We loved the debut installment of Sin du Jour, Matt Wallace’s nutso contemporary fantasy series set in the world of extreme specialty catering (where “specialty” refers to the very particular clients). In Envy of Angels, published in October by Tor.com Publishing, his crack team of chefs prepared a divine dinner for a gaggle of demons. In the followup, Lustlocked, out in January 2016, there’s an altogether different item on the menu…and displeasing the clients is more dangerous than ever.
Tor.com Publishing has given us the chance to share an exclusive (rather lengthy!) excerpt from Lustlocked, which you can read in full on January 26.
Bronko is approving purchase orders and debating what type of sandwich to make in the kitchen for his lunch when Lena storms his office without knocking.
Later he’ll decide on heirloom tomato and pancetta on garlic toast.
She strides and stomps across the room and slaps the employment contracts down in the middle of his desk.
“What the hell is this supposed to be?”
“Did you sign and initial them all?” Bronko asks, unperturbed.
Lena isn’t prepared for that. She’s mustered all of herself to so starkly confront a chef of his position and caliber. She expected hell in return.
“What? I . . . what? No! Why would you think we’d sign these?”
Bronko thumbs through the unsigned sheaf of papers and leans back.
“I thought I’d hired you and Vargas. Maybe I’m gettin’ old.”
Lena is deflated, or at least the mad-on she’d worked up so dutifully is.
“Chef,” she says, much quieter, almost pleading, “I can’t—”
“Are you speaking for yourself, or are you speaking for you and Vargas?”
Lena opens her mouth to answer, but before she can speak Bronko peers around her at his empty doorway and shouts, “Vargas! Are you out there?”
There’s no reply at first.
Then, meekly, Darren’s head appears around the side of the doorjamb like some absurd vaudeville skit.
“Get in here, for chrissakes, will you? Don’t let people do your talkin’ for you unless they’re your agent. Is Tarr copping ten percent of your checks?”
Darren tentatively enters the room.
Bronko regards them both, silently.
Lena isn’t sure what to say next.
“All right,” he pronounces heavily, dropping both thick hands atop his desk, “here’s the deal. You both did good, stepping up when I needed you to. It was only supposed to be a temporary gig. If you want, that’s how it’ll stay.”
Bronko opens his top desk drawer and removes a narrow manila envelope, the center of which is bulging.
He plops it down beside the contracts.
It makes enough of a thud to get their attention.
“This is your payout for the days you worked here, plus event pay, plus hazard pay, plus a bonus for you, Tarr, because you helped Nikki and me tweak what needed tweaking with the menu for the banquet.”
Lena’s lips tighten, as does something in her gut. Somehow, Bronko not saying she helped them come up with how to fake dishes that were supposed to contain parts of an angel to be served to demons is even worse than him saying it outright.
“You can have it now and walk,” Bronko continues. “In cash. Off the books. Or you sign these contracts for one year with a three-month probationary period for the amount outlined. Did you happen to look at what your salary will be?”
Lena folds her arms across her chest. “No.”
“She totally did,” Darren says without hesitation. “We both did. A lot.”
Lena turns on him. “Goddammit, Darren.”
“Principles or no principles,” Darren insists, trying to sound hard and failing, “we’re broke, El, and Chef knows it.”
“I looked,” Lena admits through clenched teeth. “It’s a lot. Especially for us at the moment.”
“It’s three times what you’ll make at any restaurant in Manhattan,” Bronko assures them as Lena’s eyes fall on the figure. “And that’s as sous-chefs, let alone working the line.”
It’s enough to give even Lena pause, but the skeptical bent to her features doesn’t relent.
“I’m not going to pitch you,” Bronko says. “For one I’m no damn good at it, and for another neither of you has earned the right to be courted. You’re good enough for the line. That’s all. And that means a little something extra at Sin du Jour. And the truth is . . . we need you right now. We’re prepping for a big event that’s going to require extra hands on deck.”
“What is it?” Darren asks.
Lena’s eyes narrow. “What kind of . . . wedding?”
“Goblins,” Bronko answers simply.
