THE SNACK by David B. Riley
Rachel slid into the back seat of the gray four door Cadillac and the door was closed for her by one of the guards. That guard then went around behind the car and slid in next to her. He cradled an AK 47 against his chest. The guard in the front seat also had an AK 47. She had no idea what the driver carried. They were certainly well armed.
And they certainly were black. She hated herself for thinking it, but these guys were really black–much blacker than black people back home. But, think about it, she did. They rode along in silence, with only traffic noises to listen to. There was a radio, turned off. She had no idea what kind of music these guys liked and didn’t have the guts to ask.
Suddenly, a jagged bolt of lightning tore apart a tree right in front of them. A huge branch crashed down on the road. With hardly a nod, the driver swung the car into the opposite lane and went around the obstacle. "Bad storm coming," he said. Another bolt of lightning blasted into the ground, as if to underscore his point.
Rachel finally mustered up the courage to ask "Is it a long ride?"
"No," the driver replied. "We will have you there in fifteen minutes."
Nothing else was said for the remainder of the trip. After fifteen minutes, they turned off the highway and onto a wide concrete driveway that took them past of grove of trees. Ahead of them was a huge mansion, or at least the silhouette of one. Everything was dark.
"Storm must’ve knocked the power out," the driver said. He parked the car under a wide porte-cochere.
A man in a white jacket opened the door and offered his hand to help her from the car. "Welcome, Miss Waters," he said.
She accepted. "Thank you."
He opened the massive door and ushered her inside. "Right this way." The house was dim, lit only by lanterns and a few candles. He guided her through a maze of hallways that eventually led into a kitchen. He abruptly left her standing there.
The kitchen was also lit with candles, though there were more of them–making things almost normal, in a flickering surreal sort of way. A tall bald man wearing a white shirt and apron smiled at her. "Right on time."
"There must be some sort of mistake. I’m here to see General Adas," Rachel insisted.
He held out his palms and said. "And you see me."
"It’s just, I didn’t expect to meet you in the kitchen," Rachel explained.
"This is where the stove is," he replied with a hint of laughter in his voice. He came around from behind the stove and pulled a chair away from a small table. "Here, sit down. Welcome to my country."
Rachel opened her notebook. "I must say, I was a little surprised when your embassy called and offered to arrange an interview."
"Ah, my staff are the best."
"I didn’t mean that. I meant, I was surprised you wanted to do an interview with me," Rachel said. "I’m not really a foreign affairs reporter."
"Thank God we cook with gas, the power being out." He slid open a drawer and removed a stack of papers. "I read your column every day."
You get the Gazette here?"
"From the World Wide Web. You have the best recipes," the general explained. "I love those almond chocolate bars." He patted his belly and said "Mmm."
So much for a Pulitzer Prize story about the most hated man in Africa. At least it was finally making sense for why she was there. "They are good," she agreed. Another cooking story.
"The best." He went to the stove and used a large wooden spoon to extract brown, crispy looking things from a pan. They were reminiscent of the chicken fingers from one of her columns. He placed them on a drainer, waited a moment, then transferred them to stainless steel bowl. "I think you may like these, General Adas’ Special Fried Fingers."
"I flew halfway around the world to sample chicken fingers?" Rachel asked.
"They are exceptional." He brought the bowl over to the table, then he retrieved a plate. "Try one."
The taste sensation was pure delight. The outside was crisp, the interior a succulent blend of flavors.
He gave her a glass of water. She noticed he’d poured it from a plastic bottle like everyone bought back home, but this one had a picture of him on the label.
"These are delicious." She started in on a second one.
He smiled. It was a huge smile. "I’m so glad you like them. I’ve made a special blend of spices."
"How do you get the meat so tender?" She readied her notebook, which she had yet to use.
"It’s all in the marinade," the general explained. "Then, I coat them and fry them in canola oil."
"I’ve never had anything like them." She finished the second one and eyed the bowl, debating with herself whether to have another. "It’s amazing what you can do with chicken."
"They are not, uh, chicken, exactly." The general grabbed one out of the bowl and took a bite.
"No," the general said. "I use the fingers of my enemies."
"Your enemies?" It was sinking in, though she still clung to a certain level of denial. "What kind of enemies?"
"When I have people killed, I chop off their fingers and debone them. I tried a version with the bone in, but I didn’t like it."
Rachel resisted the impulse to throw up. She gulped down the contents of the glass of water. "That’s horrible."
"You just complimented them, only a minute ago," he reminded her.
"I’m eating people’s fingers?"
"Madam, I assure you they will not be needing them. I told you they were fingers. You were not paying attention?" the general said.
She clutched her stomach. "I’m going to be sick."
"Nonsense." He chomped down an entire finger, then wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve.
Rachel announced "I’d like to go to my hotel, now."
"Very well." His voice sounded hurt. He left her alone in the kitchen.
As she sat there, the aroma from the fingers wafted to her nostrils. She asked an empty room "How does he get such a gentle flavor?" Before she realized it, she was eating another. "God, this is disgusting." There was only one left.
A soldier opened a door she had not even realized was there, right next to her. "Your car is ready, Miss Waters." He gestured toward the door. "Right this way."
She followed him for a few feet. "Wait." She ran back to the kitchen and grabbed the last finger, then hurried to catch up.
First published in Writer's Post Journal, 2005