Short Story: Finer Cuts

“Mull the flavor in your mouth. Just you look for those subtle flavors in there. No, don’t chew it. Don’t macerate it just yet. Let its juices envelop your taste buds first.”

“Now you can chew it.”

Sheriff Garrett Hinamori opened his eyes to see Mrs. Joey Baker staring at him with her elbows locked and her hands rooted firmly to the kitchen table in front of her. He twisted the fork in his hand as he assessed the steak she had proffered.

“Now you tell me you can find something like that in the supermarket.” Joey Baker leaned forward. In nearly every respect she looked the quintessential housewife of a bygone era, as if she had believed all the dime store science fiction about time travel and decided to give it a shot. She could have been a model sampling the latest vacuum cleaner in between sitcoms, complete with hair that hardly moved in the summer breeze coming through the kitchen window. If it weren’t for the smart phone tucked into her pocket and ‘#Thismomrocks’ splashed on her apron, she might have fooled the world. She leaned forward as seductively as a woman could in a dress that reached up to her collarbone. “You aren’t going to forget something that good anytime soon.”

Garrett Hinamori shook his head in agreement and swallowed. “No, I certainly won’t. I still think the secret’s in whatever you’re seasoning it with, however, not the meat itself.”

Mrs. Baker straightened in feigned insult. “And whatever seasoning would that be? You saw all of it right there on my windowsill.” She cocked her hip out and displayed the row of herbs growing in the kitchen window with the air of a game show assistant, minus the slinky dress.

“Tell you what. I’ll give you a cutting of my herbs and you see if that’ll put you on par with my steak at the fair this year.” Before her guest had any time to politely decline, Mrs. Baker brandished a pair of kitchen shears and snipped fresh stems from each plant. The cuttings were then arranged in a red plastic cup, the ones that notoriously appear under the sink in most kitchens despite no one having actually bought any, and the culinary bouquet was offered to Mr. Hinamori. “You just keep them in fresh water for a week or two and plant them when they take root.”

“You’re very kind.” Mr. Hinamori gulped. “I think I’ll be able to give you some competition this year.”

“I’m sure you will.” Mrs. Baker winked at him before returning to her sinkful of dishes. “Now you just finish that up. You’ll recognize that as the taste of victory.”

Grant Hinamori laughed to himself. “Actually, if you didn’t mind, I have work I need to get to.”

“Oh, not at all. I know they keep you busy at the sheriff’s office.” Mrs. Baker appeared with a container and lid in hand.

“Yeah. If any more people go missing there won’t be much of Nanty-Glo, Colorado left.”

“And that would be a crying shame. Got any leads you’re working on?”

Grant shook his head. “I couldn’t tell you even if we did.” He rose to his feet and adjusted his duty belt. Generations of samurai blood had been diluted through the centuries to Sheriff Hinamori, leaving him with a faint desire to commit seppuku whenever he couldn’t complete a case, a fascination with sandals and a slight discomfort from wearing the thick-soled boots he could barely wriggle his toes in. Even in the nice weather he still wore the official sheriff’s department jacket with included fur collar. Something about wearing it completed the look.

“Well, I hope you find them. Heaven knows where they’ll turn up.” Mrs. Baker handed the filled container to the sheriff. “This latest one was a tourist, right?”

“That’s correct.” Sheriff Hinamori pulled a snapshot from the pocket of his jacket. “That’s Travis Mull. House painter, college student, and gone without a trace.”

“He’s a handsome boy.” Mrs. Baker said with only a cursory look at the young man with a white hat over blonde curls and a pair of gigantic aviator sunglasses tucked into the neck of an A-line shirt. “I wish you luck.”

She followed the sheriff to the front door and watched him get into the truck with the sun faded star on the side. The image could have been on the front of a magazine offering the simplest and greatest joys that Colorful Colorado had to offer.

Once the truck had disappeared into the mountainous back road that led into town, Joey Baker closed the front door behind her. She retrieved the ear buds from underneath her apron and tucked them into her ears. She popped a piece of gum into her mouth and bopped her way back into the kitchen with her hips leading the way. One drawer opened to reveal a cutting board and a second yielded an impressive set of kitchen knives.

It’s been said that you can tell a lot about a person by their office, but this only goes to show that the philosopher who said this had never taken a good look in a kitchen. Among the bric-a-brac and trinkets you’ll always find a set of knives. There’s the set of paring knives that are always bought secondhand yet never seem to go away, the set that are given at a wedding and never used because they look too nice, and sometimes even the knives that made it into the kitchen from a mountain man’s belt and nobody had the decency to give it back to him. The knives that Mrs. Baker selected from screamed that she could have been among the most skilled butchers but they didn’t have pretty enough aprons.

With the blade clamped firmly between her fire-engine painted lips, Mrs. Baker tapped her way down a flight of steps in tune with her music. She made a spin before descending a second flight of steps.

At the bottom of the stairs she twirled her way through shelving as immense as any library could dream about, filled with canned jars of fruit, meat, sauces, pie fillings, vegetables, soups, stews, gravies, and beans. Large bottles of homemade laundry detergent, dishwasher tabs, and vinegar met her beyond that, then finally a light switch that she flicked with her elbow in a pirouette.

Long fluorescent lights flickered and hummed to life above a crinkling plastic

sheet draped over a butcher block table.

“Now, let’s see what we have here.” Mrs. Baker set the cutting board on a metal tray not unlike what you might find in a surgeon’s office. She pulled the sheet off. “I feel just terrible about this. Really, I do.”

Bad feelings aside, her hips kept their dance routine going as she sidled up the table and removed a pair of aviator sunglasses and slid them onto her face. She leaned back and looked at her reflection in the steel doors of an industrial sized refrigerator. She blew a kiss at the reflection and turned back to the former owner of the shades.

“Don’t look at me like that. They look better on me anyways.” Mrs. Baker tutted as she removed the white baseball cap from his head. “Besides, you were shielding your eyes with your hand in the picture while you had these perfectly good shades and a hat perched on top of your head. I mean, seriously?” She set the hat on her head backwards and bounced along with her music as she ran her fingers along different muscle groups and selected the choicest roast.

“Don’t stop…. Gu-rillin’.” She sang to herself. She removed the large roast and set it on the cutting board beside her. “Hold on to that seas’ning. Don’t stop gu-rillin’.”

Balancing the cutting board and its new passenger in one hand she skipped back up the steps and into the kitchen.

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