Darren actually lights up. “Goblins like Lord of the Rings? Those kinds of goblins?”
“But it’s a goblin wedding?”
“It’s the goblin wedding,” Bronko corrects him.
Lena lowers the contract in her hands.
She looks at Darren, whose expression is that of a child silently beseeching a parent to stop the car as they pass a toy store.
Lena looks back across the desk at Bronko.
“Okay. If they aren’t Lord of the Rings goblins,” she begins carefully, “just what exactly are they?”
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL OF
Lena realizes Boosha’s workroom is less apothecary and more an arcane test kitchen—one that would’ve existed long before the concept of a “test kitchen” itself. It is a room from a time when cooks were also healers, scientists, alchemists, barbers, and who-the-fuck-knows what else.
Not to mention the fact that Boosha herself is not entirely human.
Lena and Darren watch as the ancient woman rummages through piles of books that look as though they might’ve been bought in bulk to decorate the set of a Universal monster movie from the 1930s.
“Goblins are most beautiful of God’s creatures by far,” she explains. “I have a little goblin in me myself.”
“Ma’am?” Darren asks.
Boosha turns and smiles a grandmotherly smile on him.
“I, uh, I’ve played a lot of Dee and Dee in my time—” he begins, nervously.
“He has,” Lena confirms. “A pathetic amount.”
“Goblins are monsters,” Darren finishes sharply, eyeing her.
“Hm. What is ‘monster’?”
“Uh, well, ‘monster’ is a word that means—”
“I know what word means,” Boosha snaps. “I ask you what you think makes something monster.”
“I . . . well, something big and ugly that probably eats babies? I don’t know.”
Boosha clicks her tongue, pulling out one of the dusty old volumes and slamming it against her carved wooden pedestal.
“Image of goblins you have comes from angry, jealous lies. Lies made by men and women. Jealous they were of goblin beauty, goblin spirit, goblin perfection. They wanted their sons and daughters to stop running off with goblins. So they spread lies, painted pictures. They made monsters of goblins.”
“But if they weren’t monsters why would people believe any of that?” Lena asks.
Boosha turns the brittle pages of the tome rapidly. “People were even more stupid back then. Ah, here we are.”
She steps aside and motions for them both to examine the pages of the book.
The illustrations are old, faded, and crude. One page depicts children in their teens crawling, almost supplicating toward a lithe, luminous figure awaiting them with open arms.
The opposing page depicts the same young people in the same setting, only now they’re being torn apart by a monstrous fanged creature where the luminous figure stands in the first illustration.
“But they don’t turn into monsters?” Darren asks.
Boosha shakes her head.
“No. Mostly they are just very, very pretty. Their looks cast spell on most. Snare them. This is how they make their way in world. By their looks.”
“In past they were show people or thieves. Today they are in movies, mostly. All the very pretty people in movies are mostly goblin.”
Darren’s eyes are wide. “What, like George Clooney?”
“So what do they eat?” Lena asks impatiently. “These ‘goblins’ of yours.”
Boosha makes a “cluck” sound with her tongue, but she lets Lena’s tone slide.
“Gold is goblin delicacy.”
“Gold,” Boosha reiterates sharply.
“You mean like . . .”
Boosha reaches out and pinches the gold chain around Darren’s neck between the tip of her thumb and forefinger.
She rattles the chain while enunciating slowly.
“Fine. They eat gold. I get it.”
“How do you cook gold?” Darren asks.
“Carefully,” is Boosha’s only answer.
“So aside from being . . . whatever . . . goblins . . . what’s so important about this wedding?”
Boosha stares at Lena as if she were the most ignorant of children in a classroom.
“Is royal wedding, dear,” she explains patiently. “Goblin prince is to marry his princess. Goblin king will be here for tasting this very afternoon.”
“Goblin king?” Darren marvels.
“Royal wedding,” Lena says to herself more than Darren or the old woman.
Darren can’t contain himself any longer.
“Who’s the goblin king?” he practically explodes. “Who is it?”
A HINT OF STARDUST
“He looks like—”
“But he looks exactly like—”
“Yeah. I know.”
“But he can’t be—”
“Sure he can.”
