Written / Cooking On High


Chapter 7

Fry was setting places in the dining room one morning when she got that funny feeling. The one she got when she sensed Miguel watching her, waiting for her to screw up. Most of the floor staff had cut her some slack if not warmed up since she’d made it on board, except two. Miguel and Jacqueline. Miguel stalked her throughout any shift they shared, helpfully pointing out flaws and inconsistencies with his usual barbed charm. It was as if he’d missed the memo that she was no longer a pariah here in loonyville, but a full-fledged inpatient. And he was so arrogant, but she supposed he got that from working with French for so long. Jacqueline stayed as distant and aloof as possible.

She’d finished setting a table when Miguel swooped in for the kill. “These napkins are a mess.” He began to pick them up and unfold them. “You never set them on the plate correctly and if you can’t learn to fold them properly, leave it to someone who can.”

“We were in a rush. French wants us all upstairs at 11:00.” She couldn’t take much more of this from him. He was good at his job, but he was pushing it.

“‘Hence with denial vain and coy excuse.’” He put the back of his hand to his forehead and sighed dramatically.

That was it. The proverbial straw had landed on the strained back of her patience. She’d failed to mention that the ‘we’ had been herself. Jacqueline had disappeared five minutes into the monotonous detail. Fry had had enough.

“Look Miguel,” she began. “I don’t know what your problem is, but I’d appreciate it if you’d blow it out your ear. It looks like I made it through hell week here at the sorority, so I’ll be staying. Whatever you think. And I don’t see you all over Jacqueline, Ken or Terry when they screw up so I’m assuming it’s something about me in particular that you find fascinating. So let me tell you about me. Yes, I’m a townie. I don’t come from a big city and know all of the latest trends in napkin origami and rarefied toadyism. I am someone who’s working for a living and just getting by and I do not need your crap on top of it. So if I’m such a hassle, why don’t you do us both a favor and avoid me as much as possible? Then we’d both be happy.” She fixed him with a stare.

“You better watch it Miguel,” Barbra was in the doorway trying not to laugh at the sour expression on Miguel’s face. He looked like he’d swallowed a lemon. “It’s a well known fact here in town that Spark’s don’t curse unless they’re ready to go postal all over some poor bastard’s ass. Looks like you might be that poor bastard, and I’m putting odds on the short guy.”

Miguel’s expression transformed into a glare as he worked up a suitable rejoinder.

French walked in on the scene and took in the standoff. “Do we have a problem here?”

Fry and Miguel glared at each other for a moment before he sucked his teeth and turned to French. “Well, that depends. I’m fine and ready for lunch. We’ve got a full house, but I can’t find Jacqueline. And it seems the natives are restless.” He indicated Fry with a limp wave and walked off.

French put her hands on her hips and arched an eyebrow at Fry. “Well?”

Fry shrugged and looked as innocent as possible.

“Why do I think you’re lying through your teeth without opening your mouth? Whatever it is, put a cork in it and get upstairs. Barbra, do you know if Bill switched the taps on the bar last night?”

Later French took Miguel aside to ask if there was a problem with Fry.

“You mean besides the fact that she’s blind as a bat and clumsy as a spring foal?”


“Meaning she can’t find the center of a plate if her life depended on it and she can’t measure up from the table edge, that’s a start.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong.” French stepped closer and smoothed his tie. They both knew it didn’t need it. “But weren’t you supposed to have trained her in those arcane arts when she first got here?” Her tone was light, conversational even.

“I showed her. It’s not my fault if she doesn’t listen.”

“Well then, you’re going to show her until she does.” French slipped a finger under the tie.

“I’m not going near that little harpy, she’s...” but his words were trapped in his throat.

“Do we have an understanding?”

He jerked his head, it was the closest he could get to a nod with French picking him up by his tie.

As he watched her walked off Miguel wondered if she wasn’t losing her edge. Last summer she’d have had him hanging from one of the wall sconces for mouthing off like that. This had been a slap on the wrist. Still, the look in her eye had been fairly grisly.

He knew that bubbly menace was going to be trouble the first time he set eyes on her. It wasn’t that Fry was an airhead like the Ken doll, she was too damned cheerful. It grated on his nerves. No one was that happy without an agenda. Look at French, she glowed when she wanted something.

In Miguel’s world there was only one thing worth wanting. That was his dining room. Technically, it was French’s, or whomever else owned the restaurant where he worked, but that as stated, was a technicality. He put his unmistakable stamp on them all. There wasn’t a hair out of place if he could help it. Not a glass poured from the wrong side, a plate placed or removed improperly or out of order. Courtesy and brevity were paramount. Fry chatted too much at the table. She was a rumpled mess minutes after she walked in the door. She was too well liked.

There was no way he was letting that minx take over his dining room, period. She could play the innocent farm girl, fisherman’s daughter, or whatever they were on this island, he knew what she was about. If she tried to go through French, she’d find out that was a waste of time and a quick trip out the door. French knew he was a rarity, she had an eye for talent.

