So what does a world class chef do on her day off? Scheme. What else?
French went over the battle plan that had begun to take shape in her minds eye. It was based more on a sense of what was coalescing than what actually was. She was able to extrapolate to various conclusions based on multivarious contingencies and come up with something resembling an offensive, defensive strategy.
Where Fry fit into all of this, she wasnt sure. Somewhere in the back, out of the way, and not underfoot. She could manage it. Why not? Seemed simple enough.
She spent the morning working out and going over the latest and greatest ideas put forth in her favorite sources in the culinary media. In her mind, food critics and gastronomes were hungry people who talked too much. Occasionally though, one of them said something halfway intelligent. Especially if it was in her favor. Not that she was one to get emotional about positive press on herself, but it was good for business.
As she went through her e-mail, she spotted one midst the crap that sparked her interest. It was from email@example.com and the subject read, Read this French, it might be to your benefit. Itd passed through her security program with no problem so she gave it the once over. It read, Trust no one, but thats a given. Dont look to old friends for help, you may get burned, but whats new? The Redmonds own the Chief. Watch your ass, like everybody else. Uncle Max and his boys just landed. Theyre watching. Be careful. It was signed, Snitch.
Was that supposed to be helpful? Someone had been watching too many old spy movies. If Snitch had gone to the trouble of e-mailing her from a false address, why hadnt he, she or it just told her what she needed to know? No one was really forthcoming unless you could wrap your hands around their throat and encourage it. Just like she was ready to do to Jason tonight. She could be encouraging and supportive, given the right set of circumstances.
Fry hadnt the foggiest idea what she was doing in the Dance Bar. Of all the places she avoided in the summer and any other time of the year, this one was first on her list. If there was a bar most likely to have a brawl every other hour, this was it. What created such a volatile atmosphere? The recipe: One part restaurant workers night off, Monday. Equal parts overprivileged summer vacationers, and non-overprivileged summer vacationers. One part out of work fishermen who worked in the restaurants and other tourist service industries on the island. Another part resentment with a touch of aggression. Attitude with a dash of arrogance. Add alchohol and mix vigorously... forget the mixing, it happened on its own, right before the explosions. About once a week.
Shed given in to Barbra and Chillis continuous prodding. They insisted she had to come out with them to, Wash that woman right out of her hair. Meaning her failed date with Alyssa, though Fry had a suspicion that they meant French. In either case shed given in and was in the process of regretting it. It was loud. Way too loud to talk comfortably.
She was sipping her beer, waiting for Barbra to get back from the bar. Chilli had found a friend to rip up the dancefloor with. She just wasnt in the mood to join them there, and she felt shed given in enough tonight. Shed leave the dancing up to the people who were inspired to move.
She felt a whole lot of energy pulsing around her. How could you not? The place was wall to wall bodies, most of whom were in motion from the music, or the weave and rock that came from too much drinking.
She was brought out of her perusal of the dancefloor by the conversation that started over her shoulder.
Would you take a look at that!? An enthusiastic young guy was staring across the room, mouth agape.
His friend followed his line of vision. Yeah, look good, cause thats all youre likely to get out of that drink of water.
Frys curiosity peaked and she turned her head to take in the view. And if she hadnt already been through a full course in Knee Buckling and How to Prevent It at the Last Minute, she would have been on the floor. French was passing beneath one of the lights across the room. Her eyes scanned the side of the room where Fry was standing, but she must not have seen her in the crowd, because she moved in another direction.
Fry hadnt seen French out of Bachanal much. Oh sure, theyd broken into the odd house together, but French had always worn the ever present braid, and black everywhere else. Not that tonight was an exception in the black department. There was just less of it, in the neckline anyway. And the braid was gone. In its place was a wild mane of dark hair, reflecting blue highlights in the doctored lighting of the club. She was sinful. No wonder Fry was drawn so strongly. No mystery left there. Fry decided she might as well bite the bullet back that was killing her slowly. She was going to ask French to dance. She was in the mood.