“You don’t mean—”
“Yes, I do mean.”
“No fucking way.”
“It’s actually him?”
“But he . . . he played the Goblin King in that movie.”
“Why do you think he took the part, kid?”
The chefs of Sin du Jour line the wall of the reception room like servants in the home of imperial Roman aristocracy. Each one dons their freshest whites emblazoned with the company logo, the walking, talking cartoon chocolate cake slice known among them as “Mr. Frosting Face.”
Darren is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tag Dorsky, Sin du Jour’s sous-chef. Lena is trying to fade into the wall on Darren’s opposite side. They’re both wearing whites that look a size too big on their equally slight frames.
Dorsky is being surprisingly amiable with them both, considering it wasn’t a week ago Lena slashed him open in two places with a paring knife during a duel out in the courtyard.
Maybe he’s gotten over it.
Maybe he just wants to forget it.
More than likely he just wants to forget it.
The goblin king’s immaculate, slightly lupine features are kind, but reserved. A designer with an eighteen-syllable name undoubtedly made his suit, and it hangs stunningly on his slender frame. His hair, which has gone through so many famous and kaleidoscopic changes on decades of album covers, is now a simple, chemically flawless blond that falls loosely just past his ears.
He’s a beautiful man, even for someone who is supposed to be almost seventy in human years and who is god-only-knows how old in goblin years.
The queen is several inches taller than him, skin perfectly bronzed, perfectly smooth, and just generally perfect. She looks even more ageless than he does.
She’s also one of the most famous supermodels in history.
Lena can scarcely process what’s happening. It would be enough to find herself in the same room with these people when she thought they were simply celebrities and entertainment-industry royalty. Now she knows they’re not human. They’re goblins. More than that, they are the rulers of some invisible goblin kingdom that has infiltrated and conquered the highest levels of all popular media.
It’s a little much for a girl on a Monday morning.
Lena can see Darren has chosen to ignore the more fantastical aspects of the moment. He’s simply in awe of a legendary singer and a legendary model.
She decides he has the right idea. In fact, faced with too much to process, Lena simply shuts her brain down altogether.
Besides, there’s food.
There’s a long, narrow buffet table set up in the middle of the reception room, draped with a shimmering crimson cloth. Jett excitedly leads the royal family to one end of it, looking more animated and joyful than Lena has yet seen the out-of-place Chanel-clad event planner.
There are two much younger people accompanying the goblin king and queen.
The first is obviously their son, the prince, whose eyes are so kind and open they actually stand out against his inhumanly attractive and symmetrical features.
The other is his bride-to-be, a cordial young woman who is very pretty, possibly even beautiful, but looks, like everyone else in the room, thoroughly ordinary in the presence of these physically extraordinary goblins.
“All right, Your Majesties,” Jett announces brightly, “this is, of course, the world famous Chef Byron Luck, our fearless leader in the kitchen here at Sin du Jour. And this is Nichole Glowin, his pastry chef.”
Bronko and Nikki stand on the other side of the table. Arrayed before them is what looks to be a Japanese meal progression of thoroughly Western food. Tiny portions of a dozen different dishes are plated meticulously in a perfectly spaced row, each with a delicate knife and fork or spoon beside it resting atop fine linen napkins.
“Please, call me Bronko,” the executive chef says in his easy way.
“Nikki,” she says, raising her hand as if she’s in a classroom, then adding hastily, “Your Majesties.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” the goblin king says. “My luminous wife, the queen, and our son, Marek. This is his betrothed, Bianca.”
Introductions are made all the way around.
“What we have for you today,” Bronko begins, clapping his hands together in that way chefs who’ve been on television a lot do, “is a tasting of the dual menu we’ve planned for your wedding. It’s been made clear to us everything must be prepared two ways, yes?”
“Unavoidably so,” the king remarks, pleasantly enough. “Watching humans attempt to digest goblin fare is a harrowing sight, indeed.”
The queen laughs, demurely.
The prince tries to, but manages only a smile.
Bianca doesn’t make it that far.
