Written / Cooking On High


Brulee: cremebruleeATmyrealboxDOTcom

Chapter 6

It rained a lot in Comstock, once a day. Living on the water is like that. Most people didn’t notice the drizzle and light fog that would burn off before they fetched their morning paper. Sometimes though, it poured. The locals called it a “good soak”. It’s the kind of rain that splashes down in sheets, not drops. It could go on all day. Not good for business.

That afternoon, French was dealing with a deluge of another sort. A tour of geriatric ornithologists had shown up on her doorstep, wanting to know if she could serve them. They’d had a reservation, but it seemed that the Fisherman’s Prize wasn’t serving today, or ever again for that matter. She’d taken stock of her supplies, considered who was on staff, and agreed. It was all of a second’s calculation, before she told Barbra to welcome them in. Her actual words had been, “Why the hell not? But if one of them wants anything pureed, they’re out!” Then she and the crew flew into action. They’d been at it nonstop, despite the fact she’d needed to pee for the last hour, when she noticed him.

It was one of those, ‘You’ve got to be kidding?’ moments. When you stop and reanalyse the information your senses have delivered to your brain. Of all of the attempts that had been made to infiltrate her kitchen, this had to be the most ludicrous. He was wearing an approximation of the continental waiter’s outfit. Cropped, white tux jacket and black slacks with satin piping. And she’d eat warm sushi at Cezar’s on a Monday, if that wasn’t a pencilled on mustache. It was the developmentally disconnected Detective who’d driven her up a tree. Dim Micky, or whatever he called himself.

As long as he stayed out of traffic, she decided to ignore him. She’d take care of Nancy Drew when the rush died down.

As it happened, Dil become an amusement in the busy kitchen. Waiters pushed past, spinning him as they went. Cooks bumped him into equipment and walls as he skulked around ‘on the sly’. French considered having Andre bounce the unsuspecting rube out on his head. But it had been a long rush and she had a lot of adrenaline flowing. Why let Andre have all of the fun?

She appeared behind Dil as he was trying to get a better look at the spices at Sonny’s station. She wrenched his right hand behind his back, smiling as he yelped in pain and surprise. “Hey, Dim, long time no see!” She swung him around and marched him right at the out door. “Non, non, I am Jean, ze new waitair!” He barely had time to pull up a hand to prevent his face from opening the door he was pushed through. The entire kitchen laughed at his sputtering. French turned to the left and made a dash for the side door, she didn’t want the noise to carry into the restaurant, but she was looking forward to his tumble down the short side staircase.

Fry saw them heading out the door. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that her impulse to follow was foolhardy, professionally unsound, and possibly self-destructive. Her thinking was most clear, lucid even, when she was actively ignoring her common sense.

She walked through the door and saw French slam Dil chest first onto the railing of the small deck. She cringed as he grunted at the forceful impact. Satisfied with the result, French repeated the move.

“You are mayking ze beeg miztake! I am Jean,” Thump, gasp! “ze new waitair from Franz!”

“You can drop the accent dim-wit, I know who you are.” She leaned on him, applying more pressure to his chest.

Fry couldn’t bare it anymore. “French, you’re hurting him.”

“That’s the basic idea. Get back to work.”

“Let him go, he’s going to faint.” Dil was letting out a strained, gasping noise. The kind people made during an asthma attack. Fry did the thing that had gotten many a person bruised or worse. She placed a restraining hand on French’s forearm.

In disbelief, French looked down at the hand. She levelled a steely glare into and beyond Fry’s eyes, to communicate directly with whatever part of the woman’s brain handled the fear response. “Get off me, now.” she warned.

Fry swallowed. The chill that went up her spine at the chef’s quiet words, spoken through clenched teeth, scared her senseless. So senseless apparently, she tightened her hold on French’s arm. She even steadied herself by resting her other hand on the chef’s side.

