Gerald was lying in bed remembering the time he’d lost one of his front teeth, which had somehow caused a hole in his sinus. He was eight years old when the tooth had fallen out, and he’d been sitting in Mrs. Peacock’s class toying with the tooth for almost an hour when it finally came loose. It had swung from what seemed like a yard-long thread of tissue until, finally, he had grabbed the tooth and yanked it, severing the tiny connection.
He couldn’t remember exactly why the hole in his sinus had opened up – something to do with an infection, he thought. Gerald had discovered the hole in his sinus because he was able to blow air through the little cavity where the tooth had been and the air would shoot up and out his nose. He’d almost cried when he’d discovered the anomaly and had gone to the office and called his mother, who had asked to speak to the nurse. The nurse had assured his mother that everything was fine, saying, Yes, Gerald has lost a tooth. No, it’s just a tiny amount of blood. We’ll have him rinse and he should be fine.
Gerald had had a vision of the rinse passing through what he was already referring to as his Tooth Hole and entering his brain, after which he would become a slobbering unattractive idiot. Had attractiveness actually been a concern? He couldn’t remember. Surely that thought had been inserted post-adolescence, when being gross had ceased to be a virtue.
Gerald was remembering this on a late Sunday night, some hours before President’s day. He stretched out his hairy arms, yawned, and tongued his adult front teeth, which had been straightened by an orthodontist decades before. He remembered the nurse’s face when he had demonstrated his unique adaptation, squirting a little of the rinse and some blood onto his shirt via his nose. His memory was suspect, but he could swear the nurse had been torn between asking him to demonstrate again and admitting that little Gerald did indeed have a little more going on with his plumbing that she’d suspected. He had cried some salty, self-righteous tears while the nurse called his mother back, saying, Yes, I thought I’d do a little more checking before we sent Gerald back to class and it does appear there’s some communication between his mouth and his sinus. No, I don’t think it’s serious, but you might consider taking him to the doctor to be sure. No, I don’t think he’s in any pain. I’ll give him aspirin.
He had taken the goddamn aspirin, hoping to die in the office just to spite the nurse. Such a childish thing, Gerald thought, wanting to suffer and die just to spite someone. That afternoon the doctor had prescribed antibiotics and the sinus opening had healed within a week. For a considerable time he had been allowed to dine on ice cream for every meal.
Gerald was thinking these things when the buzzer sounded in the hallway. Briefly he allowed himself to hope the caller was Autumn, that she’d been up all night and there she was, maybe a martini or two already under her belt. He fancied she’d be standing there with the doorman, her hair wet from the rain, and in his mind she was balancing awkwardly with one broken heel in her hand. But of course it wasn’t raining and Autumn wasn’t in Chicago, and she wasn’t the sort to show up anywhere with a few drinks under her belt. Gerald laid very still as the buzzer sounded a second time, for he knew it was probably Fergus downstairs chatting up Bobby, the doorman, who probably didn’t know better than to tell the truth, that as far as he knew Gerald was upstairs.
Gerald got up to answer the buzzer. He put on his terrycloth robe and placed his cell phone in one of the pockets.
“It’s fucking Fergus, you ”
“How are you?”
“Let me up.”
Gerald went into his kitchen and cracked open the door that led to the hallway, and he listened for the sound of the elevator on his floor. It wasn’t the first time his condo had seemed like a tree house, what with buzzers and allowing people up. Had that been one of Autumn’s observations? When he heard the elevator open, he listened to Fergus’s footsteps, which were slower than usual. In a way he was relieved, because if Fergus were drunk enough he would pass out soon and Gerald could try to go back to sleep.
“Can you give a man a light,” Fergus said leaning against the doorsill. He was the color of bleached flour and was still clad in his checks and chef’s coat. “I seem to’ve lost mine.”
A few of the Chinese buttons on Fergus’s coat were unclasped, and he held his left biceps in his right hand, gripping what almost appeared to be an armband the color of rose petals.
“My God,” Gerald said. “What happened to your arm?”
Fergus made his way to the kitchen bar and balanced himself on a stool. He continued holding his biceps and rested both elbows on the granite countertop. Gerald was vaguely alarmed, but he was skeptical of anything involving a 36-year-old sous-chef, especially when the situation seemed a bit theatrical. For all Gerald knew, it was chicken blood on the chef’s coat. It was true enough that Fergus looked bad – his eyes were twitching, something Gerald recognized from earlier days – but he often looked bad and Gerald suspected that Fergus from time to time still spent his paychecks on various habits. Which was one of the reasons they spent so little time together, even though Autumn wasn’t around to disapprove.
“Are you going to give me a light?” Fergus asked. “I think it’s some sort of rule, that anyone bleeding in your kitchen gets a cigarette.”
