Fry sat, hands tucked beneath her thighs, anxiously awaiting the business French had mentioned earlier. The chef was enjoying herself. It was putting Fry on edge.
French sighed, this part wasnt going to be nearly as much fun. Things are about to get interesting around here. Before the roaches start climbing out of the woodwork, we need to get a couple of things straight. Fry nodded her head and looked like she was paying attention, so she dove in.
Number One: Whatever you may think you know about me, whatever unpleasant stories youve heard, forget them. None of them are half as bad as the truth. Im an ugly character and Ive done a lot of things thatd turn you green. The only thing keeping Mitchell from trying to put me away, and believe you me hes going to want to bad, is that he knows that I can burn his lousy house of cards down with a dirty look.
Number Two: Louisas killer appears to have an impressive reach. That or Jasons a complete paranoiac. My guess is, she baited a few fish that were too big for her line and got swallowed. I doubt were dealing with a local blackmailing gone wrong.
Number Three: Once its known that youre working for me as anything more than a waitress, youll become a target.
Number Four: If by some chance you want to go ahead with this, you follow my instructions to the letter. At all times. No discussion. Otherwise, all of this is moot, youre out. French held up a hand to interrupt Fry who was off the couch and mid protest.
Number Five: You want out, you tell me now.
May I speak?
French nodded her assent.
Just a darned minute! Where do you get off telling me when Ill be in and out and all of the rest of it? And since when do you know anything about Jason?
I get off where I know what it is were likely to be dealing with and you know exactly squat. The possibility of you getting yourself killed because you know squat might, and I say might, give me a headache. And, Louisa aside, Im stirring up a hornets nest and I dont know whats coming out of it so how can I expect you to deal with the consequences?
And what if I tell you to take one through five and toss em, what then?
Simple. Youre out.
You seem pretty sure about this out stuff. You havent shaken me this far.
Ive tolerated you this far. French watched an indignant scowl appear on Frys face. It was only fair that she be apprised of the danger of the situation. No candy coating, just the facts.
Youre too much! Whats going to keep me from doing exactly what I want? Whats so all-powerful impressive that Im going to turn tail and run scared from you?
Im going to make a wild guess here that youve neglected to mention our joyful midnight excursions to your mother. The color in Frys face was doing something interesting, namely, leaving it. Youve got to work on your poker face.
Fry slowly recovered from the temporary paralysis caused by the force of two very different worlds colliding. For whatever reason, being with French was its own reality. Considering her family in that context was jarring in the extreme. Considering her mothers reaction to her activities with French, was excruciating. I see your point.
We have a deal then?
Yes. May I ask a question or do I have to submit them on a form or something?
French thought it over, it wasnt a bad idea. Fry asked a lot of questions. In the end, it seemed over the top, even for her. Have at it.
What did you mean, working for you as anything but a waitress?
Let me put it this way. Ive often had a staff on the books, and one off. People who know that, like Mitchell, will assume you are such a non-employee, thatll make you a target.
Are you a chef? I mean, you sound more like a spy, or some type of government operative. And while I liked to think those guys we ran into the other night tripped really hard in the dark, I noticed they had see in the dark eyewear. I also noticed you didnt. What kind of training are they giving chefs these days? I know the restaurant business is tough, but Im pretty sure its not that bad.
Youd be surprised.
What kind of an answer is that?
Fry spent the next couple of hours mulling over their conversation, while working. French was being up front, she should be glad. The fact that she was also treating her like a bumpkin bugged her. Truth be told, Fry wasnt all that comfortable with the prospect of being a target, but the thought of leaving French to deal with it all alone didnt feel right. The chef may not have even pursued the whole thing if it hadnt been for her. She wanted to stick by French, and if the chef wouldnt let her stand at her side, shed take the back seat. For now.
French grumbled a few choice epithets as she grabbed her toque and headed to the upstairs dining room. Jill and Kenneth Randall had rented the room for their 40th anniversary. She was hating these command performances more by the day.