Mysterious stirrings were underway in French’s body. Where Fry’s hands touched her jacket, she became distinctly uncomfortable. She concentrated on the feeling for a moment, then looked into Fry’s eyes again. She had seen the look that spread across Fry’s face at her words, it lingered in the pained, sympathetic gaze she saw now. She let go of Dil, and stepped back giving Fry a queer look.

Dil had slumped to the deck and Fry bent to help the gasping Detective up. “Watch your step Violet, she’s a killer.”

“Don’t be silly Dil, French didn’t kill anybody.” Of course, after the last couple of minutes she shouldn’t be so sure. The woman was definitely capable of some serious rage. Not to mention that really creepy look. Of course, if French had killed Louisa, Fry suspected her body wouldn’t have been found intact. Maybe she should suggest the chef try yoga. It was good for that kind of extreme emotional energy.

“Besides, it was an accident, right?” Fry asked.

“Yeah, well I know what I saw. No matter who says I didn’t.” Dil answered.

“What’s that?” French was paying attention again. She’d been touching her arm gingerly, sidetracked by Fry’s effect on her. It’s not like she hadn’t threatened plenty of well-meaning folk in her day. But to see that look of dread pass over Fry’s face had cut her to the quick. And while she’d stuffed the odd, and rare feeling of unease over some distasteful act in the past, this was looking like one of those pivotal moments. She knew she didn’t want to hurt Fry. She didn’t even want to scare her. The simple goodness that radiated out of those eyes, she couldn’t deny it had an effect on her. And maybe it wasn’t a bad thing after all, because it seemed that the dim-wit may know something.

“The photos were different, I know what I saw! You can’t fool me.”

French had no doubt you could, but kept her thoughts to herself. “What photos? What the hell are you going on about?”

Fry saw Dil flinch as French reasserted herself. So did French. She backed off a hair. She wouldn’t get anything out of him if he was peeing in his pants.

Fry tried to distract Dil from French’s imposing attempt to appear calm. “Look Dil, take a breath, collect your thoughts.” She silently hoped French would follow suit. “Feel all that tension right here?” She motioned towards his chest where French had had him pinned to the railing. “Try to loosen that a little. Stand up straight, breathe deep, see? You’ll feel better.”

“Yeah, that does kind of work.”

How much of this was French supposed to take? The idiot was huffing and puffing like some crazed Lamaze trainee. She wasn’t going to watch Fry coach Dil through an entire delivery. But he did seem to be pulling it together, smiling at Fry like a simpleton, which he was.

“What photos were you talking about Dil?” Fry started in gently.

“The crime scene photos. Well, the photos they took of the body when they thought it might be a crime scene. They were missing the letters.”

A strangled noise came from French’s throat. Without thinking, Fry reached over and placed a hand on her sleeve again. French gave the strange appendage a dubious look. She had no reaction, no inner turmoil this time. She realised Fry was signalling her, doing a non-verbal communication thing. She sighed, it was more of an exasperated huff, but she resigned herself to wait while Fry unscrambled Dil’s thoughts.

“Look,” Dil produced a folded piece of paper. It was a xerox copy of one of the photos. It showed the torso of a figure, face down on the floor, surrounded by debris.

“I saw the body... that night.” He paused at the memory. He’d never seen a dead body other than his uncle Don. Uncle Don had been in a casket, not sprawled across a rug in a quiet, eerie dining room. Louisa’s eyes were wide and terrible looking. She was surrounded by dishes and food that had been knocked from the table. Her throat had been scratched raw, from her desperate attempts to gain air. One hand was trapped beneath her body, but the other was out to the side. It looked like she’d died as she’d tried to scrawl something into the pile of the carpet. Dil had seen it clearly, it was burned into his mind’s eye. He’d had nightmares about it. The letters, M - U - R - D - E and what looked to be the beginning of an R, right where her small hand lay rigid, stilled by death. He’d gotten a jolt the next shift when he’d taken a look at the photos and seen that there was no trace of the letters at all. The carpet was smooth where her hand lay.

