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Bone in the throat, p.17
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       Bone in the Throat, p.17

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "Really," said the chef. "I won't say anything."

  "You gotta understand. They fuckin' lied to me. They said they just had to talk to the guy. That wasn't too hard to believe. They're always talkin' to guys like that, having meetings in walk-ins, in cars, places nobody is gonna see. I didn't like it. I didn't want to do it, but I went ahead and did it anyway. I let them in the door and they go ahead and kill a fuckin' guy."

  "We're talking about your uncle, right?" asked the chef abruptly.

  "You figure it out, okay?" said Tommy. "I don't want you to know for sure anything. I told you what happened. That's enough for right now."

  "That's alright. That's okay. I understand," said the chef.

  "No. You gotta understand. I fuckin' freaked after. It's been driving me crazy. I can't sleep. I get stuttering fucking drunk every fucking night. I got so drunk . . . I got so drunk the other night, I went downstairs with Stephanie."

  "Duuuude!" exclaimed the chef.

  "I know, I know," said Tommy, sheepishly.

  "Well, that's the least of your worries, right?"

  "It's another one. I really like Cheryl. I really like her. I'm worried she finds out when she gets back."

  "Well, Stephanie at least won't be hanging around your balls gettin' all cow-eyed on you," said the chef.

  "No," said Tommy. "She's not like that."

  "So, maybe you'll be okay," said the chef.

  "I don't think so. She'll find out. You know how the place is. It'll be all over the place. Cheryl's not going to be too happy with me.

  They crossed West Street and walked along the stretch of abandoned piers. There was a strong breeze from the Hudson. The chef wrapped his apron around his shoulders, and Tommy buttoned up his chef's coat.

  "I don't want to go to jail," said the chef.

  "Believe me, I don't want to go to jail either," said Tommy. "Who wants to go to jail?"

  "Who was the guy?" asked the chef.

  "What guy?"

  "You know . . ."

  "I don't know. I know his first name 'cause they introduced me. But I never seen him before."

  "Wild," said the chef.

  "My uncle's an asshole. Drops me in the shit. Funny thing. My whole life he treats me like I'm some sort of retard for not getting with the program. After this thing happened, he showed up, with some money, all proud of me."

  "Did you take it?" asked the chef, alarmed.

  "Fuck, no. I was pissed."

  "I don't want to go to jail," repeated the chef.

  "You're like a fuckin' broken record. I don't want to go either, okay? I don't want to go either. I was in a holding cell for an hour, one time in my life. I didn't like it there. It smelled," said Tommy.

  "I bet the food sucks," said the chef.

  Tommy chuckled, "I hadn't thought about that."

  "Maybe we could say we're Muslims or something, Orthodox Jews . . . Maybe we'll get better food," said the chef.

  "Yeah. Now I'm all cheered up. That's a consolation. Thanks."

  "On the other hand, then we'd miss pork chop night. My old junkie buddies at the clinic say that's a big thing out there. Major event of the week," the chef said with a smile.

  "The thing of it is . . . the thing of it is, I just can't give up my uncle. That's a real problem I have. I know he's an asshole. I know that. I know what he's done to me. I'm not stupid. I can see how things are. But, it's my mother's brother. I just can't do that."

  "Would she have to know? If you just talked to the guy. If you talked to Al. Just a few things."

  "That would be sort of a break with tradition in my family, you know—talkin' to the FBI," said Tommy.

  "Actually, it's the U.S. Attorney's office," said the chef.

  "Same shit. Either way. I don't think they'll be satisfied with me if I just want to whisper a few things in their ear. I'm gonna have to testify to make them happy."

  "You don't know that," said the chef, "Give me a break," said Tommy.

  "Unusual problems require unusual solutions," said the chef.

  "Unusual? That's the thing. This isn't so unusual. For me it's unusual. For Sally and them? Sally went away for five fuckin years 'cause he wouldn't talk about another guy. Five fuckin' years for a guy he didn't even like. He hated the guy! And he went away for him. Five years on a contempt charge, couple a' other things, without so much as a peep. That's what's expected."

  "Yeah, well, fuck that," said the chef, "I did everything that was expected of me, I'd be the chef at Lutece or some shit."

  Tommy grunted.

  "Am I your friend?" asked the chef.

  "Yeah, man. You're my friend," said Tommy.

