November 4, 2014, Tuesday
Kristen checked the front door again but it was still locked. She told herself she would smoke another cigarette before calling Kao for the head chef’s phone number. Right after she lit her smoke, she thought to call the restaurant, and she felt embarrassed when the chef answered.
“Can I get one of those?” he asked with a drawl as he peeked out the door. “I’m Raymond Stevens. My friends call me Ray.”
Kristen introduced herself and held out her pack to him.
“Don’t you start with the jokes now.” He smiled. “Thank you.”
Ray worked at the restaurant from when he was twenty-five and was now in his late fifties. He started as a bus boy and worked up to be a line cook within a year. When the restaurant burned years ago, he waited for it to reopened instead of taking another job, because he didn’t want to leave the new employer high and dry.
“How did you get started cooking?” Kristen asked.
“This was my hobby once. Then it became my job. Now I go fishing a lot, but it’s just an excuse to drive new places. Hardly ever catch anything worth talking about.”
When they went inside the restaurant, Ray headed to the men’s room.
“Gonna wash my hands. You should, too,” he said. “I smoke, I wash my hands. I go to the bathroom, I wash my hands. I shake a customer’s hand, I wash my hands. Sometimes I’ll wash my hands just because I don’t remember washing my hands.”
Kristen took the cue and went to the ladies’ room.
“First thing I do every morning is inventory. Make sure we have what we need and it’s fresh,” Ray said as he held up a clipboard. “It’s about eight o’clock right now, so if we need anything I have about three hours to fetch it.”
Ray turned on the lights to the dining room and bar as he did every morning even though he rarely stepped foot in either area. When he was a small child, he and his father got mugged as they entered their trailer. The robbers were hiding in the dark. He still had nightmares of being hog-tied and staring at his father’s bloody face not knowing if he was alive.
His eyes lit up when they reached a stainless steel refrigerator used solely for their dry-aged steaks. “The best porterhouse and rib-eye within driving distance.”
“What’s the hardest thing about working in a kitchen?” Kristen asked.
“Shoot, everything at first, but if you work hard and can follow directions, you’ll be okay in the long run. I guess my business card says I’m the head chef, but I’m just a cook who manages the kitchen. I’m not going to pretend like I know everything. All I really know is what goes on here.”
“So what else are we going to do?”
“Well, now you get to see me make a beef barley soup with mushroom for the soup du jour and a minestrone.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Let me go wash my hands first.”
“If you follow directions, we could have finished putting this together already,” Vanessa said.
“What’s the fun in that?” Brandon said.
They were sitting on the kitchen floor with various screws and boards from his mobile kitchen island scattered around. He picked up two pieces and tried putting them together.
“Did you vote today?” Vanessa asked.
“Well, I’m not familiar with any of the issues.”
“Did you vote when you were in Oregon?”
“No, I was registered in California. Did you vote?”
“Good for you. You get a sticker.”
Vanessa gave him the stink-eye.
“I’m not against voting. I just didn’t do it this time. Did you vote Democrat?”
“I’m a lesbian. The wounds are still fresh. Maybe in a hundred years I’ll consider the GOP. I have a friend who doesn’t vote because he thinks all the politicians are hypocrites.”
“That’s the least of my concerns,” Brandon said. “If you dig deep enough into the closet, you’ll find some skeletons. But there has to be someone out there who did all the right things. And, no, not Jesus Christ.”
“Like some random person out in the middle of nowhere who never betrayed anyone, who always picked the right side in any dispute?”
“Yeah, some lucky fucker who won the existential lottery.”
Brandon took a picture of Vanessa posing like Vanna White next to the oak kitchen island. It ended up taking them almost five hours to put together, but Vanessa was right, it did complete the room.
“Did you hear that my mom’s cancer came back?” Brandon asked.
“No, I’m so sorry.” She walked over and gave him a hug. “Jeez, why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“I thought Elaine might have told you already and you were just waiting for me to bring it up.”
“No. How bad is it?”
“Stage four. Pancreas.”
“That’s the same thing Lizzie said.”
Vanessa took glasses out of the cupboard and poured cheap whiskey. They didn’t speak much that night aside from the stray sentence here and there. She bitched about the Republicans taking the Senate and gaining control of Congress, but couldn’t engage him so they mainly drank and smoked cigarettes. He talked about his research for Kao’s autobiography.
Eventually, he passed out on the sofa and she on the loveseat.