In case you linked here from somewhere else and missed the bit on the Written page: I'm outta here for a couple of weeks and won't be posting remotely. But I'll be back and there'll be more.
And thanks for all of the notes and messages since I fixed my e-mail link. Y'all are great!
When Fry walked into work the next day she didnt know whether to be amazed or furious. French was there working. Severely bruised, occasionally leaning on her station for support, but working.
The crew was more subdued than usual, everyone keeping a close eye on French who hadnt said more than was absolutely necessary and looked like shed met with the wrong end of a bat. To their credit, they rallied to support her. They pulled their weight and then some, trying to take as much off her plate as possible.
Maybe it was the bruising, bruises always got a lot of attention. French didnt care what was keeping the crew quiet, she was just glad of it. The last thing she wanted to deal with was nosy line cooks.
Fry appeared before her shaking her head. What kind of pain killers are you on?
Im taking those pills your friend gave me. Now get to it. Were expecting a crowd out there.
Fry stared at her an extra beat, then walked away. She couldnt bear stoicism, and she couldnt bear people who pushed themselves when they should rest, mainly because she knew that usually made things worse and she could never see the point to that kind of pig headed behavior. She also knew that when you encountered it in full bloom, there wasnt likely to be a darned thing you could do about it. So she didnt try. Maybe when French dropped from exhaustion, internal bleeding or whatever else could stop her, then Fry might, just might, help her.
The day went on. French barely responded to any of Frys looks or smiles. It took her a while to figure out that it wasnt the pain that was bothering her, but something else. She was acting flat, like shed been the night before. After Julia had mentioned Giselle. Whoever that was.
Fry was astounded at the chefs physical resilience. Shed thought that after a while French would give the kitchen over to Brian. Poor Brian who practically never got to do what a sous chef was supposed to do.
During a lull Barbra asked Fry if she knew what had happened to French. Fry told her about the fight, leaving out a few details, like the part where her friend Ronnie pulled a gun, but Barbra got the gist.
Well, I guess I can tell everyone you didnt slug her then.
What?! Fry was astonished. But it made some sense, everyone had been giving her a wide berth all shift. Miguel had just stared at her. You couldnt have thought I did that.
I told them you hadnt, but you know what theyre like. Loony, the lot of them. They think you have French under a spell or something. From what happened the other day, Im beginning to believe it.
But what was so strange about the other day?
You know, the thing that threw this whole place into a tizzy. French leaving in the middle of a shift to go apologize to you. Something Miguel assured me shed never done in all of the years hes known her.
Oh. That. Fry had the good grace to blush.
French was good and tired. It was how she wanted to feel. Maybe she wouldnt dream about Giselle again tonight. She knew that was a futile wish, but why not give it a try? Ever since Julia had mentioned her name French had felt like a wound had opened wide. A wound deep within herself, bleeding anew.
It was what motivated her to clear up the playing field some. It was what motivated her to call Skippy.
She worked through the following day as well. She could barely face Fry. Every time she saw her she felt like crap. Nothing was going to make her feel better. Nothing except feeling Jaspers worthless life slipping through her fingers. But that wouldnt cheer her up for long. Still, it was something.
There were too many players on the board. She couldnt keep them all straight. She wasnt even sure she knew who they all were. But Jasper and Uncle Max were two too many. Not to mention the distasteful company they kept. All of this brought her to where she was that very evening. Standing in a small room, in the dock office of Kilbys Marina Launch Service, next door to the Hoberman Warehouse. She had lifted her shirt and Skippy, whom she now knew as Agent Martha Hayes, was taping a small transmitter and some wires to her torso.
Well be able to hear everything. she explained. But try to speak clearly and face whomever is talking.
Yeah, yeah. I got it the first time.
Thats a mean looking bruise on your ribs.
You dont have to poke at it. French sucked in some air. Shed pretty much gotten over the pain. Shed always been a quick healer. But if someone was poking her right in the areas in question, it still stung. She wondered if Agent Hayes didnt enjoy her pain a little too much.
