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Bone in the throat, p.7
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       Bone in the Throat, p.7

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  "Oh, yeah," said Harvey. "They fuckin' love me. They get theirs. Every week. If I'm short every once in a while, I have a bad week, it's no problem. They know I'll be there with the money. No problem. And two points."

  "See, there's the political dimension," said the smaller man. "They lend you money, you have some understanding with them, it makes it uncomfortable if we come along and you know . . ."

  "It's awkward," said the bigger man.

  "So maybe, if we can work something out here, maybe it would be better if your current lender doesn't know what we do together," said the smaller one.

  "We're not doing anything together at five fuckin' points, fellas," said Harvey.

  "Harvey," said the smaller man, smiling again. "You're a first-time customer. And you're relatively new to the restaurant business. We understand that. We know how it is."

  "So you know what it's like," said Harvey.

  "It's hard. It's a hard business. We know that. So if we were to make it three points, we would expect you to make your interest payments on time. No knockdown. No excuses. You'll have to put our agreement first. What you do with the other guys we don't care so much, as long as it doesn't interfere with our business together."

  "I can do three points. I can do that," said Harvey.

  "When does Sally get his money?" asked the big man. "Tuesday?"

  "Fridays," said Harvey.

  "With us it'll be Tuesday, alright?" said the smaller man.

  "No problem," said Harvey.

  "Okay. We have a deal then," said the smaller man.

  "Done," said Harvey. "How about a drink? I get you gentlemen a cognac? How about a nice cognac? I've got some Louis Treize'll knock your socks off. I'll buzz the girl, she'll bring it."

  Harvey pressed the intercom button and shouted into the phone, "Barry, pick up! Pick up!"

  Barry picked up the extension at the bar.

  "Barry, send Cheryl in with three Louis Treizes. Use the big snifters. Is she here? She's here, isn't she? Tell her to hurry up, I wanna smell hair burn."

  Harvey put the phone down and rubbed his hands together. Immediately there was a knock on the door.

  "That was fast," said the big man.

  The door opened quickly. It was the chef.

  "Do you have a minute?" he asked.

  "Michael, I'm busy with these people right now," said Harvey. "What is it?"

  "It's about my knife," said the chef.

  "Michael, I told you before about that. If you can't fix it I'll buy you another one."

  "It's custom made," said the chef. "It takes weeks."

  "We'll order you another knife. You can use the house knives until then, can't you?"

  The chef rolled his eyes and looked pained.

  "I'm sorry about the knife. I don't know what or who. But, I don't know what I can be expected to do about it right now. Especially now. I'm busy. We'll get you another, that's all I can do."

  "Somebody deliberately fucked it up," said the chef. "Look at that," he said, holding up a piece of mangled steel. "Somebody did that deliberately."

  "Michael, you can see I'm busy here. We'll talk about it later," said Harvey.

  The chef turned on his heels and stalked off to the kitchen. Harvey smiled at the two men. "He takes his job very seriously."

  Cheryl came through the door holding a tray with three brandy snifters.

  "You can put that right here on the desk," said Harvey. "Thanks, sweetheart."

  Cheryl gave a fake curtsy and left the room. The three men raised their glasses.

  "Cheers," said Harvey.

  "Salud," said the smaller man.

  "Here's looking up your assets," said the big man.

  Thirteen

  Sally pushed his way through the Bleecker Street foot traffic. It was hot and he was sweating under his wig. A chubby kid in a Megadeth T-shirt, wrangling over the price of a studded wristband with a Pakistani merchant in the middle of the sidewalk, blocked his way. Sally stomped on the kid's foot with his heel, and the kid moved off, yelping like an injured dog. He found Danny Testa sitting at a small cafe table at a souvlaki place near Thompson Street. Danny was reading the sports pages of the Daily News and sipping an iced cappuccino. Sally sat down across from him.

  "Sally, how are you?" asked Danny, looking up from his paper.

  "I'm good, Danny. How are you?"

  "You know, same old same old," said Danny.

  "Did you talk to him?"

  "Yeah," said Danny. "I was just over there."

  "So?" asked Sally, expectantly.

