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Bone in the throat, p.20
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       Bone in the Throat, p.20

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "So where did you go after that?" asked Al.

  "I got a job at the Rainbow Room. Big, big kitchen. A lotta cooks. I ran the lunch buffet in the Rainbow Grill, I stayed there a couple years, learned some things. They moved me around on the stations. I'd fill in on sauté some nights, on the grill. I even worked in the pastry shop for a while, decorating cakes and shit. I moved on a couple a other places, tryin' to move up a little, looking for a job as a sous."

  "You never went to college?"

  "Nah . . . never made it," said Tommy.

  "How come? You're a smart kid," said Al.

  Tommy made a face. "Lotta reasons. I was hooked on the money for one. I saw the few guys I knew who did go to college—they were all fuckin' waiters where I worked. So, I thought, who needs that? I just didn't see it . . . Maybe the CIA would have been a good idea. I think I would have liked going there. I coulda got off doing that . . ."

  "So, why don't you go? It's not too late," said Al.

  "You sound like my mother," said Tommy.

  "So you met Michael at the Dreadnaught, or you know him from someplace else?" asked Al, leaning over to refill Tommy's wine glass.

  "The chef? I met him there. I got the job through a friend of a friend—"

  "Your uncle got you the job," interjected Al.

  "Yeah, my uncle got me the job. This place I was workin' uptown folded and I was looking for a sous-chef's job. He gave me a call one day and says go by this place, I hear they need a sous-chef. That's where I met the chef, Michael... I guess I was kinda forced down his throat. I'm sure he couldn't a been too pleased when I showed up. Most chefs, they like to bring in their own sous. They move to a new place, they like to hire away all the people they worked with at the last place they worked. But, he was pretty cool about it. He went to school in Paris, you know that? He went to La Varenne. That's like the best place there is for cooking."

  "I didn't know that," said Al.

  "Oh, yeah . . . He's good, the chef. He's worked all over the place. He's worked at Windows, he's worked at La Cote Basque, in the Caribbean, in France . . . So, I really busted hump for the guy when I first got there. I mean I worked. I came in early, stayed late. I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut and I didn't give him any attitude. After a while, he saw I was into what I was doing. I wasn't standin' around with my cock in my hand waiting for a paycheck like a lotta guys. I showed up on time every day and I didn't make him look bad when he wasn't around. So we started to get along. We started to hang out after work, goin' out to the clubs together. We'd talk about food. He introduced me to people, other chefs who were friends of his. He taught me a lot. He's good people."

  "You probably covered his ass for him when he fucked up," said Al.

  "Look," said Tommy, defensively. "He has problems. Everybody's got problems."

  "He's a nice guy, then . . . " said Al. "For a junkie."

  "He's off that," protested Tommy. "He's in rehab. You know that, right?"

  "Yeah, yeah," said Al. "I know."

  "What you guys did to him, that's not right. He doesn't deserve that. He's trying. You're not makin' it any easier," said Tommy.

  "Like you said, Tommy. Everybody's got problems," said Al. "I've got problems. You've got problems. My problem is your uncle the fuckin' Wig. That's what my problem is right now."

  Tommy and Al sat silently while a busboy took their appetizer plates away. The waiter brought a bottle of red wine and opened it neatly. He poured a little in Tommy's other glass for him to taste. Tommy rolled a sip around in his mouth for a second, and smiled and nodded. The waiter filled his glass. Al ordered another Heineken. A few minutes later, the entrees arrived. The waiter put Al's plate down first. It was a carefully shingled fan of sliced duck breast, blood rare, laid around a mound of two different kinds of chutney and some braised lentils. A plumage of baby greens towered over the plate.

  Tommy had a plate of whole roasted squabs, boned out and spread-eagled atop a wild rice pilaf. The edges of the plate were drizzled with a dark sauce studded with chanterelles and black truffles.

  "Wow!" said Al, gaping at his plate. "I don't know whether I should fuck it or eat it. You weren't kidding, this place."

  "I fuckin' love it," said an ebullient Tommy. "This really turns me on, food like this."

  "I knew you weren't gonna be a cheap date—but this is fuckin' ridiculous. This is wild," said Al, putting a forkful of duck breast into his mouth. "Jeez, that's good. That's really good."

