The Return of a True Hero
By David Boop
Eight-year-old Bobby tried to chew through the piece of steak his mother had cut off for him. Instead of getting smaller, as he knew most food did when you chewed it, the piece in his mouth just seemed to get bigger.
“Mommy?” Bobby said from around the meat ball, “I don’t think I can swallow this.”
“Eat your food,” his step-dad said, anger already firing up in his tone. “I spent good money to take us out for dinner. I won’t have you turning your nose up at it.
“Please,” Bobby's mother entreated, “Don’t make a scene here. It’ll embarrass your father. We don’t get to go out to nice places like this often.”
But neither statement was true. The man was not his father, nor was the place nice. The Feed Bag Buffet produced enough food to feed an army, but most of it didn’t taste like food. It was very salty, overcooked, or just unidentifiable. Bobby thought he was safe getting steak, his favorite food, but the steak had been softened to the point he thought a baby could eat it.
And yet, it was inedible.
Seeing the pleading in his mother’s eyes and the whitening of his step-father’s knuckles as he tightened his grip around his fork, Bobby chose to swallow the lump instead of spit it out.
He suddenly couldn’t breathe! The meat grenade lodged in his throat half way down. Bobby grabbed his neck and tried to gag.
“Stop that, you ungrateful shit! That’s good meat.”
Bobby opened his wordless mouth and tried to tell them he was choking, but his step-father turned away disgusted and his mother stared at her plate horrified.
“Don’t you give into his theatrics,” his step-father commanded. “He’s just trying to get attention!”
Bobby leapt from his chair, knocking it over, and swung around looking for anyone to help. Despite the cattle call crowds, everyone seemed to be looking elsewhere. White started coming in at the edges of his vision and he felt dizzy. The room spun without him moving, and Bobby thought he might pass out.
A loud noise, like doors being slammed opened, echoed through the restaurant. All eyes turned to the front, all talk stopped and many jaws hung open.
The newcomer didn’t have an ounce of fat on him, evident by the way his suit fit him perfectly. The suit, the color of the warm, red center of a rare porterhouse, glistened. It’s owner–bald, wearing sunglasses indoors, and raising an eyebrow in concern–scanned the room until his gaze fell on Bobby.
Wasting no time, the stranger rushed across the room and swung the boy around until he stood behind him. Carefully placing his locked hands under Bobby’s ribcage, the man squeezed once, twice until the lodged piece of chewed rawhide shot from his throat like a bullet. It flew straight as an arrow, hitting his disbelieving step-father right in the face. Falling back off his chair, step-daddy let lose a string of curses as the stranger took a knee to see if Bobby was okay.
A crowd gathered around them. Bobby’s mother rushed to her son's side, holding him and crying. The strange man examined at Bobby’s eyes with the knowledge of someone who’d seen things --- things he could never speak of.
“There will be some red veins around the edges. I’d take him to the ER just to make sure he’s okay.”
The step-father, having righted himself, pushed his way to the trio.
“Who are you? And what gives…you…the…”
The stranger stood up, the size difference between them apparent to all. He stared down at the angry man, his own anger in check. Only the color of his cheeks, slightly turning pink in the center, gave away any emotion. When he spoke, though, his words hit like a branding iron.
“You should be taken out back and filleted. This boy was choking and you were too worried about money to see that. How much money would you have lost had he died? Funerals aren’t cheap. Or would you have cremated him, like the ‘chefs’ here do their steaks? It’s unfair to the kid, and unfair to the steaks.”
He turned to address the crowd.
“Is this really how you want to enjoy steak? Over tenderized? Over cooked? For what you spent here today, you could go to a grocery store and buy a couple of nice New York strips. Or better yet, quit smoking, the lot of you, and take that money you’ve saved and put it into a jar until you can take yourself out for a nice steak dinner.”
He smiled at Bobby and his mom. “You’re going to be okay, kid. Don’t let this ruin your love of well-prepared meat.”
And then he walked to the remains of the doors he’d kicked down. A manager said, “The doors were unlocked. You could have just opened them.” The stranger held up his palm, as to ask the man to tell his woes to the hand. He rotated slightly so he could look back at the assembly.
“Remember, asking for steak to be cooked anything above medium is a sin to the steak. Rare or medium rare is always better.”
Before the man could leave, Bobby called out, “Thank you, sir! What’s your name?”
The man smirked and said, “They call me, Mr. Steak.”
Hushed excitement rippled through the people there. Sounds of “I thought he was dead?” and “Have you ever seen such beefcake?” reached Bobby’s ears as he watched his savior depart.
And in that moment, Bobby knew in his heart, he’d never eat poorly cooked steak again.