Anne stood in front of the stove, the steam billowing out of the large steel pot plastered her hair to her skin. She was flushed, sweating from the heat
. She gazed at the lid to the pot with a bland look. The emotions rolling around inside her hidden from spectators
The timer went off, jarring her from her thoughts
, and she reached for the pot. Her arms strained under the weight of it as she carried it the three feet to the sink. Resting it on the edge of the metal basin she wiped at her forehead with the back of her hand. As she did this she glanced at the man in the dining room.
Seated at a table that'd been in her family for hundreds of years was a short stocky man with wisps of hair decorating his scalp. His pudgy face was slightly pink from drink
, his nose spoke of excessive alcohol intake over the years. He was leaned back in a chair, the creaking she'd heard all evening told her he'd been tipping it back and stressing the wood under his weight. Her mouth was pressed in a firm line at this disrespect of her furniture. Further annoying her was the way he had looked at her all night
. As though her cotton dress were see-through.
"How's it coming in there? You need help with that heavy pot
, Ms. Packer?" He called out in a slightly nasal voice.
She ran her tongue over her lower lip, tasting the salt of her hard work, before lifting her voice in false cheerfulness and replying, "No
, I've got it. I'll be out in a few seconds."
"Good. I've got one hell of an appetite brewing in here!"
She swallowed her bitterness and hoped her distaste for the man wasn't evident to him
Tipping the pot she poured the scalding hot water out through holes she'd had custom drilled in its side. The window above the sink clouded with steam, causing her reflection to blur into something unrecognizable
The pot emptied of water she righted it again and brought it to rest next to a tray. She removed the lid, picked up tongs and began removing the limp red bodies of hard shelled crabs one-by-one and placing them on the tray. When the tray was completely covered she replaced the lid on the pot and went to her spice cabinet. There she scanned the hundreds of bottles crowded one on top of the other
until she spotted the one she wanted. A large fat canister with the name McCormicks scrawled across it. The contents of this were sprinkled heavily over the crab bodies, coating them in a orange-red mixture of spices that primarily consisted of Old Bay.
The tray prepared, she lifted it and proceeded into the next room where her guest awaited his meal. She set it before him and he greedily reached for two and began pounding
before she'd even sat down. Pieces of shell were flying everywhere as he mangled the crab.
"Now, Mr. Burkett, where were we?" She asked, absently toying with her little fork.
"Oh yeah," he said between finger-fulls of spiced meat, "I was telling you how I got your great grand-daddy's recipe."
A thumb coated in orange-red
was shoved between puckered lips, slurping sounds preempted his next statement. "Got my hands on it about a month after the old man died."
"You understand my disbelief, I'm sure. Seeing as my great grandfather took that recipe to his grave with him. It was never written down."
SMASH! "Now, see, that's where you're wrong." Slurp. "It was written down. Once."
Anne drew her lips together in a harsh line
. "Do tell."
"Yeah, he had to have written it down once. Because he had to give it to the spice company that mixed it up special for him. You know which one I'm talkin' bout, right?"
She smiled through clenched teeth
as the image of the canister of spices she'd dumped on the crabs he was now devouring popped into her mind. "Yes, I believe I do."
"Mmm, this is good. Not as good as mine, mind you. But close." He interjected as he cast aside the remains of the first two crabs and began on the next two. Anne murmured a thanks and forced herself to put down the mallet
she'd unconsciously reached for.
"Anyway," he continued, "when the old man kicked the bucket
they put the recipe up for auction. You know..highest bidder and all."
"And you were the highest bidder, then?"
"Indeedy do. I have a slip of paper in my safe at home with the original recipe of Harry English for Crab Seasoning written on it. In his own hand." He smiled at her then, proud of himself. All she saw were teeth stained orange-red with crab bits clinging to them.
He slipped a leg into his mouth and began sucking, the flavour of crab and Old Bay mingling in his mouth. She felt her skin crawl as his eyes danced over her yet again
. "You know, when I told your father he looked at me about the same as how you're lookin at me now."
"Yep. I guess it must burn y'all
that I got your family recipe and you don't."
"You understand, I'm sure."
"Indeed. Indeed, I do." He reached for his mallet and slammed it into another body, cracking the shell in several places but not spliting it.
Anne smiled a little as she observed his technique. It was sloppy. Unnecessary. Anyone who'd been around crabs as much as this man had should know that you can split a crab open without the mallet
. A crab body was built in such a way that invited easy access to the tender white flesh inside.
"Yep. He also said that if it were true I had your grand-daddy's recipe that you'd be the richest family in town. Course, you ain't and it is so I guess he was wrong about that."
Anne leaned back in her chair and looked at him with a slight smile. "No, Mr. Burkett, he wasn't wrong
. See...my father didn't want to upset my grandmother. If she'd known that her father's secret recipe had been sold and was being used under your name, or anyone elses for that matter, it would have broken her heart. He was convinced she'd have gone to her grave a few years earlier had that happened. So we never told her."
Burkett stopped licking the orange-red from his fingers as she talked, something in him was alarmed at the tone of her voice
and the way she was looking at him. Like a lioness who had just sank it's fangs into the fleshy haunch of a gazelle.
"Yeah, my father didn't want to upset my grandmother. But she died recently, I'm sure you heard."
"A...about a month ago, I believe it was." He froze suddenly as if something had occured to him. His face began to redden.
"Yes. A month ago. And now it's time to settle
. See, we're simple people. We don't want the money. But we can't have you disrespecting our family by selling my great grandfather's recipe under your name. That's why I invited you over here."
Burkett's face was blood red now as he hunched over the table glaring at her. Anne just smiled and continued, "My father knew when he'd spoken to you the first time that you wouldn't hand it over. That you wouldn't stop selling your crabs with our heritage. He's too good, my father.
She watched as he started going limp..drool was already seeping down his chin in a bright orange-red drizzle. "I thought I'd share another recipe with you
, Mr. Burkett. See, while I was attending college in the south, I picked up a wonderful recipe for Pulled Pork."
Just before he lost control
and thunked his head against the table she leaned forward and stared into his clouded eyes, "Thought maybe you'd like to see first hand how that's made.