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Bone in the throat, p.24
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       Bone in the Throat, p.24

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "This place been losing money like it was nothin," said the Count. "This guy Harvey's run the fuckin' place inta the fuckin ground. He owes everybody. You got no idea . . ."

  He owes Sally, Tommy was thinking. That's what this is about.

  "He owes rent, he owes for food, half these guys want COD now . . . He owes power, gas, water. They're this fuckin' close to shuttin' off the telephone . . . This can't go on."

  Tommy nodded politely, trying to tune in on what the Count was really saying. Were they going to close the restaurant? Was that what this was about? Was the Count going to buy it? Villa Nova II?

  Tommy examined Sally's expression. He looked relaxed, his dark, close-together eyes narrowed to lazy slits; he was leaning back in his chair, content to let the Count do the talking. Tommy wondered if he was about to be fired. He continued listening without much interest. How long had the chef been downstairs with Victor? That was what concerned him.

  "Even a fuckin' blind man can see what's been happenin' here," the Count was saying. "I mean lookit some a this shit this guy has been buyin'."

  The Count held up an invoice from Amazon de Choix, a specialty food purveyor. The Count read from a list of items: "Black truffles . . . chestnut puree . . . imported flageolets, whatever that is . . . nasturtium flowers—What the fuck is that? . . . Candied fuckin' violets . . . " He held up another invoice. "And this fuckin' tomato bill. . . Guy's buyin' Jersey vine-ripes for sixteen fuckin' dollars a box. Sixteen dollars! What for? You use 'em for fuckin' sauce?"

  "We use 'em for sauce, yeah . . . Tomato Provencale . . . some other things . . . " said Tommy.

  "Tommy, you need tomatas for sauce, I can get you inna can for practically nothin'," said the Count.

  "You can get 'em for nothin'," interjected Sally with a chuckle.

  "I mean, that's just throwin' money inna fuckin' garbage. I may not be a financial genius . . . I come inta this business, I didn't know shit. But I learned. I learned what you gotta do to make a dollar. I gotta good fuckin' business goin' over there now. You know what kinda business we do in a week there? Guess..."

  Tommy shrugged disinterestedly. The Count droned on.

  "A fuck of a lotta money. Me and my partners, we take a nice piece a money outta that place every week. Whatever you might think about my place, we do all fuckin' right over there. 'Cause I work. 'Cause I keep an eye on things. 'Cause I don't buy no tomatoes sixteen dollars a fuckin' box . . . "

  Tommy tried to tune the Count out. He hoped it would be over soon. By this time, he was sure he was going to be fired. That was what was happening downstairs, he guessed. Victor was canning the chef. He sat half-listening to the Count, more concerned with Skinny at the bar. He looked out the window, hoping to see the chef standing outside on the sidewalk, waiting for him.

  "And the crew you got down there . . . What's he been payin' people . . . " the Count was saying. "It don't make no sense! Marrone! What I wanna pay a fuckin' dishwasher that kinda money for? Minimum fuckin' wage? An American gets that kinda money. . .You don't pay these fuckin' sand-niggers that kinda money! They ain't even fuckin' legal. . . You spoil 'em!"

  The Count held up a recent payroll sheet between two fingers like it would contaminate him. "And that ain't the worst of it. That ain't the worst of it. Now, I dunno you friends with this chef or what . . . But I gotta tell you—this guy, he's paddin' the fuckin' payroll. He's gettin' money for stuff he says he's gotta buy and he don't buy it. I can read these things. You gotta, in this business. I can count. Vic been keepin' an eye on who been workin' an' who ain't been workin', and this chef you got, he been skimmin' . . . Nobody works no seven days a week here, Tommy. Am I right or what?"

  He didn't pause to let Tommy answer. He dismissed any possibility of disagreement with a flick of the wrist. So, that's definitely it for the chef, thought Tommy. He wished they'd hurry up and fire him, too. He wanted this all to be over with. He could go out for some drinks with the chef, compare notes, try to find something to laugh about.

  DOWNSTAIRS, the chef walked through his kitchen, Victor at his side. The chef had a pretty good idea of what was coming as he walked toward his office, his mind on the bottle of methadone in the center drawer of his desk. He had put his Sunday take-home bottle in there the night before and had forgotten to take it with him when he left. Just outside the office, Victor stopped and took his elbow.

