Searching For Jenna

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Chapter Twenty-six

Elliot looked around the newly re-opened restaurant and smiled. Mark and Dana had been right about him getting to be the head cook. In fact, Sandy Cannon had let him help re-design the kitchen.

Sandy had bought an old building and renovated it into the restaurant. When Elliot started working there, he realized that the kitchen design was poorly planned out. Sandy had let the contractor talk her into making the kitchen small, so there would be more seating room. Elliot convinced her that giving up some of the seating for a bigger and better-organized kitchen would be worth the trouble because of the clientele his new menu would draw.

It was quite a relief for Elliot to no longer be under Russo’s thumb. Here he was free to let his creative style flow, as well as mastering cooking standards, like fish frying and making biscuits. He was also going to get to experiment with cooking wild game; something Russo would never have considered.

The building Sandy bought was on US Highway Sixty. The restaurant was fashioned in the historic tavern style. It was just within the Morehead city limits so she could offer alcohol. Sandy had a stone mason cover the outside of the building with local limestone in a fashion similar to the Talbott Tavern in Bardstown. The base of the building was covered with piles of limestone, making it look like it was almost cut out of the rock.

She named the tavern the Midland Stone Tavern because it was located on U. S. Highway 60 which is a part of the historical Midland Highway that travels from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Brenda, Arizona, and because it was built from limestone quarried locally.

The place definitely made you feel like you had stepped into the late eighteen hundreds but also had a Twenty-first Century appeal with phone charging stations built into the bar.

Elliot’s changes to the kitchen fit perfectly with Sandy’s vision for the restaurant. Sandy had even thought about having the staff dress in the old world style, but none of the staff she’d hired had been willing to dress in period costumes.

Working with Sandy was so easy and fun that Elliot had almost forgotten the real reason he was here. He was watching for the men who hunted with his father. Elliot was also working on bringing the Cobra’s leadership to the restaurant, or at least get them to request the restaurant to cater a party for them, by creating some delicious wild game dishes. Elliot knew that his father liked to eat what he’d killed, but if you didn’t know how to cook wild game properly, it was very funky.

The new kitchen gave Elliot more space to cook and create. The seating was rearranged to give the restaurant an intimate atmosphere. Elliot’s new menu brought people from all walks of life including many of the Morehead State University students, as well as local fisherman and hunters. The restaurant was a perfect place to take a date, or to gather with friends and family. The fisherman and hunters were their target clientele because this was the group that could potentially produce the mysterious Cobra 1, leader of the Cobra Cartel.

Sandy had long term plans for the restaurant since it was part of her retirement plan. She planned on staying long after the FBI’s sting operation against the leadership of the Cobra Cartel was completed.

They already had hunters asking them to prepare their wild game meat for long term storage during the hunting season. Sandy was happy to oblige the hunters, knowing that this could create long term income that would supplement her pension check.

One of the guys Sandy hired to work at the bar was a twenty-six-year-old smartass named Steven Hardin. Elliot could barely stand the guy, but Steven is a local fisherman and hunter. When Steven interviewed with Sandy, he said he was looking for a job he could do when he wasn’t hunting or fishing. For Sandy, Steven could potentially be a gold mine. He could fish all day with his buddies and provide the restaurant with the freshest local fish the restaurant could get. Steven also had a lot of connections in the local hunting and fishing community. Sandy was confident they could get the information they needed about Cobra 1 from Steven, who probably knew the guy and had no idea that he was a leader of a human trafficking cartel.

Based on what the FBI knew about Cobra 1, he came across as just another good ole’ boy. But, they were convinced that he worked in law enforcement, or had enough knowledge of the legal system to know how to get his victims without raising too many flags. The cartel had been run perfectly until too many girls from the same area went missing and had been arrested by the same police officer, Michael Matthews.

That triggered the FBI’s interest. Almost four years of investigation had gained the FBI a lot of information, but little evidence that could be used for a conviction of anyone except a few minor players. The FBI wanted to cut off the head of the snake. They were close.

Mark and Dana were convinced the Cartel’s Fourth of July party was going to be their chance to bust the ring wide open. They just had to find out when and where the party would be held. They knew it was going to be somewhere near Cave Run Lake. The problem was that the lake covered eight thousand, two hundred and seventy acres, and there were a lot of houses and cabins all over the area. Mark and Dana believed Sandy was right about Steven Hardin’s ability to provide them information without realizing he was aiding them. Steven seemed to know everything that went on in the hunting and fishing community in Eastern Kentucky.

* * *

Elliot was prepping the kitchen with a culinary student from Maysville Institute of Culinary Arts, Elliot’s alumni. The student, Jason Wu is an excellent worker and talented cook. Elliot hopes he’ll be able to continue to work weekends when he goes back to school in the fall.

Steven walked in through the kitchen entrance to the restaurant. “Hey, girls, what’s cookin’?”

Steven drawled. At six-foot tall and two hundred-fifty pounds, Steven was a huge man. His military cut dark blond hair was glistening with sweat when Steven took off his Bass Pro shop ball cap to wipe his forehead with a rag Steven pulled out of the back pocket of his baggy jeans. His red t-shirt had sweat stains everywhere.

“Looks like you are,” Jason commented. Jason was a small man, only five foot, five inches. He was very laid back and let very little bother him. He ignored all of Steven’s racists, sexist, and prejudice comments.

Elliot had a harder time ignoring Steven. He knew it was because Steven’s snide comments hit home more than Elliot wanted to admit. Elliot wondered if he didn’t have the secrets he did if Steven’s comments would bother him.

“Sandy said a beer shipment arrived earlier. She wants you to get the coolers restocked for tonight’s dinner crowd,” Elliot said as Steven headed to the bar area to prep for the opening.

Sandy had originally opened the restaurant for lunch and dinner, but they hadn’t had much of a lunch crowd so now they were only open for dinner. They opened at three so the people who wanted an early dinner could come in. They were always busy between five and eight. More often than not, they had a line of people waiting to get in.

Today, they had just an hour before the doors would be open and Sandy insisted that the staff be ready to hit the floor running.

“Hey Elliot and Jason,” Sandy said as she strolled in from the office located at the very back of the restaurant. She took one look at Steven and asked, “You run here from your house on the lake?”

“Not quite,” Steven said with a rakish grin. “I had to help a friend load some kegs on his truck for a party this weekend. Plus the air conditioning is out in my truck.”

Sandy wrinkled her nose when he walked past her to bring the beer out to the bar’s coolers. “I’m glad you’re already kind of stinky. I’ve got a fresh load of bass and trout coming in about fifteen minutes. You can help Jason bring them in to be prepped.”

“Sure,” Steven said and went back to the big cooler for more beer.

“I’ve got a few kids coming in for interviews,” Sandy told Elliot when Jason and Steven went to the back dock to get the fish. “I’m hoping to get three or four more servers.”

“That’s a good idea,” Elliot agreed. “Some of the ones we have now are not that reliable.”

“I’ve noticed,” Sandy said.

“I’m’ going to get back to getting ready,” Elliot said. “I need to get some things cookin’.”

“Okay, hon,” Sandy said. “I’m going to help Steven at the bar tonight, so if you need me, I’ll be out there.”

“Got it, boss,” Elliot said as he turned on the gas stove and got to work.

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