Fiction: Fine Dining in a Time for Murder

By L.P. Ring

 

Ellen gnashes down on that final bite of salmon and wishes she could wipe away the memory of her wheedling and pleading in Dr. Mandel’s office. “Frustrations?” she remembers half-ranting, “like my boss, co-workers, the idiot I’m supposed to marry.” She sounded like a victim then. Like a junked-up housewife who’d exhausted her opiates drawer. “I want to scream. Throw things. Punch the walls. I need pills. Something. Anything.” The doctor removed his glasses to polish the lenses, a stalling habit which was definitely grating. “I might have just the approach, Ellen,” he said, resettling the glasses on his nose and smiling. She detested his smile, wanted to punch out every pearly white tooth. “Something a little unique.”

“Define unique.”

“A little exercise we employ here which utilizes more modern psychiatric approaches. I think you’ll even enjoy yourself.” 

Right this moment, Ellen dearly wishes the quack did just prescribe her extra benzos. Anything but this fresh hell.

The aperitif of salmon and poached eggs has overpowered the dry white wine. The room bears a distinct chill that draws goosebumps along her arms. The lighting’s too dim. Ellen bites her lip while Paul uses a bread roll to mop up the last bit of yolk, her irritation at him further pricked, she’s sure, by the boorishness across from her. Forgiving little things, yes, she’s agreed in Mandel’s sessions was important. But this, this?!Chad smirks, his eyes roving fellow diners for support. Has nobody else been listening to him? So now decorous self-preservation means being deaf?!

“I love this sauce. Is it hollandaise?” Chad’s girlfriend’s question also finds deaf ears. Royce reiterates that the eggs are locally sourced, the salmon free range, to a hum of simpered appreciation.

“It’s the usual woke crap,” continues Chad. ‘Woke’ is accompanied by index-fingered quotation marks. “I used to like his movies, but he’s gone all PC like the rest.”

“What’s PC about it?”

“The leads are lesbians. Their daughter’s Chinese or something – adopted!” That verbal ejaculation is accompanied by another eyeroll. Surrogacy or sperm donation is obviously ‘woke’ too. Everything except hush payments to porn stars and UFC is these days.

“The director didn’t write it.” Paul fiddles with his napkin.

“How’s that even the point?” asks Ellen. Chad’s girlfriend owns it might not be hollandaise though struggles to name another sauce the color of egg yolk.

“All this insistence about on-screen representation is just more affirmative action, virtue-signaling bullshit.” 

“Thank you, ‘Tucker Carlson’!”

The tap of Royce’s spoon against his water glass needles her further. “Okay everyone, remember to score the courses. Separate ones for the dish and for the wine. And remember -politics affects the flavors.” Waitresses whisk away the plates. The second course is duck, spring vegetables, and a pinot. The duck will be fatty. Paul’s knee nudges hers. “Waitress wants the cutlery, hun.” Surrendering the fork brings a pang of loss at no longer being able to drive its prongs into Chad’s righteye.  Melody wonders about “this mild October we’ve been having”. Stella mentions the tiresomeness of switching wardrobes. Ellen reaches into her handbag and presses down hard on the remote link.

Pause.

“Good evening, Ellen. How may we assist you?”

“This is driving me mad.”

“We’re more than happy to oblige any changes, Ellen. But this is part of Doctor Mandel’s programming.”

“Would changes mean breaking with the session? Restarting the damn thing?”

“It’s as simple as stepping outside the front door. Any specifications you wish will be actioned during your absence.”

Ellen wants Melody to shut up more and Stella to shut up completely, Paul to be a little more engaged and stop fiddling with his damn napkin. Something wicked occurs to her, to really get her homicidal mania pumping. Chad and his girlfriend glyph get some added extras. Forget these petty irritations – just rip the fucking plaster right off.

“We will action your requests. We hope you have a pleasant evening.” 

Unpause.

“Ladies’ room.” She rises, balling up her napkin. Chad mentions some play-off game which prompts a groan from Paul who doesn’t even like sports. Trust him to make nice. He’s also scored the white wine high despite its clearly being the wrong partner for the dish. The clip-clop of her heels reverberates on the tiles. A phalanx of waitresses slide soundlessly past; the second course will be cold by the time she returns. Great!

She strides past the bathroom, down the entrance hall swathed in dark oak, and out into the night air, her fingers already tapping the cigarette pack. The dim lights, the ostentatious decor, the cloying air, everything is jarring, turning her experience, her purge into torture. Oh, there will be feedback, she thinks, remembering Mandel’s patter about valuing patients’ experiences. The flame catches with a satisfying auditory hiss, the first drag bringing her blessed relief. She shivers, regretting not bringing her jacket. Melody’s a fucking idiot; this evening isn’t mild at all. She paces back and forth, the cold tingling at her fingers.

