Written / Cooking On High


Disclaimers Addendum

Chapter 23

Barbra hoped she hadn’t said anything to get Fry in trouble. Ever since she mentioned Fry’s date yesterday, French had descended into the most foul mood. She’d nearly broken Harvey Johnson’s neck when he told her he’d forgotten a case of wine at the warehouse. Andre and Sonny had had to talk her out of it. As it was, Harvey would have a sore throat for a while.

Barbra was relieved that Milo was holding steady this afternoon, otherwise French might kill him. She could imagine what would happen if the lovesick Milo started dropping orders again. Barbra wished the man would get up the courage to ask Jacqueline out. Then Jacqueline could shoot him down and they could all get on with their lives. It didn’t help matters that there was a running bet that Milo wouldn’t be able to follow through. There was another running bet that said Jacqueline would let him pay for dinner for a week before she dumped him, that was if he could get up the gumption to ask her in the first place.

She looked up from the seating schedule and saw Miguel exit the kitchen. She could hear French’s shouting in the brief moment the door was opened. Then, thankfully, it was muffled as the door swung shut again.

“What’s got French all stirred up?” Miguel asked.

“I don’t know, but I think it has something to do with Fry going on a date at Cezar’s.”

“Oh Sweet Mary, not the forbidden place!?” He gasped. He thought it might be bad given the particularly sharp greeting he’d gotten from the chef this morning, but this was worse. “Is she crazy? Are you crazy? Why on earth would you mention that to French?”

“I was just mentioning it! How was I supposed to know it would trigger such an apoplectic fit? This isn’t exactly normal behavior we’re witnessing here.” She looked at Miguel who was off and running in his own irrational place. “Not for most people.”

The crashing and yelling in the kitchen got louder. They could hear it through the heavy, soundproofed doors.

“We’ll tell her you were wrong. It was all a mistake. Fry went somewhere else. Maybe she’ll back off. She’s been almost reasonable lately.”

“Get a grip Miguel. She can suck it up and deal with it. Whatever the hell it is. What’s her problem anyway?”

Miguel had opened his mouth to speak, but stopped. A sudden and ominous silence radiated from the kitchen. It was like one of those quiets in the center of a hurricane. They both expected French to burst through the doors at any second. The door swung open, but it was Fry who exited. She was tying her apron and smiled as she approached.

“Noisy in there, glad French killed whatever it was she was whacking on her counter. I think it was a can of artichokes.”

Barbra and Miguel exchanged glances.

Then French came crashing out of the kitchen door. She was behind Fry in a flash. She didn’t say anything, but glared at Miguel and Barbra until they got the hint. Barbra reached over and patted Fry’s sleeve. “Call if you need me.” She gave French an extra long stare, but doubted it’d penetrated the chef’s delusion.

Fry had turned to look at French. “What’s up?” She could see by the tension emanating from the chef that something had happened.

“Was he good? Did you enjoy it?!”

Fry had learned that French had flair for the dramatic. Oh yeah, and she could act certifiable from time to time. It was unnerving, but she was learning to take it in stride. “Who, what are you talking about?”

“Last night you ate at Cezar’s Bistro and I wanted to know if it was everything you thought it would be? Traitor!”

“Not that it’s any of your business where I eat, but I didn’t go to Cezar’s. We changed our plans. Alyssa surprised me with a picnic on Pilmut Beach.”

“Oh. That’s fine then.” Like the whirlwind she was, French was gone, returned to the kitchen.

The chef stood at her station prepping for the crowd that was soon to be clamoring at her door. She knew that she should feel better that Fry wasn’t sneaking off to other kitchens behind her back, but something still bothered her.

Fry appeared before her looking concerned. “Why do you care where I eat, what does it matter?”

“Forget it. We’ve got things to do, people to feed. Let’s get to it.”

