Hodmedod left Joshua and the dead man at the coal docks and made his way by secret, unseen routes to Hightown Street and his employer.
Hightown Street and Dreamer’s Garden were close to each other on the map but leagues apart in every other respect. The stories they told in Rustington and Dreamer’s Garden about the wealth and luxury that lay across the river weren’t far from the truth.
Hightown Street sparkled in the sunlight with its white marble, colored glass, polished bronze and blue water fountains. It smelled of the hundred flower gardens that dotted the parks and homes. No one who walked among its shops and salons had a trace of dirt on them. It was a place where a prince could be made to feel shabby. And after he got over feeling shabby, that prince would take his wounded ego and healthy appetite to The Imperial.
To call the Imperial a “restaurant” was an injustice. It was a gallery of edible masterpieces. Kings, potentates, emperors, and the just plain wealthy filled the Imperial’s massive dining room every night to sample the work of its chef and owner Augustus Gorgette. They said Chef Gorgette didn’t so much cook food as perform magic with meats, vegetables, and sweets. The gossipers had no idea how right they were.
That day the dining room was packed as usual. The cavernous hall echoed with the sounds. A hundred guests shared the latest rumors. A hundred wine glasses clinked. Waiters and waitresses streamed out of the kitchen doors as they carried course after course to the patrons; rich brown consommé with tiny slivers of carrot and leek, sea sweet crab served in a crystal glass with crisp apple and lettuce, lobster poached in butter, roasted goose with cranberries, steaks with rich wine sauce, cakes as light as air, and chocolates as dark as night. Guests gobbled up their meals, forgetting all decorum as they surrendered to the pleasures of the taste buds and the nose.
The root of this euphoric state lay just beyond the swinging wood doors through which the wait staff passed. The kitchen was a hot, sweltering white tiled room thick with the smell of sweat and herbs. Great copper pots of soup, stock and water boiled continuously. Stovetops belched fire. Knives and cleavers came down with lightning speed on chopping boards. Dozens of white-suited cooks toiled at every station. From one end of the kitchen came the raw ingredients, vegetables just out of the ground, fish fresh from the waters, whole sides of beef, lamb and pork. They moved from station to station where they were cleaned, peeled, chopped, cooked and served on fine porcelain and finally given to the never ending train of waiters.
A man stood in the middle of the clatter, the heat, and the smell. He was Chef Augustus Gorgette, greatest chef in the city. And if that title had been in dispute before, it was firmly settled now.
Gorgette was of medium height but broad and thick. His girth was solid muscle without a trace of fat. He had a great bald head that sat on his wide shoulders. In his chef whites he looked like a majestic iceberg in the middle of a stormy ocean.
Gorgette stood planted at the pass, the table where the wait staff would grab the serving dishes for the customers. From there he barely moved a muscle or said a word.
He didn’t need to.
Gorgette had only to clear his throat should a dish fall short of his standards. The waiter’s hand would freeze and Angus, his small, ferret faced Sous Chef, would swipe away the offending plate. Then the flow of porcelain and food would continue.
Gorgette’s eyes went from the food to the whirling clock sitting high on the top shelf.
“Angus,” Gorgette bellowed. The great chef withdrew himself from the pass and his Sous slid into his place. Almost immediately, the shouting in the kitchen increased and the first of many plates shattered on the floor.
Gorgette did not turn to look back at the chaos. He let the door close behind him. Down the corridor from the kitchen was a gilded elevator. The chef got in and pressed the top floor button. The metal cage rose up. The next few floors held the private rooms, where the privileged among the privileged could dine on meals personally prepared by Gorgette himself.
The elevator reached the very top floor reserved for the most privileged guest of all. So privileged in fact that this, the top floor of Gorgette’s restaurant didn’t actually belong to Gorgette. Here he was the guest.
The elevator opened onto a solid black door. Gorgette got out of the elevator and opened the door with a jewel encrusted key. In the room beyond sat four black uniformed soldiers who nodded to the chef as he passed.
A stairway led to the roof of the building. On the roof was a rail station, the tracks led off the roof and onto a network of high stone bridges. These tracks and bridges crisscrossed the most fashionable districts of the Old City and ended in Royal Square. It was the private railway of Elias Bartholomew Fortunato, the 48th Prince of the city. Its terminals were the fanciest, most expensive, most exclusive establishments of the city. This way the Prince could forgo the chore of traveling along the same streets as everyone else.
Gorgette stood under the metal canopy and awaited the Prince’s locomotive. Soon he saw the plume of white smoke in the distance. A short time later the bright yellow and green engine pulled into the station.