The following day was a mite awkward in the kitchens at Bachanal. A pall fell over the bustle that filled the overflowing rooms. Something wasnt right. And French was damned if she could figure it out. Well, she knew it had a something to do with the fractious waitress who was giving her the silent treatment, but beyond that, it was anybodys guess.
She got the feeling Fry was waiting for something. French hoped she wasnt holding her breath.
Fry couldn't believe that an internationally renowned business woman and chef was acting like such a baby. But this summer was a learning experience all over. French was screaming her way through shift and had even hissed at a famous actor whod come to the kitchen to pay his respects. He took it pretty well, saying that she reminded him of a director hed worked with a couple of times. Why people accepted that behavior from a grown up was beyond Frys comprehension. But then again, she hadnt spent a lot of time around artists, and from all reports, that was the kind of thing you were supposed to expect.
Fry wasnt having any of it, so French could get a handle on her giant ego and choke up an apology for being a jerk, or shed have to deal with the time-honored and never-once-failed Spark silent treatment.
Midway through her afternoon shift, she and half the restaurant were awed by the utter beauty of an 80 foot schooner gliding into the harbor under full sail. It was breathtaking. Well, it was Beligerare, Mitchell Redmonds yacht, but it was breathtaking too.
The arrival of the craft sparked a buzz in the room. Everyone talked about the Old Boat Regatta the next week. The name was misleading. A little joke among the Hilltop set. They were so droll. But the town loved this regatta above all others, as did the hordes of spectators who showed up to see the incredible vessels that competed in the race. It wasnt the kind of race that had much to do with who crossed the finish line first. It had more to do with the reaction that had just taken place in the dining room. Peoples eyes were glued to the craft as it moored and for a good time afterward.
Each vessel was an original. An antique in action. And the owners were proud captains. One day of the year anyway.
While Belligerare was poetry in motion, Fry had always loved Serendipity, Skippy Hendrakes yacht. It was smaller, and less decked out, but there was a sense of history about it. That boat had been someplace and you knew it in a glance. Fry wasnt into sailing, but she could appreciate a well appointed craft when she saw one.
Wednesday rolled around and the pall that had settled over the restaurant showed no signs of lifting. The crew was getting antsy, no one had a clue what was going on between the two women who were locked in a contest of some kind. Whatever it was they wished one of them would end it because they were sucking up all of the spare psychic space.
Fry wasnt budging. Frenchs infantile resistance had irked her no end. It wasnt that big of a deal, but it had grown leaps and bounds in her mind since Monday night. Tricky part was she had some information on Bernie. It wasnt anything pressing, Mrs. Kendell, her next door neighbors best friend who worked at the bank had mentioned that hed been in to negotiate a couple of loans.
Fry had also gone door to door in Louisas neighborhood collecting donations for the Central American Earthquake Fund. It wasnt an uncommon activity for a Spark. No one thought twice about that odd Spark child asking for money again. Nevertheless, people couldnt resist her. And since Fry usually chatted with them, no one thought it odd that she should bring up Louisa.
No one had noticed anything out of the ordinary that fateful night. Ella Landry said Louisa was always having that young man over. He made a habit of parking in front of her house, too close to the driveway. But the night in question thered been more comings and goings than usual. She did say that as far as she could tell, after Jason had unobstructed the driveway in front of her place, another man had paid Louisa a visit. She couldnt say who or give much in the way of detail. Her second floor porch was three doors down on the opposite side of the street, but she didnt have the best view of Louisas end of the block. Shed sounded disappointed by the fact as shed related it.
It wasnt much information, and certainly not the kind you interrupted the silent treatment for, not if you wanted results.
Barbra hesitated to get involved in the standoff between Fry and the culinary hysteric. She didnt want to hear that she may have been the catalyst that brought French into Frys life, just to have her ruin it. That and she knew Priscilla Spark would skin her alive if anything happened to Fry, including a bruised heart. She called herself on her own cowardice and resolved to ask Fry about it as soon as an opportunity presented itself.
Thered be no chance in the near future, not the way business was jumping. Fry bustled out to the dining room to plate a table. She had two tables fill at the same time and already had four in progress.
She grabbed several menus and dropped them off at the first table then approached the next.
We have to stop meeting like this. Fry was greeted by the lovely smile that she suspected was a permanent fixture on Julia Hardings face.
Hi. Fry handed her a menu and turned to give Julias guest the other one. She came over all awkward and stammered as she recognized the man.
Thank you. He smiled and took the menu from her. He had to give it a tug to dislodge it from her grasp.
Oh! Sorry. Ill be back for your order. She spun and scurried off. She couldnt believe shed choked. He was a man, like lots of other men shed met in her lifetime. Only he wasnt, not really. Senator Jay Harding wasnt just any old monied politician whod bought a seat in the Senate. He was one who actually used his position to do some good with it. He helped craft environmentally sound legislation, he was great on education, and most importantly in her eyes, he was pro labor and affordable health care.
