by Rob Coapman
The maître d’ is approaching with a slight woman whom I recognise from magazine interviews.
He introduces her in a precise and mellifluous voice, “Roger Wellington, may I present Chef Marnie Asada?”
Clumsily pushing back my chair I stand to extend my hand. “How wonderful to meet you. I’ve read many of your reviews, Chef, but the reality is far better than I could have imagined; truly incredible.”
She keeps her hands clasped behind her back and smiles. “Thank you, Mr Wellington. René tells me this is your first time at Carne Asada?”
“It is, yes.”
“Wonderful. I take a particular interest in new visitors. René also tells me you are in New York on business.” She smiles again and nods toward the credit card I’ve placed atop the cheque. “Please, this evening is on the house. I will also send out something special: a delicate chocolate mousse with a semi-sweet raspberry reduction, shaved coconut, and topped with toasted whipped crème. Please enjoy the rest of your evening.” Stunned by her graciousness, I hesitate for a moment. Hands still clasped in the small of her back she spins and walks away before I can thank her.
Dessert is delicious; the tartness of the raspberry contrasts brightly with the lush sweetness of the mousse. After an espresso, I get up to leave. Suddenly dizzy I steady myself on the table as René instantly appears to put a hand on my arm.
“Thank you,” I say through an embarrassed smile, “I didn’t anticipate dessert, I think all the blood has gone to my stomach.”
“Of course, sir. Please, allow me to assist.”
The next moment I’m in an alley…how did I get here so fast? The brick walls are wobbly, moving and twisting. A door opens and man-shaped shadow steps out to reach for me as I slump into his arms.
My head hurts. God, what a hangover…but I don’t remember drinking last night.
“Ah, Mr Wellington. You have awoken precisely on schedule.”
The voice continues, “There is a fully stocked kitchen, private facilities, and a small library of books and DVDs to pass the time. Chef Asada will see you within the hour.” Forcing my eyes open I see René stand up from a small couch and walk away, followed by the unmistakable sound of a heavy lock.
The pain in my head slowly subsides, my confusion does not. After a short while I look around and see I’m in a small, but well-appointed, apartment. There is a bed, couch, television, framed prints of fine art, and a noticeable lack of windows.
I’m still a little hazy when the door opens, Chef Asada comes in followed by René. He’s holding a large pistol.
“What the hell is this? Are you two nuts?”
Asada smiles calmly, “Your questions will be answered in time, Mr Wellington, in time. First let us discuss the upcoming menu. For you, my thoughts turn toward a carpaccio: thinly sliced, dry-aged, well-marbled loin.”
“What? I don’t care! Let me go! My company and my family will be looking for me!”
“You care because you love food, Mr. Wellington; you are a true epicure. Thus, you have a very specific purpose here.” That infuriating smile again. “Also, no one knows where you are. We never ran your credit card and you did not arrive for your reservation.”
Stepping forward, “Lady, I don’t know what…” René stops me by jamming the barrel of the pistol into my chest.
“Mr. Wellington,” Asada continues, “I think you and I will do amazing work together.” They walk out and I can see a second door made of thick, grey metal with no handle on this side. The thunk of the lock setting home echoes in the small room.
I have no idea how much time has passed when they return.
“Please,” I beg, “just let me go. I don’t know what you want from me. I have quite a bit of money saved up, you can have it all.”
Asada’s smile almost seems genuine as she sits at the small table.
“Won’t you sit with me?” She asks lightly but René waggles the weapon to show me that it’s not a request. “I don’t share my true background, or name, publicly. Unlike the mundane tale I feed the media, my life was not easy. My parents were killed when I was 10 and thereafter I lived on the streets of Madrid. Being hungry and alone gives one perspective. I learned the beauty in the ephemeral impermanence of food, of taking a thing once alive and transforming it into something wonderful that sustains another’s body and spirit.”
I barely notice her as I sit quietly, staring at the barrel of the gun.
It’s been a month; Chef Asada comes to talk daily. René no longer accompanies the chef, I have her all to myself. I love our talks; I am fascinated with her understanding of the culinary arts and the brilliance of her vision.
“It’s time, Roger.”
“Yes, to complete our work, you are ready. The effect of the drug we have been giving you is…profound.”
Chuckling, I reply, “Yes, it seems so. I was very angry at first, I apologise. I love to hear about your work, it’s inspiring.”
She smiles brightly, “It’s perfectly fine, thank you. Roger, remember during my first visit when I said my thoughts for you turn toward a carpaccio?”
“I meant that quite literally. I want you to be my next showcase dish; Carpaccio Ruggiero. If you choose to, you will become a masterpiece.”
“My first night, the Filete Raul…”
“Yes. He lived here before you. He chose to work with me, to become that which he loved. He yearned to be my canvas, his flesh my paint. Will you do the same and join me in my work?”
“Yes, Chef, I would be honoured. When can we begin?”
Her brilliant smile widens as she pulls out her phone.
Rob is, at varying times, a writer, IT professional, entrepreneur, photographer, hunter, fly fisherman, psychedelic therapy advocate, and a few other things. At some point he hopes to decide what he wants to be when he grows up but there is no indication that he is going to grow up any time soon.
Rob’s story was the winner of the People’s Choice vote in the WritingForums Prize Fiction Challenge
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