Kenny rode his bike into the parking lot of Vito's pizza place at two in the afternoon on his only day off. He'd rode over as quickly as he could after the panicked phone call he'd received from his boss, but as he pulled into the lot he could tell it was too late.

His boss stood out front, twisting some papers around and around in his hands as he watched the health inspector tape up a very conspicuous notice in the front window.

Kenny got off his bike, not bothering to chain it since it didn't look like he would be staying long. As he approached the front of the building, his boss turned to him blearily.

"What am I going to do, Ken?" he asked.

Kenny shook his head, watching the inspector as he began taping up another notice on the glass door.

"He found even more violations this time," his boss continued. "Between all these fines, plus the fines from last time, not to mention the cost of the repairs I gotta make. . ."

Kenny sighed. "Jesus Christ, Vito."

"I know," Vito wailed. "I don't know if I'm ever gonna be able to reopen, Ken."

"Oh boy," Kenny said. He watched warily as his boss sat down heavily on the curb.

The health inspector finished taping up his notices. He nodded at them both and called out a perfunctory, "Have a nice day, fellas," as he walked briskly toward his car.

Kenny frowned. "I don't suppose I could get paid now for last week?" he asked as gently as he could manage.

Vito put his head down on his arms and started sobbing.

"Right," Kenny said. Inside he could see the small crew bewilderedly going through the motions of closing up for the night in the middle of the day. It was strange to see all the chairs being placed back upside down over the tables with the mid-afternoon sun shining down all around them.

"Okay, well," Kenny continued, at a loss as to what his boss expected him to be able to do now. While Kenny certainly had the most consistent handwashing habits of the three line cooks employed at the tiny pizzeria, it wasn't like he was going to be able to lather up his hands and wash away the building's rat infestation. "I'm just gonna get going, then." He gave Vito a couple of awkward pats on his shaking shoulders and walked back to his bike.

Vito lifted his head up as Kenny was climbing back on his bike. He sniffled a little bit and said, "I'll give you a call when I know what I'm doing here."

Kenny groaned internally. In the six months he'd worked for him, Kenny had yet to see any evidence that Vito ever knew what he was doing here. "Okay, man," Kenny said as he pushed off and started pedaling back toward his apartment building.

That evening Kenny sat out back behind his building, smoking one of his last cigarettes. He hadn't been able to afford the habit back when he was employed all those many hours ago. Without a job he really couldn't justify buying another pack. His head hurt already in anticipation.

He inhaled slowly, trying to make it last. He stared out at the dumpsters, trying to come up with a game plan. He knew he should probably start searching through the employment listings tonight, but all he wanted to do with himself was get drunk and wallow in self pity for a little bit. He could always start looking for jobs in the morning.

Kenny heard the back door of the apartment building swing open. The noise was followed by the sound of cheerful humming. Kenny's heart sank.

Butters walked happily down the back steps with a bag of garbage in his hand. Kenny had never seen another person look as happy as Butters did while taking trash out to the dumpster.

Kenny hunched down on the ledge he was sitting on, trying to make himself as small and inconspicuous as possible. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy spending time with Butters as his neighbor and only friend still left in town. It was just that Kenny had already committed to his plans of feeling miserable and alone tonight, and damn if he didn't find it hard to be miserable around Butters.

Butters tossed his bag in the dumpster, then turned around to walk back inside. His face brightened immediately, and Kenny knew he'd been spotted. "Hi, Ken!" Butters called out, waving and jogging over to him.

Kenny sighed, but smiled anyway. "Hi yourself," he said, flicking his cigarette butt into the parking lot. He patted the surface of the ledge next to him.

Butters approached but didn't sit. "How's it going?" he asked.

Kenny's smile soured. "Oh great, just great," he said, shaking his head. Butters looked at him doubtfully. Kenny looked down at his feet and muttered, "Lost my job today, that's about it."

Butters gasped a little. "Oh, gosh, Kenny, that's terrible. What happened?"

"It wasn't even my fault!" Kenny whined.

"Whoa, all right," Butters said, gesturing placatingly. "Of course it wasn't." His face softened. "You wanna come over and talk about it?"

Kenny smiled sadly. "You got any beer?"

Butters looked earnestly disappointed. "Oh, no, I don't think I do." He wrung his hands and scrunched his face up hopefully. "But I do have plenty of whiskey," he offered.

Kenny laughed. Butters' expression remained hopeful. Kenny sat up a little straighter. "Wait, you're serious?" he asked.

Butters nodded. "Oh, yes, of course. I would never joke about whiskey."

Kenny weighed his options. Back inside his apartment he had exactly three cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, half a bottle of store brand cough syrup, and solitude. Spending the evening with Butters was sounding better and better. "Can I meet you at your apartment in a few?" Kenny asked.

Butters broke into a full on grin. "Why, sure, Ken!"

Kenny followed Butters back into the building and onto the elevator, separating temporarily when they reached Kenny's floor. Kenny let himself back into his apartment and went into the tiny kitchen. He looked around the shelves for anything he could take to Butters' place; he hated feeling like he was leeching off of anybody's hospitality, but the pickings in his kitchen were pretty slim. He settled on a mostly full bag of tortilla chips, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the salsa on the door of his fridge hadn't expired.

He spent another moment with the fridge open, considering, and ultimately grabbed his last three beers as well. He put it all in a plastic bag and headed upstairs to Butters' apartment.

Butters' door was open so he let himself in. He walked into the kitchen where he found Butters rummaging through his cabinets for a couple of shot glasses. There was a bottle of Jack Daniels on the counter in front on him.

"All right, Butters," he said happily. He held up his plastic bag. "I brought tortillas," he said. "And, um. Three beers."

Butters beamed at him. "Well, thank you, Kenny. That's very generous of you."

Kenny rolled his eyes and poured them both a shot of whiskey. "This is very generous of you," he said. "Since when do you drink whiskey?" he asked.

Butters smiled shyly. "Actually, it's my girlfriend who drinks whiskey," he said.

Kenny was surprised. "I didn't realize you were seeing anyone," he said, his hand frozen over the shot glass. "I mean, that's great, Butters! I just didn't realize."

Kenny had yet to see anyone else for so much as a platonic social outing since he and Butters had stopped fooling around over six months ago. Not that he was trying particularly hard. Or at all. He flashed Butters a quick smile just to illustrate how great he thought Butters dating was.

"Oh, yeah!" Butters nodded. "Her name's Shirley. We've been seeing each other for a few months now. Only she drives a truck long distance, so I don't get to see her too often. But oh boy, when she does come over..." Butters trailed off and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Ken. What happened at work?"

Kenny tossed back his whiskey, cracked open a beer, and told Butters about what happened earlier. Butters nodded along sympathetically as he opened up the salsa and poured Kenny's tortilla chips into a serving bowl. Butters was a very considerate host.

"You know," Butters said. "If you're looking for a new job, the place I'm working needs a new cook."

"Really?" Kenny asked. He frowned. "I don't know, Butters, you work at, like, an actual restaurant. The kind where people aren't too grossed out to sit down and eat inside of it. I don't think I'm even qualified."

"Nonsense, Kenny!" Butters said. "You used to work at that fancy Italian place before Vito's, right?"

Kenny laughed self-deprecatingly. "Dude, I worked as a busboy there. And I got fired."

Butters frowned consideringly. "It's more like you got laid off, really. And you have chef experience at a different Italian place."

Kenny shook his head. "Butters, I cooked at a gross pizza place that just got shut down by the health inspector. That's not even close to being a chef at an Italian restaurant."

Butters looked indignant and poured them both another shot of whiskey. "Well, it's practically the same exact thing!" he said. "Plus you've been to college. You've studied, you know, the cooking arts."

Kenny groaned. "I'm six credits short of a community college degree in culinary arts, and they won't let me register for more classes until I pay off those outstanding fees I still owe them."

