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Bone in the throat, p.11
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       Bone in the Throat, p.11

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  Now, much later, he looked out the open window of the apart ment, searching the street for the van. It was gone. Tommy wondered if he could sleep. He didn't think so. Too much to think about. Was somebody really following him?

  He lit a new cigarette from the end of the one he was smoking and ground the butt into an overflowing ashtray on the floor. His foot stubbed up against an empty beer bottle and sent it rolling under the bed. Cheryl stirred in her sleep. The cat woke, got up, changed position, and curled up again, her head on Cheryl's arm. Now that, thought Tommy, is peace of mind. Not a lot to worry about in the cat universe. Should I sleep or should I eat? That's all a cat had to worry about. Tommy couldn't do either of those things lately. . . Freddy's bleeding head, the apron as it soaked through with blood, Freddy's mouth opening and closing the way you see goldfish do . . . the images followed Tommy around. He was afraid to dream.

  And now there was the van. It had been following him. They were waiting for him outside his apartment. Who could it be? It wouldn't be anybody from Sally's crew, Tommy told himself. Even Skinny—who obviously had doubts about sharing knowledge of a murder with Tommy—even Skinny wouldn't follow him around in a fucking van! If they were mad at Tommy, if they had a problem with him, worried about him keeping his mouth shut, they wouldn't shadow him in a van . . . They'd just call him up on the phone, tell him his mother was sick; invite him to a ball game; or have Harvey call him in to work in the early morning. On the way someone would step up to him and shoot him in the head.

  No. It couldn't be Sally. Tommy tried to reassure himself. Sally was his uncle, for Chrissakes! Sally fancied himself his older brother, his surrogate father, regardless of how Tommy felt about it. He had no need to follow Tommy around in a van. He knew where Tommy lived. He knew where he worked. He could come over any time, or send somebody. He could call him on the phone, arrange to meet Tommy somewhere, that would be all it took. "Hey, Tommy!" somebody would call out to him in the street, "How ya doin'? Ain't seen, you in ages . . . " Maybe somebody Tommy knew as a kid, somebody he'd played dodgeball with in second grade, an old friend. He'd smile and Tommy would reach for the extended hand, the warm greeting, the hug, and ba-da-bing—ba-da-boom! No more Tommy.

  So, if it wasn't Sally, or any of Sally's people . . . Who the fuck could it be? Why would the cops be watching him? Well . . . he knew why they might want to watch him . . . But how could they know about Freddy? There had been nothing in the papers . . . Nobody had come around the restaurant looking for Freddy. No cops asking questions, looking for evidence. Sally and Skinny sure weren't going to say anything . . . Why would the cops be watching him? Except for the other night, Tommy had stayed away from all that for years and years . . . If something was going on with the cops, Sally would have warned him, right? Wouldn't he? Tommy considered this for a moment. He decided that Sally would have told him if there was some kind of investigation, if only for his own protection. Sally and Skinny wouldn't want him going down to an interrogation unprepared. They'd be ready with the lawyers, their lawyers . . .

  Tommy looked out the window again. Still no van. He sat down in front of the TV The volume was down all the way. He tried to get interested in some footage of Stuka dive-bombers dropping high explosive on Warsaw. The Discovery Channel. Cheryl called it the War Channel. Panzer tanks rolled silently across the screen, scenes of bridges blowing, farmhouses burning, the Polish cavalry making a heroic, futile charge against the mechanized Nazi hordes . . .

  He got up again and walked over to the window. He heard the distant warble of a car alarm from the direction of the river. There were no pedestrians, only a homeless guy, sorting through garbage bags across the street. In the spot where the van had been, Tommy noticed a Jeep Explorer, its windows tinted dark. Somebody could be in there, Tommy thought. He felt the hair on the back of his neck rising. Somebody could be in there, looking up at me right now, and I wouldn't know it. He stepped back from the window, moved forward again carefully. He tried to make out a shape or shapes behind the tinted glass, but he couldn't.

