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Bone in the throat, p.26
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       Bone in the Throat, p.26

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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"Yeah, well," said Al. "Sometimes you have to take what you can get.

  "So what's gonna happen to the restaurant—this one?" asked Tommy.

  "They'll sell it at auction," said Al. "Some other genius'll buy it. Maybe you can work there again . . . Who knows?"

  "No way," said Tommy.

  "No hard feelings, I hope?" said Al.

  "I'll miss lunches at the Metro," said Tommy sarcastically.

  Al laughed. "You weren't gonna get too many more a those."

  "I won't miss you," said the chef. "I won't miss you a bit. I think you suck. I hope I never see you again."

  "No reason you should, Chef. . ." said Al. "No reason at all."

  "What about me?" asked Tommy. "You done with me or what?"

  "Nothing has been decided officially," said Al. "I just wrote a memo on that this morning . . . I gotta hear back before I can say for sure. It would be nice if you were available for questioning, I guess . . . should it ever come to that. Unofficially. . . my best guess? They'll pretty much leave you alone. Your uncle's dead. They got a nice, easy dead-bang homicide case against Skinny and Victor and it probably won't even be my office that prosecutes . . . I think in a few days or so, you'll be off the hook. Don't quote me." He winked.

  "What happened to Harvey?" asked Tommy.

  Al grimaced. "I don't know . . . That's a good question."

  "He's landfill, right? He's out at Fresh Kills," said Tommy.

  "Is there anything you can tell me—" Al began. He looked at Tommy and the chef, their faces closing up like a door slamming, "Ah . . . forget it . . . It's just that his chick Carol has been raising hell. She called her congressman. It's a fuckin' mess."

  "Nobody's gonna be mad at me . . . mad at Tommy, are they?" asked the chef.

  Tommy turned and looked at the chef, shaking his head at him, exasperated. "Nobody's mad at anybody. Nobody gives two shits . . . We didn't do anything wrong. Right, Al?"

  "Sure, Tommy. It's all on the record. You told me to go fuck myself. End of story. Some hard-on from the Manhattan DA wants to ask you questions about your uncle's death, you do what you think is right. I'm out of it. Any of Sally's old friends, any problems you think you might have with them, I don't know about. You know better than me . . . If I hear of anything should concern you, I'll give you a call. You're still at the same number?"

  Tommy nodded.

  Al turned to the chef. "So, how's things with you? You behavin' yourself?"

  The chef nodded and stood up. "Let's go," he said to Tommy. "I don't wanna miss the movie."

  Tommy stood up and gave Al a long last glance. Al offered his hand to Tommy. Tommy turned away as if he hadn't seen it.

  "Awwwww," chided Al. "Don't be like that. . . Don't go away mad . . ."

  Tommy and the chef walked down Spring Street without saying anything. Al got back in the Alfa. In the rearview mirror, he could see the two of them, standing next to each other in West Broadway traffic, Tommy's arm outstretched, hailing a cab.

  Forty-Five

  Charlie Wagons was wearing a red chef's hat that had been puffed out, then flattened and pushed slightly to one side. He reached under the fire with the worn Dexter meat fork and speared a veal chop. He pressed the center of the chop with his thumb and then licked the thumb. The broiler in the rear kitchen area of the Evergreen was a pull-out Garland of the old kind, and Charlie had it fired up all the way. Humming cheerfully, he pulled the grill out and located another chop. He stuck the big fork in between the thin layer of fat and the lean veal, then swung around with a practiced ease and deposited it with a thud on Tommy's plate. He put the other chop on his own plate and, with his hip, nudged the grill back under the flame. The chops smelled of fresh rosemary and garlic, and Tommy's stomach growled.

  "I heard that," said Charlie, with an easy smile. "Smells fuckin' good, don't it? I bake the garlic now, like you said. I wrap it inna foil an' I put it inna oven. Sweet. I squeeze a little a that on there—"

  "That's fresh rosemary you got there," interjected Tommy, pleasantly surprised.

  "Damn right, it is," said Charlie. "I don't use none a them fuckin' pine needles they sell inna supermarket. Fresh." Charlie smiled affectionately at Tommy, sitting at the small, round table in his jacket and tie.

  "You didn't hafta dress up for me, you know, Tommy," said Charlie. "I don't think I seen you in a tie since you was a kid."

  "I thought it was right," said Tommy.

  "Well, that was nice," said Charlie. "That was nice, but, you see what I'm wearin' . . . My fuckin' lawyers say I gotta wear this alla time . . . a fuckin' bathrobe. They make me out like I'm simple in the head if I gotta go to court."

  Tommy laughed and leaned over his veal chop for a sniff.

  "Is that some beautiful veal, or what? Look at that," said Charlie proudly. He put a large white bowl filled with steamed artichokes in vinaigrette down on the table.

  "It's gorgeous," said Tommy.

  Charlie took off the red chef's hat and padded off to a double-doored Traulsen reach-in. He opened the right-hand door and pulled out a large wooden bowl filled with salad.

  "What have you got there?" asked Tommy.

