The fast-feet men would go home with sixteen dollars; if lucky, they might have earned the same at lunch or breakfast.
A trolley with three fresh-cooked turkeys, Peter said, was already highballing from a service elevator. The preparation-room cooks fell upon it. The assistant cook who had brought the three returned for more.
Fifteen portions from a turkey. Rapid dissection with surgeon's skill.
To each diner the same portion: white meat, dark meat, dressing. Twenty portions to a serving tray. Rush the tray to a service counter. Fresh trolleys of vegetables, steaming in like ships converging.
The sous-chef's dispatch of messengers had depleted the serving team.
Andre Lemieux stepped in, replacing the absent two. The team picked up speed, moved faster than it had before.
Plate . . . meat first vegetable . . . second . gravy . . . slide the plate
. . . cover on! A man for each move; arms, hands, ladies moving together.
A meal each second . . - faster still! In front of the serving counter, a line of waiters, becoming long.
Across the kitchen, the pastry chef opening refrigerators; inspecting, selecting, slamming the doors closed. Main kitchen pastry cooks running to help. Draw on reserve desserts. More on the way from basement freezers.
Amid the urgency, a moment of incongruity.
A waiter reported to a captain, the captain to the head waiter, the head waiter to Andre Lemieux.
"Chef, there's a gentleman says he doesn't like turkey. May he have rare roast beef?"
A shout of laughter went up from the sweating cooks.
But the request had observed protocol correctly, as Peter knew. Only the senior chef could authorize any deviation from a standard menu.
A grinning Andre Lemieux said, "He may have it, but serve him last at his table."
That, too, was an old kitchen custom. As a matter of public relations, most hotels would change standard fare if asked, even if the substitute meal was costlier. But invariably - as now - the individualist must wait until those seated near him had begun eating, a precaution against others being inspired with the same idea.
Now the line of waiters at the serving counter was shortening. To most guests in the Grand Ballroom - latecomers included - the main course had been served. Already bus boys were appearing with discarded dishes. There was a sense of crisis passed. Andre Lemieux surrendered his place among the servers, then glanced questioningly at the pastry chef.
The latter, a matchstick of a man who looked as if he seldom sampled his own confections, made a circle with thumb and forefinger. "All set to go, Chef."
Andre Lemieux, smiling, rejoined Peter. "Monsieur, it seems we 'ave, as you say it, fielded the ball."
"I'd say you've done a good deal better. I'm impressed."
The young Frenchman shrugged. "What you have seen was good. But it is one part only of the work. Elsewhere we do not look so well. Excuse me, monsieur." He moved away.
The dessert was bombe aux marrons, cherries flammes. It would be served with ceremony, the ballroom lights dimmed, the flaming trays held high.
Now, waiters were lining up before the service doors. The pastry chef and helpers were checking arrangement of the trays. When touched off, a central dish on each would spring to flame. Two cooks stood by with lighted tapers.
Andre Lemieux inspected the line.
At the entry to the Grand Ballroom, the head waiter, an arm raised, watched the sous-chef's face.
As Andre Lemieux nodded, the head waiter's arm swept down.
The cooks with tapers ran down the line of trays, igniting them. The double service doors were flung back and fastened. Outside, on cue, an electrician dimmed the lights. The music of an orchestra diminished, then abruptly stopped. Among guests in the great hall, a hum of conversation died.
Suddenly, beyond the diners, a spotlight sprang on, framing the doorway from the kitchen. There was a second's silence, then a fanfare of trumpets. As it ended, orchestra and organ swung together, fortissimo, into the opening bars of The Saints. In time to the music, the procession of waiters, with flaming trays, marched out.
Peter McDermott moved into the Grand Ballroom for a better view. He could see the overflow, unexpected crowd of diners, the great room tightly packed.
Oh, when the Saints; Oh, when the Saints; Oh, when the Saints go marching in . . . From the kitchen, waiter after waiter, in trim blue uniform, marched out in step. For this moment, every last man had been impressed.
Some, in moments only, would return to complete their work in the other banquet hall. Now, in semidarkness, their flames reared up like beacons
. . . Oh when the Saints; Oh, when the Saints; Oh, when the Saints go marching in ... From the diners, a spontaneous burst of applause, changing to handclapping in time with the music as waiters encircled the room. For the hotel, a commitment had been met as planned. No one outside the kitchen could know that minutes earlier a crisis had been encountered and overcome ... Lord, I want to be in that number, When the Saints go marching in . . . As waiters reached their tables, the lights went up to renewed applause and cheers.
Andre Lemieux had come to stand beside Peter. "That is the all for tonight, monsieur. Unless, perhaps you 'ave a wish for the cognac, in the kitchen I have the small supply."
"No, thank you." Peter smiled. "It was a good show. Congratulations!"
As he turned away, the sous-chef called after him, "Good night, monsieur.
And do not forget."
Puzzled, Peter stopped. "Forget what?"
"What I have already said. The 'ot-shot 'otel, monsieur, that you and I could make."
Half amused, half thoughtful, Peter threaded his way through the banquet tables toward the ballroom outer doorway.
