Fry walked down Morton Street. It was a quiet side street on the way to the restaurant that skirted the busier main streets on the way. It puzzled her that most of the people who visited the town stuck to maybe three streets downtown and the beaches in Midstock. Were they really only visiting the island to buy t-shirts and eat on the water?
She rounded the corner onto Billings Street and spotted Barbra a block ahead. She jogged up and said, Hi! You headed in?
Beach is too crowded. Towns over run with Jerseyites. Might as well. A common lament in Comstock was that many of the tourists were rowdy and too forceful. Over the years it appeared that New Jersey residents represented an unusually large percentage of this group. Fry could never understand what it could be about the otherwise respectable locale that generated such overly enthusiastic daytrippers.
I have a hard time at the beach during the summer, I generally go over to Jetsom Cove. Fry said.
Its too far for a quick swim, and I hate to ride when my suits wet. I just dipped into my neighbors pool and floated for a while. It wasnt the ocean, but it calmed the beast within.
Sounds good. Maybe we ought to get French over there. It was a slip. She hadnt meant to bring the chef into the conversation.
So whats up with you two? Why all of the gloom last couple of days, then last night it was like sunshine broke loose all over the place?
Oh nothing, she was being a jerk.
Big surprise. Not that its any of my business and you can tell me to take a walk on Tinker Pier if you want, but are you guys involved? Everyone in town used the Tinker Pier expression. It was a project in the early 80s to make more mooring space at the shoreline. Exactly two pilings had been sunk before the project was abandoned. Tinker Pier was very short indeed, it didnt exist.
No! I mean, no. Im not interested in her. Not that way. And even if I was, shed have to notice that Im alive first.
Oh come on, shes noticed you. What was she saying? Things had been going just fine until shed heard that faint note of insecurity in Frys voice and rallied to her defense.
Sure, shes noticed that I have some tastebuds and a pulse, but I mean that shes not noticed that Im a woman, ya know? She treats me like inconvenient furniture more than a person who might want to know her.
Yeah, she pushes me around a lot, and I get the feeling I could be out on the curb at any moment. If I was interested, which Im not because I get the feeling being involved with her is a bad idea, shed make me nuts.
Good for you! Youre absolutely right. Im so glad I didnt have to say it for you. Barbra was relieved. She also wanted to reenforce the sentiment. Besides, there are more fish in the sea than that Mako shark.
Shes not that bad. Fry missed the silent gagging motion Barbra made. Its just that I dont want to spend the rest of my life rescuing someone from themselves, you know? I want a partner whos able to be as supportive of me as I am of them. I dont want to have to spend all of my time doing the nurturing female thing. Im prone to that as it is. I dont want to make a walking stereotype of myself.
Well, that really wouldnt be a problem with French.
Oh please, how could it not be?
A lifetime? You wouldnt spend more than one, maybe two nights being nurturing. If youre willing, and by all accounts people are, sometimes shell sleep with someone without money a few times, but not in a row. More like, whenever she fancies it. And if you make the unforgivable mistake of showing any real interest, forget it.
How can anyone stand that? It seems so demeaning, being someones plaything.
Hey, dont knock it, Michael likes it just fine. And maybe its not your thing, but there are women and men whove vied for the privilege with French. Many of them on her staff. You may want to rethink that happily ever after approach to dating. Not that you should start with French, but dont you think its a lot of pressure to put on a first date?
I didnt mean it quite like that. And Im going on a date this weekend. She came in the restaurant a while back, Alyssa?
Oh sure, shes a cutie. Do tell!
Fry blushed lightly. A good sign in Barbras eyes.
Well, its not a big deal. I know her from school and shes here for the summer. Shes really nice and actually interested in topics that arent directly related to herself.
Sounds like fun. You need to get out of that place more. I dont know if youve noticed, but most of those guys are nuts. And I have a feeling it has something to do with the amount of time you spend there. Ive seen that French has been putting you on more doubles.
Youve noticed too? The weird irrationality thing? What is with that?
I call it the French Effect. Spend too much time around her and it will effect you.
Oh come on Barbra, she really isnt that bad.
You only say that because you look for the good in people. Not that there can be much to spot in that callous bit... pain in the ass. Barbra couldnt stand the look in Frys eyes when you said something that could be construed as unkind about someone else. It was like hitting a puppy.
Has she done something to hurt you? The thought had never occurred to Fry.
Not me personally, but plenty of people I know rue the day they let that woman in their lives.
Are these any of the same people who were vying for her attention?
Barbra had never stopped to consider that point. Not in a thorough, giving French the time of day sort of way. Well, maybe a couple, but you dont ruin that many summers by not trying.
Ive heard a lot of stories and Im not defending her by a long shot. But I figure if Ive heard the stories and I havent gone out of my way to hear any of them...
Barbra could see Frys point even clearer and didnt like it any better. And now that she thought about it, most of the bizarre behavior at the restaurant was just that, bizarre. It wasnt nefarious or twisted in any dark, Marquis De Sade kind of way. It was more bizarrely perverse. Well, she was still awful to a lot of people. It was the best she could muster on short notice. Fry had a way of cutting right through your deeper prejudices and making you feel crappy about them.
Im sure of it. Can I ask you a question?
Sure kiddo, shoot.
I know you used to date a lot. I was wondering if you used to date any of the Hilltop guys, you know, the summer crowd. Before Michael, of course.
