The three girls each lifted a fry with two fingers, inspecting them closely as they sat at the bar.
To be expected, Alex supposed. The new fries were a narrower cut that the bar’s normal steak fries and definitely greasier.
“I don’t know about this,” Charlotte said carefully. “I’ve never had duck fries before. These look weird.”
“It’s just cut different. And they’re delicious,” Alex assured them. “I used to inhale these back in Oregon. We tried them back in the kitchen, and the cooks loved them.”
“Where do you even GET duck fat?” Riley asked.
Steph still looked hesitant. “Eight bucks is a lot to charge for one order of fries, babe,” she told her. “I could get a burger and regular fries for that much.”
“Tonight is just to get people to try them,” Alex told her. “First samples are free. If enough people like them, we’ll make them an upgrade for the burgers.”
“Oh, Jesus, just eat one.”
The three girls looked at each other and shrugged, before biting into the fries. Alex immensely enjoyed their faces lighting up as the taste hit them.
“Holy FUCK those are good!” Riley proclaimed as she took two more.
“I need ketchup.” Steph looked at Alex. “Like, they’re amazing, and I’m going to devour them all, so I want ketchup to enjoy them with.”
“Mm.” Charlotte chewed her new bite quickly before swallowing. “How many calories are in here?”
Alex shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“Not right now. Can I have another order?”
“Same,” Riley quickly said as she ate more. “I’m getting fat tonight.”
The door opened as Alex was putting in the orders, Pike entering the bar. He blinked at the sight of the girls inhaling the new fries. “What’s going on here?”
“Hey, Pike.” Alex smiled at him. “You want a free sample of our new duck fries?”
The sheriff’s eyes lit up. “You have duck fries?”
“For the moment.”
“Yes. Please.” He took a seat right next to Steph. “I haven’t had them in years.”
Alex retreated into the kitchen, returning with a small pre-made basket of their new fries and a bottle of ketchup for Steph. Pike ate one almost as soon as she put it down in front of him. “Mmm,” he sighed as he chewed and swallowed. “Just as good as I remember.”
“Where’d you have them last?”
“At a bar in Texas a few years back, when my brother and I were on a road trip to New Orleans.” He ate another one. “Man, I missed these. Are they going to be a regular thing?”
Alex shrugged. “Depends on how many people order them. We only brought one thing of duck fat, so this is basically the trial run.”
“How much for a full side order?”
He shrugged. “Screw it. Put me in for one.”
“Sure thing.” She looked over at Steph just as her girlfriend finished her last one. “What about you?”
“Mm hm.” Steph wiped her face with a napkin. “If ordering more of these will make them a regular thing, then please.”
“Man, that was fast.”
Alex nodded, as she looked at their remaining stock of duck fries with Ryan. She’d just partitioned out the latest orders, revealing that less than half of the fries were left. “I know. They’re asking for more pretty much as soon as they bite the first one.”
“Clearly.” Ryan looked at the cook. “How many more can we make with what we have?”
“We’ll be two-thirds through the duck fat oil once we make this next batch,” he said sadly. “If people keep ordering them like they are now, they won’t last more than a couple of nights.”
“And three people have asked if they can sub out these fries instead of our normal fries with their burgers,” Alex added. “They’re a hit. And it’s definitely the sort of thing you’d look for in a small-town bar and grill like this place. We might be the only place within a hundred miles that serve these.”
Ryan absorbed all that with a nod. “How much did we make on them tonight?”
Alex was ready for the question. She pulled out her notepad and showed him the number she’d gotten from their serving program a few minutes prior.
“They’re a fucking hit, dude. And if we can get the oil in bulk…”
“All right, all right,” he acquiesced. “I’ll call our supplier tomorrow. Hopefully we can buy this stuff from them.”
“Cool.” Alex scooped up two of the prepared orders. “Can you bring those to table twelve?”
Ryan followed her out as she got back behind the bar, putting fries in front of Eleanor and Steph. “How many of these orders are you planning to eat?” she asked her girlfriend.
“Until I’m full.” Steph took two of the new fries. “These might be my new favorite thing. Do you want me to mention them when I do your ads on the air?”
“Yes. But probably not yet,” Alex added. “We’re almost out. Ryan is going to talk to our suppliers tomorrow about getting the duck fat oil in bulk, but it’s kind of an odd thing, and they may not have it.”
“So this is going to go on the regular menu?” Pike inquired as he sipped his beer.
“Based on how they’ve been selling tonight? Definitely.”
“Please put it on MyBlock when you get them in. I don’t think I can go another few years without another order.”
Alex nodded at the empty plate in front of him. “You want another one?”
“No. If I have to let out my duty belt any further, it’s not gonna be a good look.”
“Though I suppose if you have to, these are as good a reason as you can get,” Eleanor allowed as she popped a new fry into her mouth. “So, Alex, are you going tomorrow?”
