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Bone in the throat, p.19
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       Bone in the Throat, p.19

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "See you Monday," said Victor. He released his grip on Harvey's elbow, wiped his hand on his pants, smoothed his hair, and walked slowly across Spring Street.

  Thirty-Three

  Sally fiddled with the dial on the car radio. There was only the sound of static. "I can't get nothin' on this thing," he complained. Skinny, sitting next to him in the front seat of the parked Ford, lit one cigarette from the lit end of another and said, "You gonna run down the battery, you keep playin' with it like that. That would be real great, you can't start the fuckin car."

  Rain was coming down in sheets. The water ran in streams across the windshield, concealing the occupants. It was twelve-thirty at night, and the Brooklyn street was empty except for a few parked cars. Sally and Skinny sat hunched down behind the dashboard, their hands cupped around the glowing ends of their cigarettes, eyes fixed on the trailer office of Calabrese Construction Company in the building site across the street. There was an office building going up, its dark skeleton looming up in the rain.

  Sally and Skinny watched the trailer through an open gate. A short driveway of wet, rutted earth led from it to the street, the deep tire tracks from trucks and earthmovers filling with rainwater. There was a hastily thrown together cinder-block landing under the trailer door, and a few wooden planks disappeared into the muddy pools in front of it. Behind the louvered window of the trailer, dark shapes moved in front of a light.

  "When are these guys gonna leave?" muttered Sally. "They don't have homes, these people?"

  "Maybe they're fuckin' each other," offered Skinny.

  Sally stubbed out his cigarette in an already overflowing ashtray and moved his hands impatiently up and down the barrel of the big shotgun on his lap. It was an Ithaca Mag-10 Roadblocker, with a distinctive rubber butt-guard. Sally lit another cigarette. He drummed his fingers on the dashboard. He picked his nose.

  "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," said Sally.

  "They'll be comin' outta there any minute," said Skinny, the barrel of a Mossberg Bullpup just visible from under the folds of his rain poncho. "They gotta go by Joey Balls's place before closing," said Skinny. "Joey closes his place at one-thirty."

  "Maybe they're not goin' tonight," worried Sally. "Maybe they want to eat Chinese tonight."

  "Joey's their skipper. They gotta be there," said Skinny. "Every night they come here, they go there later. Every night. Joey doesn't like no once-a-week. He wants it every night . . ."

  "I wish they'd hurry the fuck up in there,'5 said Sally "Any minute now," said Skinny. He pulled the hood of his poncho up over his head and snapped the collar around his chin. "Wait till they get to the middle of the street."

  "You sure that's their car over there?" asked Sally. He looked over at the silver Seville parked a few car-lengths down the street.

  "I'm sure," said Skinny.

  "What time you got?" asked Sally Skinny looked at his watch. "FT minutes after the last fuckin' time you asked me."

  "I think they're comin," said Sally. "They're comin now." He squirmed around in the driver's seat.

  The trailer door opened and two men in Brioni suits stood illuminated in the office light. They looked up at the rain, then down at the muddy pools of water. The taller of the two men disappeared back into the trailer for a moment, reappearing with a single umbrella. He held it over the other man, reached back and flicked off the light, and they both stepped carefully onto the cinder-block landing. The shorter man snapped closed a padlock on the trailer door.

  When they reached the sidewalk, the shorter man kicked mud off his shoes before stepping off the curb and into the street.

  Sally reached for the door handle.

  Skinny, in a calm, low voice, said, "Wait a minute . . . wait. . . wait. . . okay, now. Let's do it."

  The two men were halfway across the street, making for the Seville. Sally and Skinny got out of the Ford. The interior dome light did not go on; masking tape kept the buttons in the doors depressed. They left the doors open and moved toward the two men.

  The shorter man saw them first. Leaving the taller man alone under the umbrella, he bolted for the Seville. The taller man turned, a confused look on his face, in time to see Skinny coming at him in the rain, the barrel of the Mossberg rising up and out from under his poncho.

  "Shit!" he said.

