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Bone in the throat, p.21
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       Bone in the Throat, p.21

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  Thirty-Five

  There was yelling in Harvey's office. Downstairs, in the kitchen, Tommy and the chef cleaned squid and listened. Tommy stripped the skin off the squid, then removed the head and entrails, tiny undigested fish spilling out from the squids' hollow centers. He tore off the fins at the tail and removed the translucent, quill-like spines. The chef pinched each severed head, squeezing out the little balls of cartilage; cut away the tentacles from the eyes. Black squid ink squirted on his apron and ran off the cutting board, collected in pools on the stainless steel work table. He took the cleaned bodies and cut them into rings. When the pile of rings built up, he swept them off the cutting board into a bucket of water at his feet.

  "What's goin on up there?" asked Tommy.

  "They just fired Barry," said the chef.

  Tommy put a squid down and wiped his hands on his apron. "No shit," he said. "What did he do? What happened?"

  "He didn't do anything," said the chef. "This new guy, Victor, is in. Barry's out."

  "Who the fuck is Victor?" asked Tommy, lighting a cigarette with wet hands.

  "I don't know," said the chef, still concentrating on the squid. "I've never seen the guy before."

  "Where does he come from," asked Tommy. "Where has he worked?"

  The chef, annoyed, turned from the squid. "He was introduced to me as a manager slash consultant. . . That's pretty much all I know. He knows the Count. He talks about the Count's place like he built the place."

  "Young guy? Not too tall? Hairy chest?" asked Tommy. "Is that Victor?"

  "Yeah," said the chef. "You know him?"

  "I think so . . . He's got dark hair, slicked back?"

  "That's the guy," said the chef.

  "I know him," said Tommy. "He works for my fuckin' uncle."

  "Maybe we should discuss this in the war room," said the chef.

  The chef stepped into his office for a moment, reaching all the way back in the center drawer of his desk for a joint. Turning to Tommy, he said, "Hydroponic . . . from California. Saving it for a special occasion."

  A few moments later, they stood in the walk-in, surrounded by cooling buckets of chicken stock, fish fumet, demiglace, and soup. The chef lit the joint, took a hit, and passed it to Tommy.

  "So, I take it this does not portend well, this Victor guy?"

  Tommy shook his head, slowly exhaling smoke. He took another hit and passed the glowing joint back to the chef. "No . . . This is bad. This is really bad. I know the guy. He went to my high school. I think he got expelled."

  "So is he an asshole or what?" asked the chef.

  "He's worse than an asshole," said Tommy. "He's half a wise guy . . . He's half an asshole . . . He's a fuckin' half-wit. When he's not makin' pizza over at Frank's, he runs errands for my uncle and those people. He's a fuckin' moron . . . He doesn't scratch his own nuts, my uncle doesn't tell him first."

  "He didn't say anything about pizza. He talks like he's in the restaurant business," said the chef.

  "He is in the restaurant business," said Tommy. "He's the guy who comes to your restaurant and collects the money you owe for bein' in the restaurant business. He's a flunky, a bottom feeder . . . He works for Sally—what else do you wanna know about the fuckin' guy?"

  "So, what does this mean?" said the chef. "Are we workin' for your uncle now? Is that what this is? 'Cause Harvey was all hyped up about a new menu this morning . . . Am I gonna be serving baked ziti and veal parms here a week from now?"

  Tommy ran his fingers through his hair and sat down on a bushel of spinach. He reached for the joint, took a long hit and let it out. A thought struck him, he sat bolt upright. "What's the squid for?" he asked, an exaggerated look of abject terror on his face. "Tell me we're makin' Portugee squid stew . . ."

  "Harvey wants me to run fried calamari for an app tonight," said the chef.

  "Red sauce?" asked Tommy.

  "He said any way I wanna try it," said the chef. "It's like an experiment."

  "It's only a matter of time," said Tommy. "Next comes the red sauce. You seen the shit they serve next door? That's what they want . . . That's what they want us to serve."

