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kitchen-4

Except for the internal intrigues, the days were all pretty much the same now. For his part, having learned all the prep cooking that was done here and how to cut meat, Bill was bored a good part of the time. He was a crackerjack broiler cook now, one who could, if he so chose, command his salary. The worst that could happen to him for asking for a raise would be being turned down, and he wasn’t about to go looking for a job which he knew he could find without any problem. In fact, several times while working on the West side on their open hearth he had been approached by other restaurant owners and asked if he’d wanted to make a switch. Robert had heard this once, and Robert, not one to hold anything back, had said in his usual way, “What’s good to you is good for you, so do what you want to do.”

Bill didn’t know what he wanted to do. Bill was happy at this point in time making money and putting money in the bank. From having been totally broke and down and out, he and his fiancé now had a good bank account, a decent car, were able to buy things if they wanted to, and they had paid off their loans. That her father had never loaned them money stuck in Bill’s craw, but in the long run that was neither here nor there, just   one of the things that would put a nail in the coffin of their marriage   many many years later. His father, who didn’t have any money to spare, took a personal loan to loan him  money when he needed it to get along.

He thought nothing of having found his fiancé with Tim and Jack in the bed. He had not slept any at all, and if it weren’t for the black beauties he would have found himself in a tough way. But as it were, he was used to the speed, and more than any other drug this was the one he really loved. Later in his life, he would become intimately acquainted with cocaine and he would love that even more than black beauties.

Downstairs on this particular morning, with the snow falling outside and the prospect of the day being a slow one due to the crummy weather, all three of them changed in the hall. Bea, ever herself, ever playful when it came to acting out in front of Mary, took herself a copious feel of Bill. Bill allowed her the feel and pushed himself forward toward her. He told her to go inside his underwear which she had no trouble doing. Mary, somewhat jealous but not wanting to put it out there, asked if they wanted privacy. In answer to her question, since Mary had not put her dress on yet and was still in her panties and bra, Bill reached between her legs and took himself a generous feel of her.

“Maybe we should all go somewhere together,” Bill said.

“Maybe we should,” said Bea.

“Maybe we should get our asses upstairs,” said Mary.

“Party pooper,” said Bea. For the first time ever, she reached to Mary and her hand met Bill’s where it was. Together, Bea and Bill pressed Mary against the wall and held her there while they fondled her. Bill leaned in and kissed Mary.

“Goddammit,” said Mary, her voice somewhat slurred due to her being kissed, “you know we got to get upstairs.”

“Ain’t nothing much going on today, not with this snow,” said Bea.

“We gonna have plenty of time to mess around,” said Bill.

Bill moved his hand up toward Mary’s bosom. Bea continued stroking Mary down there. As Bill continued fondling Mary and kissing her, he thought about the intricate webs that were being woven and the complications that could surely happen. Bea’s touching Mary was but another of the strange surprises that had occurred within the last few hours, this despite the boredom of the ordinary day at work.

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kitchen-4

At 5:15 he quietly went out the door. He was careful not to wake them and he didn’t bother to go and look at them again. This would have been the end of it all for him if Tim and Jack were not gay, but even though it looked really bad, he knew it was innocent, that she was innocent, that when all was said and done, he was very far from innocent.

He drove carefully, noted that it was starting to snow, and made sure not to speed. The police rarely bothered him anymore, this because Bailey had taken the time to speak with both departments, Columbus city proper and Whitehall. Bailey was not so innocent himself. He was playing the numbers with Robert and eating for free at Steakhouse West most of the time. He was also making a play on that gorgeous hostess, Lucy, but she was elusive and standoffish and it didn’t seem as if he or anybody he knew was going to get with her. Lucy, gorgeous as she was, did as she pleased, with whom she pleased, and she answered to no one except Mr. Bowman. She was an integral part not only of the restaurant but of the numbers game too and she well knew that her best fortunes were tied to that numbers game. This meant stringing Bailey and everyone else along but doing her damnedest not to give anything up.

