And so we enter the final week of the February Femmes Fatales showcase, and what a journey it's been with some extraordinary talent and deliciously dark fiction and poetry. And there's more to come.
To kick off the next seven days, Sue Harding returns with a tasty platter of chilling goodies. Sue is so good at spelling out revenge that I want her as a friend for life.
So tuck into A Dish Best Served Cold; I hope you're hungry...
A Dish Best Served Cold by Sue Harding
Chefs quaked at the mention of her name. Sommeliers swooned at the thought of her presence descending unannounced upon their domains. Even the stoniest faced Maitre d’ had been known to shut themselves in the toilets passing square ones at the suggestion of receiving her in their premises.
Yet now, Erin Stacey, could think only of tomorrow’s headlines announcing the demise of Regan O’Nais, the nemesis of restaurant critics.
Erin poured herself another cognac, swirling it gently around the balloon glass, smelling the vapours it released warmed by the gentle heat of her hand. A self-satisfied grin flooded her face at her mind’s imagination of Ms O’Nais’ current dilemma.
The woman had gone a step too far. Her disastrous and vindictive critique of Erin’s restaurant, ‘Little Red Hen’, had caused her not only financial ruin, but had also resulted in her father suffering a fatal heart attack.
There was no doubt in Erin’s mind that Regan’s vitriolic onslaught was precipitated by the fact that she had recently parted from Erin’s father, Edwin. Determined to inflict unnecessary pain, the virago had swept into Erin’s restaurant and proceeded to exude charm to all and sundry, lulling them into a false sense of security. Only after she had returned to her office and penned her review of fulminating spite and malice, did the effluent really hit the air circulation system.
In three brief paragraphs, Little Red Hen’s goose was cooked. Bookings evaporated overnight and drop-in ‘traffic’ took their cue from the lack of occupied tables and moved onwards towards other purveyors of fine cuisine.
Edwin had taken the financial hit extremely hard. It was his collateral that had funded Erin’s venture, the last dregs of his personal fortune after the acrimonious divorce from Regan that had seen her pillage his finances and strip him of most of his assets. The shock stopped his heart.
Three nights after her father’s funeral, Erin had closed the doors of her darkened and empty restaurant for the last time and vowed revenge on her ex-stepmother. As she’d turned the key in the lock her mind had already been formulating her plan. She would strike back and the revenge would be deliciously piquant, appropriately tailored to suit her adversary. She’d smiled for the first time in weeks and galloped the flight of stairs that led to her apartment above the restaurant, taking the steps two at a time.
In the days and weeks that had passed, she’d immersed herself in books and study and the internet, researching her new culinary adventure. With the restaurant leased out as a sandwich bar she’d been able to eke out enough money to keep the apartment and more importantly the use of the kitchen after hours.
She’d been careful to keep her cooking experiments under wraps, often staying up until the wee small hours to clean and air the place to ensure that no tell-tale aromas would alert her tenants.
The art work and advertising had been a challenge, but once again the internet had brought salvation as she’d set up a very professional looking website. The countdown to the launch of her new venture had been Facebooked and Tweeted to within an inch of its life, drawing in unprecedented hits from the glitterati of the culinary world, eager to know about her elite door-to-door gourmet service.
Trying hard not to throw up, she’d obsequiously ingratiated herself into Regan’s confidence, with emails flitting back and forth. Of course, she’d written, she’d be honoured if Ms O’Nais would deign to review her work. Erin had gushed that she would be delighted to inform Ms O’Nais that she was to be the first customer of the new venture. In fact, she’d had to turn down several A-list candidates, including a number of Hollywood ‘names’, as she’d felt that the culinary nature of her business demanded only the best food critic should be granted the cachet of being her premiere client. It was an exclusivity that had ensnared Regan O’Nais’ ego.
All lies of course. The accolades and messages on Erin’s website had been written by herself. The flaming gold calligraphy of “Montezuma’s” had given the website an air of sumptuousness and the menu options were a gastronomic delight. Such a pity really, she’d thought latterly, that it would be a one-night stand.
Now, she took another gulp of brandy, feeling it course around her mouth, enjoying the taste as it melted towards her throat. She looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. Counting back the hours since she’d arrived, disguised, at Regan’s apartment and heard a barely suppressed squeal of self-satisfied delight as the gilded tray of elegant food had been handed over, she mused on Ms O’Nais’ current predicament.
She imagined the food critic savouring the delights and tastes created by Erin’s own hands. She licked her lips, much as her client would have done at the choice tastes and textures that had been baked and poached and marinated to perfection.
It would have taken perhaps forty minutes for the first signs to manifest themselves. A deep, drawing sensation in the gut would herald the ignominy that would follow. She wondered how elegant Ms O’Nais would be in her scramble for the bathroom.
The careful concoction of herbs and spices and plant extracts that Erin had suffused into each dish would ensure that her adversary would now be enthroned in splendour. As the bottom had fallen out of Erin’s world so now the high and mighty doyenne of all things culinary, the great Regan O’Nais, would feel that the world had dropped out of her bottom.
Diarrhoea, of course, was only the first manifestation. Heart palpitations would inflict their own sense of fear and pulmonary oedema would take its toll as the stomach lining would begin to disintegrate, creating a liquor that would quickly dissolve the internal organs.
Erin smiled and reached forward to her laptop, pressing the key that would delete “Montezuma’s” from digital existence.
Revenge was, indeed, so sweet.
Sue Harding worked in public libraries for eleven years. Her great joy was introducing customers to new books and authors and also discovering them for herself. Having taken early retirement the intention now is to knuckle down to serious writing. Perhaps one day her colleagues will be shelving her books!