“So that’s your blood then?”
Fergus didn’t answer. He unseated himself and made his way around to the stove where he lit a cigarette, carefully, so as not to burn his hair. “You should really clean that stove,” Fergus said. “Shameful for a man in your position to have a dirty kitchen.”
“I’m not a cook.”
“No, but you’re the purveyor, so you sell the food to most every kitchen in the city.”
“Not every kitchen. So what happened – did you piss off one of the Dominicans in your kitchen?”
“Please. I’d be dead if I pissed off one of those guys. The guy who did this had no idea how to properly stab a fellow, which says a lot about those Kendall trained cooks. It’s like Napoleon said ‘the point!’ Use the point man.”
Gerald tried to think of all the cooks he knew in the city, which was a considerable number, many of whom had trained at Kendall, and immediately he knew the cook Fergus meant. But there was no way it could be him.
“That’s ridiculous. Eric Van Abel? that guy couldn’t stab a dead worm. He runs a vegetarian restaurant for fuck’s sake. It’s hardly even a restaurant. It’s just a bar with nice tables.”
Fergus had more or less made himself at home in the kitchen, and with one hand had fashioned an ashtray from a piece of aluminum foil. In less than a minute he was sloping the sides, shaping them with his fingertips.
“Look,” Fergus said. “Never underestimate someone who thinks he’s famous. Eric’s the shit now, going to all those parties – he probably doesn’t remember his name half the time. You know what people are like when they’re on that shit.”
“Well, I haven’t been involved in that in a long time. Why do you always have to bring up this shit.”
“Anyway,” Fergus said, flicking a few ashes on the aluminum tray. “He may have heard the things I said about his new venture. Something about it being, as you just eloquently pointed out, a place where young men can get together and not feel intimidated by any meat.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You were thinking it.”
Gerald shook his head and wished again that Autumn were there. She would have come out of the bedroom, wrapped up in her silk Chinese bathrobe, and both men would have understood that the evening was over. Fergus would have respectfully called a cab or an ambulance, whichever was more appropriate, and Gerald would have offered to rub Autumn’s back, or would have mixed himself a drink. Whichever was more appropriate. Meanwhile Fergus was saying something, but Gerald hadn’t been listening.
“ the little Hollywood twink was grabbing ass in kitchens in Beverly Hills when I was getting my ass kicked in Lyon by rifle droppers named Jacque. And Pierre.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Fuck if I know. I’d like some booze now. It’s the least you can do. I’m sitting here bleeding.”
“If you’re bleeding from a stab wound – which I don’t think you are – you don’t need any more booze. This is one of those cook things where you get trashed and show up at someone’s place with chicken blood on your sleeve. This shit is the reason why you’re still a sous-chef and will never run your own place. This is why I’ll always be placing orders with some chef de cuisine who isn’t you. I don’t know what went on between you two, but even Eric runs his own place.”
Fergus ground out his cigarette, taking care not to get any ashes on the countertop, and he said quietly, “I’d rather work with Roland Liccioni and wash dishes at Les Nomades than run a bogus, poser joint in the warehouse district, no matter how many times it might get me laid, or the drugs it might buy.”
Fergus went to the refrigerator, still ranting, and got a bottle of Grey Goose out of the freezer. Gerald noticed specks of red on his tile, and he realized that blood was indeed flowing, unless it was some scheme involving the appearance of flowing blood, which was reasonable. Fergus’s eyes were twitching as he carried the vodka to the bar, the booze a little syrupy.
“Look,” Gerald said. “Let’s have a look at that thing.”
“It’s just a little vodka. I won’t even pour a full glass. It’s just for courage ”
“No, you cocksucker, the arm. I need to know if you’re bleeding to death in my kitchen. Because purveyors who let cooks die in their kitchens have a lot of explaining to do.” Fergus’s eyes twitched, but there was a hint of a smile. Before he even removed the chef’s coat Gerald knew he had been wrong, that the laceration was going to be ugly, and that his face would give him away and Fergus would know he hadn’t believed him, and now Gerald would owe him.
“My God,” Gerald said. “No way Eric did that.”
The cut was more of a slash, two lips of a wound that puckered from freshly released compression. He couldn’t see bone, but Gerald was fairly certain the gash penetrated muscle, leaving a fault line from the triceps to the biceps, as though Fergus had been trying to defend himself by shrinking from something, using his left arm and shoulder as a shield. Fergus only demonstrated for a second, then snatched a towel hanging from the stove and bound up his arm again.
“We have to get you to a hospital.”
“I’m fine,” Fergus said. “I just need the booze.”
“No, you don’t. You’re out of here. I’ll drive you myself.”
