xxxAn evening out
The restaurant was incredibly exclusive, darkly lit, and sumptuous. Mark looked around slightly in awe of what he was seeing. It was so exclusive that hardly anyone knew about it, and those who found out were turned away at the door. It was more like an old men's club, where you had to be invited before you could enter. He'd even had to sign a non-disclosure document at the door, along with Margaret's friend Jerry. He glanced back at Margaret as she whispered with clerk behind the desk in the main foyer. He watched the clerk nod at Jerry meaningfully, taking a few notes when Margaret nodded her head. Then he saw the clerk nod at him, and Margaret shaking her head quite emphatically. The noise from the restaurant quietened just enough for him to catch a few snatches of their conversation. "No, no. Just the one." "...Suspect?" "Hasn't... clue." Margaret was smiling as she wafted back towards them, barely contained within her fancy dress. "What do you think? Beautiful isn't it!" She said, waving her arm around. The restaurant was one of those old affairs with black, cast iron pillars holding up the ceiling. It also happened to be in the basement of a dilapidated old house in South Kensington, although Mark couldn't see how that was possible as the large room they were now in obviously had to extend beyond the confines of the original basement. It was also very, very cool, almost to the point of being bracing as they had stepped in from the heat of a London mid-summer. "Let's potter over to the bar, boys. Our table won't be ready for a while yet." She took them both by the arm, and practically dragged them over to the overstocked bar running the left hand side of the room. "How may I help you?" Said the barman, making a bee line for our end of the bar. "PinaColada for me, how about you Jerry? Mark?" Jerry looked longingly at the long line of alcohols, and finally shook his head. "Sorry Margaret, I have to drive back after this. Got to go to a meeting in the morning." Margaret looked aghast! "What! But it's Sunday tomorrow! No, can't be having that. You can catch a cab." Jerry moved to decline, but Margaret had already ordered a double scotch for him and a coke for Mark. Jerry frowned. "How come you get special treatment?" He said, scowling at Mark's glass. "Oh leave the boy alone Jerry. He doesn't usually drink." She nudged Mark painfully in the ribs. "But you'll have some champagne later on, won't you?" Her eye's sparkled, as she dangerously waved her PinaColada around the top of the bar. Mark nodded; he was supposed to be celebrating after all! He'd just had his first book published, and it had been predicted to reach number one in the best-sellers list next week. He took a sip of his cola, as Jerry finally resigned himself to getting legless and probably missing his meeting in the morning. Just as he finished his scotch the Maitre'D walked up and presented Jerry with a small, neatly folded envelope. Jerry frowned, and Mark was surprised to see him weave slightly as if he was already drunk. He slowly undid the envelope and looked inside.
"A phone call? I don't remember telling Jane I was coming here."
"The young lady said you had left something in the office sir."
"Did I? Damn, sorry Margaret, Mark. I'd better go speak with my secretary." He gave Margaret a peck on the cheek before the Maitre'D led him, unsteadily, away. "Bye darling!" Mark looked at her. "That's an odd thing to say." He said. For the merest instant she looked panicked; but the frivolous look quickly smoothed over the surprise and she was back to normal. "Oh, piffle. He'll be back in the time it'll take for our meal to arrive." She looked at Mark, and then shouted down the bar. "Jack! Roll out the champers, there's a dear!" She turned back to Mark. "So what do you think of our little restaurant?" He looked around the room. "It's fantastic. I've never been in a really posh restaurant before." "Hmph, you can't get anymore posh than this. All the animals are brought in especially for each customer, or sometimes by them. Tonight for-instance. I'm paying them to cook what I brought in earlier. Cut's the cost you see. I can't claim this back as expenses from the publishing company." Mark looked shocked. "You're paying for all this!" He said, as the barman deftly placed a champagne glass next to his half full coke. "It's alright! There's no need to be shocked. This is my special treat for my newest client. Oh, I hope you don't mind, but I ordered for you as well. And anyway, I thought you'd appreciate it after your first release." Mark picked up the champagne and took a quick sip, letting the cold liquid froth at the back of his throat. "I... I do, but maybe something you could claim back..." "Rubbish." She cut him off. "I like coming here every now and again, and thought you'd like to try something a little different. Not to mention, I hate eating on my own."
