Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Chef

by Coffee Anderson


Chef.1

Meat juice dripped onto a cracked tile floor. The steady whumping sound of a cleaver hacking cuts of pork, pheasant, and squid accompanied the buzz of an old ceiling fan. Chef Abelardo Quiñones wiped the sweat off of his brow with his shirt sleeve as he worked prepping an eight course dinner. He had four hours left.

The meal? An eclectic mix of Nuevo Latino and French cuisine. The customers? Forty two of them -- overlords and crime bosses from The Southern Azteca States. The restaurant? La Tercera Dimensión -- home of Mexico's best known casinos, restaurants, and prostitution rings. His bosses? Los Terceros -- overlords of some of the biggest drug trafficking, prostitution dealing and money laundering organizations this side of the planet. His term of employment? Forever. His salary? The privilege of not being hacked to death with his meat cleaver. Abelardo was a slave; albeit a very talented cook; his life obligated as the five-star chef of Los Terceros.

Abelardo came from a small cocaine-producing town in Colombia, where bags of the stuff are used as currency. After borrowing money from one of the local overlords to try and emigrate, and failing, he was unable to pay back his debt. As a consequence, he was sold as a slave to Los Terceros to recoup the overlord's funds. Anyone else unable to pay their debts to overlords were also sold into slavery; usually for hard labor, or suicidal drug runs across borders. Pretty females were sold as prostitutes to one of the thousands of Latin American rings. Los Terceros' network paid the highest for the most attractive.

But as slaves go, Abelardo was lucky. He was known throughout the networks for his culinary skills; therefore privileged to be placed in his own kitchen; one of the most lenient environments for a debt slave to be. Sometimes he was even leased out on catering jobs to other crime rings as a return favor, or payment for a debt his bosses owed; Sometimes, for his bosses to make some extra money.

Abelardo was often ridiculed for his dark Native American skin by the lighter skinned people of supposedly purer European descent. But he knew his skills would prevail in the end since he had time on his side. Abe had just turned fourteen years old. It had been five years since he was acquired by Los Terceros; a short, skinny but muscular kid whose thirteenth generation hand-me-down clothes dwarfed him in a heap of baggy cloth. To the day he still had not gained much weight.

For his birthday the bosses let him spend the night with one of La Dimensión's prettiest and most requested call girls. Her name was Sherry -- a blond American from New York who had been acquired as a college student when she passed out drunk at a club in Cancún during a spring break vacation. Her inebriated stupor compromised her freedom.

Since Abe wasn't very experienced, he felt shy and uncomfortable the whole time. Besides, she refused to do anything with him the whole night, threatening that if he came near her she would beat the hell out of him. But he didn't care. Even though the bosses required all the girls to pass weekly health check-ups, Abe didn't want to risk picking up a love bug. He didn't like her anyway. Sure, she was beautiful, but she could be a real bitch.

As a boy in Colombia, Abe lived in the poorest section of town. Lucky for his family they had a bio-diesel generator. Even luckier, they lived next to the town's makeshift workplace for the overlord distributor that picked up the goods they produced. Since the distributors used satellite based means to communicate with the overlords, and Abe's family was the best producer in town, the guy running communications was allowed to hook Abe's family up with satellite TV connections. What few free hours Abe had from cocaine farming he spent watching television; mostly food and culinary channels where he learned broken English and French, not to mention his brilliant culinary skills. But none of that was enough to earn his freedom -- at least, not yet.

Abelardo's freedom was mortgaged by a forty-year servitude decree note. Its principal balance was the original amount of money owed to the overlord he borrowed it from. All interest, fees, and penalties were payable in installments of time and service. If he did not please Los Terceros' daily demands it accrued usurious amounts of penalties and interest -- which happened often -- for things like being late with orders, or overspending on budgets for ingredients and kitchen supplies. Abe knew it was a method the bosses used to keep him indefinitely enslaved, because given the conditions, he was competent, and ran a tight ship in the kitchen.

