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Bone in the throat, p.4
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       Bone in the Throat, p.4

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "Spit it out! Spit it out!" somebody was yelling.

  The next thing he knew, he was being handcuffed.

  Eight

  The lumpy-looking waitress with the nose ring (Tommy could never remember her name) picked up her appetizers and headed for the dining room. Tommy wiped the sweat out of his eyes and looked nervously at the clock.

  "Party of twelve," said Cheryl, one of the prettier waitresses. She was dark, with brown hair cut to the shoulders, large, almond-shaped eyes set wide apart, and an easy, sardonic smile. She straightened her bow tie and leaned her elbows onto the slide. "Walk-ins . . . what can I say?"

  "Fuck!" said Tommy, bony. . .

  Tommy started to say something else but Stephanie, another waitress, just as pretty as Cheryl but taller, crowded in next to her, a cigarette dangling from her lips.

  "What's going on?" she asked.

  "Could you not smoke over the fucking food—please?" said Tommy, turning his back to the two girls and giving a pan full of shrimp a shake.

  "What's his problem?" Tommy heard Stephanie say.

  "Big table of walk-ins," said Cheryl. "Your station."

  "Great. I need the money," said Stephanie, leaving her cigarette still burning on top of the stainless steel shelves, between stacks of plates. She ran up to the dining room, her Cuban heels clattering loudly on the wood steps.

  "Where's your expeditor?" said Cheryl, lowering her voice.

  "Chef's stepped out for a minute," said Tommy.

  It was after six when the chef returned. Service had started an hour earlier, and the board was filled with dinner dupes.

  "What happened to you?" said Tommy, irritably. "We're fuckin' swamped."

  The chef looked haggard and dirty. "I got robbed," he said quietly, so Ricky couldn't hear him over the exhaust fan. "Three guys got me, comin' outta the place."

  Tommy positioned a lobster claw in a big bowl of bouillabaise, then smeared rouille on two croutons and put them on opposite ends of the rim. "Cheryl! Pick up!" he yelled, putting the steaming bowl up on the shelf.

  "What did they get?" he asked the chef.

  "They got everything. They had a fuckin' box cutter at my neck. What was I gonna do?" said the chef, annoyed.

  "Bummer," said Tommy, watching Cheryl take the bouillabaise and a bowl of steamed mussels off the shelf. He took down a dupe and spiked it. "You alright?" he asked the chef

  "Yeah, yeah," said the chef, tying his apron. "Just a little freaked. I walked around a little after."

  "So they got it all," said Tommy, turning around to lift a piece of sauteed skate out of a pan. He drizzled basquaise sauce around it.

  "All of it," said the chef, stepping behind the line. "I had it and they took it. Sorry."

  Tommy wiped the rim of a plate with a kitchen towel. "Are you gonna make it through the night?"

  The chef shook his head. "No way. I'm sick already. I'll hit Harvey for an advance later and maybe hit Ninth Avenue or the Upper East after service. You wanna go again?"

  "Fuck it. I'll get drunk instead. It's free."

  "Sorry about the money," said the chef, looking pained.

  The chef took his place at the sauté station. Tommy moved over to the grill and scrutinized a long row of fluttering tickets hanging from clothespins over the outgoing food orders.

  "Pick up snapper!" yelled Tommy, leaning on the call buttons. Cheryl's chin and breasts appeared under the stacks of plates. She leaned into the narrow opening over the shelf.

  "She doesn't want the head," she said. "She says she doesn't want it looking at her."

  "Cheryl," said the chef. "I'm lookin' at the ticket right here and I don't see anything where it says 'head off.' "

  Cheryl gave him a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry, I vegged out. I forgot. Can't you just whack the head off for me now? This woman is a bitch on wheels. She'll just send it back."

  "Take the head off," said the chef, turning to Tommy. Tommy slid the cooked red snapper off the plate and onto the cutting board. He reached to his right and came over with a wide, carbon-steel blade, severing the head from the body in one motion.

  "Not with my knife!" howled the chef too late. "Not with my fuckin' knife!"

  "Shit," said Tommy. "Sorry. I wasn't thinking."

