Sunday
Nov112012

Book of Knut:

a novel by Knut Knudson

By Halvor Aakhus


 

Jaded Ibis
November 2012
978-1937543082


 

Torbjorn's got issues. He is troubled by this, so he decides to get to work early and face the facts. Fact: Tonight is Torbjorn's first night on the job, his new kitchen job at Gator's Hut. Issue: He's never stepped foot in a kitchen before, even though his application form boasted ten years of cooking experience at four restaurants in New York City. Fact: Torbjorn's never been to New York and fucks up Ramen in the microwave. Also, he's missing a boot.

Standing directly across Third Street from Gator's front door, Torbjorn is ten minutes early for his 6 p.m. training shift. Issue: This doesn't mean he'll be on time. It is now clear that being early to the outside of a building is different from being early to the inside. Fact: Gator's Hut, it's a restaurant-bar with shit going on—jazz nights, standup, a foreign-film series, karaoke, free anarchist newsletters by the toilets, brain sandwiches—but fact: It's also a real shithole, and fact: It's a real convenient shithole, right across Third from the Dumpster behind the Annex. So he didn't expect any issues with crossing the street and getting through the front door in under ten minutes, didn't expect to find this "line," this mass of bodies, coming out the front door, stretching up and down the sidewalk, and trespassing on the lawns of two adjacent frat houses, as well as in the Village Pantry parking lot on the corner of College and Third. Now, beholding this clusterfucking line, he assesses his issues and decides to quit this job: He hides from crowds, rather than in them. But then, fact: He's only wearing one shoe. He needs money to buy a shoe. So he decides to keep his job and cross the street. And, for the first time, as he tries to "cut" in line, walking back and forth in the gutter of Third, attempting to mount the sidewalk packed full of intoxicated college students, who look to be underage and scantily dressed, it occurs to him what working in a shithole kitchen could really mean—fact: Shithole kitchen means free food.

How to Get a Kitchen Job at Gator's Hut: In general, lie. In particular, your proficiency with two types of lies (written and oral) shall be examined in the following order:

(1) Written: The application form should take five minutes max. But job experience is key, so don't fear the research: Hit the net and find the websites of four ethnic restaurants in NYC. Scroll to the bottom of the webpages and copy the contact info (correct street address numbers are OK, but change a digit or two in the telephone numbers). Make sure the foreign-sounding names of your made-up managers are compatible with respective cuisine ethnicities (by bearing in mind mobsters in The Godfather trilogy): You will need two Italian surnames (pick names like Tattagli or Clemenza, but avoid Corleone), one German (pick Hagen, reportedly German-Irish), and one Tibetan (you don't know any Tibetan mobsters, so you're stuck with Batista, the Cuban dictator in Godfather II). If possible, cite a dishonest buddy as a reference (one who can pretend he was your former manager over the phone). Never admit to felonies.

(2) Oral: The Q&A of the personal interview will be much easier. Once the owner of Gator's has explained that his discharge from the Navy was honorable, he'll ask two questions:

Q1. "Only nine fingers, huh—can you hold a gun?" he'll ask.

This Question #1 is disorienting, but it is also rhetorical, for he'll immediately reply:

A1.  "Well, sure you can, and like I always say: If you can shoot a gun, you can flip a burger."

However, Question #2 is more difficult:

Q2. "Lotta smoking round here. You got a problem with that? You know, with smoking?"

Given higher level of difficulty, he'll wait several seconds before responding for you:

A2.  "Well, sure you don't. If you're not pro-legal-weed and all, then you don't work here."

He'll conclude the interview by explaining that "You do work here."

Torbjorn is now two minutes early to work. He is even inside the building, getting yelled at as he pushes and shoves through the wall-to-wall bodies to the front of the "line," wherever that might be. Issue: He can't see shit, nor does he know what the fuck he's supposed to do, nor does he know where to find the kitchen. Fact: There was no orientation after the interview—"Yeah, no time for that," the owner said, "not with cook getting arrested and me getting overworked: Why the hell else would we be hiring?" So Torbjorn just keeps pushing through the crowd, peering for future peers. But it's as hard to see in Gator's as it is to breathe.

