Fry took a minute to marshal her resources. Once again her mental and emotional framework felt like it had been sent through the ringer. Back and forth, several times. Theyd gone a few blocks from the Dance Bar, sticking to side streets. When shed brought herself back to her approximate center (or as close to it as she was likely to get in Frenchs unstablizing company) she dug her heels in for the second time that evening. It had the same effect, bringing French, who was still dragging her along by the wrist, around to face her.
I want to know why Miguel. Why not me?
Why that bothers you so much, I dont know. Ive worked with him for a long time. I only wanted him to do two things. Miguels pretty good at keeping it simple. He layed low and watched the crowd for me. He didnt ask why, where, or what. But the real reason I brought him is this. I know that Miguel has an absolute terror of physical pain. If theres even the remotest chance he may encounter it, he disappears into thin air. On a dime. Its a neat trick, never seen anything quite like it. Thats why he was there. She neglected to mention the one time shed seen this trick fail him, but she didnt think it was pertinent to her case.
But thats awful! Then youre all alone.
Precisely. And I know what Im doing. So does Miguel. He has a realistic understanding of his abilities and limitations in a conflict. Youre like one of those little dogs that runs after German Shepards and Rottweilers.
Some of those little dogs are pretty fierce.
No doubt. But they dont stand a chance if that big dog isnt a total freak case and gets it in its mind to have the little dog for lunch. Asking the big dogs if theyd really rather just all have a dance isnt going to stop them from ripping it apart. What the hell was that supposed to accomplish anyway?
Dont change the subject. Lets concentrate on one of my inadequacies at a time.
But its the same one. You dont have a clue what to do in a conflict. Youre completely unrealistic about your abilities and other peoples intentions. That could get you badly hurt or worse. Im not willing to risk it. Period. Conversation over, now lets go. French was getting hot under the collar. Shed already let Fry violate directives One through Five. And now Uncle Max and Jasper were in town. She wasnt going to expose someone like Fry to that kind of professional scum. From here on in it was a game of hardball, all around. That meant dealing it tough to Fry for her own good.
The thought that Fry could get seriously, if not grievously injured, had started a creeping feeling in the bottom of her gut. She was the kind of person who considered fear a helpful emotion when she was instilling it in someone else, not when it was encroaching on her own digestive tract. The fact that she was feeling it at all pissed her off.
From about a half a block behind her she heard Fry speak again, How am I supposed to be of any use if you wont let me help?
Well figure that out as we go along. Now move it.
But where are we going?
A few blocks from here, okay! Lets move it! Shed about reached her limit. She was holding on to her temper for all she was worth and Fry kept pushing her.
Youre impossible, I cant work with you if you wont tell me whats going on!
You dont work with me, you work for me. And when you need to know something, Ill tell you! French had snapped. Her finite capacity for give and take had run out.
Is that so? Why cant you admit that Im a help to you? Do you really think youre such an island unto yourself? Come on, you need me. Fry could see that French had become a wee bit tense, but she wasnt going accept being treated like a peon. Not a peon without a brain anyway.
Why would I need you? A townie waitress. Im not saying that you dont have your uses, but you dont have the slightest clue what youre dealing with here. Ill say it for the last time, this is no game. Maybe you should go home before you get hurt, Fry. Im not letting you get anymore involved than you are now. She delivered the final coup de gra. Go back to your whole grains and tofu.
Uses...Letting me... If there was one thing Fry could not abide, it was being objectified and patronized in the same breath. The word uses coming out of Frenchs mouth had a distinctly sexual connotation to it. She could have handled being patronized, after all French could be such a snot. But to be objectified on top of it was too much. It short-circuited her already taxed operating system. Im not a half-wit French, the murder clued me in that this wasnt a game. I dont know whats going on because you wont tell me. By uses if you mean that grope in the alley, youre pathetic. And for the record, I dont work for you. Youre an impossible, self-interested egotist who doesnt have the slightest idea how to treat people decently. I quit. Im going home. Put that in your stock pot and boil it, chef.
