If you missed part 1, just read the the previous post! 🙂
McTavish and I were having a…discussion, let’s call it…about Hawking radiation one morning. I told him he couldn’t use the energy of quantized states since that would treat black body radiation particles too much like an element, which wouldn’t corroborate with the theory that negative particles would cause the eventual collapse of a small black hole when enough of them fall into it. How this man ever got a job at UC San Diego was beyond me, and I may have insinuated as much. Things were a little tense, so I went home and baked, since baking was the one activity that relaxed me. Focusing on the details that went into each creation was as good as meditating; better, in fact, because I could eat it afterwards.
Surveying what I had in my kitchen, I decided to whip up a pomegranate meringue topped with sanding sugar and a ganache sculpture that looked like an armature of a black hole “skeleton,” if one could see a black hole, and if black holes had skeletons.
Normally, I’d slip into zen mode right away, but I was still annoyed by the squabble with my boss. While I was gathering the ingredients and separating the yolks from the whites, I ran my conversation with McT-Rex over and over in my mind, getting angrier and angrier. I whipped the meringue with such vigor that I almost made it weep, literally and figuratively. So much for thinking baking would relax me.
But, by the time I tempered the chocolate, my own temper simmered down. I drizzled the chocolaty goodness following the lines of a drawn grid that I’d placed under the silicon mat. As the chocolate started to harden, I draped the mat over the bottom of a brotform that I use for bread-making, then over a chinois sieve to achieve the conical shape that a black hole was normally depicted as. Peeling the mat off was slightly tricky, but only one of the thin “arms” snapped off.
As I stood back to admire my handiwork, I was feeling much less angry and negative. It turned out rather beautifully if I did say so myself. The meringue had browned to perfection and the chocolate form was artistic. Feynman was napping on the windowsill, but I shook him awake.
“How awesome is this?” I said, pointing to the pastry on the table. He didn’t appear particularly impressed, but what do cats know about dessert anyway?
A noise, like a cross between the sound of an old house settling and a mouse squeal, creaked behind me. I looked over my shoulder, but there was only Amaterasu smiling her angelic manga-like smile (Mike was right about her being a modern thing). Odd.
I turned back to admire my creation. “It might be the most beautiful thing I have ever created, don’t you think, Feynman?”
Maybe it was the sunlight hitting it at just the right angle, or maybe it was merely a false creation, proceeding from my frustration-oppressed brain (thank you, Macbeth), but I swore that, for a second, I saw little flashes of light around the chocolate sculpture. Feynman must have seen it too because he did an asynchronous blink and sneezed. Then, his eyelids drooped back down and he was snoring again as though nothing happened. Since I couldn’t interrogate him, I won’t know if both of us really saw the light or if I’d dreamed the whole thing.
The meringue and chocolate smells were making me drool. I could have devoured that thing in one twentieth of the time it took me to make it. But it occurred to me that I could use it as a peace offering to McTavish. My argument was right and I knew it, but it didn’t hurt to be on his good side, or at least better side. I wasn’t sure the man had a good side.
I reluctantly packaged it up inside a soft cooler, so the chocolate wouldn’t get too hot or cold, and headed back to work. Peace in the lab was just a tiny bit more important than my getting a major sugar fix.
McTavish was in his office.
“What do you want?” he said, barely looking up when I knocked.
“I, uh, am sorry we were arguing earlier, and I made a special dessert for you. I’m quite a good baker.”
“Hmph. I accept your apology”
I bit my tongue…twice…before setting the box down on his desk. He opened the lid and peered inside.
“Hmph,” he said again. Grumpy much, dude?
“Well, uh, enjoy,” I said. Not really sure what else to say, I turned to leave.
“It looks like a – ”
“A black hole, right?” I said, whipping around, my enthusiasm for my creation overcoming my aversion to conversing with the guy. “I think I’ll name it The Event Horizon! Maybe one day, I’ll open up a little café for scientists and make all these cool science-themed desserts, and – ” I stopped. McTavish was giving me a decidedly dour glare.
“I was going to say it looks like a fattening dessert, and I’m trying to watch my weight.”
“Oh.” Damn. “It’s not really fattening, sir. The meringue is only egg whites, a smidgeon of sugar, and fresh pomegranate juice, which is chock full of vitamins A and C, plus iron and antioxidants. I also used dark chocolate which has many health benefits.” The expression on his face could make a plant wither. “Just try one bite, sir; I think you’ll like it.”
Bolting out the door, I ran right into Beth and knocked papers out of her hands.
She smiled and whispered, “Did McTavish put on his extra scary mask?”
“Does he have a non-scary one?”
“I’m going to give him a draft of the grant proposal we’re working on, and then Rob and I will head out for a drink. Want to join us?”
“Why the hell not?” One of the joys of a job like this was that as long as the work got done, nobody cared if you work eight to five or one a.m. to ten a.m. I’d make up for taking the afternoon off later.
Beth met Rob and me by the main office door.
“Diane, that was one amazing looking dessert!”
