Written / Cooking On High

Dig the pink.


Disclaimers Addendum

Chapter 16

Since Saturday and Sunday were busy nights at the restaurant, they decided they’d leave Jason’s apartment until Monday. French took Mondays off, so did most chefs. The town was also less populated that night.

In the meantime, Fry was going to pump the local grapevine for information on Bernie and Louisa. Who knew? Maybe something would turn up. This was frustrating business. She felt like they were wandering in the dark and she couldn’t shake the feeling that French was sending her off to do busy work while she traced down more important leads. It was probably a small miracle that French had let her get this involved, so she decided to go with it.

She arrived for work ten minutes early as expected by the management and donned her battle dress. This is how she’d come to think of her tie, vest and apron. French called her over as she passed by on her way out to the floor.

“Glad that you were able to fit us into your busy schedule this evening.” French said.

“Oh, you know how it is, I was able to move a few things around.”

French held out a small piece of toast with something on it. “Try moving this around your mouth, then tell me what you think.”

“Not this again?” Fry had hoped it might be a phase.

“Don’t tell me what’s in it, though you can if you want to. Tell me what you think of it.”

Was French looking for an opinion? No. Fry was sure that couldn’t be it, not in this lifetime. The chef was up to something else. She nibbled a bit of the rich smelling, creamy spread and was lost in another plane of sensation altogether. Until she felt French poking her in the arm.

“Come on, we don’t have all day here Miss Swoony. Focus, think, speak.”

“You’re so bossy.” French could really kill a buzz.

“And that would be why?”

“Oh right, you’re the boss. How could I ever forget? It’s heavenly.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“It’s deeply flavorful. Not just rich, but smokey, with an edge.”

“Better. Now get out there and do that cheerful thing people seem to like so much.”

“Yes ma’am.”

The evening raced along. French called her over a couple of times and they repeated the tasting, but the chef asked her a couple of leading questions each time. Helping her compare or contrast the flavors she’d sampled. It was fun. So was the look on Andre’s face whenever French was otherwise occupied. Chilli was looking at her funny too, as if she’d wrestled an alligator on the kitchen floor single-handed. Was this respect from the kitchen crew? It felt more like awe, possibly fear.

Then, the very air seemed to change flavor. Fry put it down to that odd quality that existed in Bachanal, the almost sentient atmosphere. She’d just finished plating a table when she saw Barbra seat Mitchell Redmond and three guests in Miguel’s section. Nothing went well after that.

French knew it was Mitchell. What else could curdle her mood so thoroughly? When he came into the kitchen with a thin blonde draped on his arm, she was ready for him.

“A wonderful evening as always French. But I must say, my guest was disappointed in your choice of wines.” He gave a sad little pout and turned to the woman in question. “Serena dear, this is French.”

If French didn’t think rolling her eyes would have been overkill, she would have done it and then some. Mitchell’s pathetic attempts to make her jealous had always involved underfed blondes that had an eerie resemblance to his mother.

The woman in question spoke for herself. “The selection was perfect, it’s the wines that were off. Are you sure they’re stored properly? That Antinori Solaia should be more oaky, you may have them warmer than they need to be.” For a thin thing, she had an attractively deep purr to her voice.

“I’m sorry if the choice wasn’t up to your expectation. I’ll be sure to make a note to have the wine rooms checked. Please accept our deepest apologies and a meal on the house for your next visit.” If French’s teeth hadn’t been bone solid and perfect, they may have crushed under the pressure exerted by her jaw as she snapped it shut. She had a funny feeling that if she checked the wine cellar carefully, she’d find a few things that were off. This bitch was good.

“Oh, that won’t be necessary. Anything to come to the aid of a colleague. I know how difficult it can be to keep track of a hectic operation. Sometimes the most expert chef can make the most obvious mistake. There’s never enough time.” The smile that broke over Serena’s face was measured and there was a cruel glint in her eye. She was going to enjoy taking out this amazon.

“If you’ll excuse us, we’re finishing up the evening’s rush.” French indicated the waitstaff squeezing by on their way out. The fact that she indicated it with her knife wasn’t lost on Mitchell.

“Just dropped in to compliment the chef.” Mitchell bowed his head slightly and held the door for Serena. That’s when Fry was coming through with a tray and not expecting the ‘in’ door to be quite so crowded. She tried to back pedal, but it was too late. Several glasses tipped on the tray and she felt the balance go. Serena put out a steadying hand that lent a bit of stability to the toppling dishes, but not enough. Mitchell’s shirtfront took the brunt of the alcohol and leftovers.

Fry was mortified. Not only had she crashed another tray, she’d done it all over Mitchell Redmond. She knew he was in her way, but she doubted French would be sympathetic to her position. When she saw the smirk on the chef’s face, she was given hope that she might live to tell the tale.