  "We gotta make some kind of pact. That we're not going to do anything to hurt each other. That we're gonna figure some way to get out of this shit where you and I end up okay, and nobody gets hurt."

  "Nobody we like, you mean," said Tommy.

  "Right," said the chef.

  "Somebody always gets hurt. People are gonna get hurt over this," said Tommy.

  "I'm sorry, Tommy," said the chef. "I'm sorry about before. You know. . . right? I had no choice when I did it, when I talked to them. We'll figure out something."

  "Sure, Chef."

  "Nobody's gonna shoot me in the head or anything, are they?" asked the chef.

  " 'Cause of me?" said Tommy. " 'Cause of what you told me? I'm not going to say anything to anybody."

  " 'Cause I don't want to die."

  "Who does? I don't," said Tommy.

  "But, I'm like okay with you now, right?" said the chef.

  "You're okay. I'm not even mad. I'm not gonna say anything.

  Who'm I gonna tell, anyway? My uncle? My fuckin' uncle? Then maybe he will kill me. No, forget it. You did what you had to do. I just gotta get things straight in my head. I gotta get this FBI guy off our backs, so I can live like a normal person."

  "Me too, me too," said the chef.

  "Maybe you should go talk to this Al. Tell him you talked to me. Tell him I'm thinking about it. Tell him anything you want. I just need more time."

  "I don't know," said the chef.

  "You know how to get in touch with the guy, right?"

  "Yeah . . ."

  "Well, buy us a little time. Tell him I'm thinking about it," said Tommy.

  Thirty

  Tommy stood by the information booth at Grand Central Station. He watched the recent arrivals pour off the platforms and merge with the crowd of commuters on the station floor. When he saw that the Westchester train was due to arrive, he pushed through the streams of business suits and moved closer to the platform. Cheryl was one of the last people off the train. She stood gathering her possessions, a single strand of auburn hair hanging over into her eyes. She was dressed in a long cable-knit sweater, black leggings, and ankle boots. She had an overnight bag slung over one shoulder, a handbag over the other, and she carried a bulky plastic trash bag that looked like it contained clothing. Tommy slipped up behind her and said, "Can I help you with that?"

  "Jesus!" she said. "It's you. I was about to go for my can of mace."

  "Sorry," said Tommy. "I didn't mean to scare you."

  "This is a surprise," she said. "What are you doing here?"

  "I figured I'd come by and meet you, maybe take you downstairs to the Oyster Bar for some Wellfleets and a bottle of wine," said Tommy.

  She handed over the plastic trash bag. "Sweaters," she said. "My mother. She goes to some flea market up there with her friends and buys me sweaters. I say, 'Ma, no more sweaters please,' but she won't stop. I got sweaters with ducks on them, sweaters with moose, elk, reindeer, little bunny rabbits. I thought, maybe she'll run through the animal kingdom and it'll stop. But she's back on ducks. I got four more of them in the bag."

  "Do you ever wear 'em," asked Tommy.

  "Are you kidding me?" said Cheryl. "I give them to the church on the corner. I walk around my neighborhood now, I see these guys with cardboard cups bummin' money in my sweaters."


  "So how do you feel about some oysters? They've got Wellfleets," said Tommy.

  "How did you know which train?" asked Cheryl.

  "I knew you were coming in this morning so I just hung out. There were only two trains."

  "You waited here for two trains waiting for me? What are you being so nice for?"

  "I don't know," said Tommy. "I felt like it. I missed you." He avoided her gaze.

  "You're acting suspicious," she said, stopping in her tracks. "Did something happen? Somebody die? Am I fired?"

  "No, no, no, everything's fine," said Tommy. "C'mon, let's get some oysters, I'm starving."

  "Did the restaurant close?"

  "No. I just felt like meeting you at the train, taking you out to lunch," said Tommy as he turned toward the stairs.

  Cheryl cocked her head and spoke to Tommy's back. "Did you fuck somebody? Is that what this is about? You fucked somebody, didn't you?"

  Tommy stopped and turned around. He started to say something, then hesitated.

  "You fucked somebody didn't you?" said Cheryl. "You can say so, I won't be mad."

  Tommy attempted an ingratiating smile. "Well..."

  "Who did you fuck?" asked Cheryl. "Somebody at work?"