Im impossible!? Oh please, like you arent the least bit unreasonable. But she was talking to Frys back. The small woman could really move when she put her mind to it. As her figure receded into the dark, French felt a tightening in her chest. She ignored it. This unexpected turn was for the best.
She left Fry to her fit and made her way through the town alone. Jason had better be good and cooperative when she found him, otherwise hed wish hed never come home.
The lights were on in Monicas kitchen. She could hear them talking quietly inside. As not to startle anyone unduly and give Jason the opportunity to make a run for it, she tried the handle to the door. It wasnt even locked. Amateurs. She opened it quietly and let herself into a small chamber off the kitchen, the spare boot room from the looks of all the clutter. Werent librarians supposed to be orderly and neat?
She walked into the kitchen and as everyone registered the uninvited guest in their midst, she clamped a firm hand down on Jasons shoulder and re-sat him in his chair. No need to stand, were all friends here.
She shot Andre a questioning glance across the table. Was he in on this too? What the hell was going on in this town?
Jason, so good to finally meet you. Id appreciate it if you could answer a couple of questions for me. Then Ill save you some trouble by helping you avoid a couple of Mitchell Redmonds associates on your way off the island. I have a feeling hed like to chat with you too. Only, hes not as pretty as I am, and hes got this guy Jasper working with him whos a real son of a bitch, with no patience whatsoever. A real hothead. So lets get this over with shall we? You have a boat to catch.
She would have retrieved the tape and the documents Jason told her about last night, but Fry had the damn keys. The one thing she let her have and it turned out to be a critical element in the scheme of things. Great. And to top it off, Fry hadnt shown up for her shift. What the hell was her problem anyway? One little thing doesnt go her way and shes off in a huff. If she thought she was working a double tomorrow she could just forget it. This was exactly the kind of thing French expected would happen when she started being friendly to an employee.
She was standing at her station. There was something she was supposed to be doing but shed lost track of it. And she had this god-damned pain in her chest that wouldnt go away. Shed taken an aspirin, but it hadnt seemed to help. She brushed her hand over the spot and concentrated her thoughts.
Thats what it was! She was supposed to restock her reach-in. She knelt down and sifted through the contents. She checked off a few things on the list in her head and stood again. Now what was she supposed to do? She stood there for a moment. Right, the storeroom.
Barbra entered the kitchen and found French standing in front of Sonnys station staring at the ventilation hood of the stove. She shot Sonny a look, he glanced up from his work and gave a nervous shrug. The copious amount of sweat that had formed on his brow indicated that he wasnt exactly enjoying the chefs company in a laid back fashion.
French brushed her hand over her jacket front and shook her head slightly. Sonny, when the delivery comes in, make sure none of it gets left on the landing. Might rain later.
No problem. Sonny had no clue why she was telling him, that was Brians thing.
Excuse me, French? Barbra kept her voice low, she had the feeling that it might not be a good idea to startle her. Could we talk for a minute?
Yeah, Ive got to get some paperwork done. Sonny, tell Brian to get that stuff taken care of. Sonny didnt care what French meant, he was just relieved that she was going somewhere else with her creepy trance state.
Barbra followed French into her office and closed the door behind them. French walked to her desk and sat heavily in the chair.
Miguels acting more odd than usual. Fry hasnt shown up for shift. And Id like to know if shes alright. Barbra had seen how Fry left the bar last night. She figured shed be okay as long as she was with French. Though why shed given that feeling any merit was beyond her now. She was getting nervous.
Shes pulling a stunt. Shell be here.
Not that Barbra wanted to shorten her life span, but it wasnt like Fry to pull anything, much less a stunt that involved inconveniencing other people, so she pressed on. Not that its any of my business, but what kind of a stunt?
Shes trying to make me think shes quitting. Got all pissy over nothing last night and stormed off.
Barbra wasnt so much nervous now that she was getting agitated. Nothing could mean anything coming out of Frenchs mouth. And if shed hurt Fry, then Barbra was going to pull a stunt of her own.