  "He's grateful. He's happy." He pushed a folded copy of New York magazine across the table. There was an envelope tucked inside the pages. "There's somethin' for you in there. And somethin' extra for your nephew. I heard from Skin."

  "For Tommy?" asked Sally, startled for a second. He picked up the magazine and put it inside his jacket.

  "Yeah. He should get somethin', don't you think? Fair's fair, he likes the kid. He made a point to mention it," said Danny.

  "So what did he say about me?" asked Sally. "Am I gonna get a button?"

  "He say wait a little longer," said Danny. "It's not a good time right now. He says he opens the books right now and people are gonna be all over him. There's a whole fuckin' line of guys waitin'. Everybody and his fuckin' brother is bustin' balls. He says he straightens you out, he's gotta straighten out all these other guys. You should wait."

  "I been waiting," said Sally. "I been waitin' a long fuckin' time here. This is the third time. This is the third time I done something for him. He calls me and has me come in and asks for somethin' to happen and it happens. And then what? Nothing. Time goes by, other guys go sailin' right past me. Why doesn't the guy like me? How come I'm always the guy left standin' out there with his cock in his hand?"

  "You got him all wrong," said Danny. "He likes you. He talks about you all the fuckin' time. He likes you."

  "Tommy, who's never done a fuckin' thing for him until now, he likes him," complained Sally.

  "You have to be patient, Sal. Your time will come. He's very grateful. He won't forget."

  "My time will come. My time will come. When? That's what I wanna know. When is my time gonna come?"

  "Soon, soon," said Danny.

  "The man doesn't like me. I know that," said Sally.

  "That's not true. Maybe you come down to the place more often, say hello to everybody. You walk by the place the other day, you don't even stop in to pay your respects. He said he was hurt."

  "I hate goin' down to that fuckin' place. Those old men down there always breakin' my balls, yellin' 'Wig' this and 'Wig' that."

  "They're just havin' a little fun, Sally. You shouldn't take it personal like that."

  "I do. I do take it personal. There's people over there, they owe me money. How do I collect, people see a buncha old men callin' me names in the street? It's embarrassing."

  "They don't mean nothin'."

  "They gotta call me that? My hair look funny to you?"

  A chuckle escaped from Danny's lips. "No, no. It looks real good, Sally. Can you swim in it?"

  "Yeah, I can fuckin' swim in it. Son of a bitch. This is not cheap. That's genuine human hair there," said Sally.

  "Don't get mad. Don't get mad. Look, I'm your best friend over there. Believe me. I'll mention it to the man you're unhappy. Just hang in there. You did well for yourself on this. Be happy."

  Fourteen

  Charlie Wagons stood on Spring Street, smoking a cigar out front of the Evergreen Sportsmen's Club. He wore a faded cotton bathrobe, worn at the elbows, a white T-shirt, and light blue boxer shorts. Bony, white, near-hairless legs stuck out from beneath the bathrobe, ending in brown stretch socks, held up by garters, and a battered pair of brown tasseled loafers. He peered through the smoke from his cigar at the figure of Danny Testa making his way toward the club.

  The old men sitting on either side of the door smoked and drank coffee and sunned themselves in the remaining
afternoon light. Danny nodded in greeting to them and then locked eyes with Charlie.

  "Walk?" asked Danny.

  Charlie stepped out onto the sidewalk, and the two men strolled side by side down Elizabeth Street. Danny held Charlie's elbow gently with one hand.

  "Well? It's okay?" asked Charlie.

  "Everything's good," said Danny. "You talk to the lawyers?"

  "Yes," said Charlie. "There should be no problem now. They say it should be okay."

  "That's good," said Danny.

  "And the Wig—what's his state of mind?"

  "You know. Same shit," said Danny. "He feels neglected."

  "Yeah?"

  "He says he thinks he should get straightened out for this last one.

  "Never in a million fuckin' years," said Charlie. "Not in a trillion fuckin' years would I make that fuckin' jerk-off."

  "Don't tell him that," laughed Danny.

  "What did you tell him when he asked you?"

  "I told him to be patient," said Danny.

  "He's gonna have to be real patient 'cause I'd have to be dead inna fuckin' ground before that hand job gets moved up. And if you move him up after I'm gone, I'd come back from the fuckin' grave to haunt you." Charlie spat forcefully on the sidewalk. "Makes me wanna clam just thinkin'."