  "I'm not going to rat on my uncle for a free lunch," said Tommy, attacking his squab.

  When the entrees were gone and the empty plates cleared away, the table decrumbed, and another bottle of wine ordered and consumed, after the cheese and the dessert and the tiny cups of espresso, Tommy sat blissfully sipping cognac from an enormous snifter. Al, who had mortified the waiter by ordering a post-dessert beer, loosened the top snap on his pants and settled into his chair with a groan.

  "You tryin' to get me drunk, Al?" asked Tommy with a crooked smile. " 'Cause I'm a quiet drunk. I'm a sentimental drunk. Some people, other guys, they're loud drunks, they wanna tell you their life story, get in a fight, tell everybody what's wrong with the world. Me, I get quiet, I get philosophical. I get sentimental when I'm drunk. You tryin' to get me drunk, Al? Is that what you're doin'?"

  "Maybe a little bit," said Al, raising his beer bottle in a mock toast, then taking a drink from it.

  "I'm more than a little bit drunk," said Tommy.

  "You got a girlfriend, Tommy?" asked Al.

  "Kind of," said Tommy.

  "Somebody from work?"

  "Yeah. Somebody from work. You prolly know that already, right? Like you know where I eat my breakfast. From twistin' the chef's nuts. You prolly know all about it."

  "Yeah," said Al with an apologetic smile. "I gotta admit, you're right about that. She's a pretty girl. What's her name again?"

  "Cheryl. Her name's Cheryl," Tommy tried to sit up straight. "You know her name. Don't play with me. It's not nice."

  "Sorry," said Al. "Just tryin' to establish rapport here. Next, I'm supposed to tell you about my wife or my family, you know, commiserate a little. I guess you don't want to hear about that."

  "No, no," said Tommy eagerly, seemingly happy to change tack. "I'd like that. Tell me about your wife. Does she cook?"

  "Sure she cooks," said Al.

  "Yeah? What does she cook?" asked Tommy, slurring his words now. "What does she cook when it's like your birthday, special occasion, and she really wants to lay it on right for you? It's gotta be . . . there's gotta be one thing she makes for that, right? One thing she does real good. Something special. With my mom, it was veal saltimbocca. She'd go down to the store and bitch at the guy till she got the right piece of veal, fight over the price, then she'd come home and pound the shit outta that veal with this mallet she had . . . I guess it wasn't that good, to be honest. I seen a lot of veal saltimbocca since then. But I loved it. I still love it. Moms are like that. They get themselves a small repertoire of things they think they do real well and then they do it over and over."

  "Roast beef," said Al.

  "Roast beef?" said Tommy with a grin.

  "Yeah. Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding," said Al. "First time she got that Yorkshire to rise up in the pan right, and stay up, she was so happy. Now she's a pro at it. Makes a sauce, a gravy, to go with it. Outtasight."

  "Lumps?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "The gravy. It's gotta have lumps you eat gravy at home. No good without the lumps. It's like mashed potatoes, you gotta have the lumps or people think you're back there mixin' up Instant Potato Buds or something, some shit like that. Gotta have those lumps. So what does she make for dessert? After the roast beef?"

  Al blushed slightly and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

  "C'mon, Al," Tommy persisted, "What does she make for dessert?"

  "She makes Jell-O. With fruit in it," said Al.

  Tommy laughed out loud. A
l looked even more uncomfortable.

  "The red stuff or the green stuff?" asked Tommy, still laughing, tears running down his cheeks.

  "The red," grumbled Al.

  "With what?" Tommy pressed on. "With what kind of fruit? Sliced bananas?"

  "Fruit cocktail," said Al. "Del Monte can a fruit cocktail you gotta know. Laugh if you fuckin' want. I love it."

  "I know what you mean," laughed Tommy, struggling to regain his composure. "I know what you mean. I love it, too."

  Al called for the check. It arrived a few moments later in a leatherbound book on a silver tray. Al took out a credit card. The waiter took the card and returned.

  "How much I give this frog-swallower for a tip?" asked Al.

  "Straight twenty," said Tommy. "These guys live on tips."

  "I thought you double the tax. Twenty percent of this check, I could put my kid through college," complained Al.

  "Twenty percent. That's what I do. Restaurant people, they go out to eat, they leave twenty percent. . . unless the waiter's a screamin' fuckin' asshole."

