Time: a few days after the end of Beside a Black Tarn
“Whoa! What the hell are you cooking in here, cowboy?” Mac had stopped in the kitchen door, rubbing his eyes. “Smells like it could peel paint.”
Corny manufactured a smile, though he was getting dad-blamed tired of that question. “Chili. Like I used to make back home. ’Cept these here Opaline chilis give it an extra kick.”
“Ms. Ivana lets you do this in her kitchen?”
A huff came from the ship’s speakers. “Our handsome cowboy’s the only person allowed to cook in my kitchen. He knows what he’s doing. Obviously, the high concentration of capsaicinoids doesn’t bother me.”
“Guess that’s true, Ms. Ivana. No eyes to water and such.” Corny nodded as he added the cumin to the simmering meat and chilis. “Onions would be good. Hard critters to find out here. And I only make it when we’ve rounded up some meat. Tried a bean version once so Ness could have some, but whoa Nelly! Demon farts are deadly.”
Mac raised both hands in surrender. “Have at it. I’ll come back later after you’ve vented the room.”
Left in peace, Corny hummed happily. He’d tinkered with the recipe since that first explosive batch he’d made onboard. Dangerous stuff and a few of the Opalines went a long way. Even their fussy captain like the new recipe and only Leopold wouldn’t touch it. Hedgehog eating habits were still a mystery to Corny.
A puff of steam drifted past Corny’s head just before Verin stuck his head in the doorway. “Is it done yet?”
Corny laughed. “I just started, Ver. Hold your big ole hell horses.”
Still grumbling, Verin sauntered in to peer over Corny’s shoulder. “Why’s it take so fucking long? Can’t you, like nuke it or something?”
“Can’t rush good chili.” Corny reached over to stroke one of Verin’s curled horns. “Nothin’ to do, big guy?”
“Got tired of watching stupid human porn. Ship doesn’t need me until tomorrow.”
“Come set a spell.” Corny pointed to the kitchen table and benches. “Keep me company. When I get everything in the pot, we can play a couple hands.”
Ver nuzzled at his neck and stole a piece of mostly raw meat from the pot before he took a seat. Weird relationship. Corny knew that, and he knew it wasn’t normal for Ver either from the looks they got from Shax every time Ver did what Corny asked without argument.
“Oh, my. Is that chili cooking?” Captain Shax leaned in the doorway, eyes glittering.
“Sure is, Cap. Be a couple, three hours yet though.”
“Are we getting a few hands in while we wait?” He plunked his little demon butt across the table from Ver.
“No one invited you,” Verin growled.
“C’mon, Ver, don’t be all ornery.” Corny shot him a stern glance. “Poker’s better with more anyway, right?”
Verin grumbled and let off some steam, but he got the cards out of the drawer and started shuffling. In the moment’s relative silence, the sound of muffled hooves trotting down the corridor reached them loud and clear.
Heckle skidded to a stop in the doorway, his friction socks only doing so much to keep him from sliding. His eyes closed as he sniffed the air. “What’s that wonderful smell?”
“Chili, little hombre. Made with Opaline chilis.” Corny nodded to the box on the counter.
With an automatic look toward the other demons to check if they objected to him being there, Heckle eased into the kitchen, then trotted over to Corny. He picked a chili up, sniffing at it.
“They’re really hot on their own. Not something you can eat raw or—“ Corny blinked in horror as Heckle bit off the end and chewed thoughtfully before he devoured the whole chili like candy.
“Those are nummy.” Heckle’s tail twitched excitedly. “Can I have another one?”
Corny handed him two more. “Go easy on ‘em, Heck. Probably not best for your stomach.”
With pleased little sounds, Heckle crunched on the peppers as he wandered back out, verifying for Corny what he had suspected for a bit. Imps were the toughest of the hell critters. He guessed they had to be since the other demons tended to use them as sex toys, snacks and punching bags.
A few minutes after Heckle’s visit, one more head popped around the corner—Julian with his perfect, bright smile. “Are we making neurotoxins? Can I have the recipe?”