Disclaimer: Don't own them
Characters: JD, Ezra
Archive: wherever you like.
Notes: short answer to the August CZ challenge. In essence, we had to divine memories for one of the seven from a smell.
Note 2: I know we disagree as to where JD comes from. I guess he is supposed to be from NY, but I like him better as a Boston boy.
Description: When JD heads to the hotel kitchens to find out what the "special" dinner is that they are cooking, he ends up lost in a past he'd almost forgotten.
Six o’clock in the evening.
Clocks dinged, watches chimed, and bells rang, the sounds pealing like ripples through the soft desert air, signifying that it was time for dinner. Men and women slowly began easing their way towards the hotel, the boarding house, the saloon, and towards their homes for the evening meal.
Sitting outside the jail, JD looked up as Ezra wandered over to relieve him of his watch. The gambler was rarely hungry at this time, preferring to eat later, if he ate at all, as he often had the night shift or was planning to stay up late gaming. JD, on the other hand, being an early riser and a early nighter, was starving.
“Hey Ezra,” he greeted, standing and handing over the cell door keys at his waist.
“Mister Dunne,” the gambler returned, taking the keys and attaching them to his own belt. There were only a couple of spirited cowboys sleeping off too much liquor in the lock-up, but they still had to be looked after. Ezra peeked inside to make sure all was well before taking the seat JD had vacated and pulling out a book. The light was waning, but it was still bright enough to read.
“Um,” JD scratched at his head, “any idea what Inez is cooking tonight?”
“Burritos, I would imagine,” came the lazy reply.
“What about the boarding house?”
Ezra lifted his head up in order to cock an eyebrow at the boy. “Should I know?” he asked honestly.
JD snorted, scuffed a shoe, and placed his hands on his hips and he stared out at the quiet town.
“However,” the gambler had lowered his head again, his hat obscuring his face, “I do know that something special was received at the hotel today – packed in ice.”
“Ice?” JD was instantly curious.
“Yes, I watched as they received it and immediately took it around back to store in the cold well under the ice house. Of course, whatever it is, I imagine that it will be expensive. I believe it was specially pre-ordered for those rather well-to-do gentlemen who arrived by coach this morning.”
“Expensive,” JD looked toward the hotel, and back again. “Any idea what it could be?”
“No. As I said, I merely saw its placement into the cold well.”
“Oh,” the kid put his hand in his pocket, jangling the dollar and a half in coins therein. He wondered how expensive “expensive” would be. After a few moments, the noise began to grate on Ezra’s nerves, and he emitted a dark sigh.
“Go,” he ordered. “Find out what it is. And find out the price. If it is what I think it is, I’ll pay for both of us. Consider it a gift.”
JD looked startled for a moment, then grinned. With a nod, he set out at a brisk pace down the alleyway, so that he could approach the hotel from behind, via the kitchens.
As he approached the single wooden door, he found it wide open, heat and light pouring out of the large kitchen room that it led to. Inside, he could hear the kitchenstaff chatting as they worked, and the laughter of the waiters as they waited for the food to be done. As he got closer, he slowed, as the first smells hit his nostrils.
He knew that smell.
Unbidden, the grand hotel where his mother worked when he was a child in Boston came to mind. The Parker House Hotel was the tallest building in the area, and you could see the copper top of the state house from its highest rooms, and the green leafy roof of the common. From other windows, you could see the sea, and smell the harbor, the hint of salty sea air wafting through every room. He remembered trailing after his mother as she threw open windows and pointed things out to him before she went about changing sheets and cleaning up after the occupants. Her could hear her voice softly chattering away, keeping him company as he pressed his nose against the glass, watching the schooners and the fishing boats fighting for dominance on the blue water. He couldn’t recall what she said, but he remembered the sound of her voice in his ears.
Later, at lunchtime, when they’d wander down to the huge kitchens, he’d stand open mouthed as carts of fish and lobster were dragged up the cobblestone street, right past the City Hall, to be carted around to the back by the oil slicker covered longshoremen. In the cold locker, meat hung from hooks, ready for carving as well, but it was the fish that dominated the air in the fast moving basement kitchens.
Atlantic Cod, Salmon, Carp, Haddock, Mackerel…the smell of them cooking would stink up the oven heated rooms, clinging to clothes. His mother often bustled him out of there quickly, so that he wouldn’t smell like fish for the rest of the day. She’d laugh as she did so, trading quips with the cooks and kitchenstaff as they prepared the meals for the people upstairs. The butlers, waitstaff and clerks would be hanging out just outside, waiting for the call to pick up their food, stealing quick smokes. The waitstaff were often young, and they would trade ribald jokes with the fishermen and longshoremen delivering the goods. The feel of his mother’s hands pressed against his ears made the kid redden. Of course, the butlers and clerks were above all that, but they listened, usually with tiny smiles on their faces. They remembered what it was like.
JD staggered to the side of the hotel, his hand pressed against the coarse wooden siding, overwhelmed by the memories.
