Let's give Dean a warm TKnC welcome on his first ever 'published' story...
They were talking about the time down in Florida when gastronomy was considered to be the domain of women and homosexuals. But not anymore. The two men were sitting in a room, shooting the breeze, talking about cooking. Nothing strange in that.
“All them shows on cable,” Harlan Watts was saying, “and how many of ‘em got woman cooks presenting?”
“I figure not many,” McClintock said.
“Bunch a ball breakers nowadays, Mac, all them TV chefs. Commercial kitchen ain’t no place for pussies or pussy. Got to be a hard ass to survive,” Harlan said.
“The steak, Harlan, you was talking about cooking your steak.”
“See, there I go digressing again. That’s the problem for a man in my situation, too much damn time on his hands.”
“Tell me how you fix the sauce,” McClintock said.
“Sauce comes later. First you sweat the onions,” Harlan said. “Chop ‘em up tight on the board then fire up the range.”
“You use red or green onions?”
“Don’t matter either ways. Just pour in the oil, heat up the pan and fry ‘em off real good.”
McClintock paced the small room, impatient. “You put the steak in the pan next?”
“Nope. You turn up the pan real hot for that part, but not yet. First you gonna be adding in chopped garlic. I figure a good size clove’s about right - without spoiling the bedtime fun you got planned with that good lady wife of yours.” The grin danced over Harlan’s nail-point eyes like the devil on hell’s hot coals.
This got McClintock’s frowning beneath his dark toupee. “Best you leave her out of this, Harlan.” It was a suggestion, not an order.
Harlan gave a languid shrug. “Whatever you say, boss.” He sat back with that dopey, half-stupefied, dreamy look. “Now where was I at?”
“About to put the steak in the pan, the onions and garlic part just about done.”
Harlan Watts wriggled in his seat, a little constricted but still able to move with relative freedom. Harlan sitting there in his Sunday best, his bony frame stuck in a cheap polyester suit, pale green like a stagnant swamp, the grimy shirt collar two sizes too big on his scrawny neck, his pockmarked face clean shaven, like his head. It had to be the first time in twenty odd years his face hadn’t been covered with lank greasy hair.
Harlan said, “You gotta be real careful not to burn them onions though,” shaking his head, jutting his bottom lip. “That’s a cardinal sin for sure. Take your eye off ‘em even for a second, they’re gonna burn to a crisp, smoke the place out.”
“So after you sweat them, you let them sit then turn the heat in the pan right up, right?”
Harlan said nothing.
McClintock glanced at his watch. “We’re running short of time here, Harlan.”
“Well, it ain’t as if I got to be any place pressing right now, is it?”
They could hear activity beyond the steel door. The click of several footsteps and as many muted voices approaching.
McClintock ignored it. “Tell me about cooking the steak. I can almost taste it. And what about the sauce. I need to know about that sauce, Harlan.”
“Sure you do, Mac. Next you take that big ol’ hunk of rump and sear it right there in the pan. Flash her good both sides to seal the flesh then take the heat back down low. Hear that little bitch squeal and stiffen as it gets the life blasted out of it, but on the inside she’s still all raw and bloody. And don’t be worrying about what folks say about all that blood containing piss and steroids and all. Man, I consumed much worse in my time.”
Beyond the door the voices grew louder. The footsteps stopped. A huge key clanked in a heavy lock.
McClintock was anxious. He paced the room faster, his brow shining with sweat. He wiped the back of his palm across it. “The sauce,” McClintock hissed in Harlan’s ear, desperate. “I need to know about the sauce.”
Harlan Watts glanced round the room and said in a matter of fact tone, “You flip the rump once. Takes about three minutes either side. Let it rest a couple minutes then you’re done. End of story.”
McClintock waited for him to continue. But Harlan was studying his fingernails painted black. Nothing more to say.
McClintock was confused. “What about the sauce?” he shouted. “You have to explain how you make the sauce, damn it.”
Harlan glanced up at him. “There’s certain secrets a man’s gotta take to his grave, Mac, my special sauce being one of ‘em.”