Hows things in Hells kitchen? Gotta be hot down there. Bill Fletcher was a big time, small town real estate salesman. He had the most obnoxious way of thinking she gave a damn whenever they ran into each other. He sat at a table near Kenneth and Jill and had waylaid her as she approached.
Hey, hows your new neighbor treating you? Bill continued. French saw the glassy eyed look he was giving her chest. Most of the other people at his table were sloshed as well.
Which neighbor is that? She hadnt heard that Hal Mackney was willing to sell the remnants of the Fishermans Prize. Hed probably hold onto the lucrative site for spite. No cleanup crew had come in to clear the wreck away.
Over at the Grist Mill.
Since when is there a new owner at the Mill? I thought Jim Thompson owned it.
Nah, his daughter Marcie sold it after he died in March.
Damn, no one told her anything. So far so good. Havent heard from them.
I wouldnt be surprised if you dont. Big outfit I think, needed another asset. Not local.
Oh no? Who are they?
Jace Corp? Jet Corp? Something like that, cant remember. Only heard it mentioned once. Bill had begun to sway gently. Whys a pretty thing like you so interested anyway?
Just want to be neighborly. Excuse me, I have to congratulate the Randalls.
Oh sure. He attempted a wink. You do that. Later, maybe youd want to have a ride in my Mercedes?
Sounds like fun. But this girls got a restaurant to run.
All work, no play makes French... French I guess. He laughed at his own joke and turned to his equally smashed neighbor to repeat it. She took the opportunity to relieve him of the keys that were hanging out of his pocket. He wouldnt be needing them.
The Randall party didnt clear out until after one thirty. They exhausted the towns taxi supply, not to mention her crew. French had had Barbra drive the couple of the hour home. It was a small town, you could still do things like that.
To be honest, French hadnt minded the Randall party. They were a fun couple, who were genuinely appreciative of the restaurant and treated the staff well. She was glad theyd enjoyed themselves. Wasnt that supposed to be part of it too?
She began a pass through the building before turning in. Shed spent every night onsite since Mitchells portentous visit.
She was headed up the stairs to the second floor when she heard a faint noise. It repeated, and kept on as she reached the top of the stairs and stood looking over the empty dining room. The noise came from one of the booths on the far wall and as she approached, the mystery unravelled itself in an anti-climax. Slouched in the corner, snoring steadily, Fry slept.
Fry at rest was an interesting phenomenon. There were the inevitable rumples and straying hair, but there was also a tranquility that was uncanny. Was this the sleep of the innocent? Or the thoroughly exhausted?
She liked that Fry gave it her all. There wasnt a thing she hesitated to try, except listen closely to anything that might resemble a direction. Other than that, she was all go. So much go she wore herself out at times. French had been giving Fry options on doubles for the last couple of weeks. She knew she needed the money. French wondered what else she was doing to wear out what appeared to be an inexhaustible supply of pep.
Yo Fry. She spoke softly trying to rouse her without startling her. She got no reaction. Rise and shine, Im closing up. She spoke in a normal voice and shook her. Still nothing. Up and at em princess, this is last call. Her raised voice was swallowed in the empty room. Good acoustics. Fry still hadnt budged. She looked around the mostly dark area. Aside from Frys snoring, it was quiet and empty, but there was an unsettled something. She turned to look at Fry again and changed her mind.
This isnt the sleep of the innocent, its the sleep of the comatose. She leaned forward and slid the recumbent figure to the edge of the bench. As she suspected, Fry slept on. She crouched down, reaching one arm behind Frys shoulders and the other beneath her knees and lifted her. Solid for a little thing.
She carried her downstairs, turning off lights as she went and settled the dormant figure on the couch in the breakroom. There were worse places to spend the night. She patted Frys shoulder, Night Fry.
Night French. Fry smiled and curled into the couch.
You rat! French laughed and ruffled Frys hair. Again, there was no response. Fry had replied in that automatic way you can in your sleep. Similar to the way Mitchell would respond in his sleep when she asked him, Whats the company account password? Shed always loved that game. She swore it was the only time he was remotely honest.
