A BOY CALLED SOUS
By J.R. Blackwell
Thomas was standing at his station when Chef arrived on Saturday night. He had washed his hands thoroughly, paying special attention to the area under his nails. He brought in a bobble-head of the Flash, who smiled and swayed next to his spices.
“Saturday night!” cried Chef Surrell as she punched through the doors to the kitchen. “Our busiest night of the week,” she hopped over the table to stand next to Thomas. She looked at the bobble-head Flash.
“Seriously?” she said. “You’re bringing toys into my kitchen?”
“To remind me to stay fast.”
“I would rather that you didn’t make so many mistakes,” Surrell sighed. “I have to fix everything because you’re trying not to fall behind.”
Thomas opened his mouth. He thought better of whatever he was going to say and turned away.
“You’re a child,” said Surrell, “A child that needs toys and his mommy.”
Mrs. Kurt walked into the kitchen, holding her clipboard. She walked up to Surrells station and spoke in a low voice. “There’s been an accident,” she said.
Surrell sighed with annoyance. “What is it now?”
“Andrew was mugged,” said Mrs. Kurt, looking down at her clipboard, “stabbed on the street outside his apartment. He’s in intensive care right now, I’m sending him a–”
Surrell interrupted, “Now I have to have this idiot work the grill?” She pointed at Thomas with her thumb.
“Fix it how you like,” said Mrs. Kurt, spinning on her toes walking out the kitchen, the clap of her heels loud against the floor.
Surrell turned to Thomas. “Do not fuck this up,” she said, grabbing his coat and leading him to the grill. “If you undercook something and murder one of our guests I will drain you, I swear to all that is holy I will.”
Then a waiter brought in the first order, and Surrell yelled out instructions to the kitchen.
The orders rolled in fast that night, and the kitchen hummed. Thomas felt himself slip into his rhythm, Surrell berating him to fix something, telling him he was sloppy or that a steak wasn’t done enough or was overdone. Surrell was shaking a pepper grinder at him when a man in a tailored suit walked through the door. He was an exclamation point of a man, lean and tall and striking in a tailored black suit.
“Chef Surrell,” he said, sliding up to her station. She looked up and her eyes narrowed, her lips pressing into a thin white line. She had been berating the staff all evening, but only now, Thomas realized, was she truly angry.
“What do you want?” asked Chef Surrell, shaking a spatula at the man.
The man adjusted his French cuffs, pulling them forward so that his gold cufflinks were visible. “Only your great talents, Maria” he said, a predatory grin on his face. Thomas turned his head back to his work and focused on prepping the salmon steaks. He hadn’t even considered that the Chef had a first name.
“I’m a Chef,” said Surrell, “you want food, you can book me as a caterer.”
“We want you,” said the man, leaning forward, “and we’re not asking permission.”
“I don’t do that anymore,” said Surrell, the spatula gripped tightly in her hands. “I’m a vegetarian.”
The man clasped his hands together, like a prayer, in front of his lips. “I’ve heard, but not everyone is, my sweet. Your adorable moral qualms don’t have a place with us.”
“You entertain that old shit yourself,” said Surrell, pointing at him, “I don’t want anything to do with your politics.”
The man paused for a moment, and looked around the room. “The kitchen can be a dangerous place,” he said, his hands clasped behind his back.
“Don’t you dare threaten me,” growled Surrell, “I’m twice as old as you and twice as cruel, and if you so much as-“
“If?” said the man. “If. That’s funny. Where is your grill chef tonight?”
Thomas glanced over to see Chef Surrell leaning over her station. She flipped the knife in her hand. “I’ll kill you,” she said, “These people are mine, and I am well within my rights by the ancient laws of-”
The man waved his hand and caught Thomas’s eye. “I’m just saying,” he said, grinning, “Accidents happen.”
The words stung Thomas like a snake bite, and he held his breath. Then he looked down and watched himself slice open his hand like he was carving beef, the knife sliding into the flesh of his palm and down, crossing his wrist and into the meat of his arm. He looked over at Chef Surrell to see her turn to him, her fangs in her mouth.
Then everything went into slow motion, the man leaving the room, Surrell running towards him, and then the shock, as he looked down again and saw the blood pulsing from the deep cut in his flesh. The blood that had welled up from the cut was dark, nearly black, pooling red as it reached his fingertips. He dropped his knife, which was slippery with his own blood.
Then the world returned, all at once, the tape speeding up again and he felt himself stumble, but Chef Surrell was there, catching him in his arms and holding him up with a practiced ease. The pain hit him like a car crash, sudden and surprising and terrible. There was blood on the floor, in splotches of red-black and it was running down his arm, warm and wet. Surrell guided him to a chair. He felt himself start to hyperventilate, shaking in the chair, the Chef’s hand on his shoulder. Surrell was demanding that someone get her bag.
He felt tears sting his eyes as he gripped his hand, blood blossoming under his panicked palm. Chef Surrell took his chin into her hand and tilted his head up towards her, “There is no pain,” she said, looking into his eyes, her own as black and deep as a cave. As soon as she said it, it was true, there was no pain, and Thomas leaned his head back against the wall, the lights on the ceiling a haze of white.
Chef Surrell was pressing a towel into Thomas’s hand when the dishwasher handed her a black leather bag. She opened the bag and pulled out a needle and a bottle. Thomas watched, in a pleasant haze as a towel became damp with his blood. Chef Surrell stitched up his hand and wrist while he watched, quick and efficient, sewing him back together like an expert seamstress. Then she wiped his hand down with alcohol and wrapped his wound in gauze. When she spoke, her voice was clear, but everyone else’s voice sounded like they were speaking through water.
