Whoa. It was a simple word to describe Frenchs reaction to the layout of the room before her. Theyd made it into the basement filing room of City Hall. Not a feat of any merit with a set of keys and a sleeping security guard.
The room was about fifty feet long, twenty feet wide, and full of five and a half foot high filing cabinets. The ones along the walls reached the ceilings. Jason was one paranoid little snipe.
Where did he say it was? Fry asked.
Under C. Youll never guess where?
If Ill never guess...
Well, that makes sense, really. When you think about it. Whod ever look for it there?
French shook her head and went in search of the Cs. Bureaucrats had no imagination.
Where would you have put it? Fry was following closely. She had a light, but it was easier to follow French who had this nifty light mounted on a thing on her head.
French didnt have to consider it for long. Under F.
For fucked up. Which is exactly... She felt rather than saw Fry stop. What is up with you and cursing? Anyone so much as utters a profanity and you get a twitch. Why is that? More to the point, French would have liked to know how it was that that twitch seemed to deter even the most hard boiled of kitchen crews from so much as saying the word crap in Frys company.
Ive always had it.
You mean its not on purpose?
Well, its not like I want to go around censoring people.
Youre telling me that this is some kind of unconscious anal-retentive semantics thing?
Fry shrugged, I guess.
They found C, and then they found Civ-Cou, it was in the back of that drawer. A fairly thin black box. Metal. They took it and headed for the stairs. They were about to re-enter the hall when French heard footsteps. Someone hadnt stayed asleep long enough. She felt a tug on her sleeve and followed Fry over to a window. It was ten feet off the ground, and the alarm had been turned off, so why not?
They got out of the window in the knick of time. French had hung on the sill and closed the window before dropping into the bushes below.
French? Fry hissed up into the dark.
I wouldnt want to say something that would throw your body image into question, so I say this in the most respectful way I can. But youre huge! Get off of me!
Oh. Sorry. French rolled to the left. She hadnt realized that Fry had been under the bush shed dropped into.
They made it out of the shrubbery intact. Fry had had to rub her arm to encourage circulation in that limb, but everything else seemed to be in working order. French was fine, but then shed had a soft landing. All of her problems appeared to be internal. She hadnt shared what was bothering her. Fry doubted she would. She just wished that French could find some way to express it, work through it, or come to peace with it. Fry considered that French may not have the necessary tools at her disposal. And as much as she would have loved to help, she didnt think shed be welcome.
Theyd walked a couple of blocks when French spoke, I know this is going to sound awfully redundant, but remember One through Five?
Fry was all ears, and she looked sharp. She saw them. It was late, most places had closed but the street wasnt empty this time and they werent in a deserted part of town. There are people around. Cant we make a break for it together?
Harder to catch two going separate ways. And I think this may be what theyre after. French meant the box.
Ive got an idea. Fry said.
Fry snatched the box from French and ran like hell in the opposite direction from the bad guys. French, not one to be left not holding the bag or anything else, ran to catch up. What Fry didnt know is that when French caught her, she might regret her idea.
Lucky for Fry she knew the layout of that town like the back of her own hand. Shed worked in almost every corner of it, and knew a few others besides. Mostly from visiting friends whod worked the ones shed missed in her own travels. She made a dash for Linnux Lane.
When French came tearing around the corner, closely followed by a few guys she recognized as Mitchells boys, she saw why. It ran along the back of a row of shops and restaurants, there were a million places for a small, sneaky runt like Fry to go. She barreled down the lane and took a sharp right down a narrow alley. When a sporting young man who was in better shape than his comrades turned into the alley after her, he met the lid of a metal trash can. Face first. Then he felt a pain in his abdomen and doubled over.
French pushed his body into the guy whod caught up to them and beat it down the alley with two others chasing after her. They werent hard to lose. Problem was there were only a few people around, staying lost might be difficult. She doubled back carefully, avoiding the men who were still looking for them.
She walked slowly and carefully down the lane keeping to the sides, in case she had to blend into a shadow on short notice. Fry could have jumped into a dumpster, in which case she could have the damned box, or she could be behind a pile of crates. It was also possible shed left her original hiding place and gone elsewhere, but French doubted it.
French heard the quiet voice from somewhere near her feet. She crouched down and saw Fry lying flat under a dumpster.
Looking for this? Fry asked.
Not anymore. The way itll smell when you get out from under there, you can wash it first.
Give me a hand, pull me out.
French did. They were going to sneak all of the way down the lane and make a break down Admiral Pilmut Street for the restaurant when French spotted two of the guys turning down an alley and heading their way.
In here! Fry half dragged, half pushed French toward a pile of crates that made an easy step up to a window.
Im not going in there.
Come on. This way you dont have to beat anyone up and I dont have to hide under another dumpster.
French gave up having an opinion, it was too much trouble. She let Fry drag her into her latest hiding spot. At least it didnt smell. Theyd just gotten through the window when the two guys passed underneath it. She didnt know where they were, shed stopped caring. Shed run out of steam. Here she was, thirty some odd years old, a chef with a killer rep, a great career, built mainly on scheming, but also on solidly established talent. She should be feeling pretty good about herself. Fact was there was so much more to that story, to how shed gotten to her ripe old age and she wanted little to nothing to do with any of it. She was good and sick of herself. She laid her head back on something that felt familiar and was soft enough. She was getting a headache. She wasnt going to move again for a while. She didnt care who showed up.
Fry felt around the small room. She knew there had to be a switch somewhere. French wasnt being much of a help, but what was new?
The door to the room swung open and light flooded Frys eyes.
You! An indignant voice boomed into the small space. Frys eyes adjusted to the glare and she could make out the details of the room. She was right, theyd made it into the dry goods room of Capn Holas. And the mountain of a woman standing in the doorway pointing at Frenchs stretched out figure was the chef, Diane Pinsk.
Hi Diane... Frys greeting was cut short as Diane rushed past her, reached down and grabbed French by the collar. Without pausing she dragged her from the room. French hadnt offered any resistance. Fry thought shed heard French sigh and quietly say, Hi, Diane.
Frenchs voice had had a quality to it Fry wasnt sure she liked. Had French, her chef, her deluded mentor and maybe, possibly friend lost her sense of self? Had something from her past rocked her to the core and shaken her absolute egocentric focus? Or was she doing the thing that Fry couldnt abide in the least? Was it, could it be that French was feeling sorry for herself?
Fry followed them out into the brightly lit kitchen. Diane must have been doing last rounds because they were the only people in the place. She had French pushed into a wall and was asking her a bunch of questions. Fry winced. If Diane pushed it with the questions, she knew thatd piss French off. But maybe then French would snap out of her gloom.
You here to torch me? Huh? You worthless piece of rubbish! I know all about you. Wish youd hired me while you had the chance dont you? Now that my place is so popular, youre threatened. Want to burn me down, right?
Fry was getting worried. Diane was usually a normal kind of person. Normal for a woman who was bigger than any other Fry had ever met, had tattooes all over her body, and rode a Harley to work, even though she lived eight blocks from her restaurant.
It hadnt occurred to Fry that Diane too might have some history with French. If it had, she would have assumed that something like this would have happened. It was a foregone conclusion at this point.
Whats to torch? Was Frenchs almost bored reply to Dianes inquiry. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was praying for Diane to smack her in the head with a skillet, preferably copper. That would be a fairly honorable way to go, considering her line of work.
Her remark had an instantaneous effect on Diane. She swung French around by the collar and threw her into the stainless steel doors of a fridge several feet away. Diane had her before she slid to the floor though and hauled her up onto one of the prep counters.
She was a large woman, no doubt. But she was comfortable with her size and knew how to use it. She was more than motivated to use it on French. To say that the chef was one of her least favorite people would be an understatement of titanic proportions.
French knew Diane hated her. Shed turned down her services at Bachanal several summers ago when the greenhorn had shown up on her doorstep expecting to impress the seasoned chef with her moves and muscle. Diane had left, rejecting what she perceived as Frenchs humiliating offer to start out at her salad station.
What French didnt know was that Diane had another more powerful motivation to crack her skull. How could she? Diane had landed in Comstock several summers ago and lost her heart on the pier where she stepped off the ferry and first set eyes on Michelle Fern. The somewhat shy, slightly older, lanky brunette was passing by on her way to work as a dental hygienist over at Daly Dental. Diane made it her goal to get to know the lovely woman over the summer. Michelle showed no interest in Diane whatsoever, but not for lack of trying. Michelle, it turned out, had a raging crush on French. The snotty, overrated slut whod humiliated Diane and laughed when she insisted that she could work the grille at Bachanal.
It wasnt until after Michelle had been jilted by French that she finally gave Diane a chance. Michelle had taken French home one night and found a bliss so wondrous that she was distraught when she woke several hours later and found herself alone. Or so Diane inferred from the way Michelle called out for French at times in her sleep. Each utterance twisting the knife already deeply embedded in her chest. Diane wasnt sure what pissed her off more, the fact that Michelle had actually slept with the bitch, or that French had had the nerve to dump the extraordinary creature whod stolen her own heart.
Diane had gotten her position at Capn Holas and made a name for herself as a first rate line stud who could be counted on in a pinch. Shed shown French that she could handle the pressure and then some. Capn Holas was one of the most popular restaurants and hang outs on the island and had become even more so since Diane had taken over as chef last summer. The fun atmosphere and good food brought people back again and again.
And here she was now. Enjoying the prospect of actually giving a little back to the Whore of Sutters Wharf. Things were getting better by the minute.
She had French pinned to the counter. Both hands tight behind her back. She applied pressure to give her some pain. She felt a simple and pure satisfaction at the sound of French grunting. There was one thing in all of this that hadnt made sense. Diane looked over at Violet Spark who had her head tilted and was staring closely at French. Kind of scrutinizing her, it looked like. Diane couldnt help it, her curiosity had been piqued, she let up on French a touch.
Violet, youve always been a little odd, but I thought you had more sense than to get messed up with a vicious user like this. Whats the deal?
Fry ignored Diane and spoke, French?
