To Eat The World

The most ambitious and entertaining thriller yet from Gary J Byrnes

Everyone must die during dessert. Can Sophie save New York and the world?

In the dying days of World War Two, Nazi rocket scientists were spirited to America to give the United States a strategic edge in the atomic arms race. Some of the Nazis built a secret empire in New York, founded on looted art and gold.

Fast forward to today. Emboldened by the rise of right-wingers and the broken economy, the Nazis plan to take over the Presidency, destroy Wall Street and enslave the world, launching their coup at a King Louis XVI-themed art banquet. Sophie, a Manhattan chef, is asked to cook for the President at the feast. Her ex-lover, art expert Jacob, will be served as the main course.

A sexy, thrilling tale of great food, classic art and the meaning of beauty, love and life.


by Gary J Byrnes

That feeling, that good feeling at the end of a busy, smooth service. Uneventful but for the trainee chef dropping his spectacles into the pot of boiling water and the customer who didn’t want to pay for his steak. Sophie put her hand into the water to retrieve the glasses without thinking. ‘All the nerves in your hands will become numb over time. And get a cord for the spectacles, yeah?’ Steak guy said he didn't like it. ‘He should’ve realised that before he ate the whole damned thing. He even licked the T-bone clean! Now tell him that we’ve got police officers on the premises and I can get them to sort it out for us.’ So he paid and apologised. It reminded her of the time the diner complained that her Vichyssoise was simply freezing. This kind of stuff happens every single day. Part of the reason she loved the job. It was all about meeting the key primal need for food, which comes even before sex and shelter in terms of daily importance.

Her dad, who brought his French culinary skills over during the War, always impressed on young Sophie the importance of food as a business. People can put off buying a new car or a coat. They can never put off eating lunch and dinner. And, in the end, hunger will make them kill for food.

So just some desserts going out, then a gushing sliced thumb, ‘You using my Global knife again, Jimmy? So don’t. Back in my knife bag before you get the first aid kit. And never cut towards yourself. Really’. Definitely a first generation cook. The busboys fiddling with the fancy coffees, the waiters counting out and divvying up the tips, the kitchen staff eating the family meal at the table by the kitchen, a hot Thai curry tonight, or drinking Peroni beer from coffee cups or smoking cigarettes or grass joints out in the back alley by the stinking trash and the sodium street lamps and the fat rats and the pure, clean night air.

Sophie pointedly ignored the drug and alcohol abuse that went on among the staff. It was defined by economic class, from the crack-smoking dishwashers to the pot-smoking busboys to the alcoholic waiters to the coke-snorting managers. It came with the territory. When you go out to a restaurant on a quiet night, you will likely deal with a staff that’s collectively off its face. Busier nights are better. Less boredom, less time to be filled with narcotics.

‘Table four sends their compliments, boss,’ says Ramon, a good waiter, union rep.

‘Four? Okay, thanks,’ she muttered. Odd. And he hasn't been out for his smoke with the help yet. Something’s up.

She washed her hands, slapped some cold water on the back of her neck, dried off. Then she carefully applied some lipstick, poured a glass of house red, a decent Californian Pinot Noir - Ingrid’s - good berry and chocolate tingles. And so, to meet her audience.

The restaurant was still full of customers but calmer now, all baked New York cheesecake, Colombian coffee and French brandy. The congressman spotted her and stood, grinning broadly. That spark in his eye, that curious, irresistible molecular reaction in her, like strawberries meeting balsamic vinegar. How did it happen, the two of them? He loved his food and the restaurant was near his campaign office. Was that it? Was that what brought people together, the coincidence of the mundane? No. Her food was definitely not mundane. That’s why her stake in Oral Pleasures was worth at least a million, so the accountant said. She glanced at the couples sharing desserts with single, long-stemmed spoons. Eight out of ten would certainly get in the neighbourhood of sex tonight, the condom machines in the bathrooms proved that. The minds would be willing, the bodies less so. Have more sex, then you won’t get so fat. One hundred and four covers, two seatings per night. Sometimes three. Hundred bucks a head. Do the math. Turnover last year: eight million. Surely this was something to be proud of?

So why the unease, the slithering emptiness?

Sophie’s typical day: Lie in bed awake until the alarm bings at 7.30. Green tea and salty olives and French cigarettes on the terrace, feed the dog, the Bijon Frise in her little house outside on the balcony (she rarely gets in the apartment), morning noises and smells, honking cabs and muffled shouts and the aromas of toasting bagels and street coffee drifting up from Bleecker Street below. The Village. The pulsing heart of Bohemian New York. Nigella sniffs the air, cocks an ear. Beautiful. Okay, she gets inside when Sophie's home. Shower. More tea, more smoke. Set up Nigella’s feeder, top-up her water. Then stroll up to West 4th St, catch the E up to 50th Street or, more often than not, walk, walk fast. Impossible to do that now without thinking back to that day, that crazy rush uptown with the bewildered thousands on The Day The Planes Came.