  Al signed the credit card slip after adding in 15 percent. He waited for the waiter to return with the carbon, then made a notation in a small spiral-bound book. He put the carbon in his wallet, shook his head, and exhaled loudly.

  "You gonna have a problem justifying this on the old expense account, there, Al?" said Tommy, visibly enjoying himself. "This wasn't exactly lunch at the Sizzler."

  "No problem, Tommy," snapped Al, "I got you down as 'A Potential High Level Source with a Unique Perspective on the Inner Workings of a Major Organized Crime Family' "

  "That's kinda an exaggeration, isn't it?" said Tommy.

  "We'll see," said Al. "I'm an optimist."

  Al retrieved an ancient Burburry trenchcoat from the coat-room, remembering to discreetly button up his pants again. They stepped out onto the sidewalk, and Al gestured toward the red Alfa, parked across the street.

  "Lemme give you a lift," said Al. "There's some things I want to show you in the car."

  Wobbly on his feet, Tommy agreed. Once inside the Alfa, Al reached under the driver's seat and removed a manila envelope. The words CONFIDENTIAL: NOT FOR DISSEM were stamped in red ink on the side.

  "I just want to show you a few pictures," said Al. "You don't have to say anything. Just look at the pictures. Like Show and Tell. I'll show and I'll tell. Won't hurt a bit.

  "This here's your uncle, Sally Wig," said Al, holding up a grainy black-and-white surveillance photo. "That's Charles Iannello, or Charlie Wagons, as we've come to know and love him, standing next to him there. I understand he knew your father. You must have seen him around. I love the bathrobe, don't you? Pretends to be nuts. Looks like he's kinda pissed off in this picture, doesn't it? Maybe he's mad at the Wig. There's not a lot of love there, I understand."

  He held up another picture, "Here's another . . . Sally Wig and friend, out taking the air. The friend, I think maybe you've seen this gentleman around, too. A Mr. Gaetano "Skinny" di Milito. Not a very nice man, from what I can tell. You know he dragged a box cutter across his teacher's face a couple a' times in shop class a few years back. Course, he was a juvenile, back then. Nine months in Spofford for Skinny. A hundred sixty-eight stitches for teacher. I guess Skinny musta got frustrated tryin' to make a wallet or something."

  He showed Tommy another picture, this one in color. It was a close-up of the teacher's face, a polaroid, taken in the hospital. The face was swollen and purple, bits of suture visible around the wounds; patches of oozing gauze covered the worst parts.

  He held up another. "Oh, here's one. This is some of Sally's work. Some that we know about, that is. This guy was insensitive enough to take Sally's parking space. Foolishly thought he could park some where just 'cause it said Public Parking on the sign. Wrong . . . Sally was kind enough to show him the error of his ways. Broke his collarbone and both elbows with an axe handle. He looks kinda like a lobster in those casts, doesn't he?"

  Tommy turned his head away. "I don't wanna see this shit," he said.

  "Just a few more," said Al. "Here's a couple of new ones. You might be interested to know this happened just the other night in Brooklyn. Maybe you've seen these two gentlemen around the Dreadnaught. They were regular customers of yours, apparently. They musta been customers, right, 'cause they were sure in and out of there a lot in the past few weeks. It's hard to recognize them now, though." He held up a crime scene photo of the two men in the Brioni suits. They were lying in the street, two heaps of dark, wet rags on fields of black blood.

  "We still don't know what they used on this guy," said Al, showing Tommy a close-up of a man's head, teeth showing through exploded gums, a half-empty skull.

  "Looks like they used a fuckin howitzer . . . They're still sponging bits a this one out of his car. Found a right incisor stuck into a telephone pole, fifteen feet away, if you can believe that."

  "You wanna make me throw up in your nice car?" said Tommy. "Keep it up . . . I don't like this. I dont know why you want to do this to me. Enough, alright? . . . Enough."

  "We don't know for sure your uncle did this," said Al. "I'm not making any allegations, here . . . Not now, anyway . . . I'm just tellin' you, man to man—we have reason to believe your Uncle Sally was angry at these two men. We know he was angry. Let's just say, we think he had a compelling reason. We know that . . . So, what we think has happened, is that one day, Sally gets angry. The next day, they turn up like this."