Mitchell looked to French for a reaction. She shrugged as if to say, you stand in traffic you’ll get hit - asshole.

With the doorway occupied and wide open French had a good view of the two men standing just outside. It wasn’t Heckle and Jeckle, the nicknames she’d given Mitchell’s usual muscle, Tim and Paul. These were muscle nonetheless. Those guys rarely looked comfortable anywhere but a back alley making some poor bastard’s life miserable. The ones who were any good at their jobs. She noticed them looking the room over.

Fry began to wipe at the stains on Mitchell’s shirt and jacket.

“Oh, leave it.” He snapped and brushed her away. “Let’s go.”

French was on full alert. And man did it feel good. No two-bit muscle, dyed blonde and mixed up mama’s boy were taking her down. Not by a long shot. She welcomed the surge of adrenaline that pulsed through her veins. She’d missed this.

Looking for a killer had given her multifaceted brain something to do, but it was an abstract sort of something. French preferred the tangible. Having something solid to grapple with, or kick in the head. Something was amiss in her new life, and the most prominent things she’d eradicated from her life besides outright evil, were the sex and violence that had been a part of her daily diet for years. Perhaps finding a way to integrate these things by degree, and in a purely positive manner, of course, was the way to go. Or maybe not, because while she truly felt like chasing Mitchell’s elegant little party into the parking lot and kicking their asses into the harbor, she didn’t want to have sex with any of them.

Recently she’d begun to wonder, could you die from the boredom of goodness? Fry appeared to do alright, but who knew what her life was really like? French hadn’t asked.

She pictured Fry in her off time delivering meals on wheels and chatting with the elderly. That would kill French but quick. Maybe she could start giving self-defense classes or something, that way she’d have an excuse to kick some ass. But you probably wouldn’t get very far beating up your own students. She could look around for a sparring partner on the island. Weirder things had happened than finding another Wu Shu freak with a black belt on this rock. She’d give it some thought.


Sonny debated telling French anything. She was loco at best and at worst a raving bitch. But she was the chef. And though he wasn’t impressed with her management style, he couldn’t fault her talent. He was learning from her. Besides, you never knew what might play in your favor. And if she laughed him off and went on a rampage, she’d get what she deserved.

At the end of the evening he approached her office door. This was his last opportunity to debate the pros and cons.

“Sonny, either you come in or get lost. I don’t need people lurking around my door!” That was the truth. There’d already been someone lurking around in the store rooms downstairs. She’d gone over them with a fine tooth comb. There’d been someone screwing with her wines alright. This wasn’t the kind of thing French was prone to take lightly, or well. Good thing she had a reasonable idea of who it was and was certain that she’d have an opportunity to take it out on them soon.

Sonny sat on the couch and tried to figure out a good way to tell French she’d probably made the worst enemy of her life that evening. It was so easy until you had to face French in person. Being alone with her never seemed like a good idea.

“That woman who came in tonight. She’s messed up.” He said.

“And that’s got what to do with me?” An internet search engine couldn’t turn up information faster than the restaurant grapevine. She’d bet on it every time.

“I worked at a place in the city where she’d just quit. The guy who ran the kitchen pissed her off. This was a mob operation. I swear to you, even the boss, Micky Dilfano was scared shitless of her. He put twenty-four seven security on the place.”

French laughed. “Afraid of fire, was Micky?”

“No. She doesn’t do the torching thing. The last place she left had been blown to bits. Nothing left. She’s into explosives. Gets off on it too.”

French thought, “Aw gee Mitchell, I thought I was your little pyrotechnician...” To Sonny she said, “Well, well, this is fascinating news. Tell me more.”

Sonny wasn’t sure if he’d heard right. French was clearly intrigued, if not pleased by the news.

As days of the week went, Mondays were unique at Bachanal. Without French, it was almost like another restaurant. But with the experienced crew, no customer, who didn’t know not to dine out on a Monday in the first place, would complain. Brian, for all of French’s berating and cajoling, was a good sous chef, and a hell of a lot easier to work for.

They’d had a decent day overall. The regattas, arts and music festivals had started and the steady stream of people coming and going from the island kept everyone busy.

The crew was finished up and mingling out back before taking off. Max was trying to convince Barbra to head over to The Dance Bar with some of them.

“I don’t know Max, I’m beat and I’m on tomorrow.”

“Come on Barbra,” Jacqueline started. “You haven’t been out with us in a week. Call Michael and tell him to meet us.”

“Yeah, right.” Barbra snorted. Her ever practical, retiring boyfriend was the last person on the island you’d find in The Dance Bar of a Monday evening. He’d rather stay home and polish his equipment, his firefighting equipment that is. Michael was a full-time math and science teacher at Midstock High, and a volunteer fireman when ever else he possibly could be. Much to Barbra’s frequent consternation. “I’ll call him and let him know I’ll be late.”

