Читать онлайн "The Imposter" автора Dawson Mark - RuLit - Страница 7

 
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Jimmy called out a running commentary: ‘Sending tables seven, thirteen, twenty, thank you. Table six, two fillets, medium. Four well, two medium, one blue. Hold six, waiting for Rook Pie. Five wants Beef Salad, where’s the vinaigrette? Two rare, waiting for potatoes on two, where are the bloody potatoes, Edward? Thank you. Away we go.”

The heat got too much for Edward at around half past eight, right in the middle of the rush, the dizziness increasing in frequency and pitch until it felt as if a vice were being tightened around his forehead. He dropped to his knees, unsure of his balance and wary of toppling forward onto the burners. Jimmy yelled at the pot boy to fetch ice buckets for each of them and Edward bent down and dunked his head, the sudden shock chasing away the woozy light-headedness, at least for a few minutes.

The next four hours were a nightmare that he thought would never end. The waitresses cleared the first sitting but the second arrived before they could even catch their breath. A break was out of the question. Fresh orders for starters were delivered and they were plunged back into bedlam again. An oven went down and Jimmy had to attend to it, a bottleneck forming with orders arriving so fast that they couldn’t fight their way through it. A thick wad of them built up. The floor was ankle deep in debris: scraps of food, discarded packaging, dropped utensils and dirty towels. Edward ended up drinking the cooking wine to keep himself together, chasing glasses of it with strong black coffee and a cigarette that he stuck behind his ear until it was eaten down to the tip and burnt his skin.

Nine o’clock came and went and they were on the home straight. They cooked everything they had in a mad effort to keep ahead. The wooziness faded in and out, stronger the longer the service went on, the effect of the ice water diminishing each time Edward resorted to it. Burns and calluses marked his hands, his blood felt like it was boiling and salty sweat stung his eyes.

“Rather be in the jungle?” Jimmy called out.

“This is hotter than the jungle,” he said, “but at least I’m not being shot at.”

“Not yet!”

By the time midnight came Edward had been on his feet for twenty hours with barely any respite. He trembled with fatigue. “Keep going!” Jimmy yelled out.

At a half past twelve the last table cleared the pass. “Finished,” Jimmy shouted above the din. “That’s it.”

* * *

IT WAS GONE TWO BY THE TIME they had finally wiped down, stored the ingredients that they hadn’t used and cleaned the kitchen. They had been awake for twenty-two hours. They retired to the side exit, sitting against the wall and bathing in the coolness of the night air. Dog-ends were scattered around and an empty bottle of house wine was smashed in the gutter. Cockroaches skittered around the overflowing bins and hungry mice surfaced from the drains. The smell was overpowering: acidic like ripe tomatoes, yeasty like stale beer, pungent sweat coming off them damply. Edward was tired to the marrow of his bones, light-headed from exhaustion and cheap booze. The cold night air felt wonderful on flesh that was sore, scalded, steam-burned. He rolled two cigarettes and they smoked them in silence. It was a respite from the furnace heat of the kitchen, the yelling of cooks buckling under pressure, the crazy noise and exertion of the line.

Soho wound down around them, illegal shebeens and spielers offering late night drinks but the legitimate trade ending for another night. Drunks staggered through the alley, dragging their feet, wending left and right and somehow maintaining their balance. Neon signs buzzed until they were switched off for the night. A pair of policemen nodded at them as they passed. They looked like casualties of war, or murderers, their whites covered in blood and grime, sweaty hair plastered to their heads, nicks and scrapes covered by hastily applied sticking plasters.

“You need more help,” Edward said, finally.

“Can’t afford it.”

“Can’t keep that pace up.”

“We have to,” he said.

Edward sucked smoke deep into his lungs.

“Is it always like that?”

“More or less.” Jimmy grinned, a strained wild-eyed grimace that spoke of how thinly he was stretched. He had been working two shifts in the kitchen every day for eight months straight. His last day off had been imposed on him by Gordon, fearful that he was on the edge of a breakdown. He couldn’t have been closer to the edge than he was that night but now, with the kitchen staff at a bare minimum, there was no way that he could be spared.

“How much did you take?”

“Not enough.”

“But it was full.”

He laughed bitterly. “You know how many people paid?”

Edward shook his head.

“Half. How can I argue with them? The food’s not fit for a dog.” He sighed out, long and beaten and depressed. “We’re busy, yes, but they’re only coming because of the reputation the place has. That’s your father’s legacy, and we’re pissing it all away. No-one who came here tonight is coming back. That’s obvious. Eventually, word will start to get around. ‘I had dinner in the Shangri-La last night––it used to be something special, but now, my goodness, it’s a disgrace.’ You know what they’ll say. If we can still fill that room in three months I’ll be surprised. And every seating we don’t fill is another step closer to the end of the road. It’s pointless, Edward. It’s a losing battle.”

Edward knew that his uncle was right. Even terrible ingredients were expensive, and they couldn’t charge customers the prices they needed to break even. He’d heard about the walk-outs tonight, and the customers who had refused to pay full price. Money was tight and there was the rent to pay, and wages on top of that. Revenue was already insufficient to cover the outgoings. The future promised a long, slow, decline until the funds ran out.

“I’m going to see my father tomorrow,” Edward said.

Jimmy nodded quietly.

“How bad is he?”

“Not good. I don’t go as often as I should. It’s difficult. It’s hard to see him now.”

Jimmy leaned back against the wall, the two of them laid out like corpses, and blew smoke into the night. Edward closed his eyes and found his thoughts drifting. This was not the return to London that he had been dreaming of. He would help his uncle but he couldn’t do it by staying here. He would have to leave the kitchen. Jimmy needed money, and Edward stood more chance of finding it for him if he returned to the things that he was good at. He had a particular talent and he knew that it was the only chance they had to get the things that they needed and the things that he deserved. He was going to have to start from scratch, but that was alright; he had done that before. All he needed to do was to find the right mark.

5

EDWARD CAUGHT THE BUS to Bramley from Victoria. It was a pleasant day, early summer, fresh and bright, and he sat at the front with a sandwich and a thermos of tea and enjoyed the drive. It took a couple of hours to reach the sanatorium. The bus drew up in a quiet lane, the verges bright with spring flowers. It was housed in an old manor house and set within several acres of parkland, a grand old building with seven bays on two floors, with a three-bayed elevation surmounted by a pediment. The light glittered against a grand Venetian window set within the central bay. Edward disembarked and signed in at the gatehouse. He followed the path inside the grounds and paused on the broad terrace, taking it all in: lawns and flower-beds were arranged around the building, rows and avenues of trees set out beyond them. Smaller terraces were bright with flowers, shaded by fruit-laden apple trees, and the facility was surrounded by a high wall, then farm lands and, beyond them, an encircling belt of dark fir. He made his way towards the building, passing the kitchen-garden and the ordered rows of vegetables being tended by a pair of patients. He paused at the door to the main building until it was unlocked and opened. He greeted the guard as he passed inside, and, after asking for directions, made his way directly to his father’s room.

     

 

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