"The point is, Kenny," Butters said, "You're absolutely qualified. And it can't hurt to try. And my boss likes me, I'll put in a good word for you. It will work out, you'll see."

"Sure, fine, I'll do it," Kenny said. Butters beamed at him. "It's not too far away, is it?" he asked. "I still can't get my car fixed, I'm stuck riding my bike everywhere like some asshole."

Butters pouted. "Oh, I think riding a bike is very environmentally responsible of you," he said. "But no, it's not too far at all." He sat up suddenly. "Oh! If we have similar schedules, we could even carpool."

Kenny smiled and let Butters talk him into what a great idea it would be to apply for a job with him. He tried asking Butters for a little more information about what the restaurant was actually like, and there Butters started to get a little weird and defensive. All he would say was that it was definitely nice, but not too nice. The only other description he would give was that it had "sort of a mobster air" about it. Kenny had no idea what that even meant. Butters insisted that everyone there was on the up and up, though.

Butters reminded him that the place was run now by one of their former classmates, Luigi Something-or-other. That almost made Kenny reconsider. Almost.

Kenny stuck around until the two of them finished off the rest of Kenny's tortilla chips. Butters got out his phone and showed Kenny some pictures of his truck driving girlfriend. She wore a leather jacket and kept her hair short with the exception of the rattail in back. Butters seemed absolutely smitten.

Kenny walked back to his apartment alone but optimistic.

Kenny was still skeptical of Butters' hot tip in the morning, but he was also still broke. So he put on a clean pair of pants, his nicest button down shirt, and his only tie before throwing on his jacket and riding his bike over to Loogie's restaurant.

He chained his bike up on the side of the building, hoping nobody inside had noticed him arrive via bicycle. According to the sign on the door the restaurant didn't open for another twenty minutes, but Butters was in front stocking little bundles of napkin-wrapped silverware at the hostess station. The napkins were cloth, not paper, and Kenny fought down another wave of doubt before knocking on the glass door.

Butters looked up and beamed when he saw him. He came over and unlocked the door, ushering Kenny inside. "Oh, I'm so glad you decided to come!" he said. "Come on back, I'll introduce you to Loogie."

Butters brought him back through the service doors, through the kitchen, and down a short hallway where they stopped in front of what looked to be a small office. Butters knocked on the door. "Hey, boss?" he called.

The door opened. Loogie was standing on the other side of it. He looked good, Kenny was distressed to find out. He wore a nice looking black suit, which Kenny thought was a little weird for a guy who worked in a restaurant, but who was he to judge? Kenny remembered him being a chubby little kid when they were growing up, but it looked like Loogie had lost weight since Kenny had last seen him in high school. "Yes?" Loogie asked.

Butters smiled. "Boss, this is the friend of mine I was telling you about. He's here about the line cook position."

Kenny stuck out his hand. "Kenny McCormick," he said. "Nice to meet you."

Loogie raised his eyebrows at that, but shook his hand warmly. "I believe we've met," he said.

Kenny laughed nervously. "Right, yeah, I guess we have." When the handshake ended he took his hand back and rubbed the back of his neck with it. "Well, it's good to see you again, anyway," he corrected himself.

Loogie stepped back and held the door open. "Come on in," he said. "Have a seat."

Kenny tried to guess which one of the two chairs in the small office wasn't Loogie's. They were both arranged on the same side of a neat but cramped desk that had been pushed against the wall of the office. He settled on the less comfortable looking one that was further away from the biggest pile of papers. Loogie sat down in the other chair without a word, and Kenny breathed a small sigh of relief.

"So, Kenny," Loogie began. "Butters tells me you're interested in the line cook position."

"Yes," Kenny said, nodding. "That's right."

"I'm offering ten dollars an hour. That's in cash," Loogie said.

Kenny blinked. "That sounds great," he said.

"Just to be clear," Loogie continued, "I mean under the table."

Kenny nodded. "That's, yeah, that's great. Perfect."

"I understand you have some experience?" Loogie asked.

"Ah, yes," Kenny said, sitting forward and reaching into his inside jacket pocket. "I actually brought a copy of my resume, if you'd like to see it," Kenny said, pulling the paper out of the envelope he'd carried it here in, relieved to see that it hadn't gotten crumpled on the bike ride over.

Loogie looked faintly surprised. He took the sheet from Kenny and looked it over, nodding slightly. Kenny had thought while he was typing it all up that he should probably embellish a few key points if he wanted to land a job at a decent place quickly, but in the end he couldn't bring himself to do it. Now he was relieved to see that maybe he hadn't needed to, afterall. "This is very nice," Loogie said.

"Thank you," Kenny replied.

"I see you have some formal training," he said. Kenny was pleasantly surprised to hear him refer to his incomplete degree that way. Possibly he hadn't noticed that there was no reference to Kenny actually graduating from the program. Kenny wasn't going to point it out. Loogie looked up and made eye contact with Kenny. "May I ask why you left your last position?" he asked.

"Well," Kenny said, suppressing the urge to shift in his chair, "unfortunately my last place of employment has, um, temporarily closed."

Loogie sat up a bit straighter, interested. "Really?" he asked. "Why is that?"

Kenny cleared his throat. "Ah, they were forced to close due by the health inspector. Yesterday, as a matter of fact."

"You don't say," Loogie said. He looked thoughtful. "Well. That's good news for us, anyway."

Kenny laughed, surprised. "I guess it is," he agreed. "Although I don't really think you guys are in the same class as Vito's. This place is way nicer."

Loogie waved his hand dismissively, but he looked faintly pleased. "We do okay. You've been to one Italian place, you've been to them all." He paused for a moment, thinking again. "Although I suppose we are a considerable amount cleaner than Vito's."

Kenny grinned. "I'll say," he said.

"Right," Loogie said, tapping Kenny's resume against the desk a few times before setting it down. "Well. When can you start?" he asked.

Kenny blinked at him, momentarily taken aback before answering, "Pretty much right away. I mean, my schedule suddenly just opened right up."

Loogie stood up. "Great," he said. Kenny quickly stood as well. "Come on out, I'll introduce you to the other cook who's on today. You can start shadowing him now."

Kenny started to laugh, but then realized that Loogie was serious. "Oh! Well, okay, sure. Here goes," he said, and followed him out the door.

Loogie led him out of his office and back into the kitchen. He approached a man who was pouring a tray of freshly baked rolls into the bread warmer. Kenny realized with dismay that he recognized this guy from grade school as well. He was a member of Loogie's old elementary school entourage.

Loogie cleared his throat. The guy turned around and asked, "Yeah, boss?"

"This is Kenny," he said, and nodded at Kenny. "He's the new line cook. Show him around, why don't you?"

"Sure thing, boss," the guy responded, nodding vigorously. "No problem."

"Great," Loogie said, and started walking toward the back. "I'll be in my office."

"Okay, boss," he called after him. He watched intently as Loogie turned the corner into what looked to be a short hallway and waited until they heard the sound of a door closing. He then turned around and looked at Kenny, eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"

"Yeah," Kenny said. "We went to school together."

The guy furrowed his eyebrows skeptically. "You sure about that?"

Kenny cracked an uncertain smile. "Yeah, man. For twelve years."

"Huh," the guy said, shaking his head. "Nah, I don't think that's it."

"Uh," Kenny said. "Well, you also tried to murder me once."

"I did?" He looked up and into the distance for a moment before his face brightened suddenly. "Oh, right! Me and my boys threw you off the side of the Creek Road overpass that one time," he said with enthusiasm.

"That's me," Kenny said.

The guy narrowed his eyes again. "So, what, you survived?" he asked.

Kenny stretched his arms out a little to each side of him, gesturing for this guy to take in the evidence. "Looks like it," he said.

