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Special Ingredient

A Short Story by | John Del Rio

He sat in the foyer waiting; and he was nervous. Penrose always made him nervous. He had been working for him for several years now; but he was always nervous when he met with his boss. 

It didn’t make much sense to him because Penrose was a slight man; maybe 5 ft. 6 in his stocking feet, while he himself was 8 inches taller and outweighed the boss by 4 stone. He knew that Penrose had spent several years in the mines back in the old country and many years building his “enterprise” so that he controlled the Western half of the city.

His name was Teague and he also came from the old country; not far from where his boss had worked the mines. He was a soldier and worked as a troubleshooter for the “enterprise”. His time in the great war had left him with scars; both mental and physical, and had also honed skills that he used occasionally in his work.

He sat quietly waiting for Penrose to call him in to his study. He was good at being quiet. One of the tactics he used in his “collections” was simply to wait quietly while the shopkeeper got their payment together. He rarely had to get physical; but had no qualms about using force to get the job done.

The door to the study opened and an older lady exited and walked silently past him and left through the front door. It was strange really: the lady literally made no sound when she walked from the study, then down the hall and out the front door. It was kind of creepy actually.

“Come in Jowan” his boss called from inside the study. Teague entered and found Penrose sitting behind a gargantuan desk. The desk was more than a century old; made of teak and ivory, a beautiful thing really. 

Everyone called him Teague; which was his surname, but his boss always called him by his given name, Jowan. It was funny; even his mam called him Teague.

Spread across the front of the desk were several Cornish desserts. Saffron cake, scones, and cream tea which was basically a scone cut in half with jam and clotted cream. It all looked and smelled delicious. Off to the side there was even a Stargazy pie; which was out of place because it wasn’t a dessert, it was pilchards, eggs and potatoes covered in a pastry crust and baked. Pilchards were basically Cornish sardines. And in true Cornish tradition, the pilchards heads were poking out of the crust all the way around the pie. But hey; at least it wasn’t Haggis.

“What’s going on here Mr. Penrose?” he asked.

The shorter man handed him a fork and said simply “Eat!” It was not a request. So Teague took the fork from his boss and started to sample each of the dishes spread out across the massive desk. At least he set out to merely sample each of the dishes; but once he took a bite, he found himself taking another, and another, and yet another. This process started on one end of the desk with the saffron cake, and continued across the expanse of his boss’s desk. His journey into Cornish deliciousness didn’t end till he had scraped the last of the crust from the Stargazy Pie.

He set the fork down and looked at his employer with an unspoken question in his eyes.

“No lad”, he was told; “there is no more”. His boss continued with the question “Likun diddy?”

His response was “that’s Bleddy splann!” he could see the shorter mans’ displeasure at that type of language; so he offered “Beg pardon Mr. Penrose, but that was all incredible.” He continued with “even better than my Mam could do on her best day, God bless her!”

“This was all Rowena’s work,” the former miner told him. “And it has something to do with what I need you to do for me.”

“Whatever you need Mr Penrose.” he told the shorter man.

His boss explained that the older, silent lady had opened a Cornish eatery several months back: Teague had seen it. He knew that her shoppe specialized in desserts but also had a menu featuring many Cornish dishes. He told Penrose “I’ve been there several times making collections and there is always a long queue in front of her place”. “Honestly Mr. Penrose; I keep meaning to try her food, but have never been able to make the time.”

Mr. Penrose told him “Rowena came to me to report that there has been a theft at her establishment”. Teague looked confused for a moment before asking “what’s that to do with us Mr. Penrose? We’re not the Coppers”. His boss explained : “normally I’d agree with you lad, but Rowena pointed out that she pays for protection, and we failed to protect her.” 

“You know Mr. Penrose; I never thought of that.” Teague continued with “I mean we do tell the shopkeepers and what not that they are paying for protection; and they pay, so I guess that means we got to do something about it.”

His boss told him, “that’s what I like about you Jowan; you’re not Just a rough and tumble sort. You’re a man with a brain; one that actually uses his brain before his fists, though I’ve seen you using your fists and you are a real Terror when that happens.” “So go look into this for me lad.”

