Knife Skills, A Serial Novel – Part 23

Each Friday, the Heavy Table presents a new installment of Knife Skills, a culinary novel presented piece by piece as it’s written. If you’re uncomfortable with salty language, please be aware that characters regularly use words and phrases unacceptable in polite conversation. In the author’s imagination, some members of the food service industry have a tendency to swear. For previous and subsequent installments, visit the Heavy Table’s Fiction directory.


“So why would you want to go back home again?”

It was about five in the morning, and Lastri had locked both the doors to the secret bar after a rude interruption at around 2. She and Robertson were nude, on the floor, lying side by side on an exceedingly plush carpet.

“Hmm?” asked Robertson. “That’s a funny question.”

“I don’t think so!” said Lastri. “I’m trying to figure you out. I mean, maybe Tokyo or Paris? I can see that. But why go back into the woodwork?”

“I… God, it’s funny, I don’t even remember saying I wanted to go back home,” said Robertson, a bit befuddled and starting to feel tired. He thanked God that he didn’t have to be at work until noon the next day.

“You did!” said Lastri. “I think you said it would be easier.”

“Well, yeah, it would be,” conceded Robertson. “I mean, cost of living is cheaper, it’s easier to be part of a real community…”

“You are part of a real community,” said Lastri, climbing on top of Robertson, straddling him. He groaned quietly, fearing yet more intercourse. “You are part of the community of some of the best chefs and restaurant people on the entire globe. You are walking with giants. Speaking of which.”

“My God woman, don’t you chafe?”

knifeskills250square“My God man, don’t you quit whining and feeling sorry for yourself?!” She laughed at him and mounted up, kissing him all over his chest as an afterthought.

“Oh, fuck,” said Robertson, exhausted but happy.

After about 30 seconds of impassioned bucking and writhing, Lastri suddenly disengaged and ran over to the bar.

“What!” he said. “Where are you going!” he sat up, and his head reeled a bit. He lay back down.

“I’m getting us another drink!” she said.

“Good Lord, I’m fine, thank you, no, please,” said Robertson.

“Oh shut up, you’ll like this.” She was working a coffee machine in the nude, but was sufficiently short that the height of the bar rendered her decent from his perspective. He cursed the bar quietly. “Fuck you, bar.”

“What’s that?” she asked. The screeching hiss of the machine soon made conversation impossible.

“OK,” she said, bringing over a tall black coffee. “This is some good shit. Coffee from Java.”

“I like cream and…”

“The hell you do, try it black.”

“Mm,” he said. “There’s some real depth to that. Smooth, too.”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s Kopi Luwak, the civet cat coffee. The cats eat the beans, and then… well, you know the rest.”

Robertson knew the rest. Still, it didn’t put him off — the light taste and pure high notes of the brew were appealing. He’d eaten almost every piece of offal known to man, and palm civet coffee was mild by comparison in terms of shock value.

knifeskillsdotsvert“So,” began Lastri. “Here you are, in the capital of everything, and you are doing OK. Considering where you come from, what your training is, you are doing very well, and this is not a small pond, this is the big league, and it’s connected with every other big league there is. And you think about leaving?”

“Yeah,” said Robertson. “Sometimes. There’s a way people who grew up in New Amsterdam get. And a different but related way people get when they come in from the provinces and backwaters. Blinded by being at the center of things. You — and I mean no disrespect here — you lose all perspective. It’s the buildings or something. You plug in, and you can’t unplug. Me… shit, I don’t know, I miss fishing. Catching bass, walleye, northerns, whatever. I miss actually being near something resembling wilderness. Sometimes I really just miss the absolutely un-exhilarating feeling of it being 2am, and the bar being smoky or just depressing, and not having much of anything to say to anyone, or anywhere really to go the next day. And the streets being empty. And it really being winter. And being able to bike without getting killed by a cab, or multiple cabs. And, oh, here it is — being able to casually enter a conversation with a near-stranger without getting pumped for my social situation, prospects, and likely salary.”