  "They want you out, chef," he said.

  The chef turned and faced him, unsurprised. He had to get that bottle.

  "Today?" he said, trying to sound shocked. "I don't get any notice?"

  Victor gave a short, nasty laugh, "No, you ain't gettin' no notice . . ."

  "What about severance pay . . . two weeks—" the chef began, knowing full well he wasn't going to get it.

  "You think I'm fuckin' stupid?" said Victor. "You think I don't know what you been doin'? You been stealin' from the fuckin' house . . . You been takin' money ain't yours. And if that ain't bad enough . . . if that ain't bad enough, you're a lousy fuckin' chef. I ate some a that shit you been sellin here. It sucked. They got a chef next door could cook you unna the fuckin' table."

  The chef looked inside his office, eyes focused on the center drawer of his desk. He was wondering how he could be alone for a minute without Victor breathing down his neck; he wanted to scoop up his bottle and get out of there. It seemed unlikely he was going to get the opportunity. The way Victor was talking, he had another couple of minutes at best. . . He thought of Tommy upstairs with Sally, the Count, that other man at the bar. They were probably firing him, too. He had to get that bottle.

  The chef tried to step past Victor into the office.

  "Where the fuck you think you're goin'?" said Victor, putting a hand against his chest and blocking his way.

  "I gotta get something outta my desk," said the chef, trying his best to sound nonchalant, though in fact, his heart was racing. He was startled by the physical contact of this hand on his chest. Things were escalating in a way he didn't like. His forehead broke out in a sweat. He had to have that bottle . . . If he didn't get his dose, he'd be sick in a few hours. Worse, far worse, he'd lose the bottle itself. If he didn't return the empty bottle to the clinic tomorrow, he was going to be in deep, deep trouble. Losing his job would be nothing next to that. . . They could kick him off the program for mishandling his methadone. He'd have no job, no money, and a habit he couldn't afford. His head swam with the implications.

  "Where's Harvey?" said the chef.

  "You don't fuckin worry about Harvey," said Victor. "I'm tellin' you you're out. Nobody else gotta tell you—I'm tellin' ya."

  The chef flashed on Mr. James, his counselor. He tried to imagine explaining to him how he came to lose his bottle. It would be a disaster. Mr. James would disbelieve him as a matter of policy. Junkies lie. He imagined the things he'd have to do if he were kicked out of the program. It meant he'd be back scoring on the street again. His mother; he'd have to hit her again for money, and so soon after the last time . . . He had nothing left to sell but what . . . his TV set, the CD player. The chef thought of the look on his mother's face when he came crawling to her for money; the disappointment in her eyes, the bony white hand reaching across a table holding a check. Christ! he thought; even before the check cleared, he'd be in full-bloom withdrawal. He decided to dig in his heels. He wasn't leaving without that fucking bottle. Better Victor than Mr. James.

  TOMMY WAS barely listening to the Count. He focused on the dust motes floating in the light from the Venetian blinds over Sally's head. He tried to avoid Sally's gaze, hating him. When was the Count going to get to the point? Couldn't they just get it over with? He imagined the Count was taking his time, explaining things to him before the axe fell, out of delicacy to Sally. He wished he wouldn't. He wanted to reach across the table and shut him up, break his glasses over his nose . . . Him and his lousy food; his lousy, ridiculous restaurant; his idiotic television show, still showing in perpetual syndication, invading even Tommy'
s home. And Sally . . . he'd call Al tonight, Tommy decided. Definitely tonight, you fat, fucking embarrassment. He saw in his mind what the Dreadnaught would become under the Count's less-than-tender mercies: canned tomatoes, deep-fried breaded veal cutlets, the same specials night after night every time somebody dropped by with a load of hijacked frozen lobster tails . . .

  THE CHEF TRIED again. "I got something in my desk I gotta get," he said, "It's mine."

  "That ain't your desk no more, asshole," said Victor, the hand still planted on his chest. "You can walk out that fuckin' door right now and consider yourself fuckin' lucky."

  "My check . . ." said the chef. "What about my last paycheck?"

  "You must be fuckin' kiddin' me," said Victor. "You owe me. I don't owe you nothin' . . . The door, that's what you get. You been gettin' plenty around here . . . now you get zippo . . . goose-egg . . . nuh-thing. Got it? You got that, asshole? The door, that's what you get.

