By Cook or By Crook

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Tinman, the cook who crooks, is duped into going to a restaurant by his wily brother, Peach. It's a tricky proposition. As a diehard scratch-cooker, Tinman is the dinner date from hell. But Peach has an ulterior motive which he thinks will more than make up for the risks. Now, of course, whether the restaurant's chef will survive is a toss-up.

Submitted: December 27, 2018

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Submitted: December 27, 2018

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Peach wasn’t sure how to go about it. The concept was perfect. His instincts told him so, and they never failed him. He knew the whole thing would be a cinch if he could just figure out how to put it in motion.

Actually, he knew how to get it going, but it would take the unwitting cooperation of his brother. Ay, there’s the rub.

He bit his lip as he climbed the stairs to Tinman’s apartment. He once again wondered if he should just bare all and recruit his brother as a knowing accomplice. After all, he was his partner in crime. Nonetheless, he again dismissed the notion as foolhardy. Tinman was good at playing a part when hustling pool, but other than that, he was not a good actor. And bottom line, it would take an award-winning performance to win over the chosen audience. He shrugged. One way or another, come hell or high water, he would make it happen. He knocked, then let himself in.

Tinman was in his easy chair doing a crossword puzzle. Peach walked to the single bed and plopped down, resting his head on the headboard. Neither said a word for several moments. Finally, Tinman looked over. “What?”

“Huh?”

“What do you want?”

“What makes you think I want something? Geez. Suspicious mind.”

Tinman kept staring at him. They weren’t twins for nothing.

“So what are you up to tonight?” asked Peach.

“What does it look like?”

“Uh-huh. I figured you were bored.”

“I am not bored.”

“So what are you cooking up for dinner?”

“I don’t know. The cupboards are pretty bare.”

This was the cue Peach was looking for. He jumped up from the bed and said, “There’s this new place in town. It’s all the rage. I was thinking you, me and Tek should check it out.”

“Are you referring to a restaurant?”

Peach grimaced. Here it comes.

“I don’t go to restaurants,” declared Tinman, and he looked back at his crossword.

“It would be my treat.”

Tinman ignored him. He was a bona fide scratch cooker, and it took an act of Congress to force him into a restaurant. The few times he had been coerced into going, he complained the whole time about how the food was prepared, the cost of said food, the slow service, the lack of ambience, and on and on. In short, he was the dinner date from hell.

“Tek sure will be disappointed. I kind of wanted this to be his graduation dinner,” said Peach.

Tinman’s attention was drawn. “Tek graduated high school?”

“Gee, I don’t know. Is he still in high school? I was talking about burglary school. He got an A on his final, so I graduated him,” Peach lied. The final test was tonight.

Tinman’s grunt was a mix of envy and scorn. After he faced reality and gave up his career as a pool hustler due to lack of action, he’d followed his brother’s advice and set about being a burglar. He and Tek, the Posse’s young protégé, entered burglary school at the same time. After Tinman failed miserably at the basic mechanics, he was politely asked to drop out. After that, he concentrated his energies on the planning of heists, while Tek improved his hands-on burglary skills. Tinman was proving to be pretty good as the blueprinter, but the fact he couldn’t even open a simple Kwikset lock still rankled. Meanwhile, the kid was becoming a pro.

“Good for him,” said Tinman, quite insincerely.

“Yeah. He’s got the knack. And of course you’ve found your niche too. So all is well,” said Peach, knowing the source of Tinman’s rancor and trying to ease the pain. “Anyway, I think it would be nice of you to celebrate with him, don’t you?”

“No.”

“Come on! Don’t be such a sourpuss. It’s only one dinner. And I told you, people are gaga for this place.”

“People who go to restaurants wouldn’t know good food if it hit them in the face.”

“You’re just a food snob.”

“Thank you. Now leave me alone.”

“No way. If the three of us are going to work as a team, we need to do some team building. And the best way to do that is to break bread together.”

“So this place is a bakery?”

“Ha-ha. Actually it’s an Asian joint—sort of, I guess. Apparently they specialize in Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai. It’s called Pho Asian Fusion.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“Could I make that up? But seriously, we really, really, really want you to. Pretty please?”

Tinman sighed heavily. He hated when people begged him for something. It always managed to crack his iron facade. Especially when it was his brother and Tek. His favorite people on earth. “Fine.”