  He considered going down to look, but that would be stupid. He didn't even know if he wanted to know for sure. Would that make it better? He didn't think so. It would only make it worse. If somebody really was following him . . . waiting for him at work, watching his apartment . . . If somebody was so interested in him they were following him around in a van, in a Jeep . . . Tommy didn't want to know. He wished he could forget about it. Put it out of his mind. He wanted to run away. He looked again at Cheryl on the bed, sleeping soundly with Tommy's cat. He wished he were someplace else with her. In the country maybe, a nice country inn. He'd cook, Cheryl would run the front desk. No Sally. No Skinny . . . no strange vans. Freddys killing a distant, faraway memory, growing fainter and fainter until he had no memory of it at all. . .

  No reason for anybody to be worried about him keeping his mouth shut, he thought, thinking again of Sally and Skinny. They had to know he was a stand-up guy. Of course, his father had been a stand-up guy too. Look where it had gotten him. He still didn't know. They never found his father. Maybe if things had been different. If he'd met Diane sooner. Met Cheryl sooner . . . Maybe if Sally were dead and his father still alive . . . Maybe if his mother had been more like Diane's mother, not so willing to go along. If she hadn't let that endless procession of budding and veteran criminals traipse through her kitchen and into Tommy's life. Tommy was ashamed of himself. Trying to blame his mother! Who was he kidding?

  He sat down on the bed next to Cheryl, brushed the hair off her forehead. He ran a bent finger gently down her spine. He leaned over and ran his lips across her naked hip. Fear was making him horny. He ran a hand up over Cheryl's stomach, letting it stop, coming to rest just below her breasts. Cheryl came out of her slumber for a second. "Forget it," she said sleepily.

  Tommy pulled back. Cheryl squirmed into the sheets for a few seconds and was soon fast asleep again.

  Tommy picked up the chef's worn copy of Down and Out in London and Paris from the night table and read a few pages. He was too drunk to concentrate on the words. He wanted to lose himself in the underground passageways of the gargantuan Hotel X . . . haul ice through the cellars with Orwell, scrape fat, barehanded, off dinner plates with the plongeurs in the book . . .

  He wanted to be in Paris, drunk in Paris. He wanted to be in Paris with Cheryl, rolling around in clean hotel sheets. He wanted to drown himself in Cheryl, live on room service, climb the Eiffel Tower . . . Do they let you go all the way to the top? He didn't know . . . He wanted to eat oysters in a little French cafe. He wanted to watch Cheryl eat a Belon oyster, watch her tip back her head and slurp one down, a real one, too, not one of those sorry-ass fakes they raise up in Maine. He wanted to drink absinthe, whatever that was, and smoke stinky French cigarettes . . .

  He wanted the chef to be there, too . . . He could show them around. Maybe the chef could get work at some fancy bistro, open all hours. He and Cheryl could drop by to see him. The chef would feed them late supper, a platter of those little birds, the ones you ate with the bones still in them, and truffles as big as your fist. . .

  Far, far away from Sally. Far away from trash bags full of dead men.

  He wanted to stand in front of a house with wood shutters and a red-tiled roof, squinting into the sun, waiting for Cheryl to take the picture.

  Twenty-One

  They sat at one of the better tables, near a gurgling fountain in the garden patio at the rear of the restaurant. Bright green ivy grew on the trellises behind them, and there were yellow tulips everywhere. Wealthy old ladies chatted in small groups at the other tables.

  "You need money," his mother said; a statement, not a question. The chef nodded, trying to smile sheepishly.

  "Remember how we used to make breakfast?" asked the chef's mother, changing the subject. "In France?"

  "With the chocolate?" asked the chef, grateful his mother wasn't chiding him about the money.

  "Yes," she said, "with the baguette,
the Normandy butter and the big bowl of hot chocolate. We'd serve it in those big blue bowls."

  "I loved that," said the chef. "I miss it. Can't do it here, it's not the same."

  "It's the butter," said his mother.

  She was tall and thin and elegant in a dark blue dress and a single strand of pearls. Her silver hair was put up in a tight bun, giving her countenance a severe aspect. . . Her face was pale and white, offset by the single slash of dark red lipstick. She sat ramrod straight in her chair and, with two long, manicured fingertips, removed a piece of tobacco from the tip of her tongue. Without turning her head, she sensed the waiter's approach, and she extinguished the unfiltered Gitane in a cut-glass ashtray.