Did you hurt her? Putting both hands on Frenchs desk, she leaned over to make eye contact. But French wouldnt look up. She was brushing her hand across her jacket again, right where her heart would have been if Barbra didnt know any better.
Hurt her? French drifted off into la-la land again. Barbra couldnt tell if she was considering the fact for the first time, or mentally picking her nose.
Yeah, ya know, sleep with her and take off before sunrise? Tell her she was a pretty good lay, but not the kind of thing youd take seriously? Lead her on then go home with one of her friends? Barbra was on a roll.
No! I just kissed her... Barbra saw a look that could have passed for pained on the chefs face if she didnt know any better about that too. Then I told her she was a useless townie waitress and she should get lost.
Oh boy. Barbra could see that she was treading on dangerous ground. French had picked up a pen and was absentmindedly squeezing it, her knuckles going whiter with each grip. At least she knew that Fry was probably okay. Upset, but okay. But then again, this was French she was talking to, maybe she hadnt gotten the full story.
What makes you think shes trying to make you think shes quitting? Was that as convoluted as it sounded?
She said so. She looked Barbra right in the eye as she said it. This was the kicker. For both of them. French knew for the first time since shed heard it come out of Frys mouth that it was no empty threat. And Barbra knew that beyond a shadow of a doubt, French was sitting in front of her falling apart at the seams. In what may have been the most normal act shed witnessed the chef in all summer.
As every fiber of her being fought and struggled against it, French was being made to face the simple fact that she cared. And caring had some pretty tricky consequences.
Barbra hated when men cried, but what she hated more was to see a tough woman do it. She knew that there were only a few acceptable excuses for a man to cry. But there were none for a tough woman to do the same. It was too painful a prospect to consider that kind of control breaking down.
The balance of her internal prejudice was tipped by this conversation with French and by what shed witnessed the night before. Shed seen the look on Frenchs face when that fight had started. Shed also watched in amazement as the woman sprinted across the nailed down tabletops of the Dance Bar to land behind Fry and kick Trent Howard into Hamish Feeneys fist. Shed approved wholeheartedly. Trent was an obnoxious little shit.
She swallowed several years of finely crafted and carefully constructed bitterness and addressed the chef. Was she a sucker or what? Im going to start by telling you that Im not your biggest fan. Just for my own benefit, mind. She had Frenchs attention now. And she was reasonably sure the chef had passed that difficult and uncomfortable moment. Are you sure thats all there is to it? Is there something else she might have been angry about?
I cant see why this is any of your business. French was desperately trying to pull herself together. What was Barbras problem anyway? Didnt she have a job to do?
Its not, and Ill gladly buzz right on out of here and go see if Frys alright, because you are a sorry waste of my time. I was under the false impression that you might have cared. Sorry, I wont make the mistake again. She started to go, but a quiet voice stopped her.
Then why on earth are you sitting here on your ass? Why arent you over at her house apologizing? Its what people who care do.
French clenched her jaw and looked at her. I cant...
Like hell you cant. You walk a quarter mile east and knock on a door. Its that easy. But to herself, Barbra acknowledged that it would undoubtedly be the hardest thing French had ever done. That is, if she did it right.
Shes better off, away from me... It was feeble, and Barbra cut her right off.
Is that what this is all about? YOU? What a surprise! Ive got a news flash for you. The world does not revolve around you. Fry, Violet is a grown woman, she can make her own decisions. But maybe youre right, this way theres no hard work for you, you can sidestep the responsibility for hurting her feelings. Or maybe... Barbra sent up a silent prayer. Shed surely pushed her luck this far, she prayed to be allowed one minute more. ...maybe youre chicken.
French was on her feet in a flash. Nostrils flaring, body at the ready, she glowered down at Barbra.
Well? Barbra was impressed that her voice was almost calm.
The sound of Frenchs teeth grinding was the only noise in the room until she spoke. So I just knock on the door, right?
Its a start.
Fine. Tell Brian to fill in. She stormed out, slamming the back door to her office as she went.
Barbra sat on the couch with a thump. What have I done?
Continued in Chapter 26.