It was early for Fry to be in, she wasnt scheduled until the dinner shift. Fry thought it would be nice to drop something off for French while she did a couple of errands downtown. Even French must have been unsettled by the excitement the night before.
Shed placed the small bundle on the chefs station and tucked a leaflet artfully beneath it, when Chilli called over, I wouldnt leave that there Fry. Not a good idea.
Im not touching anything. Its for her anyway. Where is she?
I think shes out killing the produce guy. He was late again.
Productive. Ill see you later. She waved to Chilli and the others prepping on the line. She got a few nods and a wave from Andre.
Chilli didnt see any reason for Fry to get hung out to dry because there was no question French would go ballistic if anyone so much as breathed in the direction of her station. Fry didnt understand. Most people wouldnt. Chilli started for Frenchs station to move the offending objects off to the side.
As luck would have it, French walked in through the swinging door. And stopped. Chilli stopped as well. She was staring at the small pile in the center of her cutting board. She felt the anger creep up from a place deep within. It spiralled out of the vortex beneath her sternum, pulsing through her veins and muscles. She walked over to the offending pile. It was a small basket, and she knew the smell before shed seen the contents. Wild strawberries.
She moved the basket aside with a single finger to reveal the paper beneath it. She eyed it suspiciously as if it may set off a trap or explosive device. Satisfied that it was harmless, she picked it up.
Chilli had crept back to his station and resumed his work. It was curious that French hadnt exploded yet. No one messed with the chefs place, hed heard she stabbed a guy for leaning against it once.
French glanced over the pamphlet. Ha! Not in this lifetime sister!
Chili noticed that while she crumpled the paper and tossed it in the trash, she lifted the small basket with what could have passed for a gleam in her eye and headed out back.
French was about to enter her office when she got that flutter, buzzing sensation. She opened the door with her free hand. It was the same feeling she got whenever she ran into... Mitchell.
At least you remember my name. He was sitting on the edge of her desk, arms and legs crossed. She knew now that the slow perusal he gave her body was as unconscious as the annoying way he curled his lip when he felt smug. Like now. You wouldnt answer me, so I thought I might know where to track you down.
I dont have time for your needs Mitchell. I have a business to run.
So do I, and I need you to do it. That deal wont fly without you French. You know you could run this place from a cell phone in your sleep. Your true talents are wasted here.
She didnt answer, just stood leaning on the doorjamb. Mostly she wanted him to get lost. Then she could eat the berries that she could smell ripening in the basket. If they passed their peak while she was busy with Mitchell she might have to kill him.
You know French, Mother knows a lot of people in town. A word here, a word there, business isnt so good anymore. You know how things can spread.
I know exactly what you mean. Staurt Dunn, that delightful ass-wipe your mother plays tennis with? He was in for lunch last week and we got to talking business and investing. I was going to ask him about a curious little venture he might be interested in, but I couldnt remember the the name just then. Brisbee? Brisbane? Oh well, you know how my memory gets. Does he still handle your mothers investments? So dont piss in my back yard jackass or itll get messy.
Mitchell gave her a broad smile. Well, well. Good thing neither of us are gossips.
Isnt it? Why dont we make this a clean break? You take your nasty bag of tricks and go home, and Ill leave you alone.
I wish it was that simple. There are other people involved. You remember Jasper and his Uncle Max.
Sadly, yes. But theyre not my problem.
They might not think so when they find out youre not being co-operative.
They still dont know? Are you sure its me theyll be pissed at?
Thats unfortunate. If something comes up, and its related to our deal in any way, Ill be in touch. Directly. In the meantime, I have business to see to, so if youll excuse me? She gestured toward the door.
Youre usually smarter than this. Youd only have to stay on six more months, then we could replace you without a hitch. As it stands now, your names part of the deal.
Youd better fix that little typo. I have five hungry lawyers who tell me its not that hard to do.
French, it wont go away so easily. I need you with me on this.
Im touched, really. But its too little, too late. After all of the e-mails, faxes and phone calls you just dont seem to get it. Let me be absolutely clear. Lets drop the polite facade for a moment, so that theres no question that you understand my intent. I want you, your slimeball friends and most definitely your mother, to fuck off. Was that clear? Did you get that? She saw that telltale twitching around Mitchells temple that indicated hed lost his temper.
Careful French, your roots are showing. And Im still not impressed with your grasp of the vernacular. Go back to your sweat shop. Burn off some steam and think it over. Because if you screw this up for me I can guarantee you Ill remember it and youll pay.