"What about Jerry?" Replied Mark. "Well, I've known you longer than Jerry! And he can be a frightful bore sometimes." She took a healthy mouthful of champagne, and giggled as the froth tickled the back of her throat. "Anyway, I've broken up with him." Mark looked confused. "But," Margaret shook her head. "Oh no, I haven't told him yet. But he'll find out pretty soon enough." At that moment a muffled scream came from the direction of the kitchen. "What the hell was that!?" Exclaimed Mark. A waiter came rushing out through the thick double doors of the kitchen and up to the barman. He then rushed back into the kitchen fielding questions as he went and leaving the barman to tell his customers what had happened. "Sorry sir, Ms Hallingway. The scream was one of the junior cooks. Wasn't looking where he was chopping, and lopped the tips off his fingers. Sorry if he shocked you." Mark shook, and took a larger mouthful of champagne whilst stealing against the thought of accidentally removing his fingertips with a cook's knife. "You alright?" Said Margaret, looking concerned. 'No I'm fine, just my imagination doing overtime, that's all." Said Mark, trying to still the small shake that he had developed. The Maitre'D wandered over. "Good evening Ms Hallingway, Mr Evans. I've just been asked by the cook as to how you would like your steaks?" He looked at Margaret as a small notepad and pen seemed to materialise out of thin air into his hands. "I'll have mine medium rare, with a jacket potato, sour cream with chives, and a standard side-salad." The Maitre'D raised an eyebrow. "Cutting back madam?" Margaret sighed, looking down at her overweight body. "I'm afraid so Charles. Doctor's orders. He did say to have a gradual decrease though, so we'll just have to leave the rest out tonight." The Maitre'D scribbled onto his notepad. "Very good madam." He looked at Mark. "And you sir?" Mark took a second's thought. "Well done please. With a side-salad and, French fries?" The Maitre'D scribbled some more. "Would you both like to order a sweet now, or later?" Margaret looked at her near empty glass. "Champagne sorbet for me. Mark?"
"I think I'll have the same thank you." There was more scribbling, and then the Maitre'D bowed and went off to the kitchen with the order. "That'll take about twenty minutes. Plenty of time to talk about your next project." Said Margaret, as she held out her champagne glass for the barman to fill.
Twenty-five minutes later their steaks arrived. Mark looked at his with almost uncontained curiosity. It was big, at least an inch thick with a thick layer of fat about its rim. It was the shape that struck Mark. It had a large round bone in the middle and looked a little like an apple sliced in half, except it was rounder. "What is it?" Margaret looked up at him, a large piece of steak speared on the edge of her fork dripping with the thin gravy everything was drowned in. "I'll tell you after. Don't worry, enjoy it! You never know, you might even be able to guess." She daintily pushed the oversized mouthful of steak into her mouth, and commenced to chew. Mark took the plunge, and cut a more adequate chunk from his steak. It tasted very much like pork, but there was something else. He tried to put his finger on it, but couldn't. Whatever it was, it was delicious and he hadn't eaten all day. Margaret had practically dogged him all day about ruining his appetite. "It's delicious, is it a relative of pork?" Asked Mark between mouthfuls. Margaret sipped her champagne. "No dear, not as such." She smiled, and Mark couldn't help the feeling that he was sitting at the table with a Shark. "As far as biology is concerned, the pig is probably the closest as far as anatomy and compatibility is concerned." She grinned broadly. "And that's a clue dear. An intelligent man like you should be able to figure it out by now." Mark nodded and looked around the restaurant. "Where's Jerry I wonder?" Margaret laughed. "I don't know dear. Maybe something eating him?" She laughed again. "Come on, finish your dinner. You won't get another one like this for a very long time."
The sorbet arrived before he'd even realised he was finished, along with a plate full of wedge-like after dinner mints. The steak was beginning to get on his nerves. What the hell was it? He had a very nasty feeling that he already knew, but wasn't prepared to admit it. Something like that couldn't possibly happen in England. Especially in the middle of London. Could it? And Margaret, surely she could be. No, it was a ridiculous thought. "Erm, Margaret."
"Erm, I didn't catch the location of the gents when I came in." Mark wagged his eyebrows meaningfully. "That's because we didn't pass them when we came in dear." She replied pointing to the far end of the room. "They're over there, just past the kitchens."
