Written / Cooking On High


Disclaimers Addendum

Chapter 17

Across town another conversation was taking place between members of the Bachanal outfit. Not that French considered herself a member of anything, but in this case she was definitely one of two people involved in an undertaking that was the other side of legal.

“Would you hurry up?” She prompted Fry in an impatient whisper.

“I am hurrying, Pushy Pete. It’s a longer climb up for me, that’s all.”

“How do you figure the climb’s any longer for you than me?”

“You started off a good three rungs higher than me. Not to mention the last few you skipped when you hoisted yourself through the top. Show off.” Fry’s head broke even with the platform and she carefully maneuvered herself onto it. The landing was tiny and she held onto the railing as she adjusted to the height and tried to look as casual as French who was sitting next to a window she’d jimmied open. They were around the back of a house. Jason lived on the second floor of a triple decker and conveniently enough, there was a small fire escape that led directly to one of the windows. Fry wasn’t comfortable with heights over fifteen feet. She was stretching her limit here.

“Why didn’t you mention that you don’t like heights?” Fry’s stiff movements and the white glow emanating from her knuckles as she gripped the bars of the small landing tipped French off to her discomfort.

“And give you the perfect excuse to leave me down there? I don’t think so.”

“I could have opened the door for you.” French explained. Fry could be so defensive.

“Oh. Well, could we continue this chat in there? I’d appreciate it.” She didn’t want to rush French. While the chef hadn’t displayed much of a sense of humor, Fry guessed that she’d have the slightly cruel, teasing kind. And pointing out weaknesses to people like that got you nothing but trouble. She repeated her mantra that pain and suffering were illusions. However, the physical sensation she was experiencing from an irrational anxiety felt as though it might suffocate her.

As it was, French didn’t consider it cruelty, just good, honest fun to poke at someone’s soft spots, metaphorically speaking. But the prospect of a frightened and upset Fry didn’t give her a lift, so she pushed the window up enough for Fry to slip through and followed on her heels.

It was dark in there. Fry could barely make anything out by the light filtering in from the windows. No one was home in the house, probably all out partying. Jason lived alone, but the building he lived in had a few apartments, all let out to younger people who were either vacationing for the summer and partying, or working for the summer and partying.

There wasn’t enough light to help her find a lamp or switch. She reached into her pocket to try her mini light when she heard a loud snickering noise. She was reasonably sure it wasn’t French, who was somewhere behind her.

“Fry?” French hadn’t liked the sound of that, not one bit. Then she doubled over from the force of something hard smacking into her abdomen.

“Son of a bitch!” She simultaneously wheezed and ground the words out through clenched teeth as she latched onto the appendage, an arm, she was sure, and twisted it. A satisfactory crunch was followed by a shout of pain. French kneed whoever it was in the chest and stilled her movement as the body slumped to the floor.

“Fry?” She tried to locate the waitress. Her flashlight had fallen to the floor when she’d been hit. She’d have to go on hearing alone. She knew there was another person in the room, but they were playing hard to get.

So was Fry, whose automatic reaction to being grabbed from behind was to go limp. It’s what you do in a protest. And it had worked here too in the dark. For some strange reason, she’d also rolled herself out of the way. It was one of those mental aberrations that happens in moments of extreme fear, she’d confused tuck and roll with limp and unhelpful. But it had worked, no one had grabbed after her once she’d slid to the floor and started rolling.

“French,” she warned from her new position on the floor. “I’m here.” Wherever that was, she had no clue in the dark. “Watch out for the big guy.”

“Yeah, the big guy.” A deep voice startled French from behind. She couldn’t believe she’d let him get so close. As he reached out to grab her she stepped back sharply and snapped her head back further. She’d always assumed the back of her head reached about to Tim’s nose. Seemed she was right. He bellowed and grabbed at the body part in question. If there’d been light, they’d have seen the blood rush down onto his mouth and chin. Tim was a bleeder.

French had no time to congratulate herself on a job well done. Tim, while being a bleeder, and slightly jumpy, was also practically impervious to pain. He’d recovered quickly and was pissed. But that was okay with French because she’d had time to back up and was in the process of spin kicking the bottom of her foot into Tim’s chest. He grunted as he flew backward, then crashed into something hard.

As she made for what she was sure was the door and a light switch, she paused briefly to knee Paul in the head as he tried to regain his feet.

There was no light switch. There was a lamp, and it wasn’t in a convenient spot, which is why Fry hadn’t located it. The sound of sirens in the neighborhood gave her an extra incentive to grab Fry and get the hell out of there. She flicked on the light and as her eyes adjusted she was alarmed to find no trace of her. “Where the hell are you?”

