Chapter 21 of Loki’s Trojan
Smoking Catfish in Spider Silk Nets
The Programmer bit into an oral-incinerating tidbit: it was tough like gnawing on a smoldering stick of fish-flavored chewing gum.
“My food is fiery so yours must be a five-alarm blaze.” Tariq spit the bite in a napkin and took a gulp of water—but it didn’t quench the burning. He and Kareem had dropped the others at a hotel then went to a floating restaurant on a Bangkok canal. The menu was written in five languages and the color of ink used for each entrée indicated its level of spiciness.
“It’s mild.” The larger Arab answered quickly in strained voice.
[A fish lives in water,] Loki replayed a clip, [how spicy can it be?]
It was a poorly thought out rationalization. Tariq had brazenly ordered a dried catfish starter printed in reddish-brown ink as opposed to the safer looking tan writing. He lolled his tongue out and he fanned it with a hand.
[Duh! A breeze can’t cool a spice burn.]
It did help in this instance: a giggling waitress spotted his distress and rushed to his aid with a sliced loaf of bread, to sponge away the pepper.
“It’s not bad.” The officer’s face was ruddy and his voice, breathless.
“I’m glad I didn’t order from the crimson ink column like you did?” Tariq chuckled as he saw Kareem sweating profusely. He paid in pain for his foolishness with the weights and now his mouth has to foot the bill.
[Jihad Joe’s whole life is an ongoing masculinity challenge.]
“I like my food hot.” The captain pushed the words over scorched lips: he really meant that he liked it to be cooked. But when Tariq selected an item lettered in orange then Kareem had to better the bravery by choosing his from the scarlet letters. He chewed gingerly and swallowed quickly.
“I haven’t developed your constitution’s immunity to chili.” The older man pushed his fish dish away and opted for fruit and sticky rice.
“Taking another bite,” Kareem sped up the tempo of his mouthfuls and almost swallowed the food whole, “slows the afterburning effect.”
“My biggest fear with ultra-spicy food isn’t the heat on my palette.” Tariq waited until the red-faced man was nearly finished his entrée before divulging the worst bit. “The nastier part comes after it passes through the internals and reaches the exit orifice. There, the burn is excruciating.”
“Really?” The beet color of Kareem’s cheeks paled to a pastel.
“I plan on taking a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher to the toilet to cool my ring of fire.” The Iranian plastered on an envious expression. “That’s just me though. You appear orally accustomed to the spices, so your entire digestive tract has doubtlessly built up the same tolerance.”
“Yah.” Allah! Why did I eat this? “I can take it.” Kareem had a bitter recollection of how badly his muscles hurt after lifting weights. Now, he was seemingly due to suffer anal agony for his one-upmanship.
“Well, this has been an interesting meal and the dining establishment is similarly memorable.” Tariq appreciatively cast about at the collection of wooden islands tied together with a series of footbridges. The Thai staff, both male and female, were attired in traditional costumes and stood ready to serve. “Still, the riveting question is why are we here?”
“We’re here staying at the Mercy Hotel,” Kareem Kareem set aside his apprehension of a next bowel movement, “because it’s located in an Arabic part of Bangkok and it’s an easy walk from gogo bars in the Nana Plaza.”
[That answers where but not why.]
“And is this a holiday inside of a vacation?”
“It’s something like that.” Kareem declined on elaboration and even the topic seemed to irritate him almost as stormily as the repast had. Since Tariq’s agreeing to join his squad, the captain had taken the older man on as almost a best friend—but remained closed-mouthed on many things.