Bill on his shoulder. “I need to show you some things upstairs, and then you can come back down here. I see you got a lot of meat to cut.”
“We getting there,” Henry Lee said.
“We won’t be long,” Mary said.
“Doing a quickie, huh?”
“We ain’t’ doing nothing,” Mary said. She came down from the counter again and headed out of the meat room.
“Be right back,” Bill said.
“Take your time again,” Henry Lee said. “I’m gonna take my time with Marie and I’ll work late if I have to. We need about two hundred-fifty Tops, a hundred-fifty Supers and eighty Bostons. The rest I already just about got.”
“Okay,” Bill said. He winked at Henry Lee. “They smelled good,” Bill said on his way out the door.
Henry Lee grunted an acknowledgement.
Upstairs, Mary showed Bill how she set the chickens to boil. Then Bill scrubbed three trays of potatoes for the dinner service. He immediately put two trays into the convection oven. After that, he checked the prime rib by poking it with his finger right in the middle.
“It done?” Mary asked.
“Not hardly. Needs at least a half hour, probably an hour.”
“We’ll use that chicken stock for cream of potato soup in the morning. And we’ll make chicken sauce for pot pies for the day after. Tomorrow night I’ll have grandma bake off some crusts.
“We’re gonna be real busy through the weekend,” Bill said.
“Lord have Mercy,” Mary said. “I just want to lay my head down and sleep.”
“I feel like tripping.”
“Trip on this,” Mary said. She lifted her dress and flashed Bill.
Bill ran his tongue over his lips.
“Come on,” Mary said. “I’m horny and you owe me. Let’s go down.”
“You go first. I’ll meet you in the girl’s room.”
“Don’t make me wait,” Mary said.
Downstairs in the meat room, Bill drew up a stool and sat down. He had put Mary’s drawers in his pants pocket. He pulled them out now and twirled them on his fingers.
“Bea souvenir?” Henry Lee asked, seeing what he was doing.
“Actually they’re Mary’s,” Bill said. He gave them a little sniff then went back to twirling them.
“Playing a double header, huh?”
“Looks like it.”
“Damn boy. I ain’t had neither one of them.”
Bill laughed. “Bea was a whole new experience.”
“I can imagine. She’s old enough to be your mother. Bet she ain’t getting none at home.”
“She can still kick it pretty good. Wasn’t really something I was looking for, but you know how it is.”
“Yeah. I know how it is.” Henry Lee laughed. “Have a drink and let’s finish cutting meat. We still need lots of everything. Robert said they were really busy last night and they need a full supply. My wife be here about four. She driving the van today. Alvin’s not moving his lazy ass.”
Suddenly Bill felt bogged down by work. Until now, until this moment, he’d felt like a kid in an amusement park. Every day was like a new ride, every new thing he did, every new experience, was a thrill he’d never had before. He got tired, but it was good tired. He didn’t get bored; he was ever-enthusiastic. For the first time in his life he was in demand too. Waitresses wanted him, the kitchen girls wanted him, he could just about have his pick of ’em all. Bea wasn’t exactly a beauty queen, but what she lacked in that department, he’d just learned, she made up for with experience. Experience, he’d discovered, was really something. He might never have picked her or tried for her, but he wasn’t the least bit sorry and he knew he could go for more if the situation was right.
Bill lit a cigarette. He got up, went into the drawer for the bourbon and took himself a nice long drink. He handed the bottle to Henry Lee who did the same thing. When Bill had put the bottle away, he pushed the stool back to its place and resumed cutting meat. He was still working on top sirloin butts. These butts yielded Boston Strips, Supers and Tops. Once the fat was trimmed from everywhere but the top of the butt, the first two cuts were made the long way. These were the Bostons, a strip steak similar to a New York Strip except that it came from a different cut of beef. It was less expensive than a New York and it had a slightly different texture about it, but it was really tender and had a good taste. After the two Bostons were cut, the butt was split, making two mostly triangular pieces of meat. These were cut into the Tops and Supers which were the best-selling of the steaks.
Bill weighed every steak he cut. So did Henry Lee. Uniformity was the key. Any steak too light ended up as beef tips or chopped meat (hamburger). Any steak too heavy was trimmed to precise weight. This way customers could not complain that the steak was thicker the last time, even though some tried.
About three-thirty, Mary came downstairs. They all took a moment in the deep freeze to get high and then they drank some more bourbon. Mary parked her butt up on the counter and crossed her legs at the ankles like she usually did. She swung her feet like a kid.
“Boy here was sniffing your panties, girl,” Henry Lee said. He cut meat as he spoke. “He take ’em off you or you give ’em to him?”
“They smell good?” Mary asked.
Bill flushed red and that’s when he cut himself.
They were pleasantly high and nicely buzzed by bourbon as they set about the meat cutting. Bill still had not changed his uniform but he had taken off his apron so the blood stains on his pants were again visible. They were not bright red anymore. They were the dull red color of scabs and Bill, under the influence, no longer gave them any thought. He honed his butcher’s knife, as did Henry Lee, and started into the cutting. He was thinking more about Eleanor’s leaving than anything else, considering that he was simultaneously disappointed and relieved. He was disappointed because she was a good time. He was relieved because there would be one less thing to conceal from his soon-to-be wife. Then, he still had Norma, and Norma was a pip. Drenovis had pegged her correctly and he would probably still be sore at her for going with Bill if he wasn’t already two new waitresses past her.
Henry Lee had set Bill to cutting Bostons and Tops. Bill was on to his fifth top sirloin butt when Bea came into the meat room and asked him if he could help her carry some things up from the storeroom. Bill asked if she could get one of the dishwashers, but she said she needed him. He told Henry Lee he’d be right back. Henry Lee told him to take his time.