La Tercera Dimensión was a well-known and highly acclaimed restaurant. Even celebrities and government officials made reservations to eat there, play at its casino, partake in the use of some recreational chemicals, and sample the exquisite girls. Abe hoped and dreamed that one day, he would escape and work at one of his own restaurants that he controlled, as a free man, able to enjoy life and the pursuit of his own happiness.

Abelardo's typical day began at six in the morning, receiving ingredient shipments and prepping the day's meals. He worked until half past four when he received an hour to himself for leisure in his one room apartment above the restaurant. He would return to the kitchen afterwards for dinner's preparation. He continued until two in the morning, when everything was cleaned up and ready for the next day. Half of Sundays were his to catch up on sleep or enjoy free time.

Time to himself, maintained under a tight budget, played a crucial role in his future. A voracious reader, he used every cherished minute he had buried in books, or working on the laptop computer the bosses didn't know he had. Abe was one of the few from his hometown in Colombia that knew how to read. One of the satellite channels he watched as a child aired nothing but American and French educational programs. As soon as he learned to read, and do simple math, he read every single thing he could get his hands on, desperate to get whatever education he could muster up. Somewhere along the grapevine he heard that knowledge was power.

Chef.2

"Don Carne, permission to grab a smoke?" Abe asked in his thick Colombian Spanish to the beefy six foot seven inch bouncer standing outside the kitchen door watching soccer games on the dining room video wall. Don Carne looked down at him with blank expression. He wore a gray Italian suit and the dim dining room lights reflected off his shiny bald head. He said nothing, and nodded. The sound of his thick neck rubbing against the starched collar of his shirt was the only noise he made as he turned his attention back to the game.

It would have to be a quick break since the clock was ticking. Abe trotted to the exit and stepped outside to light his cigarette. DF's (Distrito Federál) smog camouflaged its smoke as it snaked into the sky. As he watched from the fourth story fire escape, two limousines pulled up to the ally entrance. Only bosses, overlords, or their VIP guests entered from the back. Entrances from the front meant risking a drive by shooting or bombing attempt.

The driver got out and walked to the other side of the car, peering in all directions to scope for anything suspicious. He spotted Abe and stared at him; assessing his risk before opening the passenger door. Abe waved his cigarette hand implying neutrality and the driver opened the door where several men in suits got out. They spoke with one another, but Abe couldn't hear the extent of the conversation for the city's loud ambient noise.

The driver looked back at Abe as he held the door open, ensuring he harbored no malicious intent. The exiting men took notice and looked at him, not pausing in their conversation, and entered the building. The driver closed the door, returned to his, and took off into DF's traffic.

'Guests,' Abe thought, 'for tonight's big event.' He dropped the cigarette butt and rubbed it out with the toe of his shoe before returning to the kitchen.

The evening's event was the telecast of The Underground Gladiator's Cup Final -- the quarter annual world championship of the world's best fighters, most of them slaves, fighting it to the lifeless end: anything goes, no rules; last one left with a pulse wins -- humanity at its finest.

One of the finalists was an ex-bouncer at La Dimensión -- until the bosses discovered how lucrative it was investing his talents in something other than keeping un-wanteds out of the restaurant. His name was Flaco -- Skinny. He was seven foot two, inhumanly muscular, and clocked in at three hundred fifty pounds; altered to the best of biotech's abilities, and trained in every killing technique known to man. Many of tonight's guests had shocking sums of money relying on his victory.

Nobody knew Flaco's real name but he was the one Abe used to ask for smoke breaks before Don Carne took his place. Flaco would thump Abe on the back of the head as he walked out to smoke. It was just a thump, but coming from Flaco it felt like a light-weight boxer's jab. Flaco would snicker like a playground bully and call Abe ''Levanta-Polvo" -- or dust raiser, a nickname for short people, referring to what happens when they fart. Abe hated the nickname, and he detested Flaco, but he took it without shame; never feeling the need to challenge a seven foot tall killing machine. Though, he did learn some martial arts moves from him, whether he liked or not.

