Food, Love, and Death
If I had known that I would be cooking human brains, Bobby thought, then I never would have gotten on that plane.
He tried to get it out of his head, but the stench of the rotten flesh sizzling on the skillet barred his thoughts from escaping. He told himself that it was no more disgusting than preparing Bird’s Nest Soup or frying the brain of a cow, both of which he was fairly familiar with, but he couldn’t stop thinking about who this brain had belonged to; which man living in the bowels of Jeddah had once used the organ that was searing before him? Rummaging through the foreign kitchen, he wondered why Saiyid Al-Baik had demanded that the brains be cooked; he didn’t know a lot about the undead, but he figured that the ungodly beast that Al-Baik had locked up in his basement would rather eat human tartare.
He found a spatula in one of the many drawers and looked towards the mirror that covered the entire wall across from him. Though he felt very uncomfortable, he could not help but give himself a wink.
Squishing the browning mass of tissues flat, he watched the meat come alive, spitting hot grease around the edges, not unlike the hissing tongue-exercises of his Arabic host. Perhaps when the fast-food tycoon from the Middle East visited his own restaurant in New York, he should have been more skeptical of the odd laughs from comments he shared with his associate Ahmed in their native language.
“Do you know what I live by, Mr. Flay?” he had said as they shared a brunch of lintel soup, his naturally long and thick black hair combed flat. “Three simple things. Food, love, and death.”
“They were planning it even then,” Bobby fumed.
As if Bobby had called his name, Ahmed appeared in the frame of the kitchen door. Bobby adroitly flipped the pieces of flesh I the skillet with the flick of his wrist. Ahmed stood back and watched the plume of steam rise, wearing a thin smile, coffin-thick arms crossed over his chest.
“Are you ready to feed our little pet?”
Bobby could still picture the pet that Al-Baik had shown him earlier. It was wrapped in dusty bandages that were soaked red around the mouth and hands—It’s yellow eyes staring as it hunched over the floor reaching for them, held back by a chain.
“Feed it!” The horror in Bobby’s voice was mounting. “Now listen. You go tell Mr. Baik that I agreed to cook for the damn thing if he agreed to sell my dishes at his restaurants, not feed it. The deals off.”
“You underestimate the influence of your gracious host, Mr. Flay,” Ahmed began, his smile whipped away.
Bobby could see only one way of getting out of the door with Ahmed catching him—he increased the heat on the stove and hoped that he could bide the time he needed for it to reach the highest temperature. “How do you figure?”
“Al-Baik is a man that gets what he wants. He wants a helicopter on his roof, he gets one. He wants a private tour of the pyramids, he gets one. He wants a mummy as a pet, het gets one. He wants the Iron Chief Bobby Flay to cook for his pet, he gets him. Understand?”
The brains began to blacken in the skillet, smoke filling the room. He couldn’t wait much longer.
“The Iron Chief does not burn brains. What are you do—”
Bobby grabbed the skillet by the handle and flung the bubbling grease into Ahmed’s face. If Bobby had stuck around he would have seen the skin on the Saudi’s face blister, but all he knew was the guttural screams emanating from what used to be Ahmed’s mouth as he ran out of the room.
Bobby tried to find his way to the exit, but Al-Baik’s home was enormous and every door down the hallway looked the same. It wasn’t long until he heard the squeaking of boots in the kitchen. Feeling completely naked in the corridor, he began twisting every doorknob that he could find. His chest sounded with a wooden-spoon-hitting-the-pot pounding. After trying several doors futilely, one of them opened.
Without checking what was inside, Bobby entered.
He slumped against the wall, too exhausted to register the commotion around him, for he had interrupted a harem of dancers in lose-fitted dresses—they had been watching themselves in a mirror identical to the one in the kitchen.
“What is up with the mirrors?” he said as the women hurried out of the room, their multi-colored dresses swaying open to reveal perky brown breasts. He sat there watching himself catch his breath in the mirror, until the click of a lock brought him to his feet.
He was locked in.
Before he could decide for himself whether being locked in a room alone was bad or good, he spotted a cell phone on the floor that could only have belonged to one of the dancers. He walked cautiously over to the small black device. As he reached for his last lifeline, the phone vibrated.
Bobby’s heart dropped when he saw the name of the caller illuminated on the cell: Saiyid Al-Baik. He pressed the touch-screen and listened.
“Mr. Flay,” the voice chimed in an accent drowned out by years of speaking English, “You have cost me two of my most favorite things.”
Abruptly the wall to the left of the mirror-wall raised swiftly into the ceiling, revealing a dark room. With the phone still pressed firmly against his ear, Bobby entered the dark room, hoping for a way out.
“But don’t worry, there is still time to make up for them.” Al-Baik’s words were followed by the echo of snickering men.
Bobby clenched his jaw, daring to speak. “Fuck you. This is not a game Saiyid!”
The new room had a dirt floor and was filled with bushes taller than Bobby. He pushed through the curtain of green limbs and was startled by his reflection in another mirror-wall.
“Not a game?” Al-Baik breathed. “Maybe you should tell that to him.”
“What? Tell it to‑—”
On the other side of the two-way mirror, Al-Baik put away his cell phone, walked away from the glass and sat back down among his colleagues. To his left, he could see Ahmed putting out the burning brains with a fire extinguisher. In front of him, the room was filling back up with dancers and the sound of the traditional Saudi rap. To his right, he watched his pet from Giza rive apart Bobby, painting more and more of his ancient bandages crimson.