In case you missed the previous chapters in this 4th book please click on the links here.
Now to continue with Chapter 4. Please comment after the chapter with your thoughts or go on Facebook and let Lorne know what you think. Readers are so needy. I have to walk Breeze and Bullet, so I'll talk to you again soon. Love ya - Chrys
Jessie pulled her yellow Volkswagen Beetle in beside Spencer’s truck. She took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. For almost the past year walking into The Alcrest had been increasingly difficult. There were good times of course, but those were becoming increasingly difficult to recall.
“Jessie!” Gordie sat outside the back door to the restaurant on a turned over bucket. His large frame seemed comical on the pail. “You missed a crazy night last night.”
“I heard.” She glanced up the outside wood stairs that went to the apartment above. “It’s all on the radio. Did you really find a dead body?”
“Parts of one. There was a head and arms and I swear there were three legs.” He took a drag from a rolled cigarette. Gordie had a bushy beard of the same copper curls as his hair that was currently underneath a yellow bandana. He tossed the smoke on the ground and crushed it with the toe of his kitchen clog before pushing himself up.
“That better have been just a cigarette.”
Gordie smiled. “I save the fun stuff for after work.”
The back door lead into the dishpit back room of the restaurant. The unique thing of this restaurant was that the kitchen was out in the dining room. The back was the dish area, a small prep table, the walk-in cooler and the open doorway into the chef office. Most everything in the back was stainless steel with white tile on the walls. Everything easy to clean. A shelf above the table held several dry good like noodles and rice.
The cooler door opened and Spencer stepped out with two plastic containers in his hands. He looked at the two of them as he crossed and dropped the containers on the pile of dirty dishes. He did not look like he was in a good mood. His eyes passed over Jessie and fell on his sous chef. “Who made the salmon marinade?”
Gordie shrugged his shoulders. “I did, I guess.”
“It’s sour. I can’t use it and the pieces of salmon that were in it are ruined. It’s dated three days ago. What went wrong?” Spencer’s voice was raised. “This should be good for a week, at least.”
“I don’t know, man.”
“Did you use the recipe?”
Spencer bit his lip. “Did you read and follow the recipe or just go from memory?”
Jessie slipped into the office to hang up her coat and get out of the line of fire.
“I did what I always do.” Gordie plucked his apron from the edge of the dishpit table – nobody ever wore them outside.
“Did you read it from the recipe?” Spit flew from Spencer’s lips.
“Spencer, calm down,” Jessie said.
Spencer held a finger up toward her. He never let his eyes leave Gordie. “The recipe is there for a reason. It’s sour after three days, so something went wrong.” He’d never bitched at his sous chef like this before. The Sous Chef was his second in command. He knew as much, if not more, than the chef and could easily stand in when needed. Spencer didn’t like getting angry at anyone, however it was becoming his go-to response. “Just follow the recipes.”
Jessie waited for Gordie to agree and head to the dining room. “Is something wrong, Spence? I’ve never heard you talk to him like that.”
Spencer and Jessie had not really been a couple since around Christmas. She did come upstairs once in a while, but never stayed overnight. Last summer she had aborted their child and his anger had been growing ever since.
He couldn’t get his thoughts straight. “I’ll talk to my staff however I want to. That includes you.” He stared right at her.
Jessie stared back for a long moment. Her eyes seemed to fade into shadow. Her lips moved as if she was about to say something. She pushed them together, turned and marched down the hallway.
With head down Spencer followed her. Nobody got it. This was his place and he had to find the ways to make it work. He didn’t like getting mad, but sometimes you had to take that path. He was their boss, not their friend or lover.
The Alcrest was basically still the same as when his father ran it as an English pub. When Spencer took over he put the focus onto the food, got rid of the old-timers who’d sit there all night nursing the same mug of beer, brought in local artists work on the walls and singer-songwriter’s to perform and catered to a younger more sophisticated clientele. It worked for a while, but the economy and having a headless body burnt to a crisp in an oven put a damper on things. Some staff left. Quite a few clients tried elsewhere. A few of the groups that met there on a regular basis stopped being so regular. He didn’t charge them anyway. He did miss the drinks and food they would purchase, however.
Passing through the hallway with the bathrooms they came out into the open dining room. The hostess stand with a glass baking display was the first thing you came to. A baker that had worked for Spencer’s father came in every morning before the place was open to make muffins, cookies and other goodies for the morning crowd. Today’s muffin special was orange-cranberry. Her fresh banana bread was almost gone. The only meal time that was still successful was the morning commute to work and Spencer was certain that was just because of the baking. The kitchen and small bar ran along one wall with a barrier and walkway keeping it from the tables and chairs which made an L shape around them. In the opposite corner there was a small stage for the local musicians on Friday’s and Saturdays. Off the main room was the Frame room. It had couches and a bookshelf with books and board games. It got its title from the wall of mostly open window frames connected to each other and suspended from the ceiling. There was another door there leading into the private dining room for groups or meetings. It hadn’t been used in a while. The air had the smell of baking, garlic and that grill smell from the charbroiler. Spencer loved it. This was home to him. This was where he spent his youth instead of skateboarding or video games. He learned how to tell the difference between rare and medium stakes and that well-done was an affront to the cooking Gods before how to ride a bike. He had made it more modern while still keeping the classic feel.
