The Red Coffin

The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland Read Free Book Online

Book: The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sam Eastland
replied Kirov, tasting the end of the steaming wooden spoon.
    ‘What’s that?’ asked Pekkala, pointing at the twigs. ‘It looks like grass.’
    ‘Not grass,’ explained Kirov. ‘Hay.’
    Pekkala brought his face closer to the bubbling mixture in the pot. ‘People can eat hay?’
    ‘It’s just for seasoning.’ Kirov picked up a chipped red and white enamelled ladle and scooped some of the stew into Pekkala’s bowl.
    Pekkala sat down in the creaky wooden chair behind his desk and peered suspiciously at his lunch. ‘Hay,’ he repeated, and sniffed at the steam as it rose from his stew.
    Kirov perched on the window sill, among his potted plants. His long legs dangled almost to the floor.
    Pekkala opened his mouth to ask another question. Several questions, actually. What kind of hay was it? Where had it come from? Who thought this up? What does boujenina mean? But Kirov silenced him before he had a chance to speak.
    ‘Don’t talk, Inspector. Eat!’
    Obediently, Pekkala spooned the boujenina into his mouth. The salty warmth spread through his body. The taste of cloves sparked in his brain, like electricity. And the taste of the hay reached him now; a mellow earthiness which summoned memories of childhood from the darkened corners of his mind.
    They ate in comfortable silence.
    A minute later, when Pekkala’s spoon was scraping the bottom of the bowl, Kirov loudly cleared his throat. ‘Have you finished already?’
    ‘Yes,’ replied Pekkala. ‘Is there any more?’
    ‘There is more, but that’s not the point! How can you eat so quickly?’
    Pekkala shrugged. ‘It’s what I do.’
    ‘What I mean,’ explained Kirov, ‘is that you should learn to savour your food. Food is like dreams, Inspector.’
    Pekkala held out his bowl. ‘Could I have some more while you explain this to me?’
    Sighing with exasperation, Kirov took the bowl from Pekkala’s hand, refilled it and handed it back. ‘There are three kinds of dream,’ he began. ‘The first is just a scribble in your mind. It means nothing. It’s just your brain unwinding like a clock spring. The second kind does mean something. Your unconscious mind is trying to tell you something, but you have to interpret what it means.’
    ‘And the third?’ asked Pekkala, his mouth full of stew.
    ‘The third,’ said Kirov, ‘is what the mystics call Barakka . It is a waking dream, a vision, when you glimpse the workings of the universe.’
    ‘Like Saint Paul,’ said Pekkala, ‘on the road to Damascus.’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Never mind.’ Pekkala waved his spoon. ‘Keep going. What does this have to do with food?’
    ‘There is the meal you eat simply to fill your stomach.’
    ‘Like a can of meat,’ suggested Pekkala.
    Kirov shuddered. ‘Yes, like those cans of meat you put away. And then there are the meals you buy at the café where you eat your lunch, which are not much better except that you don’t have to clean up after yourself.’
    ‘And then?’
    ‘And then there are meals which elevate food to an art.’
    Pekkala, who had been eating all this time, dropped his spoon into the empty bowl.
    Hearing this, Kirov shook his head in amazement. ‘You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you, Inspector?’
    ‘No,’ agreed Pekkala, ‘but I’ve had some excellent dreams. I don’t know why you didn’t become a professional chef.’
    ‘I cook because I want to,’ replied Kirov, ‘not because I have to.’
    ‘Is there a difference?’ asked Pekkala.
    ‘All the difference in the world,’ said Kirov. ‘If I had to cook all day for men like Nagorski, it would take all the pleasure out of cooking. Do you know what he was eating when I went into that restaurant? Blinis. With Caspian Sevruga, each morsel like a perfect black pearl. He was just stuffing it into his face. The art of food was lost on him completely.’
    Self-consciously, Pekkala glanced into his already empty bowl. He had done his best to eat at a dignified pace, but the truth

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