“Oh!” said Lastri. “So you want to sit around the village tavern and grill bacon or cheeseburgers or whatever and you think you’ll be happy? Come on, Robertson, you are being cute with me. You didn’t come here by accident. Somewhere in that pretty little head of yours, there’s some kind of a big plan unfolding.”

“Denying it is pointless, isn’t it?” he said.

“No, deny it all you want, I’ll believe you! I believe that you believe that you have no plan, but part of your head is working on it, and step one is being here. Maybe tonight was step two!”

Suddenly there was a good digital approximation of an old-fashioned telephone ring.

“Shit!” said Lastri. She fumbled around in the shiny, silken pile that held her dress, purse, and undergarment. She grabbed her phone and popped it open. “Ben, it’s not even five yet, what the fuck?!”

She paused for a second. Robertson could hear Ben’s cool, composed voice saying something that sounded complicated.

“Aw, fuck, man, fuck,” said Lastri. “Can’t you just tell him to purge the board of everyone from after 2006 and dump the Georgia stuff? And to leave me alone?”

More calm tones.

“I can’t… how is this even an issue at five in the morning on Saturday? Goddammit, I don’t seriously need to fly, do I?”

There was a pause.

“Fuck you, Ben!” she yelled into the phone. “Fuck!” She threw her phone at the bar, and it shattered. “Fuck,” she said again more quietly. “Fuck,” she added, realizing that her phone was well and truly toast.

“Here,” said Robertson, proferring his own. “It’s not pretty, but it’ll get the job done.” His eyebrows were raised, surveying the remnants of her $500 phone.

knifeskillsvert“Thank you loverboy,” Lastri purred. She stabbed the digits, and Ben answered. “Ben, have a car for me in front of Archipelago at 5:30. I’ll be dressed by then. Can we get a slot to fly out of here before 7? OK, I want to go to Georgia. No, Georgia. I’m going to fucking kick some doors in down there. I know, and that’s why you’re you and I’m me. I will deal with the problem where it is, not where I want it to be. Get a couple guys to go with me. Big, smarts optional. I like the other Ben. Krishnapathaboofawhatever, that guy. Someone else who knows the numbers, also big. Someone who knows what we’ve got on these fuckwits. I am going to fucking kick doors down. Some fat white Southern sack of shit and corn kernels is going to be really surprised.”

“Well, this has been fun,” said Robertson, slowly putting himself back together.

“Hey, I know!” said Lastri, brightening as she collected her things. “Come to Georgia with me! It’ll be fun! There’s hillbillies… and Waffle House… But I’ll be there! I’ll get you back here in a jiffy.”

“Nah,” said Robertson. “I gotta get to work.”

“Listen,” said Lastri, dramatically, looking up at Robertson and putting her hands on his shoulders. She was only half dressed and Robertson was hitting some kind of exhaustion / hangover epicenter; the overall effect was incredibly disorienting. Robertson suddenly felt as though he was watching a strange porno at someone else’s house. “Hey!” she snapped at him, actually snapping her fingers as she did so. “You there? Here’s the story. I have a private jet. A well-stocked private jet. How often do you jet off somewhere? No offense, but this will be good for you. You’re coming with me. I’ll smooth it over with… whoever. Gorenfeld. The mafia. Whoever you’re working for.”

“Can’t,” said Robertson. Both of them were mostly assembled by now. He started trying to figure out the door to the outside world, and was weighing whether a taxi home would be a waste of time.

“What do you mean, ‘can’t’?” said Lastri. “That is bullshit! You decide can and can’t!”

Robertson grinned. “That’s totally right,” he said, opening the door. “I do. Call me some time when someone’s bought you a new phone.”

Lastri shook her head. “Fuck you! I will call you, you retarded wage-slave!” She was smiling back at him as he left.

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