I laid off Duke’s chef shortly after we moved in. He was a Bon Appetit type — vegetable foams, sous-vide, artful plating. A pro, in short. He had been the top man at a snotbag Minneapolis restaurant until Duke hired him away. He said his name was Luigi.
When I mentioned to Doris that I wanted to give Luigi the ax, she gave me a thoughtful look. “You don’t like his cooking?”
“His cooking is great.”
“Is it the money?”
“I don’t know what he’s making.”
“Ninety-five, I think.”
“It could be the money.”
“But not really?”
Doris can be a bulldozer, but when she turns on the concern, the empathy, you feel like you’ve been hit by a tsunami. Her eyes get big, she locks them on you, she tears up a bit even.
“So what is it, Charles?”
“I considered it my work, baby. Keep the meat and potatoes coming. The planning, the shopping. Bottle of wine breathing on the counter, steaming pots on the stove. Now with Luigi…”
“You do plenty of other things.”
“I liked taking care of you.”
“You take care of me in a lot of ways.”
A whiff of Mae West accompanied this. She put her arms around me. Not all the way, that being quite a stretch. She made some other subtle moves.
“Luigi is better. I know that. But we didn’t starve before we had Luigi.”
“No we didn’t.”
Doris gave me a pat around the belt line. Why she’s not my size I don’t understand. She eats like a football player.
Luigi threw a chef-ish tantrum when I told him it was over. Tossing of the fry pans, waving of the knives. I took it for harmless bluster. When he ran out of steam I handed him a severance check. He counted the zeroes and shut up soon enough. Luigi grabbed his toque, hit the door and I was back in charge.
So when Doris shuffled down the steps in her pink fuzzy slippers, the bacon was jumping in the pan. The buttermilk biscuits steamed on the counter. I had eggs lined up beside the poaching pan.
“What was going on last night?” Doris asked. This was a few more words than she generally manages first thing in the morning.
“You were wandering around.”
I’d have to tell her that Duke was back eventually. She’d find out. The rehab job on the house, whatever plan Duke’s undead team would cook up for me. It would come out.
I knew I shouldn’t worry about competing with a dead guy. Sure, Duke and Doris had their little thing a couple decades ago. Sure, he’d left her forty million bucks or so. Yeah, we were living in his house, with that carving he’d commissioned of Doris’s naked self dominating the four-poster. But Duke resided in the underworld, covered with underworld dust, wearing his underworld pallor.
While I was a man of this world, still eating, drinking, breathing.
And yet… Could his unworldliness be it’s own category of attraction? Free from physical need, from the grind of all the various forms of appetite, hunger, desire. Maybe women — so used to be cat-called, pawed, probed — would find appeal in all that Duke didn’t have to offer.
“Couldn’t sleep,” I said.
Soon enough I’d need the truth or a better lie.
Tomorrow: ¡Mucho gusto, Malito!