French and Fry exchanged a look. “No shit?” French asked. She’d been drawn into Dil’s emotional account of seeing the body. He was as green as grass and had obviously been deeply troubled by the incident. “You sure you didn’t have a bad dream that night, make it all up?”

Dil took notes, like any good detective. He shook his head.

“Sure it’s not your colorful imagination? Trick of the light?” French pressed on.

“That’s what the chief asked. I told him ‘no way’. I showed him my notes. He said he’d look into it.”

Great. French estimated that it wouldn’t be long before the cops were banging on her door in an official capacity. “When was this?”

“The day after the murder. He said he’d get to it first chance. But you know how it is in a police station. The chief’s pretty busy.”

Whew, that answered that question. Why was this guy on a police force? That’s what she wanted to know. Despite the large tourist trade, this was a small town, but they had to be able to afford more than this. He was as thick as pea soup and a tad less bright. The guy in charge had probably chucked the notes by now and hadn’t given it another thought.

“So what makes you think I did it?” French asked.

“You broke under pressure when I questioned you.”

French arched an eyebrow in response. Yeah, right.

“Well, you knew about the knife! And you were dating her. You came to dinner that night and probably killed her in a fit of jealousy. A crime of passion.”

“I wasn’t dating her, you moron. I had a date with her the night after she died. Not a date, a plan for dinner. It was business related, a meeting!”

“Then why had she marked the note in her calendar with a heart?”

“Because she was delusional, like you! And for the ‘record’, I wouldn’t have eaten food cooked by Louisa Millet to save my life. She was a self-proclaimed macrobiotic fanatic. You can bet your little tin badge I wouldn’t be caught dead touching the stuff. And I’m sure they covered this complex concept in crime fighting school, but to refresh your memory, poisoning is premeditated murder, not, as you say, a crime of passion. This is ridiculous, I’ve got work to do. Get off my property before I sue you for harrassment!” She turned to re-enter the building. This hadn’t been any fun at all.

“Dil, try that breathing a few times a day. And you should really work on your posture. You’d probably have fewer problems with your breathing if you stood straighter.” Fry patted him on the back and gave him a smile.

“He’d have fewer problems with his breathing if he stayed out of my kitchen. And excuse me, but don’t you work here? Play detective or breathing coach on your own time. If you want to keep your job, I suggest you get to it.”

“But French, don’t you think...”

“I thought I said, ‘move it’?”

“Actually, you said, ‘get to it’.” Fry looked at French’s rapidly changing countenance. “But I get the idea. Bye Dil, take it easy.”


Not that she cared, but Fry had been giving her these looks for the past half hour. If she cared, it would be getting on her nerves right about now. What was her problem anyway? “Fry, get over here.” French yelled.

The waitress was waiting for a salad. She looked startled and pointed to herself. French pointed at her and nodded. Fry approached her station cautiously. Anyone who got called over to stand before French’s station usually left it a good deal less cheerful.

“What’s with that look you keep giving me?”

“Well, aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“About what?”

“The murder.” Fry reminded her.

“Don’t tell me you believed that ignoramous!”

“Well, he had some points.”

“None that would take me more than a nano-second to shred, and that’s if I gave a damn, which I don’t.”

“But someone you knew, who some other people may think you killed, is dead. Don’t you care at all?”

French knew the answer to this question, it was on the tip of her tongue. Then she got a good look at the furrowed brow look of confusion and utter disbelief she was getting from across the counter. Maybe this was one of those moments when she should reflect before she answered. She re-ran the scenario through a couple of synapses, then replied. “No.”

She would’ve liked to have had a camera. The look on Fry’s face was priceless. In the blink of an eye her brows had gone from doing the furrowed thing to damn near disappearing under her bangs. It was a neat trick. She looked surprised. No, on second thought, with her jaw hanging down like that, it was probably shock. French fidgetted. Then she did something she never, ever did. She began to explain herself. “Look. I didn’t know her. I had some business to discuss with her, that’s all.”

Fry leaned forward, “What about the knife he was talking about?”

