Joey’s breathing was ragged, filled with fear. The sack around his head muffled all sounds around him. He had only a faint sense of where he had been taken, and cursed himself for not taking the rumors seriously. Of course they would take him, Joey Degado, artisan chef and named the greatest promise of the Italian kitchen by all the big magazines. What the young man could do with the simplest ingredients was unheard of.
After the sound of another scream, Joey was lifted from his seat and dragged into the next room. The familiar smell of a kitchen greeted him. The sack was pulled from his head and he found himself in front of a stove. Two fresh pots were slammed down in front of him, filled with an assortment of ingredients.
Joey looked up at the man in front of him, a fellow Italian with a face that spoke death and the bloodstained clothes to prove it. Mafia. The young, promising chef, abducted from the back alley of his high-class restaurant, had ended up at a cooking audition. Succeeding would mean rewards beyond his wildest dreams. Failure would mean sharing a little room with his current companion. Whatever Joey was expected to make, it would have to be damn good.
“Carbonara,” the man grunted. “Twenty minutes.”
Joey nodded. Of course, of all the pastas you could create, the one your life depended on was the most difficult. There was a reason the dish hadn’t been on any menu the chef had ever presented. It was the source of his only insecurity, the only thing he had never been able to get right. This time it would have to be, though. He cooked the spaghetti, diced the bacon, mixed the eggs with the cheese and added some of the special touches his mother had taught him as a child. The chef was on fire, cooking as if it was his last time, which it might well be. Delicious, savory fumes rose up from the pot and made even the bloodstained guard go glassy eyed with memories of childhood in sunny Italy. Maybe, just maybe, he was getting it right this time.
Finally, Joey made up the plate of spaghetti and was immediately dragged into a dining room, occupied by none other than the don. The man was obscured by a heavy cloud of cigar smoke, but his enormous figure was evident. Joey was pushed into the smoke, presenting the plate of food to the overwhelming silhouette. He retreated as fast as his feet allowed, bumping into the guard.
The don mumbled something that Joey couldn’t make out, but the next moment a pair of gigantic hands closed around his shoulders. He heard the scraping of cutlery, the loud chomping of an excessive man, an even louder swallow, and then silence followed. Joey felt himself grow increasingly sweaty as the don got to his feet and emerged from the smoke. His bloated face wore a smile, but like often with these kinds of men, a smile did not guarantee safety.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“J-Joey,” the chef stuttered.
The don approached. This was it. He raised his arms. The signal, goodbye. Joey closed his eyes in prayer and felt a pair of fat arms close around him.
“Welcome to the family, son,” the don whispered.
Illustration by: Lars de Ruyter