It was almost 11:00am. They only had three customers at the moment. Two people were playing a game in the Frame room and Mr. O was sitting by the window with the blinds at half-mast. He’d probably be there most of the day writing in his notebook. In a half hour they would open for lunch and hopefully fill half the tables.
“How’s everything going?” Spencer ignored his former girlfriend and stepped through the thin opening into the kitchen. The space between the cooking equipment (stove range, deep fryers, and charbroiler) and the butcher’s-block countertops was called The Line. Only the cooks entered the hot, violent, magical place.
Ranger gave the chef a nod. Sometimes that was the best anyone could get out of the skinny man. He had his Alcrest cap down low over bushy eyebrows. His chef jacket looked too big for his body and was buttoned all the way up to his neck.
Spencer’s fit just right. He wore the short sleeve one with the top button open. It showed off his athletic arms and the tattoos on both forearms. “It’s good? This the Pico de Gallo? These cuts have to be more precise.” His voice was raising again. His fingers raked through the insert of diced tomato and onion. A few were bigger than they should have been – as far as French culinary standards. “Do you know what they’d do to this in culinary school? They’d tell you it’s shit and throw it out making you do it again and again until it’s a perfect brunoise. You know what that is right? Three millimeter cubes. Where’s the jalapeno? The cilantro? The lime zest?”
Ranger put his knife down and twisted his hands into his black pinstriped apron. “I didn’t get to them yet.”
With a torn piece of paper towel Spencer wiped his hands off. “You have to go faster. We open in thirty minutes for lunch. Tequila shrimp tacos are on the menu. We need this done. Is the shredded lettuce done yet?” Spencer tipped his face to the side trying to look in his cooks face.
“Is the slaw done?”
“Then we just need this done?”
“Get it done then. I’ll give you ten minutes.”
“Yes, Chef.” Ranger brought up a bowl with a handful of jalapenos, limes and cilantro from under the countertop. He started seeding the jalapenos right away.
Gordie and Morgan watched quietly from their stations. As Ranger went back to work so did they.
Spencer remembered seeding and cutting jalapenos and other hot peppers for the cooks when his father ran the place. None of them told him to wash his hands before going to the bathroom. They all had a good laugh at his expense. He couldn’t remember the last time someone pulled a practical joke on anyone.
At 11:45am with no customers, even the board game guys left, he went to his office. The paperwork was done for the week. All of the staff was getting paid. Most of the vendors would get what they were owed. The butcher was going to have to be pushed back. Spencer had talked to the owner about him going in the butcher shop a couple times a week and working off what he owed. One of the fishermen he got salmon from was going to bring his wife in for a free meal to pay for last week. Even though some of the fish was ruined that wasn’t his fault. Spencer wasn’t sure what he was going to do this week. He estimated he was losing two to three thousand dollars a month. Something had to bring this around.
After 12:00pm Spencer went out to the kitchen to see if they needed help. Two tables of two. That was it. He stepped into the kitchen to hear the end of Gordie’s story.
“I swear the woman was so dry from her tan that she looked like an over baked salmon.” He leaned back with his backside propped against the counter. Ranger stood with his hands in his pockets and Morgan was behind the cold-side table straightening things that didn’t need straightening. “I swear if you cut her open dust would have come out.”
Aquamarine eyes surveyed the room. Jessie was by the front plus one server on duty. Three cooks and only four customers. He was spending more than he was making.
“What are you guys doing?” Spencer’s voice was enough to make Ranger pop his hands out of the pockets and take a step back.
“There’s no customers,” Gordie said. The smile behind his beard was gone.
“Is all the prep for tonight done? You could be cleaning, organizing. Look at Morgan.”
She had everything on her table organized by height and size.
“She has OCD! That don’t count. We have time to do what we need to do.” The only thing Gordie changed about his stance was to cross his thick arms over his chest.
Spencer bit his lip. Mom always said to count to ten when you got angry. He made it to eight. “Not any more. All of you take the afternoon off and be back for 4:00pm.” He turned and stepped out of the kitchen.
“Wait, Spencer,” Gordie moved past the junior cook and leaned on the low walls on either side of the kitchen entrance. It was made that way so people going to the washroom could see all the action as they passed. “Another day of three and a half hours missed from our pay checks? That’s twice this week. I don’t know about these guys, but I can’t keep doing this. I owe people.”
“Your dealers?” Sometimes if Spencer said that it would be a joke. This time the Sous Chef stared at the Chef and didn’t say a word.
Jessie waited until the other cooks were gone. “Are you okay, Spencer,” she asked again. She placed a hand on his arm.
Spencer pulled his arm away. He said, “Call me if a customer comes in,” and headed for the back.