If one knows where to look and has the proper connections to the right people, even the improbable and the impossible can be found given enough time, energy and of course, money. Case in point was Savoureux.
Hidden in the richer part of Baltimore’s suburbia, Savoureux was such a highly unlikely thing, a tiny restaurant of one table that could seat eight patrons very comfortably. Unlike most of its more normal competition, it didn’t need to be big, the micro sized restaurant solely catering to the very rich and the very elite by invite only. It was the kind of secret affairs that selfish socialites would sign away their first born away for even a chance to dine or be seen in. Known by all of the upper crust but only spoken about in whispers and rumors, clandestine dinner parties were held once a month for a select few. Everyone paid in full before the first bite was even taken and no one ever left disappointed.
What made this strange eatery so unique and so rarified was what it served.
Filet of unicorn drizzled with a champagne beurre blanc sauce, Baku Szechuan served over lotus and jasmine rice, and Centaur steak tartare topped with phoenix’s eggs, capers, and sweet onions were only some of the dishes featured on the menu and were never repeated. The owner and chef was quite firm about the rule, Hannibal Lecter being a perfectionist as well as an artist. In his mind, each carefully planned dinner was a feast, the man putting all his skill and inspiration into its construction.
Unfortunately having such an unique business did have its downsides, namely the suppliers of his courses. Dr. Frederick Chilton was the living embodiment of this, the oily little man showing his ass once again to Hannibal while in his kitchen as he unsubtly fished for a diner invitation.
“Frederick, we have been over this many times before. As I have explained, I have a waiting list, one that you are upon, but it is booked for years.” Hannibal admonished with a blatant lie, not even bothering to look up from the shallots he was mincing. When Chilton began making irritating little noises in argument, Hannibal took a moment to remind himself that despite the nuisance the doctor made of himself, he actually was quite useful and had an almost disturbing knack for finding the lost, the forgotten, and the disbelieved in. Most of Hannibal’s dishes came from what Chilton rediscovered and hunted down for him.
“I have something for you this time that will have you making an exception in this case.” Chilton said confidently, looking seedier than usual and too well pleased with life for anyone else’s good. Hannibal mused to himself that the buffoon looked more like a used car salesman than an accredited, globe trotting doctor of cryptozoology. Appearances were deceived though. Hannibal knew that intimately, keeping his mask of polite normalcy in place as Chilton signaled his lackeys to roll in a tank. As diversified as his menus were, his own personal choice of preferred meat was still considered more disturbing than adventurous.
As far as cages went, it was as ugly as it was bizarre, looking made entirely of thick glass, the large panels of which were held together in a frame of blackened iron that was rusting bright orange in spots. The box of glass looked like it opened up from the top with iron bar paneling circling around it, allowing limited access to the water‘s surface. It was essentially a very large, slapped together fish tank that could barely fit through Hannibal’s entrance, the top of it scraping up all of Hannibal’s doorframes in passing.
Beneath that bolted circumvented top, the tank was filled with water so filthy it was near opaque in clarity, the foul smelling salt water making Hannibal’s nose wrinkle with disgust and the man cringe as he watched the refuse slop all over his pristine tiled floors. Hannibal’s kitchen was quite large, even more well spaced than most retail restaurants, but the tank still took up the better part of the back wall, blocking access to the stairs that led up to the second landing.
So far, Hannibal was not impressed with Chilton’s offering. He would have to strip these floors now to get that odor of ruined salt, mold, and rot out of its grout. Hannibal’s sense of smell was better than most and right now, it was working overtime to give him a migraine and a sour stomach. He tried not to think about the lackey’s path through the rest of the house and his more than likely drenched hardwood floors. They would have brought this in through the back which meant that his showroom of a dining area was befouled as well.
“….So what do you think?” was asked by Chilton, making Hannibal realize he had missed the entire explanation for this olfactory abomination and desecration of his home.
“Apologies, Frederick, but I fear you will have to repeat yourself.” Hannibal said, resisting the urge to smother his nose in a dishtowel or disembowel Chilton. The choice between either temptation was a toss up at this point.
“Foul isn’t it?” Chilton grinned, nasty little man that he was, taking pleasure in other people’s discomfort. Hannibal began to seriously reevaluate the man’s worth to him. “Wait until you see it though.”
“Enough theatrics. I am beginning to lose my patience.” Hannibal warned, lowering his tone just enough to hint at the monster that resided inside of him. To him amusement, Chilton openly shuddered, trying to cover it and failing by waving Hannibal over to the tank. The cook was remiss to approach but curiosity won out over discomfort in the end.
“What is it?” Hannibal asked, trying to peer through the glass. Silt and other sediment of the organic variety made it nearly impossible though. He could barely make out the lump of something curled up in the middle, covering in floating bits of foulness. Hannibal wasn’t about to press his face up to the glass for a better look so he turned to Chilton for an explanation. The man gestured for a moment’s patience, pulling out a cattle prong from his coat. Reaching up carefully as to not make contact with the metal, he passed it through the iron bars to touch the water’s surface.
