The invitations came back from the printer. French checked them over and sent them off. Either shed have a bunch of irate bad guys crowding her out at lunchtime, or shed see them all in a couple of days. She didnt think these people would be stupid enough to try to piss her off between now and then, but you never knew. Thats what made life so interesting.
Fry knocked on the door and peeked her head through. Hi!
French smiled and waited for the cannon ball to shoot across the office floor and land in her lap. But Fry slipped in the door and leaned on it as she closed it. She turned and gave French a look.
French began to feel studied. Whats your problem? I forget an anniversary or something?
Fry smirked and shook her head. I ran into Dil this morning. He told me.
Frenchs mind fanned out in all directions. What, oh what could Dil have told Fry? She flipped through several defense strategies before shed even heard the accusation. Ill bite, what did the dim-wit have to say?
He told me about you not being a chef.
French had been called a lot of things in her day. Some of them had been fairly original, worthy of being written down. But to be called not something, not a chef, the one thing that she was and the reason behind why she was a lot of the other things, well, that affected her some. She stood to her full height. Excuse me?
Fry recognized that tone of voice. She hastened on. He told me that youre a government agent.
French blinked. A what?
A g-man. G-woman, whatever. He told me about the warehouse and the drug gang. He said not to tell anyone else, that it was Top Secret. French was staring at her. It must not be easy to have your cover blown, not by someone youd underestimated as much as French had Dil.
So you bought this?
Youve got to admit, it makes a lot more sense than you being some kind of Ninja Chef. I guess I understand why you couldnt tell me. Its not like were that close, but you can talk about it if you want, its okay.
I guess we have a lot more to talk about than I thought. Fry sighed. French looked stunned, but she was still beautiful.
No, we dont.
No, we really dont. Fry, youre smart, no question. But if you bought that story, I may have to worry about what all of this sex is doing to your brain. I am not a government agent. I am a chef. It is the one thing that I know about myself beyond all other things. Ive had to accept a lot of difficult truths about myself recently, and the one thing that remains that is of any worth to me is that. I am a chef.
Fry thought French was adorable when she was trying to be sincere. Sure. Is there like a special department for chef agents or something? They trained you really well.
Im NOT a government agent. I hate spooks! Im a chef!
Whatever you say.
You dont believe me! French was incredulous. Of all the things to think shed lie about. But she did have a certain reputation for untruth in general, so she couldnt blame Fry altogether.
Sure I do, come here. Fry motioned her over. French looked like a deer caught in the headlights. It wasnt like Fry relished the idea of French being in any way involved with the government. But shed come to the conclusion that accepting someones faults was one of the ways to move forward in a relationship.
No! Youre humoring me. Look, you pint sized Mata Hari, Im a chef! I trained in the bowels of Parisian restaurants for years. I have scars that youve seen personally from where I was intentionally burned by assholes who thought I didnt belong there. I have been in kitchens all over this globe. Ask anybody, most of them regret ever having laid eyes on me. Ive planned more menus than you have hairs on your head. I am a chef.
It was a heroic speech. Fry was almost convinced. But shed witnessed what French could do to a man twice her own body weight. And she knew things that the average chef probably wouldnt have cared much about. Relax, its okay. She soothed. She walked over and took French by the hands. She got on her tiptoes and kissed her gently on the lips. Shhhh.
French backed away. She felt less hysterical, but it was clear that Fry didnt really believe her. She reached into her pocket for her keys. She turned to one of the cabinets on the wall and opened it. Inside there were several shelves and on one a small safe. She intentionally obstructed Frys view as she worked the combination and opened it.
French closed the cabinet, turned and carefully deposited a tattered and stained volume in Frys hands. That book had seen better days. It was thick, ripped, torn and had lost its cover and some pages. From the exposed text, Fry saw that the book was in French. On what remained of the title page she made out the words. Larousse Gastronomique.
French placed her hand palm down on the volume. Ask me.
Ask you what?
Ask me if Im a chef.
Just because youre willing to swear on a tattered old cookbook you expect me to believe you?
This isnt any old cookbook! This is my first copy of Larousse Gastronomique. Believe me when I tell you thats the closest thing to a bible Ive got, and its a damn sight more useful. Youre more likely to get the truth out of me with this than a crowbar.
Youre serious! Fry had thought shed seen the full extent of Frenchs culinary lunacy. But this took the cake. It could also explain a few of Frenchs problems. If the woman thought that swearing on a cookbook carried the same weight as swearing on a sacred text, well then, there you have it.