  The chef smirked. "So, I fucking humor him. Big fuckin' deal. Listen, Tommy . . . the days are gone when I'm gonna burst a fuckin' blood vessel over principle. Long gone . . . Harvey tells me he wants fuckin' zeppoli on the fuckin' menu, I'll say, 'Sure Boss, why not? . . . Let's give it a try' Then I tell the waitrons not to sell it. I'll tell them, every time some bonehead orders it, they should look up at the ceiling and roll their eyes and sigh a lot—Are you sure you wouldn't prefer the fritures?' "

  "It's not like that," explained Tommy. "You're not dealing with Harvey, some late night he gets gassed up on coke and wants to try something and then he forgets about it . . . He didn't get up, ram some coke up his nose, and read about the wonders of calamari in Cuisine while he had his morning dump. That's what I'm tryin' to tell you . . . Victor told him he wants calamari . . . Victor wants what Sally tells him to want. . . You understand? . . . You see? It's Sally. Sally loves that shit."

  Tommy got up and paced back and forth in the crowded walk-in. "It's over, man . . . Fucking fried calamari . . . Have you had that shit they got next door? Have you ever tried it? Have you seen that shit?!"

  "Chill out," said the chef. "I'm sure it's fucking awful. But, I . . . we got bigger problems . . . So, we start looking for work. We still gotta hang here till we find something else. There's no rush, right? I mean, are we gonna get canned? I need the money right now . . . Is this guy gonna get us fired?"

  Tommy stopped pacing and considered matters. "I don't think so. I mean I know what they'd like to do, what they usually do. They'd like to shit-can the whole lot of us, the whole kitchen, and hire a buncha Mexicans or Chinamen to work for cheap, get a couple a illegals in here to slop out the overcooked pasta, bread the frozen veal cutlets, ladle a little red sauce over . . . They need a chef, they get some moke from the neighborhood in, some guy too stupid to steal cars . . . That's what they'd like to do." Tommy sat down again and lit a cigarette. "But, I think we got a little while. Sally won't wanna piss me off too much right now, I don't think. They won't fire me. And they won't fire you 'cause we're friends. They're just gonna make workin' here such a miserable fuckin' experience that everybody's gonna quit. That's what's gonna happen."

  The chef dropped the roach into the drain beneath the duckboards. He sat down on a box of oysters. "Shit," he said, "I really need the money."

  "Shit, I need the money too," said Tommy. "But what really gets me . . . what really chaps my ass is the food . . . I like the food here. I like cookin' this food . . . I don't wanna be slopping some shit out, some fucking mung like they got next door. We make nice fuckin' food here . . . I feel good at the end of the day. I don't want to slink outta here at the end of the day, wondering who's gonna get diarrhea . . . I hate that. I'd rather choke to death on my own fuckin' puke than make that kinda food anymore. I'd rather suck fuckin' turkey necks in hell than make that shit, work for those people . . .

  "And wait'll you see the friends. Wait'll you see Sally's friends show up. Hangin' at the bar, drinkin' for free, feelin' up the waitresses. Every inbred motherfucker with a tracksuit an' a gold chain gonna be hangin' out here like at the Count's . . . Why don't they just shoot me in the head—put me outta my fuckin' misery . . ."

  The chef looked alarmed. He struggled to put a good face on things. "I worked places before . . . You know, mob places. The food was okay. They weren't hangin' around all the time. You'd see them once in a while, but nobody got in the way—"

  "Those places were makin' money. Some place pullin' down ten, fifteen million bucks a year feeding tourists is different. We're not even makin' our nut here. The place has been fuckin' dyin' for months . . . Harvey's gotta be into Sally for some serious bucks if they come in and tell him to start runnin' squid tonight. It's different. The big places, that's a long-term relationship there. Everybody's makin' money, everybody
's happy. Here, nobody's makin' money—and I guess he ain't makin' it fast enough, he sends Victor over here."

  "You sure this is the same guy? You haven't even seen him yet. Maybe you should wait and see if it's the same guy before you start freakin' out," said the chef.

  Tommy stood up again and took off his apron. "I'll go up to the bar, see if I can get a peek. You want anything?"

  "Yeah, sure, bring me a Heineken," said the chef.

  Tommy walked back through the kitchen and up the stairs. He passed Harvey's office. It was quiet inside. He crossed the empty dining room and walked up to the bar. He slid back the door on the beer cooler and reached in for two Heinekens. He looked over at the men sitting at a table in the empty cocktail area in the front of the restaurant. Sitting in front of the fish tank, a single dead fish floating belly-up behind his head, was Harvey. He was sweating, nodding his head enthusiastically. The tabletop was covered with menus from other restaurants, a binder, a pile of invoices. Next to Harvey sat Victor. He saw Tommy at the bar, and he moved his head slightly in recognition, a smirk on his face. Tommy clenched his teeth and closed the cooler door. He half-turned to head back to the kitchen, beer bottles in hand, when he caught a good look at the third man at the table. Sitting against the wall, his face partially obscured by a flower arrangement, was the Count.