It took Peach a few seconds to register his ears weren’t lying to him. “Really?! That’s great! Tell you what, I have a couple errands to run, then I’ll pick up Tek and let’s say we have a late dinner, around nineish. This way we’ll beat most of the rush.”

The restaurant was located in the new, trendy Riverside District, and frequented by well-heeled hipsters and millennial yuppies. A sign out front announced, Cash Only (the preferred method for cagy restaurateurs to avoid taxes). Despite the late hour, there was a line out the door.

“We’re out of here,” said Tinman. “No restaurant is worth waiting in line for.”

“But I hear they have really fast service,” said Peach.

“Not a promising sign. Good food takes time to prepare.”

“Come on, Tinman,” said Tek. “I’m starving to death.”

Tinman reluctantly agreed. After all, he didn’t want to be responsible for amicicide—good friends are hard to come by.

The three cooled their heels for about fifteen minutes, when they were finally able to squeeze inside the front door. While Tinman perused the place with a discerning and cynical eye, Peach glanced at Tek and nodded.

Tek slid behind him for cover, and turned quickly to the control panel of the alarm system mounted on the wall to the left of the front door. He pushed the “Test” button, then returned to his place in line.

Forty-five seconds later, an LED started flashing on the panel, accompanied by a steady beeping. The harried hostess/cashier was caught up in her duties, so Peach tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me darling, something’s beeping back here.”

The young Asian lady glanced at the panel and eyes widened. She gasped and took off in a sprint. Peach watched as she disappeared inside a small office located behind the front counter and register. Seconds later, the pissed off Vietnamese owner emerged and barreled through the throng of waiting customers. Shoving Tinman aside, he dove for the control panel and punched in some digits. Peach took careful note. The beeping stopped. With ten seconds to spare. After that, a silent alarm would have been sent to the monitoring company, then the police—not good for business (or the tax dodge).

The owner turned to the crowd with accusatory eyes. He huffed and puffed and tromped toward his office. On the way, he stopped at the register, opened the drawer and relieved it of all the large bills. Tek peaked inside the office and saw him shove them through a slot in the floor next to his large stainless steel desk.

Tinman, still indignant over his rough treatment, snorted as he said, “Service with a smile my ass.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were seated just off from the kitchen entrance and catty-corner from the register. Seconds after settling in, their stony-faced, beady-eyed, non-English speaking waitress swooped down, apparently demanding their orders. Ready or not, this place is hopping! Eight minutes later, their food was delivered. Tinman was not pleased. And he didn’t keep mum about it. Much to his surprise, Peach egged him on.

“I agree with you, brother. It’s a travesty.”

“You’re damned right it is!” growled Tinman. “Just look at the broccoli! They couldn’t have taken the time to cut it up to bite-sized pieces? And it’s not even fully cooked! Listen! Snap. Not good. Same with the carrots. They should be julienned. And you can tell the meat has been pre-cooked and just tossed in at the end, so it’s not infused with the rest of the dish. That’s why there’s no umami.”

“Who’s mommy?” asked Peach.

“U-mami! It’s one of the five basic tastes after sweet, sour, bitter and salty. You know.”

“If you say so.”

“Let me have a bite of yours.”

Tek and Peach both slid their plates over and Tinman sampled their dishes. “Okay, here we go again! You wanted spicy, right Tek? So what do they do? They just dump a bunch of extra chili paste in at the end! Like some kind of afterthought. It’s not how it’s done! And Peach, I wouldn’t even eat that. It’s drowning in sauce! Look how sticky it is. Too much corn starch, and this dish only requires a hint of sweet black soy sauce. This is unbelievable. Even the smell is wrong.”

Tek and Peach leaned into their plates and took a whiff.

“No, no, no. That’s not how you smell food.”

“It’s not?” asked Tek.

“The correct way is called backward smelling. You just let the aroma waft over you and the smell detectors in the back of the nose pick it up. Then the brain dissects the aroma compounds and identifies them in a true fashion, unlike when you just smell directly through the nose.”

Peach and Tek stared dumbly at him.

“Never mind. It doesn’t make any difference with this slop anyway!”

“If you feel so strongly about it, why don’t you go complain to the chef,” suggested Peach.