Flaco was famous for running his mouth, though much of what came out was proof of his low intelligence. He often bragged to La Dimensión's other staff members about people he killed and how he killed them, using Abe as a demonstration model, leaving him bruised and sprained. "Did you get that Polvo? Huh? You tiny little campesino piece of indio shit?" He would ask, holding him in a head lock as the other staff members and call girls laughed.

Flaco once demonstrated a punch on Abe to a group of VIP guests during an explanation of his most prized killing -- a U.S. Navy SEAL. Even though the demo punch was a light tap, it knocked Abe out cold. The only thing he remembered was waking up in a hospital recovery room three days later, unable to work for a week. The bosses added to his servitude decree note accordingly. It was much to Abe's relief that Flaco was sent to be a fighter in the kick boxing leagues, then to The Underground Gladiator's Cup where he made his way to a finalist.

Winning The Underground Gladiator's Cup Final meant you were the only contestant left alive. Abe wasn't sure which result he wished on Flaco; victory, which would make him a living legend -- a title he didn't deserve -- or death; which Abe feared to wish on him, since he believed that what comes around goes around.

Abe returned to the kitchen where two delivery guys wheeled in a stack of boxes. Abe signed the release ticket and the men exited with their dollies. His most anticipated cargo finally arrived. The boxes contained some of the most expensive ingredients on the planet: Black truffles from Milan, Spanish saffron, French wines from the mid 1900's, and last but not least, the most expensive of all, the special ingredient of the evening; shipped in a small box from Iran, outlawed in seventeen countries and the remaining United States: The Nano-Med-Deliv's 12.7 Bio Units -- Dust.

Dust: noun - thousands of tiny manmade nano-bots, less than a nanometer in size, capable of delivering chemicals and conducting minor tasks of a surgical nature within the body -- dubbed "dust" because of its appearance when in large quantities.

Holding the box turned Abe's skin icy cold from the intense surge of adrenaline it induced. This was it; the night Abe had been planning for the last four years; his attempt at freedom.

Risky? Extremely. Expensive? Very -- he only had enough money secretly saved up for one attempt. Do or die? By all means. His one chance? The textbook example. The consequences of failing wouldn't allow him a second chance. It was now or never; the perfect opportunity. Never had the bosses or the rest of the staff paid so little attention to what he was doing. The guests must be super important: the amount of money he was allowed to spend on the meal, the Underground Gladiator Cup, the profits La Dimensión would make. Everything left everyone so busy that they had no time left to breath down a lowly chef's neck. But if Abe failed it meant certain death. Defaulting on a loan in this part of society meant getting a divorce from your head.

Abe opened the package looking around to make sure nobody watched. The doses came in small plastic canisters about an inch and a half in length. With diligent attention he followed the product's instructions: Wear latex gloves -- perfect, he always did when prepping raw meats and seafood. Take a dose of the preventative antidote an hour ahead of working with the 'hot' doses in case of accidental ingestion or inhalation. And against the manufacturer's directions he ordered enough to deliver two times the recommended dosage to ensure a guaranteed desired effect.

Ordinary toxins or drugs would have been easier and cheaper, but the bosses used their most expendable slaves -- los canarios, or canaries, as they were called -- to try food ahead of every meal ensuring they weren't being poisoned. It had to be something else; something capable of delivering a dosage by remote control; triggered at a moment's notice at a specific time, unnoticed by its victims, but leaving enough time for the canaries to prove the meal's safety.

Synth-ohol it was called on the streets: a synthetic alcohol -- still unapproved by the FDA -- used as a mild anesthetic or pain killer and delivered by particle sized nano-bots upon the operator's command. It provided quick effects under normal dosage; the equivalent of a mild to medium state of intoxication. The lethal stuff would have been more effective but it was prohibitively expensive, problematic to deliver, and Abe had canary friends he would never forgive himself for murdering.

The preventative antidote had a medicinal taste of dirty water as he washed it down with a bottle of cola. The rest of the canisters' contents went into the giant vat of French onion soup as he looked around making sure nobody watched. It would be the second course and Abe wanted to buy as much time as possible.