Fry could forgive things like inherited wealth and station in the face of the mans obvious humanitarianism and accomplishments. She wasnt sure why it occurred to her, but he looked like he did on TV and in the newspapers. He was the picture of American WASPdom. He had squared features, dark hair, bright eyes, and a nose that was this side of prominent, but sculpted. Hed given her a small, but not in any way condescending, smile as hed taken the menu. He had a nice smile, picture perfect.
Why hadnt French mentioned that her friend was that Julia Harding? But Fry realized that French probably knew a lot of people like that and it wasnt a big deal to her. And if French had gone on about some of the people she knew, Fry probably wouldnt have paid attention. But this was different, this was someone whod actually done something.
Then she got a sinking feeling as she considered what she knew or at least strongly suspected about Julia Harding and she didnt feel quite as excited as she had a moment ago.
She returned to the Hardings table, determined to not make a complete ninny out of herself. Is there anything that I can get you to start?
The ordering went smoothly. Julia stuck to the menu, ordering the Poulet Vallé dAuge, for which Fry was grateful. The Senator went with the more conservative, Steak au Poivre.
She made it through the next hour without any major mishaps. Miguel had hounded her a couple of times, reminding her how to address people so far above her station and not trip over her own apron. He was a peach.
The Hardings were a fun couple to wait on. Fry couldnt imagine what the problems must be to cause Julia to stray from her husbands side. They were so companionable. They teased each other, but they teased her some too, so that might not be a good indication. They spent most of the time talking, but there were moments when they just sat, enjoying the atmosphere and each others company, presumably.
She was returning Julias credit card at the end of their meal when she made a split second decision to speak to the Senator. Excuse me, Senator Harding?
Yes? He turned and smiled again. He was a very patient man.
I just wanted to say thank you for all of the work youve done. My friend Eileen Bishop worked on the Neverclear Holdings legislation for you and shes always said that you were the best person shes ever worked for in government. I just wanted to let you know.
Thank you. How is Eileen? She was going to get a degree in City Planning the last I heard.
Oh she did! Fry couldnt believe he remembered. Shes doing great. She moved to Oregon and is working in Portland.
Theyre lucky to have her. Tell her I said hello, would you?
I told you shed recognized you. Julia said. Who would have thought French would be harboring political groupies right here under her own roof? Mark my words, you dont want to let her find out. Julia chided.
Fry excused herself, she didnt want to intrude any further. The fact that she could feel Miguels red hot gaze burning a hole into the back of her head helped as well.
The afternoon was slowing and French went to her office to clear some of the paperwork that had accumulated on her desk. She could only hound Milo so much about his shortcomings before even she got bored. Hed been doing fine for a while, but was experiencing another of his lapses, as French had come to call them. He fubbed a couple of orders and was dropping things again. She wondered if he had his period. Shed known guys in the past who were so sensitive that they would get attuned to her cycle. Saps. They could get cycles of their own dammit. She hated that crap.
Andre was killing off the few remaining orders when he spotted a woman tentatively poking her head in the door. He watched from the corner of his eye as she scanned the room. She stepped inside, still looking for someone. The tidy, severe looking woman approached him. She was going to speak when she became fascinated by something in the vicinity of his forearm.
Is that a Red Phalarope? Monica asked. She was referring to the almost lifelike rendering of the bird in question on the huge mans arm. There were a couple of other species visible on the skin exposed by his rolled back sleeves, but it was the elusive Phalarope that most drew her attention.
It is. Do you know it? No one ever asked him anything intelligent about his tattoos. Only other birders recognized any of them by name.
Well, I havent actually ever seen one, not in the wild. Theres a stuffed one at the bird sanctuary.
They are beautiful. I have only seen one, but I will never forget it. Andre said.
Some Barn Swallows have been seen on the island. Theyre not nearly as tricky to spot, but theyre lovely as well.
I will have to look for them. He assured her.
Yes, well... Is French in?
Shes back in the office. Through that door there and to the left. He gave her a smile that he hoped was less than threatening, and nodded goodbye. Of course she was there to see French, he thought, all of the pretty ones were.
Monica knocked on the door and was barked at from within. Whats the point in trying to get a damned thing done in this madhouse? People coming and going like its a take out joint. I ought to put a window off the back of the restaurant and advertise... Oh, its you. French had looked up from the papers she was working on and motioned Monica in. Have a seat.
I dont want to interrupt.
French took a deep breath and adjusted her frame of mind. Civilians didnt respond as well to shouting. Not a problem. Im trying to get some paperwork dealt with. Youve got to beat it back with a stick or itll take over. This stuff is endless.
Monica gave the single, neat stack of papers in front of French a confused glance. It didnt look like much of a deluge.
I found Jason. She started. He found me, actually. He called this morning. Hes going to be in town for a day to pick up some things, then hes moving away and he wont say where to. Hes terrified, poor thing. He didnt want me to call you and he wont go to the police. Went on about tapped wires and bugging. I encouraged him to talk to you and he said he would, but only in a public place.
Look, Im sorry about last week. I wasnt thinking clearly and I almost killed you. Im...
