Short story – A Dish Best Served Cold

Marcus watches as the plate is lowered to the starched cotton tablecloth. F. G. Fotheringale peers at it over his spectacles and scratches a few words in his notebook. The pen moves swiftly left to right, underlining something.

Marcus wonders what it is. “Elegant,” perhaps, or “sophisticated.” But no, knowing F. G. Fotheringale it will be something he’s never heard of, a French term that Marcus would have had to look up to know whether it was good or bad. Not that he’ll need to this time: this review will never be written.

The waiter is at Marcus’s shoulder, presenting his identical plate in precisely the same way, pointing with a neat fingernail to the silky slices of fugu (“prepared with the greatest care by Mr. Blackwood himself”) the glistening pools of plum sauce that Marcus knows already will be the perfect consistency, the delicate shiso leaves adding colour.

The envy tastes like vinegar.

At the next table, F. G. Fotheringale picks up his chopsticks. A few seconds more and he’ll capture a sliver of fugu, dip it in that piquant sauce. How long, Marcus wonders, before Fotheringale’s lips start to tingle, before his vision blurs? Will he look up then and see Marcus sitting there? Will he have time to regret the words that have led to this moment?

“Pedestrian.”“ Prosaic.” “Passé.” Each one an alliterative dagger to Marcus’s soul.

Fotheringale deserves this, and Blackwood too. Walking out like that, as if he owed Marcus nothing. After all those years of training, of patience. Of friendship.

The sous chef had been easy to persuade: a droplet of pufferfish poison added discreetly to Fotheringale’s sashimi. He’s been slipping the mortadella to Maria Blackwood and believes he’ll take over the restaurant when her husband’s reputation is ruined. He’s not the sharpest knife in the block.

Marcus smiles as he lifts his own chopsticks to his mouth. Delicious: he can see why the Japanese take the risk. His eyes meet Fotheringale’s as he chews.

But what is this? The sous chef is at the kitchen door, waving, frantic. Marcus freezes, his chopsticks in mid-air.

He presses a finger to his tingling lips.