“I will, but it’s obviously something that’s bothering you and I’d like to know why. Does it have anything to do with the little food tasting game you’ve been playing with me?” Not that Fry hadn’t enjoyed it. Seeing anything remotely like admiration coming from French had been a blast.

“Little game? Is that all it’s been to you? Don’t you see?”

“See what? That you like to play, ‘Name that ingredient?’ A few times a shift?’”

“Can’t you see you’re special? Hasn’t anyone told you before?”

Fry was getting confused, were they still talking about the food? “Well, sure, only...”

“You have a singular talent. You have the most sensitive, discerning palate I’ve ever come across.”

This was French, of course they were talking about food.

“Let me get this straight. I want to be sure I’m clear on this... this whole time, we’ve been talking about my tastebuds?”

“Well, yeah, what’d you think we were talking about?”

“You were driven to distraction, to the point of frenzy even, by the fact that I may have eaten at Cezar’s? And that was it?”

French didn’t answer right away. She looked at Fry, looked her right in the eye and said, “I think frenzy is a bit extreme, don’t you? After all, I was looking out for you, showing concern for an employee.” Protecting a valuable asset was more like it, but Fry didn’t need to know that.

“No French, I think ‘frenzy’ just about sums it up. And it’s a pretty good description of what I’m about to fly into if I don’t get away from you right this minute, because you have to be the most infuriating, obnoxiously self-centered person I’ve ever met!” And on that note she left the kitchen.

Everything was so mixed up. Ever since she’d met French things that should have worked out hadn’t. The cut and dry had become murky and clouded. The whole thing with Louisa was a perfect example. They’d started out looking for a murderer and now all manner of unrelated circumstances were crowding into the picture.

And take last night. She’d been looking forward to an evening out of this place and away from whatever spell it cast on its inhabitants. But she’d found herself thinking of French half the time. She’d managed not to bring her into the conversation the fifteen or so times it seemed perfectly natural to.

However, she noticed the five or six times Alyssa had mentioned Skyler. She also noticed the vehemence with which her name was spoken. Alyssa really had a bug in her ear about Skyler.

“What is it exactly that’s wrong with her?” Fry had asked Alyssa.

“It’s her complacency! Oh sure, for a rich person she knows the right things to boycott and who’s protesting who, but there’s never any emotion behind it you know? Like it’s all inevitable, but we have to do our best, keeping up appearances. How can you ever hope to change anything with that attitude? Not to mention where her money comes from!”

As far as Fry could tell, where a person’s money came from wasn’t their fault until they were earning it themselves. Where Alyssa’s money came from was just dumb luck.

“When you call Skyler a rich person, it’s kind of funny. I mean, I know you’re not a Hilltopper, but to most of the people on this island, you might as well be.” Fry watched the surprise register on Alyssa’s face. “I don’t mean it in a bad way. Just pointing out that wealth is relative and while I barely know Skyler, she’s been civil if not friendly the couple of times I’ve run into her. You can tell a lot about people by how they treat the help.”

“You don’t think of yourself that way, do you? You waitress, sure, but it’s not like it makes you any less of a person. Look at the work you’ve done in your own community. Your organizing at school was amazing.” Alyssa had a fervent, almost glazed look in her eye. Fry realized that the admiration she was expressing was genuine. And perhaps her attraction misplaced.

“All I’m saying is that Skyler saw a human being the first time she saw me working at the restaurant. You’d be surprised how rare that is. I have co-workers who treat me with less respect. Don’t worry, I don’t need a self-esteem workshop. Though after this summer’s over, I might.”

She’d avoided bringing up the person who made her feel the most inadequate. The intolerable, impossible, irascible pain in the keester who’d made her feel about an inch high. And in some horrible twist of fate she also knew that when she was with French, she felt a potential within herself, that she’d never felt before. She felt that with French, almost anything was possible. Could you get contact inspiration, just by being with someone? She felt that must be the case, because French was inspirational in the extreme. It wasn’t the kind of thing Fry had ever expected.