  "You really have a hot nut for this guy," said Danny.

  "You ever see him eat?" said Charlie.

  "Yeah," said Danny with a smile. "I seen it."

  "He's not our type of person. This is not our type of person. He's not what we want. We use him. Okay. We always used people like that. But he'll never be a friend of ours."

  "You know we was in Greenhaven together," said Danny.

  "I don't care if you was on the fuckin' moon with the guy. That fat son of a bitch. He's a fuckin' joke. A joke. He makes us all look bad. Last year at Jimmy Lang's wedding? Remember? I'm sittin' there next to Paul and Jerry Dap and them and I see him comin' from across the room. I want to crawrl under the fuckin' table and hide. Paul and Jerry and them are sittin' right there and their eyes are poppin' out of their fuckin heads lookin' at this guy. I gotta stand there in front of everybody and let this miserable piece of shit kiss me."

  "He's a numb-nuts," said Danny. "But he earns."

  "He earns 'cause I let him earn. I gave that to him. Out of respect for his sister. Out of respect for the brother-in-law. Wasn't for that, he'd be drivin' the fellows around still, pickin' up their fuckin' shirts at the cleaners."

  "I gave him a little something extra for Tommy," said Danny.

  "Oh, really? Okay, that's good. That's good. That was a surprise. But that's okay He's a good kid, Tommy. Not a fuckin' loudmouth like his uncle. You know the sister? An angel. You shoulda seen her. Hard to believe it's the same blood."

  "So he should be patient," said Danny.

  "Real patient," said Charlie. "Okay, he's makin' some money for us right now with the Count and with the other place, the other restaurant, a few other things. He's got some money out onna street for us. That doesn't mean I gotta love the guy."

  "So we don't do nothin' for him?" said Danny.

  "Maybe get him a new car or somethin', make him feel better. Talk to Benny D. Get him a fuckin' car, token of our appreciation. Maybe he'll drive it off a fuckin' cliff."

  Fifteen

  It was oppressively hot on the street, a hundred degrees and humid. Inside the basement kitchen, with the ovens on, the grill fired up, the broiler cranking away, and the steamtable and the dishwasher giving off clouds of moist, hot air, it was far worse.

  Tommy's chef jacket was soaked through. It clung to his back and shoulders; chafed him under his collar. The bandanna he'd tied around his head didn't prevent the sweat from trickling into his eyes, clouding his vision. Leaning over the grill, he removed the last slices of fennel and eggplant and stepped over to the small hand sink in the corner. He took off his bandanna and the wet towel around his neck and ran them under cold water. He put them both in the small reach-in freezer. He slipped the charred, black skins off some red peppers, covered the peppers with olive oil while he waited. After a few minutes, he took the bandanna and the towel out of the freezer and put them back on.

  The chef wasn't hot at all, though he was sweating. He was cold; his teeth were chattering. He stood directly in front of the broiler, arms crossed tightly across his chest, hugging his shoulders. He rocked back and forth on his feet, like a sailor in rough seas. It felt like the marrow in his legs was going to explode, like it was swelling up inside the bones. Any second, he thought, there would be a bang and a long hissing sound, the bones would crack, and it would all come rushing out. Maybe that would relieve the pressure. Anything would be better than this.

  Tommy looked over at his suffering chef, huddled and trembling in front of the broiler. The chef's nose was running, of course; his eyes were tearing, and he had just come off a twenty-minute sneezing jag that had the whole damn floor staff asking if he had a cold. Watching the chef's discomfort, he thought about hell and wondered how much worse it could be.

  The chef was around less and less these days. Tommy officially picked up an additional shift for which he was paid, and another shift and a half worth of extra work and overtime for which he was not. The chef was just not holding it together, and the only person left in the place who seemed not to know about his heroin addiction was Harvey. The chef was hitting Harvey for an advance every week, usually only a day or two after payday. And this, when he was taking home what, six, seven hundred dollars a week? Tommy had noticed that he'd begun to turn in dummied-up receipts at the bar for items never purchased. He'd even been adding on ghost shifts to the schedule.