  It was another close-up. A dead man's face, white and wet, a tire track running diagonally across broken cheekbones. "Whoever done this is a terrible driver You know if Sally's got his license?"

  "Alright!" shouted Tommy angrily. He reached for the door. "Stop it, or I'm getting outta the fuckin' car. I'll take a cab."

  Al dangled a last picture in front of his face. It was an old mug shot of Freddy Manso. Instead of the corpulent alcohol-ravaged face Tommy had seen at the Dreadnaught, the face in the photo was of a young man, smooth-complected, almost feminine, with dark eyes, carefully combed ducktail, and a hint of baby fat around the cheeks and jaw. Freddy looked defiantly at the camera, holding up his name and number with a casual tilt of the head. But there was a softness, even fear, in the face, too . . . Tommy turned away and looked out the window.

  "Okay, Tommy, here's how it is," said Al. He put the pictures back in the manila envelope and put the envelope back under his seat. "Here's how it is . . . No bullshit, alright? I'm gonna drop you off downtown . . . You go home and think about things for a few days. You think hard for a day or two or three, and then we'll have another talk. It's time to shit or get off the pot . . . I had a nice lunch with you today. I enjoyed it. I think you're a nice kid. I had fun. But I don't want to be lookin' at a picture of you lookin' like that one of these days . . . You talked to Michael. You know what the score is . . . Things are gonna be getting pretty bad for the people around you in the next few weeks. People you know are gonna start getting subpoenas. They're gonna have to go to a grand jury where other people are gonna be asking them questions. And some of these people, the people that are getting asked the questions . . . they're gonna start worrying about who else but them knows the answers to those questions.

  "We have reason, good reason, to believe that your uncle, Sally, is gonna be worried about you. About something that happened to this man, Freddy Manso. I know you've met Freddy . . . Sally is gonna be worried. His friend Skinny is gonna be worried. Their friends are gonna be worried. And me and the people in my office are gonna be givin them a lot to worry about. I think they're gonna start worrying about you.

  "When we start asking these people about what happened to Freddy Manso in front of a grand jury, what do you think is gonna be runnin' through their minds? What do you think Skinny's gonna be thinking about when he's up there on the stand, committing all kindsa perjury? They're gonna be thinkin' about Tommy Pagano. I think they're gonna be sayin' to each other, 'Hey, is Tommy gonna stand up when they haul his ass up he
re, give him limited-use immunity, direct him to testify?'

  "You know what, Tommy? I think they're gonna say, 'Hey, Tommy's got this cookin' thing he's got goin'. He's got a girlfriend . . . Maybe, maybe we don't know what's in Tommy's mind Sure, sure . . . Sally's your uncle, he's blood and all that. . . But you know what? I seen a lotta guys get clipped over the fuckin' years, Tommy . . . Blood doesn't seem to count for all that much anymore . . . You know what I'm talkin' 'bout? It happens . . . " Al let it all hang in the air a few seconds.

  "You're talkin' about my fuckin' uncle," said Tommy. "He practically raised me . . . He's my mother's brother . . . You want me to rat on somebody I known my whole life."

  "You are a sentimental drunk," said Al. "I just don't see Sally and Skinny and that crew as sentimentalists. Sally, Skinny, Danny, Charlie, and them, they don't strike me as the trusting type. They strike you that way? I see them more as the type a guys who like to be sure about a thing."

  Tommy said nothing, he sat there in his seat, arms crossed in front of him.

  "So, don't rat," said Al. "Fine . . . I'm not saying you have to do anything, right this second. But the grand jury's another thing. Go home and think about things . . . When you've thought about things a while and you think maybe you're in need of a friend, give me a call. Here's a card, you call this number anytime, day or night, and you don't have to give your name. You just tell the guy who answers your name is Aaron and you wanna talk to Al. He'll connect you . . .

  Tommy took the card.

  "No matter how bad it is, Tommy, we can make it right together. No matter how bad . . . I just want you to know I'm there when you want a way out. You've got a friend if you need one."

  Tommy began to retch. He quickly opened the door, leaned out over the street, and threw up. Al slid over. He patted him gently on the back. "That's alright..." he said. "That's good . . . You'll feel better."

 
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