SANF November 2008 : 102

Chapter 4: Animal, vegetable, criminal Foodie femme fatale Edie Brandt saves her boyfriend, David Tuckwall, from the hands of the veggie terrorist—but can she help rescue a cooked chef? BY ROBERT BERINGELA | ILLUSTRATIONS BY NATHAN FOX D avid Tuckwall’s Tendernob apartment was sparsely furnished with the barren residue of his bachelor life. The living room featured a bookshelf stacked with dog-eared novels, a hand-me- down coffee table, a worn La-Z-Boy for nighttime reading, and a thrift-store couch for afternoon naps. A halogen lamp stood in one corner. And Tuckwall lay on the hardwood floor, in a groggy state familiar to anyone who’s taken a gourd to the head. From this foggy worm’s-eye view, he fi rst noticed a gathering of dust bunnies underneath his couch. He’d meant to vacuum before his It Girl, Edie Brandt, owner of the heartwarming Teeny Panini café, arrived for their kiss-and-make-up dinner. What he noticed next was a stretch-limbed strangeling with the hair of Bozo the Clown and the body of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was propped in the recliner, a sneer on his face, a splintered butternut squash in his lap. In his concussed condition, it took Tuckwall a few beats to make sense of the picture: the menacing expression, the grass-stained trousers, the violent use of produce. LAST MONTH IN DEAD MEAT: Beleaguered food writer David Tuck- wall was beaten senseless with a butternut squash. 102 SAN FRANCISCO NOVEMBER 2008 FOODNOIR