What Torbjorn Will Learn if He Survives the Night and Keeps this Job: Not seeing and breathing is good for business. When Indiana introduced the indoor smoking ban, the owner decided Gator's was more of a bar with food, than a restaurant with a bar, and he opted for the 24-hour 18-and-over policy that allowed indoor smoking. Business skyrocketed. Ever since the ban, with nowhere else to go, all smokers go to Gator's. Day or night, there's a wait. And no reservations, no hostesses. Just a bouncer, with a multitask job description: (1) Check IDs and the clock simultaneously, because (1a) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Gator's is 18-and-over, (1b) from 7 p.m. to midnight it's 21-and-over, and (1c) from midnight to 2 a.m. there is no bouncer, and (2) Be a human-wall/babysitter, who (2a) prohibits the entry of underage students with bad fakes and (2b) administers the "One-in, One-out" policy to maintain the legal seating capacity, a policy that (2bi) rips families and fraternity brothers apart, (2bii) forces strangers to sit together, and (2biii) permits waitresses to walk down the aisles. However, on nights like tonight, Wednesday night, Karaoke Night, none of the above applies. As the owner will explain, respecting the maximum seating capacity and minimum drinking age, such legal policies are bad for business. So, tonight, there are no "aisles" (a.k.a. "unobstructed pathways"), just wall-to-wall half-naked bodies, squeezing and squirming between the Hut's front, back, and back-back barrooms.

Torbjorn is now several minutes late to work. But he has shoved his way to the front of the "line" and located what appears to be a bouncer. The bouncer appears to be a mountain, a defensive lineman with off-season breasts and a lone well-greased curl of hair fixed front-and-center to his forehead like a Christopher Reeves Superman. And this mountain sits on a barstool near the front of the front barroom and scrutinizes the IDs of a wall-like front of nearly-naked "line-women," all sporting baby-face pouts and looking underage, drunk, and posed in that unsportsmanlike on-your-mark-get-ready-set-go stance, all ready to charge (offsides or not) into the crowd, as soon as the bouncer's not looking. Issue: The mountain hasn't noticed Torbjorn.

When Curly Top Mountain notices Torbjorn, he screams: "Hello, darling! Got your two forms of ID?" His scream is high and nasal, like a beginning oboist who can't hit the high notes.

"No," shouts Torbjorn, "I'm the—"

"What's that, doll?"

He shouts into Curly Top's ear: "I'm the new guy. My first night."

"Praise Jesus!" Curly Top hops off the barstool. "Finally," he shouts, "I can quit."

"What?"

Mountain winks. "Don't worry, darling. I'll be around. Hut's Long Islands are to die for. But, anyway, you know what to do: Just don't let the Neanderthals in if the fakes are too obvious. Actually, don't let anybody in at all." The mountain pats Torbjorn's cheek. "Nice meeting you—toodles!"

"No, wait," Torbjorn shouts. He grabs the guy's shoulder.

Mountain transforms: He catapults Torbjorn's hand away with a martial-artist-like move. "Hey, no touchie," says Curly. "What the hell's your problem?"

The lone curl is too close to Torbjorn's nose. "Nothing," Torbjorn says. "It's just I'm supposed to get trained in the kitchen, tonight."

"No way, sugar, I'm the one's supposed to be quitting. It's my turn."

"But the owner guy, he said kitchen."

"What?"

Torbjorn shouts louder: "Owner Guy said kitchen."

"Fuck him. He promised I could quit."

"Look, man, I'm sorry, but how about I go to the kitchen and ask. That cool with you?"

"Whatever." Mountain plops back down on the stool. "And fuck you, too."

"Yeah, OK, but where's the kitchen?"

No answer. Curly Top Mountain turns his back on Torbjorn. "Fine," Torbjorn says and faces the smoky depths of Gator's, the wall-to-wall bodies. Torbjorn bores into an orgy of skin, backless-shirted underage chicks with variously sized love-handles and frat boys with silk shirts uniformly unbuttoned down to the navel, orgy participants drinking straight from pitchers, pitchers bumping and fountain-ing onto the already wet tile floor, orgy experience punctuated with shrieks from cigarette burns, burns treated with healthy splashes of beer.

