It always begins like this. A favour traded to secure a good deal before a loan can be made to see your dish on a menu or a name shouted across a dinner rush. When your entire life was a hundred square metres of red hot chef and ice cool front of house those complicated arrangements are the oil to grease the wheels that roll you out of tedium.
The next is your suppliers. All places run on good supply. If you can’t get the fish your competitor is laying out, or you can’t pour the booze your punters want, you’ll be putting out the welcome wagon to the all-you-can-eat student drug-fucked fiesta before you can say franchising. A good place finesses their suppliers and screws them in equal measures.
Gerald walks in the kitchen delivery door every Tuesday. He’d come Mondays, but we’re closed Mondays. So whaddya gonna do?
His parents were refugees-cum-market gardeners out of Otaki, and every week he fills his truck up with choice seasonal greens and hauls them down here to Tory Street, just to make our day with some of the best deals you can imagine. Citrus, dollar a kilo. Brassica, 30c a head. Tubers, depends. Only an refugee thinks they should let themselves get ripped off like that. Must be something to do with the debt to society. Or maybe they just aren’t paying taxes. Who knows? Who cares?!
Glenis spots him first. You can see him flinch when she starts in on the latest favourate gripe. Kaffir lime. But then, when she shouts like that, everyone flinches.
“Gerald you sorry-assed son of a bang bang me love you long time two cent immigrant show pony cock target… WHERE THE FUCK ARE MY LIMES!”
She’s standing behind the servery glaring through at Gerald. The heating lamps are lighting her face from above and it leaves her eyes in partial shadow, which accentuates her otherwise usual terror-inducing glare to a mere grimace of permanent dissatisfaction.
To his credit, Gerald laughs, “We don’t do Kaffir limes chef!” he shouts over the sound of clattering pots and the huge kitchen extractor fan, “You must be thinking of the last suppliers, the ones you threw out on their asses for trying to pass off imported Navel oranges on you! We don’t do limes!”
I can hear her mutter as Gerald begins to stack boxes in the delivery door, “Fucking Navels…” She she turns away for a second to check her stove-top then resumes the verbal assault, “Well for fucks sakes you slimy little cabin boys bunk mate, why don’t you find some goddamn Kaffirs, and their leaves, and goddamn well bring them to me to buy off you? Christ!” she exclaims, “Can’t you see we’re trying to fucking buy something off you!” She turns away again, muttering about the stupidity of bumpkins.
I’ve walked across to the delivery door and I’m grabbing a couple of 20kg sack of potatoes and I’m hauling them upstairs to the dry store. Gerald says gidday with his eyebrows and I flick him the chin. By the time I’ve come back downstairs again Glenis has him bailed up near the dishwashing station on his way back from out back and is berating him about “some Asians” who sell Kaffir leaves for a dollar a bunch at the Sunday markets near Waitangi Park. I grab a box of lettuces to be taken to the coolstore, and walk between the two of them, giving Gerald time to make good his escape to the exit. He says see-ya with his eyebrows again and he’s out of there.
I’m carrying another load to the coolstore, it gets stuffed under shelves so blood from the dead things can’t spoil it, and ask her, “So why so much shit about Kaffir limes?
She laughs, “Keeps the little fucker from getting too friendly.”
I laugh in reply and head out to the Charnel house with a final box of citrus. Inside, away from view, I take the lid off the box. And there it is. A bunch of leaves.