It’s about a Chef. Hmm. Sounds exciting doesn’t it? (It’s also about a heist, a mafioso, a king pin, the suits, diamonds, a girl called Scarlet, a girl called Ruby, and various other people and places, and lots of schemes.) Chapter 1:
The night had been a hectic hey-go-round affair. Knives were thrown, salt and spices tossed and diced together with the teppan sizzling shrimp, the fine sliced omelette, and the chef’s secret pork. Sweating madly before the grill plate on fire, juggling, slicing, throwing; what was that? another joke? This chef is brilliant. Cool as this sparkling drop, the expensive, chilled concoction, slippery condensation on the flute. Sweet aromas everywhere between the fire and smoke, sweet sips, and the chilled sour tang of the exotic salad.
Chef mixes dishes, dee-jaying colour and flavour like music, pop-pop-pop, bu-doom-tish, cha! His knives fly, air jive, slicing mid air through meat and greens and fruit, ‘Look no hands,’ he jokes. Plate is never bare, only taste after taste, a journey, a symphony, then finale. Flames kick and grow, then only smoke. Then, no chef, just salt left in calligraphy on the silver teppan grill, a note: thankyou.
Hands acknowledge the famous man, wow, the word does the rounds, spreading each to each till all recount their favourite part, till all sup and talk and wear the evening out.
Another couple’s whispering fingers find it’s time for sleeping eyes, their bright white smiles ask the aproned waiter to pass complements, a fine night, best place in town, chef’s grand, and pass on this gratuity too please, and this for yourself.
The main guest’s a hot-shot young entrepreneur type, rich, cashed up and chuffed, model wife sparkles on his arm, a bling thing, but no blonde bomb, oh no, she’s elegant and not just for show, her deep flashing iris suggests higher intelligence, but not her lips, they suggest more play, perhaps?
Side grill lounge two incongruous, black jacket men. Straight faced and laced, with measuring eyes, roaming the whole night. Seeming relaxed, but so uptight, a plaster smile. Out of place, not the type usually found dining so fine. Teppan grill drips dry, until there’s none in sight but these two guys. Aproned waiter comes by.
‘Closing sirs, it’s after time.’
One knots his arms together, other lifts a wallet, flips it: a badge, so serious. ‘The Chef, if you wouldn’t mind. I trust he’s not already gone home for the night.’
Waiter nodded, and went behind.
The broad shouldered chef, tall, quiet type. Sits down calm and easy, rucksack in hand ready to leave but content to humour these men. He yawns, ‘I trust you enjoyed the meal gentlemen.’
‘Indeed we did,’ they said, ‘but we did not come here to discuss your culinary expertise my friend.’
‘Oh,’ the chef said, ‘has there been a complaint or something? Sometimes the unprepared customer can find my style a little confronting.’
‘What then? What else could have happened?’
‘The world is full of happenings Chef, even as we speak some are born, some die, some mourn.’ They spoke easy, but their eyes analysed.
‘Not one is me,’ the chef replied casual like, and with a smile. ‘Would you say what it is you’re after men, I’d be happy to be off, I’ve a cat to humour and a pillow to put to my head.’
‘All in good time Chef, but just stay comfortable for a bit. Tell us about yourself.’
‘I’d rather you tell me what this is all about?’ Chef pressed, not upset but rather wondering.
‘Humour us,’ they said, and as hyenas wait they waited, pacing in their minds, impatiently from side to side.
Chef shrugged, rubbed the greying under eyes. ‘What’s there to tell? I am a chef at this Teppan-yaki grill, five days a week, but no ordinary nine-to-five, it’s odd hours, but suits me. I live alone, except of course there’s the cat, but person-wise it’s just me in my life. Um. I like the beach, but I don’t like sand,’ Chef scratched his head, ‘there’s lots to tell without a fence my friends, what do you want to know?’
Knotted-arms black-jacket leans back and sighs, ‘Your career Chef, start there.’
‘Well, ah, I’ve worked here and there over the years, perfecting my art, trained at various places, some overseas.’