Bill was early. He left his car running with the heater blasting and reclined his seat all the way to the back seat. He would’ve fallen asleep under normal circumstances, but because he was speeding, sleep was hard to come by. He had not changed his clothes, not even his underwear, and he was unhappy about this, but in the long run it was better than waking them up. He didn’t know if she knew that he was even in the house and he didn’t much care. He was holding a trump card now and that was a good feeling given his activities.

When Mary and Bea pulled into the parking lot they saw Bill there. Mary made a comment to Bea as they parked beside him. Bea just shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t much care what Bill did and who he did it with as long as she got hers. But Mary, who cared, already had a sense of apprehension.

When Bea and Mary got out of their car, Mary tapped on Bill’s window. A moment later Bill emerged from his car and walked with them to the front door even though Tommy was not there yet. It was about a minute to six and they knew Tommy would be there almost instantaneously. Anyway, snow falling, it wasn’t too cold, just about mid-thirties.

“You look like shit,” said Mary.

“Thanks a bunch,” said Bill.

“You been home?” Mary asked.

“Yeah.”

“You okay?”

“Aw, leave the boy alone,” Bea said. “Look at his eyes. He’s on drugs. I bet he didn’t get any sleep.”

“You gonna be okay to work?” asked Mary.

“Why shouldn’t I be?”

“He be okay,” said Bea.

Tommy’s car turned from Delta Road then. Not only did they see the car but they heard his tires on the gravel of the parking lot. He pulled up next to Bea’s car and quickly walked from his car to the front door where they all stood. As Tommy said good morning to them all, he put his key into the front door, opened one lock, then the next, then pushed the door open. As was their practiced routine, Bill went down the hall and turned off the burglar alarm. Mary and Bea walked on past Bill and turned on the lights to the kitchen. By this time Tommy had already begun turning on the lights in the front of the house.

SOS DD. In the kitchen Bea started a small pot of coffee on the Bunn. Mary and Bill, unbuttoning their coats on the way, headed for downstairs. Before he went down the stairs, Bill turned on the exhaust fans.

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kitchen-4

He stood a long while, or what seemed like a long while, in the bedroom doorway. He had planned to gently kiss his fiancé hello/goodnight before he undressed and went in for his shower and then to join her in the bed laying up against her all naked and cozy, but standing there, seeing what he was seeing, that idea quickly got scrubbed. He blinked several times, took in the whole scene, did an about face and went back down the hall to the living room where he sat down on the sofa and leaned back. He put his feet up on the trunk they used as a coffee table—it had been his trunk/coffee table (from his apartment) before he had moved in here with her—and leaned back into the sofa. Sitting in the dark, he finished his beer then got up for another one. On his way out of the kitchen, he grabbed the bottle of bourbon on the kitchen table.

The bottle of bourbon in hand, he stopped for a moment back at the bedroom and took in the scene for a second time. He did this simply to make sure what he was seeing was what he was seeing. Assured that his eyes were not deceiving him, he went back into the living room. On his way back, he shut the hall light so the apartment was totally dark.

Back on the sofa, he kicked off his shoes and resumed his leaning-back position, feet up on the trunk. He drank some bourbon, sipped his beer, lit a cigarette.

It was a bit after two in the morning. He saw this when he’d checked the clock in the kitchen. He would have to be leaving in a couple of hours. He still needed a shower but he wasn’t so inclined to do it now. For now, he decided, he could sleep in his clothes where he was. All he really had to do was get the alarm clock from his bedside. Or he could keep drinking and pop some black beauties, which, he knew, no matter how much he went over it in his mind, was what he was going to end up doing.

He wasn’t angry. It wasn’t as if his fiancé were cheating on him, like he was doing to her over and over with different women. The notion that, as one of those women had told him, it made him a better lover for her, well that didn’t cut it. It was pretty good as far as rationalizations went, but that’s all it was, a rationalization.

He took a long drink of the bourbon then a good portion of the beer, then, leaning deep into the cushions of the sofa, he closed his eyes. The first thing he saw was the scene he’d seen in the bed. She was in the middle. Jack, in just his underwear, was next to her on one side. Tim, in men’s pajamas, was next to her on the other side. Snug as a bug in a rug! Next to the bed, on the night table, was an ash tray in which sat a hash pipe.

