Neil Flambé stood in his kitchen and took a deep breath.
Was perfection too much to expect? he wondered. He spoke slowly into his phone.
“Gunter, the salmon you sent me is just this side of rotten. I have twenty people expecting a fantastic fish dinner tonight. What they are not expecting is a side dish of FOOD POISONING!” The man on the other end of the call held the receiver away from his ear. He was Gunter Lund, a famous chef in his native Germany before burning out five years ago in a pitched battle with a stubborn batch of bierwurst sausages.
He’d moved to Vancouver to escape the stress and had started his own seafood distribution business. But clients like Flambé made him wonder if it wasn’t time to go back to cooking. He felt a shot of pain in his stomach. His doctor had warned him about stress and ulcers.
It’s not any fourteen-year-old who can talk to me in that tone of voice, he thought.
That was certainly true, but Neil Flambé was not just any fourteen-year-old. He had his own restaurant, his own line of cooking pans, and his picture was on the front cover of the latest issue of CHEF! Magazine, under the headline “Is There Anything This Boy Can’t Cook?”
Neil Flambé was a star.
Another of Flambé’s talents? He could make an ordinary cell phone sound like a megaphone.
“HELLO? GUNTER? Are you still there? I need a different fish!”
Gunter wanted desperately to hang up. Instead he tried another approach. “Neil, please calm down. The man on the boat assured me that he caught the fish this morning.”
“Floating on top of an oil slick?” Neil yelled. “Listen, I have the top food critics from all the major newspapers coming for dinner, as well as the Spanish ambassador. If I serve that toxic fish to my guests, it will KILL THEM!”
“You’re exaggerating, Neil,” Lund said, struggling to stay calm. “It was fine when it left here. And it’s only a few minutes to your restaurant.”
Neil took a loud breath, prepping for another assault on Gunter’s ears.
“But if you insist,” Gunter continued quickly, deciding it was probably best just to give in, “I’ll send over another fish right away.”
There was a short silence.
“You’ll send two,” Neil said firmly.
Gunter paused. His stomach had started to churn, and he knew he’d need to pop another antacid or five when he finally got off the phone. Flambé was one of his best—or at least one of his best-paying—customers. He’d fork over plenty for a good salmon. The only problem was that he was a royal pain in the zielscheibe: the rear end.
Gunter rubbed his finger over his throbbing temple. “Yes, fine, two,” he said. The line clicked and Flambé was gone.
“He doesn’t even say danke schön,” Gunter muttered angrily. He turned in his chair and yelled out the window to his partner Renée, who was sitting on the dock fixing her nets.
“I need two fresh salmon right away!” Gunter shouted. “Still flipping, if you can find any like that.”
He burped. “And bring me some antacids, too.”