“To be perfectly honest,” Rhodes said, wrapping the apron strings around his waist, “I was quite alarmed when I received your invitation. Especially seeing as I’ve been out of the game for… quite a while.”
Ella Thomas sat at the counter, a smile playing on her lips. She wore a dress that was neither green nor gold. It reminded him of his favorite color, the sheen of teasing eyes.
“Come now, Avery, you and I both know that isn’t true.” She lifted a fig from the top of the basket and inspected it. Assured that this was a social call (although not convinced), he had brought fine wine and figs as a gift for his hostess.
“Well” – He shrugged – “for the most part.”
“How is the family, by the way?”
Rhodes glanced up at her, then dropped his eyes to the floor and did not reply. He cinched the knot more aggressively than he had intended.
“Ah,” Ella replied. The smile faded for a moment. “I’m sorry.”
“Judy is fine… I hear.”
A muffled whimper drew their attention to a man in the far corner of the kitchen. A rag was stuffed into his mouth, and his wrists and ankles were bound. He wore nothing but a pair of briefs. He was hanging upside-down from a meat hook. He shuddered with sobs. Grateful for the distraction, Rhodes crossed the kitchen.
“He’s not what I imagined he would look like,” he grumbled, leaning down and turning to look into the man’s face. The man started to cry harder, a strangled wail emitting around the rag. Rhodes wrinkled his nose at the hideous face the man was making.
George entered the kitchen with a paper grocery bag and placed it on the counter. “Hatch chilies are just out of season, I’m afraid,” he said. “I found some bagged and some tinned. Otherwise, everything you requested is here.” He pulled the bagged and tinned Hatch chilies from the bag, followed by a pack of corn meal, and some tenderloin wrapped in paper. “We have the Guinness you requested on tap. I will bring you some.”
“Perfect, thank you.”
Ella pointed to the hanged man. “We will need a basin, George.”
“Of course.” The butler hurried to find a suitable vessel.
Rhodes studied the man. “Something we can cook with,” he said. “Could we use his blood for the batter? Do you think it’s clean?”
“Clean enough, now. We had him tested when he arrived.”
“You are thorough,” Rhodes said with admiration.
“One can’t be too safe.” Ella held a fig out to him.
He accepted it with his mouth and shook his head. “I was never that safe. Reckless, that’s what I was.” Grabbing a pair of scissors, he returned to the hanged man and cut away his briefs. “I’m so glad I thought to request the tenderloin…” he sighed, studying the man’s pathetically small testicles.
He returned the scissors and took a filet knife. As soon as George placed a clean basin under the man’s head, Rhodes grabbed the hanged man’s testicles and pulled them from his body. The man began to scream around the rag and wiggle uselessly. With a surgical precision Rhodes sliced the sac open and detached the testicles. Sniffing, he hesitated a moment, tilting his head in indecision. He grabbed the penis and turned to Ella. She raised her brow with interest, but did not offer input. He shrugged and slid the knife in at the base. Confident that he had most of the muscle, he cut it loose.
Blood flooded the hollow sac and poured down the man’s body. It made a pleasant metallic sound as it hit the basin. His eyes rolled back.
“Don’t leave us now.” Rhodes knelt down and smacked his face, leaving a bloody hand print. The man shook his head, his eyes dull. “You’ll miss the show.”
Ella wrinkled her delicate nose in amusement. Rhodes dumped the meat in a clean bowl. He washed his hands, the knife, then the meat.
“Have you ever had Rocky Mountain Oysters, sweetheart?” Rhodes asked, filling a bowl of water and adding a liberal amount of salt. Ella’s eyes flashed at the term of endearment. Rhodes frowned, turning his attention back to the meat. He had said it out of habit.
Glancing around the kitchen, he found an assortment of cutting boards. He pulled a medium-sized hardwood butcher block and set it on the prep table.
“I haven’t. What is it like?”
“Almost like…” Squinting, he thought of what it could be compared to.Grabbing the testicles, he sliced open the muscle surrounding each one and popped out the organs. “Pork with the consistency of calamari. But that is bull and buffalo.” He smiled at the hanged man. “I can’t say I’ve ever had Rocky Mountain Oysters quite like this.” He plopped the organs into the salt water.
He turned his smile to Ella, and she reciprocated, holding another fig to his lips.