"Well, all right," the guy said, cracking a grin as he clapped Kenny on the shoulder. "Name's Paulie. I work back here in the kitchen."

"Hey, Paulie," Kenny said, and rubbed his shoulder. "So, hey, is there somewhere I could put my coat?" he asked.

"Oh, sure thing," Paulie said. He started walking, and gestured for Kenny to follow him. "Right this way."

Paulie led Kenny to a little alcove off the hallway he'd just watched Loogie walk down. There was a coat rack on one wall that held an assortment of jackets, sweatshirts, and a woman's purse. Kenny recognized Butters' coat and smiled a little, happy to see something familiar. He hung his own coat on the empty peg closest to Butters' coat.

On the opposite wall there was another coat rack with a few white work jackets and aprons hanging up. Paulie gestured at the two bins in the corner. "Laundry service comes once a week. They pick up the dirty towels and aprons and whatnot and drop off fresh. Dirty stuff goes in here," he kicked the one bin, "Clean towels are in here," he kicked the other bin. "Don't mix them up," he warned, pointing a finger at Kenny.

Kenny blinked. "I won't," he promised.

"Good," Paulie said. "Go ahead and grab yourself an apron. You can wear a hat or a hairnet, doesn't matter, just make sure the hair's covered." He stepped in close to Kenny, scowling, and flicked his tie. "I guess you'll be wanting a jacket, too," he said.

"Uh," Kenny said, leaning back. "I guess? I mean, I don't have to," he said, shaking his head in sudden confusion. "I'm new here, buddy, whatever you think."

Paulie stepped away, expression neutral once again. "Nah, might as well wear it. Wouldn't want your fancy tie to get all messed up, now, would we?"

"O...kay," Kenny said slowly. "I'm just gonna...put this on, then." He threw on the chef's jacket and an apron, trying to figure out if this guy was trying to threaten him, or just had a weird thing about ties, or what. "Where to next?" Kenny asked, trying to project a friendly, non-threatening air.

Paulie gave him a brief tour of the place. They breezed through the dining area in front, then spent a bit more time in the kitchen where Paulie showed Kenny where everything was kept. Kenny peeked into the walk-in fridge and freezer, but declined to go inside either due to the sudden fear that Paulie was plotting to lock him in. Paulie took him around, past the bathroom and Loogie's office, to the back door where there was also a single loading dock.

They finished their tour just as the restaurant was opening for lunch. Kenny shadowed Paulie on the line for a few hours. At first he tried asking questions just to fill the air, but Paulie seemed to prefer to work in silence. This suited Kenny just fine. He hung back and just watched Paulie work for a couple hours, resisting the urge to step in and take over whenever Paulie would get backed up and the waitresses would be standing on the other side of the line, tapping their fingers against the metal.

After the lunch crowd dropped off Kenny wandered over to where Butters was washing dishes. "Need any help?" he asked.

Butters smiled at him brightly. "Nope! How do you like it so far?" he asked.

Kenny nodded. "It's great. Really." He gestured down at his torso. "I even got this great new outfit to wear."

"You look very handsome," Butters said sincerely.

Kenny laughed. "It's the hairnet, isn't it? It's always been a good look on me."

Butters opened his mouth, then looked at something behind Kenny and closed it again. Kenny turned around to see Loogie walking out of the hallway that lead from the office. Kenny bit back a curse and hustled over to him, worried that now he was going to think Kenny was back here slacking off or something.

"Hey, Loogie," he said. "Uh, boss."

Loogie blinked at him. "Kenny. How's it going?"

"Oh, great," Kenny said. "Just fine. Listen, so, the lunch rush seems like it's just about over."

Loogie nodded. "Yes?"

Kenny fidgeted. "Right, so, is there anything that you'd like me to do? Like, uh, prep work? Or cleaning? Or anything?"

Loogie turned and walked over to Paulie. "Paul," he said.

Paulie frowned and looked up at him. "Yeah, boss?"

"How's Kenny doing?" he asked.

Paulie shrugged. "Fine, boss."

Loogie nodded and turned back to Kenny. "How do you feel about staying for dinner?" he asked him.

"Oh," Kenny said, surprised. "That's fine, yeah, I can work through dinner."

"Great," Loogie replied. "Follow me a moment." He led Kenny back out into the front of the mostly empty restaurant and over to the host station. He reached inside the podium and pulled out a menu. "Here," he said, handing it to Kenny. "Why don't you sit down and take some time to get familiar with the menu?"

"Sounds good," Kenny replied. "You want me to go back in with Paulie?" he asked.

"Nah," Loogie said, waving his hand dismissively. "You might as well sit out here. Nobody's around and the seats are more comfortable."

Kenny smiled at him. "Works for me," he said.

Loogie gave him a slight smile in return. "Help yourself to anything you want to drink. You know where the glasses are?" he asked, looking over at the soda fountain.

"I do. Thanks," Kenny said.

Loogie nodded. "The dinner crowd usually starts coming in around five. I usually make myself something to eat a little bit before that. You're welcome to do the same."

"That's great, I will," Kenny said.

"Okay, then. Frank will be coming in tonight for dinner, so you'll be on the line with him tonight." Loogie turned to one of the waitresses and said, "I'm stepping out. I'll be back."

She nodded, looking bored. "Okay, boss."

Kenny sat down at a table with the menu. He watched Loogie walk out the front door, then opened up the menu and started looking it over. After about an hour his stomach started making noises so he went back into the kitchen. He thought for a moment about cooking something for himself, but Paulie was back behind the line looking irritable, so instead he just grabbed some bread, ladled himself out a cup of the soup du jour, and went back out to his table to stare at the menu some more.

Eventually Frank came in. Kenny recognized him as another one of their elementary school classmates. He went over and introduced himself, and was relieved to find Frank at least slightly less bizarrely intimidating than Paulie. Frank walked him through his nightly routine, and as the dinner rush picked up the two of them got into a nice groove working together.

Kenny wound up staying to close up the restaurant with them. By the end of the night his feet were sore. He hadn't worked a twelve hour shift in a long time. Vito had never had hours like this for him. Kenny was pleased to see that Loogie's seemed to be fortunately understaffed. He was looking forward to being regularly employed on a full time basis in a place which, so far as he could tell, didn't have any type of rodent infestation at all.

As they were locking up, Loogie asked him if he'd be willing to come in the next morning to open. Kenny happily agreed. He waved goodbye to Frank and Loogie, then got on his bike and rode home.

Kenny rode his bike in early the next morning, getting there just as Loogie himself was pulling in. Kenny flushed and quickly finished chaining his bike up to the fence on the side of the restaurant.

Loogie walked closer to him on his way around to the back. "Good morning, Kenny," he said.

Kenny waved as he walked over. "Morning, boss," he said. He felt kind of weird calling this kid he'd gone to elementary school with "Boss" like it was his name, but that was what everyone else here called him and Kenny didn't want to rock the boat.

Loogie unlocked the back door and the two of them walked in together. Loogie nodded at the little alcove with the coat rack. "If you want to go ahead and get ready, Paulie should be here soon."

"Sure thing," Kenny said. He stepped in and traded his coat for one of the light chef's jackets, put on a hat and an apron, and waited for Paulie to come in.

The afternoon went pretty slowly. Between Paulie and Kenny both cooking, the two of them were able to handle the lunch crowd easily. By about one o'clock Kenny was bored out of his mind. He wandered out from behind the grill and over to where Butters was washing dishes.

Kenny wound up helping Butters load up and run the huge dishwasher, then helped him put everything away. He was just about to propose that they start washing the windows in the dining area when Loogie came out and told Kenny and Butters they could both go home a little early.

Butters offered Kenny a ride home, which he was reluctant to accept. "What am I supposed to do with my bike?" he asked.