  "Well," said the chef, when Tommy returned to the walk-in, "how'd your reconnaissance mission go?" He took a beer from Tommy, opening it with the end of a slotted serving spoon. "Is it him?"

  Tommy nodded. He opened his own beer the same way. He made sure the heavy walk-in door was closed. "I've decided," he said. "I'm gonna drop a dime on my uncle." He laughed bitterly. "I'm gonna rat my uncle out over a plate of fuckin' squid."

  Thirty-Six

  The jacob javits Convention Center on the west side was crowded with men in cheap suits. They wore color-coded identification badges and they elbowed each other to get at the free samples of portion-controlled remaki and fish sticks and Swedish meatballs and barbecue chicken wings on the trays and in the chafing dishes around them.

  Harvey and Victor wore green badges identifying them as CEO and GM of NEPTUNE RESTAURANTS, INC., a fictitious restaurant chain. Harvey said they'd get better treatment from the sales reps, and he was right. The two men strolled past the latest model infrared broilers, convection ovens, dishwashing systems, nonstick waffle irons, and electric potato peelers. A busty woman with a wine-colored birthmark on her neck blocked their way and insistently offered them some cheese-filled cocktail franks. Harvey waved her away and headed purposefully to the escalator, Victor close behind him.

  DETECTIVE CZERNY finished his third mini-chimichanga while he watched Harvey and Victor ride the escalator to the second floor. Detective Alvarez wiped his mouth with a cocktail napkin.

  "What is that in there? Shrimp and avocado?" he asked.

  "I dunno," said Czerny. "It all tastes the same to me. I can't tell, chicken, shrimp, it all tastes like the same shit."

  "You're eating enough a them," said Alvarez.

  "They're still good. I don't have to know what a thing is to like it. Look, they're going in upstairs."

  The two detectives wiped their fingers and headed slowly for the escalator

  THE SALON GASTRONOMIQUE was a curtained-off area on the second floor. Classical music played through distorting speakers. It was the third day of the competition, and the prizes for excellence in garde-manger, charcuterie, chocolate, pastillage, pastry, and entrees had already been awarded. Harvey stood in front of a long table filled with rapidly decomposing pates and galantines and held his nose.

  "We should of come the first day," he said. "It always stinks by the third."

  Victor curled his lip and turned away. "Smells like rotten pussy in here."

  "It gets ripe sitting under the lights three days," Harvey explained. "Will you look at that shit. . . It's getting brown at the edges." He pointed at a long pâté en croute with a clock face painted in aspic on the slices.

  "This is some fuckin' food show," complained Victor. "There's nothin' here I'd wanna eat."

  Harvey ambled over to the pastry area, to a table full of wedding cakes, chocolate sculptures, pulled sugar bouquets, and marzipan fruit cornucopias. He stopped in front of a pastillage cake. In the center of the cake, painted in chocolate, was a portrait of Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone. Harvey chuckled. "You know, last year, I was here, I saw one a these chocolate paintings . . . You know what they had on it? Reagan on the phone with Gorbachev. Can you believe that? One side a the cake they had Gorby, and the other side they had Reagan, and they're both holdin' telephones. All painted in chocolate. Like somebody'd ever eat that. . . Just what I wanna do, nibble on Reagan's face. Talk about unappetizing."

  "Don't knock Reagan," said Victor. "He's alright, the guy."

  They walked to the next table and a life-size tallow sculpture of a bullfighter snapping back his cape in front of a charging bull.

  "That's like six hundred pounds of beef fat you're lookin' at there," said Harvey.

  "You can see the bull's dick," said Victor, leaning over for a better view. "You ain't supposed to eat that?"

  "No, no . . ." said Harvey. "They used to put 'em in the center of the table as like decoration. When you're doin' a banquet . . . A few places, you'd get a small one, a little Eiffel Tower or somethin' as a centerpiece."

