Although the money and hours were good we had no satisfaction in cooking for pompous aristocrats. We had been fortunate that our patrons, with the exception of Mayor Cran, had all been upstanding. But the people of the capital who booked nights as Zarinah’s continued to disappoint. Night after night we slaved through the company of wanton fools who had no souls and no decency, but we knew that it was necessary then to build our reputation. It was gruelling, but Luke and I persevered. Then, one day, to our utter shock, the Commandant of the army and navy, Aeron Mulaar and Vice President Griton walked through our door with their entourage.
Now, to say that these were stern men is a colossal understatement, they were outright severe even when relaxed. Both the Commandant and the Vice President had been a part of a regime that had caused an uprising, just like the one in our homeland when Luke and I were children, but they had swapped sides just before the uprising failed, alongside several others, each of whom had wormed their way into the surviving government. I was winded when I saw them, even though it they had performed their sins decades previous I remembered them from the newspaper articles I had read at Tomassino’s vineyard. All the newspapers and the people scalded them both for their lack of trustworthiness. I wanted to take a knife to them, knowing all too well the injustice such whores cause, but it was futile with the crowd of escorts present, each a thickset ox of a man. I looked to Luke and saw the dread and murder in his eyes so I winked at him and forced a smile onto my face in order to preserve us. The name used to book the feast that night had been innocuous so we had had no idea that such powerful and noxious guests would darken our humble restaurant. I dragged myself together inside and ushered them into their seats with a faux, respectful nod. Mulaar and Griton didn’t even look at me, so I made my address to the group brief before returning from the kitchen with the lemon water and then commencing my speech. I was trembling inside, terrified to my core that these people would kill me as soon as eat my food. What if something went wrong? What I killed them? Oh how I wanted to kill them all and anyone associated with them. These were the people who killed innocents like my mother and my little sisters. These monsters deserved a slow death, they deserved to suffer. Oh, how I want to murder their kind. But I couldn’t. Instead I handed out the palette cleanser to each of them and watched as they drank it under the auspices of the ceremony. As I finished my speech a flash of me running from the premises engulfed my imagination, but I pushed it from my mind and returned to Luke in the kitchen. He was stood there with his hands on a worktop, one resting on a large knife, his head dropped and his shoulders heaving with hurt and rage.
Dried Royal Plums basted in honey was the opener that night. I had been experimenting with that dish for weeks and knew that the heady honey and the high altitude tang of the plums would lift the diners up from themselves until the second course arrived. The blank contemptable expressions on Griton and Mulaar’s faces fell into involuntary decrees of pleasure, and even the escorts melted when the first morsel entered their mouths. Stood there before those seven sturdy men, all with their eyes closed and their uniforms gleaming, I could have cut all their throats, or just not served them the second serum, but I remained still and observed the gloom that hung in the once clean dream of our restaurant. It felt as though our hope itself had been defiled by their presence and, though they were cultured and conducted themselves with manners, even to look upon them felt wrong.
The next dish was a deep sea fish. It plunged our guests from the heights of the Royal Plum and honey into the ocean and the cold darkness of the endless night that prevailed there always. I could see them shiver. Inside each man a shuddering pleasure of flavour conflicted with the innate chilling atmosphere of the deep. They enjoyed it though, a fool could see that. And there I continued to stand as they gulped down mouthful after mouthful of fish in silence. I pretended to myself that they were drowning as they gasped loaded forks into their greedy mouths.
To finish, the herd of sinners were presented with Sky Fire Orange segments. It was almost a waste, but for the value of their opinion in the halls of power. I almost couldn’t watch as I fed my beloved oranges to that pack of rabid vermin. They loved it, and I hated them for loving it, they were unworthy. I wanted them to choke to death there and then, but instead their lurid grotesquery ululated with a satisfaction that was almost sexual. It felt as if they were molesting my hope, all of them were disgusting and lecherous vultures. But then they finished.
I forced the antidote onto them as the clock reached the end of the second hour. It was so very, very tempting to just see them on their way but I knew that I couldn’t, for Luke, if not for both of us. Their footsteps kept subconscious pace as the five others surrounded Mulaar and Griton delivered them out onto the street. Their praises rang in my ears like the screams of the dying children. I wanted praise but I didn’t want it from such criminal and horrific so-called leaders. I offered to cancel further dates to facilitate them again and any others such persons who they saw fit. I boiled my innards to be courteous and facilitative to them, but I reminded myself that it was a means to an end. To be in the good graces of the upper echelons of the country Luke and I would indeed rise, but, or course, it would force us into the presence of those who we loathed so much that we would have sold our souls to kill them. It hadn’t occurred to me while the Commandant and the Vice President were at Zarinah’s, but that night Luke and I had already decided – we would go as far as we could in the pursuit of those who had fought for the regime. We didn’t know yet what we would do, but we both had murder in our hearts. First though, we took an oath to remain vigilant and never to speak of our decision to anyone.
And so it went for a while. We continued as usual and kept secret to ourselves. We began to read the newspapers every day, building a picture of those who were brothers in brutality to ex regime members. We soon discovered who was still alive and in power and what their positions and duties were. I was surprised to see that other, aged, men still clung to power in positions within the government and the military. They all belonged to the same political party and they all were all beyond retirement age. That they still maintained power after they had been due to step down further infuriated me. It stank of corruption and the past. It was too familiar. These figures had long since operated in the pustulous murk of evil and yet they had never paid for their sins, for which, in all honesty, there was only one price.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey