Written / Cooking On High


Chapter 34

The box. It wasn’t much to look at. Black, narrow, not too heavy. French placed it on the counter in the kitchen of Grains and Goodness. They’d parted with Diane, the fusion chef begrudging that their story sounded like it had merit. If there was a thing in that town Diane hated more than French, it was Portia Redmond. She had refused to taste Diane’s ‘Ole Crabcake’ at last year’s Hilltop Festival Tasteoff. If French and Violet could cause her and her family even the least bit of worry, Diane was all for it.

Fry yawned and put on a kettle. If she was going to be up for a while longer, she might as well have some tea. “You want anything to eat or drink?”

Standing in the kitchen of a vegetarian restaurant kitchen was unpleasant enough for French, she didn’t think Fry had to rub it in. But Fry, it had been revealed, had a malicious bent and French was beginning to re-evaluate her previous assessment of Miss Spark. “No.”

“You sure? Can’t interest you in some Tahini Baked Tofu? Barbequed Tempeh or...”

“No. I’m fine, thanks.”

French was looking positively nauseous. Fry was having fun, but considered she ought to let up. It’d been a long night. “So, let’s see what’s in there.”

French had been staring at the box. She hated surprises. She took the keys from her pocket and popped the lock. Fry came over to get a better look. Inside they found the video tape French had been expecting. There were a couple of envelopes, there was also a stack of papers that she flipped through. Copies of internal company documents from JCE International, and Darflock, Inc.. But it was a larger packet of folded papers that caught French’s attention. “Caught” may not have adequately described her attention to the details of the papers once she had them unfolded and spread on the counter. Two large sheets, that she ran her hands over.

Fry watched as French’s finger circled one of the areas on what looked like an architectural plan.

French stood up straight, but kept staring at the plan. “Son of a bitch!”

“What is it?” Fry couldn’t figure it out. Whatever it was was big, she could see that. There were all kinds of rooms and measurements, but she’d never looked over a plan like this before.

“He’s not trying to torch me. He’s trying to bury me. They both are.”

Fry didn’t think French was talking to her directly. She saw the chef’s jaw clench and she was balling her hands into fists. “Big mistake Mitchell, big mistake.”

“But what is it French?” Fry tugged on her sleeve trying to bring her back from whatever brink she was about to jump off of.

French looked at Fry as if she was surprised to see her there. “It’s a building plan.”

“Oh, really, is that what all of those measurements and squares mean? Thanks, I couldn’t have figured that out for myself.” She backhand slapped French on the arm and went to get her tea.

French had no idea what had gotten Fry so pissy all of a sudden. She watched her walk over to the stove. Not a bad setup in that little place. Not a bad wait staff either. But she was supposed to be pissed at Mitchell and Julia, livid really, ready to make their miserable lives more miserable. Actually, she did feel that way, and she’d get right back to it in a second, when she’d figured out what was up with Miss Pissy. “What’s your problem?”

“Nothing.” Fry could barely believe French had interrupted a full fledged, almost rage, to check in on her feelings, but she couldn’t also believe the manner in which she’d done it.

“Oh sure, I know what that means. I don’t figure out what’s eating you, three days from now you slug me and say it’s because I put too much cream in your soup. Been there, done that. Pony up.”

“Try asking me like you care and aren’t just getting it off of your extensive ‘Things To Do’ list so that you can get back to what you think is really important, and I might, I just might consider telling you.”

French groaned. “Fry please tell me what’s bothering you. I care. I may not know why, but I care. How’s that?”

“It stunk. But in a sweet sort of way, so I’ll tell you. I know it’s a plan, I’m not stupid. I seem to have to remind you of that a lot. I know you’re new to the whole sharing thing, so maybe you’re not aware of the fact that I can’t read your mind. I’d appreciate it if you’d try not to operate under that assumption all of the time. I want to know what that is and why it made you so upset.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so? It’s a casino Mitchell and Julia want to build on Sutter’s Wharf. You know, that place you work, in my restaurant.”

“But where would it go? There’s no more room there. Are they going to put it in the Mill? And gambling isn’t even legal in the state. If it was, this could be good for your restaurant though. A lot of people gamble. Lot of money in it, isn’t there?”

“Come here.” French motioned Fry over and pulled the bottom sheet out for her to look at. “See this dimension here?” Fry nodded. “And look at this.” French was pointing out the boundaries of the plan. “It’s not going next to Bachanal, it would go on top of it. It would all be gone. The Mill, the restaurant. Much like the Fisherman’s Prize went. Only I’d have to be dead, or at least seriously impaired before I’d let that happen. This is a plan for a five star hotel/casino with one hell of a kitchen setup. Probably the flagship enterprise of Mitchell’s new venture.”


“Yeah, ‘wow’.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“You’re summing it up well.”

“So what do you think is on the tape?” Fry asked.

“I’m not sure. Let’s take a look at it.”

“Good idea, do you have a VCR?”

“Yeah, but don’t you?”