"It will fit in my trunk," he said. "Come on."

Kenny sighed. "Yeah, okay. Thanks." He helped Butters load the bike into the trunk, then sat down in the passenger seat.

They rode together in companionable silence for the first few minutes. Kenny looked over at Butters, both hands on the wheel, tapping along to some beat inside Butters' head. "Look, I really appreciate you getting me this job," Kenny said.

Butters glanced over at him, then back at the road. "Don't be silly, Kenny. I mentioned they were hiring, but you got the job yourself."

"Okay, well," Kenny said, "thanks all the same. For the ride, too."

"Don't mention it!" Butters said.

"Seriously, though, dude. I really do appreciate it. Pretty soon I should be able to afford to get my steering fixed, but in the meantime I'm stuck riding my bike everywhere," he complained.

Butters' eyebrows furrowed pensively. "Oh, I think bikes are nice," he said.

"You would," Kenny said.

"I do, though," Butters said seriously. He glanced at him briefly again. "You know Shirley drives a motorcycle?" he asked slyly.

Kenny grinned. "Does she now?" Butters nodded happily. "Still, that's not the same as a bicycle," Kenny argued.

Butters said, "Well, bicycles have their own charm." His expression became dreamy. "Like standing on the pegs with your arms around someone strong as they drive you both around town, their legs all muscley and quivering from all the pedaling they've been doing."

"Hey, whoa, okay Butters. I get the picture," he said.

"Right," Butters said. "Well, good."

"I still miss my car," Kenny said.

Butters shrugged. "Oh well," he said. He drove them back to their apartment building where they parted ways in the parking lot.

Kenny was getting plenty of hours working at Loogie's. For the most part he spent his time in the kitchen working with either Paulie or Frank. The third member of their little group from elementary school, Kolovski, also worked at Loogie's, but he worked as a dishwasher and sometimes busboy when things got too busy at dinner for the wait staff to bus their own tables.

He hadn't seen too much of Loogie yet. During the earlier part of the day it seemed like he was pretty bogged down with managerial stuff. On the slower evenings he would stay in front and serve as the host, seating tables and making sure service went smoothly. Kenny felt that at least explained the suits he always wore to work.

When things got busy in the evening Loogie would take off the suit jacket, put on an apron, and come back into the kitchen to expedite the orders. So far that was Kenny's favorite time to work. When things were so busy that all he had to focus on was filling the orders Loogie called out as they came in. There was no time to worry about the Paulie's weird intimidation tactics or the way Kolovski kept staring at him creepily from behind the dishwasher. All he had to do was turn out dishes as fast as the wait staff could carry them out.

On Friday during the post lunch slump, Kenny was surprised to be joined in the kitchen by Loogie. Loogie explained that he was going to make some more of the restaurant's secret and proprietary special tomato sauce.

Kenny raised his eyebrows, intrigued. "Can I help?" he asked.

Loogie looked at him for a long moment, then shrugged. "Why not? You can help me with some of the prep work, anyway."

Loogie sent Kenny into the walk-in to gather some ingredients. When he came back, he saw that Loogie had started a big pot of what looked like plain tomato puree on low heat. Loogie had him set down his ingredients on the counter between them and told him to get to work mincing some garlic. Loogie grabbed a few cloves for himself and did the same.

"So, uh, Loogie. Boss," Kenny said after a few moment of quiet mincing.

"Yes?" he asked, not looking up from his garlic.

"Can I ask you about the name of this place?" Kenny asked.

Loogie glanced at him. "What about it?" he asked.

Kenny grabbed another glove of garlic. "Well," he started. "This place has been in business as long as I can remember. At least since we were kids. Is actually named after you?"

Loogie shook his head. "It's named after my father. He was also named Loogie."

"Oh," Kenny said. He kept mincing while Loogie poured some olive oil into a saucepan and started heating it. "It's just," Kenny said, then stopped.

"It's just what?" Loogie asked.

Kenny frowned a little. "It's just, that's kind of a weird nickname, right?"

Loogie furrowed his brows at Kenny. "What do you mean? That's my name."

Kenny looked uncertain. "I thought Loogie was, like, a nickname for Luigi?"

Loogie shook his head authoritatively. "No, no. It's just the Italian spelling."

"Uh huh," Kenny said, trying to figure out if the way Loogie's face was twitching right now meant that he was laughing at him or not. "Right. Of course," he said, smothering an awkward laugh of his own.

Kenny really wanted to ask if maybe they wouldn't do a little better if they changed the name of the place, but reconsidered. From what he'd seen of the guy, Loogie seemed to get quite defensive whenever it was implied that business was anything other than robust.

Kenny finished mincing one more clove of garlic before asking, "So, is your dad still involved in the business?"

Loogie set his knife down and looked off into the distance. "There was," he spoke slowly, his words measured, "some unpleasantness that happened at the restaurant a few years back."

Kenny frowned. "Oh, hmm." He thought hard, trying to drudge up some of the vague rumors he half-remembered about this place. There had always been the implication by people in town that the family was part of the mafia, but Kenny himself was pretty convinced that Loogie and his brothers had cultivated that rumor themselves. "That must have been tough." Kenny thought he could recall that something serious had actually happened here toward the end of high school, or maybe just after graduation.

"Yes, well," Loogie said, brusquely pulling out another saucepan and setting it down just a touch softer than a slam. "The stress of it all proved to be too much for my father. He's no longer with us."

Kenny startled. "Oh, jeez, man. I'm really sorry to hear that." He shifted awkwardly from foot to foot for a moment, feeling like he ought to give the guy a comforting pat on the back, but also pretty sure that the two of them weren't close enough. He settled for companionably bumping shoulders with Loogie as he grabbed an onion from the pile between them.

Loogie raised his eyebrows quizzically. "It's not so bad. He and my mother retired to Palm Springs. My brothers and I go out to see them every Christmas."

"Oh," Kenny said stupidly. "Well, I hear it's just lovely out there." He started to peel his onion.

"Yes," Loogie replied, grabbing an onion of his own. "The climate's been quite good for my mother's arthritis."

Kenny nodded sympathetically. "Arthritis, huh." He sniffled, trying to stop his eyes from watering. The onions were starting to get to him.

"Mm hmm," Loogie murmured as he began to chop. Kenny glanced over at his face for a moment. It looked like the onions were starting to get to him too. Loogie's eyes were red and watery, his lips thin and turned down slightly at the corners.

Kenny appreciated that Loogie probably worked pretty hard on maintaining the big tough mobster guy aesthetic, what with the gold rings and the suits and the nice shoes and all, but right now he mostly just looked to Kenny like a big lonely weirdo sniffling into the onions alongside him.

After a couple weeks of working at the restaurant, Kenny was cautiously pleased with the new gig. He definitely was happy with all the hours he'd been getting. He worked long ass days from noon to close every Thursday through Sunday, slept in on Mondays, and came in Tuesdays and Wednesdays for just a few hours to work the small lunch rush and do some easy prep work. The best part was that Loogie personally paid him cash every Sunday night.

The more time he spent at Loogie's, however, the more he started to reevaluate his opinion on the whole mafia act being just an affectation. For one, the restaurant didn't seem to be nearly busy enough to support the level of success that Loogie behaved as though he'd achieved.

There was also the matter of the weird exchange that took place between Loogie and the delivery driver every Wednesday when the big supply order came in. The guy would back the truck up to the loading dock and unload all the boxes for either Paulie or Frank to put away, with the exception of a single unmarked package. This mystery package never corresponded to anything found on the delivery invoice; Kenny was positive, he'd double checked the order three weeks in a row. The driver would hand deliver the package directly to Loogie in his office, but only after the two of them exchanged an infurating series of winks and meaningful nods.

Last, and most suspicious, was the fact that Loogie wore really nice shoes for a guy who spent eighty hours a week in a dirty kitchen.