  The chef ignored the orders on the board and picked up his knife. He held it at eye level and examined the blade. There was a tiny indentation in the soft metal at the heel. "Shit!" he exclaimed.

  "Shit," said Tommy.

  "My baby," said the chef. "You fuckin' mutilated my baby."

  "Can't you work that out with a stone?" asked Tommy.

  "Where's my snapper?" said Cheryl.

  Tommy coated the bottom of a clean plate with beurre blanc and gently lowered the headless snapper on top. Using two plastic squeeze bottles, he drew quick abstract flowers on the plate around the fish, then pulled the tip of a paring knife through the design, making artful swirls through the beurre. He spooned a dot of red pepper relish onto the fish and put the plate up on the shelf for Cheryl.

  "You can fix it, right?" he asked the chef, who was still brooding over his knife.

  "Yeah, yeah, I can fix it," said the chef. "Please, please don't fuck with my knife unless I tell you, okay? Please?"

  "Sorry," said Tommy.

  "Where's Stephanie?" shouted the chef, to nobody in particular. "This food is getting cold! Pick it up! It's piling up back here!"

  "She just took out a cold order," said Tommy.

  "So send it with somebody else," said the chef. "The shits dyin ." He pounded on the call button. A new waitress with a nose ring arrived.

  "What do you want?" she said.

  "What I want," said the chef, "is for somebody to pick up this fuckin' food for me. This. Will you take this out to A-seven for me? If you would be so kind?" He mopped his brow. His nose was running.

  "And can you bring me a Heineken when you come back?" asked Tommy.

  "I'll get it for you," said Cheryl, back at the shelf. "Chef? You want something?"

  "Gimme a Coke," said the chef.

  "Ricky?" asked Cheryl.

  Ricky put down a basket of gaufrette potatoes filled with pommes soufflees and pushed a few sweaty strands of blond hair off his face. "Rockin Roll," he said.

  "One Heineken, one Coke, one Rolling Rock," said Cheryl. "How about the dishwashers?"

  "Yeah," said the chef, "Bring 'em a couple a Cokes and a few packets of sugar. They like extra sugar in it."

  "That's fuckin' disgusting," said Cheryl. She turned and headed out the kitchen doors.

  "Man," said the chef, "I'd like to suck on her ass till her head caves in."

  Tommy gave him a sour look and laid two pieces of center-cut swordfish on the grill, brushing them with garlic and pepper oil. A few minutes later, Cheryl returned with the drinks. She handed Tommy his Heineken first. "There's a call for you on oh-two-two-seven," she said.

  "Me?" asked Tommy.

  "Yeah. Barry says it's for you," she said.

  "I'll get it in the office," said Tommy. He stepped out from behind the line and jogged back to the chef's cramped office. He sat down on an upended milk crate, picked up the phone, and pressed the blinking button for 0227.

  "Hello," he said.

  "It's me," said Sally. "No names."

  "What is it? I'm busy," sighed Tommy.

  "I gotta see you. Tonight."

  "Tonight? What for? What do you gotta see me about?"

  "I'll tell you what I gotta see you about when I see you," said Sally.

  "So, what—are you gonna swing by here later?"

  "No," said Sally, "I'll meet you next door at the Count's."

  Tommy groaned. "Don't do this to me. Does it hafta be there?"

  "I'm fuckin' hungry. And I'm pressed for time here. I'm in a fuckin' hurry and I got somethin' else I gotta do over there. Kill two birds with one stone," said Sally.

  "Don't make me go over there," said Tommy. "I'm gonna have to talk to Sonny I go over there."


  "Listen," said Sally, curtly, "I've gotta meet a guy over there. Come by around ten, ten-thirty. You're outta there by then, right?"

  "Yeah, yeah, soon's the rush is over. You sure it can't be here?"

  "No," said Sally. "I'll see you later." He hung up.

  Nine

  The count's villa nova restaurant was everything Tommy hated in the world, all in one room. Bad food, bad music, and bad company. It was Embarrassment Central, made worse by the fact that he knew the Count, knew people that hung out there.

