I made dinner for five people. Ninety seconds later, they were all dead. It wasn’t my cooking. Gunsmoke filled the room burning my throat. And there I was, standing, spatula in hand ready to piss myself wishing I could be anywhere but there. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I only took this fucking job because my bookie’s goons showed up at my door demanding the vig I owe. I didn’t have it and instead of breaking my jaw, they took all of my DVDs plus the copper skillets I stole from work and implied something about a shotgun and my balls if I didn’t have the money. I was supposed to get five bills for this job. Now I’d be lucky to walk out missing my knee caps, forget about the damn vig.
Flash to ten minutes ago; I was making stir-fry for Mack and his crew. Weed was burning from their bowls and beer cans littered the dingy floor. There I was in the corner, making them food as they played dominoes. I did this kind of thing all the time. I prepared food for various unsavory types like Mack and got paid well for it. He was a crack dealer/pimp. Whenever he had his boys over to play cards or dominoes he called me. It wasn’t a bad little gig. I made food at five hundred a pop, tax free and they had the security of not burning their place down to the ground. Not bad considering the wage I make at my “real” job at the restaurant was so shitty an illegal immigrant would spit at it. Compared to that place, Mack’s was sort of like going on vacation. Tiny as the room was and even tinier the kitchen the little stove and burners worked well enough to make a full meal. They said they wanted Chinese food and would throw in an extra $20 if I made some pot-stickers. What the hell, I thought. They were buzzed, having a good time and I needed the money. So I started the process: dicing garlic, sweet onion, and seasoning the meat. I boiled the water for the noodles and dumplings. Once the veggies loosened up I threw the main ingredient into the skillet: Beautifully marbled loin steak that I cut into strips. Rapturous outbursts came from the table as the aroma hit them full-force.
“Damn, son! That smell good!”
“You want the pot-stickers boiled or fried?” I asked.
Fried, the chorus sung. I pinched the dumplings closed and gently placed them into a tiny skillet they had. I’m fucking MacGuyver in the kitchen. Give me a piece of tin foil and I’ll fry the best steak you’ve ever eaten on it. The play continued at the table. Different players slammed their dominoes down after each victory followed by loud, obnoxious laughter and expletive-filled trash talk. I didn’t mind. It was their party. All I had to do was cook, collect my money and exit since I had no plans to stay longer than I had to. Next up; plates, silverware, napkins and/or chopsticks. I served up their food and they must’ve been more lit up than I thought because they dived in.
It happened as I packed my gear. About eight guys quickly entered the room. By their behavior they didn’t come in peace. They surrounded the table and Mack’s crewed stopped dead-chew. Half of them with their mouths stuffed with lo mein. A mountain with ears stepped in the room. He was about 6’5”, 300 pounds easy. He walked up to the table towering over them like a fucking sequoia. Everything about this guy oozed menace.
“’Sup, Mack? What ‘choo eatin?” in a surprisingly melodious baritone voice.
Mack didn’t answer. He chewed slowly, glaring at him.
“Whatever it is, it smells good.” A skinny cronie said.
“Hell yeah, it do.”
“You want some?” Mack half asking, half provoking.
“Naw, in a minute” he smiled. “that ain’t what I’m here for.”
They hadn’t noticed me and I had no problem with it.
“You hit up my boy’s spot over on ….4th street…..”
“So?” Mack spat.
“So? That all you gonna say? So?” he growled.
I could see Mack’s boys positioning themselves for something.
“What ‘choo want me to say? I’m sorry? You’re boy didn’t have it comin? He was right takin over my corner without payin dues? He ain’t nothin’ but a punk-bitch? Fuck that! I staked that corner two fuckin years ago, man. Don’t roll up in here accusin me of that shit. Your boy? He shoulda known better. You fuckin know it, too”
That’s about when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Mountain-man pulled out a black Glock from his back waist band and plugged Mack in the exact center of his forehead, sending him flying back and slamming against the wall. His boys all drew their guns and emptied them into the remainder of Mack’s crew. Gunshots in closed spaces are incredibly loud. My ears rang something fierce but I knew they were already dead. Like I said; a span of ninety seconds.
They turned to leave but the gun smoke hit my lungs and I coughed. He spun around and spotted me. There I was, sheepishly reaching for the sky but with a spatula in my right hand.
“What the fuck?” he spouted.
“Yo, who the fuck is that?” one of his boys asked.
I stood frozen. My stomach hit my feet.
“Answer my boy’s question. Who the fuck are you?” the mountain said.
I desperately searched for an answer. But when you have a bunch of guys with guns in the room who have just committed mass-murder, your mind tends to draw a blank.
“Hey! Burrito!! Who the fuck are you?” another crony said.
With all my might, I drew on every bit of strength I had.
“I’m j-j-j-just a c-cook” I cracked
They looked like I just asked them what the square root of Pi was.