Fry shook her head. “No, my parents don’t like TV, or popular culture in general. We don’t have a TV or VCR.”

“Of course not. What ever made me think that you would?”

“Don’t get sarcastic.”


“You are not.”

“Yes I was.”

“Whatever.” Fry stirred her tea.

“No, I really think I was.” French mused.

Fry smiled. French really was trying. They were quiet for a minute. French looked over the room, Fry sipped her tea for a few minutes.

“I know!” Fry exclaimed. She folded the papers and slipped them back in the box. She took French’s hand and pulled her along. “C’mon. Follow me.”

They went out the rear door of the kitchen that exited into the back yard. Fry led her around to the side of the house and down a stairwell to a door. She released French’s hand, crouched and pulled a key out from under the doormat.

They entered and Fry flipped a switch. It was a small apartment and they were standing in the living room part of it. A few strides more would have had them in the kitchen, and if they leaned sideways, they’d almost be in the bathroom.

“Audrey has a VCR.”

“Who’s Audrey? And won’t she mind us in her place?” French asked.

“Not Audrey. She’s a friend who’s staying with us for a while. She’s over at her boyfriend’s most of the time. She and Doug are inseparable.”

They sat on a sofa that had seen better days, but wasn’t entirely uncomfortable. Fry popped in the tape. It wasn’t much of a film. There were no creative shots, there was only one shot. They watched for a few minutes until French got impatient and relieved Fry of the burden of the remote control. She hit the fast forward button. Fry had obviously been unable to manage such fine motor skills. She couldn’t admit to being surprised to know that French was the kind of person who felt that much more comfortable holding the remote.

She decided to choose her battles. “So, what is it?”

“A security tape. It’s from the Fisherman’s Prize.”

“How do you know that?”

“Educated guess. We’re just waiting for a cameo.”

Not long after she said it, there was a blur in the previously empty room on the screen. French rewound to where it had appeared and rolled the tape again.

Fry gasped. “That’s Nigel! What’s he doing?”

“Manufacturing an accident.” It took him longer than it would have taken her. But he got the job done. Moments later the room was awash in smoke and flame.

Fry felt chilled. She’d never seen anything like that before. It was awful. She’d known Hal Mackney for years. She’d eaten at the Fisherman’s Prize plenty of times with friends.

“Looks like Louisa had the goods. I wonder what she was after? I wonder if she asked for money?”

“Asked who?”

“Whichever one of them killed her. Or all of them.”

“But why would they kill her over these things?”

“Nigel’s motive is obvious. But my guess is we put all of these papers together, and look up the names I didn’t recognize on some of those sheets and we’ve got a nice little criminal enterprise. Neatly documented. I’ll give Louisa this much, she was no slouch. She knew what a paper trail was. She may not have had a clue what to do with it, but she certainly did the research well. I wonder how she got access.”

“Jason’s good with computers. He always won stuff at school in Computer Science.”

“He’d have to be very good to get at this stuff, very good.” This, French knew from experience.

Fry shrugged. “So what’s the criminal enterprise? Besides burning down the Fisherman’s Prize? And trying to burn your place down too.”

“My guess is they’re also working overtime to get that gambling bill passed. Whosimiwhatchit and Whatchitmahoosey. There are some names we’ll need to match up to prove our point. You’d probably recognize them, if they’re your representatives.”

“But what names?”

“Brian Forney, Joseph Cottman, Gene Milliken...” French recited.

“Where’d you get those names? They’re all state reps.”

“From those papers.” French pointed at the folded stack peeking out of the box on the coffee table in front of them.

“But you just glanced at them.”

French shrugged. “That’s how I read.”

“You have a photographic memory?”

“Something like that. I can glance at some things and take in detail quickly. Works well for names.”

“And faces in crowds I bet.” Fry figured out how French could gauge a room so quickly.

“That too. But you know the names?” She tugged a sheet out and pointed out a memo with a couple of them on it.

“Those are all reps.”

“Then what we have here is a bonafide criminal enterprise on paper. The tape’s the icing.”

French leaned back on the couch and rested her head. “We’ll have to spend some time connecting the dots. See if this stuff could hold up as real evidence.” French knew too well how accusations of the most obvious doings could be riddled to death before they ever saw the light of day.

Fry poked around in the box and took out one of the thin, letter sized envelopes. It was unmarked. She opened it and found two xerox copies inside. One was of a photo of a group of young men. They were well dressed and standing together with their arms around each other’s shoulders. There was water in the background, a stream maybe, and some older looking architecture. The group looked cheerful. She didn’t recognize anyone in the picture. From the style of the clothes, it had been taken before she’d been born.

The other piece of paper was a copy with two newspaper clippings on it. The name Julia Harding caught her eye and she gasped. French opened an eye to see what was up. Fry was looking at her and holding the piece of paper for her to see. French read the two short pieces. One was a short review of a student play at Oxford by Julius Emery, and the other was a notice of Jay and Julia’s marriage in the Times.