  Victor removed his hand from the chef's chest to point forcefully at the trapdoors to the street. His eyes fixed beyond Victor's shoulder, on the center drawer of the desk, the chef charged past Victor and into the tiny office. He managed to get the drawer open and pawed at the little orange bottle, aware of Victor coming up behind him. His hand was in the drawer, fingers curling around the bottle, when Victor shoved him hard from behind and kicked the drawer closed. The chef felt his fingers bend backward; a sharp pain shot up his arm to his elbow. He pulled himself up off the desk with his right hand and turned to face a smirking Victor.

  Angry and desperate, the chef fumbled again for the bottle with his traumatized hand. He managed to get his fingers around it and tightened his grip. Victor shoved him again. The chef pulled his hand from the drawer. In a smoking rage, he punched Victor full in the mouth, busting his lip.

  Victor looked more surprised than hurt. He stepped forward and swung wildly at the chef, his hand grazing the wall and missing the chef's head. He swung again and connected with a left, a glancing blow off the temple. He hit the chef in the side of the neck, knocking him back into the swivel chair. The chef tried to stand up, but Victor was still coming at him. He was punching downhill, having trouble hitting with any force, the narrow confines of the office preventing him from delivering any roundhouse blows. The chef felt another punch land over the ridge of his left eye. He hooked his legs under the chair, planted his feet solidly against the concrete floor, and stood up, burying his head in Victor's solar plexus. They crashed awkwardly around in the small space, knocking papers everywhere, Victor flailing at the chef's crouched figure, trying to bring his elbows down into his kidneys, bringing his knees up repeatedly to hit him in the stomach.

  Still holding on to the methadone, the chef reached with his right arm across the desk for something to hit Victor with. Victor nailed him with an uppercut to the ribs that staggered him, but he felt his right hand brush up against an empty Stoli bottle. He grabbed it firmly by the neck and clubbed Victor as hard as he could over the right ear. There was a loud ping and the unbroken bottle fell to the floor. Stunned momentarily, Victor straightened up, while the chef stepped in and head-butted him on the bridge of the nose.

  Victor stumbled into the hallway, bleeding from the nose and ear. He spat a long stream of pink saliva onto the floor and reached into the waistband of his pants. The chef saw the butt of a revolver and he felt the anger drain out of him and turn to fear.

  This wasn't supposed to happen like this, thought the chef. This was not how it went in the movies . . . Victor was supposed to be unconscious now, lying in a heap on the floor. He'd hit him with a bottle. He'd head-butted him as hard as he could. Why wasn't the man unconscious? The chef's first instinct was to yell "TIME OUT!" like he had when he was a kid when somebody got hurt. Or "DO-OVER!" so he could hit Victor again with the bottle.

  Instead, in a mad panic he ran gracelessly into the kitchen. He slipped onto all fours, scrambling to get away. His back burned him, as if anticipating the bullets he imagined would come tearing into his spine at any second. He made it a few more steps. He was aware of a hand grabbing him by the collar, then he felt the pistol butt come crashing down against his skull.

  Forty-One

  This could be a nice fuckin' place," said the Count while Tommy squirmed uncomfortably. "But we need somebody down there handlin the food. Somebody knows what they doin', ain't gonna stab us inna back every time we turn around, tryin' to grab a piece for himself. We need somebody we know down there. With some experience . . . This could be a real good thing for the right person. Bein' a chef is a important responsibility . . . We can't have some fuckin' jerk down there don't know what he's doin. We need somebody who can work with us . . ."

  Tommy was staring at Sally, trying to imagine what he'd look like when he found out he'd been betrayed. He tried to picture Sally at the defense table, looking up at Tommy in the witness stand. A shudder of pleasure went through Tommy.

  " . . . That's why we want you to be the new chef," said the Count.

  "Congratulations, Chef," said Sally.

  WHEN HE NEXT NOTICED that he was still alive, the chef was being hauled up off his knees. Victor's foul breath was in his nose, the hand with the gun knotted up in his hair. The chef's injured left hand was twisted up behind his back, between his shoulder blades, and Victor was leaning into it, every painful jerk squeezing tears from the chef's eyes.

