The walk to Salvatore’s was a little over six miles across town, and Eddie Brown had decided to wear his only suit and a pair of pleather cap-toed Oxfords to the interview. His mother had told him that people didn’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and he badly needed what Salvatore’s had to offer.
Doing his best to ignore the steadily increasing May heat, he tried to imagine how the interview would go. He had never met anyone who had gone through the process and had only become aware of the opportunity from a cryptic flyer that had been posted in the lobby of the public library. The flyer had seemed almost tailor made for him: Are you looking for money for college? Trying to get out of debt? Looking to buy a home? Call us! He was in the former category, having just received an admissions letter from Yale, with no possible way of covering the massive difference that was left after the small scholarship he had received. His mother told him that he should be proud of himself that he had gotten into an Ivy League school and that would possibly help him to secure more money from one of the local state schools. But once he had seen the sharp letterhead of Yale University, he’d been unable to stop thinking about the school. And then he came across the flyer. Maybe it was all fate that he would report to New Haven, Connecticut, in the fall.
The woman Eddie had spoken to on the phone, after hearing his desperate story, had asked him to share information about his health. Did he have high blood pressure? Did he have diabetes? Were there any major medical issues in his family? The list seemed endless, and when he finally asked why the information was important, she responded that it was required information for all donations. She then went on to explain the process, sparing him no details of how the Salvatore Grant worked. He nearly dropped the phone several times during her spiel and had spent the rest of the week thinking about what she had said.
Finally, three days later, he had called the woman back, unable to tolerate his mother’s attempts to sway his life in a different direction. He had earned a spot in the incoming class at Yale, and according to what the woman had told him, he would be well compensated. He had to take the chance.
Now, as he walked up the sidewalk to the skyscraper that housed Salvatore’s, he tried to steel his nerves. Few accomplishments came without sacrifices, he told himself, as he entered the lobby.
“I’m Eddie Brown,” he said to the receptionist. “I have a noon appointment.”
The receptionist checked his name against her computer and pointed him to a row of chairs in the waiting area.
As he sat in one of the chic black leather chairs lining the room, he rocked his feet back and forth in his shoes, feeling the muscles in his legs tense. The polyester of his suit rubbed against his damp skin, and he took deep breaths to calm himself down. He was told by the woman on the phone that the interview was a formality. Still, Eddie didn’t want to take any chances. He had to get this grant.
Five minutes later, as the large and small hands of the ornate analog clock lined up on twelve, a tall thin man in a bespoke suit emerged from the main door just off the reception area. He walked over to Eddie.
“Mr. Brown,” he said, extending his hand to Eddie, “my name is Ignatius Esposito.”
Eddie shook it, hoping his hands weren’t as clammy as he feared they were.
“Follow me,” Ignatius said.
The two of them walked through the door, down a long hall, to a bank of elevators. Once the doors closed, Ignatius placed his hands against a sensor and stepped back. The elevator began to rise until it reached the penthouse floor. Eddie took a deep breath as he stepped off the elevator behind his host.
“Please. Have a seat,” Ignatius said, pointing to a seat at the end of a long table. On either side were a small group of people, hunched over notebooks and laptops. Ignatius took the empty seat closest to Eddie.
“Mr. Brown, I have brought members of the legal, medical, and culinary teams to address any questions you may have before we complete the contract and begin the procedure.” Ignatius lifted several documents and perused them. “So, you are going with the thigh option, I see.”
“Yes,” Eddie responded, his voice barely audible.
“And it’s just one leg,” Ignatius continued.
“Very smart. So, do you have any questions for us?”
“How much of my thigh are you taking?” Eddie asked.
A woman on the right side of the table leaned forward to respond. Eddie figured she was one of the medical team. “We will remove a one-inch by one-inch block of flesh, then close you up. The physical therapy is included in the agreement.”
Eddie took a long, deep breath. “Will I still be able to walk?”
“Although you will have to make adjustments, with some effort and physical therapy you will retain your ability to walk,” she said.
“Any other questions?” Ignatius asked.
“Yes,” Eddie responded. “Can you walk me through what happens after the muscle tissue is removed from my thigh?”
“Sure,” Ignatius said. “Chef Dino, could you explain the process for Mr. Brown, please.”
“Well,” Dino responded, leaning forward, “as you know, Salvatore’s is an incredibly high-end restaurant. We cater to the most elite clientele in the world. As such, we provide the rarest of Italian foods. Among our specialties is the Salvatore’s Chef Special Pizza, which consists of only the finest and rarest of ingredients: Pule cheese, white truffles, Lambda olive oil, a sauce made from Mexican Honey tomatoes, Charapita chilis, black squid ink dough, and of course the meat—courtesy of you. It is the fact that we cater to this high-end clientele that allows us to offer you a grant of this magnitude. Because your patron is in fact a Yale alum, part of your compensation will be taken care of directly by him. Salvatore’s will compensate you $150,000 in cash, half upon the signing of the contract, the remainder after the procedure has been completed.”
“So he’s going to eat the muscle from my thigh?” Eddie’s question was largely rhetorical, as everyone at the table knew the answer to that question, including Eddie. It was the thing that had given him pause before he arrived, but he had managed to push this final component into the back of his mind. After all, once the doctors removed the muscle from his leg, it would be waste. Why should he care what would be done with it at that point? Still, it was a difficult thought to digest, if he allowed himself to really go there.
“That is correct,” Ignatius said. “This is a voluntary agreement on your part, and you are in no way under any obligation or coercion to comply. If, however, you choose to decline this offer, you are still bound by the signed non-disclosure agreement you emailed to us earlier this week.”
Eddie flexed his legs beneath the table. He tried to imagine what it would be like to have a one-inch block of muscle removed from one of them. It wouldn’t stop him from reading or writing or doing all that would be required of him to be successful at Yale. He would also have a connection to an alum, and that alone had a value that exceeded money.
He thought about what his mother might say if she knew he was in this room discussing giving up flesh from his thigh so that another man, a much wealthier and more powerful man, could ingest it on a pizza. He knew she would be horrified by the mere thought of it, but Eddie knew something at age eighteen that his mother probably didn’t: the world was full of darkness, of those who had and those who didn’t, and if it meant that he had to make this small sacrifice to gain acceptance into this world, that’s what he would do.
“So, do we have a deal?” Ignatius asked.
Eddie looked around the table at the faces awaiting his response, while running his sweating hands down the pleats of his slacks so that they rested on his thighs. He squeezed his legs, almost pinching them, then nodded. “Yes. We have a deal.”
At that point the individuals whom Eddie assumed were a part of the legal team slid a manila folder down the table to Ignatius and he perused it before pushing it over to Eddie and handing him a Montblanc to sign his signature.
Eddie took the pen in his hands, took a deep breath, and placed the nib of the fountain pen against the page, the crimson ink releasing as if the pen itself were a scalpel neatly separating the flesh of some poor, desperate soul—someone not unlike himself.
Banner Image: Pixabay.com