The room was circular. Portraits lined the walls. There was a desk that curved around the entire length. Papers lay scattered everywhere. Joshua found a brass plate at the edge of the desk. The name on it said “Lazlo Cippolini.”
Lazlo Cippolini; the old man from the river, the one who had died, the one who had given him something. Joshua just now realized how much Cippolini had given him. The old man was inside him now.
But why would he do that? I never met him before that day.
As he pondered that question Joshua rifled through the papers on the circular desk. It was then that he saw another name at the top of a letter.
“From Arthur Sage esq.”
Arthur was his father’s name.
He grabbed the letter and read it.
I look forward to meeting you. I am bringing my wife and my young son Joshua. I hope they have an adventure in the big city. I am very curious as to your last correspondence where you stated, ‘It seems you’ve bought more than just a partnership in a new restaurant.’ I hope you will clarify that rather mysterious, if not ominous statement.”
Cippolini had known his father.
He checked the date. It was just a few weeks before he and his parents came to the city.
He checked the other papers but found no more letters from his father. He looked for papers that mentioned Arthur or Penelope Sage.
He found one. It was a yellowed piece of parchment. The handwriting was spidery. Joshua didn’t recognize the hand. He read the letter. It said, “As soon as I am done with the work at hand I will find the son of Arthur Sage. I tracked him to one of those deplorable shelters for the unfortunate, but he was no longer there. I regret my dear Lazlo, that I haven’t had time to find the poor boy, but matters have turned very serious. It may even be safer for him to remain lost for a while. You were right to suspect that the deaths of Arthur and Penelope Sage were no accident. Gorgette was definitely behind it. I need time to gather proof.”
The deaths of Arthur and Penelope Sage were no accident!
Joshua griped the circular desk for support. All at once sadness, anger and fear hit him all at once. His parents had been murdered. Murdered! At least that’s what the author of this note claimed.
He tried to find who had written the letter to but there was no name. It was only signed as “D.” He frantically searched for letters in the same hand.
Who is this “D” person? Were my parents murdered? Did Gorgette kill them?
Gorgette. It was another name that popped into Joshua’s mind, another one that hadn’t been there before. But the name didn’t conjure comfort and warmth but wariness and even fear; like Hodmedod.
He looked up at the wall. There were hanging portraits along it. His gaze stopped at one. It was a huge man in chef whites and a bald head. His eyes were haughty and cruel. Though he’d never met him face to face, Joshua knew it was a likeness of Augustus Gorgette, master chef of the Imperial. It made him nervous to have those cruel eyes looking down on him.
Don’t be foolish. It’s only a portrait.
He went back to his search. He found another paper written in D’s spidery hand. The heading said, “Transcript of a conversation between G and R”
G? For Gorgette?
He read it.
“R: You cannot be serious.
G: I never joke about such things.
R: But how-
G: As chefs we wield two very powerful weapons, one is hunger, the other is gluttony. Hunger is obvious, but gluttony can be just as devastating. If people get used to stuffing themselves, if they are used to taking more than their share, then they’ll do anything to keep it.”
At the bottom was a post script by the mysterious author.
“G’s ambitions stretch far beyond this city,” D warned.
Joshua felt dizzy.
He sat back on the chair.
When he came to this room, he hoped to find something to explain his mysterious change. Instead he found more questions that filled him with fear and anger.
What had happened to his parents? Who was this Gorgette? What was he planning? Who was D?
Then Joshua thought for a moment.
Shouldn’t I know? If Lazlo Cippolini is truly somehow inside me, then I should know what he knows.
He looked at the letter again and concentrated.
Who wrote this? Are they still in the city? Can I contact them?
And out of the back his mind popped an answer:
The Recipe for A Perfect Pie Crust
1 Cup unsifted flour
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
3 ½ Ounces Unsalted Butter or fresh lard
3 to 4 Teaspoons ice water
Joshua shook his head. He tried again to think of who wrote the letter. Nothing came but the recipe for gooseberry filling.
It seemed he had only sketches and shadows of the people and places Cippolini knew about, like this room or Hodmedod. They felt familiar to him, but nothing more. The only concrete specifics he had were all related to food and cooking.
If I want answers not related to pie crust, I’ll have to find them myself.
And so he continued to search the desk. He found nothing more among the papers just a cookbook written by Cippolini. He paged through it, curious about the old man. One passage caught his attention.
“Food has a direct connection to the souls of both the eater AND the chef.”
He thought back to the night with the Mudds, how his own bitterness had nearly destroyed the dish. Is that what happened? Surely Cippolini was being…Joshua tried to remember the word, he’d always been so good at school. Metaphorical!
That was it. Surely the old man didn’t really mean you could connect your soul to the food.
But then he thought about the alley. How he’d lead both armies to that one spot. How he’d willed the smell to bring them.
Could it be?
“Who are you?”
Joshua looked around the room. There was no one there, just the portraits hanging on the wall. The voice was loud but scratchy and high pitched. It could have been a man or woman’s voice.
“You have Cippolini’s ring,” the voice said again.
“My name is Joshua Sage. Who are you?”
“Sage?” It sounded as if the owner of the voice was familiar with his name.
“Who are you?” Joshua waved the letter from “D” around. “Did you write these? Are you ‘D?’ Did you know my father?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the voice answered.
“Then who are you?”
“A friend,” the voice said. “A friend to Cippolini.”
“Are you my friend?” Joshua asked.
“Who are you? Where are you?” Joshua demanded.
“I’m far from where you currently stand. And for now it’s safer for both of us that you don’t know my name.”
“Did you know my parents?”
“No time for that. Gorgette is nearby. He must not catch you here.”
He glanced back at the portrait of the large fat man dressed in white. Augustus Gorgette, greatest chef in the city.
“You must go,” the voice urged.
“What is happening?”
“It would take too long to explain and you don’t have a lot of time. Just know that you are in great danger. Stay out of sight. Stay hidden. Do not trust any of the other great chefs. We don’t know who else is working with Gorgette. Now run! Run! I will contact you later.”
“How do you think? Through food.”
“What happened to me?”
The voice did not answer.
I have to get out of here, he thought. Gorgette is coming!
Joshua sprang from the room and bounded up the stairs. The metal door slid close behind him.
“What’s going on?” Heathcliff asked.
They both darted out into the kitchen in plain view of the staff.
“Hey you! Get out of here!” yelled Andre the sous.
“Pay attention! You’re burning the lamb again!” Joshua yelled back.
The sous stood stopped in his tracks. His jaw hung open.
The street rat had sounded just like Cipollini!
Joshua and Heathcliff sped through the back door and into the alley.
They ran out into the street. Joshua turned and saw a great figure in white lumbering towards the restaurant. He knew who it was.
He dragged Heathcliff with him and together they ran.