Food Noir

Robert Beringela

Chapter 4: Animal, vegetable, criminal<br /> Foodie femme fatale Edie Brandt saves her boyfriend, David Tuckwall, from the hands of the veggie terrorist—but can she help rescue a cooked chef?<br /> David Tuckwall’s Tendernob apartment was sparsely furnished with the barren residue of his bachelor life. The living room featured a bookshelf stacked with dog-eared novels, a hand-medown coffee table, a worn La-Z-Boy for nighttime reading, and a thrift-store couch for afternoon naps. A halogen lamp stood in one corner.<br /> <br /> And Tuckwall lay on the hardwood floor, in a groggy state familiar to anyone who’s taken a gourd to the head.<br /> <br /> From this foggy worm’s-eye view, he fi rst noticed a gathering of dust bunnies underneath his couch. He’d meant to vacuum before his It Girl, Edie Brandt, owner of the heartwarming Teeny Panini café, arrived for their kiss-and-make-up dinner.<br /> What he noticed next was a stretch-limbed strangeling with the hair of Bozo the Clown and the body of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was propped in the recliner, a sneer on his face, a splintered butternut squash in his lap.<br /> <br /> In his concussed condition, it took Tuckwall a few beats to make sense of the picture: the menacing expression, the grass-stained trousers, the violent use of produce.<br /> <br /> There could be no doubt: Camped in Tuckwall’s favorite chair was the vegan fanatic behind the kidnapping and torture of Jock Rapini, San Francisco’s ill-fated celebrity chef.<br /> <br /> “Was it something I said?” Tuckwall mumbled. His head was spinning, his brain too blurry to register fear. His assailant’s sneer morphed into a scowl.<br /> <br /> “Today’s article, Mr. Tuckwall.” The voice was a rasp, like that of a heavy smoker or a man gone hoarse on too many picket lines.<br /> <br /> “Today’s what?” asked Tuckwall.<br /> <br /> He tried to sit up, only to discover that his hands and feet were bound behind him. He lay back on the fl oor, skull pounding, the stars in his eyes performing pirouettes.<br /> <br /> The redhead leaned forward, inspecting Tuckwall with a scrunched look of disgust, like a chef who’d found a cockroach in his kitchen.<br /> <br /> “Vicious lies. Fabrications.” Tuckwall closed his eyes. Into his clouded mind came the dawn of recognition: his front-page story on the latest twist in the case of Jock Rapini. It had run beneath a photo of the goose-feathered chef, with an account of his captor’s lunatic demands.<br /> <br /> “But the article,” Tuckwall bleated, “isn’t that what you wanted?” “ ‘Eco-terrorist!’ ‘Animal-rights extremist!’ ” The giant pounded the coffee table.<br /> <br /> “I...” “My letter, Mr. Tuckwall. What about my letter?” The 12-page screed of psychotic eco-rambling read like Rachel Carson channeling Ted Kaczynski.<br /> <br /> “It doesn’t work like that,” Tuckwall slurred. “Newspapers have only so much space.” The carotenoid titan cocked his head. Twilight spilling through the living room windows cast his neon hair in a ghoulish glow. Leaning over, he pressed his face so close that Tuckwall could almost taste his rancid, grassy breath.<br /> <br /> “ ‘UnaVegan,’ Mr. Tuckwall? Is that how it works?” Outside on Sutter Street, a car horn honked. Traffi c hummed its soothing evening soundtrack.<br /> <br /> Tuckwall recoiled. “You didn’t give a name,” he protested.<br /> “I’m evil’s adversary,” the giant hissed.<br /> <br /> Tuckwall knew he shouldn’t, but his mouth outran his better judgment. “I prefer Batman’s outfit,” he said.<br /> With a swiftness stunning for a man his size, the redhead stooped and snatched up Tuckwall like a sleeping toddler.<br /> <br /> Tuckwall tried to wriggle free, but his captor’s arms were like oak limbs come alive.<br /> “Don’t fight,” said the intruder. “You’ll like it on the farm.” In the commotion, neither man heard the footsteps in the hallway, the jangling of keys, or the metallic click-clack of the lock.<br /> <br /> “Is dinner ready?” called a woman’s voice.<br /> <br /> The apartment door swung open, and in walked Edie Brandt, in a brown cotton skirt and a flowered tank top, toting a bottle of gewürztraminer.<br /> <br /> “You said Vietnamese, so I went with white—” She stopped short. A frozen silence fell over the room. Edie’s shocked expression turned to puzzlement.<br /> “Al?” she asked, squinting.<br /> “Edie?” replied Alfie Falfa, squinting back.<br /> <br /> His arms went slack. Tuckwall fell heavily to the hardwood, and Alfie bolted for the door. Edie ran to the steps, then stopped short and watched him vanish down the spiral staircase.<br /> <br /> When she turned back to Tuckwall, he was looking up at her, too winded from his fall to pose the obvious question.<br /> <br /> Edie raised her hands, an exculpatory gesture. “College pal,” she said.<br /> <br /> ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY but ill-tempered in every other respect, Alfie Falfa’s VW Rabbit coughed up corn-oil fumes as its driver urged it eastward over the Bay Bridge.<br /> The sun had set. The light was gloomy. Hunched at the wheel, Alfie floored the pedal. The engine raced and his mind reeled, whirling in the wake of events gone wrong.<br /> <br /> In its angry origins, the scheme had seemed so simple: Grab a chef by the collar and the city by its throat. Parlay the publicity into enthusiastic coverage for his cause. The pure insanity of the plan was lost on Alfi e, and its failure provided yet more fuel to fire his fury. He’d last felt this enraged and disillusioned during his brief stint at UC Berkeley, where fellow campus “radicals” exposed themselves as fakers and bourgeois apologists, eager to chant slogans through a bullhorn but, in the end, unwilling to act.<br /> <br /> He’d met her then. Edie. A bright-eyed beauty who flitted about campus like an angel of justice in a tie-dyed dress. She’d inspired him at first, eating the right foods, fighting the right fights. But at heart, she was no different from the others. One evening at a café, over spirulina smoothies, he confessed to her his plans to liberate baboons from a campus laboratory. He hoped that she would join him. Instead, she’d looked at him in silence, then called the police.<br /> <br /> Now he faced the sour irony of encountering her again, 10 years later, in the dingy apartment of a fraudulent reporter. But should he have been surprised? It made sense, after all: a phony activist cavorting with a journalistic impostor, a poseur come to dine with a so-called food writer—two vile cogs in the killing machine.<br /> <br /> Beep. Beeep. Beeeeeeeeeeeep.