"Thanks, be back in a tick." He said, excusing himself, and standing up. Instead of weaving through the tables, he decided to take the long route that ran around the rim of the room. Which also just happened to take him past the double doors leading to the kitchens. As he went past a waiter holding two plates swung the door open. He grabbed the edge of the door, as the waiter moved through. "Thank you very much sir." Said the waiter, as he rushed off into the sea of waiting tables. Mark took his chance, and grabbed a quick glance into the kitchen as the door swung shut. He saw the head chef standing in the middle of the kitchen shouting at a junior chef, a large meat cleaver covered in blood in his right hand. And in his left something else. Mark suddenly found he couldn't hold his stomach, and ran for the toilets. Once there, he upchucked into a bowl until he couldn't do it anymore. He felt dizzy as he knelt there in front of the toilet. He reached up and grabbed a handful of toilet roll with which to wipe his mouth. "First time huh?" Mark would've frozen, but he couldn't stop shaking. He slowly looked around. A tall burly man with an African accent stood behind him. "Uh, uh. Yeah." Stuttered Mark. "Hey, don't worry about it. You'll soon want to try again. It's sort of addictive, yes?" Mark flushed the toilet, and got unsteadily to his feet. "Yeah, my first time was in the rift. Stumbled on two tribes battling it out in the jungle. Ended up killing half of one tribe, to which the others were very grateful. Even to the point of sharing the spoils with me. Couldn't exactly refuse. They'd kill me too if I hadn't accepted, yes? Threw up for three days after that. Ate a bad one, yes? The natives thought it hilarious." Mark nodded; all he wanted to do was get out. He reached for the sink, and splashed cold water on his face.
"Anyway, we'll probably see you again in a while. Welcome to the club!" The man slapped Mark on the back and walked out. Mark felt his stomach start to do flip flops, but managed to keep control. He looked in the mirror. "God I look awful." He mumbled, noticing his blood-shot eyes and pallor. He stood up as straight as his shaking would allow, and tried to clean himself up.
"What happened Mark? You look awful!" Said Margaret as he sat down again.
"Probably something I ate." Margaret looked genuinely concerned. "Can I get Charles to get you something?" She motioned to get the Maitre'Ds attention, but Mark stopped her. "No, no. I'll be fine. Could probably just do with going to bed." Margaret looked at him and nodded. "O.k. I'll put you in a taxi, and see you tomorrow. Can't do with my new star author being ill on my account." She waved at the Maitre'D.
"Charles, could you get Mark here a cab please. He's not feeling very well." "Of, course madam." The Maitre'D walked away to the desk and spoke quietly with the clerk.
A few minutes later Mark was standing on the doorstep of the restaurant, watching the thunderstorm that had just started. The black cab rolled up outside, and a bellhop held an umbrella over his head as they rushed to the cab. "Where to guy?" Said the driver. "29, Melrose place. Kensington." The driver nodded, and gunned the engine. Mark looked back through the rain, and waved back at Margaret as she stood in the doorway. He'd gotten out. Thank God, he'd gotten out. Funny that, he'd never thought he'd switch onto automatic. It had been the strangest thing, a bit like seeing someone else play him. He could understand why. He'd only had one thought on his mind since he'd seen into the kitchen. His stomach reeled again at the thought, and he was forced to wind the window down a let the rain splash onto his face. The chef had been standing there with the cleaver in his right hand, shouting at the junior cook, and waving the cleaver around dangerously. And in his other hand. Oh, God! Jerry. 'I'm so sorry Jerry' He thought, as he held onto his stomach. In his minds eye, the chef standing there with Jerry's head hanging from his hand by the hair, It's eye's wide and staring, and it's mouth open in the scream that he'd heard earlier. Mark started to shake again, and he leant into the wind taking cool breaths of air.
"And Mr Evans Madam?"
"Oh, put him on ice. We'll save him for the Christmas do."
"Very well madam. And what about the rest of Mr Dunstable?" "Save some steaks and a few ribs for later. Use the rest." "Thank you very much madam. I'm sure the club will appreciate your donation." "That's alright Charles. Well, I'm heading home. Goodnight Charles." "Goodnight madam. Sleep well."
"Oh, I will Charles. I will."