Of course, that’s why he feared Fry in the first place. But he wasn’t about to admit it.


Could a whole two weeks have gone by already? It seemed like only yesterday French had yelled at her for the first time. Sweet reminiscences. It was payday! Fry had picked up her check from French and glanced at it before slipping it into her locker. She did a quick calculation and went back to the office.

Thursday morning French sat at her desk for an hour straight doing paperwork and handing out checks. She hated payday. Today, however, she welcomed the opportunity to sit on her ass and push paper. It was a low impact activity on her aching head. She’d spent most of last night trapped in an endless nightmare. A loop that varied slightly each time, but had a strong recurring theme. It was the second night in a row she’d had this visitation.

Seeing Skyler had been the catalyst. It must’ve been. That’s the only answer that made any sense. Otherwise, Giselle was talking to her from the grave and she didn’t like that possibility one bit. Giselle had been the same age as Skyler when they met and a year older when she died. And now, she was haunting French’s dreams. In an uncharacteristically cryptic way. Giselle was many things, cryptic she was not.

She would come and go from the dream, taking on different people’s shapes, but it was always her. In one they were outside, talking at a cafe in Sao Paulo. It was a busy summer afternoon, people were strolling by, enjoying the day. French glanced down at the table to see blood rushing from slits in Giselle’s wrists, staining the white table cloth. She looked back up to ask why, and Louisa was sitting there smiling at her. ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine. You order for me.’ she said, but it was Fry’s voice.

She rubbed at her temples again trying to dislodge the unsettling image. How many of those pills could she take in an hour?

Fry popped her head in the door and asked, “Is this a bad time?”

“As bad as any other, what is it?”

“You forgot to take out for the glasses.” Fry waved her check to remind French.

“Consider it a signing bonus.” French had forgotten all about the glasses.

“So you’re willing to pay to keep me out of the hands of the competition, eh?”

“You’d be a dangerous weapon to let loose on them. I’m waiting for the right moment.”

“You never intended to charge me, did you?” Fry asked.

“It was an accident. Besides, Max has more than paid for them by now.”

“What do you mean?” Fry was going to fume for the second time that day.

“I put him on grease and rat trap duty for two weeks. That ought to teach him to cover his tracks better.” She’d also given him a pointed lecture on the proper procedure for reshelving dishracks. Her throat had been sore for a few hours afterward, but she didn’t see any reason to go into that now.

“That’d explain why he’s avoided me all week. Why did you let me think you were going to charge me?”

“Seemed like a good idea at the time. Since you’ve got this unexpected boon, perhaps you’ll answer a couple of questions for me.”

“You don’t have to pay me to ask a question.”

“I probably don’t, do I?” French smiled despite herself. There was something genuine about Fry, and she was pleasantly surprised by it each time.

“Is that one of the questions?”

French rolled her eyes and indicated that Fry should sit. Fry liked French’s office. A built in bookcase ran along one wall and cabinet doors covered another. Cookbooks and magazines filled the case and were stacked in neat piles on most of the other free surfaces. There was a bathroom, and an exit to the outside. It was almost like a small apartment, right off of a really big kitchen and dining room. The rest of the small room was taken up by the couch that she sat on, a couple of chairs and French’s desk. It was freakishly neat. Even the chef’s computer’s desktop screen was orderly.

Today, French seemed approachable, unintimidating almost. Maybe it was because she was tired. She had her elbow on her desk and was leaning her chin in the palm of her hand. Every once in a while she’d rub her temple as if warding off a headache or soothing one already there.

“One: Why didn’t you tell me that you tripped on something that night?” French asked.

“Easy. It was an accident and I didn’t want Juan to get in trouble for it.”

“Why not? He was responsible for keeping that walkway clear during clean up. He knew that. You had an easy out.”

“Sure, but he screwed up, or Max did. French, Juan has three kids. If you’d fired him, docked his pay, or even chewed him out within an inch of his life it wouldn’t have been worth it to me at that point. I figured I was history, why get one of them in trouble?”

“Two: Why should I care what happened to Louisa Millet?”

Fry considered the question carefully. She hadn’t been expecting it, to say the least.

“Empathy.” She answered.


“It’s why you should care. It’s why most people would.” The chef looked skeptical. “Even if you didn’t like someone, you could say, empathize with their loss if their restaurant burned down, right?”

“Depends who it is, have you been talking to anyone in particular?”

“I meant in general. Okay, say someone you liked had a restaurant. Now what if it burned down? You’d feel bad for them, right?”

French considered telling Fry to buzz off, that this was stupid, but she did wince at the thought of Hercule’s place going up in flames. “Of course I would. Now what?”

“Most people consider a person’s death a lot more tragic than a restaurant burning down.”

“Most people don’t know squat. But I see your point.” French considered this for a moment. Playing ethics 101 with Fry was helping to clear her head. “What if our friend Louisa had been bad news. A real nasty piece of work who got what she deserved. What then? Does she still rate empathy?”