Of all the times for Trent Howard to try to make his move. His timing stunk. After hed swung Fry around and steadied himself on her shoulder, he breathed way too much alcohol in her face as he asked, You want to dance with me good lookin? Cmon.
Fry stepped back, but hed already grabbed her wrist and was pulling her to the dance floor as she spoke. No Trent. Really thanks, but Im not interested.
Trent was beyond noticing and if hed cared for her opinion he might have waited for an answer. Trent wasnt used to listening to what other people thought.
Fry dug in her heels and brought Trent around whiplash fashion as he hadnt loosened his grip on her wrist at all. I said Im not interested, so please let me go.
Yeah, Trent. Hamish Feeney chimed in. He was a large kid, who came from one of the towns old fishing families. Instead of earning his stripes out on the seas with all of his brawn, he was frying clams for the summer. And none too happy about it. She said to fuck off, or dont you understand English?
Both of them had obviously had their fill of liquor in the last few hours. In a blink they were in each others faces, spitting mad. Like youd have a clue what a woman wanted, Blockhead.
The crowd around them was drawn to the conflict, a powder keg looking for a fuse. She was squeezed between them, Trent still holding her at the wrist. Come on guys, lets just calm down. Maybe we should all have a dance?
Both men were lost in that primal dance so seductive to the alcohol soaked brain. The posturing ego match.
Fry twisted her arm until she could apply enough pressure to the weak part of Trents grip. She managed to pry her wrist through where his thumb reached around and met his fingers. She hadnt taken all of those self-defense classes for nothing. As she broke through, she lost her balance and leaned on Trent to steady herself. He was so far gone into the alcohol and defensive adrenaline rush, that like a dog in a standoff, he reacted without thought and shoved Hamish back into the crowd. The fuse was lit, burnt, and the keg exploded. In the space of a second.
Violence radiated out from their position on the floor like a shock wave. Anything not bolted down (and a lot of the furniture was, for just this reason) was airborne.
Fry had regained her footing after stumbling back with Hamish. She straightened up and saw Trent coming right at her, mid-swing. She felt a firm pressure on the top of her head. It forced her straight down. Trents swing was all air and he was thrown off balance by the lack of resistance hed encountered. Fry felt a body against her and saw a leg fly out, a foot make contact with Trents butt and shove him directly into Hamishs waiting fist. Trent dropped like a stone to the floor. Ouch! Fry exclaimed for him from her crouched position.
A voice from behind and above asked, Why was I sure that if I came over here, Id find you in the middle of this?
Fry didnt have time to squeak out more than a surprised, French! Before she was hoisted unceremoniously over the chefs shoulder. Theyd gone through a door at the back of the bar, and were moving rapidly down a narrow hallway. It was an odd sensation to be upright in the midst of chaos one minute and upside down and listening to it recede into the distance the next. It was disorienting. You might say it took her by surprise, until she finally figured out that shed been hauled bodily out of the bar, upside-down, without any say in the matter whatsoever. Ummm, French?
French was preoccupied looking for another door she knew was somewhere along this corridor. Or it used to be. Yeah.
What the heck do you think youre doing? Put me down!
French didnt respond. Fry felt the cool air on the back of her neck before she saw the door close behind them. She was reasonably sure they had exited into the alley behind the building, at least the smell from the dumpster next to her head indicated as much. The world righted itself as she was plopped on her feet and pushed flat to the wall next to the door. She began to berate French in earnest but felt a stifling hand placed over her mouth and saw French nod her head toward the break in the alley at the side of the building. She could see the lights from police cars bouncing off the walls.
The moment Frenchs hand was off her mouth Fry hissed, You didnt have to drag me out here. You could have told me to follow you!
Oh sure. French hissed right back. And while I was explaining to you that itd be a good idea if we left before you were hauled off to jail for starting a riot, what? We could already be booked and enjoying the company in the Comstock cells? Not likely.
I did not start that fight!
Of course not. You just happened to be in the middle of it, minding your own business.
I was minding my own business! Is it my fault if Trent thinks no is some kind of feminist coy?
Violet Spark, trouble just seems to follow you!
