Chapter IX

Chapter IX

A Chapter by Mounsell

John goes to the chili cook-off.


Most of the contestants feverishly began their cooking.  Lissie, however, remained calm.  She took some of the ingredients beside her and mixed them inside the largest of her pots.  

               Once she had placed this pot on the stove to simmer, Lissie turned to John and said, "Could you chop up these onions for me?

               He happily obliged and the two quickly returned to work.  John was given the duty of chopping up ingredients.  Lissie stood by the pot and determined the amount of each ingredient that would be added to the chili. 

               From his position at Lissie's stand, John could see Bill trying to help Martha.  His wife appeared somewhat flustered by Bill's inability at cooking.  She soon dismissed him and he walked over to Lissie's table.

               "Hi, Bill," Lissie said, "Did Mrs. Hodge kick you off her team?"

               "That's a pretty accurate description," Bill answered, "She seems to have forgotten that I can't cook."

               "I thought you cooked barbecue," Lissie noted.

               Bill smiled and replied, "I barbecue.  There's a difference between that and cooking."

               "Sorry, Bill."

               "It's quite alright."

               Bill turned towards John

               "So does Lissie have you on tomato duty?"

               John looked down at the fruit below his knife and replied, "Yeah.  She says I'm pretty good at it, too."

               "You're lucky.  My wife won't even let me turn on the stove in our kitchen.  She's afraid I'll burn down the whole house."

               As John laughed at Bill's remark, he could hear Bruner warning the contests that they only had fifteen more minutes to finish cooking.

               Lissie remained calm and called for John to cut up more onion.  He handed her the requested ingredient and she dropped a small portion of it in the boiling pot.  After Bruner announced that only five minutes remained of the cooking period, Lissie brought her pot to a simmer and poured three bowls of the chili.

               John watched as the head judge walked to the microphone once more and announced that the cooking period was over.  Lissie turned the stove off and Bill walked back to Martha's stand. 

               The three judges began to make their way to the first stand.  Upon reaching it, they sampled the chili of the contestant.  Each judge took careful notes and moved on to the next stand.  When the trio finally came around to Lissie's table, they took longer tastes of her chili than that of the other contestants. 

               "Excellent as always, Lissie" Neil Bruner remarked.  He made a few short notes on his notepad and walked to a table at the front of the room.  The other two judges, whom Lissie named as Dianne Young and Sarah Wagner, trailed him.  They were much less conversational towards her and took longer notes.

               After the judges had conversed for several minutes, Bruner collected their notes and walked to the microphone.  He looked over the papers one final time, mouthing words and numbers to himself.  He took the microphone from the stand and tapped it. After ensuring that it was on, he announced the winners of the cook-off.

               "In third place," he began, "We have Matthew Daniels."

               Daniels, a man much older than the other contestants, walked slowly to the head judge and accepted the small yellow ribbon that was handed to him.  As Daniels walked back to his stand, Bruner announced the recipient of second place.

               "In second place, we have Martha Hodge."

               As Martha walked up to accept the award, she looked at Lissie and smiled.  Lissie smiled back.  Martha, red ribbon in hand, turned away from Bruner and returned to her stand.              Bruner glanced over his stack of papers.  When one seemed to catch his eye, he brought it directly in front of his eyes.  He stared at it for some time before placing it among the other papers of the stack. 

               He took the microphone in front of him.  Loudly and clearly, he announced the name of the winning contestant.

               "Lissie Grant."

               Lissie smiled back at John and ran up to accept the blue ribbon that Bruner held in his hand. 

               The head judge exchanged a few pleasant words with her and said into the microphone, "Let's give Lissie a hand, everyone!"

               As the audience in the room looked towards Lissie and applauded, a wide smile spread across her face.  This smile and the audience's applause both faded as Bruner took the microphone once more.

               "Now," he began, "I know this is the part most of you have been waiting for."

               A few contestants nodded their heads in agreement.

               Bruner looked at John and said, "For those who are at their first Salton Chili Cook-Off, this is the time where the contestants get to serve their chili out to anybody."

               Nearly all the people in the room began to shuffle towards Lissie and Martha's stands.  Both women appeared eager to serve them and began to prepare more bowls of chili.  The line that had formed in front of Martha's stand quickly disappeared while the queue in front of Lissie's extended to the far wall of the room. 