Thats more like it! Now try slapping me and well reallyve made some progress. Oh, thats right, you leave that kind of thing to Tim and Paul. Should I be expecting a visit?
Mitchell was heading for the exit. Play games all you want. I mean it. And he was gone.
Did he piss on her last, dammit? Shed lost track.
She was refreshed by the challenge that Mitchell presented. He was a well packaged, slick piece of work with a mind like a steel trap. Theyd made a great pair. He was a risk taker and a fighter. Not typical of his class in many ways. Typical enough to draw Frenchs attention, but not atypical enough to hold it. Her relationships had always been inextricably linked to business, so shed never considered leaving their deals and staying with the man. Apparently Mitchell saw things the same way and was having trouble giving her up. That steel trap could be a hindrance.
Mitchell was in deep and they were putting on the pressure, that much was clear. Why he bothered with those mammoth deals was beyond her. Who the hell wanted to stay in one of those god awful, primped up, over-produced, monster resorts anyway? Not enough people to merit a worldwide chain of them thats for damn sure. But dont tell that to the suckers who were handing them money faster than they could deposit it in offshore bank accounts that could neither be traced nor contested once the scheme fell apart.
Mitchells familys concerns were such a byzantine warren of corporate inbreeding that youd be hard pressed to trace anything back to him directly. Hed gotten messed up with some smooth customers and found himself suckered into a deal he never should have touched in the first place. But it wasnt her problem anymore. Neither was Mitchell. If he thought sneaking into her office and playing politics was going to win her back, he hadnt been paying attention the last few years.
She decided to focus on matters at hand. She placed the basket beneath her nose and took a deep breath. Now that was important.
There was a lull before dinner picked up. Barbra and Chilli were out back smoking when French stepped out to ask if theyd seen Brian. They said no. She leaned against her door and chatted for a couple of minutes.
Fry rode up on her bike and waved as she passed them. French glanced at Barbra. She didnt seem to have noticed. She glanced at Chilli, hed obviously seen it.
Barbra watched the two looking back and forth at each other, then at Fry. She loved the Sparks. Fry had pulled up on the much talked about Sparkmobile.
Fry tucked her helmet under her arm and walked over, Hi!
Fry, what the hell is that thing? French furrowed her brow and Chilli was shaking his head. The people on this island were just weird.
What does it look like?
The two wheels at the bottom would indicate that its a bicycle, but the rest of it throws that theory into question.
Ha, ha. Its a lie-down bike. My Dad made it. Its easier to ride and you can go miles further on it without getting tired.
Seeing as the island wasnt that big to begin with, French wondered why youd need a special bike for distance riding. To preserve what remained of her sanity, she dropped it. Would you step into my office for a moment?
Fry took the familiar position on the couch and French walked over to her. Stand up.
She hoped this wasnt about to get weird. Yesterday had filled her quota.
There is something very important I want you to understand. It is crucial that you pay close attention when I tell you this because it may save your life one day. Are you paying attention?
Fry nodded. Uh-oh.
You never, ever, under any circumstance whatsoever, and I mean positively, without question or reservation in the deepest seriousness and intent, leave anything on, near, at, over, or under my station. Have I made myself perfectly clear.
Good thing. I wouldnt want to hurt you, but I would if you did it again.
French sounded utterly serious. But she hadnt raised her voice the whole time. Fry had to ask. I got it loud and clear. Ill never do it again. But why?
By all rights, French should have been screaming that she didnt have to explain anything to a know-nothing waitron who didnt know mis en place from a hole in the wall. But she wasnt. Its a chef thing.
I gather, but why?
Like Chinese water torture, she wouldnt stop until your sanity had run clean out. Its hard earned thats why. Every inch of that station represents the years of work that went into attaining it. Its got to be kept just so. Its my instrument, my pallette, my word processor, whatever the analogy youd understand. Its something Ive had to fight for, many times physically, and I dont want anyone thinking they can leave things all over it willy-nilly, got it? She was getting worked up as she recalled some less appealing moments earning her stripes in the kitchen.
Sure, its a territorial thing. No problem. Fry couldnt help reaching out and touching Frenchs arm gently. She seemed so agitated. Next time Ill use your office, is that okay?
So, did you like them?
Not bad. French shrugged. Whered you get em?
Around, they grow on the island. I pick them every now and again.
Your not being the least bit subtle. Fry noted.
Should I be?
Ive heard that you can be charming when you want. I just thought it might be nice to experience it. Besides, it was a treat. Something nice after your tough day yesterday.