French couldnt believe that Fry was going to take this lull in the festivities as an opportunity to ask a question. But she couldnt resist either, Yeah? It was hard to speak with her cheek pressed into the stainless steel counter.
Are you going to let her get away with that?
With what!? French exclaimed. Diane chuckled.
Calling me odd. She said, Youve always been a little odd. Are you going to let her get away with that?
In case you hadnt noticed, Im not really in a position to do much about it Fry. She winced as Diane demonstrated her point by jerking her arms up higher and laughing. And isnt the idea of me defending your honor a little old hat, if not outright objectionable to your progressive sensibilities? Why arent you over here pounding at this hulk trying to defend me!?
Because you wouldnt be in that position if you didnt want to be.
What!? Diane and French responded vehemently to this reproach.
You gotta be kidding right? Diane asked. You passed up Michelle for this cracked nut? Youre sorrier than I thought. Youre all show French, Ive known it for years and I finally get the chance to whip your ass and youre so easy its insulting.
Seeing that shed gotten a small, albeit tiny rise out of French, Fry tried again. Theres no way youd let anyone, much less a chef who mixes New England and Mexican cuisine, get you in a position like that. You hate fusion cooking. She didnt want to insult Diane, even though the big woman was ticking her off. French looked so glum, so not herself. Fry was attempting to jump start that intense drive shed come to love. So shed appealed to the chefs innate snobbery, hoping for the best.
Frenchs headache had gotten decidedly worse in the last few minutes. Dianes beefy shoulder jamming it into the counter wasnt any help. And Fry had surprised her by displaying a real nasty streak when she was in a crappy position to do something about it.
It was when Diane began patting her prone figure for the incriminating matches that French decided shed had enough. Besides, who the hell was Diane calling odd? She was the one with a menu that had the Capns Lobster Fajita and Sizzlin Salsa Chowder on it, not Fry. And Diane wasnt just an overrated line stud, she had a culinary degree to top off the insult.
French kicked out viciously with her right foot, catching Diane in the shin. When the larger womans weight shifted slightly, French jerked her body forcefully in the same direction, using her tormenters momentum to reverse their positions, almost. She was on her back, half on, half off of Diane who was trying to recover from the surprising move and grabbing at French. But it was over as far as French was concerned. Using her whole body as a spring she pushed off of Diane, spun, grabbed her by the belt and yanked her to her feet. That wasnt hard, because Diane was already trying to follow her up, the extra help kept her off balance. When she felt French grab her collar to pull further forward, keeping her momentum rolling, Diane too could see it was near over as she was pulled past the chef and slammed face first into a stack of empty crates. There was a loud crashing noise and she felt a brief surge of pain as the lights thankfully went out.
French stood there, catching her breath. Fry ran up to her, Do you think shes okay? The waitress bent to pull away crates from the fallen figure. French looked on in disbelief. Surely this wasnt how it was supposed to be. Wasnt Fry supposed to be checking her for broken bones, scratches that needed attention? She looked at Dianes uncovered body and saw blood running down her face from a couple of places. She sighed. She hadnt been knocked around that badly, and Diane had every reason to suspect the worst when shed found them there. She sucked up her dented ego and moved to help clear the debris.
They got Diane in a chair and cleaned her face. Fry was trying to apply band-aids as artfully to the small cuts as she could.
Dont worry about me, its just a scratch... French had had enough of Fry pawing at Diane, she looked fine.
Fry turned to look at Frenchs wound. She didnt see one. Where?
Its nothing, but it does sting a little... Right here. She pointed at her temple.
Fry took a closer look. I still dont see any... French, theres nothing there. Youre jealous!
I am not! I have a wound damn it.
Admit it. You were feeling neglected.
Give it up. Wheres that box?
A groan from the chair interrupted their exchange. Tell me Im dreaming. Tell me I didnt just hear French whining. God, and I thought her cooking was bad.
Fry restrained French who had started for the chair. She guessed the chef had begun to regain whatever approximated her center.
Get over yourself Pinsk. Were not here to burn down this sorry refuge for confused cuisine. Weve got more important things to do.
Only you would break into someones place to insult their menu.
Please Diane, we wouldnt have broken in if we werent being chased by some really bad guys.
She probably deserved it, who else did she insult? Cezar after your worthless hide again? He thinks Mitchell was trying to torch him the other week, but that caper had your name written all over it. Ive been watching you, I know your style.
French snorted, You cant know much if you thought that was my style.
I dont get caught. French turned at the sound of breath being sucked in sharply. She didnt look at Fry, just continued with a little amendment, If I were ever to do that kind of thing. Which I dont. To herself she added further, Not anymore.
Diane snorted again and rubbed at her aching head.
Fry sputtered. That night! You... Them...
French thought, Uh, oh! Then walked over to Fry and said, Could we discuss it later? Whatever it is youre thinking about?
But... they were all on the floor! The images came flooding into her head. Shed seen most of the fight, but not consciously. And there wasnt a whole lot she could remember. Some noises and blurry images. The lighting hadnt been good.
Yeah, sure they were. French shrugged at Diane, trying to play on that odd comment shed made earlier. Diane shrugged back and rolled her eyes as if to say, Just like a Spark.
Continued in Chapter 34.