“Well,” Fergus said, “Before you do that, you should know I may have been involved in something – something inappropriate before I came over here.” Fergus poured a glass and lit a cigarette and Gerald didn’t try to stop him. Gerald hated him for this, because he knew Fergus, even running a pint low on blood, had been able to use him, and if he didn’t start seeing a few moves ahead Gerald would be doing Fergus’s bidding all evening.
Fergus began telling his story, which started the way all his stories started, in the kitchen. He had worked brunch, which wasn’t a normal thing at Les Nomades, but a group “tangentially involving the good Mayor Daley” had put up for the dining room for brunch and dinner. Due to the level of clientele, Fergus and the rest of the first-string line had been working all day, and it was approaching midnight when he’d gotten on the el to go home. Eric Van Abel, in fine form after 48 hours of meat-free binging on whatever narcotic was trendy that week, happened to be aboard the same train. (“What was he doing on the el?” Gerald asked. “I heard he got a Jaguar.” “I doubt he knew what he was doing on the el either.”) Unfortunately for Fergus, his own knives were stowed at Les Nomades. Eric, wearing “an unfortunate thrift-store suit and a pair of Chuck Taylors,” was carrying his full set of high-carbon steel knives, the heavy types that require frequent sharpening. Fergus approached, somewhere between stops, intending to ask about Eric’s latest entrée. Chef Eric, pupils dilated the size of dimes, had jumped up and slashed Fergus “with what looked like a chef’s knife, but it seemed a little small,” then sat back down and stared out the window.
“After that it was what you would expect,” Fergus explained. “I started squirting blood, people were screaming, someone hit that panic button, which, I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but it doesn’t actually do anything. So I got off at North and caught a cab over here. It’s fairly normal stuff on the Red Line – shouldn’t be an issue.”
“I think it’s a felony to assault someone on public transport.”
“You’ve never been much of a public transport type.”
“Well,” Gerald replied. “Now you see why. Anyway, that’s the least believable story I’ve ever heard, but I don’t suppose it matters as you’re bleeding, and we need to get you stitched up and stop the dripping on my tile.”
“I’m not dripping anywhere, this towel’s doing a fine job ”
“And thanks for ruining a kitchen towel, by the way.”
“But tell me this,” Fergus said. “Do you really want to take a chance being wrong again tonight? Apparently I won’t be able to prove anything until you see it on Channel 12.”
“You’d better hope there’s nothing on the news,” Gerald said. “Even if it just involves you juggling knives on the el and somehow managing to stab your own stupid ass, I will never forgive you for coming here. And if it does involve Eric in any way, I will especially not forgive you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I’m the fucking purveyor, and I do not care to be caught up in the affairs of cocksucking sous-chefs. Most people don’t even know what a purveyor is – all they know is the food shows up in kitchens, is prepared by some frog cook, and ends up on their plate with a $200 bill. The purveyor shouldn’t exist. If people are discussing the purveyor, it means something has gone wrong – I shipped bogus beef from the UK or some sketchy chickens from Thailand and a senator puked on his wife.
“And beside that, Eric’s crowd is not one I care to get tangled with. If you want to piss people off and talk shit about their food that’s fine. But the guys who run Eric’s place are some mean Irish bastards, and not only do I count on their business, I also know, as you do, that they do not always solve their problems in the most legitimate manner.”
“That’s all just shit talk. Nobody’s getting a cap in their ass.”
“Is it shit talk? You’re a crooked fuck working for a straight boss, but Eric’s a crooked retard working for an ugly mic who, pardon the cliché, solves problems the old way. And Eric’s version of tonight’s events, if he even has a version, would probably cast things in a considerably different light than your version.”
“Well, you shouldn’t talk that way. About the Irish, I mean.”
“And quit smoking in my place. It’s pissing me off.”
Gerald was a little drunk on having asserted himself, and he was proud of having pulled the reins from a stupid cook who probably shouldn’t have been allowed in his building. What was he doing with an ex-junky in his kitchen – even an ex-junky who had been, well, more of an accomplice at certain times in their history – and having this discussion anyway? It occurred to Gerald that this sort of thing was probably the reason he was still single at his age. A man of considerable money, good connections, but with a few flies buzzing around the remains of his adolescence. Unfortunately for Gerald, in his kitchen was one fly in particular who had a tendency to wake up with pissed pants and vomit crusted on his cheek, but with a remarkably good memory.