Reaction was immediate, the creature within slamming itself against the tempered glass in response. To Hannibal’s chagrin as he dodged a wave’s onslaught, its pained abrupt movements dumped more foulness onto the cook’s floors. Hannibal was able to make out a long scaled tail that was attached to a very human like torso. The merman’s face remained unseen though, his hair like a tangle of ragged seaweed that shrouded his head, obscuring it even as he flailed. The merman fell back to the bottom of the tank with an almost audible thud when Chilton turned off the current.
“So what do you think?” Chilton asked with the excitement of a man about to get what he always wanted. Hannibal was more than pleased to ruined that absurd notion.
“I am hardly impressed by a half dead merman.” Hannibal arched a brow at Chilton in passing, the cook falling back to the fresher smelling part of his kitchen.
“B-but….” Chilton stammered, following closely behind much to Hannibal‘s distaste.
“I will also remind you that merkind’s flesh is toxic for human consumption.” Hannibal continued, ignoring the other man’s protests. “I prefer my dinner guests to be alive after they eat my food. It‘s better for business that way.”
“That’s not entire true!” Chilton protested.
“That I don’t prefer live customers?” Hannibal said. Chilton looked less than appreciative about the cook’s dry humor.
“No, that mermaid’s or in this case, merman’s flesh is poisonous . There is more than a few legends that state that it can grant immortality.” Chilton was grasping for straws and they both knew it. Chilton was finally realizing that his golden ticket was actually a white elephant, and he wasn’t taking the discovery well as he tried to pawn it off in a vain attempt to get paid.
“Then feel free to cook it up for yourself. I suggest pairing it with a dry white wine. It should offset the taste of deadly toxins nicely. ” Hannibal shrugged, done with this entire conversation. He had been in such a good mood, experimenting with some new butter sauces, doing fascinating things with pearl onions and shallots, and even contemplating a new dessert made from angel’s feathers. Now his immaculate kitchen smelled like a toilet and the rest of the day would be wasted getting to know the working end of a bottle of bleach better.
“Do you know how dangerous this beast was to catch? How many men lost their lives to do so?!” Chilton tried for emotional blackmail, Hannibal almost feeling embarrassed for him at the clumsy attempt.
“No and no.” Hannibal answered bluntly as he glared down at the sauces that had broken and ruined themselves in his absence. He would have to add cleaning up to his to-do list as well. “And I do not care. I pay ridiculous amounts of money for services rendered, and you and your men are well aware of the risks. You can not expect interest or compensation when you have failed to produce anything I can work with. ”
“Well, think about the challenge then!” Chilton said, starting to sound desperate as he switched tactics since wounded pride and indignation wasn’t working for him. “You could be the first….”
Hannibal ignored the rest of Chilton’s fumbled pleading. Loathe as he was to admit it, the man had a point. Hannibal did so love a challenge, especially one that was culinary, his extensive mind already whirling with various cooking technique and spices that might negate the murderous flesh of the merman. Sighing, he waved Chilton into silence, the man‘s prattling starting to get on his last nerve.
“Fine. Leave it.” Hannibal glared at the tank. His tasks for today just kept mounting and none of them were enjoyable.
“And my invitation?” Chilton ventured, his tentative look hopeful. Credit had to be given where credit was due, Chilton was nothing if not a tenacious bastard.
“I will consider it.” Hannibal said, his glare making Chilton scuttle out of his sight, slamming the door behind him in his haste to escape. Hannibal took his time as he finished cleaning his counters, and pots and pans before returning to the cage that was more cesspit than fishbowl, the cook evaluating his options about it.
The word fishbowl sparked epiphany, Hannibal considering the tank with new eyes. It was built to be unbreakable and obviously not leak, but where was the filtration system for it? All fault lay with Chilton and his team for this mishap in oversight, the fools having basically filled a bowl with salt water with no means of cleansing itself after the fish was added, leaving the poor thing to choke on its own refuse and suffocate on recycled water stripped of its oxygen. Hannibal could only reason that the merman was still alive because the legends were true about his kind having both lungs and gills.
It took some time but eventually Hannibal assembled a series of tanks he used to keep more mundane fare such as live squids and lobsters fresh for the cooking pot. Woven between the bars at the top, tubing drained the foulness out of the tank and down his spare sink. Other piping pumped fresh salt water into it out from the other tanks, filtering and filling it before it was directed back in loop. It looked messy, complicated, and inelegant but there was nothing Hannibal could do about that right now. While the water cycled through, Hannibal kept himself busy cleaning his floors. By the time he was satisfied and not a trace of odor remained, he was greeted by a crystal clear view of the tank and its contents.
The merman lay at the bottom of the tank, his long tail curled tightly about him so Hannibal could only see scaled coils with some errant floating locks of dark hair sticking out and a bit of skin here and there. A cloudy film covered the merman‘s scales and fins making them look dull and unremarkable, their murky color being anything from a worn indigo blue to a tattered black. As Hannibal watched though, the artificial current produced from the makeshift filtration system was slowly removing the sickness, mucous bits of ick peeling off to float away like a flurry of plague snow.
Satisfied that merman was copasetic for the time being and might actually live until morning, Hannibal called it a day and went to bed.