French put her hand to her head and fell back onto the couch. She groaned aloud. Couldn’t things stay simple? Her head began to ache again. It wasn’t fair, but then, what was? She wasn’t in a good position to whine. Why couldn’t she shake this feeling that kept coming up and curdling her mood? She took a deep breath. She knew why. Things kept reminding her of Giselle.

French’s gaze came to rest on her hands, she sat like that for a few minutes. Fry was looking at the photo, trying to figure out which of the young men was Julius. She thought she recognized Julia’s smile on a tall young man looking right at the camera.

“Julia’s wrong, you’re nothing like her.” French started. “She talked a lot, but she was younger. She wanted to be a chef. It’s all she wanted. I used that.”

French looked up, she turning her head to look over at Fry. “I never thought... All I wanted was to make the deal. It was a great setup. Julia had it all planned. And there was Giselle, right in the middle of it without a clue.

She was a kid, eighteen, but her father’s pride and joy. That was useful too. She had drive, and a talent I hadn’t seen before, or since. It was stunning to watch her in a kitchen. She burned with curiosity and a unique approach that gave a remarkable essence to her cuisine. She was beyond her years in skill. She was beyond my years in skill.

Julia wanted to break into the international market and used Renaldo, Giselle’s father, and his families’ chain of hotels in Brazil as a jumping off point. I assessed the business for her. I worked for him for a while, or so he thought. I used his daughter, bought people in his organization, and generally set him up for Julia’s none too friendly takeover. But somehow, Giselle figured it out. She came to me one night and accused me. She said that I should end the whole thing, that she was in love with me and we could have our own place somewhere if I’d give it all up for her. I told her that she was wasting her time and why would I want to be with a provincial hack who didn’t know classic cuisine from peasant food. She didn’t take it very well. She killed herself later that night.

And I went on with the deal. Renaldo fell to pieces after that, his business was easy pickings for Julia.”

They were surrounded by silence, as French paused.

“She would have liked you. She liked anyone who could really appreciate food.”

“She sounds like she was very special. What an awful tragedy.” Fry said.

“She was special. And I killed her. She was in the way.”

Fry didn’t think arguing with French right then was a good idea. She doubted that she’d ever talked about this before. And pointing out inconsistencies in the narrative might not go over well. French had withdrawn again, Fry could tell from the tone of her voice. She leaned over and took the chef’s hand. They sat like that for a while until she thought it might be okay to give French a hug. If anyone needed a hug right then, it was French.

French may have needed a hug, but she had no idea what to do with one. There was Fry, wrapped around her midsection, crying. She wasn’t sure what to do with that, so she put her arms around her and patted her back. It felt good. The painful ache deep down in that pit that passed for her internal self-reflection, eased somewhat as she touched Fry. The wound that had opened wide at Julia’s mention of Giselle’s name, felt less raw too.


It had been awkward leaving Fry. She hadn’t wanted to. But staying wasn’t an option either, so she’d gone to the restaurant. She wanted to cook.

She spent the rest of the night in the kitchen. It was good for what ailed her.

At around three thirty in the morning Silvie showed up. French wasn’t surprised, it’s when Silvie always showed up, along with Humberto and a couple of other guys who cleaned. Silvie wasn’t on the cleaning staff, she was French’s Saucier. She was the only other artist French would tolerate in her kitchen. She could tolerate her fairly easily, because she rarely worked along side of her.

While Silvie was lost to the rest of the world, she was a treasure to French. A French restaurant revolves very much around its sauces. Its wines and its sauces. Silvie was a master. Even French admitted that. That’s why she’d hired her. The other reason she hired her was that Silvie had absolutely no ambition but to be left very much alone to her work. French made that absolutely possible.

Silvie had given up her lust for a normal life the minute she’d stepped into a classroom at La Cordon Bleu cooking school many years ago. Her Congolese mother and Nigerian father had worked ceaselessly in their small Parisian cafe to send her to the best school. They had called her the Little Alchemist. She could make butter and wine do things that defied the imagination.

Nothing had ever felt like the calm that entered Silvie’s soul when she tied her apron strings and set to work. And with French she’d found a kindred spirit who understood her one love, her one peace.

French took care that Silvie’s groceries were purchased. Otherwise, she might forget to eat. She paid her rent and invested her money - none of those things mattered to Silvie. Though she rarely saw the woman whose list of directions she followed almost every evening for years, she knew that they worked together. Whether French acknowledged it or not.

Silvie enjoyed her solitary life, it was bliss for her. She didn’t care much which town or city they were in. Sometimes she didn’t work directly with French for months. The chef would be off in some remote corner of the globe or working on one of her deals, but she always returned. French was as driven by the desire for food as any chef Silvie had ever met.

So when she arrived for work that evening and found French there in the kitchen, she wasn’t surprised either. She set to work and quickly forgot that she wasn’t alone.

French liked that singular focus in an employee. She also appreciated having another person nearby who understood. They cooked together in silence for hours. It was a balm to her soul.

Continued in Chapter 35.

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