“No, Harlan, you can’t do this to me, not again!”
Harlan let out a chuckle. “Why, what y’all gonna do, Mac, kill me?”
The steel door clanged and squawked open on tortured hinges, reverberating off the stark white walls. The footfalls clicked loud and echoed as people entered the room. A medical examiner followed by a priest and Harlan’s lawyer in her black mini-dress and heels for the expectant cameras outside, then several reporters and police officers and prison wardens from Florida’s Starke prison, one holding synthetic sponges soaked in saline, another clasping a black hood.
Harlan Watts smiled up at the congregation and rattled his shackled hands against the oak arms of the electric chair. “Don’t worry, folks, I ain’t going no place real soon, unless you count hell as being on the list.”
“Oh, you’re going straight to hell all right.” The chief of police stared down at him.
Harlan grinned up at him. There was a second’s pause. Then Harlan lurched forward in a violent motion, his wrists jerking wildly against the manacles. They splintered against the oak. The chief stumbled backward, his composure momentarily shattered.
His eyes dancing to the devil’s tune, Harlan smacked his lips twice in succession. “Don’t worry, Chief, I ain’t fixing on eating your fat ass. Not now, not ever.”
The chair to which Harlan was strapped was rigged with a cable leading to an electrical box behind the chair. McClintock acknowledged the grim nods of the men and placed a hand on Harlan Watt’s shoulder, gently patting it. The wardens fitted Harlan with electrodes, attaching the conductive saline sponges, one on the head, one on the leg, creating a direct current. Then Mac stepped over to the electrical box, his hand hovering over the switch.
Harlan said over his shoulder, “Don’t worry, Mac. I won’t take it personal. I know y’all only doing your job.”
The priest, a solemn man with white hair, said, “The other alternative is still available, Harlan.”
“Now you know I can’t stand needles, padre. Besides, I figure I should fry for my crimes. Only seems fair and decent that a man who fried and ate all them women, bit by itty bitty little bit should go the same way. And y’all feel free to chow down on a piece of my electrocuted ass when you’re done here. In fact I insist on it.”
An officer rolled the black hood down over Harlan’s head, the convicted cannibal killer still talking in muffled tones as the priest muttered the last rites and crossed himself.
“Medium rare was the way I liked it best,” Harlan said and roared laughter, the hood sucking back and forth into his mouth.
They were the last words he ever spoke.
There was a pause. Then the police Chief gave McClintock a sober nod. McClintock thought about that sauce he’d never gotten to hearing about and threw the switch. There was a dry rasping sound as current crackled through the room and two thousand volts raced through Harlan Watts’ body.
It jerked in spasms as tiny wisps of smoke and brief flames rose and fanned from both sides of the hood.
And then he slumped down into the chair, his head in the hood dipped to his chest. When the medical examiner pronounced him dead there was a collective sigh of relief from everybody.
Everybody except McClintock.
Because he knew Harlan had taken with him the recipe for the sauce. The same sauce Harlan would prepare and serve with his victims’ body parts, cooking them medium rare. Which didn’t help Mac any because Mac was fixing on taking up where Harlan had left off ten years ago.
Commercial kitchen ain’t no place for pussies or pussy. No place in the kitchen for women anymore. Mac disagreed. He furtively eyed Harlan’s tearful young lawyer in the black mini-dress and heels. Daintily dabbing big alligator tears with a tissue. He decided he’d make up the sauce recipe as he went along. Maybe try a few combinations.
Oh yeah, Mac figured a woman’s place was still in the kitchen all right, only not in front of the range, but on the range, sweating over heat, and screaming and squealing and sizzling with onions and garlic. Pan fried. Medium rare.
Dean Owen is a Brit currently living in Sydney, Australia. Nothing previously published, but had two partial thriller manuscripts considered by a top literary agency, and in 1992 another agent wrote some favourable comments on his Mills & Boon submission, before rejecting it. Soon after, Dean gave up the romance lark to concentrate on crime and thrillers.