‘Yes, and Spain, and the UK, and even this indigenous food restaurant in the middle of the desert, but I doubt you want to hear about all that.’
‘And, isn’t it correct, Chef,’ began so-serious black-jacket, ‘that while in France you spent two years studying at the Villa le Grande? Under the tutelage of Madame Laurance Montagne?’
‘Ah, yes, magnificent Montagne.’
‘So you admit it?’
‘Why shouldn’t I? Is there something I should know?’
‘Tell us about your time there.’
‘Not much to it, study, training.’
‘Specifics please, Chef, don’t forget the specifics.’
‘It was so long ago.’
‘What did you study?’
‘Yes, we did do a bit of that, dressed up like right fools I reckon, but ah, such is the way of the sport.’
‘Yes, and what else?’
‘Well, there was a bit of boxing, judo – I hate judo, ah, but that was all besides the point, done in my spare time, a free extra if you like. I spent most of my time where you think a trainee chef might – down in the galley scrubbing and chopping and doing whatever my tutor told me.’
‘You were training as a chef?’ the black suits frown.
A chuckle grew in Chef’s throat. Chef shrugged his shoulders, ‘What else would I have, you can see this is my job, my life.’
Investigators continue, smile-less, ‘That’s not what our information tells us.’
‘Well, what can I say? There must be some mistake,’ Chef answers.
‘Alright chef, you can be on your way, but don’t think this is the end of it. We’ll be back to talk to you in time.’
‘So I can go home now?’
‘Sure, if you like.’
‘Yes, that I would like, it’s been a big night. Gentlemen, goodbye.’
Chef grabs his rucksack, heads to the door, then the few steps from the level nine teppan restaurant to the lift. Doesn’t look back, leaves the black jackets wondering, watching him. Finger hovers over the down arrow, presses the button, it lights cool blue. Checks his watch, looks around, side to side, up to the camera, listens to the hum – lift’s on its way up. Hides nervous fingers in his pockets, tapping, thinking. Silver doors open up, so late tonight he’s the only one. Ding and the lift is speeding down, no stops, irregular, straight to the ground.
Ground floor. Security salutes in familiar fashion, Chef returns the wave. Heads out. On the street now, random street lights with glaring glow, the black hollows hiding mischief, he doesn’t want to know or see, just wants to get home.
‘Hey my friend,’ Trouble says, ‘hey you got a cigarette?’
‘Nah, sorry love.’ Heads on a few blocks more. Sirens nearby, but not unusual. Chef smiles, almost home. But then a crinkle crack, he turns back, a cat? A shadow, a thief, a hidden something. He looks around, what was that sound? A car is somewhere idling in the dark. He turns to go on but – a spark? A smoker in the alley? Waiting? Or just a sleeper’s tv flickering through the curtains?
Shakes his head, takes another step. Stops. Something wrong. Changes course, hurries on, finds a well lit street and moves along. Goes towards the noise, the throng, the only thing open this hour, a trendy new club.
Security still on, no more allowed, others distract them, Chef slips in. Plans to blend, to mix while ears numb in the throng. Surprised though, no sleaze here, no, only chick blends, smooth grooves and private rooms. Chef finds a corner, sits and sips an unattended iced-twist. A trendy lot this. The beach-side brass. Hopes he’s not seen, he’s so far from fitting in, uniform still on under a neat old jacket, stained. Hands smell of ginger and prawns. Oh, look who’s here, that couple from tonight, the bling thing and Mr Rich, for each other still all eyes and lips.
Chef leans back, relaxed at last but promising – ten minutes then face the street again. Hope no-one’s following. What was it with those men tonight? They didn’t worry him, but their coming did. Why had they come? Why wouldn’t they explain what they were after? Was he in trouble? Was he alright now? But why come? Why tonight? Why say nothing that amounted to anything much?
‘Excuse me sir – who let you in?’ slick and polished hostess, retro-toed high heels, wow! the dress! perfect neck, long hair, complete do, whoa they must be fake lips- ‘Sir?’