Whats your problem? It was written by a god. Besides, you two have a lot in common.
Yeah, he was a little guy, like you.
What has that got to do with anything?
Thought you should know. In case you ever thought your height would be a hindrance in the business. He wore platform shoes to raise himself above the heat coming off the ranges. Must have been like working in a kiln in those old kitchens.
Hello! Twenty-first century calling French. I hate to interrupt this fascinating detour through culinary history, but youre nuts. There was no question left in her mind. This woman was all chef.
Im glad you find me so amusing. French turned Frys defensive remark of several days ago right back on her.
Oh, but I find you so much more too. I thought Id made that pretty clear. Fry gave her a knowing look.
French shrugged. How do I know that Im not this summers good works project? Another notch in your do-gooder belt?
Fry began to be concerned. She wouldnt want French to think she could be so calculating, so shallow. She reached out to take Frenchs hands again and studied her face for a clue of sincerity. Are you being serious?
After a lengthy pause in which French implied that she was about to share some deep truth, she smiled and tapped Fry on the nose. No.
You think that was funny dont you? Fry huffed.
Yeah, I do. For a cheerful thing, you can be so earnest. Im going to cure you of that. It will be my first selfless act. French proclaimed.
Im not sure youve got a comprehensive grasp of what a selfless act is. Fry narrowed her eyes and peered up at the chef.
Says who? French leaned down to make eye contact easier for her. Maybe not easier exactly.
Fry wasnt hurt by Frenchs teasing, now that she could tell thats what it was. The chef had relaxed and was being her own version of playful. Still, even a playful French was slightly intimidating. Fry shrugged in answer and looked away to hide a half smirk that she couldnt get off of her face.
French smiled too and stood straight, enjoying her dubious victory. It felt good to be right every now and again - even if she was being humored, mostly. Being humored wasnt an experience she could recall enjoying so much before.
French finished up her paperwork and sat thinking for a moment. Her conversation with Fry the night before was weighing on her mind. She got up and went to look for Barbra. She still had a few minutes before she kicked Brian out of her kitchen and started cooking.
Barbra was standing at her post, looking over the seating plan. She felt the towering presence that usually meant French was waiting for you to notice her. She looked up.
French decided on the direct approach. You slept around a lot, how does Michael deal with that?
Oh, real tactful French. Ever think of anyone elses feelings when youre after some information? And while youre at it, you want to know anything else, like what we do in bed? Barbra was once again amazed at the chefs audacity.
You want me to treat you like a sap, fine. But as one slut to a former slut I thought you might have some insight. I could pull a number on you and get the information that way, but I thought you were smarter than that.
Id like to see you try. Ive watched you and your numbers from a distance over the past couple of years and Im not much impressed by them close up. If you treated your employees with a fraction of the deference you give the money that walks through that door, youd be loved by millions. She wasnt sure French was listening. Shed stopped towering and was leaning against the podium. She smiled an easy smile and sighed. I know.
It was the first time Barbra could remember thinking French sounded... feminine. She stood disbelieving her senses as French brushed at the sleeve of her jacket, and looked away, refusing to make eye contact. But running a business puts us in an awkward position, doesnt it? As women.
Stop it. Barbras stomach was turning. Thats disturbing. I know youre full of shit and I cant stop myself from responding to you. Youre a monster.
So, does it bug him, or what?
Barbra shook her head and sighed. That depends on who we run into. But mostly it doesnt matter, because I dont give him reason to care about it. It was before him, never since and thats that.
Why him? Howd you know?
If this is what you consider girl talk you might want to take a lesson. French stared at her and waited. Barbra rolled her eyes and continued. I knew because I spent the first three months of our relationship tearing his clothes off every opportunity I got. I could never get enough of that man, I still cant. But while were having this little heart to heart, mind if I ask you something?
If thats how these things work, go ahead.
All those people you sleep with, didnt that ever bother Mitchell? He had to know. It was something shed been curious about and if French had embarked on a frank exchange of information, why not ask?
I made sure he did. You always want what you cant have. It turned him on.
Yup. Effective too, in his case.
Youre not considering settling down are you? Im sure there must be two or three hearts left untrampled on this island.
French smiled. You interested? Never slept with you.
Id rather sleep in a snake pit than let you within a mile of my bed.
Afraid youd like it too much, huh?
Barbra laughed. Youre unbelievable. But suspected French wasnt far from wrong.
Continued in Chapter 40.