“You’re a cook?” Mountain-man said
I nodded, having used up all my energy on the first question. My legs felt weak and I felt my knees buckling. I wanted to vomit right there but I knew I would be dead because Mountain-man’s feet were only a few inches away. Can you blame me? They were nice.
“You cook for them? You made that?” he nodded at the late Mack and his boys.
I nodded again. Bear in mind, my hands were still raised and shaking fiercely. He looked at me puzzled then grinned slightly, either entertained by my terror or my purpose in a drug dealer’s house, I don’t know. He stepped forward, I stepped back.
“You make something like that again?”
I looked at him and his boys confused. Over my shoulder all of my gear and ingredients were still unpacked. I would have to stretch some of it but I could if I had to. I nodded hesitantly. He turned to his men.
A stream of “hell yeahs” and “fuck yeahs” came from their mouths. A few nodded eagerly.
“Make us what you made them”
He told me, turned away from me dismissively and approached the table. I slowly lowered my arms which were still shaking. Two questions raced furiously in my brain. He wanted me to make them dinner? Is he fucking kidding me? I turned to the stove in a trance. I had just witnessed five men murdered in cold blood. I could be shot at any second and now I have to prepare food for the men who did it. Yup, it’s Monday.
I peeked over my shoulder and I saw Mountain-man and his boys trying to sit down and continue the dominoes game. Some of Mack’s crew were still sitting only they had holes them. Some grabbed the corpses, shoved them aside and took their places at the table. I looked away quickly, feeling nauseated.
I don’t remember making the food let alone serving it, but I remember what Mountain-man said when he finished his plate.
“Damn, boy! That was off the fuckin chain!”
Which I assume is good. His cronies muttered in agreement as they all ate ravenously. I stood by the stove, arms crossed like I was cold. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Were they going to shoot me? I’m the only witness to the murders so why wouldn’t they? I spotted my butcher knife on a counter. If I was going to go out, I wasn’t going without drawing blood of my own first. Attempting to psyche myself up, I got angry: I don’t deserve this! I took this gig so I could get five hundred dollars! All I wanted was to get my bookie off my ass for two seconds! Who the fuck were these assholes? Why today, of all days did they choose to come over here? Slowly, my blood boiled. All I needed was to inch closer to my knife and I could take at least one of them with me. Just a little . . . . .
“Yo! Burrito!” a crony yelled
I snapped out of my trance, jumping about a centimeter or two in the air. Mountain-man approached me, hand caressing his belly. He stood above me, blocking out the ceiling light. His hand grabbed my shoulder and squeezed.
“That was some good grub, man!” he smiled revealing a silver grill in his mouth.
“Th-Thanks” I squeaked
“Tell you what . . .”
He reached into his jacket. This was it. He was going to pull out that Glock and plug me where I stood. I thought of my family: My mom telling me to quit my job and go back to school. I remembered my sister’s backyard and the barbecues she threw. I wanted so badly to be there, drinking beer and being with them. I wanted to go back to that diner where I saw the cute waitress last week. I wanted to ask her out, bare my soul to her. I wanted to feel the sun on my face again. It couldn’t end like this. . . . . not like this.
I felt Mountain-man’s beefy paw grab my dainty paw and shove paper into it. My head swam and I focused on my hand. Ten Ben Franklins looked up at me. The look on Ben’s face said, you’re an idiot. He patted me on the back with a jack-hammer’s force. I almost got whiplash.
“. . . you take that.”
He turned to one of his boys and motioned for him to come over. The skinny one approached with a pen and handed it to his gigantic leader. He took one of the bills and scribbled on it.
“You come to this address tomorrow. Two o’clock.”
I took the paper and he stared at me oddly. A flash of recognition came to his eyes for a millisecond which made my blood run cold. Did he know about me? Did he know about my family? He turned and made for the door, cronies in tow. I stood with my hand still out-stretched. I felt an ocean of relief wash over me and I slumped to the floor and I laughed. I must’ve sounded like a horse, but I laughed so hard my gut killed me to the point where I thought I should definitely have a six pack. After wiping my eyes of excess tears, I looked to the ground and saw Mack, his lifeless and bloodied body lying against the wall. His eyes bulged, his mouth agape. Then I realized I had to get the hell out of there. I raced in packing my gear while wiping anything I may have touched with a towel. All my stuff was packed and slung over my shoulder in a duffle bag. I opened the door, took one last look and exited.
I hit the streets at a run but slowed my pace until I got to the alley where my car was parked two blocks down. In the distance I heard sirens coming closer. The cops must have finally got fed up with the 9-1-1- calls. This was a bad part of town so no one saw me arrive or leave. I put the ignition in my car and started her up. I swear the sound of her motor running was the sweetest thing to my ears. Her gear was in first and I hit the gas, taking the sides streets as I went. On the radio was a Steely Dan song “Reeling in the Years” and I sang along to it. Good was too easy a word to describe how I felt at that moment. That dissipated instantly when I remembered something: No, not the fact that I had to cook the next day for a bunch of murderous lunatics. I had forgotten my butcher knife.