  The first blast from the Mossberg took him in the left knee, knocking his leg out from under him. He teetered for a second before flopping over onto the wet asphalt. He rolled, gasping, over onto his back, trying frantically to pull himself across the street with his arms, the shredded leg dangling limply below the knee. Skinny took another few steps and put a wet foot down firmly against the man's throat. He pressed the Mossberg barrel against the man's chest and pulled the trigger. The man's body bucked violently, the one good leg kicking up into the air and then falling with a wet slap back onto the pavement.

  Skinny looked off to his left. He watched as Sally, all 280 pounds of him, trotted after the shorter man. The man was struggling with the driver's side door of the Seville, saying, "Please, please, please," under his breath as he fumbled with the key. He gave up on the door and had just started to move away from the car when Sally let loose with the Ithaca. The powerful round caught the man at the hinge of his jaw, blowing most of the top of his head onto the roof of the Seville and shattering the driver's-side window. He was knocked against the door, and as he slid to the ground, Sally fired again, hitting him in the neck. He fell sideways onto the street, what was left of his head folded over onto his shoulder at an unnatural angle, a ruined, leaking shell.

  "WOW!" exclaimed Sally. "You see that?"

  "That's why they call it a fuckin' Roadblocker," said Skinny.

  "Well, it sure knocked his fuckin' block off. . . Marrone!"

  Sally and Skinny walked back to the Ford. As Sally started the car, Skinny retrieved an old army-surplus duffel bag from the back seat and put the two shotguns inside. He removed the ashtrays and dropped them in the duffel with the guns. Sally stepped on the gas and roared down the street, slowing down slightly to pass the two left wheels over the dead man in the middle of the street. There were two dull thuds as the car bounced over the corpse.

  "You shouldn't a done that," said Skinny. "That's bush."

  "Fuck him," said Sally, grinning from ear to ear.

  "Guy could get caught up in the wheel well or the bumper. Next thing you know, were draggin' a fuckin' stiff halfway across Brooklyn."

  "Fuck him," said Sally.

  "It's bush," said Skinny. "I don't like it. Now you got forensics onna tires. I really don't like that."

  THEY DROVE the Ford to the parking lot of the Acropolis Diner near Cadman Plaza. They parked next to a green Mercury. Skinny removed the masking tape from inside the door frames, got out of the car, and put the duffel in the trunk of the Mercury. He took off his poncho and crumpled it in a ball and threw it in the trunk. Sally found the key to the Mercury in the exhaust pipe and got behind the wheel. Skinny returned to the Ford and, taking a handkerchief out of his pocket, wiped down the steering wheel, dashboard, ignition key, and the door handles, inside and out. Then he got in the Mercury next to Sally.

  "You leave the doors unlocked?" asked Sally.

  Skinny nodded.

  "Good," said Sally. "Maybe some mouli'll steal it."

  Sally pulled the car slowly out of the parking lot, not turning on the headlights until he was out in the street. He drove toward the Brooklyn Bridge and the lights of Manhattan.

  "You see the fuckin' car those pricks were drivin'?" he asked.

  "That's the new Seville," said Skinny, his eyes on the rearview mirror.

  "New Seville. Fuckin' cherry. They got a fuckin' cherry Seville to drive and I get another Buick. There's no fuckin' justice in this world no more."

  "They ain't drivin' nowhere tonight," said Skinny.

  "You got a point," said Sally.

  "Drop me at the garage, right? I gotta get rid of the guns," said Skinny. "Then leave the
car. Where you parked?"

  "I got my car parked over the West Side there, on 125th under the highway," said Sally.

  "You park legal?"

  "Yeah, I parked legal," said Sally. "What am I, a fuckin' moron?"

  "Good, you don't want no tickets tonight. There gonna be a space nearby? Someplace for this one?"

  "Yeah, yeah. The spot I picked is perfect. I leave this one, walk half a block and I drive home. Bing, bing, bing."

  Sally turned on the radio. "At least this one works," he said, turning to a news channel. There was nothing yet on the radio about the shooting. After a few minutes, Sally said, "That is some beautiful gun."

  "Which one?"

  "Mine. The one I used. That is beautiful. I couldn't believe it. You see what it did to that guy's fuckin' head?"

  "They make that gun to shoot cars with," said Skinny. "I think you supposed to be able to shoot through the engine block and hit a guy behind the wheel. I think it's for state troopers."

  "It's a beautiful gun," said Sally.