  He felt himself being guided down the line by his hair, head first, his arm twisting in its socket, his hip banging noisily against the speed rack, the bottles jingling. He was being propelled forward and down, he saw, straight toward the rotary slicer.

  SALLY WAS GRINNING at Tommy. "What did I tell ya?" he said. The Count clapped him on the shoulder. Tommy sat blinking dumbly. How could they be so blind? So stupid? Sally knew he hated the Count, hated everything about him . . . How could this be happening? How could they even ask such a thing, much less announce it like he was expected to be happy, even grateful? Tommy wondered what Skinny thought about all this, sitting behind him at the bar. He couldn't be too crazy about it. Tommy shook his head in disbelief. Sally was mussing his hair now, saying, "It's a big step up inna world for you . . . Whaddaya say?" when a dreadful sound came from downstairs. His cat had made a sound like that once when she got her paw caught in a door hinge. Tommy knocked his chair backward onto the floor as he bolted to the kitchen.

  VICTOR HAD THE CHEF bent over, still working the twisted arm like a rudder for everything it was worth. The chef felt the side of his face rammed into the stainless steel safety guard on the rotary slicer. The guard moved forward a little, rolling smoothly along on its ball bearings. The pain from his twisted arm sent shock waves up into the chef's brain. With one eye, the chef could see that Victor had changed the setting on the slicer, opening it up all the way, widening the space between the razor-sharp circular blade and the safety guard, like you would for cutting prime rib. The chef thrashed and twisted, trying to pull himself back from the blade, but Victor had a firm grip on his hair, keeping his face pressed against the cold metal. There was a momentary relaxation on the arm as Victor reached down and flicked on the switch. The big blade began to spin, making its metallic, whirring sound. The chef tried to brace himself against the work table with his free arm, tried to straighten the elbow, get away from the blade, but Victor shoved the other arm up hard against his shoulders and his face banged down once again against the sliding steel guard. He felt himself being pushed forward into the blade.

  He screamed. He felt his knees buckle, and as his head moved forward, he slipped down and back a bit, suddenly a dead weight in Victor's grip. The blade took him just below the right eye; a glancing but thick slice across the cheekbone. Blood sprayed up into the chef's eyes. A thick slice of the chef's cheek fell neatly away from the bone, dropping with an audible slap onto the tray below.

  The chef fell to the floor. He was vaguely aware of Victor standing over him, his mouth moving, tugging at his clothes, cursing, trying to get him to stand
up. There was something in his eyes, he knew that, and he thought he heard noises, somebody cursing in the distance. Then he saw a pair of legs moving across his narrow field of vision. In a second, they were planted on both sides of him like the Colossus of Rhodes. They looked like Tommy's legs. He thought he recognized the boots.

  WHEN TOMMY CAME charging into the kitchen, he saw Victor standing by the slicer with a gun, the chef sliding to the floor at his feet. Tommy vaulted the steamtable, surprising himself, and knocked Victor above his hip as fiercely as he could. The revolver flew from Victor's hand, landing in the cold grease in the Frialator. Tommy yanked open a utility drawer, pulling it completely out of its housing, scattering knives and utensils everywhere. He reached for the first thing he could find and came up with the short, five-pronged ice shaver. He lunged forward and buried all five steel teeth up to the hilt in Victor's armpit.

  "You miserable fuckin mutt!" he heard himself say, and he yanked the wooden handle toward himself, ready for another thrust. The steel teeth stayed in the arm. They raked down the underside from armpit to elbow, leaving five bloody trenches.

  Victor took a few steps back and stumbled over the chef's semiconscious body. He lost his balance, put a hand out to steady himself and fell into the slicer. There was a terrible, grinding peal as the still-whirring blade chewed through Victor's fingernail. It changed pitch, a lower tone, as it continued lengthwise up the finger, halving it to the second joint.

  His shirtfront and neck spattered with blood, Victor managed to pull back his hand and take a few wobbly steps. He stood there, one good hand wrapped tightly around the wrist of the other, gaping at his ruined finger and the blood sprinkling out of his elbow. The color started to drain out of his lips, and his face became blotchy, then white. He did a sort of dispirited jig, no sound coming out of his mouth, and flopped helplessly to the floor, coming to rest at Sally's feet.

 
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