“Of course Mr. Penrose.” Teague told his boss, and then he said his good byes as he had a job to do.

The older silent lady’s shoppe was named simply “The Cornish”. She specialized in dishes from the old country and her eatery was very popular, even though it had only been open for several months.

He met with Rowena, the owner; the silent lady and had a tour of her shoppe that ended in her kitchen.

Everything was spotless and gleaming in her kitchen. He saw several dishes that he recognized from his boss’s desk sitting on a sideboard near the rear of her kitchen. She saw Teague eyeing her wares and so she handed him a fork and said “Have a taste then, I can see that you want to.”

Teague took the offered three tined silver fork and took a bite from a piece of saffron cake that was similar in appearance to what he had eaten in Mr. Penrose’s study. He then took a single bite of several other dishes that were there on the sideboard. They were all good; but not Bleddy Splann.

He put the fork down and turned to look at Rowena. “Well”, she asked? Teague told her, “well they are all very nice; good as my Mam could do on her best day; but to be honest”. He was cut off by the older lady: “not as good as the others; am I right?”

He nodded his head in the affirmative and before he could offer any other thought, she told him “that’s because it’s missing my special ingredient.”

She looked him in the eye like she was waiting for a question; so he said, “and what would that be exactly? Something like Mexican vanilla or Truffle Oil?”

“Pixie Dust” she exclaimed.

“Beg Pardon?” he asked. “Did you say Pixie Dust?”

“Aye Lad” Rowena told him.

“Are you putting me on” he asked?

“Let me show you” Rowena said and then led him through the kitchen and then down a steep stairway at the back of the kitchen. They walked down the steep stairway for several minutes. He reckoned that they had to be 25 to 30 feet below the shoppe before they came to a landing and a smallish door. The door was a little more than a meter in height but was a little wider than that. It was elaborately carved and actually appeared to be made from a living tree. When he ran his fingers over it; he could have sworn that the wood was warmer than he was.

She opened the door and an aroma wafted out that made him feel like he had when he was a little boy; waking up on Christmas day. Rowena watched his reaction and gave a dreamy smile. “Makes you feel like home don’t it?” Teague returned her smile with his own and said “it surely does.”

He bent down to look past the door, expecting to see maybe some shelves or storage space. Instead what he saw reminded him of his grandfathers cottage in the woods back in the old country. Beyond the door was a small one room dwelling with furnishings that were roughly a third of normal size. There was a comfy looking bed and even what appeared to be an ice box that would use ice cubes instead of blocks of ice to keep things cold.

He studied the little studio apartment and noticed an intricate cross stitch piece; no more than five by ten centimeters, above a little table in a kitchen nook. The cross stitch looked like one that was in his Mam’s kitchen and it read Home Sweet Home.

He stood up from his examination of the tiny room and turned to Rowena. “I didn’t know what to expect when you told me your special ingredient was Pixie Dust”. Teague continued; “I really thought you were putting me on, and I thought maybe there would be some empty shelves down here.” Rowena had a slight grin on her creased face; and asked him “now what do you think?”

Teague considered a moment and then said “Mr. Penrose told me you reported a theft: I mean I wasn’t expecting Pixie Dust, but if it was yours, and someone took it, well that’s a theft” He stopped a moment to consider the little room once more; then he told Rowena, “I’m thinking now that it looks like a kidnapping” Teague continued “did someone take your Fairy?”

Rowena looked a bit startled and told him quickly “don’t let him hear you call him a Fairy. He’s a Pixie sure enough and you know those two Fae folk do not get along.”

“Now I don’t know how they pulled it off, but I have an idea about who may have done it.”

Teague asked her “and who might that be?”

Rowena paused for a moment; almost like she was doing it for dramatic effect and then said “the Italians.”

Teague looked confused and a moment later Rowena said “I know it might be confusing; but hear me out”. She continued “there is a newer Italian place on the South Side and a day or two after Pecht went missing; there were lines around the block to eat there.”

Teague asked her “What’s a Pecht?”

Rowena answered “well that’s my Pixie’s name.”

“Well I guess it’s time then” Teague spoke softly. 

Rowena asked him “time for what?”

Teague’s response: “time to see a man about a Pixie.”

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