  "That's fuckin' disgustin'," said Victor. "What do I want a pile a fuckin' beef fat sittin' there onna table for? They charge money for that? I can get all the fuckin' beef fat you need."

  They moved away from the display.

  "Are we through here? It smells like fuckin' low tide," said Victor. "I got somethin' I gotta do later." He shot his cuffs and straightened his tie.

  Harvey took a last look around the room. "Sure . . . I just wanna look at a few more things downstairs. I wanna take another look at that rotisserie they got. I think that would be great for the restaurant, don't you? We got a new menu comin' and all. I think that would be a real, nice touch. Unique. We could do a lot with one a those things. We could put all sortsa stuff on there. You could do rib-eyes, chickens, ducks. They do that in Italy, don't they? In the North?"

  "Fuck if I know," said Victor, distractedly. He was looking at his watch.

  Harvey and Victor managed to squeeze through the crowd and approached a triple rotisserie. Two capons and an overcooked whole tenderloin spun slowly in front of a gas-fed heating element.

  "I really want one a these for the restaurant," said Harvey. "It could be a signature kind of thing. People would know us for it. And it's light. That's the thing—it's light. It's not fried or sauteed or anything. You just season the thing, slap it on there, and it cooks. People can watch it goin' round an' round. It's right there in front of'em. That's gonna be the key to the new menu. Light cooking . . . No butter, no heavy sauces. Nothing fattening. Lotta chicken. You ever notice how much chicken gets ordered? It's the ladies, they order the chicken. Chicken, salad, fish. We get one a these things, maybe we get one of those grills with the volcanic rocks, throw some a that mesquite in there. We'll be back in business. That's all we need. We'll be beatin' 'em away with a fuckin' stick."

  Harvey's face shone under the track lighting. He took a napkin off a tray full of Hawaiian chicken kabobs and wiped his face. "I gotta go to the can," he said.

  Victor started to say something, hesitated, and then looked at his watch again. "Hurry up, alright?" he said. "Don't be all fuckin' day in there. I gotta see somebody later. You wanna meet at the door?"

  Harvey looked around the room again. "How about I meet you over there by the grills . . . It's on the way out. I just wanna take a quick peek at this thing. I'll be there in a few minutes, alright?"

  Victor made a face and threw his hands up, exasperated.

  "WHERE'S HE GOIN'?" said Detective Czerny.

  "He's headed for the can, I think," said Alvarez. "Should we split up? I take him, you keep an eye on the other guy?"

>   "We got a good position here. We can keep an eye on both. We split up, we get lost in the crowd, we'll never hear the end of it. HEY—get me one a those fish sticks!"

  ALONE IN THE TOILET stall, Harvey took a Sno-Seal of cocaine from his jacket pocket, dumped most of it onto the back of his hand, and snorted it. He licked the remaining crumbs and ran his tongue around over his gums.

  When he left the toilet cubicle, he checked his appearance in the mirror. There was a large white smudge under his nose, and he wiped it with a tissue from his pocket. He threw some cold water in his face, dried off with a hand towel, and left the bathroom.

  Just outside the bathroom door, he looked around for a phone. There was a pay phone to his left, but Harvey rejected it. Down a flight of steps, behind a column, he found another one. He took a handful of change out of his pants pocket and made a call.

  "Hello," said the voice on the other end.

  "This is Moses," said Harvey. "Lemme speak to Al. Now."

  "Alright, he's been expecting you. Hang on just a second. I'll connect you."

  When Al came on the line, he sounded distracted.

  "Hi. . . uh . . . What's up?"

  Harvey started right in on him. "That's it. I've had it. I can't take anymore. You gotta get me out."

  "Whoa. . . Slow down," said Al. "Slow down. What's the big problem?"

  "What's the problem? What's the problem? I'm hiding in a fuckin' phone booth like a fuckin' fugitive. This Victor person, this creep they got babysittin' me, is out there somewhere wanderin around the fuckin floor wonderin' where I am . . . I can't take it. I can't take it anymore."

  "Wait a second. Where are you? You at the Javits thing?"

  "Yeah, yeah . . . I'm at the Food Show. I thought I'd get a little fuckin' peace and quiet here, look at some things I wanna get for the restaurant—they send this, this killer, this animal with me. This guy won't let me fuckin' breathe. I can hardly take a fuckin' piss without the guy wantin' to hold my dick."

  "So where does he think you are right now?"

 
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