“Right. Well,” Bronko continues, “we’ll have a full precious metals and jewels station for the groom’s relations to snack on. Likewise, our servers will make the rounds with hors d’oeuvres gems and pearls. For the bride’s side of the aisle we’ve prepared cherry pepper bruschetta . . .”
Bronko takes them through samples of the hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, and four starting dinner courses they’ve planned out. All three members of the royal family eat heartily of the “human” dishes (apparently, Lena observes, they can and do enjoy regular food).
“Finally,” Bronko trumpets with appropriate grandeur, “we have our main course.”
A medium-sized whole fish rests on each plate. The heads have been left intact. They’ve all been covered with gold semicircles. It looks as though each entrée is wearing plate armor.
“You’re obviously familiar with the cultural significance and its importance to our goblin guests.”
“Absolutely. Of course, we haven’t actually used the ancestor fish for this tasting. We want to keep the actual product fresh for the reception. It’s, as you know, getting rarer and harder to attain with each passing century.”
“Yes, I know it’s a silly tradition. Goblins descending from that hideous sea-dwelling creature. But we have so few pure goblin traditions left, you see.”
“Which is why so many of our guests feel put out by a dual menu. Catering to humans, you know.”
The queen says this casually, her tone implying she feels neither one way nor another about it, but the words have a noticeable affect on Bianca.
Bronko diplomatically brushes past the comments. “Your entrée is also prepared two ways, first with the traditional goldmail. The second preparation substitutes cucumber glazed with a rich yellow wasabi dressing for your human guests.”
Against the wall, Darren and Lena exchange mystified looks.
The wasabi-drenched cucumbers look identical to the genuine gold plating on the opposite fish.
“Yellow wasabi,” Lena mouths silently.
“I don’t know about the gold, but this with the cucumbers is amazing,” Bianca says as she devours several forkfuls of the fish.
Bronko dips his head briefly. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“This is domestic,” His Majesty observes after a single bite of his gold-plated fish.
“Domestic, with a hint of a Hishikari I think,” his wife adds.
“I think you’re right, my love.”
For the first time during the tasting, Bronko is thrown off his game. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty?”
“The presentation is quite lovely, as are the flavors, but the dish will of course be Welsh gold when you prepare it for our guests. Money is no object. It’s not only expected, but anticipated for an event such as this.”
“Oh, certainly,” Bronko assures His Majesty without the slightest hesitation or hint not knowing what the hell he means by “Welsh” gold, or what the difference is.
The goblin king nods. “Very well. I’d say we approve wholeheartedly of the savory fare, Chef.”
The queen nods in agreement. “Quite. Kids?”
Prince Marek and Bianca both nod rapidly, clasping each other’s hand.
“All right then, folks.” Bronko motions to the end of the table. “This is the fun part. Cake.”
Nikki waits for them at the end of the table, behind an assortment of plated cake pieces. Each piece has a rich, vibrant red interior surrounded by white frosting that’s as perfectly smooth as fondant, but looks far too rich and soft to be the decorative sheet frosting that usually covers elaborate cakes.
Each piece is also sparkling brilliantly in the light, as if they’re covered with diamonds.
“I love your hair,” the goblin queen comments as they join Nikki across her end of the table.
“Oh, thank you,” Nikki says, involuntarily touching one of the several victory rolls being held with bobby pins. “It’s actually really easy to do.”
“I was sorry to see it ever go out of fashion.”
“I . . . yes.” Nikki isn’t sure what else to say, as the implication the woman has been around since her hairstyle was at the height of its popularity in the ’40s hits her.
“Well then, Nikki,” the king interjects. “Do tell us about cake.”
“Oh. Of course. First, for the . . . groom’s side of the aisle, what I’ve done is created a ruby jam center. The frosting is silky pearl, both white and black, which we’ve blended. And it’s sprinkled with blue diamond chips.”
Lena can’t believe the description.
Frosting made from pearls?
“How the hell—” she begins, catching herself quickly.
No one seems to notice.
Everyone except Bianca takes up a fork. Soon an inhuman crunching of jaws fills the room.
“That is utterly magnificent,” the king says without hesitation.
The queen and prince are quick to agree.