Touchy this evening, aren't we? Martha didnt have patience for the criminal element. She didnt care what kind of packaging they came in. She was looking forward to seeing the look on Max Godfrieds face when he realized that hed finally be going up the river with his malicious nephew. They werent likely to be heard from for a very long time to come.
All we need is for you to get him to talk about the deal. Get him to mention as many of those names on the list as you can.
French caught herself before shed answered, Roger Wilco. That was the kind of thing Fry wouldve said. Instead she answered, Uh huh.
Are you always this articulate, or did he beat you that bad?
Listen, Martha. Im not here to do you any favors. If I remember correctly, you threatened me with every trick in the book to get me in on your little shakedown. And the added touch of threatening me with a daily Health Inspection for the rest of my life shows that you have an ugly turn of mind yourself. So dont get all self-righteous and preachy with me, Miss Law Enforcement.
If I remember correctly you told me to take a long walk off of Tinker pier. What changed? Does it have anything to do with the mess someone made of your face?
Point me in the direction of a criminal and roll your damned tape. I have better things to do than sit here and make small talk with you.
Just remember, if we come in there, hit the dirt. I dont want that face anymore bruised than it already is.
Im touched by your caring, truly.
Getting people to talk had never been a problem for French. Getting them to shut up was becoming more of a challenge, especially since shed been spending time with Fry. But scumbags like Max, even cunning scumbags like Max, couldnt talk enough about how smart they were. It helped that he thought she was there to cooperate. It also helped that he thought she was afraid of him.
They were standing in the warehouse. A cavernous building, near empty. There were piles of crates and wooden palettes stacked against the walls and some piled high around the space. She was talking to Max. There was a wall of muscle behind him. She recognized Medium Sized Guy from the other night. Otherwise they were the usual faces in an unattractive crowd.
Shed gotten most of the names on the list and a few besides. Theyd talked about the deal and how it was that shed come to pull out. She told him that shed been feeling pressured by Mitchell, a name curiously missing from the list. She said theyd had a falling out over percentages and it had had a domino effect in their relationship. She got choked up as she explained that shed thought he was different and that it hadnt just been all about business. Then she sounded spiteful and tough when she explained that thats when she thought she ought to teach him a lesson.
Max seemed to buy it. And French would have felt a lot better about the whole thing if shed known how Jasper felt about it too, but he wasnt there for her to gauge a reaction. Max assured her hed be along presently.
You know French, you overreacted to this situation. I dont think you would have been disappointed had you stayed in. I try to stay out of peoples personal lives, and I never mix business with pleasure, but you ought to know that Mitchell wasnt trying to stiff you. There are details that you may not have been aware of, things he was taking care of that caused him to neglect you a little. Perhaps he wasnt entirely attentive to your needs, but maybe you ought to try seeing it from his point of view. A man has to take care of his business. If he doesnt, then where is he?
French bit down on her tongue. Was this psycho actually giving her relationship advice? Thoroughly sexist relationship advice? And she wasnt supposed to go over there and rip his throat out for it?
Max, I tried. But he wouldnt listen. Hes always got a damned meeting, or his mother wanted him at a party. They never accepted me as one of them, I was never invited. She knew this would resonate with Max, a self-made scumbag whod risen through the ranks of a particularly exclusive gang of scumbags.
Its tough kid. I know how it can be. But you cant turn tail and run, first sign of trouble. His mothers a high and mighty bitch, no question. Why she wouldnt give someone like you a shot is beyond me. I know women like that, no ones good enough for their little princess. Fuck em, just get in there and take whats yours, thats what I did.
A door opened at the side of the warehouse, she couldnt see anything over there because one of the piles of crates obscured the view. One of the big guys stepped forward and whispered something in Maxs ear. He nodded and the guy stepped back, signalling someone near the door.
Youve been a great help to me tonight French. I was getting nervous about the deal and that wouldnt have been good for anybody. My organization has always been heavy into hotels, but Ive always wanted to be in the restaurant business. His eyes began to glaze over and French bit harder on her tongue to suppress the groan that she was sure would come out. I know that youre the only chef Id trust to run this operation. You have what it takes. Im really glad you decided to come talk to me. And Im sorry that Jasper had to mess up your face. Im sure hes sorry too. But its all worked out right?