  The waiter placed an oversize china plate in front of her, saying, "Madame." She inspected the carre d'agneau without moving her head or changing her expression. Three tiny rib chops, impeccably trimmed, were crisscrossed on a stripe of sauce in the middle of the plate. An arrangement of baby vegetables, tied into little bundles with blanched bits of leek, surrounded the lamb. The waiter came around the table and put the chef's turbot down in front of him.

  "Look how many truffles they put," said his mother in her slight French accent.

  The chef smiled broadly. "Is that cooked to your liking, Maman?" he asked her.

  "Parfait," she responded. She liked it when he called her Maman.

  The waiter poured her a little more Côtes du Rhône, then lifted a bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse from a silver ice-bucket and refilled the chef's glass. He asked the chef's mother, in French, if there was anything else she would care for. She dismissed him, also in French.

  The chef picked up a big piece of black truffle from the top of his turbot with his fingers and popped it in his mouth.

  "Oh! Michel!" protested his mother, "not with the hands!"

  The chef shook his head and picked up his fork and took a first bite of fish.

  "Is it all right? It's moist in the center? It's not cooked too much?" asked his mother, peering across the table.

  "It's fine," said the chef. He picked up the oversize white-wine glass and drank half its contents.

  "You just got your fish and you've almost finished your wine," she said.

  "I can always drink the rest of yours," he said. "You've hardly touched it."

  "And stop squirming in your chair like that. Why can't you get comfortable? Something is always eating you," she said.

  "Sorry," said the chef.

  "And you drink too much," she added.

  "I don't drink like this on a regular basis," said the chef. "It's just good wine. I don't drink a lot of wine this good. I'm trying to make the most of it."

  She nodded and took a delicate bite from the center of her lamb chop. "I wish you had ordered some meat. You don't look well."

  "Maybe it's my liver. Une crise de foie. I left the window open last night. The drafts, the night air . . . "

  His mother frowned. "Don't make fun of me, Michel. It's not funny. You don't look well. I worry."

  "I'm fine, I'm fine," scowled the chef. "I'm just working too damn hard. Not enough sleep."

  "You don't even have health insurance. That terrible man you work for can't even give his people, his chef, health insurance. It's disgraceful."

  "He can't afford it right now," said the chef. "I can't afford it."

  His mother shook her head disapprovingly. "You could have worked here maybe. I could ask my friends. I'm sure he treats his people correctly here. You should let me ask."

  "I couldn't be the chef here," said the chef. "I want to be in charge. I need the money, I can't afford to be just a commis."

  "All right," she said. "Not here then, somewhere else, where you could be the chef. Like this."

  The chef shook his head slowly. "I couldn't work like this . . . I can't get up at four in the morning and go down Fulton Street and put my nose in a bunch offish gills. I can't do fifteen, sixteen hours a day, six, seven days a week. And I'm just not that good to do this sort of food. Not as the chef anyway."

  "That's a terrible defeatist attitude," said his mother. "You didn't always feel like this."

  "Yeah, well, I'm getting older," said the chef.

  "Exactly. Yes. You are getting older," said his mother. "And you still live like . . . like some sort of gypsy. Never enough money. Changing jobs, every two years another place, another apartment. No family, no insurance, you own nothing."

  "I've always got you, right?" he said with a smile.

  "Yes. For now. I won't always be here," she said. "I won't be here to help forever. Don't they pay you at your job?"

  "They pay me," said the chef. "It's just everything is so expensive, you know. And I owe people money."

  "You always owe people money. It's terrible to owe money. I don't owe anybody anything. I don't know how you live like that. And your friends, they look like a . . . like a motorcycle gang, not cuisiniers—"

  The chef laughed and hurried to change the subject.

  They ate quietly. His mother methodically stripped the last bits of fat from the lamb, leaving three thin white rib bones on an otherwise empty plate. The busboy appeared and removed the plates. The waiter pushed a cheese cart alongside the table. The chef's mother reached into her purse for her glasses and, perching them at the end of her nose, leaned over to inspect the cheese. After a moment's reflection she chose a runny-looking Pont l'Eveque. The chef, without looking, requested a wedge each of St. Andre and Camembert.

  "I guess we like soft cheeses," said the chef.

  "The cheese here is not the same. They ruin it for export," said his mother.

  "They pasteurize it," said the chef.

  "It's not the same," said his mother.

  "Maybe you should live in France."

