She looked across the expanse of the massive wooden desk, a slack-jawed expression written across her face, trying to make sure she had heard him properly.
The man smiled and repeated the words once more, "Congratulations Miss Stephenson, you are the new Executive Chef of Krave."
Reaching across the desk, he shook her hand perfunctorily as she muttered a totally inadequate, "Thank you."
He smiled again,whilst licking his fingers and flicking through a stack of papers arranged on the desk. "There are just a few formalities to take car of before I show you to your kitchen," he said, before finally finding the paper he was looking for. "Here we are. I just need you to look over this contract and sign at the bottom, please."
His smile examined fixed as she perused the document, barely taking in the words types neatly on the official looking document. The Krave logo stood out like a beacon on the top of the page, virtually blinding her in its luminescence. This was a dream come true, so she hastily scribbled her name before the owner had a chance to change his mind.
She started to regain some of her composure as they made their way to the kitchen, her professional instincts starting to kick in. The fact that she was now the head of one of the hottest restaurants in the city was beginning to sink home, but it also raised a few questions.
"Thank you again for choosing me, Mr. Craven, but I have to ask you why you chose me for the position. I am sure you must have had some more experienced chef's apply for the position."
He placed a hand on her arm, stopping as he did so. She turned towards him and saw that smile on his face once more. He sighed a little and said, "Chef, the answer is very simple, really. We wanted a fresh take on what we offer here at Krave. Our customers expect a higher standard, which is what we feel you can deliver."
"But, nothing. Our previous chef was brilliant and our customers love what he served to them, but he looked just about done in the past few weeks. It was time for something new, something fresh, and you have all the qualifications."
She smiled at that, pleased that the sample dished she made must have caught the attention of the owner. She new that she was taking a chance, drawing from the flavors of the south, but it seemed that the L.A scene must be ready for just such a change.
They continued up the gloomy kitchen before breaking through the swinging doors and into the most beautiful kitchen she had ever seen. She had been impressed on the first visit when she had concocted her samples, but it seemed all the more beautiful now that she knew it was hers.She loved the hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen, but with the restaurant closed, as it was now, she could also appreciate the solitude and stainless beauty of the space as well.
She jumped a little when Craven placed his hand on here back. He chuckled, a guttural little sound that spooked her just a little. "I didn't mean to startle you, chef."
She laughed, too, but it was forced. "That's fine. I was somewhere else for a moment."
"You will meet your staff shortly, as I have asked them all to come in for this happy occasion, but for now let me show you our walk in freezer and the supplies we have in there."
He took her arm again, a little habit that was beginning to raise some red flags. She knew all too well how difficult it could be to operate in a man's world, which was exactly what the kitchen was. She made a mental note to herself that she would change that way of thinking by letting her new staff know that she was the boss. She would broach that subject with Craven if the touching continued.
Moving as though adjusting her jacket, she was able to wrest her arm away from his touch, but was a little startled to see him lick his fingers once more. He noticed her look and smiled. "Sorry. I have been a nail biter for years and am in the process of trying to quit. I have this vile substance on my nails that delivers a nasty little taste when I get the urge to gnaw." At that, he made a gnashing motion with his teeth, revealing gums that were unnaturally white, save for a dribble of red that leaked down his incisor.
"Mr. Craven, you are bleeding," she said.
He ran his tongue across his teeth, smacking his lips when he was done. Then, with thumb and forefinger, he reached in and extracted something from his mouth. He held it up to the light, revealing a ragged piece of fingernail which, with its red-tipped end, looked like a match waiting to be struck.
"I have been a naughty boy," he said. "I must be making the worst impression ever."
She had no idea how to react, save for trying to quell the rising gorge. Her instincts told her to run, yet she let herself be led, by the arm once again, into the freezer.
Craven continued on as if the previous little scene had never happened.
"We use fresh wherever possible, but as you know, chef, too much waste can destroy food costs. You will find all that you need in here, starting with this."
He bent down and removed a large plastic container from the one of the lower shelves. A brown substance was clearly visible through the plastic, the "Chef's Special" label giving no clue as to what might be contained within.
"This is all that is left of out previous chef, I'm afraid. He gave as much as he could, but the clientele loved him so much, there simply wasn't enough to go round."
She took a little step backwards. "I....I'm not sure what you are saying Mr. Craven."
"I lied just a little when I explained why I hired you, " he said, thumb and forefinger working once more to show the size of his fib."You are the perfect choice for Krave, but your samples are of no significance. Others will prepare the sides and garnishes, while you will be the star of the show."
She took another step backwards, almost tripping over a large tray that protruded from under the bottom shelf.
"You are perfect in that you are new to town, chef. You have no friends or connections here. You have no family to speak of. I was so touched by how you broke ties with them all those years ago, looking to get out and find a way to forge your own life. You are forgettable in every sense, but our patrons will never forget you, of that I can assure you."
She turned to run, only to find the door barred by three large individuals. Their faces were obscured by the headpieces of the hazmat suits they wore, although she could hear their fevered breaths slipping through the breathers.
A solitary tear slid down her cheek as she sensed the end. Craven reach out and wiped it away, taking the salty tear and rubbing it ever so gently across his lips. He shuddered involuntarily, the smile once again appearing on his face.
She didn't move as he placed a kiss on her cheek, his tongue exploring her soft skin. He shuddered again before beckoning his staff into the freezer.
"Gentlemen, please prepare the new chef's special."
Arches National Park visit 8/26
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