In the storeroom, Bea closed the door behind them and bolted it from the inside. She sat herself up on a stack of cases of canned tomatoes and spread her legs wide.
“You weren’t gonna forget me, were you?” she asked.
“Not at all,” Bill said.
“I been waiting for this since yesterday, since you told me not to wear any drawers. Well, here, see?” She put one leg up on the stack of tomatoes next to the one on which she sat so Bill could see all of her. As she did this, she slowly began unbuttoning the kitchen dress from the top. Once her brassiere was completely visible, she reached behind her, unhooked it and let it fall so her breasts were fully exposed. She smiled at Bill. “Come to Mama,” she said.
Bill was not even twenty-one yet. It didn’t matter that Bea was in her mid forties. As soon as she put that leg up and started unbuttoning her dress, he was ready. Thoughts of Eleanor dissipated and disappeared. Even thoughts about Mary went to a back burner in his mind. Bea didn’t have to tell him a second time. Without any hesitation, he stepped forward towards her.
Afterwards, before he went back into the meat room, he helped Bea carry upstairs the things she needed to set up for the dinner and complete today’s preparations for her specials tomorrow. It took him two trips to get everything upstairs. After the second trip, he carried in a case of lettuce for Bea to wash for the dinner. Once she was set, he went back to where Mary was working.
“Want a beer?” he asked her.
“Be right back,” he said. He went out the side door into the side dining room where he found Eleanor. He told her to bring three beers into the kitchen and quickly returned to Mary.
“Have fun with Bea?” she asked.
“Not one single bit. But like I said, you better not leave me high and dry.”
“No more lectures?’
“Would it do any good?”
“Not a bit.”
After Eleanor brought the beers , Bill leaned Mary against her sink and reached up her dress. His fingers found their way inside her underwear and probed at her, but Mary stopped him. “Not here,” she said. “And not now. Go get me a half dozen chickens for Bea’s chicken salad tomorrow.”
Bill went downstairs with his beer and the one he’d gotten for Henry Lee. When he returned upstairs with the chickens, Mary was washing potatoes for the baked potatoes for dinner. Bill set down the chickens next to the sink. Mary stopped what she was doing, dried her hands, then reached up her dress and stepped out of her underwear. She handed them to Bill. “Think on these for awhile,” she said.
Bill’s afternoon was busy. His dance card was full and he couldn’t quite fathom how it had gotten this way. He was scheduled to help Henry Lee cut meat and to work with Mary setting up for tomorrow. Meanwhile, they all sat eating lunch in the side dining room.
The kitchen, of itself, was quiet. The exhaust fans droned endlessly on and the hiss from the gas broiler was ever present. But the dish machine was shut down and none of the dishwashers were in the kitchen, so there was no chatter and no clatter. Quiet, relatively so. No calling for orders, no dishwashers yelling at each other over the thunderous machine, no sizzling steaks or clash of pots and dishes.
Bea and Mary sat next to each other. Bill and Henry Lee sat opposite them. Bill ate a roast beef sandwich he’d made for himself: roast beef as rare as he could find it with tomato, pickle and mayonnaise on a hamburger bun. Henry Lee ate a hamburger. Bea and Mary ate tuna on hamburger buns. They all shared a full plate of well-done French fries and a double order of onion rings. No one spoke much, and when they spoke it was mostly about personal things. Mary mentioned what her son Eddie was doing on the weekend. Bea mentioned that she was going out to the race track, Scioto Downs, to watch the trotters. Henry Lee said nothing, but he’d told Bill he was planning to hit it with Marie later in the bathroom downstairs and then after work to go home and get some from Alfreda. Bill had nothing to say since he was closing.
While they were eating, Eleanor, who happened to be working the lunch this day, came out to them with an order. She handed it to Bill who told them it was just roast beef dinners. He got up and followed her into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen Eleanor told him she was giving her two-week notice to Tommy at the end of her shift.
“Why?” he asked.
“Mostly Drenovis. He’s always on my case, gives me crappy shifts when he can get away with it and he’s never gonna get any better since I won’t give him what he wants. It’s even worse with him knowing about you and me.”
“I’m really sorry,” Bill said.
“Why? You got Norma. And Mary. And Bea.”
“Don’t be catty. I like you.”
“I like you too.”
“Good. You have another job?”
“One for sure and a couple of maybes.”
“That’s good. You want me to ask Robert if he can get you something?”
“You want to?”
“I will. I do.”
“Okay. Anyway, no matter what, we can still meet if you want to. I’ll make sure you have a number where you can reach me.”
Bill had worked Eleanor’s order as they talked and he set up the two plates. She took them in one hand and went out to the front dining room. Her gone, he returned to the side room where Mary, Bea and Henry Lee still sat. He did not sit back down. He grabbed an onion ring and stuffed it in his mouth, then he took up his plate, half the sandwich still on it, and settled it in a bus box. He went back into the kitchen, drew himself a coffee, lit a cigarette, sipped the coffee and began breaking down the line. By the time the others came back into the kitchen, he had the line emptied out and was scrubbing it down. Once he finished that, once the stainless steel shone bright, he strained the fryer grease with a metal screen strainer.
“Going downstairs,” he told Bea and Mary when everything was ready to be set up for the dinner. Neither one of them said anything but both acknowledged with a nod. Down in the meat room, first thing, he took a long drink of bourbon. Then he and Henry Lee donned the arctic parkas and quilted mitts and went into the deep freeze to get high.