Chef.3

Guests talked and sports announcers narrated the opening events -- light weight kick boxing, amateur martial arts matches, soccer and baseball games -- as more guests arrived and sat down for drinks.

Abe peered out of the kitchen taking account of the dining room atmosphere. The diners sipped their cocktails while conversing and watching the games, except for two guys at the bar. One of them, Robin the Coyote, a frequent visitor at La Dimensión, held the other against the wall, yelling at him with a big knife to his neck while three of his friends watched. Don Carne monitored the situation in case it needed his intervention. Fights weren't common at La Dimensión, but Robin's quick temper was known to cause the majority of them; though nobody cared since he was a big spending customer. Abe returned to the kitchen unable to afford time for excitement. Much bigger things occupied his mind. It was time for the first course.

Chef.4

Naked female wait staff entered and exited the kitchen's double swinging doors dropping off dirty dishes and picking up the next course to serve. Abe scrambled to make everything perfect, trying hard to concentrate and prevent his eyes from drifting to the visual candy. To distract him, the occasional flirtatious waitress entered the kitchen and rubbed her bare rump against him, making it especially hard for him.

'Just a few more minutes.' He thought as his gut wrenched. Cheers and applause roared from the dining room. Flaco was probably winning the semi-final, but he didn't have time to see. Abe peered out of the tiny kitchen window checking for any sign of the extrication service he had made a reservation with.

Extrication Service: noun -- a service provider hired to facilitate "getting the hell outta there.")

He panicked, not knowing who they were nor if they were reliable, but it was a chance he must take. If worst came to worst and the service didn't show up, he could dash into DF's night and do his best to disappear since he was wearing all black, except for his apron.

Don Carne reached into the kitchen with one hand holding the doors open.

"You got a visitor, shrimp." he barked, "Something about a Cognac delivery."

The door slammed shut under its springs' tension as he disappeared back into the dining room.

'Cognac?' Abe thought to himself, 'I never ordered any Cognac.' The liquor distributors had already made their delivery earlier that morning. 'What was this about? Maybe someone was onto him and found out.' He suppressed his panic.

A tall black man in a delivery suit entered the kitchen with a huge dolly stacked with small box crates.

"Abe Quiñones?" the man asked looking at a clipboard and holding a pen. He spoke with a thick Spanish Caribbean accent.

"Yah." Abe mumbled.

"Delivery for two cases of Dom. Romaneé Conti 1997, from Valdéz Beverage Distribution."

"But we didn't..." Abe tried to speak.

"We just need you to sign here." The man interrupted. He lifted the first few pages on the clipboard and shoved it into Abe's hand. He stared at Abe, worrying him as he grabbed the pen and looked for a blank to sign.

He looked at the paper and saw something scribbled in ink. It read:

We're from the extrication service. Don't let on to anyone. We're waiting outside for you in a blue delivery truck with the back door open. It's our policy to get the hell out of here as soon as possible.

Thanks.

Abe wrote something and faked a signature, staring at the doors to the dining room making sure nobody watched.

"Bam!" The doors swung open amplifying the hoots and cheers from the dining room. Abe almost dropped the clipboard, worried it might be someone catching on to his scheme. A naked waitress rushed in to exchange some dirty dishes with the next course. She grabbed the new plates and scurried back out. The delivery man's head tracked her luscious figure like radar as she fluttered past him with a graceful step. He didn't notice Abe's extended arm, holding the clipboard.

"Oh, right on, right on." he said as he took the clipboard and looked at the page. Abe had scribbled a reply note next to the original one. It read:

I'll be out in a few minutes. I have some unfinished business to take care of.

The man nodded, smiled and began unloading the boxes off the dolly. Abe returned to his work; relieved that the service showed up on time. How competent and reliable they were, he was still to find out. The man pushed the dolly out and left. The cheers fluctuated between calm and hysteria.

'Must be the end of the round.' Abe thought, 'Flaco's probably beating the living hell out of someone.'