“Did McTavish show it to you?”
“He was opening up the box and asked me if I had a fork in my desk, so I asked him where he got it, and he said you made it because you were sorry you were wrong about Hawking radiation.”
“That sonuva…I was just trying to be nice. I was not wrong!”
Beth put an arm around my waist. “Don’t worry about it, Diane. But, you, girl, are wasting your talents. You really should be a chef!”
It was nice to be appreciated and to have friends to get rip-roaring drunk with, even though I’m really too old to get so plastered anymore.
When news of McTavish’s disappearance became departmental gossip the next day, I was too fuzzy-headed to react or feel anything. Or maybe I would have shrugged and said “whatever” anyway, even if I hadn’t been hosting a hangover the size of the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t think anyone else showed great angst about him going missing.
McTavish vanished without a trace. The last person to see him was Doris, the department secretary, a sweet woman a year away from retirement. She had brought him a plastic fork from the main office.
“He was going to eat that gorgeous dessert that he said you made, Diane. I teased him about not sharing it, but you know him. Not even a smile.”
Odd thing was, vanished along with McTavish was the plate that I had the dessert on, and the cake box. Not that I cared about a cardboard cake box, but I rather liked the plate. It was an antique Candlewick piece I found at a yard sale. I even asked the janitorial staff, but no one ever found it.
There was a police investigation that led nowhere. While plenty of people detested McTavish, no one cared enough to kill him – this was real life, after all, not some goofy TV show – and there were no signs of a struggle in his office. The only thing extraordinary about the whole case was the incredible lack of clues as to where he may have gone or been taken – no suicide or ransom notes, nothing. It was as if he had never existed, aside from the trail of disgruntled employees and postdocs he left behind.
Poor Doris suffered extra interrogation since she was the last person to see the old goat before he disappeared, which was kind of funny since, with her patience of a saint, she would be the least likely person to knock off McT-Rex.
With my boss mysteriously gone, along with my favorite plate, it occurred to me that it might be a good time to make a career change, even though I agreed with Rob’s sign over his desk that omens were coincidences for dummies. I guess I was looking for an excuse, any excuse, to leave. I mean, on the one hand, working there would be so much better without that rat bastard. On the other hand, that bastard was the raison d’être for the lab. With him gone, there was no one there to renew the grant that supported the research, and we were going to be out of a job anyway once the current funding ran out.
I could have looked for another research scientist position or maybe even a faculty position, but riding on my pastry high, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to make a career change.
“So, you going to quit cheffing and go back to physics?” asks Mom. “More udon?”
“No and no. Just because I had a bad day yesterday,” well, okay, a bad half a year, but I wasn’t about to say so, “doesn’t mean I am calling it quits.”
I had barely entered the culinary world and I am not about to give it up just yet. I still like the idea I had told McTavish about – the science-themed café. It would combine my two loves. But for now, I’m getting some experience in running a restaurant business and some street cred, even if it was from working for Bulldog, the incompetent bozo. Just as importantly, I’ve also been building up my savings.
“You look tired. Why don’t you take a nice, long nap?” Dad suggests.
“It’s late already, Dad. I’ll go home and get some sleep so I can make a nice dessert for my boss before I go to work tomorrow.”
“That’s good you want to make peace with your boss,” says Mom. “Maybe he’ll promote you to head chef.”
“He’s already head chef, Mom. But, I’m second in command.” I don’t want to work for him forever, but I decide not to tell her about my café plan yet. She’ll have a million and one reasons why I shouldn’t do it or tell me to pray to Amaterasu again, and I don’t need that kind of so-called support right now.
I want to make a dessert that would knock Bulldog’s socks off. I want to show him that I am twice the chef he is, which is probably not the smartest thing to do. But, I’ll mask it as a peace-offering for contradicting him about onions yesterday. I thought about making something unique, but when I get to the store, I see some great-looking pomegranates on sale, which reminds me of the meringue creation I made for McT-Rex. So, I grab that, a dozen eggs, and Valrhona chocolate. A killer combination of flavors, if there ever was one.
I re-create The Event Horizon the next morning. As I melt the chocolate for the black hole armature, I think about the last time I made this dessert, about how pissed I was at McTavish, and how I’ve managed to find yet another boss from hell.
“Honestly, I don’t care if Bulldog disappeared from the face of the Earth just like McTavish,” I growl.
“Meeeerow?” Feynman lifts his head, startled by my sudden outburst.
Hand-whipping meringue not only gets the egg whites all frothy, it also gets my emotions all frothy.
“Sorry, Feynman; I’m just dying of oppression here, but you go back to your all important mid-morning nap.”
He’s asleep again before I even finish speaking. That’s the life. If I’m praying to Amaterasu, the only thing I’ll ask her for is to let me reincarnate as a pampered house pet.
“I just need to save up a bit more money as a safety net before I quit,” I explain to my uncaring, comatosed pet. I take a deep breath and continue to assemble the two parts.