  It was a big glass box with a bright green awning. The inside was all green carpeting and brass railings and mirrors. The restaurant was frequented by hordes of blue-haired tourists who chewed with their mouths open and left 10 percent tips, as well as a smattering of local wise guys from Sally's crew, enjoying the benefits of their investment. The place was always packed with groups of theater-goers who came over to Soho in their buses after some off-off-Broadway show; came over to see the Count, whom they remembered from that TV show, the comedy about the vampire who's really kind of a nice guy, looking after the cute kid, that little boy, what was his name?

  The Count still got work. Whenever they shot a gangster movie of the week or a cop show in New York and they needed an authentic-looking Mediterranean-type wise guy, they'd call the Count. Any time you needed a somewhat lovable shylock, a huggable hit man to dress up a scene, somebody to say "dis and dat" and "youse guys" and "yeah, boss" like he meant it, the Count was your man.

  God knows, thought Tommy, standing outside the front door, he certainly dresses the part. Twenty years playing exaggerated wise guys since his vampire show got canceled had spurred the Count to new heights of cartoonish wise-guy attire, a hideous overblown version of the people Tommy had been around, in one way or another, his whole life. Tonight, the Count wore a bright red sport coat, shirt open mid-chest, and gold chains. And of course, he had the watch, the pinky ring, the white patent leather shoes, the cheap, pleated slacks buckling under his gut.

  Tommy looked up at the drawing on the awning of the Count's profile with his vampire cape drawn up around his ears. He sighed loudly and opened the front door. The Count, recognizing Tommy at once, came out from behind the cash register to greet him.

  "Tommy, baby! How are ya? I ain't seen you in fuckin' ages," he said. "How's it hangin'?" He reached down to goose Tommy, but Tommy avoided the Count's wrinkled hand.

  "How you doin', Sonny," said Tommy.

  "Beautiful. I'm doin' beautiful . . . You see me on the tube last night? I was on that cop show, Perps, you see that?"

  "No, I missed it. I was workin'," said Tommy.

  "So, how's your mother," said the Count. "You son of a bitch, I never see you aroun' no more."

  "She's good, she's good," said Tommy.

  "Say I said hello for me, will ya? I been meaning to send her over somethin, some food or somethin'. Jesus, Tommy, it's been fuckin' years . . . What are you doin' over there? Sally said you the chef over there, is that right?"

  "I'm the sous-chef," said Tommy, wincing.

  "Well," said the Count, "Not for long, right, Tommy? One a these days you make your move, you'll be the one runnin' things, right?" He clapped Tommy on the shoulder and winked at him.

  "So," said Tommy, eager to change the subject, "How's things, how's business?"

  "You know," said the Count, "Usual bullshit. Your uncle's here, right over there inna corner table, with Skinny."

  Tommy gulped. He hadn't known about Skinny.

  "You gonna eat somethin', Tommy?" asked the Count.

  "I don't know, I ate at work."

  "Oooh!" blurted the Count, disappointed. "You should come over for dinner. I ain't seen you over here since we opened. You were here for the opening, right? You was here with that lady a yours, what was her name? Helen?"

  "Ellen," said Tommy.

  "Right, Ellen. Ellen. Beautiful girl. Where you hidin' her?"

  "She went out to L.A.," said Tommy.

  "Actress, right?" said the Count, nodding wisely. "All these broads are actresses, now. Well, plenty more where that came from, right?" He winked again.

  "Yeah, well . . ."

  "So, how you doin' next door? How's business? You doin' awright? Busy?"

  "Pretty busy," said Tommy "You know how it is. Summer."

  "I know, I know. At least we get the tourists. People remember the show. You know . . ."

  "They keep me pretty busy."

  "Still, you gotta make time for your friends. I see Sally alla fuckin' time. Still bouncin' aroun' with the same guys. You, I never see. I seen you goin' in and out next door, that's it."

  "Gotta keep an eye on the store," said Tommy.

  "You should eat here," said the Count. "I oughta be insulted."

  "I haven't seen you over at my place either, Sonny. So don't bust my balls too bad. I been busy, you know how it is," said Tommy.

  The Count smiled. "I never get outta this fuckin' place. I turn aroun' for a second, they robbin' me blind. I gotta be here every fuckin' minute. I gotta watch these fuckin' guys like a hawk. These fuckin' busboys, the dishwashers . . . Forget about. They smokin' shit in my walk-in, stealin' food with both hands. I caught one a the cooks, this guy is callin' Puerto Rico onna phone yesterday, he musta been on there half an hour talkin' to the whole family."