“For cryin’ out loud! Not that again? That witless, gnat for brains asked me to identify a knife during questioning. A completely illegal, might I say Stalinesque procedure. I identified the knife for him, it’s a knife for christ’s sake, knives are an integral part of a chef’s life! I’d know a knife without the maker’s brand on it, I’d know it with my eyes closed. In that particular instance I knew the knife and it wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t because the brand name was emblazoned on the damn handle! Even he could’ve seen that if he wasn’t blinded by stupidity. Any other questions Ms. Marple? If not, I have a business to run. You know, that thing I spend 16 hours a day, kinda busy with?”

“What about the photos?” Fry couldn’t help but ask.

“You know what I think? I think your Junior Scout there saw a dead body for the first time in his life and it scared him spitless. That’s what I think. If he couldn’t make out the writing on the side of a knife, what makes you think anyone, much less me, should take him seriously when he sees mysterious letters scratched into carpet pile? Now, you have tables to see to, I suggest you mull over all of this new and fascinating information while you see to my customers. No more chit-chat, move it!” She made a waving motion with the knife in her hand.

Fry realized her lapse. “Oh, right. I’m moving!” She scampered over to Chili’s station, swiped a salad and scurried out the door.

French considered something Fry hadn’t asked her. If the police thought someone was eating with Louisa that night, why hadn’t it been mentioned in the paper? It sure as hell hadn’t been her, so who was it? Not that it mattered one way or another. As far as they were concerned it was a closed case. Good thing too. She didn’t want them knocking on her door again. And they would if they knew what she knew. Louisa’d been murdered, no doubt about that.

She got that queer feeling you get when you’re being watched. She looked down the line. Eyes skittered off of her in all directions like water on hot oil. She singled out Andre, he was closest. “Problem?”

The big man shrugged.

“Good. Wouldn’t want you all to get the wrong idea. Like maybe I wasn’t ready to kick your sorry asses if we fall behind at dinner tonight. I have papers to deal with back there. Brian! Finish up.”

“Yes maam!”

Andre shook his head as she stormed off. Only French could care less that she’d been accussed of murder it in front of the whole kitchen. He didn’t understand why she hadn’t shredded the little Fry for bothering her. He was pretty sure they weren’t involved. That information spread like a grease fire through any crew. Still, he’d never seen her say that much that wasn’t directly food related to anyone in the kitchen. It was almost social. Not to mention that Fry’d been called over for a chat and left the kitchen without the requisite tear stained face.

He’d noticed that French had been doing things differently lately.

Andre was, by birthright, and by nature, a true romantic. In recent times, he’d observed a soulless, corporate gentrification encroaching on the hardened and rough world of the restaurant kitchen. Something homogenized and sterile, stifling the vibrant world he loved. The McDonaldsification of the real food world. The high end, non-unionized kitchen world. A world where the words break and sexual harrassment were meaningless excuses for the weak, the humorless. That’s why he worked for French. He’d worked for his share of hardasses in the kitchen. But she was one of the most hardened, nasty rat-bastards he’d had the pleasure to work for in a while. And the most talented. He’d enjoyed it, that’s why he came back three years running.

True, there weren’t a lot of fun and games when she was around, and Brian was more a patsy than a leader in the breach, but French had the mettle of five men, and the appetite of more. She was their standard bearer. When her crew was out on the town and people asked who their chef was, all they had to say was one word, and silence followed. That was respect.

Of course, if French slipped up, say softened in her old age, they all slipped with her. Romantics hate change. But she’d carried the banner so well, raised the criterion even. She could be burning out. It had to be hard to be so tough, even if French had made it look so easy. Maybe it was time for her to take a break, for him to move on.

He tried to picture French settling down and having kids. Not with Mitchell, he was the wrong kind of rat-bastard for French. Mitchell knew nothing of food, only power. While the two had a certain belligerent chemistry, it was obvious that Mitchell could only see French as he needed to, not as she was. Besides, she didn’t love him. As a romantic, he could see that.