He gulps. ‘I was just leaving.’
Hostess raised a perfect eyebrow. ‘Alright then.’ She waited. Chef sipped the rest quick, then went.
The street again. Cold out. Hands in pockets playing with his keys on the way. Takes it easy. Must have been dreaming. No ghosts following now, only lovers out under a flickering light, or were the lovers spies? Stop, that’s enough, Chef tells his mind, way you’re going you’ll start seeing spies in the dark between every streetlight. The tidy block, the narrow stairs. Home. Sweet? What, this block of concrete? Ah, well, no, but it would do. He turns the key. Sweeter than out there at least. Smells musty, warm. Double locks the door. Cat finds him and turns about, ‘Ah my friend. Hungry I bet.’
‘You must mean yes.’
Chef rubs his eyes, over-tired. Finds the can-opener, goes around, tips the tin upside down. Nose curls at the smell. Laughs at himself, ‘No self-respecting chef would feed their cat this, would they my puss?’ Cat licks. ‘There you are then,’ he says. Cat eats, gets a pat, the silky soft thing.
Chef showers down, then sleeps.
The shadows creep.
‘About time,’ whispers the dark. A shuffle. What one, two? No, three men. A scuffle, a gulp muffled. Unclouded stars come, dark becomes dim, black leather fist, a sudden hit. A length of rope for the big man’s hands, his ankles too and for his mouth a rag.
Another comes out the dark, balaclava comes off, gloves stay on. Who was this? One of those black jacket men? No couldn’t be them.
‘That’s done then.’
‘Yeah. What about the cat?’ Cat rubbed up and asked for a pat, leaving fine hair all over their black.
‘Leave a window open, it can look after itself.’
‘Call the van, then you’re going to have to help me with him, he’s too heavy to carry on my own,’ said one, rolling Chef in his sheet and lifting by the shoulders.
‘Take his legs.’
‘Alright, I’ve got him.’
The stairs, the van, doors banged shut, locked, tyres screech. Empty night, no one around, none saw, none heard, but a flicker in the shadow, two eyes emerge, keen, hands on holsters beside. ‘*! Too late!’ mutters scarlet lips. Black felt hat, 30’s type, over her eyes, she looks around twice, melts into the night.
Four blocks gone, the three men inside the van – two in front, one behind to keep an eye. Chef still out cold, no sound or moan, just a gentle roll as the van corners and speeds along. But then a screech, the route is blocked, what one, two, no three cars across, and out the cars emerge a group, tough, masked and holstered up. Driver curses, tries to turn, to one-eighty round as he reverses; the move half through but more cars show behind, more guns pulled out and pointed wide; who were these guys? Cigarro’s Crew? No time to ask, the van abandoned, the three men make a run but held up. Crew opens the van up, lift Chef out into another car, load up, drive off. Three men left stunned, and cursing.
Ooh. Some headache this. The slow pound, pound, pound – grating dead-techno sound, the static fizz, the electric shock-like-thing behind the eyes, radio fuzz in the ear drums. The vice-like press. Oh, what a nauseas mix! And the aches! Oh! The heavy hands, the fingers twitch but the arms defer, so the legs – near dead as yet, and tied up behind. Eyes flicker but a spotlight blinds, so they stay shut tight. Mouth so dry, swollen like, the oily cotton gag stuffed in all night. Spits it now, so slowly out. Shakes the aftertaste and left threads away.
‘They call you the Chef,’ echoes a voice, a man’s, hollow and rough like, an old smoker perhaps? Or maybe bronchitis? ‘I am in need of a chef.’ Man coughs, such a rattly chest.
‘I’m already employed I’m afraid,’ Chef replies, squinting as the headache spikes, thickly speaking with a tongue so dry. ‘No need for all this, you could just put an ad in the local rag, plenty chefs to come by – specially if you pay alright.’
‘Oh but none with quite your proficiency my friend,’ a pause, a rattly breath. ‘You see I require someone with your very particular expertise.’
‘And what might they be?’ chef asked, wriggling his hands – if he could just get them free!