Torbjorn is now ten-plus minutes late to work. The sock of his bootless foot is soaked. Finally, he finds somebody who doesn't belong: an employee, a waitress, tall but beefy, her bare bulging calves like snakes digesting cantaloupes. She carries four pitchers in each fist and, like Moses, parts the Student Sea with magic words: "Sit down, or get the fuck out of my way."

But it's not until she stands towering over Torbjorn, her head emerging from the smoke and entering into the dim lamplight, that he notices her face: Jesus, she has a Quasimodo face. Or Polyphemus, rather, given her size and eye patch.

Torbjorn is brave: "Ma'am?" he shouts.

"Sit down."

"I'm new. Supposed to do kitchen training, tonight."

"Great, kid." She raises the eight pitchers above her head, then out and over Torbjorn's. She is a wave about to crash over him. "Just great," she shouts, "now, out of the way."

"Sorry." Torbjorn tries to push and shove his way out of her path. He slams onto a standing pile of students, which he would have knocked over, if they weren't so tightly packed. Leaning there, he shouts, "But, ma'am, where's the kitchen?"

She lumbers through the rift in the wide Student Sea. "Where do ya' suppose?"

"Please, ma'am. The bouncer wouldn't tell me, either."

"Yeah, well fuck him." She bulldozes past him. But then, without turning around, yells to Torbjorn behind her: "Just keep going straight. Open-air kitchen. At the back of the front barroom. Hit the back-back barroom, and you gone too far. Just follow the glossy grease road."

Torbjorn is now twentyish minutes late to work. But it turns out that following a winding trail of grease along the floor was sensible advice: The glossy grease road has finally led him to the entrance to the open-air kitchen, the kind of swinging doors you see in Wild West saloons. Beside these, through a window and across a countertop, the owner, bent over a register, slams his fist onto the counter and shouts at Torbjorn: "You're late!"

"Yeah, sorry, sir," Torbjorn says, "but it was so crowded I—"

But Torbjorn's apology is interrupted: "Two big boys, one wiener!" the owner screams, as loud as possible, in Torbjorn's face.

From inside the kitchen, a voice responds: "Two big boys, one wiener."

This Call and Response continues, as some unseen cook in the kitchen repeats the screamed food-orders that the owner, reading from a stack of tickets, keys into the old-fashioned register, the typewriter type that goes ping, while Torbjorn, ignored, studies a flier taped to the register advertising a "Peanut Butter and Jam Festival" in 1987:

Call (Owner Guy)                                       Response (Unseen Cook)

"14 little boys" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "14 little boys"
"4 Peters, 2 beehives, 3 veggies" . . . . . . "4 Peters, 3 beehives, 2 veggies"
"No, that's 2 beehives, 3 veggies" . . . . .  "Got it"
"2 Japs, 1 bones, 1 pussycat,
4 bowls of reefer" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . "We're out of pussycats"

"Gotchya, pussycats been 69-ed—"

Suddenly, Owner Guy pounds the counter and shouts at Torbjorn: "Kid, what the hell you doing? You're late. I'm not paying you to just stand around."

Torbjorn tears himself away from the PB&J Festival flier. "Sorry, sir. So crowded I couldn't find the kitchen. Name's Torbjorn."

"Sure it is. From now on, you're T-Bone. Now, find an apron, T-Bone, and get on your grill line. And remember, no smoking on the line."

"Right. Don't smoke, sir."

"Sure you don't. But I don't care whether you're pro-legal-weed or whatnot. Fact is, you're late, and you got a flat-grill waiting for you."

"Yes, sir." Torbjorn enters, pushing through the swinging doors, but his booted foot slips on the greasy floor, slips back and out from under him. He doesn't reach the kitchen floor.

Owner Guy catches the back of Torbjorn's belt and holds him up by it, letting Torbjorn hang midair. The Call and Response resumes: "Ten little boys, two tenders, one pussy—no, never mind, scratch the pussy." Owner Guy drops Torbjorn and then, with both hands cupped around his mouth, screams louder into the restaurant: "Hey, ladies, pussycat's been 69-ed."

Tobjorn gets up off his stomach, onto his hands and—

"Too slow!" Owner Guy grabs Torbjorn's upper arm and jerks him to his feet. "T-Bone, aprons are by—Christ, T-Bone, what happened to your shoe? It's shirt and shoes required."