He picked up the small initiation device that sent the nano-bots their signal. It was the size of a medium coin with a single red button. 'Mustn't lose it' he thought, putting his thumb on it in anticipation. The notion of pressing it made his palms cold and sweaty.

"Bam!" The doors swung open again. Abe fumbled to stash it in his pocket. A towering figure entered: his boss, Gonzalo; a balding man in his early forties, dressed in a suit, and wearing dark lens glasses. He stepped halfway into the kitchen and held the doors open with one hand. He looked pissed.

"The soup!..." he said in a stern tone.

'Uh oh!' Abe thought. He had been found out. They would probably chop him up with meat cleavers like the last dishwasher that tried to escape. It must have been the texture or artificial flavor the dust added. His throat began closing in on itself as he mentally cursed himself for not thinking of a better plan. He tried to say something but didn't know what to say.

"A partner of ours out there...from Paris..." Gonzalo continued,

Abe looked at him puzzled.

"...arrogant mother fuckers when it comes to food...tasted the soup and asked what part of France our chef was from...Hahahahahaha!" Gonzalo laughed with raspy Cuban-cigar-strained vocal chords.

Abe neared crapping his pants with relief. He felt a warm rush of blood back to his face as the tension subsided.

"Keep up the good work son. You're a real champ! I'll knock a couple years off your note for tonight. I'm proud of you!" he said and went back into the dining room.

Abe smiled back and nodded. 'Hypocrite! Thief! Bastard!' Abe thought, 'You don't know what several prime years of your life stolen feels like!'

That was it. He had had enough: The end of his tether, the last straw on the camel's back! Five precious years of his adolescence stripped by these murdering losers. He was so enraged he didn't care what happened. Tonight he would attempt to win his freedom, even if he died trying. It wasn't worth being a slave for these bastards.

With intense anger, Abe mashed the red button. He felt no fear.

He waited.

A waitress rushed in and out switching dirty dishes for the next course. 'Surely everyone's had the soup.' Abe thought. He hoped so. He continued working, hoping he wouldn't have to, seeing how his role as chef would soon end -- whether good or bad.

From the kitchen he heard giggles and laughs interspersing themselves into the ambient noise of the dining room. After a couple of minutes the laughing turned so hysterical that some of the diners began vomiting. The noise subsided as voices dropped out one by one. Abe wiped his hands on his dish towel and scampered to see what was happening. Half of the diners had passed out on the tables, some snoring in puddles of their own sick. Others were doing their best to stand up, knowing something was wrong, but collapsed to the floor giggling. Others laughed -- unable to stop -- soon to keel over stark drunk. The surreal image of the most dangerous gangsters in the Americas laughing like little girls gave Abe a warm-hearted feeling.

Flaco's image flashed on the video wall as he beat his opponent senseless. Blood spewed everywhere in the fighting arena.

For a brief moment, the dining room seemed quiet; too quiet. Out of the corner of his eye, Abe noticed a lone male figure standing. Abe looked over.

Don Carne!

The sinister bouncer stared back at him; his sober eyes red with rage like an over revved engine's tachometer. The waitresses watched dumbfounded, wondering what happened.

'Oops' Abe thought: Don Carne would be left standing because he wasn't eating dinner that night. Well, better Don Carne alone than forty something deadly criminals.

"You motherfucker! You poisoned them, didn't you?" Don Carne yelled.

He lunged at Abe but missed. Abe dashed into the kitchen and crouched himself behind the center island countertop prepared to run either direction if Don Carne chased him, but he guessed wrong. Instead, Don Carne dove at him over the island colliding with pots, pans, and cooking utensils as he crashed to the floor. Abe lunged backwards avoiding him and grabbed a solid frying pan. He wound his arm tight, clenched his eyes shut, and pounded Don Carne over the head as hard as he could. His ears rang from the clang of the metallic impact, but it didn't knock him out. Don Carne anticipated Abe's swing and lifted his arm up in time to lessen the blow's effect. He cursed as he sat up stunned and dizzy.