But heres my boy now, and I think he may have surprise for you.
There was a scuffling noise at the door. And then she saw Jasper hauling someone into the room. She had a hard time holding her eyes in her head. She hadnt seen Dil in days. She hadnt missed him, her heart hadnt grown any fonder. He was tied at the wrists and there was a piece of duct tape over his mouth. Jasper struck her as the kind of guy whod have it on hand, in case of emergency.
Uncle Max, I found this piece of shit out back. I told you hed been following us.
And I told you he wasnt anything to worry about. But since youve gone to the trouble, why dont you bring him over. Maybe he can be your peace offering to French.
Sure, hes all yours French. I was going to pop him in the groin and watch him walk funny, but you can have dibs. Jasper grinned and shoved Dil in her direction.
Im at a loss without my knives, you go right ahead. While shed been able to keep her eyes in her head, she didnt think Dil was going to be able to manage it. He was trying to scream, but the tape muffled the sound.
We should be able to dig something up for you. Boys, find the lady something to work with. Max commanded. The boys rummaged around and Max had a few of them pile some crates up in the center of the room. One of the muscle came back and handed something to Max.
It isnt much for an artist like yourself, but it does have an edge. He presented her with a rusty old hatchet. She saw all of the men in the room reach for their holsters as the weapon was placed in her hand. No one was taking any chances. Friends or no, she had a reputation.
She tested the edge. It wasnt entirely gone. Nothing she could work with, not with any precision. Im sorry Max, but this just wont do. I cant get inspired.
Fine. Jasper cut in. Ill make him walk funny. He pulled his gun the rest of the way from his holster and pointed it at Dils crotch. Dil had frozen and didnt have the sense to try to move, or faint.
French saw the tendon of Jaspers trigger finger begin to stand out and she made her move. Just as Agent Martha Hayes and about forty of her rowdy underlings came crashing through every opening of the building. Including the huge doors at the front that seemed to get blown off the hinges with the impact of whatever they used to get through them.
The firing of weapons was nonstop. She could hear Martha shouting over a loud speaker insisting that they all freeze and put down their guns and why didnt she just invite them all to tea while she was at it?
French had one objective and she almost felt sorry for Jasper. He was the one thing she knew deserved her wrath. It was simple. Shed been feeling like shit for a couple of days. That didnt adequately describe the depths of the suffering shed experienced, but hey, she was new to those depths and someone had to pay. Plus, hed beaten her senseless. He was going to die.
She swung the hatchet back-end first, up under Jaspers hand with the gun. The impact forced it upwards, where the gun discharged a shot harmlessly into the ceiling. Shed used her right hand with the hatchet, so her left fist was free and clear to smack directly into Jaspers sternum. It stunned him. That was nothing to what the hatchet did when she swung the flat of the blade across his cheek. She felt a dull crunch through the handle as it hit home.
She turned to see Dil, still standing where theyd all left him, unharmed. She shoved him to the ground. Out of the way of any stray bullets.
Her attention was drawn back to Jasper who was writhing on the floor, but that wouldnt last for long. She had a full fledged bonfire burning in her chest and that son of a bitch was going to pay. And she was ready to do it too. Ready to take that step, when something occurred to her. She hadnt known Jasper when shed met Giselle. And that technically, if you wanted to get technical at such a time, she hadnt been feeling like shit because Jasper had beaten her up. Itd pissed her off, sure, shed had to miss two workouts. But she knew it wasnt what had bothered her.
The real thing that had bothered her was knowing what shed done. Was knowing that there was nothing she could ever do to change it, no matter how many scumbags like herself she managed to knock off. At the end of the day, she was still the problem.
And besides, if she cut his head off, itd gross Fry out.
Thats when Martha tackled her to the ground yelling, Get down! Are you trying to get yourself killed!?
Continued in Chapter 32.