Since Saturday and Sunday were busy nights at the restaurant, they decided theyd leave Jasons 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 couldnt 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 shed 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.
Dont tell me whats 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 couldnt 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 dont have all day here Miss Swoony. Focus, think, speak.
Youre so bossy. French could really kill a buzz.
And that would be why?
Oh right, youre the boss. How could I ever forget? Its heavenly.
Could you be more specific?
Its 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.
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 shed sampled. It was fun. So was the look on Andres face whenever French was otherwise occupied. Chilli was looking at her funny too, as if shed 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. Shed just finished plating a table when she saw Barbra seat Mitchell Redmond and three guests in Miguels 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 didnt think rolling her eyes would have been overkill, she would have done it and then some. Mitchells 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, its the wines that were off. Are you sure theyre 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.
Im sorry if the choice wasnt up to your expectation. Ill 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 Frenchs teeth hadnt 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, shed find a few things that were off. This bitch was good.
Oh, that wont 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. Theres never enough time. The smile that broke over Serenas face was measured and there was a cruel glint in her eye. She was going to enjoy taking out this amazon.
If youll excuse us, were finishing up the evenings rush. French indicated the waitstaff squeezing by on their way out. The fact that she indicated it with her knife wasnt lost on Mitchell.
Just dropped in to compliment the chef. Mitchell bowed his head slightly and held the door for Serena. Thats 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. Mitchells shirtfront took the brunt of the alcohol and leftovers.
Fry was mortified. Not only had she crashed another tray, shed 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 chefs 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 youll get hit - asshole.
With the doorway occupied and wide open French had a good view of the two men standing just outside. It wasnt Heckle and Jeckle, the nicknames shed given Mitchells usual muscle, Tim and Paul. These were muscle nonetheless. Those guys rarely looked comfortable anywhere but a back alley making some poor bastards 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 Mitchells shirt and jacket.
Oh, leave it. He snapped and brushed her away. Lets go.
French was on full alert. And man did it feel good. No two-bit muscle, dyed blonde and mixed up mamas boy were taking her down. Not by a long shot. She welcomed the surge of adrenaline that pulsed through her veins. Shed 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 shed 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 Mitchells elegant little party into the parking lot and kicking their asses into the harbor, she didnt want to have sex with any of them.
Recently shed 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 hadnt 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 shed have an excuse to kick some ass. But you probably wouldnt 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. Shed 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 wasnt impressed with her management style, he couldnt 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, shed 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 dont need people lurking around my door! That was the truth. Thered already been someone lurking around in the store rooms downstairs. Shed gone over them with a fine tooth comb. Thered been someone screwing with her wines alright. This wasnt 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 shed 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 shed 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. Shes messed up. He said.
And thats got what to do with me? An internet search engine couldnt turn up information faster than the restaurant grapevine. Shed bet on it every time.
I worked at a place in the city where shed 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 doesnt do the torching thing. The last place she left had been blown to bits. Nothing left. Shes 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 wasnt sure if hed 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 didnt know not to dine out on a Monday in the first place, would complain. Brian, for all of Frenchs berating and cajoling, was a good sous chef, and a hell of a lot easier to work for.
Theyd 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 dont know Max, Im beat and Im on tomorrow.
Come on Barbra, Jacqueline started. You havent 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 youd find in The Dance Bar of a Monday evening. Hed 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 Barbras frequent consternation. Ill call him and let him know Ill be late.
Hey, maybe French will show tonight. Chillis 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 were supposed to kick back, have a good time, and bitch about her while shes breathing down our necks and generally scaring the shit out of us? Milo chimed in.
She acts like shes all that, but she doesnt scare me. Jacqueline couldnt stand the way the crew cowered around French, or the amount of attention they gave her when she wasnt there.
She should. Miguel appeared from around the corner. Hed just finished locking up with Brian. French isnt your garden variety spit in your soup kind of spiteful, shes the check your brakes before you leave the parking lot kind of frightful. I, for one, am scared senseless of her.
Youre 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.
Hes right. But shes 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 Frenchs own, but the thing that most increased their discomfort was the subject of Frenchs change. None had dared to speak of it aloud. And now, they unconsciously fell into hushed tones.
Like shes 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.
Thats it. Chilli agreed. Like, shes 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 hasnt stabbed anybody this summer.
Are you telling me that she knifes you guys? Why do you put up with that crap? Why doesnt someone put her away?
Its not like they dont deserve it. And she never starts it. Andre said.
Oh please, shed 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 Frenchs 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! Didnt anyone call the police? Barbra was horrified.
She didnt stab him, just hung him from his jacket. Looked like a scarecrow. He didnt 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. Hed harassed a few of her friends in various kitchens over the years. Shed never liked him. Whyd she have a knife on her if she was going out back?
French is always armed. Andre informed her in a tone that asked, Didnt you know?
Of course she is, why did I ask? So, its like shes more bark than bite this summer?
Yeah, but Id still watch it if I were you Sonny. Andre warned.
Yeah, yeah. I got the message. Im not stupid.
Well, Jacqueline said. I think women are her soft spot. Shed noticed that French hadnt barely raised her voice at Fry, even when the little townie had deserved it.
You wouldnt say that if youd known Dierdre Brenner. She may not be immune to the charms of women, but she aint undone by them either. Milo assured her.
Whatd 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. Thats 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 Frenchs 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 hasnt 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.