At that moment, the object of his mental wandering came screaming into the kitchen. She was waving a sheet of paper in her hand and bearing down on Brian. “You small brained, incompetent, know nothing, prep-tron! No, I take that back,you have a culinary degree.” Imagine the word ‘degree’ sounding like the nastiest insult you’ve heard anyone been called and you still might not appreciate the venomous disgust with which she infused the the otherwise respectable word. “You’re a glorified, small brained, know nothing, peeler of vegetables, because I’m not letting you near meat again until you can explain to me exactly where that case of tenderloin went! I’m not running a charity here. That was profit, numbskull. I’d rather you stole it than it went out that door on plates. But you wouldn’t have the balls to steel anything from me, which is another reason why you’ll never be a chef. At least not on my recommendation. You sorry, insignificant speck. Who taught you to portion meat? Conan the Barbarian? When you’ve puzzled out this conundrum, I want you to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Ever.”

That was the other thing Andre loved in this kitchen, the creativity. It extended beyond the food into everything she did.

He hadn’t been the only employee who’d noticed a shift in French this season. The others were watching closely, testing the waters and sniffing the air for the scent of opportunity.

Sonny smirked as Brian cringed under the barrage of threats and insults. He wondered if he’d figure out what had happened and if he even had a clue who’d been undermining his position. A thinking man always made more than one opportunity for himself and Sonny was definitely a thinking man.

At that moment, a piece of tenderloin was slapped down on the cutting board before him. The sickening smack of the meat was followed by a thud as French stabbed a knife through it. “Sonny, perhaps you’d humor me with a demonstration of the answer to this puzzle. By the blank look on Brian’s face, I can see I’d be bankrupt and you’d be running a fajita stand in my restaurant before he gets it.” She was leaning over the counter with hands planted on either side of his cutting board. Damn she was big close up. It occurred to him that he ought to deny it, but the look in her eye prevented him from speaking. Not to mention the message implied by the knife thrust through the $100 cut of meat. French never wasted anything.

This was kindergarten stuff for her, but it shouldn’t be happening at all. These dogs had caught a scent. She’d have to show them that they were gravely mistaken if they thought it was weakness.

The day wore on. They prepped for the dinner rush, they battled the dinner rush, and now they were killing off the wounded. It had gone pretty well. French was on her way from her office to check on tomorrow’s supplies downstairs. She was thinking about the specials as she passed the break room. She glanced in and saw Fry standing by her locker, eating from a container. She continued down the hall considering that Fry was the kind of person you’d expect to use chopsticks to eat a snack. Why do something simply when you could complicate the hell out of it? That’s when it hit her. What Fry had been eating with those chopsticks. There was only one food, no, one substance, with that pasty, horrid white consistency. And it wasn’t allowed in her restaurant. One summer she’d even banned the word.

She circled back and loomed in the doorway. “What are you doing?”

Fry looked up, mid-chew and gave French a look that said as clearly as possible, “What? You mean me? Eating, what does it look like?”

French pointed at the container. “That! That is not allowed in my restaurant!”

Fry swallowed as much as she could without choking and asked, “Food?”

“That’s not food, it’s... it’s... a mockery. It’s the absence of food. It’s an insult to the concept of food in any real sense. And if you had any real sense, you’d know that!”

“Hey! My mother made this! Watch it.”

French found herself trying to unravel Fry’s logic, not for the first time. “And what’s wrong with the food you get here? Too common for you?” Okay, so maybe the stuff they gave the waitstaff for dinner wasn’t Vol-au-vent Financière, but it was a damn sight better than the swill they’d get working most other places. She wasn’t in business to feed waitrons. She shuddered, “You’re not a vegetarian are you?”

“The meal’s fine French, I get lightheaded if I don’t have protein every few hours, that’s all. I didn’t know you ran a soy-free kitchen. Honest.”

“Fine. Bring peanut butter or something next time. Scratch that, I don’t want patrons smelling that on your breath... did you say your mother made that?”