In the restaurant by 9.30, checking that the night cleaners had done a perfect job. Oversee the prep for lunch and dinner and the deli counter. How many potatoes peeled and diced? How much pesto today? Ten gallons, ten! It also sells by the half-pint to take away out front, nice little side earner. Sophie helps out a little during lunch service, but doesn't run the show. Her assistant, Carl, a little rough around the edges but talented and getting better, he manages lunch. She monitors, rolls her sleeves up when required, say when a tour bus with thirty jaded Japanese tourists turns up unannounced, all facemasks and Nikons. This happens. It's the pesto and the Facebook page.

Split shift. The afternoon is all about the accounts, with Wang, who runs the back office for her. Numbers, account balancing, debtor and creditor management, payroll, taxes. The dullest but most important part of the restaurant business. Sophie enjoyed it. As much as cooking even.

This was why she was so successful, why she was sometimes hard to live with. She cared passionately about the little details, wouldn't let stuff slide. When things were in a smooth groove, she'd have some time to work with Lucy, the young marketing graduate who looked after the ads, the coupon deals so-loved by the rich, the public relations, the website. Green tea and cigarettes and a bowl of fresh pasta with butter and black pepper at six. Maybe a few prawns fried in olive oil on top.

On sticky summer days, she would sneak up to the rooftop herb garden and sunbathe naked for an hour. This made her feel like she was being naughty, a feeling she relished. Of such tiny revolutions are interesting lives made.

5pm. Send a busboy out for another pack of Marlboro Gold, then sleeves up and dinner service. Four manic hours, wind down, maybe sit with some guests for a while, depending on who's in: movie star, politician, fashion designer, or anyone old rich. Sip a glass of wine. Maybe another. Pass the baton to her business partner Rod, the general manager and maitre d’, the perfect front of house man, who was rich (old money, very old), interesting and had the connections that mattered in business. Cab back to Greenwich Village. Balcony. Cigarette. Shower. Cigarette. Bed, to lie there, stare at the cracks in the ceiling, process the day. It seems like her eyes just slow-blink and she's awake again, waiting on the alarm.

‘Sophie!’ called Congressman Sam Walsh, the third most powerful man in American politics.

‘Mr Speaker. Enjoy your meal?’

‘Did you get my compliments?’

‘You normally do it in kind. What's up?’

‘Later, honey. Don't bust my balls, okay?’

That vague edge of menace to his syrupy voice, not strong enough to put a finger on, just the subtle ring that made you do what you were told. The congressman was not a super-wise man, not especially charismatic, so go figure how he became so powerful. Family. Tradition. Wealth. Connections. No real ability, yet just two heartbeats from being the most powerful man in the world. Sophie felt this enigma from the beginning, chose to ignore it. And here she was, his piece on the side when he was up from Washington, typically at weekends. No doubt he had a woman, maybe more than one, down there too. She often wondered whether he’d make a good president, wondered if she’d get to see the Oval Office.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said then. ‘It’s all this war talk.’

He embraced her and kissed her cheek wetly, caused her glass to lose a drop or two of red, which trickled down her grubby whites. Then he turned to his party. Sophie knew them all, especially the congressman's permanent detective escort, Danny O'Brien, a decent Irish-American cop from Woodside, over in Queens. Those wet lips proposed a toast to the best chef in New York City.

A wild-eyed man eased off the bar stool.

They sat and talked and spooned dessert and drank and then the guy showed up at the table. He wanted to keep both fifties. Everything slowed down as the congressman’s security got to their feet and reached inside their jackets. The congressman grabbed a wine bottle by the neck. Sophie's crazy alarm went off as the guy loomed over her. He looked familiar, somehow. But how could a guy like this be familiar, with his shining blue eyes, his shaved head and his tattoos? The street, he's off the street.

‘This is for you, sir,’ he said in a strong voice, more of a bellow, as he thrust a little parcel towards the congressman. Sophie thought that it looked like a lover’s gift, wrapped nicely in golden paper with a white bow. Maybe a pearl necklace inside.

The background buzz of slurred conversation stalled, died.

One of the other plainclothes cops grabbed the guy from behind while Danny snatched the parcel from his outstretched hand. A tableful of drinks went flying crashing. Sophie instantly calculated the replacement cost. Bastard.

The package fell apart, exposed its contents. The congressman saw the flash of gold, remembered, knew. It has to be a real surprise.

End of extract.