Chef drew his mouth into a line, trying to think of how to answer her. “Well, baby, that’s when one person makes someone else not live anymore.”
“Why would someone do that?”
“Because there are good people, and there are bad people in the world.”
“Why?” Lily’s head craned further around, to the point that Chef was vaguely surprised that the angle didn’t snap her neck. He shook his head.
“Because some people didn’t have good moms and dads that didn’t raise them right, so they got mad, and became bad people.”
“Am I a bad people?”
“No, Lily,” Chef said, and laughed. He lifted her off of his lap and pulled her close to him, folding her in his arms. “You’re not bad people. I won’t let you be.”
Lily’s arms tried to reach around him, failing to encircle him by half. “Promise?”
“I promise,” Chef said. Though he held his daughter, his eyes never left the news report showing him images of the men suspected of the shooting at the Newgate mall downtown, that had happened earlier that day.
Fourteen people had been killed in the shooting, including two children, ages seven and fourteen – not far from Lily and Miranda’s ages, but close enough for discomfort. The attractive reporter onscreen ended her report with a call-to-arms about increasing gun control laws in order to protect innocent lives. Chef scoffed.
“Mandy,” Chef called into the dining room around the corner.
His call was met with silence.
“ ‘Scuse me, Lily, I’ve got to go kick your sister’s butt.”
“Go get her, daddy.” She crawled off of his lap and turned around, offering an upraised palm. Chef slapped it and stalked into the dining room.
“You’d better not be texting before your homework is done.” Her back was turned, head down, alternating between textbook and notebook, pencil scratching on the left, with white earbuds inserted deep into her ears. Chef could hear a heavy beat and a female singer’s voice that annoyed him deeply. He longed for a seemingly long-forgotten time, not too long ago, before music had been destroyed. “Mandy,” he said again.
His daughter sighed the way only teenage girls can, and pulled on the limp wire. Earbuds popped out, landing on the table. “Uh. What?”
“How’s your homework coming?”
“If you didn’t interrupt me, it would have been going fine. I’m probably going to have to start this problem all over again.”
Chef sighed. “I’m sorry, kiddo. I’ll be more patient, next time. Can you make sure your sister gets into bed at a reasonable time? I’ve got to go hunting.”
“You mean you want to go have a beer with your friends, and neglect your children?” She sneered the last of it.
“Miranda, don’t you ever,” He shouted ‘ever’, making his beloved daughter jump nearly a foot out of her chair – and him almost burst out laughing – “talk to me like that again, do you understand?”
Chef put a hand on her shoulder, kissed the top of her head, and said, “I love you, and so does your mother. Please make sure Lily gets into bed soon, I know that you don’t want her cranky in the morning any more than I do.”
“Yeah, we don’t want that.” Miranda spoke meekly, but quickly regained her composure. “Is that all, or can I get back to my homework, now?”
“That’s all, have fun tonight.”
Lily ran into the dining room, sliding across the hardwood floor in her footie pajamas. Her whole body rammed into his leg, and she wrapped her arms and legs around it. “Happy hunting, daddy!”
Chef shouted, kicking his leg gently. Lily screamed, giggling.
When at last he was able to disentangle himself from his daughter, he scribbled a note for his wife, and slipped out the back door, again telling his daughters that he loved them.
* * *
Fine mist crept across bare concrete, testing the limits of its bravery by creeping into the dark alley before losing heart, dissipating, and retreating back into the freezer.
“Dammit, Julio, where are you?” Chef rubbed his arms against the early morning chill and hefted a box from the truck. Corded muscles in his forearms bulged, easily managing the weight. “I’ve been working since four, and you can’t be bothered to show up at six thirty.” Chef calmed himself, inspecting each individually paper wrapped steak as he hauled the box into the freezer.
Frigid air chewed at his flesh, slipping beneath his shirt to claw his back. He liked it. Wished his wife would do the same, sometime.
Chef fell into a comfortable routine of ascending and descending the rickety ramp from the truck, the routine ensured that the meat on the left side of the truck stayed separate from that on the right. The reason Chef butchered his own livestock was the boxes on the right; any idiot can kill, cut, and wrap a cow, but if he couldn’t trust Julio to show up on time, he clearly couldn’t trust anyone with the meat on the right, with the secret of his restaurant’s success. . .
Wet squishing sounds echoed up the alley. “About damned time,” Chef called.
“I s-sorry, Chef,” the skinny Mexican’s voice quivered.
“Oh, you’re just fine, there’s still time to get everything done. Come give me a hand with these boxes.”
Julio climbed the ramp hugging his arms to his sides, shivering and dripping. He reached a shaky hand out to grab a box, but Chef caught him by the wrist.
“ ‘The hell happened to you?” He examined the boy, his brow furrowing deeply.
Julio shivered in Spanish.
“Go inside, open one of the ovens, and warm yourself up. I’ll finish up out here, and we can prep the line when you’re feeling better. You’re no good to me dead.” Chef tousled the boy’s hair smiling.
Julio shook. Between chattering teeth, he uttered, “Gracias,” before retreating into the back door of the restaurant.
Chef picked up the last box on the right. He smiled to himself. “Not much good to me dead, I guess.” Chef’s chuckles followed him into the freezer and suffocated in the cold.