Chef walked by her side silent, enjoying the pollution-flavored air of the city and the feel of her arm encircling his. A thin trail of sweat trickled down his back, despite that it was nowhere near as hot outside as it had been weeks earlier. Autumn was on its way, but the heat was still unbearable during the day.
“I don’t want to just work at a restaurant, I want to own a restaurant. Nothing fancy, but somewhere I can experiment with food, where I can tell people ‘hey, sit down, I’ve got just the thing for you. You’re going to love it.’ and they do.” Chef’s eyes twinkled in the evening light. He quieted himself, not wanting to ramble about it, as he had many times before.
“Wow, you sure think a lot of your food, don’t you?”
“You liked it,” Chef said, nudging Amberly gently in the ribs.
“What, your French toast? It was okay, I guess.”
“You cried when you took the first bite.”
“Tears of relief, I guess.”
She couldn’t have slapped him harder, but he smiled at her through it. Chef didn’t reply, he didn’t want to chase off the most beautiful woman that had ever given him the time of day. Instead, he watched cars pass on the street, paying little attention to anything. People on their cell phones bustled by, paying them no heed.
Amberly pulled her arm gently from around Chef’s, and he despaired. Then felt a kiss on his cheek.
“Your French toast was delicious, Chef. I loved it.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at her, trying to read in her face how sincere she was. He couldn’t tell. In spite of the hurt she’d caused, his spirits were lifted by the compliment. They walked on in silence a few minutes, Amberly’s arm securely wrapped around Chef’s once more.
As they passed another of a thousand garbage-strewn, piss-stinking alleyways, an arm reached out and grabbed Amberly, pulling her away from him. She screamed, but was silenced. Chef could only see her wide eyes rolling, and a hand clamped over her mouth before both disappeared down the alley. He could hear the clatter of aluminum garbage cans being knocked over in the struggle.
“No!” Chef shouted, and dashed into the darkness. A small part of his brain, the part that tells you that the stove is hot, told him that it would be his own fault if he ended the night with a knife in his guts. The rest of his brain ignored it, some parts opting to ridicule it and call it names.
“Stop,” a voice commanded from the dark. Chef’s eyes slowly adjusted, only barely able to make out the outline of the assailant. The glint of steel flashed, and was held steady, pressing into Amberly’s neck, but not cutting it. “I only want your money. Give it to me, and you both can go free, but if you try anything, this won’t be the first piece of ass I’ve cut.” Amberly stopped struggling, the whites of her eyes widened.
“This isn’t a problem,” Chef said. He held both of his hands out, with his palms toward the man. “I’m going to reach for my wallet and put it on the ground.”
“Don’t fucking tell me, just do it.”
Chef nodded, reached into his pocket slowly. He retrieved his wallet and dropped it to the ground. “Please, release my girlfriend, and I’ll forget this ever happened.”
“Kick it over to me.”
The knife was removed from Amberly’s throat, and the assailant shoved her toward Chef. “Now get the fuck out of here!”
Amberly fell into Chef’s arms. She trembled, pulling closer to Chef and babbling incoherently through her sobs. He held her in his powerfully muscled arms. His eyes, though, never left the attacker.
They stepped, slowly, out of the alleyway. Chef could see the attacker bend and pick up his wallet and look him in the eye. Teeth appeared, gleaming victory, mocking the assailant’s most recent prey.
“I’m going to be right back,” Chef whispered. He kissed Amberly’s forehead and released her. “Stay here.”
Before the assailant could stand, Chef dashed back into the darkness. He heard a shouted curse as if it were muffled, the only clear sound was the beating of his own heart, hammering like a war drum. Still running, he drew back his leg and threw it forward, aimed at the shadowed man’s chin. It connected with a sharp crack, and the man was thrown back into a pile of loosely bound garbage bags. The man didn’t move, but Chef pressed forward.
“You don’t ever,” Chef snarled, “get to do that again.” Before he knew it, an aluminum trash bin was in his hands, being raised above his head. Small parts of his brain screamed at him to stop. The rest of his brain urged him to stop as well, but knew he couldn’t. Chef’s reason had left him, and could only watch horrified as the trash can clanged against the assailant’s head and body again and again, sending blood flying everywhere.
Chef stopped beating the corpse and dropped the trash can to his side. He fell to his knees and sobbed. He stared at the mess in front of the dumpster, still not comprehending his own actions. “Why did you have to do this? Why,” he asked, but the dead man didn’t answer.
Amberly’s arms encircled his shoulders tentatively. She knelt beside a ruptured trash bag and held him close to her. He could do nothing but shake and wail into her shoulder while he faced what he had just done.
Sirens blared in the distance, getting louder.
“You called me your girlfriend,” She realized.
She received no reply from the man in her arms.