Now that I’ve had lots of experience making desserts, my second attempt at this thing is even more spectacular, in my humble opinion. I’ve definitely improved my pastry skills.
I nudge Feynman awake. He opens one eye unenthusiastically.
“So, do you think that this is just as good as the first, or better?” I ask.
Feynman yawns, then smacks his mouth a couple of times before sticking a tongue out at me. Of course I don’t expect him to remember the previous time I made this since it was a few years ago. I’m sure cat memories are reserved for useful things, like when they last ate, anyway. And did I really expect him to answer?
The dumb cat suddenly pricks his ears…a second before that same odd, squealing-creaking noise I heard several years ago – in a different apartment – resounds in the room. I look over at Amaterasu instinctively, but the flash of light from the Event Horizon pulls my gaze back. It’s exactly like the sparkly fairy dust explosion from last time. And it’s gone before I can yelp.
I rub my eyes. I think I’ll ask a chemist friend if too much caffeine has been shown to cause hallucinations.
Benson and Rosalez are already at work when I arrive.
“Boss was looking for you,” says Rosalez. “I had to start prepping your vegetables.”
“Sorry, man. I’ll buy you a beer.”
Rosalez shrugs. “S’OK. You covered for me before.”
“I’ll still buy you a beer. Hey, I’ll be right back; I’ve got something for Bulldog.”
He snickers. “Don’t let him catch you calling him that to his face.”
“You sucking up to the boss, Diane?” says Benson.
“Yeah, but I’ll be sure to suck up for all of us.”
They both grin.
“You’re late,” says Bulldog when I enter his office. It isn’t so much an office as a pantry. Fusion Confusion is small and his office has to double as food storage.
“Only by 3 minutes, but I have something to make up for it. I baked you a special dessert. If you like it, I can make it again for the restaurant.”
“I’m the creative mind here, Sato. I’ll tell you when I want something made. Don’t be an upstart.”
Someone had too much Alpha-Male soup today? “Yes, sir. Of course, sir. But try it anyway. It’s a pomegranate meringue with a ganache sculpture.” I set it down in front of him.
He opens the lid and peers in. “Hmph.”
Well, that sounds familiar.
“Valrhona chocolate, sir.” I know he has a weakness for those.
“You need to get started on prep work. Rosalez has been doing your stuff.”
“I know, sir; I’ll get right on it.”
“Tell Benson to bring me a fork.”
I leave the office. “Yo, Benson. He’d like you to bring him a dessert fork.”
Benson grabs one and heads to Bulldog’s office.
“Wow, you made that thing?” he says when he comes back.
“You should be a pastry chef.”
“Oh, and boss man says to get back in there. He wants to talk to you about specialty vegetables to get for tomorrow.”
“Sheesh, does he want me to prep or chit chat about tomorrow?” I pull back my waist-length hair, which has white streaks among the black already, and snap a rubber band around it. I take my time to finish tying the apron around my waist before returning to his office. I knock…because he insists we always knock. No answer. I knock again. Still no answer.
So I let myself in…just in time to see one of Bulldog’s wide feet sticking out of the opening of the ganache black hole. Before I have a chance to blink, his foot disappeared, sucked inward, with the rest of the dessert, plate, and box, imploding on itself, all vanishing in a little singularity that ends in a wisp of something gaseous.
Of all the unlikely places to get proof, I now have evidence that small black holes do dissipate when they absorb enough negative energy. And I know that no one will ever believe me. Hell, I wouldn’t believe myself if I’d not seen it. So much for writing a paper on it that could win me a Nobel Prize.
I back out of the room.
“Benson! Rosalez!” I yell. They come running.
It takes several weeks for the police to sort through everything. They grill both Benson and me, but the three of us had each other for alibis, and there was, like with McTavish, not a sign of foul play, so, in the end, they have no one to press charges against.
Strangely enough, there are checks written out to the three of us for several months’ pay each, which they release to us once the investigation closed.
We stand outside the police station, our checks in hand.
“So, what will you do now?” I ask Benson and Rosalez.
“I dunno,” says Benson. “Go back to flipping burgers?”
I take a deep breath. “What do you think of the three of us opening a place together? I’ve been dreaming for years to open a café with science-themed desserts.”
“You do make nice desserts, Diane,” says Benson.
“Running a business is risky,” says Rosalez.
“Oh, come on,” I say. “If Bulldog could do it, we can too! We were the ones who made Fusion Confusion happen.”
They look at each other.
“Tell you what: if you don’t want to take the risk, I’ll open a place myself. But I want both of you to work for me.”
“Yeah,” says Benson after a pause. “I’ll totally work for you.”
Rosalez scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, count me in. It’s only because I believe in your skills, Diane.”
I grin and high-five them, but my mind is already wandering, trying to think of a cool name and picturing a prominent spot in the café in which to place the statue of Amaterasu.
# # #
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short story. More of my stories can be found in the Minnows Literary Group‘s anthologies where all the profits are donated to Doctors Without Borders.