               "Hey, John," Lissie said, "Can you help me serve the people?"

               John replied, "Sure, Lissie," and grabbed a ladle from her stand. 

               The line before them quickly split into two groups.

Once Martha's pot was emptied, she and Bill moved to Lissie's line.  Within minutes, they stood in front of Lissie, ready for her to fill their bowls with chili.

               With a sincere smile, Martha said "Congratulations, Lissie."

               "Thank you, Martha.  I'm sorry you didn't win this one.  Maybe next year."

               Martha tasted Lissie's chili and replied, "If you make it like this next year, probably not."

               Lissie, whose line had disappeared, watched as Martha left her bowl on the stand and left the civic center with Bill.

Lissie waited for John's line to thin out before talking to him. 

               "John," she began, "I was wondering if you could help me carry my stuff back to the restaurant."

               John, who had just finished serving the last person, looked over to Lissie and replied, "I was planning on it."

               She thanked him and began to collect the dishes on their stand.  John helped her and the two were able to clear the stand within a few minutes.  Once they finished, John looked around the room and saw the judges and the other contestants had already left. 

               John grabbed the pots and pans and waited for Lissie.  Lissie was able to quickly dispose of the empty boxes.  When she had done this, Lissie grabbed the remaining boxes of ingredients and followed John to the door.

               On the way to the restaurant, Lissie turned to John and asked, "So what did you think?"

               John smiled and answered, "I think it was a lot of fun.  The food was great."

               "I'm glad you enjoyed it.  Did you get to try some of my chili?"

               "I'm sorry, Lissie, but no."

               "Don't worry, John," Lissie replied, "I'll make some for you once we get to the restaurant."

               "You don't have to do that for me."

               "No, John, you have to try it."

               John caved and agreed to her request.

               After a short walk, they came to the restaurant.  John waited as Lissie searched her pockets for the key.  Unable to find it with her free hand, she placed the boxes on top of John's load and searched further.  She reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out the key.  She opened the door just as John's load began to slip from his hands.  Lissie saw this and rushed to catch the falling boxes. 

               When she had managed to save all the boxes from hitting the ground, Lissie turned to John and told him, "Sorry about giving you so much stuff to carry."

               John placed his load on one of the restaurant's tables before speaking.

               "It's quite alright, Lissie," he answered, "Do you usually carry all this stuff by yourself each year?"

               Lissie placed the boxes of ingredients on a separate table and replied, "I always took multiple trips."

               Before John could speak further, Lissie picked up several boxes of the ingredients and walked into the kitchen.  He waited patiently in one of the clean booths.

               After some time, Lissie returned with a steaming bowl in her hands.  She placed it on John's table.  He took the utensil handed to him by Lissie and lifted a spoonful of chili to his lips.  Putting the chili in his mouth, he could immediately tell why it had won so many contests. 

               Lissie waited eagerly for John to finish.

               Almost immediately after he set his bowl down, she asked him, "What do you think?"

               John, struck by the dish's flavor, replied, "It's amazing." 

               Lissie smiled and replied, "I knew you would like it."

               She took John's empty bowl and returned it to the kitchen.  She walked back into the dining room a few moments and sat across from John.  She sat in quiet thought before asking, "John, not to sound intrusive, but what is your money situation like?"

               He checked the contents of his wallet and replied, "I have enough money to get to the next town on my route.  I'll have to find work once I get there, though."

               "Why don't you work for me?  I can't pay you a living wage, but the tips are pretty good."

               Enthusiastically, John replied, "That sounds great!  When can I start?"

               Lissie's face lit up with John's answer.

               "Well, since tomorrow is Saturday, and the diner is closed on weekends, so you can start on Monday."

               John thanked Lissie for her generosity and walked to the door.

               As he stood by the entrance, John turned to face her and asked, "What time should I get here?"

               Lissie, still sitting in the booth, answered loudly, "Eight o'clock sharp."

               John wished her a good day and walked out into the dusty street.

© 2012 Mounsell

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Added on May 23, 2012
Last Updated on June 2, 2012
Tags: salt, city, sea, truck, salton, guitar, song, songs, concert, performance, yawn, sleep, paris, chili



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