Thomas smiled at his co-workers. Mrs. Kurt stepped into his vision, looking down at him, her clipboard clasped tightly to her chest. She looked so worried. Thomas heard her ask if he was drunk.
“Of course not,” said Chef Surrell, her voice crisp, “I’ve got him in my thrall, the weak-minded simpleton,” She clasped his chin in her small hand, moving his head so that his eyes met hers. “Now you’re going to go to sleep,” she said, “And you won’t wake up till I tell you to,” Thomas’s eyes drifted closed, and the last thing he saw was Surrell licking his blood off her fingers.
“Wake up, Thomas,” commanded Chef Surrell, tapping him on the cheek. “Time to go home.”
Thomas opened his eyes and shook his head. “Ugh,” he said. He was on the brown couch in Chef Surrells office, and most of the lights in the kitchen were out. His hand throbbed. “Where is everyone?”
“Gone,” said Surrell. “Drinking, most likely. Service is over, Thomas, and it’s time to get you home.” She put a hand around his back and helped him to his feet. She was incredibly strong. “Come on,” she said, “I’ll give you a ride.”
“Shouldn’t I go to a hospital?” asked Thomas, looking at his hand as they walked through the kitchen to the back of the restaurant.
“Why?” said Surrell, “You got some health insurance you’re dying to use?”
Thomas shook his head. “I don’t have insurance.”
“Of course you don’t, you’re as helpless as a baby bird. That’s why I patched you up.”
“Yeah,” said Thomas, “about that. Is that something you normally do?”
“Well, usually no one is stupid enough to cut themselves that badly in my kitchen.”
“That wasn’t my fault,” said Thomas, “That guy, he-“
“That “guy” is one of the more powerful. . .well, it doesn’t matter, it’s a vampire thing. He and his fucking cronies dictate the law around here.” A black BMW lit up when she clicked a key ring. “And he’s an asshole. One of many.”
“Will he be back?”
“Maybe,” she said, sliding into her BMW. The inside was beige leather and the seats warmed under them. The car purred to life, and Chef Surrell screeched out onto the street.
“How did you know how to sew me up like that?”
“I used to be doctor.” Chef Surrell drove like traffic signs were suggestions and all cops were on holiday. She whipped her giant BMW around street corners in a way that simultaneously terrified and charmed Thomas.
“Why would a Doctor become a Chef?” asked Thomas.
“I got tired of keeping up with all the fucking technology. I liked the days with the needles and the string and the splints. Now it’s all about machines and medications.”
Surrell sped through a yellow light and changed lanes, cutting in front of a honking SUV. “Cooking though,” she said, sucking air through her teeth, “that’s still cooking.”
Thomas felt like the windshield was just a screen through which he was watching a wild video game with exceptional graphics.
“But you don’t eat,” said Thomas, “Why would you be interested in cooking if you don’t eat?”
“I eat,” said Surrell, glancing over at Thomas. Thomas remembered the sight of her licking his blood off her fingers.
“Yes,” said Thomas, “but not human food.”
Surrell made a sudden turn that had Thomas grabbing for the strap next to his head. “Not human food,” said Surrell. “But I like making food for humans. I make the food, the humans eat the food, I eat the humans.” She shrugged.
“I thought you said you were a vegetarian,” asked Thomas, turning up the collar on his coat.
She shook her head. “I lied. That guy’s an asshole. It’s fun to lie to assholes.”
Surrell parked illegally in front of his apartment.
“I don’t think–“ said Thomas,
“Let em ticket me,” she said, “I can afford it.”
Thomas slid out of the car and stood and swayed on his feet. “Shit,” he said, as dark spots broke in front of his vision.
Before he fell, her arms went around him, holding him upright. “You got up too fast,” she said. “You lost a lot of blood tonight. You cut yourself good.”
He chuckled, leaning on her. She was small, but she didn’t sway under his weight. “Yeah, well, I always keep my knives sharp.”
She looped his arm over her shoulder, “You’re an idiot.”
“You’re the boss,” he said, as she helped him up the stairs to his building.
“I am,” she said.
“Thanks for taking me home,” said Thomas, fumbling in his pocket for his keys. “And for-“ he looked at the bandage, “wrapping me up.” His hand folded around the keys in his pocket, but he didn’t take them out.
Surrell looked him over. “Are you afraid?” she asked. “You think I’ll kill you?” She waved her fingers at him and spoke in an exaggerated spooky voice. “Drink your blood.”
“Uh, yes?” said Thomas. “Maybe?”
“Okay,” she said, shrugging. “I was considering it. Not killing you, but yes, the blood. It’s a compliment. I like you.” She shook her head. “But not tonight. You’ve lost too much blood already, it wouldn’t be safe.”
Thomas leaned against the wall. “I thought you hated me.”
“I don’t hate you,” said Surrell. “You’re young and inexperienced and sort of, there’s no nice way of saying this, ridiculous, but you’re also fast and you have good instincts and if Eugene made you cut yourself then you’ve got to be halfway decent.”
“Oh,” said Thomas, “Okay, um, thanks?”
“Besides,” she said, “You’re delicious. That’s worth something.”
Thomas blushed. “That’s-um – I don’t know what to say to that.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” said Surrell. “Why do people always think they have to make some comment?” She walked down the stairs to her car. “Get some sleep,” she said, “I expect you tomorrow.”
“So you’re not going to fire me.”
She opened the door to her car. “You may be new blood, but you’re good blood, and I like to keep good blood around.”