BHUT JOLOKIA | Rob Hart

When you visit Google and type in “world’s hottest pepper” you find there are a lot of contenders for the crown.

There’s the bhut jolokia, cultivated in Indian states like Assam and Nagaland. The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion from, you guessed it, Trinidad. The Red Savina, which was engineered in California.

The trick, it seems, is to look at Scoville units. That’s the measure of concentration of capsaicin, the active component in peppers that makes them spicy.

The bhut jolokia measures about 1.5 million Scoville units.

For the sake of comparison, a jalapeno rates about 3,500.

Bhut jolokia it is.

You order four from a specialty food website and wait for the mailman. You purchase a pair of goggles and some heavy-duty rubber gloves from the hardware store, because you will be playing with the culinary equivalent of fire.

You imagine the look on Scott Olson’s stupid fucking face when he takes a big bite of your lunch.

That heavy-breathing, flop-sweated pervert.

Scott has stolen your lunch fourteen times now. Never when it’s something boring, like PB&J. Only when it’s good, like leftover meatball parm from the place down the block, or when you summon the commitment to make a big batch of short rib stew.

Every day around 11:30 — just before the lunch rush — Scott cruises the refrigerator and makes his selection. If it’s not you, it’s someone else who goes hungry.

You can’t complain. No one can. The last person who did got canned. That’s what happens when your daddy owns the company, and is also a prick.

Then there are all those times he’s openly stared at your tits while discussing shipping quotas or delivery reports. You stopped counting how many times he’s done that.

When the box arrives, you cut it open and upend it onto the counter. Four shriveled peppers fall out, dark red like bruised lips, wrapped in crinkly cellophane.

After slicing them lengthwise you dispose of the seeds, because it’s a myth that the seeds store capsaicin. All the heat is in the flesh. Thank you Google.

You turn the Julienned strips sideways and do a Brunoise cut, dicing them into tiny cubes. The gloves make it a little tough to maneuver the knife. You wish you had a mask, because you feel a sharp tickle in your sinus cavity.

The diced peppers go into the cauldron of tomato sauce and cheap ground meat and spices bubbling on the stove.

When the chili is done it’s deep brown and thick. You forget to put the goggles on, so when you take the lid off, steam billows out and your eyes instantly burn and fill with tears. You wash your face with a gallon of milk over the sink. Milk contains casein, a compound that binds with and washes away capsaicin.

Again, thank you Google.

Your eyes sting a little for the rest of the night, but the pain is worth it, because when you arrive at work the next day, you are dizzy with excitement.

You know Scott likes chili. You know he won’t be able to resist. You used a clear plastic storage container and even wrote ‘chili’ on top in black felt marker, just to be sure.

This will be a win for every office worker who has ever been treated like a gear in a machine or a stat on a spreadsheet, rather than a human being. You wonder how long you’ll have to wait before you can admit to your co-workers that, yes, you are the one.

The new office hero.

You fantasize about them carrying you aloft on your desk chair, marching among the cubicles as interns throw shredded ribbons of expense reports into the air.

This makes you smile.

You don’t stay in the kitchen because you don’t want to be present at the scene of the crime, so you tuck into your office with your PB&J and you wait.

And wait.

Come noontime, you walk down the hall and find nearly the entire office crowded around the door leading into the kitchen. Laughing at that asshole’s misfortune, no doubt.

Except, no one’s laughing.

No one is moving, either.

Hands are held at mouths, eyes stretched wide in horror. Dread so palpable your stomach twists into a knot, putting undue pressure on both ends of your digestive tract.

The crowd parts. A stretcher rolls out, guided by two paramedics. Scott is lying on top with his shirt ripped open, an oxygen mask clamped on his face, his skin shiny and slick with sweat.

He’s not moving, either.

You hear someone in the crowd say the words “heart condition.”

You are dizzy, again, but not with excitement.

To your right is the sound of shoes scraping against carpet. You turn and find a handsome police officer. Strong jaw and white teeth and blue blue eyes.

He is not smiling.

“Ma’am, if you could just come to the conference room in a little bit. We have to speak to everyone who was here today.”

Rob Hart is the author of New Yorked and City of Rose. His short fiction has appeared in publications like Thuglit, Needle, Joyland, and Helix. Non-fiction has appeared at LitReactor, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Nailed. You can find him online at @robwhart or www.robwhart.com.

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