“Hey, maybe French will show tonight.” Chilli’s innocent remark cut a hole in the conversation around him. Several of his coworkers looked his way.

“And that would be a good thing?” Max wanted to know.

“Yeah, like we’re supposed to kick back, have a good time, and bitch about her while she’s breathing down our necks and generally scaring the shit out of us?” Milo chimed in.

“She acts like she’s all that, but she doesn’t scare me.” Jacqueline couldn’t stand the way the crew cowered around French, or the amount of attention they gave her when she wasn’t there.

“She should.” Miguel appeared from around the corner. He’d just finished locking up with Brian. “French isn’t your garden variety ‘spit in your soup’ kind of spiteful, she’s the ‘check your brakes before you leave the parking lot’ kind of frightful. I, for one, am scared senseless of her.”

“You’re such a Queen Miguel!” Jacqueline admonished him.

“And you are a special brand of stupid if you test her. I kid you not.” He replied.

“He’s right. But she’s been kinda different this summer, ya know?” Chilli asked. The tension in the group had risen since they started on the topic of their formidable employer. Lord knew, the restaurant had ears and Miguel was as good as French’s own, but the thing that most increased their discomfort was the subject of French’s “change”. None had dared to speak of it aloud. And now, they unconsciously fell into hushed tones.

“Like she’s tense all the time, but not psycho really.” Brian ventured.

“Yes,” Juan added. “I have noticed that she will stop and take a breath before screaming at a purveyor. She seems more relaxed. And she is easier to be in the store room with, I do not feel in danger.”

“That’s it.” Chilli agreed. “Like, she’s easier to be around.” A few heads nodded.

Barbra found this hard to believe. “How can that raving monomaniac be easier to be around?”

“Well,” Andre said. “For one thing, she hasn’t stabbed anybody this summer.”

“Are you telling me that she knifes you guys? Why do you put up with that crap? Why doesn’t someone put her away?”

“It’s not like they don’t deserve it. And she never starts it.” Andre said.

“Oh please, she’d goad a saint into a killing frenzy.” Barbra was sure of it.

“No, remember Drexel? The hot-shit sautee guy from Chez Asterix in the Hamptons?” Chilli asked. Andre and Brian nodded and laughed. “He leaked French’s Hilltop Festival Taste Off menu before she was ready to announce it. It was going to be this big deal. He walks in the kitchen for shift, she grabs him by the jacket, hoists him off the ground and pins him to the wall. With his own knives.”

“Oh my god! Didn’t anyone call the police?” Barbra was horrified.

“She didn’t stab him, just hung him from his jacket. Looked like a scarecrow. He didn’t show again, I think he got the hint. What an asshole.” Chilli had hated Drexel. He was a flashy son of a bitch. But it was all for show, his moves and knife work were crap.

“She stabbed Jim Unger when he tried to jump her in the back hall.” Andre reminded them. “Just kept on walking to her office, called the ambulance, got whatever it was she went back there for and finished shift. Cool as a cucumber.”

“Oh.” Barbra knew Jim Unger. He was a big guy with a good reputation in the kitchen, unless he was drunk, in which case he was a meanspirited jerk. He’d harassed a few of her friends in various kitchens over the years. She’d never liked him. “Why’d she have a knife on her if she was going out back?”

“French is always armed.” Andre informed her in a tone that asked, “Didn’t you know?”

“Of course she is, why did I ask? So, it’s like she’s more bark than bite this summer?”

“Yeah, but I’d still watch it if I were you Sonny.” Andre warned.

“Yeah, yeah. I got the message. I’m not stupid.”

“Well,” Jacqueline said. “I think women are her soft spot.” She’d noticed that French hadn’t barely raised her voice at Fry, even when the little townie had deserved it.

“You wouldn’t say that if you’d known Dierdre Brenner. She may not be immune to the charms of women, but she ain’t undone by them either.” Milo assured her.

“What’d she do?” Barbra was finding this bull session extremely informative, if disturbing.

“Dierdre slept with French and got the wrong idea, like maybe it mattered or something. French usually has a plaything or two on the staff each summer. Anyway, Dierdre got more and more pissed off when French started ignoring her. That’s standard operating procedure when French has moved on. Most people take the hint and back off, or quit. One night French went home with Ken. When Dierdre found out, she lost it and confronted French during the dinner rush. She had this fit and started throwing things. French just stood there and watched her, kinda bored looking. Then Dierdre picked up one of French’s knives. It was over in the blink of an eye. Dierdre had a concussion and had to eat from a straw for a couple of weeks.”

“Again, I ask, why hasn’t anyone locked her up?”

“French is too smart. She waits until someone else makes a wrong move. She could make a snake blink.” Milo was sure of it.

“No doubt.” So was Barbra.

Continued in Chapter 17.

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