Yeah, I know. She appreciated Frys euphemism. Most everyone else just called her easy or a slut. Shed grown up before the concept of sexual liberation had hit the island. For either sex. There were still old ladies that tisk-tisked when the name Barbra Wilkowski was spoken in conversation. And yes, I dated a few of them. A couple I wish I hadnt because they still haunt me. If theyd stop dining out I could forget them, but as it is, they dont. Why the question?
Fry shrugged. Ive seen Skyler Redmond around a lot this summer. She hangs out with a few friends of mine.
Not me, but someone else I know.
It was the tone of voice that clued Barbra in. Was Fry, the terminally cheerful poster girl for all things positive, jealous? Barbras home town pride was insulted by the prospect of Fry feeling anything but adequate when compared to a Hilltopper. True, they were people like anybody else, but not really.
Look Fry, youll never be a Skyler, Ill never be Susan Sarandon. Lifes a bitch. Growing up in this vacuum doesnt make us great competition against the Hilltop set, but youre selling yourself short if youre comparing yourself to that lot. Skylers not bad in her own way, but youve got intelligence and that eternally young, spunky thing going on thats a turn on to anyone with brain enough to notice. And not that I make it a habit of telling young women these things, but youre in great shape, a real knock out. If your friend Alyssa is having trouble seeing that, you ought to rethink your date.
Theyd turned the corner and the restaurant came into view. Fry was about to set the record straight on Alyssa, but Barbra broke in saying, What the hay is up over there? There really was no way around that kind of language if you spent any time with Fry.
Fry saw the crowd of people too. They were standing on the boardwalk at the waters edge pointing and leaning over the railings. They approached and asked what all the commotion was about. Some of the people moved aside and they were able to see it for themselves. There were two tugs and a small barge with a crane about one hundred yards out. Right where Beligerare had been moored the night before. At first glance, there was no sign of the exquisite craft, but if you looked closely, you could make out the tops of her masts, just breaking the water line.
Holy shit! Barbra exclaimed. She flinched when she looked at Fry who had her hands covering her mouth and a wide eyed look of something on her face. It took Barbra a second to realize it wasnt a reaction to her verbal slip.
They went inside and got ready for shift. On the way through the kitchen they learned that the boat had been reported damaged late last night, but they hadnt been able to stop the sinking. In a freakish act of nature, thirty or forty planks had come undone in the hull, and a hole the size of a car was opened up by the pressure of the water rushing in.
They made it into the dinning room and found several of the crew standing at the windows watching the boat as it was hauled and buoyed to the surface. French stood gazing out on the scene, uncharacteristically relaxed in the company of her staff.
What do you think happened to it? Barbra asked.
Dunno. Ken answered. Helpful as usual.
It sunk. Jacqueline offered. Slightly more helpful, but still lacking the substance Barbra was after.
Some of those old boards were ready to go, I guess. Eddy chimed in with the most probable explanation.
Pity. French said. The smile that spread across her face left no doubt how she felt about the incident. She turned to get back to work but was stopped short by the small figure standing directly in her path, arms folded, eyes mere slits. She sidestepped Fry and gave her a wink. She was feeling bad this afternoon, in a strictly good sort of way.
Fry knew that following French to her office fell into the category of, Theres a murderer loose, dont go in the basement! But she couldnt take that internal warning seriously because French had looked over her shoulder a couple of times and laughed at her. She even flicked some julienned carrots at her from Milos station as shed passed. It was the first time Fry could remember the chef looking carefree.
Once they were in the office Fry asked, How could you?
How could I what? Put Roast Quail on the menu? I was seriously thinking of adding Ducks bottom, but I thought the Quail had more of a summery feel to it.
You know what I mean! Fry wanted to give into Frenchs playful mood. It was contagious. But the knowledge that she was a partial accomplice in the chefs midnight excursion brought her back to reality.
Fry, stick to cheerful, it suits you. French fell into her chair and looked at the dumfounded expression on Frys face. She was really having a good time with this. Maybe too good. She reigned herself in a notch and tried to see it from Frys point of view. That was no fun at all.
That was an antique, a thing of beauty, a piece of history. Fry stammered in her amazement. How could you... well... well, whatever you did to it?
I didnt do anything that Mitchells money cant fix. Except the blow to his ego, of course.
But French, even if they can refurbish it, itll be severely damaged. You cant replace that kind of history.
Theres not a splinter on that boat thats older than the man who owns it. How do you think that thing won the regatta for the last few years? Not due to the expert navigational skills of its captain. I was drunk half the time.
You captained his yacht?
Mitchell couldnt skipper a rowboat in a stiff breeze.
Why did he have it then?
He wanted it.
Oh. Fry never understood the reasoning that accompanied the wealthier class. Not that I want to appear naive, but isnt it cheating to have a new boat in the Old Boat race?
Half the boats in that race are rebuilt within an inch of brand new. Mitchell made a special effort. His was new all over. It was fascinating to watch Frys face as she grappled with the utter stupidity of the deceit shed just exposed.
But then theyre all cheating!
She catches on ladies and gentlemen! And whoever cheats best...?
Bingo. Youre quick. Must be why I can stand you in the first place.
But why dont they compete fairly? Its not like they dont have the money.
Force of habit, I expect. She could never understand the thrill Mitchell got out of making up the story and history of the Beligerare. The lengths he went to to legitimize the provenance were astounding. Shed seen him spend less time buying a company. But while youre here, I have a little business to discuss. Have a seat.
But French, what if he knows you did it? Isnt that going to make him mad?
Im counting on it. If Fry had ever seen a wolfish grin, that was it.
Continued in Chapter 21.