  "You're gonna be scheduled for an extra prep shift," the chef had told him, "only you're not gonna work it. We split the difference." Naturally, Tommy had gone along with it. He felt bad for the chef; he was dissolving into his constituent parts, for Chrissakes. People on the floor were talking about it, shaking their heads when the chef walked by, smiling knowingly when the chef was on the nod. Not too cool.

  Why the chef was trying to do without today, Tommy didn't know. He did this every once in a while. He'd come in junk-sick, trying to make it through the shift, knocking back Sea Breezes and Daiquiris and beer after beer, unable to work. He could only wield a knife for a few minutes at a time. He'd wander around the restaurant, his clipboard under his arm, like the Flying Dutchman. He thought the clipboard made it look like he was doing something important, something supervisory, conceptualizing, he sometimes said. He couldn't really even do that. He could only drink and suffer.

  Tommy saw the chef step back from the broiler. He turned and gave Tommy a familiar look. He'd had enough.

  "Cover me, alright?" he said to Tommy. "I gotta get a few things at the store. Back in a few minutes."

  The chef slipped quietly out of the kitchen. Tommy was relieved. At least, when he got back, he'd be able to do some work. It was a heavy prep day. Ricky had scorched a five-gallon batch of soupe de poisson. Tommy had to put a whole new batch on the fire. Ricky had just started piping seafood mousse into the vol-au-vents; he was no help. Mel was shaving a big block of semisweet chocolate in the walk-in; he'd be lucky if he got through the shift without cutting his own hand off. Little Mohammed was hip-deep in salad greens, singing quietly in Arabic.

  "I hate these fucking potatoes," said Tommy, when the chef had returned.

  "What's the matter with them?" asked the chef.

  "They stick to the fucking pan!" said Tommy. He scraped some burnt slices of potato into the trash with a spatula from a black, pressed steel pan.

  "They love them," said the chef. "And they love them at three-fifty a pop."

  "They eat enough a the damn things," said Tommy. He laid some more slices in a clean, freshly buttered pan and arranged them carefully in overlapping concentric circles. He drizzled clarified butter over them and sprinkled them with kosher salt. He opened the oven door and had to reach around a foil-topped hotel pan of duck co
nfit to pull out another two pans of potato, burning his wrist on the shelf in the process. He put two more pans of potato in the oven and kicked the door closed with his foot.

  "You know how much a potato costs us?" said the chef, his wine reductions for the beurres giving off blue flame in front of him. "Like ten bucks a bushel. You do the math. It's a moneymaker."

  The chef was feeling better. He put a cassette in the machine and hopped around his station to Stevie Ray Vaughan, cutting confetti vegetables in time to the music.

  "How many orders of pommes you got?" he asked Tommy.

  "Twenty-five," answered Tommy.

  "What's veg?"

  "Grilled asparagus."

  "Cool. Where's the new Mel?"

  "He's still in the walk-in. He's shaving the chocolate for the tone."

  "Christ. . . You'd better send out a search party, see if he's still alive in there," said the chef. "Probably tripped over his dick and broke his fuckin neck."

  "Leave him alone," suggested Tommy. "At least he's not in the way.

  Tommy opened the oven again and removed the duck confit. He peeled off the foil and gently removed a duck leg from the rendered fat. The skin on the legs had just begun to break away from the knuckle.

  "Perfect," said the chef, smiling, "Smells good, too. Gimme some a that. I think we better do a little quality control here. I think I can actually eat."

  The chef picked a piece off the board and popped it in his mouth. "That's really good," he said. Tommy nibbled at the few shreds of meat left on the bone. Ricky, finished with the mousse, came over and grabbed a piece for himself.

  "You save the extra skin for cracklins?" asked the chef.

  Tommy pointed to a small metal crock. "All fried and ready to go," he said.

  Service began. The waitrons set up their iced watercress, sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary, butter curls, and chopped parsley. Mel returned from the walk-in, wearing a Band-Aid over one knuckle. But there were no orders right away. After a short while there was an order for two soups and a half order of pasta; then nothing.

  After a few more minutes, the chef beckoned Tommy back to the office. "Let's go over the specials for tomorrow," he said, grinning.

 
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