“Chef! He’s a criminal! He should be lynched.”

“I agree. Why don’t you go tell him so. The kitchen’s right behind you.”

“I have half a mind to do just that!”

“I call and raise you the other half. So go do it. Otherwise you won’t feel good about yourself in the morning. You know how you get.”

Tinman looked to Tek, who shrugged in agreement.

“I’m going to do it!” cried Tinman. “The hell with them!”

“Go get ‘em boy,” said Peach. “We’ll be waiting right here.”

Tinman swung up and out of his chair. Pushing past a waitress he charged into the kitchen. Peach grinned, winked at Tek and said, “Wait for my signal.”

The eruption could be heard throughout the restaurant. Tinman’s booming baritone clashing with the indignant chef’s high-pitched Vietnamese cursing, created a cacophony, unsettling all present. Many patrons waved frantically for their servers, looking for their bills. The panicked hostess dashed behind the counter and returned with the owner. The two plowed their way into the kitchen and their voices joined the din. Peach nodded at Tek, then rose and hurried in after Tinman.

Several diners, seeing their way to a free meal (face it, everyone has a little larceny in their hearts) dashed for the entrance. Tek slipped through the frazzled crowd, past the front counter, and into the owner’s office.

Thirty seconds later, he walked casually out of the office and left the restaurant. Right then, the swinging kitchen door flung open and Tinman and Peach were chased out by a cleaver-wielding chef and a profane-laden rant by the owner. Tinman was preparing to do further battle when Peach yanked him by the arm and pushed him out the front door.

As they walked up the block to the car, Peach said, “You were right, brother. That place isn’t worth the hype. I’ll never doubt you again—about restaurants that is.”

“Thank you,” said a vindicated and smug Tinman.

“But what are we going to eat now?” asked Tek.

“Stir fry. My way!” said Tinman, his confidence riding high.

“But I thought you said the cupboards were bare,” said Peach.

“You really don’t need that much to make a good rice dish. All it takes is attention to detail and a loving touch.”

He was right. The stir fry made of leftovers from the fridge beat out anything they had sampled at the restaurant. When they were finished eating and the dishes were washed, Peach slapped Tinman on the back. “You really pulled it off. Just like a pro.”

“Have I ever failed you in the kitchen?”

“Huh? Oh right, the food. Yeah, that was great. I was referring to your performance in the restaurant. Tek and I got everything we need. So, now that our bellies are full up, I say we go fill our pockets.”

Tinman narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about?”

Peach grinned. “I’ve had that place targeted for a month now. Cash only. I figure being a Saturday, their haul must be enormous. And I knew they were storing all that lovely unreported money somewhere. Turns out it’s in a floor safe in the owner’s office. But not knowing the model and all, I thought it would be fun to snatch the combination and make it easier on all of us.”

Tek continued. “So when you were reaming out the chef, I snuck into the office and planted a magnetic micro-video camera under the lip of the desk directly over the safe.”

“Pretty nifty, huh?” said Peach. “It picks up five hours of video. All we have to do is go in, download the footage and watch the guy punch in the combination. Ba-da-bing-ba-da-boom.”

Tek added matter-of-factly, “And before you ask, the front door lock is a Schlage wafer, which I can open blindfolded.”

“And the alarm system code is 7-4-3-9-2, hashtag,” said Peach.

Tinman’s blank face uttered, “You guys used me as a diversion.”

“Sort of, yeah, you could put it that way,” said Peach. “And you were beautiful. Academy Award-worthy performance.”

“You really think so?”

“Oh, yeah!” said Tek

Tinman knew he was being played, but he was nevertheless pleased with the compliments. Then another notion came to him. “I thought I was supposed to be the planner.”

“Well you are!” cried Peach. “After all, you set the whole thing up. You just didn’t know it.” He watched his brother closely, wondering if he’d be peeved at their deception. Turns out he had little to fear.

As the truth wound its way through Tinman’s brain, a smile slowly formed. “So now we get to rip off that faux Asian dump for every dollar they bilked tonight, huh?”

“In a nutshell, yeah,” said Peach. “Sound good?”

Tinman’s smile broke wide. “Delicious.”


© Copyright 2019 Marc J. Reilly. All rights reserved.

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