His suspicions continued to grow when a couple of weeks later Loogie asked him to supervise the Wednesday delivery. Something had come up -- Loogie wouldn't say what -- but he had to leave in a hurry.

Loogie seemed distracted and visibly upset about something. He had grabbed his coat and was halfway out the back door before he turned around and walked back inside.

"Kenny, listen," he said, standing in the back hallways with him, holding onto Kenny's upper arms with both his hands. "This is very important to me."

Kenny swallowed. "Okay, right."

"The delivery driver has a," he paused, "a very special package for me. When he comes out with it, I want the two of you to place it on the desk in my office, and then lock the door behind the two of you when you come out. Do you understand?"

Kenny nodded. "Yes, I understand. Lock the special package in your office, got it."

Loogie nodded and let go. "Right. If he has any problems, he can call me on my cell phone." He took a step away, then stepped back, making a frustrated sound. "Wait, let me write down my phone number for you." He patted down his pockets without finding anything, then darted into his office for a moment before emerging with a scrap of paper with a phone number on it.

Kenny plucked the paper from his hand. "Okay, I got it. Any problems, he can call you."

"Yes," Loogie said, walking toward the back door one last time. "You too," he said, turning to look at him. "Any problems, you can call me too."

"Okay," Kenny said, shaking his head in confusion. "What's all the fuss, though? What's he dropping off for you?"

Loogie looked frustrated and a little lost. "Let's just say, well," he started, then stopped, then started again, "Let's just say it's something highly sought after by a great number of people and leave it at that."

Kenny just shook his head. "Whatever, boss. Okay, go, I got it from here. Lock the package up, call you if I need you." He put a hand on Loogie's back and herded him gently the last few feet toward the door. "Go take care of... whatever your thing is that you're doing," he said.

Loogie hesitated, then blurted out. "It's my brother." Kenny stared at him, still lost. "I have to take care of something for my brother. I'll be back in a few hours," he said.

Kenny nodded once, serious. "Okay. We'll be here."

Loogie finally walked out, letting the door fall shut behind him. Kenny blew out an angry puff of air. "Jesus Christ," he muttered. He walked back into the kitchen to start prepping the dough for the dinner rolls.

When the delivery driver arrived, Paulie checked in the standard order like always before putting it away. After everything was out of the truck, the driver walked up to Kenny holding the familiar unmarked package. "The boss around?" he asked.

"No," Kenny said, suddenly nervous. "He had to run out to take care of something. He asked if you could just set that in his office and I'll lock it up. If you don't mind."

The driver shrugged and walked toward the office door. "Whatever, man. Fine with me."

Kenny watched him set the package down on the desk, then turned the lock on the inside of the handle, pulling the door shut as they stepped out. "So do you need me to, um, sign anything?" he asked hesitantly.

The guy looked down at his clipboard and shook his head. "No, I think the other guy already took care of it. Thanks, though," he said and walked out. Kenny heard the engine start up and soon the truck was pulling away.

Normally on a Wednesday Kenny would have left right after the lunch crowd had dispersed, but today he didn't feel like he could leave until Loogie got back. Instead he puttered around, helping to put the order away, making sure the kitchen was clean, making sure everything was stocked, cooking up a fresh batch of linguini since it looked like they were running slightly low.

It wasn't until almost quarter to five when Kenny heard somebody come in through the back door. He walked into the back but didn't see anyone, so he knocked on Loogie's door.

"Come in," Loogie called from inside.

Kenny stepped in, then shut the door behind himself. "Hey. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."

Loogie looked much better than when he had left. "Yes, thank you. Everything's fine." He glanced over at the package, which had been opened. "Everything I was expecting is inside."

"Oh," Kenny said. "Right, that's good. But I meant," he paused, not sure if it was okay to ask or not, "Is everything okay with your brother?"

Loogie swiveled around in his chair to face Kenny fully, looking surprised and a little embarrassed. "Yes, that's -- that's all fine too."

"That's good," Kenny said. "Just, you know. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know."

For one horrifying moment Kenny was afraid that Loogie was going to start crying. Instead he groaned and ran his hands over his face, rubbing his eyes for a moment before sighing. "It was just a false alarm," he said.

Kenny raised an eyebrow. "A false alarm?" he asked.

Loogie elaborated, "My oldest brother received a phone call this morning from our father. Apparently our mother was taken to the hospital out in Palm Springs."

Kenny felt his stomach drop. "Oh, no. Is she okay?"

Loogie nodded. "It turns out it's nothing. She slipped and fell while they were out at the supermarket. When my father spoke to my brother, he made it sound as if she'd broken her hip." Loogie rolled his eyes. "In fact, all she has is a big bruise. She's already been sent home. They're there now, I spoke to them both on the phone."

"Well, that's a relief," Kenny said.

Loogie looked at him and smiled. "Yeah," he said. "Listen, you didn't have to stick around just to wait for me."

"Oh," Kenny said, suddenly embarrassed. "Well, I mean, I wanted to make sure the order got put away okay, and then we were running low on linguini and I didn't think it would be right if I just left without making some more. You know, you never can tell when there's gonna be a big run on linguini," he said.

Loogie started laughing. Kenny smiled and shrugged. "Hey, it's a real problem. The unpredictability of linguini demand. It's one of those things they teach you in culinary school."

Loogie looked up at the fading light coming through the tiny window set high in his office wall. "Are you still riding that bike?" he asked.

Kenny flushed. "Yeah. It's just, there's a leak in the steering system. I mean, if I really needed to drive somewhere I could keep on putting fluid in it, but it's seems like such a waste until I get it fixed, so. Yeah."

Loogie nodded, making a face like he'd just figured something out. Kenny hoped he'd figured out how to fix his car for him, but somehow he doubted it. "Plus, you know," Kenny continued. "My car didn't technically, you know, pass inspection, so there's that issue as well."

"Well," Loogie said, standing up. "Stop up front with me for a minute before you leave."

"Okay," Kenny said, suddenly confused and apprehensive. He followed him out through the kitchen, through the service doors, and up to the front.

Loogie stopped in front of the register and pulled off a piece of register tape. Then he pulled out his phone and pulled something up on the screen before writing down an address and a phone number on the register tape. Next he opened up the drawer and counted out two hundred dollars.

"Here," he said as he handed them both to Kenny. "The phone number's for a mechanic I know. He can fix your inspection problem. And your steering problem too, probably. Just tell him Loogie Jr. sent you."

Kenny shook his head, feeling embarrassed and overwhelmed and overall just very confused. "So what's the money for?"

Loogie flushed and looked away. "Think of it as a bonus for all the extra hours and work you've been putting in."

Kenny did not feel any less confused. "Look, dude," he said. "I'm pretty much never one to refuse extra cash, but you really don't have to give me this."

Loogie drew in a deep breath like he had something huge he was trying to say. He looked hard into Kenny's eyes, blood hot in his cheeks, and mumbled, "Just get your car fixed, okay?"

Kenny folded everything up carefully and put it in his back pocket. "I will."

As he turned away to walk out through the front door, Kenny took one look back into the kitchen, hoping to catch sight of Butters before he left. Instead he saw Kolovski standing in the middle of the floor in front of the dishwasher, not doing anything, just staring directly back at him. Kenny felt the hot buzzing in his veins turn to ice.

He walked away.

The next morning, though, Kenny got up early and put enough power steering fluid in his car to get himself over to Loogie's sketchy mechanic acquaintance. Not only was the guy able to fix the leak for him at a reasonable price, he also threw in the inspection sticker for free when Kenny told they guy his friend Loogie sent him.

The next Friday, after the lunch crowd was gone, Loogie asked Kenny if he could help him with something in his office. Kenny shrugged and said, "Sure," before following him back. Loogie held the door open for Kenny to enter, then followed him in, locking the door behind them.

