Written / Cooking On High


Disclaimers Addendum

Chapter 25

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. They’d gone a few blocks from the Dance Bar, sticking to side streets. When she’d brought herself back to her approximate center (or as close to it as she was likely to get in French’s 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 don’t know. I’ve worked with him for a long time. I only wanted him to do two things. Miguel’s pretty good at keeping it simple. He layed low and watched the crowd for me. He didn’t 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 there’s even the remotest chance he may encounter it, he disappears into thin air. On a dime. It’s a neat trick, never seen anything quite like it. That’s why he was there.” She neglected to mention the one time she’d seen this trick fail him, but she didn’t think it was pertinent to her case.

“But that’s awful! Then you’re all alone.”

“Precisely. And I know what I’m doing. So does Miguel. He has a realistic understanding of his abilities and limitations in a conflict. You’re 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 don’t stand a chance if that big dog isn’t a total freak case and gets it in it’s mind to have the little dog for lunch. Asking the big dogs if they’d really rather just ‘all have a dance’ isn’t going to stop them from ripping it apart. What the hell was that supposed to accomplish anyway?”

“Don’t change the subject. Let’s concentrate on one of my inadequacies at a time.”

“But it’s the same one. You don’t have a clue what to do in a conflict. You’re completely unrealistic about your abilities and other people’s intentions. That could get you badly hurt or worse. I’m not willing to risk it. Period. Conversation over, now let’s go.” French was getting hot under the collar. She’d already let Fry violate directives One through Five. And now Uncle Max and Jasper were in town. She wasn’t 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 won’t let me help?”

“We’ll figure that out as we go along. Now move it.”

“But where are we going?”

“A few blocks from here, okay! Let’s move it!” She’d about reached her limit. She was holding on to her temper for all she was worth and Fry kept pushing her.

“You’re impossible, I can’t work with you if you won’t tell me what’s going on!”

“You don’t work with me, you work for me. And when you need to know something, I’ll tell you!” French had snapped. Her finite capacity for give and take had run out.

“Is that so? Why can’t you admit that I’m a help to you? Do you really think you’re such an island unto yourself? Come on, you need me.” Fry could see that French had become a wee bit tense, but she wasn’t going accept being treated like a peon. Not a peon without a brain anyway.

“Why would I need you? A townie waitress. I’m not saying that you don’t have your uses, but you don’t have the slightest clue what you’re dealing with here. I’ll say it for the last time, this is no game. Maybe you should go home before you get hurt, Fry. I’m 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 French’s 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. “I’m not a half-wit French, the murder clued me in that this wasn’t a game. I don’t know what’s going on because you won’t tell me. By ‘uses’ if you mean that grope in the alley, you’re pathetic. And for the record, I don’t work for you. You’re an impossible, self-interested egotist who doesn’t have the slightest idea how to treat people decently. I quit. I’m going home. Put that in your stock pot and boil it, chef.”

“I’m impossible!? Oh please, like you aren’t the least bit unreasonable.” But she was talking to Fry’s 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 he’d wish he’d never come home.

The lights were on in Monica’s 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 wasn’t 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. Weren’t 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 Jason’s shoulder and re-sat him in his chair. “No need to stand, we’re 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. I’d appreciate it if you could answer a couple of questions for me. Then I’ll save you some trouble by helping you avoid a couple of Mitchell Redmond’s associates on your way off the island. I have a feeling he’d like to chat with you too. Only, he’s not as pretty as I am, and he’s got this guy Jasper working with him who’s a real son of a bitch, with no patience whatsoever. A real hothead. So let’s 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 hadn’t shown up for her shift. What the hell was her problem anyway? One little thing doesn’t go her way and she’s 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 she’d lost track of it. And she had this god-damned pain in her chest that wouldn’t go away. She’d taken an aspirin, but it hadn’t seemed to help. She brushed her hand over the spot and concentrated her thoughts.

That’s 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 Sonny’s 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 wasn’t exactly enjoying the chef’s 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 Brian’s 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, I’ve got to get some paperwork done. Sonny, tell Brian to get that stuff taken care of.” Sonny didn’t 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.

“Miguel’s acting more odd than usual. Fry hasn’t shown up for shift. And I’d like to know if she’s alright.” Barbra had seen how Fry left the bar last night. She figured she’d be okay as long as she was with French. Though why she’d given that feeling any merit was beyond her now. She was getting nervous.

“She’s pulling a stunt. She’ll be here.”

Not that Barbra wanted to shorten her life span, but it wasn’t like Fry to pull anything, much less a stunt that involved inconveniencing other people, so she pressed on. “Not that it’s any of my business, but what kind of a stunt?”

“She’s trying to make me think she’s quitting. Got all pissy over nothing last night and stormed off.”

Barbra wasn’t so much nervous now that she was getting agitated. ‘Nothing’ could mean anything coming out of French’s mouth. And if she’d hurt Fry, then Barbra was going to pull a stunt of her own.

“Did you hurt her?” Putting both hands on French’s desk, she leaned over to make eye contact. But French wouldn’t look up. She was brushing her hand across her jacket again, right where her heart would have been if Barbra didn’t know any better.

“Hurt her?” French drifted off into la-la land again. Barbra couldn’t 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 you’d 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 chef’s face if she didn’t 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 hadn’t gotten the full story.

“What makes you think she’s trying to make you think she’s 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 she’d heard it come out of Fry’s 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 she’d 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 she’d witnessed the night before. She’d seen the look on French’s face when that fight had started. She’d 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 Feeney’s fist. She’d 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? “I’m going to start by telling you that I’m not your biggest fan. Just for my own benefit, mind.” She had French’s attention now. And she was reasonably sure the chef had passed that difficult and uncomfortable moment. “Are you sure that’s all there is to it? Is there something else she might have been angry about?”

“I can’t see why this is any of your business.” French was desperately trying to pull herself together. What was Barbra’s problem anyway? Didn’t she have a job to do?

“It’s not, and I’ll gladly buzz right on out of here and go see if Fry’s alright, because you are a sorry waste of my time. I was under the false impression that you might have cared. Sorry, I won’t make the mistake again.” She started to go, but a quiet voice stopped her.

“I do.”

“Then why on earth are you sitting here on your ass? Why aren’t you over at her house apologizing? It’s what people who care do.”

French clenched her jaw and looked at her. “I can’t...”

“Like hell you can’t. You walk a quarter mile east and knock on a door. It’s 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.

“She’s 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! I’ve 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 you’re right, this way there’s no hard work for you, you can sidestep the responsibility for hurting her feelings. Or maybe...” Barbra sent up a silent prayer. She’d surely pushed her luck this far, she prayed to be allowed one minute more. “...maybe you’re 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 French’s teeth grinding was the only noise in the room until she spoke. “So I just knock on the door, right?”

“It’s 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.

Brulee: cremebruleeATmyrealboxDOTcom

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