Fry had been wondering at the chef’s audacity, actually dictating what she ought to eat, when it occurred to her that she might be in trouble... “Uh, yeah, ya know, she’s just like a mother, ya know. Always fixing me stuff. I can barely get out the door without...”

“My god. Your last name, it’s Spark, isn’t it?” French had put one hand on her forehead and leaned the other on the doorjamb to brace her weight. “Tell me your mother isn’t Priscilla Spark. As in, Grains and Goodness restaurant.”

Fry groaned. “Yeah. So you’ve heard of it?” She’d hoped in vain to avoid this moment. This was usually when people started laughing. But French had this pained look on her face.

“I can’t believe I hired you. Frankly, I don’t know why you’re here. Do your parents know that you work in a restaurant that serves meat, and sentient plantlife? Or is this some kind of sick-o rebellion thing that happens in hippie, vegan families? You torture your parents by working in fry shacks and bastions of carnivorous hedonism?”

“I work in these places parlty to help keep their place going. And thank you for not laughing. Usually, I dread it. But now that I think of it, I may prefer it to your subtle and equally unkind reponse. You care about the oddest things.” Fry brushed past the chef as she returned to her work.

It wasn’t her parents fault that everyone didn’t share their philosophy of a whole foods diet. They tried so hard. If they didn’t own the building that G&G ran out of, they probably wouldn’t have a business at all. It was more than a restaurant though. Her parents held neighborhood political meetings and ran cooking and nutrition classes there. They devoted their life to the idea that you could run a people and earth friendly business. And they did. The only problem was they weren’t too good at the business part. The restaurant rarely made any profit. Not that that was the point, but it had created some problems for them. Fighting for your beliefs wasn’t supposed to be easy. She’d been taught that since before she could remember.

Being a child from the Spark family had been a challenge in it’s own right. Try eating a tempeh burger inconspicuously in a cafeteria filled with peanut butter and jelly on Wonder Bread. Don’t even mention the sprouts. Try explaining to your new friends that your mother and father were chained to the boats down at the docks because they believed it was cruel to kill dolphins when trying to catch tuna. And being called out of your high school homeroom to go bail them out after they’d been arrested for pamphletting at the mall, again. The right to free speech was one of their most deeply cherished convictions.

She hadn’t complained. She was a Spark through and through, perhaps with one or two exceptions. They hadn’t been easy ones. The biggest conflict was over Fry’s love for food of all kinds. When her parents had made the difficult concession to cross the line from strictly vegan to vegetarian in the restaurant, Fry took it as an opportunity to come out to her parents as a meat eater. She hadn’t meant to hurt them, but the look of disappointment that she received was heart breaking. She tried to explain that it was only free range meats, and that she’d been having fewer problems with her hypoglycemia. But even she knew that was an excuse. The damage was done. She and her mother had many heated arguments over it, but she’d held firm to her feelings, as she’d been taught.

Barbra was standing at the bar talking to Greg, the bartender, about tomorrow’s keelboat races. She knew a couple of the sailors and was hoping to get in some time on the water before work. She saw the pensive look on Fry’s face as she re-entered the dining room. On her next trip out Barbra called her over and asked what was up.

“French figured out who my parents are.” Fry had an uncharacteristic slump to her shoulders. And her voice was flat.

Barbra shrugged, “So? Did she throw a cow or something?”

“You could say that. But the really wierd thing is, she cared more that I was eating tofu in the break room and that my parents are vegans than the fact that someone she knew was possibly murdered. Don’t you think that’s strange?”

“Keep it down with the ‘M’ word, will ya? It’s not great for the digestion if you know what I mean.” Barbra gestured to the patrons sitting just inside the dining room door. “This is French we’re talking about here. As far as I can tell, two things matter to her. Bachanal, and French. And I’m not clear on the order of importance yet. She’s an extremist. She’s also nuts, but you’ve probably figured that out for yourself.” Barbra had begun to worry. She thought someone as smart as Fry wouldn’t fall for French. But it was clear that intelligence was no defense where Tall, Dark and Delusional was concerned.