She’s away from the entrance when Chad’s girlfriend appears for her own nicotine hit, her smart phone wedged in the crook of her neck. “Uhuh, yeah. All quarter portions and a bunch of thirty-somethings falling over to show how culturally attuned they are. You should get a load of the couple across from us. Can’t even talk about movies in peace. 

“Hell is other people, am I right?”

Bitch.

“The food’s fine. Red wine with duck though? That should be white, right?” She laughs. “Yeah, same as lives, maybe white wines don’t matter either.”

Mega bitch. Ellen extinguishes her butt in the soil of a potted plant. Lop off the bitch’s head, she thinks. Stick it on a rotisserie spike. The call ends. If there’s one thing that should act as a hand of friendship crossing the cultural divide, it’s the discrimination against smokers. But here we are. She holds an intake of breath, picturing the bitch’s reaction to catching her eavesdropping, the resulting need to throttle her among the shrubbery. She scrunches the butt underfoot and returns to the restaurant’s relative warmth. And breathe out, Ellen. Ellen. Breathe out, for fuck’s sake. 

The pressure in her bladder signals she actually does need the restroom. Its door has a squeaky hinge, its mirror offers the image of a woman so far only armed with white knuckles and bared teeth. Did she really blow $400 on a Skin from Revolution FAB-rics to be this miserable?

Back at the table and hers is the only plate untouched. She shakes off Paul’s aggravating attempts to check she’s okay. Eleven sets of eyes watch each bite even as murmurs trade end of year plans. Plate gone. Score the dish – cold through her own fault - and the unsipped wine.

“I’d prefer less courses with more generous wine pours.” Chad’s girlfriend throws back hers in a gulp and twists the glass left and right by the stem. “I never drink alcohol with my food. Drinks should be an appetiser or a dessert, not an accompaniment.”

“Sorry. This isn’t your scene, babe.” Chad leans in for a pecked kiss. His hand creeps beneath the tablecloth, coping a squeeze of bare thigh. She answers with a naughty smirk.

Royce logs his scores and places his iPhone next to Melody’s. “The Beef Bourguignon comes with a special vintage Red Bordeaux and will be introduced by Chef Andre himself. It’s the peak of the evening.” 

“The money shot,” Chad sniggers, his eyes hunting out those of his fellow male diners. Ellen senses a conspiratorial aura emanating from Paul and quells a snarl. Never one of the boys, but always straining at the leash for inclusion. “This isn’t a damn Hooters.”

“It’s just a bit of fun … Erin, is it?” 

Ohhhhh, that sneaky prick! She feels Paul brush a calming finger against her hand. The game’s truly playing her now. The chef, his white pristine uniform wasted against these low restaurant lights, appears, his hands clasped, a welcoming smile playing round his lips. His pleasantries interest Ellen as much as her 8th grade calculus teacher’s drone did. 

“This dish combines the finest of ingredients. The different steps in the cook have been timed to the minute and been calibrated to exact degrees.”

Her death glare makes Chad fidget. 

“The meat is farmed ethically. The vegetables sourced locally.”

Appreciative murmurings sprout from around the table, jarring like nails on a chalk board. She’s twisting her napkin into knots beneath the tablecloth.

“Bonne appetite.” A subtly administered round of appreciatory clapping sees the chef back to his kitchen. Only Ellen doesn’t participate. 

“Ellen,” hisses Paul. “Stop glaring.”

A person can talk and act like they’re in a titty bar, but you don’t call someone out on it. 

“Are those ethically treated cows also locally sourced? I know the grapes aren’t.” Chad swirls the contents of the glass. He drains half – he hasn’t even cut into the meat. Ellen knows they’ll gossip about her all the way home:

“What an absolute bitch.”

“Clearly isn’t getting any.”

“He didn’t seem so bad.”

“Dating her, there’s something wrong with him.”

A dribble of blood smears brilliant against the white porcelain. Her right hand grips the sterling silver hilt of the knife, a perfect weapon for a close quarter kill. A knife slicing into skin has that tactility bullets just can’t provide. Did she hear that in some Andy McNab audiobook? She can already hear the clatter of broken crockery, the gasps and cries of petrified fellow diners, Melody’s screams – Melody’s definitely a screamer - as Ellen lunges across the table. The blade’s tip could slide through the sclera, vitreous dribble running down his cheek before she gouges the thing out, letting it dangle from a nerve. Someone might grab her around the waist, grasp an ankle if she wriggled free. Dinner and a show. The beef’s falling off the fork. Washes it down with a sip of Bordeaux – just a sip. Reaches into her handbag.  