  "Wacky world of food service, right?"

  "Yeah," said the Count, his mind elsewhere. He remembered where he was. "Well, I better let you go. I see your uncle over there, givin me the evil eye. You shouldn't keep him waitin."

  "He's just wondering where his food is."

  "Nah. He got his food already," said the Count. "It's been great talkin' to ya, Tommy. I'll see ya later. Lemme know—you decide you want somethin' to eat, I'll send over a waiter."

  Tommy walked over to Sally's table and sat down across from him on a green leather banquette. A bored waiter, looking wilted and unwashed in his dirty white dress shirt and black clip-on bow tie, appeared at his elbow. Tommy waved him away.

  "You're not gonna eat, kid? Well, fuck you," said Sally. He was wearing a burgundy jogging suit, his hair shining under the bright track lighting. He leaned protectively over a huge oval plate of gummy-looking deep-fried calamari drowning in a lake of red sauce.

  Sitting further down the banquette, next to Tommy, was a tall, cadaverously thin man in his forties with bad teeth. He wore a jacket and tie, and he had sleepy, heavy-lidded eyes and a protruding brow and cheek bones that gave his head a skull-like aspect.

  "You remember Skinny," said Sally.

  "Hi, Skin," said Tommy.

  The thin man nodded back at him and returned to his plate of scampi. There was a little pile of shrimp tails in the ashtray next to his plate.

  "Listen, Tommy," said Sally, serious all of a sudden, "We need your help on somethin."

  "Sally, really—" Tommy started to protest.

  Sally raised his palm, "No. Tommy . . . Just listen to me here," he said. "It's gotta be you. It's no big deal. Just a little favor."

  "Maaan . . . " said Tommy, shaking his head. He noticed Skinny looking at him intently, one eyebrow raised.

  "Don't shake your head," said Sally "Don't shake your head. Look at me. Look at me. It's a little favor. A little one. You just gotta stay a little late at the restaurant tomorrow night."

  "My restaurant?" asked Tommy.

  "What restaurant you think I'm fuckin' talkin' about?" said Sally. "Yeah, your restaurant. The one I fuckin' got you the job at. Your place. You gotta let us in."

  "Who's us'?" asked Ibmmy, worried now.

  "Just me and Skin and one other guy. We need a place to talk some business," said Sally.

  "Why there? Why not over here? Someplace else?"

  "We gotta talk about somethin' in private with a guy. Nothin' bad. Someplace everybody in the fuckin' world ain't gonna know my business. We'll be in, we'll be out. We just gotta talk to the guy a few minutes, show the guy a few things and then we leave. No mus
s, no fuss."

  "This is bad, Sally."

  "It's not bad. What's bad? What's fuckin' bad? We just need the place for a few minutes. You just gotta open the doors there."

  "What about the porters? There's porters there all night," said Tommy.

  "The porters are gonna be callin' in sick tomorrow," said Sally, matter-of-factly.

  Startled, Tommy thought for a moment. Skinny was still staring at him. "So Harvey knows about this? This is okay with Harvey?"

  "Tommy, Tommy. You don't hafta worry about what Harvey knows and what he don't know. He knows you're with me. You're not gonna be gettin in any trouble with that guy or anythin' like that. Just help us out here, this once, and after, you want, we can go back like it was before."

  "I think this really sucks," said Tommy. "This really fuckin sucks."

  Sally shrugged. "You gotta do it. That's it."

  "I don't gotta do anything," protested Tommy. "I'm not with you guys like that. I got somethin' goin' for me over there, I don't wannit to get all fucked up."

  "Sometimes you gotta do somethin'," said Sally.

  "You have to do things over there, that's okay. You can't work it out with Harvey? You got somethin' going over there, fine, that's your business. That's you. This is me. I work over there. It's my fuckin' job," said Tommy.

  "Well, tomorrow, I'm your fuckin' job," said Sally.

  "This sucks," said Tommy. He noticed Skinny exchange glances with Sally.

  "You're not gonna get in any trouble. You don't hafta do nothin'.

 
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