When she got sick, the hotel let her go, unable to keep on such an obviously ill woman with the fears of Typhoid and Influenza in full blow. She had to find another position somewhere, and ended up cleaning up after patrons in one of the smaller and dirtier inns in the city, closer to the wharf. It was a step down, and the way his mother was treated by the patrons and the staff clearly reflected that. JD was in school by this time, and only saw his mother when she arrived home at night, her face drawn from long hours of fending off advances and fighting with her illness. More often than not, she came home stinking of fish, as she made her way home through the market routes. Of course, though she never said anything, she probably also smelled from being rubbed up against by the sailors and the longshoremen.
Occasionally, however, she would bring a fish home with her, a gift from someone, or perhaps, she just wanted to cook something other than potatoes and beans. Oftentimes, it was just a scrod, a cheap white fish that she would grill, just enough to feed them both. But, with butter and spices, it tasted as rich as the most expensive steak. JD loved it when she cooked.
Later, when she got that position on that estate west of the city, away from the ocean, JD would try to find excuses to escape the manicured gold courses and carefully landscaped gardens to get back to the ocean. He was a teenager by that time, and was supposed to be looking after the stables. But, on his day off, he'd ride for the sea.....
He'd forgotten that need. Now he wondered if he would ever see the ocean again.
JD jumped almost a mile, his thoughts having drifted so far away. The other side of the world almost. One of the hotel’s young new cooks, Esme Waters, was standing by the door to the kitchens. She was wiping her hands on her apron and watching him curiously.
“Mr. Dunne, are you all right?”
“Uh,” JD let out a deep breath, and smiled. Straightening, he nodded. “Yes, Miss Waters, I’m fine. I just….the smell from the kitchen just…it reminded me of…of where I used to live.”
She nodded, pursing her lips, “Oh. Okay. If you say so.” From the tone of her voice, it was clear that she wasn’t quite sure what to make of that answer. When she had come out, she thought that JD had looked as if he were about to faint. Color was rapidly returning to his face, though, and he looked curiously into the kitchens behind her.
“What…,” he licked his lips, “what exactly are you cooking?”
JD had to smile, and he shook his head. “Yes, I know that. What kind of fish?”
“Pacific salmon, so they tell me. All I know is, it’s pink. Very pretty looking. Cost a bundle to get it here, so they say.”
“Pacific salmon,” JD nodded. Not Atlantic salmon. Not the same. Something must have registered in his face, because she frowned.
“They say it’s the best salmon in the country, Mr. Dunne. I wouldn’t dismiss it so, if I were you. Certainly better than the bony, tasteless fish they pull out of the rivers here, and we’re not just cooking over some open pit. It’s being roasted with white wine, butter and spices and served properly.” She sniffed, the snobbery in her tone not lost on the young man.
Smiling, he just shook his head at her. “Oh, I’m sure you’re right. I’m sure it’s the best, just as you say.” He shrugged then and stepped back, “so, how much is the dinner going for?”
She laughed, amused. “More than you’ve got, I’m afraid. More than I’ve got, and I’m cooking it! Cook won’t even let me eat the bits that break off. She’s being real mean about it.”
The hotel’s cook did have the reputation of being something of a harridan. A pretty good cook though. Her sous-chefs never lasted long before moving on. Esme probably wouldn’t last that long either. Her husband worked for Stuart James, but was apparently looking to head farther west again soon.
“Might it be more than Ezra’s got?” JD asked, tilting his head at her.
“Ezra?” She looked confused for a moment, her newness still shining thought. Then she brightened, “Oh, you mean Mr. Standish?”
“I don’t know. He got enough to pay five dollars a plate?”
JD’s eyes bugged. “Five dollars a plate!” Inez's dinners were rarely more than a quarter.
“Yup. Cook says that includes wine, though. They shipped some fancy wine to go with it.”
“Five dollars,” JD repeated, shaking his head. “I don’t know….”
“He’s got enough,” a southern voice said from behind them, causing JD to jump a second time, much to his annoyance.
Ezra walked around from out the shadows, his hat still low on his face. JD blinked, then frowned, about to ask who was watching the jail. Ezra simply raised a hand.
“Mr. Tanner relieved me, Mr. Dunne, once I told him that I had promised you dinner. Not seeing you in front, I thought I would check back here to see how you were getting on. I heard the tail end of the conversation, and, frankly, I think the idea of eating fresh salmon again is something I don’t think I can pass up. Could you?”
“It’s pacific salmon,” JD said, frowning still. Ezra smiled, and patted him on the shoulder.
“Being from the same coast as you, son, I can understand your bias. However, Miss Waters is correct about pacific salmon. I think you’ll be more than happy.”
JD looked at Esme, then at Ezra. The gambler was smiling, expectant.
“Well, heck, if you’ve got the money…!” JD grinned.
“Indeed,” the gambler backed away and indicated JD should lead them towards the front.
The kid turned, bowed slightly to Esme, then started walking. As he did so, the memories of Boston faded from his mind. He was, after all, going to be one of the served, not one of the servers. The idea almost gave him pause, but as Ezra came forward to match his stride and walk next to him, smiling over some old memory of his own, JD found himself grinning. He imagined that now, whenever he smelled pacific salmon, he’d have a new, good memory to relate it to.
Plus, hell, he wasn’t paying!