Fry had to ‘get back to it’. And she resigned herself to the unhappy conclusion that someone like French, was an unhealthy choice for any kind of romantic involvement. No matter how alluring, fascinating, or compelling she may be. Not that that eventuality had seemed even remotely likely, but she had been open to the idea. She cursed her traitorous body for it’s enthusiastic response to the chef.

Anyone could see that French wasn’t the kind of woman waiting around for the right someone to come along, speak to her heart and quell that raging beast. If rumor was anything to go by she’d been through enough men and women to have found at least one who might have made a difference by now.

And no way was Fry falling for the unrealistic notion that she was the one, the one who’d make the difference. Regardless of the content of her vivid daydreams, she was not going down that unhappy path for all the tea in China. She’d heard the country-western songs. She would not betray her feminist ideals, she would not fall into that used up stereotype of the self-less, nurturing female. No matter what that woman looked like in a toque. And while she was at it, no matter how she made cooking look like ballet, no matter what she was capable of doing with a sauce, no matter how many languages she cursed her staff out in fluently, no matter how the chef’s voice made her knees go weak and definitely no matter how her pulse raced every time she thought about coming into work and seeing her.

She’d have to approach the situation realistically. The only problem with that was Fry didn’t have a whole lot of experience with realism. She’d have to play it by ear.

The pace on the floor had slowed and the dining room was nearly empty. She was bringing a tray back to the kitchen when she saw one of the patrons about to walk in. Fry had seen her in the dining room sitting at one of Miguel’s tables. She was younger, taller, and possibly blonder. She was also wearing an elegant, but casual outfit that would have put Fry out an entire paycheck. The sleeveless vest she wore showed off toned arms and the mid-thigh lengthed skirt showed she wasn’t hurting in the leg department either. Fry considered her own petite, muscled body. She knew her build appealed to a certain taste, but this young woman’s form would appeal to most.

“Excuse me, may I help you?” She thought she could save her the embarrassment of getting an earful from the chef. She’d also save Barbra from it as well, she’d apparently not seen her head in the wrong direction.

The young woman turned and gave Fry a friendly smile. “No thanks, I’m visiting French.”

Fry smiled back and motioned her to proceed into the kitchen. She did, and held the door as Fry navigated the tray through. It was something she could have done in her sleep, but she appreciated the surprising sentiment. “Thanks.”

The young woman had already turned and was standing arms folded across her chest regarding the chef. French looked up and cracked a half smile.

“Someone is in big trouble!” The young woman spoke with a smile in her voice, belying the threatening words.

“What else is new?” French answered and waved her over.

“I heard you were in Berne last fall. Why didn’t you visit me?”

“Just a quick business trip Skyler. I didn’t stay for more than a day, I had to be in New York. Besides, why would I want to be seen in the company of a hardened criminal? A jail-bird, ex-con...”

“Getting arrested was the point. It was a protest!”

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?” French teased.

“You haven’t changed!” And to Skyler’s dismay, she hadn’t. If it was possible, French was even more attractive. Great, now what? She’d travelled for a summer and gone to school abroad in an attempt to get over her fixation on the dynamic woman. All of her work was undone in a glance, a half-smile. It wasn’t fair!

“Did you want me to?” French was surprised. Out of all of the people she hadn’t thought about, she found herself actually less than irritated to see one of them.

“We’ve missed you at the house. And if you weren’t going to come visit, I thought I knew where I might track you down.” Skyler wasn’t sure how to broach the topic. So, do you just come out and ask your older brother’s lover if she’d dumped him?

French laughed, “Yes, I’m sure your mother sends her regards.” It occurred to her that Mitchell could have sent Skyler, not that she’d cooperate with him knowingly. Mitchell adored his much younger sister. His entire family doted on her. She was an intelligent young woman, friendly, unpretentious and completely unaware of the nature of her family’s business interests. French had wondered on occassion if they hadn’t acquired her as part of a business deal. She didn’t seem to share any personality traits with the rest of them. The physical attributes were a dead giveaway though. Maybe there was a poor relation in the wings who’d needed some money and traded the kid for it.