  "C'mon, please," said Tommy, half turning. "Can we talk about it over lunch—"

  "Did you fuck STEPHANIE?"

  Tommy looked down at the floor and didn't deny it. "Well he said. He put down the plastic bag and moved toward Cheryl.

  "You fucked Stephanie!? " she said. Cheryl coldcocked him with a right hook that seemed to come up off the floor. Tommy stumbled backward, tripped over the plastic bag, and went down. He ended up sprawled flat on his back on the crowded station floor. Hurrying commuters stepped over and around him saying "Sorry" and "Excuse me." One chunky woman in a blue dress with running shoes stubbed her toe on Tommy's head. It took him a few seconds to get to his feet. He looked around for Cheryl. She was gone. Tommy picked up the bag of sweaters and headed for the exit.

  He managed to wave down a taxi on Forty-second Street and directed the driver to Cheryl's Perry Street address. She had hit him below the left eye, and he reached up and felt the swelling. The left eye was tearing, and his vision out of that side of his head was blurry. He wiped a tear off his cheek with his sleeve and saw the driver looking at him in the rearview mirror. Tommy twisted in his seat so he could catch his own reflection. There was a large reddening welt and the eye itself was bloodshot. Tommy tried to smile, and shook his head ruefully.

  The cab driver, a pale, craggy-complected man with a greasy blond ponytail, caught his glance in the mirror.

  "Somebody really popped you one there, buddy," he smiled. "You want to go to Emergency?"

  "No, I'm fine," said Tommy. He slid down a ways in his seat and tried to avoid the driver's glance. "I walked into a door."

  "Sure," said the driver. "I hate when that happens."

  TOMMY WAS STANDING there in the hall, holding the bag of sweaters, when Cheryl answered her door.

  "Don't be upset," said Tommy.

  "I'm not upset," said Cheryl. "I'm mad."

  "Please," said Tommy.

  "I'm grossed out," said Cheryl, standing in her doorway, one arm blocking the way. She looked at Tommy's eye. "Wow!" she said. "I did that?"

  "It was a nice punch," said Tommy. "You really got your shoulder into it."

  A fat tear rolled out of the bloodshot eye. Tommy made the most of it, dabbing at the eye with his sleeve.

  "You fucked that cunt," said Cheryl. "Anybody else, I wouldn't mind so much."

  "I'm sorry," said Tommy. "I was drunk."

  "That cunt. I should bust her in the fucking mouth too," said Cheryl.

  "I'm sorry," said Tommy. "I'm really sorry. I was really, really drunk. It just happened."

  "You are a complete fucking asshole," said Cheryl, taking a longer look at the eye.

  "I know," said Tommy.

  "That looks really bad," said Cheryl. She stepped back into the apartment, unsure what to do. "Can you see out of it? You're not going to go fucking blind on me or something like that, are you? Even though you fucking deserve it."

  "No, I'll be fine," said Tommy, sliding through the open door. "I could use some ice, though. Its swelling up like a motherfucker."

  Cheryl went over to the refrigerator and took out a tray of ice cubes. She found a towel hanging on the bathroom doorknob and emptied the ice into it.

  "You better do it," said Cheryl. "I'm not inclined to be gentle right now."

  Tommy took the towel and pressed it against his eye. He tilted his head back and slowly sat down on the double bed in the middle of the room.

  "If I owned a chair, I'd be telling you to get off my fucking bed," said Cheryl.

  "I'm sorry, Cheryl. I'm really sorry," said Tommy from underneath the towel.

  "Fuck me, fuck my friends, is that it?" said Cheryl. "You're getting the bed all wet." She found a clean towel on top of the storage cabinet in the corner and tossed it onto Tommy's chest. He tucked it under his head and lay back down.

  "I hope it hurts," said Cheryl.

  "It does," said Tommy. "It hurts like a motherfucker."

  "Yeah, well. . . You're not the injured party here. I'm the injured party. Me," said Cheryl.

  "I think this qualifies as an injury," said Tommy. "The cab driver on the way down asked if I wanted to go to Emergency."

  "All right, all right, let me see it," said Cheryl. She lifted a corner of the ice pack and peeked at the eye. "That's not that bad," she said, wincing slightly. She put the ice pack back on the eye. "You gonna sue me now? Call up one of those lawyers on TV? Maybe you can garnish my tips." She moved the ice pack roughly, so it covered all the swelling.