"Yeah, sorry, sir, I was…" But then Torbjorn decides not to tell Owner Guy how he lost his boot playing piano naked in the—

"Chrissake, T-Bone, what you standing there thinking for?—aprons are by Dish. Just head to the back, past the walk-in, down to your north end—kitchen's a square, west-side grill—now go on and git." And with that "git," Call and Response resumes: "Oh Christ, here we go: two big boys, three gollums, four cups of reefer, four santiagos, one hairy slut…"

Kitchen Territory and Torbjorn's Journey West to the Grill: With saloon doors at his back and Owner Guy screaming "hairy slut" on his left, Torbjorn baby-steps straight ahead—northbound, he assumes—down what appears to be a dry-stock aisle: On his left, the dry-stock shelves display canned goods, gallon tubs of ketchup, mayonnaise, and salad dressings, but also a Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal. On his right, halfway down the aisle, he finds the entrance to the so-called "walk-in," a closet-sized cooler. Its metal door is scratched and scarred, like a zinc engraving, with depictions of cannabis leaves and human reproductive organs. At the end of this aisle, in an alcove on his right, he discovers standing water, aprons, and large sinks overflowing with tubs of dishes. This must be "Dish." From a nail on the wall, he selects a damp apron. His hand is now covered with ketchup. On the upside, excluding "Dish," the kitchen does appear to be a "square" of aisles, with food-prep "lines" on the north/south sides of the square and dry-stock shelves on the eastern side. In the center, though, a series of vents completely fills the square's interior and rises to the ceiling like walls, blocking visibility to any other side. Torbjorn is looking for a grill. So, dressed in apron, he heads west, baby-stepping down the northern aisle towards a cloud of smoke. On each side of him, two lines of hot-tubs extend to aisle's smoky end: The tubs on the left hold vegetables and mystery meat marinades; on the right, cracked dried-up soups. One contains an unopened eight-pack of hotdogs, half-submerged in what might be grits or possibly Campbell's Cream of Mushroom. At the far end of the soupy-substance line, there is a big basket of saltine crackers, with label "Wolf Biscuits." Finally, reaching aisle's end, Torbjorn turns left around the northwestern corner, into the heat and the smoke. Journey complete: Welcome to the "west-side grill." And to the cowboy. Shit, thinks Torbjorn.

Torbjorn says, "Shit."

"What the wolf are you doing here?" The cowboy's kitchen uniform is special: no apron, no hairnet. In fact, Wolfer looks no different than he did this morning—cowboy hat, boots, giant turquoise belt buckle—except he's tucked his foot-long beard down the front of his snap-down flannel shirt, and smeared black char-grease-whatever on his face like mascara.

Owner Guy hollers from the register: "Cup of reefer, one big boy, two egg, one wiener, two rubies, and—and mother-F'ing-Christ—seven cowboys. Hear that, partner? We got seven cowboys."

Wolfer stares down Torbjorn, but responds to Owner Guy: "Yeah, cowboys, every day of the week. But, Captain, what the wolf's this kid doing here? Kid's a school-shooter, missing a thumb…and a shoe."

Captain Owner Guy pops around the southwestern corner. "What you saying? That there's T-Bone. Kid's training, tonight."

"On a Wednesday?" With the back of his hamburger-flipper, Wolfer slaps a burger on the char grill and a burst of yellow flames leaps up through its black corroded slits.

Captain Owner sighs: "Yeah, I know, I know."

 "On Karaoke night?" Another slap and flames. "The wolf's missing a shoe. Where's Skittles, Captain? Where's my wolf-man Skittles?"

"Tony ain't coming. Took thirty days. Was either that or two years of community service."

Slap and flames: "No Skittles?"

"Sorry, partner. T-Bone's got experience, though. City boy. Helluva résumé. Should learn nice and quick. You got the cowboys up?"

Slap and flames: "Where's his shoe?"

"Yeah, I know. We discussed it. But what about them cowboys?"

Slap and flames: "What?"

"Seven cowboys."

No slap, no flames.