Nikki’s smile spreads with genuine delight.
“Thank you. And for the bride’s side, we have blood orange cake with a frosting of vanilla bean ganache. The sprinkles are crushed hard candy made from sea salt, taro, and blue agave.”
“Jesus, they look identical,” Lena can’t help whispering.
Fortunately only Darren and Dorsky hear her.
Darren nudges her.
Dorsky smirks without looking past him at Lena.
Nikki picks up a fork and offers it to Bianca, who has been standing to one side trying not to look uncomfortable.
The young woman steps forward, seeming to appreciate the gesture. She takes the fork and bisects a good-sized bite from the blood orange cake, bringing it to her lips and sniffing it demurely.
“It smells amazing,” she says.
Nikki nods enthusiastically. “I know, right?”
Bianca takes her first bite of her wedding cake.
Her first words, to Nikki’s mind, are perfect: “Babe,” she says, forking another bite for the prince, “you’ve got to try this. It’s amazing.”
“Which of these will be the cake that’s presented to our guests?” His Highness inquires.
“Oh, we’ll be constructing a beautiful veneer,” Jett chimes in quickly. “Over two stories tall. Identical in every fashion to the outside of the real thing, and absolutely elaborate and stunning, but the center will be hollow.”
“Giant cakes taste like they came from a supermarket,” Bronko assures the goblin king. “Your guests will be eating much smaller, much higher quality versions.”
His Highness nods. “You’ve done well, Chef Luck,” he congratulates Bronko with a lupine smile, reaching out and clasping both of the man’s larger, far more battered hands with his own.
Bronko is surprised by the strength contained in those seemingly delicate, manicured hands, but he doesn’t let it show.
“Thank you. Your Majesty.”
“And Nikki, you are truly gifted,” the queen adds. “Both as a pastry chef and a hair stylist.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, really.”
The goblin king turns toward the rest of the line.
“I thank you all!”
Darren almost giggles with excitement, but manages to hold it in.
“Your Majesty,” Jett bids them. “If you’ll follow me I’ve prepared a preview of our designs for the space, the lighting, and of course the music . . .”
Jett is already free-flowing ecstatically with her event ideas as she leads them from the room.
“What do you think?” Bronko asks Nikki after a safe amount of time.
“That poor girl,” she says automatically.
“The food, Nik.”
“Oh! They liked it.”
The rest of the line cooks begin filing out of the room while Dorsky approaches the table.
“Welsh gold?” he asks.
Bronko shrugs. “How hard can it be?”
Darren, his eyes glued to the Wikipedia page he’s conjured on his iPhone, answers that very rhetorical question: “It’s the rarest gold in the world, Chef.”
“Well.” Bronko takes a deep breath. “He did say money was no object.”
With a deep, doubtful grunt, his sous-chef turns and exits the reception room.
“So, what’s the verdict?” he asks Lena when they’re alone.
Lena pulls at her chef whites.
“Can we get these fitted?”
“So that’s a yes?”
“We’ll try it.”
“Yeah, we will,” Bronko says heavily. “You’re both on three months’ probation, after which a peer review will determine whether or not your employment contracts fully activate.”
“Peer meaning who?” Darren asks.
“The rest of the line.”
“Dorsky,” Lena states flatly.
“Just focus on the next couple of weeks, children,” Bronko advises them. “The first two weeks are the most important. You make it past that, the rest is clerical. Is ‘clerical’ the right word?”
“You’re our executive chef,” Lena says flatly. “Even if it isn’t the right word it is the right word.”
Bronko grins. “See that? You’re gonna do just fine. We’ll get you some fitted whites and make sure you sign your contracts before you leave today. All right?”
Bronko looks to Darren.
“Yes, Chef,” he says quickly.
Bronko turns and exits the room.
“You look great,” Nikki says to Lena with a smile.
“No, I don’t.”
“No, but you will.”
“How the hell did you make a jam out of rubies?”
“Is that why you agreed to take the job?” Nikki asks her.
Lena is hesitant. “Mostly.”
“The money didn’t hurt?” Nikki asks knowingly.
“It didn’t hurt, no.”