“Sure. For how she got that way, that kind of thing. People make mistakes and bad choices all of the time. It doesn’t mean we ‘deserve’ to die for it. Besides, if she was such bad news, that’s what laws and the police are for.”

French snorted, “Yeah, right. I see your friend Dil being a whole lot of help in that department. So, even if she was Atilla the Hun in the flesh and got what she deserved, then someone should go figure out why she was offed.”

Fry’s eyebrows shot up involuntarily. She stared at French.

“Well? Come on.” French prompted.

“Well, if we’re talking about murder, and not an accidental...”

“Oh please, you’re telling me that Eunice Knight accidently slipped almond extract into a Gateau aux Deux Chocolat. Not possible. Have you ever met that old bat? She’d just as soon slit her own throat as misplace an ingredient. That’s how much your friends down at the station know. Her kitchen looks like the damn department of weights and measures, probably cleaner and has better equipment too. She may not be an artist, but she’s solid.”

“You lost me. How does Eunice Knight come into this?”

“She baked the pastry Louisa was eating. In the photo, Dil showed us. I saw the thing on the floor. You don’t mistake decoration like that. Eunice always uses that interlocking weave pattern. Besides, there were candied violets right next to it. Sound familiar?”

Fry had seen the decorations and the flowers. On many desserts she’d served. “Um... French, why didn’t you say anything? To the police, I mean?”

“Oh sure. ‘And officer, while you’re in the process of locking me up, here’s another nail for my coffin.’ Outside of Eunice’s shop, there are two restaurants that serve that particular dessert on this island. You work in one of them.”

“I’ve got another reason you might care what happened to Louisa then...”

“Yeah, that had occurred to me too.” French said.

“Why would someone want to frame you?”

“Convenience. It’s not a well kept secret that I’m not popular in certain circles around here. If someone was trying to ‘frame’ me, they didn’t try very hard. But now that you have the full picture and can see why letting sleeping dogs lie is probably to my benefit, why should I care if someone offed her?”

“Well, you should still care for the same reasons. What you should do about it is something else. If you’re right, and I think you are, Louisa was murdered. She had all of her rights taken from her, and there’s no one to speak for her. Isn’t that what we all fear? That no one will care? And that there’s no real justice? I’m hardly the right person to be defending the police and our supremely flawed judicial system to anyone. As far as I’m concerned they spend way too much time defending monied interests and bothering my parents, but the system is there for us too. We have to fight harder to get it to work right.”

French listened as the plight of every disenfranchised group from sweatshop workers to underpaid illegal aliens was illuminated for her. Fry talked about fractured ideals, hope, disillusionment, and perseverance. How battling the ruling classes and vested interests to gain a voice in the power structure was always a messy and difficult fight. It was when she started in on campaign finance reform that French cut in.

“What makes you so sure I was framed? If you thought she was murdered before, why have you assumed that I’m innocent? For all you know, I’m a killer. I could be feeling you out, seeing how much you know before I decide whether or not you’re next.” French fixed Fry with a look that could have been menacing, but was mostly inquisitive.

“We’ve gone way over those original two questions...”

“Answer it.”

“You seem to forget who your waitress was that morning at the Shack. Speaking of which, I never got my tip.”

“Get over it, I gave you a job. So what if you were my waitress?” French had little recollection of anything that happened that morning before the argument began.

“I’m quoting loosely here...” Mainly she was editing out the curses. “but it went something like, ‘how could I have killed her if I wasn’t on the island? I already had what I wanted, it only complicates my life to have her dead. I hate complications...’”

“Anything else I should know?” French’s skin began to crawl as what she’d assumed were her private thoughts were spoken aloud.

“No, but you really don’t like Twice Fried Popcorn Shrimp. You nearly took my head off after you tried it.”

“I didn’t actually order that?” French cringed.

“Yeah, but it was the grilled cheese you ate after the calamari that grossed me out.”

French shook her head. “Once I got drunk and ate a jar of jalapeno peppers accompanied by a box of Trix cereal.” She wasn’t sure what compelled her to share this gem from her past.

“You sure you weren’t stoned? For a haute cuisinier, you sure go for the junk when you let loose. Sounds like you have some food issues.”

“Thanks Dr. Freud, but I can’t afford to pay you anything more an hour, so why don’t you stick to waiting tables.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know what I’m good for around here.” Fry said.

“Why don’t you get to it then?”

“Because I have one more question for you first.”

“Yeah?” It was only fair at this point. And she wasn’t hating her conversation with Fry. It had given her some food for thought and helped her straighten out a few things.

“Are you okay?”

“Uh, yeah... thanks.” French nodded. Fry had asked in such a straight forward and open way. It was gentle and sweet, something French was unaccustomed to, to say the least.

“Okay then, take it easy.” Fry smiled and waved as she left. She wasn’t sure she believed it, but she was smart enough not to push the chef.

French spent a full minute staring at the empty doorway.

Continued in Chapter 8.

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