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Bone in the throat, p.16
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       Bone in the Throat, p.16

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  That was a tough one. Danny was Sally's friend, wasn't he? He tried for a safe answer.

  "He's my uncle. I love him. He took care of me, looked out for me after my father was gone. He asked me to do a favor for him and I did it. I didn't want to do it. I admit . . . I didn't wanna get involved in that. I sure didn't know what was gonna happen, I can tell you that. . . But that's his business. His problem. I didn't do nothing I feel too bad about. That's Sally's business, it's not my business. If there's a problem, somebody's got a problem, it's not my problem. I put it behind me."

  Danny looked pained. "What I'm askin' here, Tommy . . . is . . . Let's say there is a problem. For whatever reason, if it became your problem all of a sudden. If let's say some cops come around and wanna talk to you . . . Say you get picked up, they bring you down the station and wanna ask you all sortsa questions. Then it is your problem. I'm not sayin' that's gonna happen. Just, what if it did? You say it ain't your problem. What happens the cops come roun' askin' you questions, what do you do?"

  "Is that going to happen?"

  "I told you," said Danny. "I'm not sayin' that's gonna happen. I'm askin' if it did happen, what would you do? How would you handle that?"

  "I . . . I . . . guess I'd keep my mouth shut and call a fuckin' lawyer," said Tommy.

  "What lawyer you thinkin' about callin'?" asked Danny, looking suddenly concerned.

  "I'm not thinkin' a' callin' anybody, Danny," said Tommy, realizing he'd made a slight misstep. "I never even thought about it . . . what lawyer. I hadn't thought about it a second till you fuckin' mentioned. I just said, I just said I'd talk to a lawyer 'cause that's what you do when the cops ask you questions . . . What lawyer . . . I dunno what lawyer. I don't know any fuckin' lawyers. Why don't you tell me . . . You got somebody in mind? Am I gonna be needin' a lawyer? If I am, I'd appreciate it you give me his name."

  Danny nodded and reached into his jacket. He handed Tommy a business card with the names of Benson, Richardson, Hale, and Clawson and a telephone number.

  "Okay, Tommy," said Danny. "You got a problem, somebody axe you any questions, you call this number and axe for this guy Benson. You don't talk to nobody else. Benson. Costs you any money, we take care of it for you. This is one smart guy. He's known to certain people. You don't talk to nobody else. No other lawyers. I don't care how fuckin' cheap they are, if you seen 'em onna television, or if they're some friend a yours, somebody recommended 'em . . . This is the guy you call. He'll know what to do."

  "Sure, Danny. . . Thanks."

  "Okay," said Danny. He stood up from his bench, kicked a few uneaten bread crumbs off the top of his shoe. Skinny came over from where he'd been standing by a water fountain and preceded them to the head of the stairs that led to Claremont and the car.

  "Okay . . ." said Danny, like he was trying to convince himself of something. "I'm glad we had this talk together. Cleared the air a bit. I hadda take a look at the situation, you know. Always thinking . . . that's me." He tapped the side of his head with a finger. "I'm glad we talked. I don't think I seen you since . . . since that dinner over at your mother's place, the one when Charlie burned the sauce . . . You remember that, Tommy? Jeez—was he pissed. I thought your mother was gonna kill him. How is she anyway? He's always axing. . .

  "She's fine," said Tommy. "She's good."

  "Good to hear it," said Danny. "Good to hear it."

  Nobody spoke on the ride back. Tommy wondered if Danny was satisfied with his answers. He saw Skinny looking at him again in the rearview mirror. He didn't think so. They dropped him off around the corner from the restaurant. Tommy felt dizzy. He hoped he could make it into the restaurant before his knees started to go.

  Twenty-Nine

  "Tommy," said the chef "Take a walk with me. I gotta talk to you."

  Tommy was filleting a salmon. He looked up from the cutting board. "I'm wrestling with this, gimme a second." He zipped a long, thin knife along the length of the fish and deftly lifted the pink fillet free of the backbone. He repeated the movement on the other side of the bone. Holding the skin at the tail with a kitchen towel, he worked the knife blade along in a gentle, rocking motion under the meat, removing the skin. Then, with a pair of needle-nose pliers, he plucked the translucent rib bones out of the fillets. He worked quickly, leaving a little pile of the bones on the cutting board. He took a larger knife from a shelf and, using an ounce scale, cut the fillets into seven-ounce servings.