"Oh," Kenny said quietly, surprised. The office was small and felt smaller with the door closed. Kenny felt like he couldn't move without bumping into either Loogie's things or Loogie himself. He swallowed.

Loogie crouched down and reached under his desk, coming back up with an unmarked package that he placed on top. He then turned to Kenny and said, very seriously, "Listen. I'm about to ask you for help with something that is very important to me. This is something that I've never shared with anyone before. Okay?"

Kenny nodded, completely lost. "Okay."

Loogie took a deep breath. "Normally I would never ask you to do this for me, but right now at this point in my life, what with my family and my so-called friends, I just feel like there's no guarantee of any kind of stability any more. I just really need someone who can back me up with this, so I know that things here don't just stop and end with me, you know?"

Kenny looked hard at Loogie, trying to read his face. "Right. So you're asking me to..." he trailed off, raising his eyebrows inquisitively, trying to encourage Loogie to finish the sentence.

"To make my proprietary blend of pasta sauce with me," Loogie said, nodding.

"Oh," Kenny said, deflating a little. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to do with Loogie alone in his back office, but he was pretty sure it wasn't that. For one thing, there was no stove.

Loogie was still looking at him, his eyes growing more and more despondent. "Oh!" Kenny said. "Yeah, sure, of course I'll make sauce with you. Whatever you need, buddy." He gave Loogie a friendly pat on the arm, stroking his bicep in a completely friendly manner.

Loogie leaned forward and gathered Kenny up into a hug. "Thank you," he said quietly, holding him tight.

Kenny was the one to break the hug. He leaned back with his hands still on Loogie's arms and said, "Listen, man, I really gotta know just what the hell is in this sauce that you need to assemble part of it alone in a locked office."

"Ah," Loogie said, and turned back toward his box. He started pulling things out and placing them on the desk. "There's fresh parsley, tarragon, dill, cumin, fennel, and a tiny bit of saffron, all mixed to the exact necessary proportions."

"Huh," Kenny said. "That's it? That's the big secret?" he asked.

Loogie nodded. "Yes. The secret is a simple one, yet so easily overlooked. No cilantro." He stared off into the distance, eyes focused on something that seemed miles away to Kenny. "Absolutely no cilantro."

Kenny was coming to the sinking realization that he had willingly locked himself in a tiny room with a crazy man. He didn't particularly mind too much, though.

Loogie had him commit the proprietary blend of spices to memory before he let the two of them leave the room with only a single unmarked jar containing the mixture. From there they returned to the kitchen in order to complete the steps that Loogie and Kenny had already done together many times before.

One Sunday night, Kenny was closing up later than usual. The wait staff had already gone home, but Butters and Loogie were still there, and well as Paulie, Frank, and Kolovski.

Butters had walked the two remaining waitresses out to their cars, then come back in the front and locked the doors. Kenny could hear Butters running the vacuum out in the dining area and smiled a little, imagining Butters humming to himself while he vacuumed like Kenny sometimes used to watch him do back at his apartment.

"What the fuck's so funny, asshole?" Kenny looked up, started, to see Paulie standing a few feet away from him, brandishing a dirty ladle menacingly.

Kenny rolled his eyes, then looked past Paulie to see Kolovski barricading the service doors with one of the fifty-five gallon drums they used to dispose of their used deep fryer oil, and his comeback died on his tongue. "Nothing, man. Nothing's funny," he said, raising his hands placatingly. He started backing away slowly, keeping an eye on Paulie and Kolovski in front of him.

Paulie advanced just as slowly toward him, smacking his ladle against his palm with every step they took. Kenny started moving faster toward the back of the galley area, trying to get to the back hallway. If he could just get to the back hallway, with Loogie's office and the rear exit, he would be okay.

Paulie was starting to advance faster than Kenny was retreating. He was past the galley now. He felt along the wall behind him. He just had to get past the walk-ins, then he'd be able to turn the corner and run.

As his hand grazed the handle of the walk-in freezer, something slammed into him from the side. Kenny shouted in surprise, then fear, as whoever was on him simultaneously pressed him against the wall and pulled open the door to the walk-in freezer. He heard Frank's voice say, "Sorry, Kenny," and he dropped to the floor before Frank could push him off balance and into the freezer.

Kenny rolled away from Frank in the opposite direction of the back hall. He pushed himself to his knees in time to see Loogie come around the corner looking concerned, only to be smacked in the head by Paulie and his ladle.

Loogie dropped to his knees clutching his head, looking more annoyed than anything. "What the hell was that for?" he asked, sounding supremely irritated. Blood was starting to leak out from between his fingers and his head.

"Loogie, run!" Kenny shouted as Kolovski landed on his own back, pinning him to the ground. Loogie's eyes widened in surprise and he attempted to push off into a run for the door, but it was too late. Paulie was behind him, Frank was in front of him, and the two of them easily overpowered him and dragged him over to the center of the kitchen.

Paulie pushed the dirty oil drum back from the doors, then ducked behind the dishwasher and came back out with a length of thick rope. Frank and Kolovski pushed the two of them down so they were seated on the drum and held them there while Paulie tied them up.

Kenny was about to ask just what the hell was going on when he heard the sound of the vacuum in the front shutting off. All five of them were silent. They all could clearly hear Butters wondering out loud to himself, "Now just who in the heck could that be at this hour?" Kenny thought that he could just faintly make out a banging sound coming from the front of the restaurant.

Kolovski walked over one of the clean dish trays by the dishwasher and grabbed his own ladle. Butters' muffled voice exclaimed, "Token Black? Is that you?" Kenny felt relieved; he didn't know what Token was doing back in town, at Loogie's restaurant, at twelve thirty in the morning, but he felt pretty sure that now that Token was here he would surely help him out.

Kolovski stepped out into the dining room with his ladle. Kenny struggled against the ropes, but it was no use. Loogie groaned. "Token, Butters, watch out!" Kenny shouted. "He has a ladle!"

Paulie rolled his eyes. "Don't be stupid," he said.

Frank sighed, walking over to the the closest refrigerated cabinet, which happened to be where they kept the extra containers of Loogie's special sauce after they had been cooked. "Paulie, relax," he said as he reached inside and pulled out a ladle of his own, this one dripping with marinara sauce. "He doesn't know any better," he said, looking at Kenny. "Do you?"

Kenny twisted around to see Kolovski come back in through the swinging doors, and there he stood, holding one of the doors open. Butters followed, hanging back, pressing himself back against the door opposite Kolovski, holding that one open as well. Token walked through the double doors and paused for a moment, seemingly taking in the scene.

"Token!" Kenny shouted. "Long time no see!"

Token gave Kenny a curious look. "Hello, Kenny," he said.

"You look good!" Kenny said with enthusiasm. It was true; Token was wearing a nicely tailored suit over an expensive-looking white shirt that was opened just low enough to show off a hint of his sculpted chest. He was carrying a briefcase, and while his shoes looked like they were expensive, Kenny still thought that Loogie's shoes might have been nicer.

"Thanks," Token said. "You look," he paused, uncertain, "sweaty."

Kenny smiled at him ingratiatingly. "Is there any chance you're here to ransom me?"

Kenny heard the ladle smack him across the face before he felt it; but once he felt it, boy did he feel it. "Jesus Christ, ow," he shouted. "What the hell was that for?"

Frank looked at him sadly. "Kenny, we asked you not to be stupid."

Kenny groaned inarticulately. He probed the inside of his mouth with his tongue. "God, I think you knocked one of my filings out." He moaned softly. "What am I going to do, I don't have dental insurance."

Token frowned. "Listen, Kenny. If you just cooperate with me here, I can get you enough money to have all the dental work you want done, and then some."