Without taking his eyes off the Captain, Wolfer slowly places his hamburger-flipper on the cutting board countertop and opens a refrigerator, sandwiched between his char grill and a trio of deep fryers. From the fridge, Wolfer extracts a slab of meat in each hand—large slabs, two-pounds-plus—and plops each one on the countertop, like he's using a flyswatter. He then gets a second pair of "cowboys" from fridge, always staring down the Captain, and plops them just the same. Then back to fridge, three more, then plop goes one, plop goes two—but not the third. Wolfer holds this third giant slab of raw red meat in his fist. There it hangs, like a Dali clock. Finally, he looks away from the Captain, looks to the west. Torbjorn follows the path of this gaze, from the mound of six raw cowboys on the countertop, then rising slightly up to the dressing tubs (full of lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mayonnaise, etc.), then up to a large window stretching the whole length of the western line, the expo-line window with finished orders for servers to pick up, and then, finally, through the window, to the wall of guests just outside. Suddenly, Wolfer mutters, "It's show time." And Captain mutters, "Oh Christ, not dodge-beef."

"Mother-wolf!" shouts Wolfer, as he launches the cowboy through the window—"Ah!" screams some cute little sorority blonde just outside, as the cowboy slams into her bare back, her spine butterfly-ing a faint but well-defined imprint of beef blood.

And then, with another Mother-wolf, Wolfer's second cowboy flies—Score!—"Ah, help, help," screams the blonde.

A third flying cowboy nails some guy with spiked hair in the back of the head: "Jesus, what the—hey, man, just what the hell you"—

Fourth flying cowboy: "Ah, fuck," shouts Spiked Hair, "what're you"—fifth cowboy—"you crazy"—sixth cowboy—"Jesus"—seventh—"Help!"—out of cowboys.

"Cup of reefer," says Owner Guy, loudly, but not angrily, more like he's in a trance. He rereads the ticket: "Cup of reefer, one big boy, two egg, one wiener, two rubies, seven cowboys."

"Aye, aye, Captain." That "captain" is a snap of the fingers, a gun at a racetrack.

Accordingly, the owner snaps out of it: "And now, partner, I'm gonna grab those cowboys you just wasted. If we can't salvage them," he says, his shouts receding, as he exits kitchen territory, "if they're no good, they're coming off your paycheck—menu price."

"Aye, aye, Captain." Cowboy Wolfer's back in action, back to his grill: With his flipper, he catapults the blackened burgers and breasts into a trashcan and replaces them, and then The Speed Chess: Wolfer knows the moves, maneuvers fast, rotating (strategically, it seems) choice items from central to peripheral regions on his char grill—"gotta respect the hotspots," he mutters—and then The Frisbee: Spinning 180, he throws down a line of eight baskets on the dressings countertop across from the grill, throws them down with a flick of the wrist, like baskets are Frisbees, then buns—wheat, sesame, or white—land in eight baskets where, hand-over-hand, top buns flip up, like sports fans doing the wave, and then The Percussion: two rows of condiment tubs (twelve in each row) are like a set of 24 drumheads…or not, Torbjorn thinks. Actually, it's more like Rach's g-minor Prelude for piano—you know, the one that starts: boom titty-tit, buh-boom tit, boom tit, boom titty-tit, bugger-boom tit, boom tit, boom

 

Figure 6.4. Boom Titty-Tit. (Rachmaninoff's Prelude VI, Op. 23, No. 5.)

But not the Boom Titty part, more like the next page, where the keyboard is a grid of condiment tubs and a row of eight burger baskets, and Wolfer's dressing of the burgers' bottom buns is:

 

Figure 6.5. Keyboard #2: Dressing burger buns. (Second theme of Prelude VI.)

So yeah, a lot like Rach. But now we're back to Frisbees, to burgers zooming across the aisle, from grill to baskets, where patties land on their dressed buns, then top buns drop, and just like—no, don't forget the fries—and just like that, eight sandwich baskets pop up in the window and—

"Hey, what the wolf you doing? Hey, School Shooter!"

Torbjorn jumps. "Sorry. What do you want me to do?"

"You're flat-grill. How many times I gotta tell you?" Wolfer slams a fistful of tickets onto the grill-rail counter to his left, which Torbjorn's been sitting on.