  "I hope you ain't even thinkin' about holdin' on to it," said Skinny. " 'Cause there's no way. An hour from now, it's gonna be all crushed up and on its way with the other one. You smart, you get rid of your clothes, too. Burn 'em. Shoes too. That's the smart thing to do. You can't get naked when you gotta piece of work, you should burn the clothes. That's the next best thing."

  "Saves money on the dry cleanin', right, Skin?" joked Sally.

  Thirty-Four

  The metro grill on East Twenty-ninth Street was packed with its regular lunchtime crowd of executives. Waiters, captains, busboys, and a wine steward moved gracefully between the generously spaced tables. Colorful arrangements of Casablanca lilies, birds-of-paradise, irises, and wild orchids were scattered artfully around the large dining room. Tommy and Al sat in the rear smoking section, their empty show-plates still in front of them. Tommy drained the last of his third Stoli on the rocks. Al sipped from a half-empty bottle of Heineken.

  "I thought you guys lived on doughnuts and coffee," said Tommy.

  "I get out now and again," said Al. "I know how to eat with a knife and fork. I won't embarrass you."

  "The waiter hates you already," said Tommy. "Drinking outta the bottle."

  "I hate beer in the glass," said Al. "Makes it warm. Loses its bubbles."

  Tommy's Pacific oysters arrived. The waiter put a plate of New York State foie gras down in front of Al, who eyed it suspiciously. "You're sure I'm gonna like this, huh?" he said.

  "Oh, yeah," said Tommy. "I woulda ordered a nice glass of chilled sauterne with it, but I guess you're on a budget."

  "I'm fine with the beer, thank you very much," said Al. He took a big bite of foie gras, following it with most of a crustless toast point. "That's not bad."

  "You know how they get the goose liver so big and tasty like that?" said Tommy.

  "Why do I think I don't want to know this," said Al.

  Tommy slurped down an oyster. "They nail the goose's feet to a board, right? Then"—he put his hands up to his neck, mimicking the struggles of a helpless goose—"then they cram all this rich food and truffles and stuff down the goose's throat. Twenty-four hours a day, day in and day out, for weeks, they're stuffin' food into this goose. So the liver, it swells up like a fuckin' football, until it weighs like more than the goose. That's how they do it. Good stuff, huh?"

  "It's good, it's good," said Al, not entirely convinced.

  Tommy looked around at the crowded dining room. "You know, they've got it timed here. They only seat like twenty people every half hour. They won t serve more than that. They want to keep the pressure off the kitchen. Lets them keep things cool in there, they can make nice. They won't serve faster than that. One of the reasons the food's so good."

  "So, Tommy," said Al. "Tell me a little thing about yourself. How'd you get into the cooking thing? How did that happen?"

  Tommy relaxed at the question. He smiled a little bit.

  "Hey, I always liked to cook. From when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen—you didn't have a lotta choice about that if you were in my family. You wanted to see my mother, you found her in the kitchen, roasting peppers, makin' sauce. She'd cook stuff just to give it away People would come over sometimes and bring some food and they'd cook something up special and my mother would cook somethin' else and then everybody would sit down together and eat. It was like a big social thing at my house, people always droppin' by, say hello, maybe they stay and eat something. My mother was a pretty good cook. Everybody in the neighborhood thought so. A lot of food production in my house, I can tell you . . . So, a lot of times, I'd help her out in there, or somebody would come over with a lot of food and my mother would tell me to give them a hand.

  "Anyway, one summer I got this summer job out at one of those big fish houses they got in Sheepshead Bay. You know the kinda place—fried fish, fried scallops, fried shrimp, steamers, a lobster tank in the window—that sorta place. So I did that one summer and then when I got outta high school, I went back there for a job. They had a new chef they just hired and this guy has got his own ideas about food. They got him straight outta the CIA—you know what that is?"

  "The Culinary Institute, that's the place up there in Hyde Park, right?"

  "Right," said Tommy. "So, anyway, this new chef is there and he's not crazy at all about the six different kindsa deep-fried bullshit they been serving at this place. He wants a new menu. He wants better food. He's right outta school and he's ambitious and for him, the sky's the limit. He wants to get famous, and fast. So, all of a sudden, this place where I been working, where I thought I was pretty hot shit, dunkin fries and steamin lobsters, all of a sudden we're makin' real food."