“Oh, I guess I’m under the bed.” Fry could now understand why she hadn’t been able to get up and help the chef. She pushed off the bed frame to maneuver herself out from under it and felt something that didn’t belong there.

“Hurry it up. I hear sirens. My bet is Heckle and Jeckle here came in the front and weren’t too subtle about it. Let’s go before we’re hauled in by Dil and his friends.”

“Just a sec.” Fry was busy peeling tape off of what felt like a small metal box.

“What the hell are you doing under there? Matching socks? Move it, they’re on the block.” Fry had just gotten the box free when French dragged her out from under the bed by her ankles.

“Oh my gosh!” Fry saw the room for the first time. There were two large men sprawled in various states of disarray and damage on the floor. They were both wearing goggles. Those creepy night vision things.

“Yeah, yeah. They’ll be out of it for a while.” French was pushing her toward the window.

“But French, he’s bleeding!” She protested as she tried to change course. The guy’s head should have been tipped back or he’d lose a lot of blood.

Just when you thought you had a handle on the logic spinning out of Fry’s head, she lost you. Entirely. “I’m sure there’s a band-aid in the cop car. Move it!” French dragged her through the window.

They made it down the ladder and into the neighbor’s yard just as a police officer rounded the back of the house and shined a light up the fire escape. Fry led her over a couple of back fences and through the window of a garage. Home field advantage was knowing where the good hiding places were. French begrudged Fry that single point.

They sat there for a while catching their breath. They doubted the police would chase them once they spotted Tim and Paul.

“Mind telling me what was so fascinating under the bed?”

“Look.” Fry held out the box and shined her mini light on it. “It was taped to the frame under there.”

“Great, probably his bookie receipts.”

“I don’t think Jason gambles, but I don’t know him all that well. What happened back there? Why were those guys in there?”

“‘Those guys’ were in there, because we were in there. You took so long getting up that ladder they had plenty of time to come through the house and wait for us. This is one of the reasons I didn’t want you involved. I’m having a minor relationship problem.”

Fry didn’t want to know what a major relationship problem looked like if two men lurking in the shadows was a minor one. She also didn’t want to be blamed for something so not her fault. “So if I’d been quicker, that wouldn’t have happened?”

“Don’t be so literal, I’m just telling you why they were there.” Picky, picky was Miss Spark this evening.

It didn’t make any sense to Fry that anyone would choose such an unlikely place for an ambush, but making sense didn’t seem to be a priority in the lives of the people she’d been working with this summer. Fry had heard so many outlandish stories about French up to this point, anything was possible. “So are they your boyfriends or something? You said it was a relationship problem.”

“Ha! No!” French was adamant. “Those are Mitchell’s goons, Tim and Paul. Sent to give me a message no doubt, before, during and after they pummeled me senseless. It’s one of their specialties, talking and hitting at the same time.”

“That’s awful! What’s the problem in your relationship that Mitchell would do such a thing?”

“The problem is ending it. He’s a mite possessive. Doesn’t think I ought to give up on him just now.”

“He’s got an odd way of showing it. You can’t stay with him French. That’s not healthy. We should go to the police. He can’t get away with that kind of thing.”

“He does. All of the time. I used to help him. And now, I know how to handle him, so you shouldn’t worry about it. Mitchell likes to play contact sports indirectly, as soon as he’s hit, he takes his ball and goes home. He just needs to be reminded of that.”

“Don’t play into it French, he sounds dangerous. My mother knows some people you could talk to, get some help from.”

“Thanks, but I know what I’m doing. Let’s look in your box and see what kind of kink Jason’s into.” She was tired of talking about Mitchell. She’d much rather save her energy for action in that regard. And the less Fry knew, the better.

Fry wasn’t going to force the issue. She made a mental note to bring a couple of pamphlets in for French to look at. “It’s papers, and some keys. Oh wow, speaking of Mitchell, isn’t Darflock Inc. one of the Redmond’s corporate subsidiaries?” Fry had unfolded one of the papers that was a form of some kind.

“Yeah.” French took it from her. Fry hadn’t volunteered it. “How’d you know that?”

“When you’re organizing a boycott, there’s a lot of research involved. The Redmonds owned Collegiate Textiles, up until recently. Finding out who Collegiate’s parent company was, was nothing short of torture. Along the way I found Darflock and eventually another business that I knew the Redmond’s owned because Skyler Redmond mentioned it to Bobby once. So that’s how.”

“I should have known.” So Bobby, the beach boy, was a do-gooder too.

“They sold Collegiate just after the boycott started. What a pain that was, let me tell you.”