She left Fry to her goody-goody dreams and went back to her office. Shed showered and changed earlier while there were still people on the premises. She collapsed on the couch and groaned in relief. It was the first time shed been off of her feet in twelve hours. She fell quickly into an exhausted but watchful sleep.
Which is why she woke thoroughly annoyed a couple of hours later. Something, some small repetitive noise had roused her from a particularly engaging dream. Could that have been Fry in her dream? It was hard to tell in that position. It could be Fry now though. She listened closely. There was the noise again, shit. Not Fry. There were quiet voices as well.
She slipped from the couch fully alert and padded down the hallway. The kitchen was dark, save for the one safety light near the front over the doors to the dining room. They were making this easy for her. Who were they? She couldnt make out any details because one had a flashlight and was shining it down on the floor where she supposed the other one was. The counter was blocking her view. If she had to bet shed say they were the muscle that had accompanied Mitchell on his last visit.
She walked up and stood behind the one who was standing over his pal, shining the light for him to work by. Looked like they were laying down something nasty on her floor, something the board of health might have an objection to.
Whats that there? She pointed at the wires the man had led out of a grey material taped to her oven door.
Detonator... Hed replied to the disembodied voice before he realized it wasnt attached to anyone who should have been there. Then everything went black.
French watched the guy on the floor struggle out from under his fallen comrade. His confusion was increased by the lack of light, his buddys light had busted when it hit the ground. Her smile was wasted on him in the dark, but it wasnt there for his benefit. She hefted the saute pan shed lifted from the rack that hung near Andres station. She hadnt been practicing her backhand, but there was enough room in the narrow galley to get off a good swing. She watched bad guy number two hit the deck. Shed put a little English in her swing and sent his head right into the reach-ins door. He was going to have the worst headache when he came to. Bastards were lucky to be coming to at all.
As long as French was preoccupied with Micky and Dutch, Serena hadnt had a hard time positioning herself. She swung the butt of her gun toward the back of the chefs skull. It would have been a good wack too, had French not seen a faint reflection of movement in the stainless steel splashguard of her stove. Shed have to thank Humberto for keeping it so clean.
She stepped back and made a neat swing with her elbow. Serena blocked the move and stepped clear.
Nice. Serena almost purred when she spoke. But youll do us both a favor and stay where you are or youll be history. Hands up.
French couldnt make out any detail on the gun, but assumed it was loaded. She let herself relax and slowly raised her hands. When her left hand reached counter height, she snatched up a pot lid and flicked it sharply at Serena. She was surprised to see the spindly wench catch it effortlessly, and the smile she got for her trouble had a chilling fervor to it. French shook her head, too bad all of that talent had to go to waste. What Serena didnt catch was the heavy flashlight that came spinning out of the darkness and nailed her right between the eyes.
After French flipped the flashlight up with her foot, she followed it with a good pop to Serenas head. She was made of tougher stuff than youd expect. French pushed her to the floor, flipped her and pulled both hands behind her back. Even with the added blow, she wasnt completely out.
French sat on the semi-conscious woman and began to puzzle out the evenings events. She didnt know how long shed been at it, when two bare feet entered her range of vision. Only Frys feet could look that innocent while violating a state health code.
She glanced up into the dark to see what Fry was after now. Was she going to be chastised for the body count, not giving them all pillows to rest their heads? Did she want a glass of milk?
French, theres a table of five, they all want boiled frogs legs and ducks feet on ice.
It took French a second to figure out that Fry still wasnt awake. Could she really have slept through that racket? She stood there staring into space, waiting. Forget it, tell em... not a chance. She played along. No use waking her up and getting lectured.
Okay. Fry sounded disappointed.
French got a fun idea. Hey Fry, whos your favorite French chef?
Fry perked up, she smiled. Julia Child.
French felt, more than she heard Serena snort beneath her. She reached over and quieted her, none too gently. Ive got a lot of stuff to take care of. Why dont you go take five in the breakroom?
Okay. Fry sounded disappointed again. But get some rest, you work so hard. She turned and shuffled off. French watched until shed disappeared around the corner and the light in the room went out.
Continued in Chapter 22.