Yeah, you remember? Monica? Gun? You freaking out and sticking crackers and spoons in my face? I thought that constituted a pretty tough day. Didnt you?
How could Fry know that next to the discovery of her talent, the gun was a mere ripple in the sphere of her consciousness. Oh yeah. Pretty average day really. We had a purveyor try to run a truck through the front lobby one night. He said Id chased all of his restaurant clients away. Everyone wanted to leave. That night was worse.
Wow. Whatd you do?
Slashed his tires in the lot. He couldnt get very far after that. Shed busted one of her favorite knives too. But when you had a tough job to do, you used your best equipment.
And had you?
Chased all of his clients away?
Wasnt my fault the guy was passing off old stuff. He also offered a little payolla to keep it quiet. Kinda pissed me off.
Fry had already discerned that pissing French off wasnt time well spent.
Something occurred to French. So, you okay? After yesterday?
I guess so. No one was trying to kill me. Monicas kind of out of it and her jaws pretty swollen, but I think shes going to be alright. And Im more confused than anything else about the spoons and crackers.
French smiled. If it makes you feel any better, thats not the first time Ive been on the wrong end of a gun. And as for the taste test. Im reasonably sure youre not taste-blind. Your palate has perfect vision as far as I can tell. On short notice.
There is no right end of a gun to be on and thats terrible! Why should it make me feel better to know youve been in danger like that before?
Earth to Fry. The important part of that went right over your head. Maybe its a height thing. Ill spell it out for you. You have a gift. A rare talent. Dont you care?
No need to get nasty about my height. Just because... French held up her hand to quiet the waitress.
Fry. Do you, or do you not understand that yesterday you were able to name several key components to a recipe? That no one else knew about? Answer yes or no.
Do you understand that that could be a career? A very lucrative one with the right training?
Youve got to be joking?
Im not saying you have what it takes. Im saying you may have an important component to what it takes. With work, you could be a very lucrative asset in somebodys scheme of things. You could also be a rather deadly weapon in the wrong hands, but I think thats probably true either way.
Why are you telling me this then?
Why indeed? French had thought long and hard before shed revealed the full extent of what she knew. Shed come to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do. Fry wouldnt betray the restaurant, her. And if she did, French believed shed survive. Fry might not, but she would.
Shed spent years using up other peoples talent. Climbing the ladder utilizing as much of others skills as she could manage. It was an effective strategy to conserve energy over time. And when shed totally undermined someones self-confidence or burned them out, she tossed them aside and moved on.
She couldnt do that to Fry. Besides, the idea of anyone burning Fry out was ludicrous. Even she could see that. And the thought of anyone undermining this genuine and good natured young womans confidence made her distinctly uncomfortable, kinda twitchy really.
I thought you should know. In case you were interested in pursuing it. Why anyone wouldnt was beyond Frenchs food obsessed view of the world.
French, after next semester I wouldnt pursue a job in the food service industry if someone payed me in gold. They could give me shares in Microsoft, Coke, or whatever corporate monster is riding the cynical wave of free market tyranny at the moment. I wouldnt sneeze in the direction of a career in this business, period. But thanks for letting me know, I appreciate it.
French looked at the other-worldly specimen that stood before her. She could have been speaking Ancient Greek for all French understood of what shed said. Oh sure, the words she knew, but the intention behind them was totally lost on her. Fry must have misunderstood. She must not have been clear. Shed think of a way to communicate it more effectively later. Theyd been yammering away valuable time.
Whatever. Look, we have to get to it. Youre going to be late if you dont get changed now.
But Im talking to you, the chef. Isnt that kind of a good excuse.
Maybe for some, not for me. Move it.
Wait a second. When are we going to discuss the case? What did you find the other night? How are we going to find Jason? Should we check out his apartment? I know where his office...
Whoa. Well talk about it later, right now theres work to do.
Oh no you dont! I have something you want. Ill trade.
Excuse me? French knew her reputation was well known among her staff, but Fry didnt strike her as that kind of girl.
Ill tell you where the berries are, if youll meet me outside of work and talk about this. No obfuscating, no evasions. An exchange of information and ideas.
Dont pass it up. Theres no way youll find them and youre not getting out of my help even if you try, so you might as well say yes.
I already did.
Oh...well...good. Ill meet you at Gillman Rock at seven tomorrow morning. Do you know where it is? Can you get there? Was it just her, or had that been too easy?
I know where it is. Its ridiculously early, but Ill be there. Never underestimate the power of food over a chef.
Continued in Chapter 14.