“No really, that’s okay. I get the picture.” What the hell was she doing crammed in the back of a smelly garage talking about corporate protests with a social activist? But it was amusing to know that Fry may have been a flea on Mitchell’s back at one point.

“What else we got in there?”

“More of these forms and some keys.”

The keys didn’t have any definitive markings on them. It would have been convenient if there’d been a note attached saying, ‘To locker 106 at the airport that contains a file with the full explanation to this whole business including why you two losers can’t seem to tell your ass from your elbows.’ French was getting tired of fumbling in the dark. Literally. “Let’s get out of here.”

They were out of Jason’s neighborhood and walking toward the restaurant. French had a feeling she ought to be spending extra time on the premises for a while.

“So, you and Bobby do the do-gooder thing together?” She was sick of rehashing loose threads that led nowhere and couldn’t think of anything else to talk about.

As French had said ‘together’, she’d done that annoying suggestive thing with her eyebrows. “We’ve worked on some projects together, but we’re... Bobby and I are... I’ve been meaning to tell you...” Fry took a breath to get her thoughts in order. Now was looking like a good time to have a gender identity chat.

To French it looked like Fry was tongue tied and she had this guilty look on her face. “Is it a secret? Is he your best friend’s husband or something?” On second thought maybe she didn’t want to know about Fry’s personal life. “You don’t have to tell me anything. We can keep this all cut and dry. No problem.”

“No! I mean...I’m a...”

“Oh for cryin’ out loud Fry, you have sex, there’s no shame in it. You’re a big girl, he’s your boyfriend. The fact that he’s also your best friend’s husband is a tad off color, but we’re not in the Dark Ages.” She’d realized that Fry was on the modest side, but a prude too? If she was doing her best friend’s husband, she may as well own up to it.

“That’s not it at all, we’re just...”

“Friends?” French gave her a salacious look. Leaving no doubt in Fry’s mind what she thought that meant.

“Yes! And what’s your problem? Is that so impossible for you to believe?”

French had little patience for a lot of things, but prudishness ranked right up there with poor knife work. “What’s the big deal? Does your friend know? Is that it? You’re afraid I’m going to out you? There’s nothing I can stand less than small town prudery. I would’ve thought you’d be less prone to it, having gone to college and all.”

“What’s college got to do with it? And who’s calling who a prude? You were the one who went green about the gills over Jason and Louisa possibly having an affair. Wait! We must be getting close to the restaurant because all rational thought is being sucked from the very air we’re breathing. You’re not making any sense!”

As first attempts at a personal conversation went, this sucked. Fry had tried to tell her something about herself and for the life of her, French hadn’t been able to figure out what it was. She knew she wasn’t overly interested in Fry’s personal life, well, not that part of her personal life. The last thing she wanted to get wound up in was someone else’s sex life when her own was nonexistent. Maybe they ought to stick to discussing food and murder.

That’s exactly what she’d do, once this was settled. Fry’s feathers were ruffled. She could tell because Fry was glaring at her and looked like she might pop if she didn’t take a breath.

“So you were saying, about you and Bobby?” French reasoned that if she picked up the conversation at an earlier point she could in effect bend time and try this whole thing over again.

Fry was having none of it. “I was right. We’re in the Bachanal Zone, where nothing makes sense to me, but you people seem to thrive. Forget it. I have no idea why I even bothered to try.”

“Oh, don’t be such a spoil sport.” What she’d meant was ‘don’t be such a pain in the ass’, but it hadn’t come out that way. For some reason she’d started using these juvenile expressions whenever she was with Fry.

“No, you’re right. We should keep this as impersonal as possible. After all, I’m just an employee and you don’t want me to get the wrong idea, like maybe you might give a... well... a darn about who you’re spending your time with.” Fry hadn’t outright cursed in years, but if anyone could drive her to it, it must be French.

French shrugged and walked off. She’d try again, but not tonight. Fry was starting to piss her off and she figured it’d be a good idea if she were to leave, before she said something memorable like, “Listen you obnoxious waitron, I don’t give a shit what you think. Now what the hell was it you wanted to tell me?”

Fry wasn’t prepared for French’s sudden departure. But she was darned if she’d run after her like some limp noodle, trying to unravel the twisted byways that were the chef’s perspective on the world and their last conversation in particular. All she’d wanted to say was, “French, I’m as queer as a three dollar bill, so you might want to stop assuming that I’m going out with Bobby when it’s Alyssa that I’m dating.” Or she would be dating, as of tomorrow, because for some obtuse reason she’d been putting her off. Not anymore. She turned and headed for home.

Continued in Chapter 18.

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