After they’d finished, Gorgette tapped the Prince lightly on the shoulder. He snapped back to attention.
“What happened?” the Prince yawned.
The chef lied effortlessly, “You nodded off. It’s my fault. I prattled on about the boring details of my food. I was so flattered that you actually wanted to know.”
The Prince clapped his hands and the black uniformed guards came back into the room.
“A wonderful experience as usual,” The Prince said.
“You Grace deserves nothing less.”
The Chef saw the Prince to rooftop platform. The private train pulled away and sped off to the next destination, the city’s most fashionable clothing store.
He returned to the golden elevator. As he descended that he heard the clear chime come from his pocket. He took out a silver pocket watch and sneered.
The watch’s chime did not mark the hour, it was a summons. The other great chefs wanted to speak with him. This worried Gorgette so soon after his meeting with the Prince. If they knew, they would not approve of his activities. He had already taken desperate measures to prevent them from knowing.
Gorgette didn’t stop as he barged though the kitchen. He headed downstairs to the storerooms below. He entered the cellar filled with sacks of dried beans, flour, and olive oil and locked the door behind him. He made his way to the back. There was a shelf full of pickled vegetables in glass jars. The shelf swung forward to reveal a metal door. Gorgette took out a lead signet ring which he pushed onto his thick finger. On the ring was a figure of a chef’s tote and a butcher’s knife. It fit perfectly into an imprint in the metal door. Gorgette pressed the ring into the imprint and twisted clockwise. There were a few clinks and clanks and moments later the door slid open.
Beyond the door was a circular room full of strange devices, none stranger than the portraits that lined the room’s circumference. Each portrait was of another great chef from as far away as Tenochtlan (Chef Mada, maestro of the chili pepper and the annatto seed.) Behind each portrait was a device that could move the pigments, and reshape them, made them move and speak.
Gorgette sat in his chair in the middle of the room. The moment he did, his own portrait, which hung in each of the dozen other secret rooms became animated and would speak as he did. In this manner all the great chefs of the world could conference together in private despite the vast difference that separated them. They were the men and women who fed czars, presidents, and caliphs and as a result knew all their secrets. They were the ones who’d learned the deepest secrets of their craft and could produce miracles. They could sway governments without anyone’s knowledge. But they preferred to use their influence discreetly; to observe and silently advise rather than control and rule.
Gorgette thought, they would certainly object to me devouring a soul.
Augustus Gorgette did not agree with the council. In his view they were the real princes, they were the real power in the world. It was his right to command the city, his city. And he would not be denied that right by anyone. Not even his so called peers.
“I’m here,” he announced.
“We’ve not heard from Lazlo Cippolini,” said one of the portraits, the one Chef Cheng Chu.
“Perhaps he’s on holiday,” Gorgette offered as innocently as he could muster.
“We’re very concerned. Just yesterday he said he had something very important to tell us,” said Chef Dominique.
“Did he say what it was?” Gorgette feigned disinterest.
“He did not,” replied Dominique.
“Did you and Cippolini have a disagreement recently?” asked Cheng Chu.
Gorgette lied, “No. What are you implying?”
“No one is implying anything. We’re just very concerned for our fellow chef,” Dominique said.
“As am I. While Chef Cippolini and I are not what you would call friends, I’m appalled at the idea that harm may have come to him.”
For a member of this circle to do harm to another was the gravest of crimes. Punishment would be severe. But Gorgette’s voice and manner betrayed no trace of fear.
He studied the portraits around him and tried to gage what they knew and what they suspected. Was Cheng’s question mere coincidence, or did he know something deeper? Gorgette had to know if the others truly suspected. If Cippolini had shared his suspicions with the rest.
“We must find out if Chef Cippolini is safe and well. His restaurant is close by. I could pay it a visit,” Gorgette offered. They would never agree if they had even the tiniest suspicion that he had harmed Cippolini.
“That is an excellent suggestion,” Dominique answered.
None of the portraits objected.
Gorgette kept his glee well hidden.
“I will report back shortly,” he said.
With that the meeting ended. The portraits one by one shifted back to lifeless paint. Gorgette got up from his chair and returned to his restaurant and his city.