The deep fryer was a real commercial model – you don’t mess with homemade equipment when you’re keeping five gallons of lard at three hundred and sixty degrees for twelve hours a day – but it was old. I think it had first seen service in World War Two. I could see a bit of camouflage paint on the back side when I got ambitious enough to mop behind there. Tan and brown, not black and green, so it hadn’t been Vietnam. Even the army, screwed up as it usually is, never used desert colors in the jungle.

Mrs. Everett was fond of auctions. She never planned to acquire more equipment but, every so often when she saw something on the block and bidding was slow, she shouted a few bids and accidently bought something.

Like the slicer where we make the slaw. We all knew which auction had sold that one and we were pretty sure that it had seen service in the morgue in the big hospital in Syracuse before it came to Elsa’s. Cabbage heads weren’t the first heads that it had sliced, if you know what I mean. I’d swear that thing was haunted. Randal lost a thumb tip to it once. Not a lot of his thumb, just an eighth. But it bled like a river. We served red cabbage slaw that day.

Elsa’s Grill wouldn’t have been my first choice for a summer job – it wouldn’t have been anyone’s first choice – but I was starting at Columbia in the fall and needed money bad. I was on scholarship – no way could we afford Columbia’s tuition without aid – but that didn’t include living expenses, which would be high in New York City.

I started work three days before my last day of high school because Mrs. Everett said that she needed someone right away and she wouldn’t hold the job even a single day. It was the first time that I had ever ditched class and I didn’t like that. But I didn’t have any choice about it.

She wasn’t there when I knocked on the back door at ten on Monday morning. And then knocked again. And then again five minutes later.

“You looking for me, kid?” a voice said behind me.

“I’m supposed to start work today.” I turned to look at a grizzled face.

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