Pause.

“How may we help you, Ellen?”

She chooses a semi-automatic she remembers from a spree killing at an office supply depot last week: three dead, four with what the news reports termed life-changing injuries. The weapon’s exactly what the ‘don’t tread on me’ brigade would masturbate over. She purrs at the thought of Chad’s face when she blows a hole through it. 

Unpause.

“What do you do, Chad?” asks Paul.

Banking. The puffed-up tranche of assholes responsible for screwing the economy and fucking her mortgage. It had to be banking. Ellen rises and hears an irritated tongue click from Royce. “Women’s problems. This month’s been a real red wave.” Royce’s expression goes stony. Everybody bar Chad’s other half, who actually looks impressed at the airy frankness of the tossed out excuse, looks harder at their plates. Nothing prompts more silent shame than matters of a woman’s biology.

The weapon’s set up at the sink. It’s lighter than expected. 

“Easy to use?” She aims the weapon at the mirror and she’s seeing what Chad will see. 

“Just point and shoot, Ellen.”

Unsurprising. If every gunowner needed a college education, there wouldn’t be many guns. The frock’s going to get some splatter. But isn’t a woman clothed in revolution and bathed in blood just what the doctor ordered? She reapplies her lipstick and some blue eye shadow. Killer style! Pleasure courses through her as she imagines each trigger pull. Blood mushrooming at every impact, taking every parasite out before she gets to slicing and dicing. She’ll strip and smear their blood across her skin like Elizabeth Bathory, knead it into her tits and ass. Rule the room like Sissy Spacek packing an AK47. Like Uma Thurman whaling on the Crazy 88s.

Chad’s telling a joke about a rabbi fucking a pig; Traitor Paul’s nodding with that stupid grin he uses at work drinks. She sees now how his interactions with Bitcoin bros and Wall Street wankers have made him too at ease in the presence of modern monstrosities. Nobody’s even looking as she stands behind her chair, nobody even hears the click of bullet entering chamber. “Hi, Chad.” She draws out the vowel, her tone anointing his name every ounce of mockery she can. He’s managed a few bites; the condemned man ate a worthy final meal.

“Ellen, what the …?!”

“You got my name right this time.” Ellen steels herself against the kickback and squeezes the trigger. It’s perfect; the bullet drills through Chad’s forehead, blood and brain matter spraying out the back of his head. His girlfriend rises, screaming, and takes Ellen’s second shot, the red crimson bloom patterning perfectly from between those way-too-perky tits. 

Paul slams against her, forces the barrel ceilingward before prising the weapon from her grasp, that Ivy League education and social niceties as expected adding up to someone deeply undependable. Hands grasp at her shoulders as she fumbles at her handbag, lipstick and eyeshadow blocking her attempt to grasp the remote. People scream about a second weapon as a waitress drags the bag from her, snapping the strap. The make-up and the remote spill out, clattering on the floor. Ellen’s screams of “Pause! Pause!! Pause!!!” bounce from the walls. Blood’s pooling round Chad’s head. “Just let me get my purse!!!” Paul, trembling, has placed the weapon on the table next to her untouched third course. Some fucker’s pinned her arms behind her back as her heart pumps scalding iron through her veins and the stiletto heel she stamps repeatedly fails to find a tender harbor. Royce is telling everyone to remain calm. Has anyone called the cops? Has anyone called the cops?!!!

It’ll be at least an hour before those morons in the VR booth realize she’s issued the verbal cessation. In the meantime, police sirens blare, announcing their impending arrival to action this crazy person’s arrest. “Ellen, I can’t believe you’d do something like this,” whispers a voice she doesn’t even recognise. She’s never had the patience for side characters. Never spend time on someone to whom you can’t be bothered explaining a sitcom plot. Never mind the motivation for multiple VR homicides.

Paul’s looking at her like she’s the criminal. Next session, he’s on her hit list for sure.

Chad’s girlfriend’s starting to twitch. Fuck! Ellen pictures what might constitute life-changing injuries. She might as well – there’ll be nothing for her to enjoy for the next hour anyway. From close by, someone begins to sob. Typical.

 

 

 

 

 

L.P. Ring is a writer and teacher from Cork, Ireland. He's published horror and crime fiction with Black Beacon PressThe Bombay Literary Magazine, Mythaxis, Shotgun Honey, and Fleas on the Dog among others. He lives in Japan with his wife and a cat which is always around at mealtimes.

 

 

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