  There was a tall stockpot on low flame on the stove filled with water, lobster shells, and mirepoix. Tommy put in the rack, skin, and head from the salmon. He sprinkled whole cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, crushed red pepper, fennel seed, and a bit of saffron into the pot. He found some leek tops and parsley stems in the reach-in and a halved head of garlic, and he threw those in, too. He checked the flame under the stockpot for a final time and walked into the chef's tiny office.

  "You wanted to talk to me?" asked Tommy.

  "Yeah," said the chef. "But not here. Let's take a walk."

  Still dressed in their whites, the chef and Tommy walked west on Spring Street toward the river. It was a cool afternoon, and the smells from the restaurant kitchens along Spring wafted out over the street.

  "Burnt garlic," said the chef as they passed the Count's Villa Nova. "Sons of bitches don't know how to handle garlic. Disgraceful for an Italian restaurant. You smell that?"

  "So what's up?" asked Tommy. "What do you want to talk to me about? I do something wnrong?"

  "Tommy," said the chef. "I don't know how to say this—but I'm in trouble. You're in trouble."

  "What, are we getting canned?"

  "No, no. Worse trouble. Worse than that, a lot worse. Legal trouble. Police trouble. Found dead in the trunk of a fuckin car kinda trouble," said the chef.

  "Oh," said Tommy.

  "Yeah," said the chef, shaking his head.

  "I know I've got trouble," said Tommy. "What's your problem?"

  "I had a conversation with somebody from the FBI yesterday," said the chef. "He works for some federal strike force they got."

  "Big guy?" asked Tommy. "Guy named Al?"

  "That's the one," said the chef. "He talked to you?"

  "Fuckin guy ambushes me at breakfast the other day," said Tommy. "What did he say?"

  "Tommy," said the chef, "he says you're involved in some kinda murder or something."

  "Fuck!" said Tommy. "Fuck, fuck, fuck . . ."

  "Tommy, he says you're in a real world of shit. He says you could be arrested, subpoenaed—"

  "I don't see why he's tellin' you this shit. What's he tellin' you for? Why's he gotta go around talking to my friends for?"

  "Don't get mad, okay? Please don't get mad at me. But I gotta tell you, I got popped a few months ago. They got me comin outta Checkmate with a few bags of dope. Before I was on the program. They cuffed me and hauled me downtown. They were gonna throw me in a fuckin' cell and I was sick like a dog. I was sick before I even scored and they hauled me down there and made me watch them put my dope in the evidence baggies and take it away. I didn't have a chance to do anything. I didn't want to—I couldn't kick in a fuckin' cell . . . I just couldn't do that the way I was. That guy Al comes down and talks to me. He says they'll let me skate on the possession charge if I tell them some things."

  "What did you tell them?" asked Tommy.

  "I told them what I knew, which was fucking nothing. I didn't know anything! They wanted to know about you and your uncle. I tried to tell them some things about Harvey. They didn't want any of that. I told them I'd seen Sally around, that I knew him to say hello, but I didn't really know the guy. I didn't know anything to tell. Even if I wanted to. And I didn't want to."

  "Shit!" said Tommy.

  "I told them you're a friend. I told them you're my sous-chef, that you're a good guy. I didn't want to talk about you at all, but that's all they were interested in, was you. I didn't wanna detox in a fuckin' holding cell, Tommy. That was the thing. I couldn't do t
hat."

  "Maaan."

  "I didn't tell them anything bad," insisted the chef.

  "Anything you tell them is bad," said Tommy.

  "I'm sorry, Tommy. I'm really, really sorry."

  "It's alright. It's alright. It's not your fault."

  "So this guy Al, he's giving me a really hard time. He's got my balls in the fuckin' vise. He says he's gonna throw me in fuckin' jail I don't talk to you. He was gonna throw my case back to the cops. Just when I got off dope. Just when I was beginning to see a little fuckin' light at the end of the tunnel. Tommy, he says you're involved in this thing. He says if I don't get you to come in and talk to them, he was gonna throw me back in it. He said everybody would find out about the dope. I'd never work after that, he said. He meant it. People be saying, maybe I got AIDS or some shit, they don't want me cookin' their food. He says you don't talk to them, they're gonna throw you in jail. They'll come and drag you off to the grand jury or something and make you testify and if you don't do that, they're gonna put you in prison. Not some tennis camp. Attica, some place like that."