Abe sprinted for the dining room where the waitresses hid behind tables yelling in fear. As he proceeded towards the lobby he heard Don Carne's running footsteps approaching. He turned to look. Don Carne was closer than he thought. Abe dropped down and pulled a leg sweep, a trick learned from Flaco, slamming Don Carne to the floor. To Abe’s misfortune, Don Carne was moving so fast that his momentum propelled him forward, crashing into Abe.

Abe was crushed, face down, under two hundred and ten pounds of scary bouncer. He reached as hard as he could for his chopping knife, but his hand was jammed underneath. Abe felt a nerve curling jab in his back as Don Carne elbowed him from above. The stabbing pain made him yelp. He couldn't move. Don Carne got up and began kicking Abe in his upper body.

"Stupid motherfucker! I'm going to kill your sorry ass!" Don Carne yelled as he kicked him and reached into his jacket to pull out his .45. The girls screamed and left the room as soon as they saw that shots were eminent.

'Shit!' Abe thought staring down the barrel. This was it. He made it so far, but didn't make it past the punk-ass bouncer. As he shielded his body from the blows he began losing hope. He winced and squeezed his eyes shut in anticipation of the shot. He hoped it would end quick and painless.

Bang!!! An ear splitting shock plummeted the commotion into an eerie silence. The blows to Abe's upper body stopped. Abe looked up expecting to see his lifeless body lying underneath him like the stories he had heard of near death experiences. Instead, Don Carne collapsed to the floor unconscious. There stood Sherry -- the blond American girl -- frying pan in hand with a guilty but satisfied smile on her face. Abe scrambled to get up but winced over in pain. He felt her soft warm hands reach around him to ease him up. Her voluptuous naked body pressed against his, but without arousing effect on account of the stress and pain distracting him.

"Thank you." He said in broken English, moaning as he tried to catch his breath and recover from the pain.

"Sure." she said holding him up.

"I've got to get out of here."

"Yah." She said kissing him on the cheek, "I'm going with you."

"What?!"

"I'm going."

"I only paid the extrication service for myself to go."

"I'll pay my way."

"What?!"

"Don't worry about it."

She smiled, reached under a table to reveal a hidden backpack, pulled out a change of clothes and began dressing. She flung the pack onto her shoulders and helped Abe towards the door. The crowds at The Gladiator's Final roared on the video wall as the referee held one of Flaco's arms upward signaling his victory. His opponent's bloody lifeless pulp was scattered amongst the arena's floor. Abe wondered what Flaco might think returning to La Dimensión to find that a miniscule chef had out witted their masters and disappeared.

He smiled.

Chef.5

Traffic roared in addition to the never ending horn beeping of DF's busy nightlife. Two men stood waiting in the back of the blue delivery truck as Abe and Sherry approached.

"Abelardo Quiñones?" One of them asked as Abe struggled in.

"Yes." He nodded as they both helped him up. He tumbled to the floor of the truck and laid down to rest, letting the pain subside.

"...and Sherry Capeston."

Abe looked at her surprised as she hoisted herself into the truck. She smiled back and said, "Hey. You're not the only one with connections around here."

One of the men closed the back rolling door and the other knocked on the inside front signaling the driver to disappear into DF's thick night time traffic.

'This was it.' Abe smiled thinking to himself as he admired Sherry's exquisite looks, 'the beginning of his freedom.'

THE END

Glossary of Spanish and Slang Terms

Nuevo Latino: literally, 'new Latino', the Hispanic equivalent of French 'nouvelle cuisine'

La Tercera Dimensión: 'The Third Dimension' (a restaurant)

Los Terceros: The Number Threes (a gang)

Don Carne: "Mr. Meat", manager of La Tercera Dimensión

Distrito Federál: The 'Federal District', notable for the absence of any meaningful law enforcement, 'Federal' or otherwise

campesino: farmboy, hick

indio: North or Latin American native, considered inferior to those of pure European blood


© 2007 Coffee Anderson

Bio: Coffee is an architect and homespun-self-taught-economist in southern tornado alley. "Chef" is a short story from the author's collection entitled "Nowhere: Sketches of a Near Future".

E-mail: Coffee Anderson

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