  Tommy paused while the waiter filled his wine glass.

  "So, the chef, he's not too popular with some of the old-timers in the kitchen. They're used to makin' things their own way and in their own sweet time. So when the chef needed something special, like when we got some parties comin' up, these weddings and banquets, he needed somebody to help him and that turned out to be me.

  "And I liked it. I had a lotta fun. I'd never seen half the stuff this guy was making before. I had to play some serious catch-up just to keep up with the guy . . . So, there I am, learning a lotta new shit and I was havin' a good time doing it. People were impressed. Course he was drivin' the fuckin' place outta business with the kinda food he was ordering, but that's another story. Nobody gave a shit about food cost in those days.

  "So, we're doin' all these parties together, me and this guy. We're holing up in the walk-in sometimes twelve, thirteen hours at a clip, spooning aspic and chaudfroid onto whole poached fish and turkey breasts and hams. We're makin' pates and galantines and decorating them with all these cute little garnishes the guy taught me. We're wrappin' stuff up in pastry, and making flowers and leaves out of the dough. And I gotta say, a lotta the stuff was fuckin' gorgeous.

  "Looking back, I see a lotta the stuff was outta style. But at the time, when you've been droppin' breaded scallops into a Frialator six nights a week, this was pretty exciting stuff. Some of the things he showed me knocked my fuckin' socks off. And I was happy to learn. I was getting pretty cocky myself by this time, and soon, like, every time we booked another party, me and this chef would try to like outdo each other. We tried everything. Even if we didn't know what the fuck we were doing, we did it anyway. We'd tell the client, 'Sure! We can do that. No problem,' then we'd look it up in the book and wing it. I started reading up on things, going to the food shows. Me and this chef, we'd come into the city and eat around at places he knew about. And you gotta remember, I never ate in places like this before. This was a whole new fuckin' world.

  "So there I am. I'm eighteen years old, and suddenly I'm marchin' around in one of those nice uniforms, the cotton ones, no polyester. The new chef hated the polyester. I've got the jacket with the Chinese buttons on it. I'm wearing one a those coffee-filter chef hats on my head, and I think I'm Superc
hef."

  Tommy emptied his wine glass. A waiter came over and refilled it. Al sat quietly, letting Tommy talk.

  "And I'm makin' money. I'm gettin' paid off the books. I guess I shouldn't say that, but I'm gettin' paid off the books like everybody else back then . . . I've got hot and cold running waitresses all over the place, and at the end of work, everybody would hang at the bar—the kitchen staff, the floor, some of the bar regulars . . . Everybody would hang out at the bar, drinking for free, gettin' fucked up. I'm makin' the bucks, I'm getting laid like I never thought was pos sible, and people are impressed with the food I'm makin'. People are treating me like I'm hot shit. So, after a few months of this, I'm thinkin' this is not such a bad life. I'm learning a skill, I've got money, there's the sex. The world is my fuckin oyster. I go home and see my old friends from the neighborhood, they're still doin' the same shit, boosting cars, selling firecrackers to kids from Jersey, runnin' errands for people. Like they're still kids."

  "So, you didn't want any of that?" said Al.

  "Fuck, no," said Tommy. "Course they thought I was some kinda faggot or something. But I saw what they were doing. I didn't want that."

  "You still see any of them?" asked Al.

  "Not really. I see a few guys I used to know occasionally. They look at me like I'm from fuckin' Mars. Fuck them. I was proud of myself. . . My mother was proud of me. There were a few friends who thought it was cool what I was doing. Friends of the family, they'd come over like before, but this time, my mother would let me like show off. She'd just sit there at the table and I'd do the cooking. I'd try to blow them away with a good show."

  "So, what happened the place you were working," asked Al. "How long you stay there?"

  "That place folded after a year. He musta had a food cost like eighty percent. He was throwing crabmeat and wild mushrooms and all sorts of imported fish around like it cost ten cents a pound. This guy had to have number one tuna, sushi quality, nothing else would do. If the dry-goods people didn't have what he wanted, he'd come down to the city and buy it retail at Dean and DeLuca or Balducci. That's a fast way to go broke, right there. In the end, I think what the customers really wanted after all was the fried scallops."

 
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