  "Ho, ho," beamed Charlie. "I got some radicchio, I got some Belgian endive, I got some arugula, a little red-tip lettuce, a little romaine." He put the salad down in the center of the table. He went back to the refrigerator and returned with a small glass bowl of roasted red peppers. "Somebody makes these for me down the street . . . " He brought a plate of sliced vine-ripened tomatoes over. "None a that shit they grow in the fuckin' greenhouse, that shit they spray with the gas . . . " He reached up on a shelf for a box of Genoa toast. "I like this better than croutons," he said. He put some black olives on the table with some extra-virgin olive oil and a bottle of vinegar.

  "I forgot the mozzarella," said Charlie. "You gotta try this stuff, it's outta this world . . . They put just the right amount a salt." He placed a dripping ball of fresh mozzarella on the large wooden butcher block next to the broiler and took a ten-inch Wiisthof chef's knife out of a well-stocked utility drawer. He unhooked a steel from a hook on the shelf and honed the blade with a few quick strokes. He put the steel back on the hook and hovered over the mozzarella. Grasping the cheese with his left hand, his fingers perpendicular to the knife, the tips tucked in and away from the blade, he began to slide the knife through. "Am I doin' it right, Chef?" he asked. He sliced four perfect thin slices onto the board.

  "You handle that like a pro," said Tommy. "You don't need me to tell you that."

  Charlie beamed at him. He arranged the slices of mozzarella on a plate and put it next to Tommy's veal chop. Then he reached for a serving fork and spoon from the table. He took them both in one hand and expertly served the salad.

  "Who showed you how to do that?" said Tommy. "I didn't show you that."

  Charlie laughed and poured some red wine into their glasses. "Some things you don't forget how to do. I worked tables for my brother-in-law Bobby when I was a kid. Out there on City Island, a rug joint. All the waiters hadda wear these little green jackets with the tails on 'em. Bow ties, the whole nine yards . . . You know, I musta been about fifteen years old . . . And did that fuckin' joint do business. They worked us like we was animals at that place. You hadda make the Caesar salads right there onna floor. You hadda do the thing with the egg, get the yolk out, grind up the anchovy and all that. . . and you hadda do everything with a fork an' spoon. No hands . . . You shoulda seen this fuckin' place . . . They had these carts for everything . . ."

  "Gueridons?" asked Tommy.

  "That's those carts you cook on, right? Yeah, they had those. They had a cart for everything. You had your salad carts, your dessert cart, your cheese cart. . . You had those things you cook on with the sterno, the gueridons. The fuckin' waiters hadda do everything. Mosta these kids workin there, they're doin' it like a summer job, or maybe they know somebody who wants to give a friend a job . . . they don't know what the fuck they're doin' out there. They
hadda make these things, these crepe suzettes, steak inna brandy sauce, all sortsa flamin coffees . . . And these punks are lightin themselves up like the fuckin' Human Torch on a regular basis. Right there inna fuckin' dining room, they spill the fuckin' sterno all over the place, they light a match and—Boom! Or, like they lean over the burnin' brandy and the hair goes up—happened at least once a fuckin' week, these jerks . . . Customers dumpin' water outta the water glasses tryin' to put their fuckin' waiter out 'fore he burns the fuckin place down. You wouldn'ta believed it. . . How's your veal?"

  "Outstanding," said Tommy, chewing enthusiastically.

  "Try the artichokes," suggested Charlie. "Anyways . . . they had alla these carts . . . And, like I said, this is a very busy place. The customers come in six-thirty, seven o'clock and then all of a sudden everybody wants cheese, coffee, dessert at the same fuckin' time . . . There ain't enough carts for everybody, so all the waiters gotta fight over them. So, it's like fuckin bumper cars at the amusement park in there—guys smackin' inta each other, pushin' and pullin' their carts around real fast. It was like a fuckin' demolition derby. More than once, a guy'd go back there in the kitchen, some other guy'd come through the swingin' doors, and he'd take a poke at him. Guys whalin' on each other on the kitchen floor, cooks hafta break 'em up . . . A fuckin' zoo.

  "So that's where I learned the bit with the fork and spoon." Charlie held the fork and spoon up and clicked them together a few times in his hand.

  "This is really good," said Tommy, nibbling on an artichoke. "You ever think about opening your own place?"

  "Nahhh . . . " said Charlie, with a scowl. "One thing I learned in the restaurant business is I never want to be in the restaurant business. You do better goin' out to the fuckin' track and puttin' your money on a horse. No shit. . . The percentages are better, you might come out of it with some money. Somebody wants to borrow money from me, open a restaurant, that's fine. But, me? My own place? No fuckin' way."

  "I thought about it a few times," said Tommy, taking a bite of salad. "I've thought about my own place someday. In the future. I guess I gotta see how things turn out."