<br /> <br /> Flying down the interstate through the East Bay, Alfie leaned on his horn in frustration. The bleak surroundings only irked him more. Spilling over the Dublin grade, he passed infuriating outposts of McDonald’s, Arby’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Then the coup de grâce, Righteous Burger—a fast-food wolf in sheep’s clothing, doing the devil’s work under a feel-good guise.<br /> <br /> “More than 300 million nurtured,” read the yellow-and-red sign, which boasted of the provenance of each ground patty. All the meat was Mercy Beef, raised at Mercer Brothers Pastures, an organic ranch just south of Stockton that justified its genocidal practice by labeling its product “humane.” Humane! Did the world’s hypocrisy know no bounds? What did it matter if the cows were coddled, fed organic crops, and granted six weeks’ vacation and 401(k)s? Such superficial kindness was nothing but a prelude to a bloody ride down a conveyor belt.<br /> <br /> Once a niche business, Mercy Beef had carved its way into the mainstream. Supermarkets sold it. So did fast-food chains, gourmet butchers, and hipster restaurants run by blowhards like Jock Rapini.<br /> <br /> On the night Alfie seized him, the desperate chef had even blurted out the Mercer name. “It was Bo Mercer who put you up to this,” he cried, as Alfie latched the door of his metal cell.<br /> <br /> In the heat of the moment, Alfi e had ignored the question. Nor was he in the mood to ponder it now, as he gunned his battered car over the Altamont Pass, his long-simmering resentments roiling toward a murderous rage.<br /> <br /> “HE SEEMED LIKE A NICE ENOUGH GUY AT FIRST,” said Edie Brandt. “You know, well-intentioned— a real activist. But weren’t we all back then?” They were sitting on the weathered couch in Tuckwall’s apartment, eating catfi sh saagwala from their favorite Pakistani joint. Tuckwall had hoped to wow Edie with his own fish specialty, but in the wake of his butternut beating, he was in no condition to cook.<br /> <br /> He looked at Edie, her blue eyes glinting, his heart galloping.<br /> <br /> “Did he ever try anything with you?” he asked, immediately regretting the ham-fisted question.<br /> <br /> Edie cut him some slack. “Nah,” she said. “A guy like that, he probably prefers to spore.” Tuckwall grinned. Her offbeat humor was one of many lures that had hooked him from day one.<br /> <br /> The sweet face and the fi gure didn’t hurt, either. Nor did the compassion—or the culinary skills.<br /> “How are you feeling, anyway?” Edie asked. She peeled back the ice pack pressed to Tuckwall’s forehead.<br /> <br /> “Not bad for a guy who was almost gourd to death,” said Tuckwall.<br /> “I guess you really pissed him off.” “Me and everyone else.” They were quiet for a moment.<br /> <br /> “It was a good story,” Edie said. “You wrote it well.” “I’ve already submitted it to the Pulitzer board.” “Right, I forgot,” Edie frowned. “The man who can’t take compliments. Uncomfortable with praise.<br /> <br /> Unworthy of kindness.” Tuckwall squirmed. It was her constant complaint—words to be played back later, like a black-box recording, when he sifted through the wreckage of their relationship. She was tired of the put-on, and he couldn’t blame her. Tuckwall was tired of it, too.<br /> <br /> “I dunno, David,” Edie continued. “I was just glad to see they gave you a real assignment. It’s a wacky case, I know. But the things behind it matter. They’re big questions. It’s stuff I care about. Stuff you should care about.” She locked his eyes with hers. He took her hands, caressed them.<br /> <br /> gThe cops will be here any minute,h Edie said.<br /> <br /> gYou only called them an hour ago.h gAn hourfs a long time.h gEdie,h Tuckwall said, gthis is San Francisco.h He leaned forward, pressed his lips against hers, and was pleased to discover that she didnft resist.<br /> <br /> A FULL MOON HUNG OVER THE CENTRAL VALLEY as Alfi e rolled his Rabbit down a rutted dirt road that he knew well enough to drive without headlights. When he came to the barn, he fi shtailed to a stop. His upper lip was twitching. His brow was damp, despite the cool night air.<br /> <br /> gEnough is enough,h he muttered. He slid from his car and popped the hatchbacked trunk. It was nearly midnight. Not that Jock Rapini knew it, cooped up in his darkened cage. Over the course of his captivity, hefd measured time by cornmeal force-feedings. By his account, they took place every morning shortly after sunrise.but he couldnft say how many there had been.<br /> <br /> But why this now.the rumbling of the old car, the stomping of familiar footsteps? He could hear them on the gravel, moving suddenly with disconcerting speed.<br /> <br /> The barn door was fl ung open. Through it rushed the moonlight, then the madman. Rapini inchwormed toward the back of the cage. He stole a fearful glance at his captor, who unlatched the cage and poked his frightful head inside it. His face glowed like a jack-of-lantern.<br /> <br /> gSorry, chef,h he rasped. gBut no more Mr. Nice Guy.h In his raised right hand was a butcherfs knife.<br /> <br /> Please Rapini cried.though, muffl ed through the gag, it came forth as Phuffth. Quiet, Alfie Falfa whispered. This wont take long.From the bowels of the chefs being came a plaintive whelp. Not quite a porcine squeal or a bovine bleat, but pained and plangent. The primal wail was a distant cry from his well-trained star-chef braggadocio.<br /> <br /> The sound unsettled Alfie to his core. Enough he shouted.<br /> <br /> His voice was ripe with rage. He looked at Rapini. The chef fs eyes were agape with fear and futile protest, like a veal calf torn from its motherfs teat. The cries carried on, modulating from a grating mewl to a sharp-edged whinny to a lone wolfs howl.<br /> <br /> Alfie cocked his head. The sounds sent his memories tumbling back to childhood. He heard echoes of a mournful barnyard symphony, filled with the desperate squawks and scrambles of decapitated chickens, the close-to-human screams of a plow horse breaking down over a fractured leg. Channeled through the cries of the desperate chef, the noises triggered alarm bells in Alfies head, like an SOS from all the planetfs helpless victims.<br /> <br /> Stop! he bellowed, cupping his hands over his ears. With an oversize boot, he kicked Rapini in the solar plexus. The wailing ceased. Alfie pressed his knees to the chefs chest.<br /> <br /> OK! All right! Youre spared.for now, he spat, spraying spittle on his captive.He cut the gag from Rapinis mouth. You want to live? Tell me everything you know about Mercy Beef.<br />

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