He had gone most of the distance when he was aware of something out of place. He stopped, glancing around, uncertain what it was. Then abruptly he realized. Dr. Ingram, the fiery little president of the Dentistry Congress, should have been presiding at this, one of the main events of the convention. But the doctor was neither at the president's position nor anywhere else at the long head table.
Several delegates were table hopping, greeting friends in other sections of the room. A man with a hearing aid stopped beside Peter. "Swell turnout, eh?"
"It certainly is. I hope you enjoyed your dinner."
"By the way," Peter said. "I was looking for Dr. Ingram. I don't see him anywhere."
"You won't." The tone was curt. Eyes regarded him suspiciously. "You from a newspaper?"
"No, the hotel. I met Dr. Ingram a couple of times.
"He resigned. This afternoon. If you want my opinion, he behaved like a damn fool."
Peter controlled his surprise. "Do you happen to know if the doctor is still in the hotel?"
"No idea." The man with the hearing aid moved on.
There was a house phone on the convention mezzanine.
Dr. Ingram, the switchboard reported, was still shown as registered, but there was no answer from his room. Peter called the chief cashier. "Has Dr. Ingram of Philadelphia checked out?"
"Yes, Mr. McDermott, just a minute ago. I can see him in the lobby now."
"Send someone to ask if he'll please wait. I'm on my way down."
Dr. Ingram was standing, suitcases beside him, a raincoat over his arm, when Peter arrived.
"What's your trouble now, McDermott? If you want a testimonial to this hotel, you're out of luck. Besides which, I've a plane to catch."
"I heard about your resignation. I came to say I'm sorry.
"I guess they'll make out." From the Grand Ballroom two floors above, the sound of applause and cheering drifted down to where they stood. "It sounds as if they have already."
"Do you mind very much?"
"No." The little doctor shifted his feet, looking down, then growled,
"I'm a liar. I mind like hell. I shouldn't, but I do."
Peter said, "I imagine anyone would."
Dr. Ingram's head snapped up. "Understand this, McDermott: I'm no beaten rug. I don't need to feel like one. I've been a teacher all my life, with plenty to show for it: Good people I've brought on - Jim Nicholas for one, and others, procedures carrying my name, books I've written that are standard texts. AR that's solid stuff. The other - he nodded in the direction of the Grand Ballroorn - that's frosting."
"I didn't realize . .
"All the same, a little frosting does no harm. A fellow even gets to like it. I wanted to be president. I was glad when they elected me. It's an accolade from people whose opinion you value. If I'm honest, McDermott - and God knows why I'm telling you this - it's eating my heart out, not being up there tonight." He paused, looking up, as the sounds from the ballroom were audible once more.
"Once in a while, though, you have to weigh what you want against what you believe in." The little doctor grunted. "Some of my friends think I've behaved like an idiot."
"It isn't idiotic to stand up for a principle."
Dr. Ingram eyed Peter squarely. "You didn't do it, McDermott, when you had the chance. You were too worried about this hotel, your job."
"I'm afraid that's true."
"Well, you've the grace to admit it, so I'll tell you something, son.
You're not alone. There've been times I haven't measured up to everything I believe. It goes for all of us. Sometimes, though, you get a second chance. If it happens to you - take it."
Peter beckoned a bellboy. "I'll come with you to the door."
Dr. Ingram shook his head. "No need for that. Let's not crap around, McDermott. I don't love this hotel or you either."
The bellboy looked at him inquiringly. Dr. Ingram said, "Let's go."
In the late afternoon, near the cluster of trees in which the Jaguar was hidden, Ogilvie slept again. He awoke as dusk was settling, the sun an orange ball nudging a ridge of hills toward the west. The heat of the day had changed into a pleasant evening coolness. Ogilvie hurried, realizing it would soon be time to go.
He listened to the car radio first. There appeared to be no fresh news, merely a repetition of what he had heard earlier. Satisfied, he snapped the radio off.
He returned to the stream beyond the small clump of trees and freshened himself, splashing water on his face and head to banish the last vestiges of drowsiness. He made a hasty meal from what was left of his supply of food, then refilled the Thermos flasks with water, leaving them on the rear seat of the car along with some cheese and bread. The makeshift fare would have to sustain him through the night. Until daylight tomorrow he intended to make no unnecessary stops.
His route, which he had planned and memorized before leaving New Orleans, lay northwest through the remainder of Mississippi. Then he would traverse the western shoulder of Alabama, afterward heading due north through Tennessee and Kentucky. From Louisville he would turn diagonally west across Indiana, by way of Indianapolis. He would cross into Illinois near Hammond, thence to Chicago.
The remaining journey spanned seven hundred miles. Its entire distance was too great for a single stint of driving, but Ogilvie estimated he could be close to Indianapolis by daybreak where he believed he would be safe. Once there, only two hundred miles would separate him from Chicago.
Darkness was complete as he backed the Jaguar out of the sheltering trees and steered it gently toward the main highway. He gave a satisfied grunt as he turned northward on U.S. 45.