  Charlie pulled his chair closer to the table, and his demeanor changed. "Listen, Tommy. The way I been thinkin', I don't think there's gonna be any problem for you. I been givin' it a lotta thought. I mean, you're outta work and all, and that's rough. But we gotta talk about some other things . . . First of all, I'm sorry about your uncle. I'm sorry all this shit that happened hadda happen. Your uncle wasn't a very smart guy. He made a lotta mistakes. I guess you know that. He got you involved in somethin' he never shoulda got you involved in. If I was payin' more attention, if I'd a thought about it some more, things woulda been different. He shouldn'ta got you involved. There's always another way to do things. You made a decision a long time ago not to come in with your uncle . . . I shoulda respected that. I feel real bad about that . . . I appreciate you didn't say nothin' to nobody. Your mother woulda been real pissed, real disappointed, she knew. You know how I feel about your mother, God bless her . . . I sent her a basket a fruit the other day . . . You know she got that alright?"

  "Yeah, she got it," said Tommy. "She said to say thank you."

  "Well, you know how I feel about that. I think the world of that lady Always did, always did. When your father was gone—well, that's another story. Things don't always turn out the way you want them. That's life, though, right?"

  "She likes you, too, Charlie," said Tommy. "Really."

  "Yeah, well . . . I hope there's no hard feelin's there," sighed Charlie. "Anyways . . . This thing goin' on right now . . . I talked to some lawyers I got. These guys are pretty sharp, and they tell me there ain't gonna be any problems with that thing that happened. They said they're shuttin' down this grand jury that was makin' such problems for everybody. . . Okay, Skinny and Victor, they got a problem. But they ain't gonna be talkin' about anything to anybody, so you don't have nothin' to worry about there.

  "The feds don't like to get embarrassed—this one fuckin' U.S. At torney in particular don't like it—so, there might be some bad feelings, all the money they spent tryin' to put a guy away who ain't even around anymore. They got fuckin' nothin', they got no case . . . So, they could, like, bust your balls for a little while, they want to, but the lawyer says in the end, they'll probably forget about it. Still, they could be hangin' aroun' your neck for a while, and that, you don't need. Right?"

  "Right," said Tommy.

  "So, here's the thing . . . I was thinkin' maybe you should take a nice trip somewheres . . . For a couple years. Take a nice trip down there, the Caribbean. Take the girlfriend. You hang around the beach, get yourself a suntan. Maybe, when you're down there, you wanta look a few places over. You see some nice little shack onna beach somewhere, it's gotta few chairs, a bar, right onna beach there . . . you give me a call. You know how to call me. I send you down a few bucks, you can start your own place."

  "Charlie, that's awful nice a you," started Tommy, "but—"

  "No, no, no . . ." said Charlie. "It's not like that. You don't owe me nothin'. I'm talkin' about some mom-and-pop type a' place, you serve a few pina coladas to the tourists when you're not out gettin' a tan. This'll be your place and yours alone. You won't owe me nothin'. You manage to make yourself some money, good for you . . . You lose money, also good. No obligation."

  Charlie reached across the small table and took Tommy's hand. "You see, kid, you'd be doin' me a favor. We gotta get you outta town. You see? There ain't gonna be any problems with the law, but some of the fellows don't feel too good you walkin' around seein' what you seen. Skinny and Victor and Danny, they get to talkin' with the lawyers and you know, with that case comin up . . . Skinny and Victor's case . . . Well . . . I know how these guys think. You gotta get outta town. It's better for you, it's better for me. You unnerstan' what I'm sayin' to you here?"

  "I understand," said Tommy.

  "So, is that gonna be alright with you? I give you a few bucks, you go downa beach for a while? Start up a little joint down there, look at the waves, scratch your balls under a palm tree? That don't sound too bad to me . . . Somebody offer that kinda thing to me, I was your age, I woulda grabbed it with both hands. Whaddaya say?"

  "That sounds fine, Charlie," said Tommy. "That sounds great."

  "Well, alright," said Charlie, slapping his palm on the table. He refilled their glasses with wine and held his up to Tommy. "Salud," he said.

  "Salud," said Tommy.

  "See, I knew there was a solution to everybody's problems. Just do me a favor, okay? Don't tell your mother I'm involved. You make it sound like it was your idea. Tell her you been savin' up. I'd appreciate it."

  "Sure, sure," said Tommy. "No sweat."

  "Maybe we can get her down there for a weekend over the holidays or somethin'."

  "That would be great," said Tommy.

  "Okay. That's that. . . Now eat your fuckin' veal chop."

  A Note on the Author

  Anthony Bourdain is the author of Kitchen Confidential

  and Gone Bamboo. He is the executive chef at Brasserie

  Les Halles in New York City.

  By the Same Author

  Fiction

  Gone Bamboo

  Non-Fiction

  Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

  Copyright © 1995 by Anthony Bourdain

  All rights reserved.

  You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce, or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (including without limitation electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, printing, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. For information address Bloomsbury USA, 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018.

  Published by Bloomsbury USA, New York

  Bloomsbury is a trad
emark of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been applied for.

  Originally published in hardcover in 1995 by Villard Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.

  This e-book edition published in 2000

  eISBN: 978-1-59691-723-1

  To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com. Here you will find extracts, author interviews, details of forthcoming events and the option to sign up for our newsletters.

 


 

  Anthony Bourdain, Bone in the Throat

 


 

 
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