And without further ado the Winner is…
1st Place: Ken Allen “Table for Won”
2nd Place: Phil Town “The Tea Service”
3rd Place: Ilana Leeds “The Service”
4th Place: Alice Nelson “Invisible”
5th Place: Carrie Zylka “Customer Service”
Story with the Favorite Character: Phil Town – Baili
Story with the Best Pacing: Carrie Zylka
Story with the Best Use of Dialogue: Ken Allen
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Per the new process, Christopher Smith has three days to choose the next prompt/theme. Visit http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/why-and-how-to-participate/writing-prompt-roster/ to view the Writing Prompt Roster.
Table for Won by Ken Allen
Copyright 2017 – all rights reserved
Pierre Patron draws a deep breath from his cigarette causing the end to glow brightly. It illuminates the smoke whispers from several remnants that had been discarded in an ashtray that sits in the centre of the table. He rests his shaking hand next to the tray and exhales slowly, letting the smoke fill his vision. To me, he looks like the devil emerging from the brimstone, on the hunt for more souls to join his army. A bead of sweat develops on my forehead and it runs a trail down my nose. I am too nervous to move, to wipe it away because one does not simply do that sort of thing in the presence of Pierre Patron.
“You know what you must do,” he says. His accent is thick with dirty Parisian alleyways instead of the chimes of aristocracy he portrays.
I nod, afraid to utter even a single syllable. My throat is dry, closed up. My hands are clammy. My stomach is turning in ways that mystify physics.
“Do you realise how long we’ve been waiting for this opportunity?” He takes another slow drag.
I nod, just enough that I think he understands my answer. My top button is done up and is unbearably tight.
“What?!” He barks. “Cat got your fucking tongue or something?”
“N-n-n-o,” I stutter, fighting hard to keep my composure in the building heat. I never wanted this job, but I need it. It is not wise to be in the city without a job, and more so to cross Pierre Patron.
“Woo Won is the biggest asshole I know, and he is coming here tonight. And if we do this right, it will be his last. He’s been a thorn in my ass ever since I came to this flea-ridden town, ever since he dethroned Bertle Brinkinwine as the, how you say, top dog. You’ve got your job to do … do your fucking job.”
The last person who disobeyed Pierre Patron, an obese screw-up called Deegan Duggery, ended up in his kitchen… and never heard from again … however, he did taste very much like chicken.
“I … I won’t let you down,” I say. My heart is racing, each beat a punch in my chest.
Pierre gently lays his cigarette in the ashtray. “You had better not, you snivelling little shit.” His hands move fast and I don’t see where the meat cleaver materialises from until it is wedged into the table in front of me. It tremors from the impact like a metronome. Tears form in my eyes. He ignores them.
“We have intelligence to suggest Won is on his way. Chef Clement is in the kitchen as we speak making final preparations.” He laughs, and I can’t tell if it’s with nervousness or madness. I think the latter.
“It is my mother’s mother’s recipe you know. It was saved during the battle of Verdun in World War One. It survived the Nazi’s in Oradour-sur-Glane during World War Two.” He leans across the table. “Original in every respect.” He leans back, the chair arguing under his weight. He digs in his pocket to reveal a vial of clear liquid. “That is, until tonight,” he says with a sneer. He seems to be fully enraptured with the thrill of the night rather than butchering the edible legacy.
I inspect the clear liquid from my side of the table as he tilts it back and forth. I know exactly what it is, I know exactly the effects. You don’t get to hang around Pierre Patron as much as I do and not pick up a few things. It saddens me. If I was half the man I claim to be I would pick up the cleaver and slice through his wrist. But I am not half the man. I am the messenger. I have resigned myself to this role.
There is a faint ring in the distance that I am conscious of, yet ignore. I am hypnotized, not by the liquid, but by what it represents. A death? A life? A future?
Suddenly a head appears around the corner at the far wall.
“He is here,” she says excitedly. “Won is here!”
Before I can meet her eyes, she is gone.
Pierre Patron stabs his cigarette into the ashtray with as much ceremony dumping leftovers into the trash. He leans on the table and looms over me. He points with nicotine stained fingers. “You …” But then trails off as he mumbles something inaudible and turns to the kitchen.
“Chef Clement?!” He shrieks.
“Deux minutes, Monsieur Patron,” the reply coming from the depths of pots, pans and steam.
Pierre Patron eases his jacket on, straightens his collar and sleeves, and points at me again. “You …” And then he is gone. And I am left. I am alone.
I stand at the counter and wait. Wait for the plate, wait for Chef Clement to erupt from the sacred space and bark an order at me. I pace as I recite the instructions. They are clear and absolute. Pick up the order, take it to table, place it in front of Woo Won, walk away. Each one deliberate and purposeful. They are not options, they are the sequence to be adhered to. I look back down at the meat cleaver still embedded in the table. I look over the counter to the inner sanctum of the restaurant. I am between the proverbial rock and hard place.
Pierre Patron returns, coming around the corner and holding onto the wall for support. He looks dejected, destroyed. A man who has been beaten with soul destroying words. The melancholy emanates from him like an unwashable stench. His eyes are downcast. He shuffles to his chair and leans against it, facing away from me. I look on him with a feeling somewhere between sorrow and rapture, but I know no one word can describe it.
A plate is placed on the counter next to me so gently I can barely hear the china making contact with the stainless steel. The words, however, barrel into me like a truck.
I flinch at the delivery and know Chef Clement has enjoyed startling me.
“Get it done,” I hear Pierre Patron say. His voice is low and broken.
I nod to no one as I take a deep breath and drape the white cloth over my arm. With the dish held high over my head, I march towards the door. “Un service,” I say proudly. “Une fois de plus à la brèche, chers amis, encore une fois.”
The restaurant is abuzz with life. Black coated young men manoeuvre expertly between the tables and around each other. There is a low murmur as conversations continue amongst the clinking of glasses and cutlery. Food and drink at the highest possible quality are consumed, gratuities being shown with clean plates and empty glasses.
But there, in the middle of it all, is Woo Won. He sits and twitches with discomfort. He is bathed in a light that makes it look like he is the lead actor for tonight’s play. And for all intents and purpose, he is. He adjusts his bowtie and sips a glass of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945. I know it is on the house, from Pierre Patron’s personal collection, and runs in the vicinity of twenty-five thousand a pop.
Another breath before I march towards fate. Tables and waiters seem to part before me, understanding the importance of what is about to happen.
“Ohayō, Mr Woo,” I say effortlessly as I place the dish in front of him.
If he respects my perfect pronunciation, he doesn’t show it. From my vantage point, I can see him transfixed on the cloche, waiting for the reveal, eager for that first look, that first smell. I know that alone will make up eighty-five percent of the review. I leave him in that state and begin to tiptoe on that line of being dangerously close to going off script.
With a wave of my hand, I release the dish. I briefly gaze at the delicate morsels, the restaurant noise fading into silence. With cloche in hand, I take a step back and to the side, eager to see Woo Won’s reaction. A twitch of the nose, an enlarged pupil, a poker face.
I can feel Pierre Patron’s gaze on me, I can feel his question: Why are you standing there? But I can’t help it. I want to watch it unfold.
Ever so slowly, Woo Won picks up his fork, extracts a ration and slides it onto his tongue. And ever so slowly, the turning of his lips upwards. A wave of emotion. A solitary tear. Past, present and future all rolled into one.
Chef Clements surgical-like skill combined with Pierre Patron’s liquefied LSD / MSG hybrid has saved the restaurant.
A positive review will be made.
Another year’s grace.
And I shall remain outside of the kitchen.