A confused look came over her face. “Going? Going to what?”
“The town hall meeting.”
“There’s a town hall meeting?”
Eleanor looked sideways at a wincing Pike. “I thought you said you were going to tell her.”
“I totally meant to. But I got distracted by the duck fries.” He sighed as he looked at Alex. “There’s a town hall meeting tomorrow afternoon with SubTerra.”
Alex blinked. “There is?”
“Yes. Everyone on the council is going to be there, and it’s an open invitation to the rest of Haven Springs. They’ll be doing a forum to answer questions and address concerns.” He rested both elbows on the bar. “An announcement is going up on social media tomorrow morning. But given everything that happened to you, we wanted to give you a heads up in case you had to re-plan your day to be there.”
“Ah.” Alex inhaled slowly. “Well, I guess I better-”
She blinked as she glanced sideways, noticing Ryan beside her for the first time. “Why the hell not?”
“Because you signed paperwork saying that you wouldn’t interfere with their mining operations, remember?”
“What does that have to do with the town hall?”
“If you say anything bad about SubTerra, they could take it as voiding the terms of your settlement,” Ryan warned her. “They could force you to pay them back.”
“I thought that was only if it had to do with her dad and Gabe,” Steph countered from her seat.
“A good lawyer can take whatever she says and twist it to mean whatever they feel like.” Ryan looked back at Alex. “You shouldn’t go. It might not end well.”
“But I want to know what SubTerra says,” she objected. “I don’t want to speak, I just want to listen.”
“You could get dragged into an argument. I’ve seen it happen.” Ryan looked at Pike. “Especially to you. How many times have you had to interject during these things?”
The sheriff exhaled through his nose. “A few,” he admitted. “But that’s mostly because I’m a cop, and I have to answer law enforcement stuff at these meetings. Plus, I’m a member of the town council, so I don’t really have a choice anyway. Nobody’s going to force Alex to say anything.”
“We all know the terms of her settlement,” Eleanor reminded him. “We’re not going to make her to stand up and talk about stuff she shouldn’t.”
“What if somebody else does?” Ryan asked. “I’ve seen these things become a free-for-all. And given how heated the town still is at Typhon, it wouldn’t shock me if there were a few outbursts at the meeting.”
“Then we put an end to it,” Eleanor said shortly. “I think the five council members are capable of shutting down anyone who gets ornery.”
“Five?” Alex asked, confused. “I thought it was just you two, Charlotte, and Duckie.”
“Jed was the fifth,” Pike reminded her. “He was in charge. Though now that he’s gone, his role has passed to Eleanor.”
“Oh. Then… who’s the fifth now?”
Eleanor and Pike both silently looked beside her. Alex took the hint, glancing at the park ranger.
“… they asked me to take my dad’s spot,” Ryan said after a few seconds.
“When the hell were you going to tell us?” Steph asked incredulously. “You keeping it a secret for something?”
“No, they just asked me this morning,” Ryan answered quickly. “I haven’t had the chance to talk to you guys about it yet.”
“Why do you guys need a fifth person?” Alex looked back at Eleanor. “Is there going to be another vote?”
She nodded. “For the spot Typhon was going to mine,” she explained. “SubTerra wants to begin operations there as well. But they need a majority vote from us.”
“And I can already tell you that as a park ranger, my vote is going to be ‘no’,” Ryan stated.
Neither Eleanor nor Pike seemed surprised. “It’s your vote to cast, Ryan,” Eleanor assured him. “Though unless they announce something devastating, I would expect to be in the minority. A new mining location means more jobs, which would have serious economic benefits for this town; we can hardly ignore that.”
“Duckie’s probably going to vote ‘yes’ too,” Pike added.
“What about you and Charlotte?” Alex looked at him. “What are you guys doing?”
“Mm.” Pike took a sip of his beer before answering. “I won’t speak for Charlotte, you’ll have to ask her. But Eleanor makes a good point, more jobs mean more money in the community. We might even be able to hire a second full-time sheriff. I still want to hear what SubTerra has to say, but I’m leaning ‘yes’.”
Two ‘yes’ votes, one ‘no’ vote, and one ‘likely’, Alex tallied. Eleanor’s right, SubTerra probably has it in the bag.
“I’m going,” she stated.
Ryan gave her a look. “Alex-”
“I’m not going to speak. And if someone starts trying to drag me into something, I’ll just leave. But I want to hear what they have to say.” She turned back to Eleanor. “When does it start?”
“Eight o’clock tomorrow evening. And it’ll last for about an hour.”
“We’ll have to shut down the bar,” Ryan warned.
“Then we’ll shut it down. It sounds like this is going to be a bigger event anyway.” Alex nodded. “I’ll see all of you guys there.”