In the bigger scheme of things, she was supposed to meet some great social advocate and spend the rest of her life battling for the forces of good. Why was it that she’d met French, the woman least likely of inspiring anything but lust and fear, and experienced a pull so strong she hadn’t been able to turn away. The pull was something that resonated deep within her own sense of self. Was it that French’s delusional absolutism called to her? That in a world that was so uncertain, where nothing was secure, she sensed French was some peculiar constant. Fry released a heavy sigh, ‘constant’ wasn’t a word one associated with a summer job. She would return to finish her degree in the fall and all of this would be moot.

She shook the clouds from her mind and prepared herself for the hungry rush of patrons that was filing in the door.

French didn’t get it. Why hadn’t Fry even been the slightest bit appreciative at her compliment? She’d ignored it completely. Didn’t she appreciate her own skill? No, and it was probably a good thing too, because she might get ideas about how to use it. French had no desire for Fry to run off and develop her talents with some other chef, spreading her secrets as she went.

But it irked her that maybe Fry didn’t know how special her talent was. This wasn’t some game. And Fry might think that a career in the business wasn’t as socially uplifting as her Meals On Wheels stint, but she’d never given it a shot. Not in the larger sense. Not in the sense French thought she could.

French was pulled up short in her musings by the simple realization that she liked Fry. While this wouldn’t have been much of a realization for most people, French couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt it about someone. Oh, sure, she tolerated plenty of people, and was even amused by others, but she didn’t particularly like any of them. She made note of it and decided to study the phenomenon in greater depth at a later date, when there weren’t one hundred people screaming for a meal.

One of those hundred people turned out to be Hal Mackney. You could have knocked her over with a feather when Miguel mentioned that he was out front. What manner of chicanery was this? French went out to investigate.

Fry brushed passed her on her way down the hall. Looked like she might be in for the silent treatment again.

She spotted Hal sitting with his wife Jinny and son Hal Jr.. “Good afternoon. What brings the owner of the Fisherman’s Prize into my establishment?” She turned on the charm. She needed all of the information she could get.

“Thought we’d celebrate. We decided to sell. As I’d never set foot in this place when I thought you’d take the opportunity to run across the wharf and burn me down, I figured it’d be okay now. I told the buyer to keep an eye out for you though. Fair’s fair.”

French gave him a dazzling smile. “Love and war and all of that. Who’s the new owner?”

“Anyone but Mitchell Redmond. If the guy threatened me one more time, I was going to go up there and fry his ass.”

“Mitchell wanted to buy your place?”

“Yeah, he’s been at it since last fall. Well, he hasn’t, but someone at Darflock kept calling, faxing and e-mailing. When the place burned down, I got a nice little condolence note and I haven’t heard from them since. It’s the only reason I didn’t think the son of a bitch did it.”

“Hal!” Jinny reprimanded.

“Yeah Dad, watch your language in front of the ladies.” Hal Jr. gave French a dazzling smile of his own. If he wasn’t thirteen, he might have even passed for tolerable.

“Sorry honey.” Hal apologized. French noticed he didn’t include her in the remark. Hal knew her pretty well after all these summers. “And while you were the next on my list in the suspect category, I figured you wouldn’t have had that lawyer help me out with the insurance problems I had. That ain’t your m.o. by a long shot. So, I guess it was dumb luck. I’d feel a lot better if I knew where that security tape went though.”


“Yeah, I have one that runs at night. The usual thing. But they couldn’t find it anywhere. Police said it was probably incinerated in the fire.”

“Probably. Grease fire burns pretty hot.” French and Hal exchanged a meaningful look. “Who’s the buyer?”

“Classy, British outfit. JCE International Corp. They do hotel/restaurants mostly.”

“You don’t say.” Something was starting to take shape. What it was she wasn’t sure, but she recognized a familiar flavor.

Continued in Chapter 24.

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