The flat-grill, Torbjorn deduces as he turns around to face the grill line, though more potholed than flat, is what this large smoking metal surface must be, this 3×5-foot hotplate.

From the register: "2—4—10—16—17 little boys," shouts the Captain, "four Peters, one beehive, one Santiago, two bowls of reefer, and 2—6—8—9—11 big boys. And listen up, partner, four of your cowboys were salvageable—clean 'em up later—but the other three, too trampled. So, heads up, that's a 3-times-22-equals-66-buck bite out of your next paycheck."

"Aye, aye, Captain." Wolfer opens the fridge and loads his char grill with un-launched cowboys. "But just throwing up seven fresh cowboys, just now. Better let them new wolfs pile up. Gonna need a smoke, too, in a—but hey, what the wolf you doing, kid?"

"We're calling him T-Bone," shouts the Captain, still around the corner by the register.

"Whatever the Wolf-Bone, kid, what you doing?"

Intimidated by the deck of tickets, the potholed flat-grill, and not speaking "Kitchen," Torbjorn's done the only thing he could think of: Dump the bucket of water sitting by the soup station into the dried-up, whitish soup…potato, perhaps? "Sorry, partner," Torbjorn says, "but the soups are all dried up."

Wolfer throws his hamburger flipper onto the char-grill: The flipper bounces up and somersaults in the air, spinning fast like a ceiling fan on the highest setting, until its handle falls back into the palm of his hand, like it's a supermagnet. Wolfer hadn't looked at it. Hand just knew where that handle was gonna be. Or vice versa. "First off," he says, "don't you ever go calling me partner. Not ever. You're no partner of mine."

"Then what do you want me to call you?"

"Nothing. Don't call me nothing. No other wolfs in here. And now, secondly, you just poured the rag-wolf in the reefer."

"This—uh—potato soup's the reefer."

"Course it is."

"OK, well, the reefer needed water."

"That wasn't water. That was rag-wolf."

"OK, so, what's rag-wolf?"

"Sterilizes rags. It's got soap and sanitizer-wolf in it."

Torbjorn now notices the poison sticker on the bucket he just poured into the reefer, that green sticker with the tongue sticking out. "Sorry par—sorry, but there weren't any rags in it."

"'Course there weren't. We're running low."

"What's going on back here?" says the Captain. His head pops around the corner.

Silence.

Captain comes all the way around the corner and crosses his arms. "What?"

"Well, Cap'n, this T-Bone just dumped the last of the rag-wolf in the reefer."

"Oh Christ, no he didn't."

"Yep. Outta reefer."

"Jesus, first no pussy and, now, no reefer. Damnit, T-Bone, what the hell you thinking?"

Torbjorn tries: "Sorry, Captain, but—"

"Listen here. Don't you ever call me Captain, T-Bone. You call me sir."

"Sorry, sir, but the potato—or the reefer, I mean, it was all dried up. Needed water."

"Water comes out of a faucet," Captain says. He throws both hands above his head and cries out to heaven, shaking his fists: "Faucet, T-Bone. Not no rag bucket…" Finally, his fists drop to aim two index fingers at Torbjorn, like they're pistols: "From now on, T-Bone, you stick to flat-grill. And you, you keep an eye on him. You hearing me, partner? Like a hawk."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

Captain Owner Guy disappears around the corner, and then yells into the restaurant: "Listen up, ladies. Pussy and Reefer been 69-ed."

"Alrighty, T-Bone," Wolfer begins, flipping a cowboy with his tongs, "so you got flat-grill and all your soup sort of wolfs so let's…" But he trails off, the cowboy in his tongs now pointed at Torbjorn's face, and in it, like Wolfer's a reporter with a microphone. "Ah, wolf me." Tossing his microphone on the grill, he picks up their two stacks of tickets, Torbjorn's in his left, his own in his right. One at a time, he smells each stack and goes "hmm," like he's sampling fancy perfume. Once each stack passes the sniffing test, he fans through them like card hands.

"Right, no more reefer," Wolfer says, "so we'll give them wolfs. You got 2—6—7 bowls and 3 cups, and I got—yeah, I got 12 cups and a bowl. So that's 8 bowls and 15 cups, but we only do bowls for wolfs, so that's 23 bowls of wolf. Got it, T-Bone?"

