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The Kitchen King

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Introductions are important. They’re more than simply ice breakers. They’re, quite literally, first impressions, and a strong introduction ensures you made a good one. To not introduce oneself properly is the mark of a weak man. Alan named his series after an introduction, one that put himself first and held his name in higher importance than his guest’s.

The first time he meets Dan, he’s blinded by how in sync they are. Tabloid. Antiperspirant. Opinions on car manufacturers. To top it off, Dan’s handshake is a strong one, firm and confident, the kind of handshake given by a man who knows what he wants and gets it.

When Alan goes back for round two, Dan trumps his last performance with a clever slide of a business card into Alan’s palm. (It’s thick cardstock with embossed lettering, matte finish. If Alan needed business cards, they’d look exactly like these.)

Dan knows who Alan is, too, and he’s not afraid to say it like other people are. Alan isn’t sure if it’s because they’re starstruck or merely being polite by not bothering him for autographs and the like, but not a lot of people brave coming up to him these days. It’s a relief, in a way.

When he walks Dan across the forecourt to his Lexus, Dan whips a notebook from his pocket and leans against the bonnet to scribble his digits onto it.

“Wouldn’t want you getting the receptionist,” Dan says, folding the page and passing it Alan. “Alan Partridge doesn’t bother with minions.”

Alan laughs and pockets the number, watching Dan slip stylishly into the driver’s seat. Dan’s driving gloves are the same as his, only a shade darker. “No?”

Dan shakes his head, tightening the glove’s wrist straps. “No. He comes straight to the hand of the king.” He shakes Alan’s hand again through the window before sliding his key into the ignition. It’s as masterful as before, and Alan finds himself not wanting to let go. “Call me when you want to talk kitchens.”

“I will,” Alan says, watching Dan drive out onto the slip road, shielding his eyes from the sun glinting off the Lexus’ waxed finish.

*

He keys Dan’s number into the caravan’s landline, adding the words ‘Kitchen King’ in brackets afterwards in case he forgets, though he’s not sure he could forget Dan in a hurry.

His eyes are drawn to the foldable storage cabinet under the banquette. Nobody knows it’s there or what’s inside, not even Sonja, and he’s seen her going through his cupboards when she thinks he isn’t looking.

Lynn isn’t scheduled for a while, and Sonja’s at the coffeeshop until midday. He stretches his arms above his head, then clicks his knuckles one by one, looking at the clock. A free hour. His to do with as he pleases. All he needs to do is lock the door and draw the curtains and he can sift through the cabinet’s bounty.

He had a similar ritual at the travel tavern when he had free time. That drawer—that somehow everyone seemed to know about—held a tenth of what this one did.

The humble corner shop Alan drives to for his dirty magazines isn’t far from here. The little Indian fella who runs it is and polite and nods at Alan in understanding when he scans them through. He’ll keep Alan’s secret, because even though he’s never said it aloud, he clearly knows who his customer is and the kind of scandal he’d have on his hands if his… proclivities ever got out to the press.

But, no. The builders are making a right noise out there, and it’s not like he can ask them to stop doing their jobs so he can flick through glossy pages in peace. Instead, he picks up Dan’s business card from beside the phone and runs his thumb over the embossed lettering of his name.

Dan Moody.

Dan Moody, the kitchen king. (It doesn’t say that, but the design implies it.)

It really is an impressive business card.

*

Dan calls again to give Alan the lowdown on the Bravery Awards. Alan takes notes for his brief speech about the winner and doodles an amputated hand in the margin once the conversation lightens.

Out of nowhere, Dan asks, “What’re you wearing?”

Heat builds beneath Alan’s polo neck. He’s unsure how to answer that.

“Um.” The syllabic sound wavers, comes out too high, so he clears his throat and finds the humour in in. “I could ask you the same question.” He could, if he wants to sound like a dirty old man chatting up a teenager through that gap in the fence outside the girls’ school on Newmarket Road.

“What am I wearing?” Dan replies, cool as the proverbial cucumber. “The usual. Two-piece, with a tie that says: talk to me.” It’s hard to avoid imagining what that looks like, though Alan would talk to Dan whether his tie asked him to or not.

“I’m in casualwear,” Alan says, looking down at it and noticing some crumbs from his lunch caught in the folds. He sweeps them away with his fingers.

“To the awards?” Dan asks, sounding surprised. “Don’t you think that might send out the wrong message?”

“Oh, the awards?” Of course. Of course he was asking what he was wearing to the awards.

Scratching the dampened fabric at his nape, he itemises his planned outfit while Dan makes approving noises at the other end of the line.

*

Dan’s driveway holds three cars: a people-carrier, the Lexus, and a curvy Vauxhall hatchback that’s clearly his wife’s. He doesn’t remember her name, but that doesn’t matter; he’s not here to see her.

The doorbell’s cheerful tune lessens the sting Alan feels over Dan clearly making more flogging kitchens than he does flogging great telly sprinkled with the odd name drop, though chance would be a fine thing these days.

He’s taking his time answering, but that’s par for the course with such a big house—takes longer to walk to the front door.

The Lexus’s roomy boot looks like it could easily handle a heavy load of really manly things, the kind a man who refers to himself as a king would have. Fishing tackle and apparel. A pair of shotguns with a glossy, hazelnut finish. A crate for a well-behaved hunting dog with a strong name. Brutus, perhaps. Or Buck.

As Alan waits on the doorstep, tapping his thighs, an image comes to mind of Dan in head-to-toe, double-breasted tweed complete with gingham shirt. A light breeze ruffles Dan’s hair as he raises his shotgun and tracks the arc of a clay pigeon. Bang! Right on target.

Dan answers the door with his pastel pink shirt open almost to his navel, and only someone safely secure in his sexuality could get away with that.

*

On balance, it’s all Ceri’s fault, if that was her name. She’s the initiator, the temptress, the rabbit who tempts the well-trained dog. Well, this dog sees the hold she has on Dan, the choke chain she’s got wrapped around his throat. Dan’s too mesmerised by his succubus to see what she’s doing to him. He’s no king. He’s a jester.

He should’ve seen it the moment he walked into their big house. The décor screamed femininity wherever you looked, from the flowers in vases to the woman’s magazines laid out on display, no doubt full of crap about women’s problems and sanitary products.

Magazines… His are under him now, tucked away in their frosted plastic container. If he plucks any of them at random, he fears he’ll see Ceri’s face superimposed over the models. Or worse, Dan’s.

Dan was supposed to be the kitchen king, the smooth-talker, the impeccably dressed driver commanding his vehicle and gripping his steering wheel with slip-proof string-back gloves. Now all Alan can think about is the way he gripped those granite work surfaces as Ceri spread her legs and shoved her husband to his knees, forcing his head down to suck the faux penis strapped to her.

It was pathetic that a man like Dan would pander to the likes of her. It was all wrong, all flipped on its head.

If the roles were reversed, would he have stayed?

It must be the thought of the magazines that has someone popping up to say hello. Alan reaches for them with a sigh.