  "Ouch!" said Tommy.

  "So everybody in the restaurant knows, right?"

  "Nobody knows," said Tommy.

  "Yeah, right, nobody knows. That cow has told everybody on the floor by now, are you kidding me? She's back there with a fucking bullhorn right now probably, in the waiters' station. 'Ladies and Gentlemen. Please be advised: I fucked Cheryl's boyfriend!' I feel like I'm gonna throw up."

  "I didn't know for sure I was your boyfriend," said Tommy, sitting up in bed.

  "Well, let's see," said Cheryl. "We've been sleeping in the same bed for the last four months. I seem to remember we were having sex on a regular basis . . . I guess . . . " Cheryl slapped herself in the face. "What the fuck am I saying? What am I, an idiot? I can't believe what I'm saying, am I some sort of whining little airhead? You're right—I'm not your girlfriend. What the fuck does that mean? You can fuck anybody you want?"

  Tommy reached over, but she pulled away.

  "I want you to be my girlfriend," he said. "I don't know what the fuck that means, but you know. . . partners in crime and all that. We never talked about that, you know? It's not an excuse. I did something wrong. I know that. It's bad manners. Bad form. I know. Whatever it is we are . . . I . . . I betrayed you kind of. And I'm sorry about it. I was drunk, I was depressed, you were away. It never would have happened if I hadn't been so drunk. All this shit has been going on lately and I just got all fucked up in my head."

  "What shit has been going on?" asked Cheryl.

  "I've been having some problems with my uncle," said Tommy.

  "The gangster? That uncle?"

  Tommy nodded.

  "What does your uncle have to do with your fucking Stephanie? That is utter fucking bullshit. That is really lame, Tommy You're having trouble with your uncle and you have to fuck Stephanie? Is that what you're saying?"

  "I can't really. I don't want to talk about it," said Tommy. "Okay? I'm having big problems? I don't want to get into it, but I'm having really serious problems right now with shit that has nothing to do with the restaurant or you or me or anything else. Guinea problems. I got into some trouble and I'm worried about some things."

  "Was she any good?"

  "What?"

  "Was Stephanie any good? She se
ems to think she is."

  "I can't remember. I was drunk."

  "So it was bad?"

  "I told you it . . . I told you—I was drunk. It lasted around twelve seconds."

  "So you do remember," said Cheryl.

  "I remember that it was unmemorable," said Tommy.

  "So where did you go? Where did you do it?"

  "I really don't want to talk about it, okay? I'm embarrassed."

  "You did it in the fucking restaurant, right?"

  "Downstairs," said Tommy.

  "Dry humping in the dry-goods area? Delightful."

  "I'm sorry," said Tommy. "I'm sorry it ever happened. If I could go back in time and fix it, I would. There's a lot I'd do over again."

  "What does that mean?"

  Tommy sat up completely, feet on the floor, and held the ice pack over the towel. "I'm in a lot of fucking trouble, alright? A lot of trouble. I've never been in so much trouble my whole fuckin' life, that's how much trouble. The cops could come and take me away any fuckin' minute, that's what kind of trouble."

  "What? Are you gonna tell me you're in the fucking Mafia or something, now, Tommy? 'Cause that's bullshit. You're a fucking cook, okay? You're gonna have to do a lot better than that."

  Tommy looked her in the eyes and put one hand gently up to her elbow. "I'm in serious shit. Serious, serious shit. I've been going nuts for over a month now, worrying about it. I've been going so nuts I thought I was gonna lose my mind. The other night, I was drunk and I was lonely and I wanted somebody to hold me and tell me everything was gonna be alright."

  "So, instead you took Stephanie downstairs and threw it in her. That's what your mother's for, Tommy. Go home and cry on her shoulder."

  "It's my mother's brother, my Uncle Sally, who got me into this, okay? I can't talk about it. I can't tell anybody. The fucking FBI came and talked to me the other day. Alright? The FBI . . . I'm sitting there having breakfast and the FBI comes right up to my table, right there in the Pink Teacup, and starts messing with me, dicking around with my head. They got files on me and everything. Can you believe that? They even know where I eat breakfast!"

  Cheryl looked surprised. "Are you shitting me? Are you kidding? You're not kidding, are you? The FBI?"

 
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