  "Then how could I help you when you get in trouble. Who would give you money for your debts. Besides, I could not go back. It's a communist country now," she said.

  "Socialist," corrected the chef.

  "The same thing. De Gaulle should have put them all in prison. After the war."

  The chef's mother took a last bite of cheese, dotted her mouth with the point of a napkin, and leaned forward. "Do you use a condom?" she asked.

  Shocked, the chef tilted his head. "What?"

  "When you, when you go out with your friends, maybe to meet a girl, some girl. Do you use a condom? I've been reading articles in the magazine."

  "Yes, Maman," said the chef, embarrassed. He glanced at the surrounding tables to see if anyone else had heard. The old ladies at the next table were busy drinking martinis and commenting on the busboy's buttocks.

  "Well, that is something. That's good. You should always use one," said his mother, satisfied.

  "What have you been watching, Oprah or something?" asked the chef.

  "What is Oprah?" inquired his mother.

  "Forget it. Joke," said the chef.

  "Qu'est ce que vous voulez comme dessert, madame?" inquired the waiter as the busboy whisked the cheese plates off the table. The chef's mother strained to see the dessert cart.

  "Tell bucket-head to bring the cart closer," said the chef, slightly tipsy.

  "SSSH! Ça suffit!"

  The waiter had already moved over to the cart and was bringing it alongside the table. The chef's mother carefully scrutinized each item on the three-tiered pastry cart. "Ah!" she exclaimed. "Paris-Brest. Will you look, Michel, Paris-Brest. Remember?" She pointed a finger, and the waiter cut and served a portion. "Gimme one a those, too," said the chef to the waiter. When the waiter disappeared, his mother scolded him. "You shouldn't speak like that. I eat here every week."

  "I'm sorry, Ma. Just enjoying myself. Loosen up. I'm having a good time, see?" said the chef.

  "You like the dessert? You remember the last time we had it?" she asked.

  "In Chagny? It was that place with all the dogs, right?"

  "Yes. Chez Denis. Paris-Brest is absolutely my favorite. They made it so well. This is also excellent. Do you like it?"
<
br />   "It's great," said the chef, shoveling an enormous mouthful into his face, creme Chantilly gathering at the corners of his mouth. "This was a great meal. Outstanding."

  "And I suppose I'm paying for it," said his mother.

  "Well," said the chef.

  "And you said you need money," said his mother, reaching into her purse. She handed him a check for a thousand dollars, written in her spidery, old-lady scrawl. "I'm only giving you this if you promise to get a haircut. You look like a cannibal like that." She held onto one end of the check. "And make sure they trim your sideburns, I don't want people thinking you are, you are some sort of terrorist."

  "Sure, Maman" said the chef. She released the check.

  The chef put his soiled napkin over his empty dessert plate and sat back in his chair. Andre, the chef and owner of the restaurant, came over to the table to pay his respects. He wore a spotless white chef's coat with Chinese buttons and the French tricolor adorning the collar. His name was embroidered over the chest pocket in flawless blue script, his starched toque piled high up over his head. He spoke in French for a few moments with the chef's mother, inquiring about the meal and her health. They discussed mutual friends.

  She turned to the chef and in English said, "Andre, allow me to present my son, Michel. He is a chef also." The chef sat up in his chair and extended his hand. He wanted to die.

  Twenty-Two

  Though the dining room was empty, the bar was still busy. A large group from Long Island was arguing loudly at the corner of the zinc bar. A drunk, one of the bar regulars, in a Yankee warm-up jacket slouched over his scotch, tearing little pieces off of the cocktail napkin under his drink. He rolled them into little balls and tossed them one after the other into the trash can under the register on the other side of the bar. Two lovers, both overweight and overdressed, groped each other at the other end. The woman had her tongue in the man's ear, and he was perspiring heavily and wriggling in his seat. Hector, the busboy, was on the pay phone, speaking to his family in Mexico on a stolen credit card number. He had been on over an hour, and Tommy watched him in the mirror from his place at the crowded bar. Tommy was drinking vodka, half sitting, half standing, one buttock perched on the tall bar stool. He felt something slide onto the other half of the bar stool and turned to face Stephanie. She had changed into her street clothes and taken her hair out of the clip, and she smelled of perfume. She leaned her long mane of wavy brown hair on his shoulder and sighed.

 
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