The second thing he saw was Marie. He saw her face as she approached him. He felt those teardrops falling on his cheek against hers. He heard the sigh. Then he felt her against him, him pressed into her, and then they were locked together in something that was sex but not sex, something that was almost like a remedy for the sadness they both felt. She was sad for her life, for the way her life turned out, and he was sad because she was sad, or because her sadness reminded him of his loneliness and surely he empathized with her.

There in the dark, Marie in his eyes even though he didn’t want that, he sipped the bourbon, smoked a joint, looked at the tiny micro dots in his closed eyes until it was time to pop the black beauties and go back to work.

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kitchen-4

Marie happily popped a black beauty. She swallowed it with a good swig of bourbon and then put on her coat which she had carried with her into the meat room. Both she and Bill were dressed and ready to cut out. Neither one of them spoke about what happened. Bill had not wanted it but Marie was pushing for it. If only the walls of the meat room could talk!

Tommy stopped them on their way out the front door. He asked what they’d been doing and if the kitchen was fully shut down. Marie kept quiet, let Bill do the answering. He was partially honest saying they were talking downstairs and yes, the kitchen was put to sleep.

Tommy locked the front door behind them. There were still customers at the bar and Bebe was cleaning up as Bill saw when they passed by. Tommy would personally open the front door to let out the remaining people.

Bill did follow Marie home, or almost all the way home as it worked out. About two blocks from her house he blinked his lights and pulled over. Marie pulled over too and backed up to where he was. She got out of her car and came into his.

“I’m gonna leave you here.”

“I’m good to go.”

“Sure you’re gonna be safe?”

“I told you. He ain’t coming home till the morning. Maybe not even till just before I go to work.”

“Well, here you go.” Bill handed Marie a joint and two Quaaludes. “Pop the ludes with some wine or beer. Smoke the joint. Take a hot shower or bath and relax. They’ll help you sleep.”

Marie kissed Bill on the cheek. “Thanks,” she said. “Thanks for everything.”

“Let’s just keep it between us.”

“Fine with me.”

“See you tomorrow.”

“Night white boy,” Marie said.

Bill waited until Marie was back in her car and heading off before he made the next turn and drove home. In the scope of things, he was not all that late. Still, he entered the foyer quietly and climbed the stairs trying not to wake his fiancé. First thing he wanted to do after checking in on her was take a long shower. He wanted to wash off the kitchen funk, especially the greasy feeling and kitchen odors he invariably came home with. He also wanted to wash off any scent of Marie. He wanted to wash off the memory too, but that would never happen. Ever. In fact, this memory would get etched into his being, not because of anything other than how it had all ended up, with them in a deep embrace and something intimate rather than expressly sexual occurring.

“Nothing eases the sense of loneliness,” Marie had said.

“Think you’re the only one that feels it?” Bill had asked. “Just cause you got a spouse doesn’t mean that you’re not lonely. That’s why I held you. That’s why this happened.”

“You sorry?”

“I don’t know what I am.”

That was true. Bill didn’t quite know what had happened or how he felt about it. Well, he knew what happened but he didn’t know how it ended up being the way it was or why. He melted when she started crying and he certainly related to her loneliness. Then they were locked into this thing that was much more than anything either of them had anticipated.

But that was not the only surprise of the night for Bill. It was just the first one. When he got up the stairs to the rooms of his apartment, he threw his coat on the sofa then quietly went into the kitchen and got himself a beer. He was sipping the beer as he walked through the hall into the bedroom. He used the light in the hall so he did not to have to light up the bedroom so he did not risk waking his fiancé. What he discovered was the second surprise.

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kitchen-4

“I’m lonely and frightened and sad,” Marie said. She pressed in against Bill who leaned against his butcher’s block. He let her press him and settled his arms around her so she was tight to him and they were cheek to cheek. As they stood there, he rubbed her back and stood patiently allowing her all the time she needed.

Not long after they’d settled themselves into one another, Bill noticed that Marie had started crying. He felt it first, felt the wet of her teardrops, so he moved his face to look at her.

“Ain’t my fault,” she said. “I give him anything he wants. I gave him kids. And I was faithful too, all the way till one of his girlfriends embarrassed me out in public. Then he just denied it and denied it. But it was true. Till then I lied to myself. I told myself he wasn’t cheating. But he was.”

