The Case of the Misplaced Hero
by Camille LaGuire
Episode 19 - The Importance of Sandwiches
THE KITCHEN WASN'T hard to find. Alex just had to follow the sound of clattering pans and swearing in Awarshi.
The cook was the only one in the room, and he was having a melt down. He ran this way and that, banging pans, organizing things. The only sign that Thorny might be around was some wet clothes drying behind the stove.
"Uh, hey," said Alex.
"Go to the front!" called the cook. "I have no time, I have a hundred people to serve, and they all are magesties!"
"Can I help?" said Alex. Those were the magic words. The cook stopped, looked at him, and then suddenly smiled a welcoming smile.
"You can cook?"
"I can work."
Niko, the cook, sent him back to the linen closet to get clean clothes. By the time he got back, the man had calmed down. He was carefully cutting paper-thin slices of some kind of melon. He also had a stack of very thin slices of bread.
"In Imperia, noble people like sandwiches, yes?" he said, hopefully. "Little tiny sandwiches with only butter and a little taste of something. Yes?"
He waited and Alex realized he was asking his opinion. "Um, sure," said Alex.
"I make ham, too," said Niko. "That will keep them until I can make raggoul. Or blootchkes. Everybody likes blootchkes!"
He sent Alex to get a stack of plates and a tray, and then together they assembled the sandwiches and cut the crusts off. Then they cut them into little triangles and diamond shapes. Alex convinced Niko to add a little mustard to the ham sandwiches. They piled the sandwiches as artfully as possible on the plates, and piled the plates on a big tray.
As they worked, Alex tried to ease into a conversation, maybe learn what happened to Thorny. The cook was happy to talk. As a matter of fact, he talked the whole time -- arguing with himself about what dishes to make.
"Blootchkes with apples, I think. No no no! With potatoes and sour cream. Is that too ordinary? Maybe not... simple is elegant. But potatoes are food for workers. Sour cream with smoked fish! Do I have any smoked fish...?"
Alex couldn't get a word in edgewise. He figured Niko would calm down once he got his menu in order, though. In the meantime the sandwiches smelled good.
Suddenly Alex was starving. He hadn't eaten since lunch at the.... at the dorm cafeteria in a completely other world. A hundred years ago, or maybe a hundred years ahead. Or maybe just hours ago, with miles of running and swimming and worrying in between.
He stepped back and collapsed on to a bench. Niko took a fat handful of discarded ham and slapped it between two thick crusts from the bread -- not a dainty little sandwich at all -- and handed it to him. Alex wolfed it down, and it tasted better than anything he'd ever had in his life. Way better than the wimpy layers of dissolving bread and processed meat product he'd had at the dorm. They'd put it in a little press and grilled it. It hadn't made it any better.
Muted reality, that's how Aunt Flavia had described the real world. Or what he thought was the real world. Was Awarshawa not real? This sandwich was real all right. That dorm sandwich was not real.
And Flavia said he'd find his place when he'd had enough of that world and its muted reality. Alex laughed. He never realized it was time to go, never saw he could go. Thorny was the one who saw it. Thorny, like a good teacher, had led him here, where the sandwiches were good and things mattered.
And now Thorny was lost. Not there to save. Flavia's words echoed in his head, but he shook them off. He just had to find where Thorny was. Probably behind that locked door in the hall. But not necessarily.... And then there was the girl. Was she still in the parlor?
Alex jumped up.
"Let me take those to the front," he said, as Niko finished arranging the plates on a tray.
"Are you all right now?"
"I've never been better in my life," said Alex, and he set out with the tray to scout the halls, and find the girl. Maybe, under the guise of a waiter, he'd get a chance to talk to her, to assure her help was coming....
Because once Alex got Thorny home, he'd come back. Not just for the girl, but for himself. Alex had found his place, and even if it turned out to be the worst mistake of his life, it was where he belonged, he was sure.
Stay Tuned for Episode Twenty: "Not There To Save"
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