  "Fuck them," said Tommy.

  "He said your uncle'll probably kill you," said the chef.

  "They don't know shit about shit," said Tommy.

  "Tommy, he said they'll call you before the grand jury. That could happen. He says you know something, Tommy."

  "I don't know anything I want to tell them," said Tommy.

  "Tommy, you're not a fuckin' wise guy, right? You don't want that. I'm right about that, right? Maybe you saw something, you did somebody a favor one time. I don't know. But why does it have to be you who goes to jail? Why you?"

  "They want me to rat on my uncle," said Tommy.

  "So you know something," said the chef.

  Tommy was silent.

  "Okay," said the chef. "Don't tell me. What I mean is, you didn't do anything. Not really. I told them that, that you wouldn't. You didn't do anything yourself. I'm right about that, right Tommy?"

  "They want me to rat on my uncle for something. That's what this is. They want me to help them put my mother's brother in jail."

  "But, you do know something? They think you know something. They say they know you know something. They wouldn't be doin' all this shit otherwise, right? This guy, Al, he wasn't kidding. He's fuckin' serious. They're really going to do what he said."

  "Shit," said Tommy. He stopped walking, sat down on the stoop of an empty storefront, and put his head in his hands.

  "I saw them do it," he said.

  "Oh, shit," said the chef. "Don't tell me that. Don't say that."

  "I saw them kill a guy," said Tommy.

  "Don't be fucking saying that! What guy? Where? How'd you get yourself—"

  "They killed a guy right in the kitchen," said Tommy.

  "I don't want to know this," said the chef. "I don't want to know this . . . MY KITCHEN??!! They killed a guy in MY kitchen?"

  "I didn't know it was gonna happen till it happened. They told me they were just gonna like talk to this guy," Tommy said, speaking to the sidewalk.

  "So, it's not like it's your fault or anything. You didn't know. You didn't know anything," said the chef, hopefully.

  "They whacked a guy out right in front of me, for Chrissakes. They chopped the guy up right there on the dishwasher."

  "You saw them do it?" said the chef, incredulously.

  "I saw them kill the guy. I didn't see them cut him up. I was in the office then. They made me clean up after."

  "Oh, shit. . . Tommy, Tommy . . . What are we gonna do? We're fucked," said the chef.

  "I don't know. I don't know."

  "What am I gonna tell them now? I can't tell them this. What am I gonna say?" Tommy didn't respond; he remained sitting, head in his hands, staring at the pavement. "What are you gonna do?" said the chef. "You saw it. You saw it happen. Your uncle's gonna kill you."

  "I could go to this guy I know. He's like Sally's boss. He likes me. He could get me a lawyer. Maybe he could help," said Tommy.

  "How's that gonna help? You trust these guys?"

  "I don't know, alright? I don't know."

  "What do I tell this guy Al? What do I say to him now? I can't tell him this shit," said the chef.

  "I gotta think," said Tommy.

  "If you don't talk to them, I'm gonna be washing somebody's socks for them out there."

  "I've got to think about the situation for a while. This is a pretty fucked-up thing. I gotta think about it."

  "Does Cheryl know anything?" asked the chef. "You been seeing her, right?"

  "No, she doesn't know anything. I mean she knows who my uncle is. She knows that, but the other thing, no."

  "Tommy, he said he's gonna take you away in fucking handcuffs. They'll subpoena you. They'll indict you. Grand juries do whatever the prosecutor wants them to do. They'll indict you. It's not even you they want. You're gonna have to tell them something."

  "I'm not gonna rat on my uncle. What's my mother gonna think she sees me sending her brother to prison? What happens then? Where do I live? What do I do? What am I gonna say to my mother?" Tommy was looking in the chef's eyes.

  "What's she gonna think if you go to prison?" asked the chef.

  "It'll break her heart. What do you think? She's not going to like it at all," said Tommy.

  "You gotta do something. You can't just sit there, waiting for something to happen . . ."

  "What am I gonna do? Run away? Split for South America? Live in Argentina like some sort of fugitive Nazi under another name? Shit . . . I lived around here my whole fucking life. I don't even speak Spanish! What am I gonna do, I run away down there? Where am I gonna go?"