Forget it, I would have deserved it for one thing or another.
I know. But I wanted to apologize in any case. You may have done some inexcusable things in your past, but its not my job to take your life. And you seem to be trying to make amends. If its genuine, I wish you luck. She stood to leave.
Yeah, well thanks. This Monica was a tough nut. French considered that had things been different, she may have liked to get to know the poised, if somewhat stiff, librarian.
He said hed call again later to give me the time and place. Ill let you know then.
French let Monica out the back door of her office. No need to let her run into Fry. Besides, the impertinent waitron probably wasnt interested in chasing down the bad guys anymore.
What a night. The tension in the kitchen had increased and the crowd out front was in a rowdy mood. Fry was catching some air and a break out back. She needed a couple of minutes to herself. So she was surprised and a tad irked when someone loomed out of the darkness into her hiding spot.
Whos that? Fry could barely make the figure out. Whoever it was was dressed in black from head to toe and looked more like a shadow than a person.
French nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard a voice coming out of the darkness right near her head. She must be slipping if people kept sneaking up on her so easily. She turned to see Fry perched on one of the compressor ventilator ducts. She was eating something, and by the dull white glow emanating from the container in her hand, French didnt have to ask what it was. What are you doing out here?
Oh, its you. Fry slid off of the duct and began to leave. She was dying to know why French had materialized out of nowhere wearing an outfit that swallowed light, and was carrying a jagged glinting thing in her hand. She reigned in her ravenous curiosity and made for the door. Or she would have if there wasnt a sizeable hand on her shoulder impeding her progress.
Fry wasnt a swooner by nature, she wasnt even sure it was a word. But since shed met French shed begun to think she just might have it in her. At least the tingle that danced up her spine and the dizzy feeling she experienced when the chef leaned over and spoke quietly in her ear indicated that she did.
I know what youre up to Fry. French accused. I want you to know that its not going to work. Youre way out of your league.
While Fry may have been distracted by the sensation of the words being spoken across the small, sensitive hairs of her ear, it was their meaning registering in her addled brain that snapped her to attention. And while it might be true, it still ticked her off.
And how would you know what my league is?! Youd have to take a personal interest to find out and I dont think youve got it in you to try. Blast. There went the silent treatment.
Oh please, is that your worst shot? Come on Fry, let me have it. I know theres a hellion in there just waiting to get out.
This close, Fry could see Frenchs teeth. Her mouth was stretched into a grimace and she was getting some kind of thrill out of goading her on. Her determination to get an apology out of the chef did not falter, but she knew that feeding into whatever energy this was wasnt the least bit productive, nor, she presumed, was it entirely safe. She reached into the darkness to touch the chef. Its what she did when she needed to feel a connection to someone, and when she felt someone wanted to feel it back.
French was damned if Fry thought she could get away with using that touchy-feely communication thing on her. Like the silent treatment before it, it had no effect whatsoever. She ought to pop the woman for touching her in the first place. She hadnt said Fry could touch her like that. Whenever she pleased. Like they were friends or something. Why would she be friends with someone like Fry? A waitron with no survival instincts.
She looked deeply into Frys eyes to begin delivering the fear of death directly to her brain. As eyes went, Fry had a decent pair. When she wasnt trying to peer into them in the dark or a dimly lit room, they were a pleasant hazely, greenish sort of color. Kind of serene if you looked a little deeper than was maybe professionally necessary. And she had a way of conveying an understanding of something through them. French wasnt sure what it was Fry thought she understood, but the intention rang true and you found yourself feeling it. Like now.
She was incredibly sneaky for such an innocent-seeming sort of person.
As much as Frenchs entire body rebelled at the prospect, she eased off. Thats when she realized that she was holding Frys hand. Really tightly.
Oh, um... She snapped out of it and let go. She rubbed her own hand on her leg to dispel the awkward feeling of discomfort. They looked around at anything but each other.
Well, Fry thought. That was intense.
After a few moments of silence, French asked, How was your snack?
It wasnt much in the way of a conversation starter, but it had the pleasant ring of normality to it. Itll do the trick.
Why are you eating out here?
Wow, not one, but two questions about herself, all in a row! Its a nice night, I needed the fresh air. Besides, you told me not to eat tofu in your restaurant.
True. French conceded. She really was a bitch, wasnt she? Tell you what, from here on in you can eat any soy byproduct in there your heart desires. Just dont expect me to watch. Deal?
Fry mulled it over a nano second or two. She knew that this was as close to an apology as one was likely to get from the chef. Then again, knowing Frenchs antipathy for all things soy, maybe it was better. Who knew? Deal.
Now finish your bean curd and get back to work.
Should I bother to ask what youre wearing and why youre carrying that? Fry made a motion with her hand that indicated the entire ensemble.
No. And dont mention you saw me out here either.
Twenty minutes later French had reappeared in the kitchen no worse for wear. The only indication that something might be different about her was that her hair looked damp at the front, but maybe that was from the sweat. It was hot that night.
Continued in Chapter 19.