Kenny probed along the outside of his lip. He found himself momentarily distracted by the taste of the marinara sauce Frank had streaked across his face. "Token, wait, I'm sorry, you want me to what?"

Token took a deep breath and tried again. "Kenny," he said. "Butters," he said, looking over his shoulder to address him where he stood, cowering against the door. "But mostly you, Kenny," he continued, staring intently at Kenny. "I am in a position right now to control an empire. I don't technically need your help in order for my plan to succeed, but it would really make my life a lot easier here if you would join me." He took a step closer to Kenny. "Join forces with me, Kenny. Help me build us an empire."

Kenny shook his head in disbelief. "This is nuts." He looked at Token accusingly. "Token, are you seriously trying to tell me that you want to become some kind of drug lord?"

"What?" Token and Loogie both shouted in unison. Kenny felt the ropes tighten around him as Loogie tried to turn to glare at him. "Is that what you think? You think I'm some kind of drug dealer?" Loogie tried to sound tough, but Kenny could hear a layer of hurt.

"No," Kenny said, unconvincingly. "Not, no, I didn't," he said. "But what the hell am I supposed to think now? I just got tied up in your kitchen by a bunch of goons wielding ladles while this guy goes on about trying to steal your empire."

Loogie shook his head. "Unbelievable." He sighed and leaned back against Kenny, letting Kenny support his weight. "Absolutely unbelievable."

Token's voice was strained, but he managed to keep his cool. "Gentlemen, allow me to explain. I am currently poised to become the leader of a commercialized pasta sauce conglomerate. I have the resources, I have the means to mass produce, I have the means to distribute; I just need the perfect recipe." He stepped closer to Loogie and Kenny, tied up together on the dirty oil drum. "And this recipe, gentlemen," he paused dramatically, "is solid gold."

Kenny blinked the sweat out of his eyes as he tried furiously to keep up. "Token, man, I know this sauce is good." He felt Loogie stiffen again behind him. "Great, even! It's amazing, okay? The sauce is amazing." Loogie relaxed slightly. "But seriously, man, there's got to be a ton of great marinara recipes. You can't possibly need this specific recipe this bad," he said, frowning. Token's expression hadn't wavered. "Right?"

Token laughed bitterly. "You're right, Kenny. There is one thing about Loogie's current sauce formula that makes his marinara different from all the rest." He placed a hand on Loogie's shoulder. "Why don't you tell our buddy here what that is, Loogie?" he asked.

Kenny could feel Loogie's shoulders shake slightly where they pressed against him when he took a deep breath. "Cilantro," Loogie said quietly.

"What was that?" Token asked.

"No cilantro," Loogie said, still speaking softly.

"Didn't catch that," Token said, shaking Loogie's shoulder slightly.

"Token, please, he said there's no cilantro in it," Butters called out from his post by the door. "We all heard him, come on."

Token's henchmen all seemed to simultaneously realize that Butters was actually standing there in a tactically advantageous position to escape. Unfortunately, Butters didn't notice it himself until Kolovski and Frank each had him securely by the arm.

Token seemed momentarily ruffled by Butters' interruption, but soon pacing back and forth menacingly in front of Loogie, coming back into his stride. "That's right, Butters, nowadays Loogie's marinara sauce doesn't contain any cilantro. It is very important to me that any marinara sauce that I produce and bottle for mass consumption doesn't contain any cilantro." Here he leaned in menacingly close to Loogie and asked, "And do you know why?"

Kenny tried to get a look at what was happening behind him, but the angle made it hard. From the corner of his eye he could see Loogie with his eyes clenched shut, vehemently shaking his head back and forth. Then he heard a smack like skin on skin, followed by Loogie's surprised groan, and Kenny was pretty sure that Loogie just got backhanded in the face.

Token continued ranting. "Oh, I think you do know, Loogie. But just in case you forgot, let me remind you. You know," he shouted, "that my buddy Clyde," then started shaking him, "can't have cilantro!" Token panted, then continued shouting, "He has a terrible, debilitating coriander allergy!"

Kenny could feel the fibers of his half-recalled memories coming back to him. He could almost remember the rumors about this place.

Token continued pacing in front of Loogie. "You knew he was allergic to coriander, but you served it to him anyway. You could have killed him, you bastard; you practically ruined his life as it is. All because you were too lazy to find out if there was any coriander in the recipe."

That was it, Kenny realized. Clyde Donovan's eighteenth birthday dinner. Kenny hadn't been invited himself, but he'd heard all the rumors at school over the days that followed.

Behind him Kenny could feel Loogie's chest heaving. His voice shook as he finally shouted back at Token, "You don't understand, I did ask!" His voice wavered, and he paused for a moment to collect himself. "I asked about every single ingredient! The guy told me he had a coriander allergy, so I made sure none of the ingredients were coriander." He paused again, and Kenny could feel him struggling. "I was just some stupid seventeen year old waiter; how was I supposed to know that coriander and cilantro are the same plant?"

Kolovski's mouth opened slightly. "Wait," he said, looking around. "They are?"

Both Loogie and Token twisted around to glare furiously at him. "How could you possibly not know that at this point?" the shouted together.

He hunched his shoulders and looked chastised. "I don't know," he mumbled. "I'm just a dishwasher, jeez."

Token growled, frustrated. "That's enough. Just do it," he said to Paulie.

"Sure thing, boss," he said. He popped the caps off of two big bottles of canola oil and walked off into the dining room, letting it pour out all over the floor.

Loogie sat up, alarmed. "What is that, what's he doing?"

"Oh, no." Kenny tried to shift himself to one side of the drum full of cooking oil, trying to gain some leverage so that maybe he and Loogie could try to stand. "It's canola oil, he's dousing the place in canola oil."

"What? Why? Why's he doing that?" Loogie asked.

"I don't know, I didn't tell him to do it," Kenny shouted. "Canola oil has the lowest smoke point out of just about every cooking oil, though."

"Wow, really?" Butters asked. "Even lower than olive oil?"

"Yes!" Kenny yelled. "Even lower than olive oil! Now for the love of God, would somebody please untie us?"

Token sighed and turned to Frank. "Could you put him in the van, now, please?" he asked.

"Sure thing, boss," Frank replied. He took hold of both Butters' arms and frog marched him out the back door. Butters called out, "Kenny!" only once as Frank dragged him away.

"Okay, come on," Token said to Kolovski. "Let's get him out of here, too."

The two of them approached Kenny and Loogie, quickly tying and untying and retying a series of ropes so that Kenny remained tied up, but no longer tied to Loogie or the fifty-five gallon drum full of dirty oil. Kenny was deeply relieved, almost to the point that his faith in Token's humanity was restored, until Kolovski dragged him all the way across the slippery floor to the beginning of the back hallway and Kenny realized that Loogie was still tied up and struggling to get free from his seat.

"What? No, come on," Kenny pleaded. "Token, don't do this, man, come on."

Token started walking back with Kenny and Kolovski. "Let's go, guys," he said.

Paulie came back through the doors into the kitchen and dropped his now empty oil jugs on the floor. He pulled a book of matches from his pocket and said, "Hurry up, folks, better move it."

Kenny tried to break free, but his shoes were coated in canola oil and he kept losing his grip. Token and Kolovski were able to drag him out the back door, down the steps, and into the back of a windowless white van, into which they followed him. The van was running, with Frank in the driver's seat.

Moments later Paulie opened the passenger side door and vaulted into the seat. "Go, go, go," he shouted at Frank, who started to drive at a safe and reasonable speed away from the restaurant.

"Can't you hurry up?" Paulie shouted at him.

Frank gripped the wheel firmly and shook his head. "Do you want to get pulled over, moron? A windowless van speeding away from the scene of a fire, come on." He glared at Paulie. "You used cooking oil, right? The place is going to burn, not explode. We're fine."