  "Shit," said the chef. "I speak Spanish. I'll go with you. We can make a break for it together."

  "Yeah, right," said Tommy. "What are you gonna do for methadone down in Argentina or Brazil?"

  "I hadn't even thought about that," said the chef.

  "I don't even like the food," said Tommy, starting to break into an embittered laugh.

  Soon they were both laughing, tears rolling down their faces. The chef began to cough uncontrollably. When he recovered, he wiped the tears out of his eyes. "That guy Al," he said. "Is he a piece of fuckin' work or what?"

  "He's some kind of asshole, that's for sure," said Tommy. "He tracked me down to the Pink Teacup the other day, just to ruin my breakfast."

  "How did they do it?" asked the chef. "You know, how did they kill the guy? If you don't mind me asking about it."

  "They shot him," said Tommy. "Then they stabbed him, here." He pointed to an area below the solar plexus on his chef's coat.

  "Right there in the kitchen," said the chef. "Right there in the fuckin' kitchen. I still can't believe it. Where? Behind the line? What?"

  "The garbage area. Then they dragged him over to the dishwasher. They put him in the trash." Tommy started to laugh again.

  "What?" said the chef. "What's so funny?"

  "They used your knife. I figured it out when I came back. I saw what happened to your knife, I figured it out they must have used it to cut the guy up. Sorry, it's not funny, I know. I just can't help It.

  "They used my knife? My knife?"

  "Chopped him into hunks with it. I guess that's why your knife was so fucked up. Sorry, man."

  "Woooaah," exclaimed the chef. He pondered for a moment and then started to laugh, too. "And it's hangin' over my fuckin' desk right now! It's still hangin' over my fuckin' desk!"

  "Sorry, man," said Tommy. "I didn't know until I came back to work and saw it. After they killed the guy, I just sat there in the office, sucking down the vodka. I was sort of reevaluating things at that point, I can tell you."

  "Jesus, Tommy," said the chef. "I gotta say this, you've turned out to be a pretty interesting dude to know. I mean, I've had sous-chefs mishandle my knives before—but this"—he exploded in laughter—"this is fucking ridiculous."

  "It wasn't me, it wasn't me," said Tommy. "I'm sorry I couldn't say anyt
hing. I mean, what am I gonna say, 'Sorry chef, I had a couple of friends over last night and they sort of chopped a guy up with your knife and I think it's maybe damaged a little bit'?"

  "I know, I know," said the chef. "I knew it couldn't have been you. I'm sure you didn't do it. You know you use a boning knife, with something that big. Shit, I don't even break down chickens with that knife."

  "It's not funny," said Tommy.

  "So how come we're laughing?"

  "I don't know."

  "Let's walk some more. People are gonna talk, they see us standing here like a couple of hysterical babies," said the chef.

  They crossed Hudson street. It was starting to get dark. "Who's minding the store?" said Tommy.

  "Fuck it," said the chef. "We'll make it back for service. Ricky'll set up the stations if we don't show up in time."

  "I guess," said Tommy, dubiously.

  "So what did . . . what happened to the body? I remember the place was a fuckin' mess when I came in," said the chef.

  "They threw him out with the garbage," said Tommy. "In pieces. They broke him down into his primal sections and put him in the garbage."

  "You didn't come in that day. I remember. So, that was when—Wait a minute . . . You mean the whole day, that whole day you didn't come in, I'm walking around and there's a dead guy in there somewhere?"

  "Yeah, the porters were off, the garbage didn't go out until that night, the next night," said Tommy. "That was the reason, that was one of the reasons I didn't show for work."

  "I still can't get over it," said the chef. "A guy chopped up with my knife."

  "Yeah . . . well, it's been driving me fuckin' nuts. You don't know what it's been like for me. It's not like I've seen anything like that before . . . It totally blew my mind," said Tommy. He paused. "I can't believe I'm even telling you this."

  "What do you mean?" asked the chef, defensively.

  "I mean, five fucking minutes ago, you tell me you're talking to the fucking FBI, and here I am telling you all this shit that happened."

  "I won't say anything to anybody," said the chef. "You don't tell me it's okay first, I won't say a word."

  "Who are you kidding? You're gonna have to, sooner or later." Tommy sighed, "I'm an idiot, get myself in the shit like this."

 
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