Well thats fine, because I can handle it!
You mean like you were about to handle Trents fist right upside your head?
Look, I may not be a culinary James Bond, but I can get out of a small scrape.
French snorted. You were standing in the middle of a bar brawl surrounded by ten guys whove been itching to kick each others teeth out since the beginning of time. Thats a small scrape?
Fry wasnt going to shut up, that much was clear. French didnt feel like having to explain her way out of the alley if someone heard them. Fry was opening her mouth to argue and French did the thing that seemed logical at the time. She covered Frys mouth again. It hadnt occurred to her that she didnt have to use her own mouth to do it. But when she felt Frys lips, all question evaporated from her mind and she was left with the certainty that it had been the right decision all along.
Itd been months since shed kissed anyone. And if you were going to break a fast, you wanted it to be special. Fry was helping her out just fine in that department. No wonder this woman was in such demand on the island. She knew what she was doing.
After the initial shock and hesitation at the position in which she found herself, Fry gave into temptation. Who could blame her? The sensation of Frenchs lips was more intoxicating than any liquor shed smelled that night and then some. No wonder the woman was able to have half the island at her beck and call. Her lips alone could inspire a full surrender. With the adrenaline already coursing through her veins, it took her no time to get into the swing of things. Before she could fully engage in the pleasurable sensation of Frenchs mouth, they were rudely interupted in the most jarring and unpleasant fashion.
French. French! Miguel tapped the chef on the shoulder again. Hed never understand this kind of thing. Why the woman would choose this spot in an alley, right next to a dumpster for an assignation, no matter how brief, was beyond him. It was filthy. He could have swallowed his own tongue when the chef stepped back and he saw that it was Fry she was with.
Through the haze that had shorted out the wiring in her head, French noticed that the flashing lights were gone. How long had they been out here? What the hell was Miguel doing poking at her back? She waved his hand off and struggled to regain whatever grip on herself she thought might be appropriate for the moment. She removed her other hand from Frys hair. How had that gotten there? She realized that as long as she was staring at Frys parted lips, watching her try to regain her breath, shed wouldnt be able to focus on the many ramifications of the situation whirling around their heads. And what the hell was that smell?
She turned to face Miguel. Now there was a sobering sight. He stood not far off, holding a handkerchief to his nose. Whats the problem?
Theyre gone. They dragged some guy named Trent off. He was screaming about police brutality and something about a small obnoxious blonde whod started the whole thing. I saw a couple of guys from last summer, associates of Mitchell Redmonds... they walked out through the front. No one bothered them.
I think Im going to head out ladies. Too much excitement for me for one night. Miguel tipped an imaginary hat and walked off down the alleyway.
French wasnt sure she wanted to turn around. Fry hadnt said anything in a while. While this was a novel experience she didnt think she should squander, it was also kind of unsettling. Maybe Fry was gone?
She peeked over her shoulder and caught the red hot glare directed her way. Nope, not gone.
What? French was on the defensive before Fry could speak.
You! You were here with him! Fry was sputtering mad. Thoughts were rushing through her brain in incomplete sentences. She took a deep breath. As usual, she was overwhelmed in the face of Frenchs brazen arrogance. I cant believe you would trust him to help you and not me! Why are you here? Whats going on? What happened to us working together?
Once again, French had the task of answering the list of questions that flowed from Frys ever keen and non-plussed mind. She decided on the direct approach, I trust you fine, as far as that kind of thing goes. I was here to meet Jason, and I would have too, but I saw him make tracks the moment all hell broke loose in there. And were working together fine, but that doesnt mean you getting your neck broken over nothing, so whats the big deal? French was feeling pretty solid in the reasoning department. Shed even managed a question of her own for Miss Chatty Pants. And it must have been a stumper because Fry was standing there wide eyed, her jaw working, but no sound coming out.
Forget it. Come on, I bet I know where the little rat ran to ground. She took Fry by the wrist and lead her off. Occasionally shed hear her begin to say something, but it sputtered and died before she got very far.
Continued in Chapter 25.