Fergus appeared to be collecting his thoughts, swirling a tiny drop of vodka at the bottom of his glass. He looked a little better, his eyes no longer twitching. Gerald supposed that the wound had coagulated, and so he set about calculating the most practical emergency room. Northwestern was the best hospital and was probably closest. Gerald was reasonably sure without asking that Fergus didn’t have health insurance, but he knew the hospital would be willing to collect later, and perhaps Gerald would even help with the bill. He had no idea why – it was just Gerald’s nature to do such things. It occurred to him that this was why people from his past continued showing up at his condo at midnight, their arms dangling from stab wounds. Perhaps that was why responsible women like Autumn weren’t interested after the first few months. Maybe his generosity was not a virtue. He decided Fergus could pay for the damn hospital visit himself, even if he couldn’t afford it.
Gerald had made up his mind to call Yellow Taxi and have Fergus delivered to Northwestern when someone knocked on the door. He looked at Fergus, who mouthed the words, Are you expecting someone? Hands shaking, Gerald pulled his phone from his pocket and began dumbly scrolling through a list of phone numbers. He considered calling Bobby downstairs, but what the hell would the point of that be? Part of him wanted to call his mother, but she was in Florida and, anyway, even Bobby would be better suited for something like this. In some circumstances he would have called Fergus, but obviously that wasn’t a solution. The only option left was 911. He had never dialed it, except that time when Grolsch, the Dutch cook, had overdosed.
Fergus had rounded the bar and with his good hand removed a reasonably sharp filet knife from the magnet strip over the stove. “The point,” Fergus said. “Use the point man. You want one of these? You probably don’t sharpen them very often, but it shouldn’t matter, much.”
Fergus was carving the air with the knife, looking something like a wounded pirate, and there was a stage-quality to the moment that Gerald didn’t notice. Instead, he was already ashamed of himself for the momentary instinct to call his mother, but also vindicated knowing that he had been right, that they were now in deep shit because Fergus was a stupid fuck. But first, 911.
“Hey. Chef Fergus. Cabron. Open the fucking door, pinche.”
Gerald had already placed the call, though it wasn’t ringing yet. He cancelled the call, and wondered if it was some sort of offense. Surely people accidentally called 911 from time to time.
“Oh right,” Fergus said. “That must be Carlos. Forgot I called him before I got here. Get in here you cocksucker.”
Gerald was experiencing the euphoria of survival, even though he hadn’t survived anything except an encounter with a fry cook from Les Nomades. For a moment he was too numb to properly comprehend that there was a remarkably tall South American in his condo wearing a hairnet and a t-shirt depicting the Virgin Mary.
“Pinche fucking cook,” Carlos said. “What you got going here?” Carlos began unpacking a little black bag, the type one expects a doctor who makes house calls to carry. There were vials and syringes and an unsettling number of razorblades. There was also a coil of heavy-gauge blue thread, and a needle he tore out of a package. As he threaded the needle he noticed Gerald watching and said, “Gots to be clean, you know. You got any towels, cabron?”
Gerald went to his linen closet, and he could hear the two men in his kitchen chatting in Spanish. He came back with the towels, and he found Fergus had settled onto the floor with his back against the bar and his legs spread in front of him, a bottle of vodka in his good hand. He was naked to the waist, now only wearing his checks, and Gerald was a little jealous at how young Fergus’s body still looked. Maybe it was the hard drinking, or the drugs, or the work in the kitchen, but Fergus’s body was jagged and sinewy, the sort of body some yuppies pay for and never achieve, and Gerald knew Fergus had never done anything but tear it down.
“So that’s it?” Gerald said. “We’re doing this Wild West shit in my kitchen.”
“What he saying?” Carlos asked.
“Our friend, the purveyor,” Fergus replied, “is asking whether there’s any chance I’m going to scream and wake up the neighbors, or die on the floor, or otherwise cause any problems.”
“Shit,” Carlos said. “You not scream. This like butterfly tickling your arm, you fucking cocksucker.”
Fergus took a heavy swig from the bottle. “I don’t suppose you got anything better than booze?” Fergus asked. “Something a little more sophisticated?”
Gerald shook his head. There was codeine in bathroom, but he was fairly sure he’d need that himself in an hour or so. In the meantime he poured himself a cognac and one for Carlos.
“Not till after the operation,” Carlos said. “Thanks, cabron.”
Gerald sat at his bar and watched, resigned to the fact that there was probably at least one felon in his kitchen, possibly two, one of whom appeared to have questionable medical experience and was dabbing a gauze pad on Fergus’s arm. Gerald sipped his cognac and rubbed his tongue against his front teeth. He decided he may as well have a cigar – there would be no sleeping that night. Fergus would enjoy having a cigar, if he didn’t pass out getting stitches, and Carlos would be welcome to one as well. Carlos began humming and prepared the first stitch, and the blue thread dangled across the patient’s chest. Fergus smiled.
Copyright 2005, John Detrixhe
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