"What are wolfs?"

"Santiagos."

"What's a Santiago?"

"Wolf, T-Bone," he says, slamming fist onto the condiments counter, "Santiago's chili."

"OK, sorry, sorry, but how was I supposed to know?"

"Well, Santiago's capital of Chile, isn't it?"

"Oh yeah, I guess—"

"No time to wolf around. Bowls are the brown wolfs on the top shelf."

Torbjorn locates the brown wolfs: Standing on his tiptoes to reach the top shelf above the soup station, he struggles to grasp a stack of four bowls. Issue: Torbjorn has nine fingers. Fact: The bowls are ceramic and spherical. And stacked, they don't fit into each other like normal soup bowls, these brown ball-like bowls having mouths with smaller diameters than their bulging middles. (Also, Torbjorn is shaky: no gin today.) But eventually, with both hands, he manages to grip the bottom bowl of the nearest four-stack and lift: The bowls rattle and shake, and slowly he lowers the stack to…Success: four bowls on the counter. (Only nineteen more to go.)

"Hurry it up there, T-Bone," Wolfer says. Torbjorn half-turns to see him serving something like hummus onto an oval plate, presumptive hummus dripping like pancake batter from the spatula. "We got rubies and wieners waiting for you."

"Right." Torbjorn picks up the pace. He grips two more teetering stacks of four, one in each hand, the right-hand stack's bottom bowl clamped between his pinky and index finger, and he lifts, and he lowers, and—

bowls are falling—

—and he tries to catch them with his arms and soften their fall with his feet, the booted and the "socked," but they just slip and slide off him like ice cubes (or ice spheres, rather)—

and they all shatter at his feet.

"For Chriss-fuckin-sake." Captain's back. "Now what?"

Torbjorn doesn't see a broom, so he squats down and picks up the shards with his fingers.

"Oh, you know, just Wolf-Bone trying to bowl-up a Santiago."

"Jesus, T-Bone, can't you do anything? What you think, partner? What you think the kid can handle?"

"Well, the wolf can't handle a bowl, that's for sure."

"You're right there. And damnit, boys, the sitters been complaining like crazy, starting to ask to see me. So what's taking you so long? Chrissake, what's the holdup?"

"Told you we needed old Wolfman Skittles, didn't I?"

"Sure we do, but there's cooks and there's crooks, isn't there? Anyways, T-Bone, can you do rubies?"

Torbjorn stands, his fists full of ceramics shards. "Not sure—what are they?"

"Reubens, kid, reubens. You know what's on them?"

"Well, I can learn. I learn fast."

"Sure you do. You done deep-fryers, at least?"

Torbjorn shakes his head, spots a trashcan in the corner between the condiment and soup lines, and tosses the shards.

"Not too tough," Wolfer says, "you know what a Peter is, T-Bone?"

Torbjorn sighs and bends over to pick up more broken bowl.

"Christ, it's codfish, kid."

"Yeah, I know, the wolf ain't too quick. Even though he has got the lost-boy look."

"Sure he does, but tell me, city boy. What the blazes you cook with up there, in NYC?"

"Well, stuck to ovens and stoves. You know, pastas and pizzas and stuff."

"Yeah? I sure didn't see any Pizza Huts on your application."

"Yeah, well, they weren't the specialty dishes."

"Sure they weren't, but this here's Gator's Hut, not Pizza Hut. And tell you what, T-Bone, you're bouncer tomorrow night, that's for sure. Bucky's just disappeared out of nowhere." Captain's hand plunges into a tub of anchovies. He eats a fistful, like it's popcorn.

"Figures with a wolf like that."

"Well, anyways, we need dishes done, and that's a fact. T-Bone, you're on dish. You have washed a dish before, haven't you?"

Torbjorn recalls the mucky water in the plugged-up sinks by the ketchup-splattered aprons. But, he thinks, maybe they've got some kind of long-ass rubber glove, with cuff extending past your elbow to your armpit. "Yeah, sure," he says, "did years of that when—"

"Sure you did." Captain takes Torbjorn's place at the flat-grill. "Now go on and git."

Torbjorn does, T-Bone gits.

Back at Dish, he steps into the standing water, sock first.