“Anyway, a few friends and I are having a bonfire on Pilmut Beach Friday, drop by after work, if you want.”

French took a good look at the young woman she’d first seen as a teenager. She’d turned out alright. From the way Skyler was leaning against the counter smiling at her and pushing an emty rammekin back and forth, French was pretty sure time and absence hadn’t cured the problem she’d avoided her for in the first place.

She hadn’t really noticed Skyler when she’d stayed with Mitchell at his mother’s house. Now there should have been the first clue he was a huge mistake. A grown man who lived with his mother. So it was only a few months a year, and the house was larger than the average apartment block, but if the shoe fits... Anyway, Skyler wasn’t any use to her and if French had one rule that she didn’t break, it was no involvement with minors. She didn’t sleep with them, she didn’t use them, she didn’t talk to them if she could avoid it.

But Skyler was your average rebellious teenager and the temptation of the ultimate bad girl, right there under the same roof, was bound to be noticed sooner or later. It had been sooner and Skyler fell for French like a souffle in a cold draft - hard.

Skyler happened upon her brother and French passed out in the library one night after a party. She was a little buzzed herself, but still ambulatory. Mitchell was sprawled face down on a couch and French was lying in a chair nearby. She was sound asleep, with her head tilted back, her hair falling loosely around her face and her lips slightly parted.

It had been like an invitation. She barely recalled crossing the room and standing before the sleeping woman, imposing even at rest. She vaguely recalled gently brushing her hair with the back of her hand before she leaned in to kiss her. She had a vivid recollection of a flash of blue as French opened her eyes and shoved her back with both hands. No problem at all summoning up the words the chef spoke as she leaned forward in the chair, bringing her almost eye to eye with her as she sat on the floor, “I don’t do minors.” It was all she said before she stood and left the room. Neither of them mentioned the episode again.

Strangely, French’s reflexive rejection of Skyler’s innocent desires had quelled some of her discomfort around the girl. After that night, she’d joked with her occasionally and even ganged up on Mitchell with her in an argument or two. She tolerated Skyler’s crush as long as she kept it to herself. It had been a good experience for her overall. It began the healing of an old, unacknowledged wound.

To be fair though, she wasn’t going to lead Skyler on, not then, and not now. As if deliberately evoking the moment, French leaned toward her and spoke softly. “I still don’t do minors.”

“Yes, well,” Skyler sidestepped the hurt and tried to keep it light. “Perhaps there’ll be someone sufficiently aged in attendance that you’d find more suitable. Gill Peters might drop by.”

“Gill Peters is old enough to be my father.”

“I’m not judging your tastes. Just letting you know.” Skyler teased.

“Yeah, well, sounds like a stellar guest list so far. Look, I want us to be on the same wavelength okay, no hard feelings?”

Skyler gave a nod. “Always the consummate politician. I’ll keep it in mind. But really, you should come. Bring people if you want.”

“Careful, I might.”

So that was Skyler Redmond. Fry was glad she’d reconciled her desires for French before she got a look at the calibre of the competition. It made it easier on her ego. She’d heard that Skyler was nice for a spoiled, rich girl with every possible advantage. Fry scolded herself for her prejudice. She’d responded to Skyler’s easy smile and friendly manner before she’d known who she was.

Besides, she was so over French. This sealed it. Any grown woman who preyed on the emotions of girls barely entering womanhood, was not for her. Absolutely. Skyler was what, four years younger than her? A mere infant. A sophisticated, worldly infant with all the fresh faced enthusiasm of a puppy. How could she feel so old at twenty-six? Fry hoisted a tray from the bar, blew a strand of hair from her face and headed for the dining room. What a relief to be over French.

Continued in Chapter 7.

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