Bill held her even tighter than they were. He couldn’t help but be aroused, but he made no moves on her sexually and he hoped she didn’t make any moves on him or make any demands either. He had no idea what to say, so he simply said “It’s all right. Go ahead and cry.”

“I ain’t crying about him. I’m crying for the way my life turned out. I’m stuck with two kids and a man who don’t love me who messes around on me all the time.”

“That why you started with Henry Lee?”

“That was a accident. I wasn’t looking for nothing. He just caught me when I was changing one day and he said something and I felt pretty again. So I let him look at me, then touch me and then we were doing things that felt pretty good and didn’t seem so bad given my circumstances.”

Marie stepped away from Bill. She didn’t bother to cover herself when she walked over to the towel drawer and took herself a clean kitchen towel. After she’d wiped her face, she stepped back toward Bill, helped herself to a drink of bourbon, then took his hand in hers and led it over her body.

This was something they’d done before. This was something Bill had not minded and did not mind now. So he let her lead him, guide him to exactly where she wanted his fingers which was under her dress and around her so he held her bare back and could rub it. As he rubbed her back, she kissed him once on the lips and asked him to hold her some more.

“You got any Quaaludes?” she asked.

“I do. But I ain’t giving you any if you’re driving home”

“I’m planning on driving home. And pretty soon too.

“Then I’ll give you some speed. And I’ll follow you to make sure you get home.”

“That would be great.”

Marie reached down to Bill’s kitchen pants and unbuttoned the fly. Bill did not stop her, but when she started to reach inside he asked her not to. He told her it was better if they just hugged for awhile then changed then left.

He held her, rubbed her back. She pressed against him, moved against him down there even though she could not feel him bare against her. She kissed him some, soft kisses that were sweet and almost romantic. In fact, it was downright sensual, so sensual that Bill heard Marie moan, not once but several times.

“You don’t know how nice this feels,” she said. “You don’t know what you’re doing to me.”

“You gonna tell me?”

“You really want me to?”

“Do I?”

“Don’t you already know?”

“Pretty much,” said Bill.

“Then maybe we’d better just finish this and let ourselves enjoy it.”

“Not here,” said Bill.

“Right here,” said Marie.

Again she reached inside Bill’s now-unbuttoned fly. This time Bill did not stop her.

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kitchen-4

After they smoked the joint they sat in the meat room and drank some bourbon.

“Don’t get too messed up,” Bill said. “You have to drive home.

Marie sat on the stainless steel counter where Mary always sat. Bill sat on the freestanding cutting block he used to cut meat. He had cleaned and scrubbed it when he’d finished cutting meat in the afternoon. Henry Lee worked on his counter where he had a butcher-block top. Henry Lee had scrubbed and cleaned that station.

Since Bill was facing her, since they were high and drinking, Marie allowed her dress to slide open. She finished unbuttoning it so that on top all she wore was her white bra. On bottom she was naked since she’d removed her panties. The panties were still in her pocket.

She was holding the bottle of bourbon and took a drink. She sat with her legs tightly crossed, perhaps waiting for a signal from Bill as to how to conduct herself. Meanwhile, after she drank, she leaned forward and passed the bottle over to him. While he was drinking, she reached into her pocket, pulled out the panties and tossed them onto his lap. He laughed and held them up. They were plain white cotton panties. He took a quick sniff then tossed them back to her.

“Should I put them back on?”

“Why?”

“Well, should I uncross my legs?”

“Depends.”

“On?”

“What you have in mind.”

“You really want to know what I have in mind?”

“I don’t know. Do I?”

“I better whisper it to you. Give me another drink first.”

Marie slid down off the counter and walked the couple of steps to where Bill sat. She took the bottle from him and helpd herself to a good swig.

“I told you, don’t drink too much. You don’t want to get stopped by the cops. When all is said and done, you’re a black girl driving home late at night.”

“And you’re a white boy gonna protect me.” She took another long drink and would have kept drinking if Bill had not taken the bottle from her.

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“You wouldn’t leave me in the crapper.”

“Yeah? Remember that one time I drove you home?”

