5.) It was fortunate I already had a reservation to the Ambrose, booked months in advance. A line of people stood outside in the rain hoping for a rare cancellation. A dinner at the Ambrose was something that most people would never experience, or experience only once, and it didn’t matter how rich or famous or important they were.
I was only able to get a slot because I knew the chef.
I sat at a single table, alone. The other diners stared at me with dull resentment, as they crowded together with more than one party per table. They must have thought I was royalty--or perhaps a restaurant critic. But I knew that Toug didn’t cater to anyone. Reservations were given by lottery and no one—except perhaps me—was exempt.
The next table over was occupied by three ladies of the night, unless I was missing my guess, and a tall, elegant man who wore a tall elegant hat. It was rude, of course, but it was clear the man was past caring. There were three empty bottles of expensive wine at the center of the table.
He looked over his shoulder at me and muttered something to the three women, who laughed uproariously, as if their night’s remunerations depended on it. Hee stood, grabbing his plate and a fourth bottle of wine and stumbled over to me. He stood there weaving back and forth for a moment, his eyes unfocused, then plunked down his plate.
On the large plate was a steak that threatened to fall off the edges. The meat was at least three inches thick.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded.
“My name is Evard Just,” I said. I determined that I would not let this boor get a rise out of me.
“And how are you so privileged that you get a table to yourself?”
I shrugged. “I know the chef.”
He stared at me open mouthed, then lurched away. He grabbed a chair from the other table. “Pardon me, ladies, but we are done for the night. I’ve found someone more interesting.”
“But Montrose! The night is young!” said the oldest of the ladies.
He waved them off as if they were flies.
I could tell they were insulted. The woman who had spoken opened her mouth to object, but then their own dinners arrived, and they quite wisely fell silent and dug in.
He plopped down in his chair, filled his glass, and offered me the bottle. “This bottle of wine is worth more than four meals. I do not understand why Toug charges so little.”
Again, I shrugged, hoping that my silence would be reciprocated.
He cut a slice from the steak and raised it to his mouth, his thin lips closing over it like mousetrap. He closed his eyes and moaned in pleasure. I did not see him chew—it was as if the meat melted in his mouth.
His eyes opened and he stared down at the steak. “I cannot possibly eat this all. I will insist that they let me take it home. I will savor it for a month.”
“You won’t be allowed,” I said. The large portions were on purpose. Toug took the leftovers to the back of the restaurant where there was a line of poor and homeless as long as the line of rich and famous at the front. Ironically, these unfortunates were much more likely to get a taste of the great chef’s cooking.
“We’ll see about that,” Montrose said. He took another bite and this time yelped theatrically. It was then that I realized who he was. An actor who currently starred in the most in-demand play in the city. No doubt he thought he was the equal of Toug.
“I must meet this Toug. We can exchange favors—a ticket to my play for another meal. A year’s worth of tickets!”
I shook my head, knowing it was hopeless.
He suddenly stood up. “I must compliment the chef!” He looked around wildly, grabbed a passing waiter. “Bring out the chef!”
The other diners fell silent fell silent for a moment, then one by one, they joined in the chant. “Bring out the chef! Bring out the chef!”
The swinging doors suddenly swung open. Toug stepped out—or rolled out, as it appeared. He was short, as round as he was tall, his legs barely reached the floor, and the tall dirty chef’s hat was taller than his head. His face was round, with a roll of fat where his neck should be. He was wearing a long apron that nearly reached the floor, splatted with blood and viscera. Underneath he wore a bright red doublet and red leggings.
I restrained a smile. He looked like a giant tomato carrying a large cleaver.
Montrose, however, had no such restraint.
“I believe, sir, that you have partaken perhaps a little too much of your own cuisine.” His laugh was loud and merry, and it was infectious. One by one, the other diners joined in.
Oh, dear, I thought. The one thing you could not tease Toug about was the thing that was most noticeable about him.
Toug’s small arms blurred and the cleaver flew through the air. It was if that moment remained frozen as the laughter abruptly stopped. Montrose barely had time to let out a squeak before the cleaver thudded neatly into the middle of his steak.
Toug continued rolling toward us. Montrose still had the courage of a drunk, however. He stood with his fists out. “I warn you, sir, I have been trained in fisticuffs.”
Toug kept coming. Montrose swung, but somehow his fists went over Toug’s head, though the fat man hadn’t appeared to duck. He lunged forward, his hat falling away, his baldhead slamming into the actor’s chin.
Montrose stiffened, then fell backward like a plank of wood and landed on his back with a slapping thud.
“Evard,” he said, nodding.
“You have a job for me?”
“I do indeed.”
He took off his apron and let it swoop down over Montrose’s unconscious body.