"Token, man, please, you gotta untie me," Kenny said.

Token nodded and moved next to him on the van's bench seat. "Of course, Kenny. No need for that now," he said as he pulled a pocket knife from inside his coat pocket and started cutting him free.

Kenny could hear Butters sniffling in the seat behind him. "Listen, Token. I've been through a lot tonight," Kenny said, trying to project an aura of level-headed thoughtfulness. "I never realized until now just how important having a clearly marked commercially available coriander-free marinara sauce option could be."

"Right, well. I guess that's not totally your fault," Token replied. "You weren't at Clyde's birthday dinner, were you?"

Kenny shook his head. "No, I wasn't invited. Was it really as bad as all the kids said it was?"

Token sighed. "That was probably the worst part, all the rumors. But yes, it was pretty terrible. I still don't know if I'm ready to talk about it yet," he said, visibly upset.

Butters leaned forward and patted Token on the shoulder. "It's okay, Token. I'm here for you. You'll get past this."

Token shook his head. "I can't. Not here."

Kenny looked out the window. They hadn't gone far from the restaurant, just out the back exit and down to the end of the block.

Butters sat up bravely. "Well, I was there too. I can tell you what happened." Butters steeled himself, then continued, "Clyde had a bowl of spaghetti for dinner. About halfway into it he mentioned that his mouth felt a little bit itchy, but he kept on eating. Then as they were bringing out the cake, Clyde said he didn't feel too good." Token closed his eyes and made a face like hearing this pained him. "Then all of a sudden Clyde pooped his pants."

"He ran to the bathroom," Token said. "He ran to the bathroom, but it was too late. Everyone saw."

"Token, I'm sorry," Kenny said, trying his best to look contrite, "but I'm almost positive that's not how food allergies work in the slightest."

Token narrowed his eyes at him. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

Kenny shook his head. "Clyde just has some weird butt problems, man."

"Kenny, please," Butters admonished tearfully. "Be sensitive to other people's weird butt problems. You don't know what it's like living with issues like that."

"Token," Kenny said sadly. "I'm starting to think that this plan of yours might be less about success and more about revenge."

"Kenny, please," Token said, pleading sincerely. "I can make you wealthier than you ever dreamed of. You'll be the second in command of my pasta sauce empire. I know all the ingredients. I just need your help duplicating the exact proportions needed for the recipe."

Kenny had to admit it was a little tempting. "A pasta sauce empire, huh," he said. He looked out the window and saw that they had effectively circled the block, and were now rolling to a stop a the traffic light closest to the restaurant. "I don't know, Butters, what do you think?"

Token turned back to see Butters' response. As soon as he did, Kenny leapt around him at the door, threw it open, and jumped out of the car. "I'm gonna pass!" he shouted as he slammed the door shut behind him and took off running for the restaurant.

He heard sirens in the distance, which he hoped meant that somebody had called 911. The building wasn't a fiery inferno, as he had feared, but he could see orange-black smoke through a section of the front windows. He didn't bother with the front door, instead running for the back. He tried the back door and found it open; luckily Paulie had been in such a hurry to leave that he hadn't locked Loogie in there.

Kenny had lost his hat somewhere in the struggle, so instead he pulled off his chef's jacket and put it over his mouth and nose to block the smoke. "Loogie!" he shouted as he rounded the corner into the kitchen. "Loogie, can you hear me?"

He heard Loogie call back to him, his voice too hoarse for Kenny to make out the words. He reached up and grabbed a sharp knife out of the block on his way past to get to Loogie. It seemed like the actual fire hadn't yet spread to the kitchen, but the flames that were tearing through the oil-soaked carpet in the dining room had filled the room with smoke.

When Kenny finally did find Loogie in all the smoke, Kenny almost tripped over him. He'd managed to tip the drum over onto its side so that he was lying practically on the floor. Kenny figured that was probably a good thing in terms of being able to breathe, but it also meant that now Loogie's clothes were soaked with canola oil.

The fifty-five gallon drum so far remained intact, which Kenny was thankful for. He started hacking away at the ropes holding Loogie to it and had him free within a few minutes. Kenny dropped the knife and pulled Loogie onto his feet, helping Loogie drape his arm over Kenny's back so that Kenny could half run, half drag him out of the building. They passed the coat room on their way out and Kenny knew it was probably a stupid idea, but he still made Loogie stand still for half a minute while he grabbed theirs and Butters' coats off the pegs. Then they continued their dragging run down the hallway and out into the fresh air.

They collapsed on the grass on the other side of the parking lot. The sound of sirens was deafening. From the way the front parking lot was lit up with flashing lights, Kenny assumed the fire department was right out front.

He rolled over onto his side to face Loogie. "Are you alright?" he asked. "Are you hurt?"

Loogie shook his head no, but Kenny kept patting him up and down anyway. "I'm fine," Loogie croaked out. "Just a little hoarse"

Kenny ran his hands over Loogie's face. "You probably have, like, trauma from inhaling smoke or something," he said. "You should probably go to the hospital."

Loogie nodded. "Yeah, probably," he stage whispered. "Just give me a minute, though."

"Okay," Kenny said. He ran his hands up and down Loogie's arms. He frowned mournfully. "I'm so sorry about your suit," he said.

Loogie smiled. "Don't worry about it," he whispered.

"I think it's ruined," Kenny said.

Loogie shrugged. "I'll get another one."

"Ah, jeez, and your shoes," Kenny said, rubbing his shin up and down Loogie's leg. "I think your shoes are ruined too."

Loogie closed his eyes. "Who cares," he whispered, smiling.

Kenny fisted his hand in the front of Loogie's oily shirt. "But they were such nice shoes," he said. "I feel terrible."

"I'll buy more. If it bothers you that much, I'll buy a pair for both of us." He sighed. "I must have some insurance money coming to me somewhere down the line."

Kenny sat up, careful to keep his and Loogie's legs entwined. "Hey, are you gonna rebuild the business?" Kenny asked.

Loogie lifted a shoulder in the briefest of half-shrugs. "Eeh," he muttered. "I think I'm over the restaurant game. I kind of want to do something relaxing from now on. And shorter hours would be nice."

Kenny smiled, taking the opportunity to lace their fingers together. "What's that?"

"Hmmm," Loogie said. "I always thought it looked fun to be an alpaca farmer."

Kenny laughed and wrinkled his nose. "That sounds like a ton of work. Plus long hours."

Loogie looked up at Kenny's face and raised an eyebrow. "Well, what would you suggest?" he asked softly.

Kenny looked down at Loogie's oily chest. "I don't know, I always thought owning a laundromat sounded like a relaxing sort of steady job."

"Huh," Loogie breathed. "You might be on to something there."

Kenny pushed himself into a kneeling position. "Come on," he said, grabbing hold of Loogie by the armpits and pulling. "Let's get you some help." Kenny pushed Loogie's ruined suit jacket off his shoulders and onto the ground, and helped him into his overcoat. Then he abandoned his own gross, sooty, oily mess of a chef's jacket and zipped his own jacket up over top of his bare chest.

Kenny led Loogie for a few halting steps toward the side of the building where they could see the most lights. "Wait," Loogie whispered.

"What?" Kenny asked, worried.

Loogie put both his hands on Kenny's shoulders and leaned in slowly to kiss him. Kenny kept his hands on Loogie's back, not holding him there, but holding him up.

When Loogie drew back he was smiling. "Thanks for saving me," he whispered. "Even though I know it cost you your mass produced marinara sauce revenge conglomerate."

Kenny smiled and held him tight with one arm as they made their slow way over to where the ambulance was parked. "Don't mention it." He squeezed him tight. "But I wouldn't say no if some day you offered me a controlling share of your alpaca farm venture, though," he added.

"It's a done deal," Loogie whispered happily.




If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!