Marie was so messed up that time Bill was afraid to let her drive home, so he’d driven her himself. When they got there, her husband was waiting for her at the door and smacked her right there for coming home with another man. Bill had thought then that maybe he’d done it like that so as to challenge Bill, to see if Bill would do anything. He felt bad about it, but didn’t get out of the car. He felt even worse that they were completely innocent, that she was getting hit for nothing.

“I told you, he ain’t home and won’t be home till tomorrow. And it don’t mean shit to a train.”

“Still…”

“Still nothing.” Marie put her lips close to Bill’s ear and whispered things to him. She did it slowly and deliberately and when she was finished whispering, she kissed his earlobe then nibbled on it gently.

Bill slid himself down off the butcher block and took Marie in his arms. He held her close to him so that their bodies pressed against one another. He didn’t want to stay. He had planned to go straight home and to get there at what for him was going to be a relatively decent time. He didn’t want to get involved in anything with Marie. He didn’t want a lot of things, but then again, there were some things he did want.

“Just hold me awhile,” Marie said. She reached between them to settle Bill against her down there the way she wanted. But she did not press for him to do anything other than hold her.

“I’m just so awful lonely,” she said.

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kitchen-4

Bill sat up on the counter next to Marie. He offered her a cigarette and put one in his own mouth then he held the match for her to light hers before he lit his own. Marie crossed her feet at the ankles and swung her legs, much like Mary did when she sat up on the counter.

They sat a few minutes in silence, neither one of them talking, both of them smoking and drinking their beer. Bill thought Marie must have been having a moment of self-consciousness because she covered herself by making sure her dress was pulled closed and tucked tight underneath her.

“That grease be melted in a few minutes,” Bill finally said. Then, “Why you hanging around?”

“I ain’t got nothing to go home to, not with the kids not there.”

“Well, what you want from me?”

“I don’t want nothing. Getting high would be nice.”

“That’s easy. Soon as that grease is melted. You could change in the meantime.”

“I’ll wait for you,” Marie said. Then, “How come you don’t like me?” She was finished her cigarette and let herself slide down from the counter. She put the cigarette out with water from Mary’s sink then tossed the butt into the garbage can. The can was empty and had a clean liner in it.

“Who said I don’t like you?”

“It’s not about the words. It’s how you act.”

“How do I act?”

“Well you don’t want me.”

“It isn’t like that. It’s that you’re with Henry Lee.”

“He really don’t care. He told you that.”

“Yeah, but I care. We don’t need any more tension. I already have plenty of that with Bea. You don’t need her on your case either.”

“You know what I got to say about that.” Marie flicked her fingers under her chin in the “f”—it sign.

“Well, we all got to live here, you know.”

“Yeah, we do.” Marie stepped up close to Bill. “Sometimes I just want to be held,” she said. She put her hands in her dress pockets and let the dress slip apart as she stepped close to him. “Just hold me.”

Bill was still sitting on the counter. He took her in his arms and held her to him. The way he was sitting made it so that she could not really touch him with her body except where their chests met. She still had her bra on and her dress closed up there.

“That feels nice,” she said. She reached up and kissed him on the lips. It was a closed-mouth kiss since Bill did not respond except to give that.

“Let me finish up,” Bill said. “Why don’t you meet me in the meat room?”

Marie nodded, picked up her beer and started for the door. “Don’t be too long, please.”

“Won’t be but a few.”

Bill took up his beer and went back to the line. He saw that the cube of grease was all liquid now so he shut down the fryer and slipped a meat tray over it to cover it. The meat tray was actually big enough to cover both fryers and Bill, pretty much finished, checked up and down the entire line, made sure everything was turned off, everything was clean and everything was put away. He went around back again and double-checked Mary’s station then peeked into all the ovens. Ever since he’d burned that rib by cooking it overnight, he never went home without checking the ovens.

The last thing he did before going downstairs was check out the dishwasher area. All the pots were done and all the dishes were put away except for the one rack that needed to be run through the machine in the morning. These were all the dishes that came in after the dishwashers went home.

Downstairs, he stopped at his locker and got a fat joint out. Then he went off to the meat room.

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