So I went back and forth on whether to post about the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge that I joined this month. The forum for the challenge was alive with debate about whether or not to share your submissions on your personal blog. The biggest reasons NOT to being that your work might be considered “previously published” and, of course, the threat of it being stolen by some unscrupulous individuals who don’t have the talent to write their own crap.
I figured, I haven’t written much fiction since college, and so to be honest, this is all just about getting outside of my comfort zone and flexing those creative muscles. So I would rather be read than be worried. Plus, I can put a Google alert out to watch for any potential plagiarism (thanks to the husband for that suggestion).
The contest runs from now until November in four rounds. Every writer is guaranteed participation in the first two, then you advance based on the points you score to the next round(s). You are assigned a group and given a genre, location and object to write a short story about of no more than 1,000 words in the 48-hour time limit. The first assignment was turned in Sunday night. You can read more about this challenge and others that NYC midnight does here.
Now, I didn’t pay much attention to the timing of this contest, and so I happened to be traveling for a half marathon over the time frame of the first challenge. I had to squeeze my writing into just a few hours on Sunday, after the race, which was interesting. But I had a blast writing fiction again.
My assignment was: Horror (genre), Private Plane (location) and Refrigerator (object). The location needs to be predominant, but the story can involve more than one location. The object merely needs to appear in the story.
So without further fanfare, here is my contest submission. Enjoy!
A Taste for the Competition
Synopsis: A chef and restaurateur, long-time rivals, negotiate a possible partnership until one discovers the other’s dangerous secret.
Word Count: 995
“I hope you’ll consider my offer, Carlos,” the Frenchman said.
The chef didn’t answer. Instead he grabbed the neck of his wine glass and drained it, then looked out the window as the small plane began its descent into NYC. The outline of Manhattan grew larger and more familiar, and just for a moment, he allowed himself to enjoy the thought of being back.
“Refill,” the chef said, tapping his glass. It wasn’t a question. “I know you’ve got more good bottles hiding back there, Bernard.”
A flash of anger crossed the Frenchman’s face, then he smiled slowly. “We should be on the ground soon. Why don’t we wait until we get to the restaurant? I have a few bottles there I’ve been saving.”
The chef leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms over a rotund belly, frowned but said nothing. Bernard considered Carlos for a second, his mottled face and piercing gaze through slightly bulging, wild eyes. Colleagues had advised the Frenchman not to partner with the mad chef, whose alcoholic fits and kitchen rages were common knowledge. The man stole ideas from mentors and friends alike without shame. He was not someone you went into business with. And yet…
Bernard motioned the staff to retrieve another bottle as his plane began to taxi. At this time of day in Manhattan, a long commute from JFK would be much easier with a good Cab Franc.
“I knew you wouldn’t be an easy sell, Carlos,” the Frenchman said and refilled his glass. “I like a challenge. Besides, if we do—when we do this, we’ll have no real competition. I select only the best locations, the best chefs and product—I attract only the best clientele. Like you, I have eliminated the competition one chef at a time.”
It was true, Carlos acknowledged, if only to himself. Bernard had single-handedly shuttered many restaurants that stood in his way. Together…no, the chef would not indulge this thought just yet.
It was still a few hours before service, but the small interior of L’Interdit was alive with activity, as staff polished wine glasses and put fresh linens on the tables. The owner’s unexpected presence only heightened the frenetic mood. Bernard led Carlos through the small dining room to the kitchen, where the sous and prep chef worked with nervous efficiency in the Frenchman’s presence.
A large pot of confit bubbled in golden duck fat on a burner nearby, filling the kitchen with an intoxicating aroma. Savory tarts and ramekins of potato gratin cooled on a rack, and Carlos watched as one young cook shaved mountains of asparagus stems, while another piped whipped potatoes onto a sheet pan. Bernard made no introductions. Instead, he led the chef to a small table where they could observe the kitchen without interruption. A sommelier appeared with two Riedel scotch glasses and a bottle of 1939 Macallan.
“This moment calls for something special, “ Bernard said as he poured a finger of whiskey into each glass. “Two rivals setting aside old grievances and joining together to create something the culinary world has never seen.”
Carlos had to admit he was tempted by the offer, but he was enjoying his power and wanted to make the Frenchman squirm a bit longer.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Bernard,” he warned, putting a hand up to reject the offered glass. “I’m very happy in Buenos Aires, and I have no desire to compete with these young blowhard chefs from Brooklyn.”
The Frenchman didn’t answer right away. “I will cut to the chase, Carlos. I know you’re—difficult—but you’re the right man for this project. For more than this project.”
Bernard paused, met the chef’s piercing gaze, and offered him the glass again. As if on cue, the sous chef appeared at the table with a platter of bacon-wrapped roasted meat.
“Ah, just in time. A little taste of heaven from one of our best vendors,” said the Frenchman with a flourish, as he sliced off a small piece for the chef. “Veal tournedos with green peppercorns.”
The chef took a bite, eyes widening in surprise. Then he took another. “Heritage?” he asked, trying to sound unimpressed.
“Something like that.”
“It’s quite distinctive. I haven’t tasted anything quite like it. Your source?”
“I don’t cook and tell,” Bernard answered coyly and refilled the chef’s glass. “But for my business partner, I could be enticed to share.”
Carlos was agitated, but also intrigued. He cut himself another slice of veal and downed the liquor before slurring, “I assume you have a contract for me to review?”
“Yes, of course,” Bernard said and went to retrieve it.
The chef was in the kitchen as soon as the Frenchman left the table. He would not be so easily manipulated. A quick look around should reveal Bernard’s meat source. No one noticed as Carlos slipped quietly into the walk-in refrigerator.
He made his way past the stacks of eggs and butter, boxes of produce and herbs, and trays of fish filets and prawns on ice. Against a back wall, he found a shelf of whole butterflied ducks and stacks of quail. Below that, whole beef tenderloin, and behind that—yes, there it was. He pulled out the closest shrink-wrapped bag but was disappointed to find no butchery or farm name on the package. The only writing on the package said simply “Sample 1.” He retrieved another package with “Sample 8” scrawled on it. He grabbed another and another, with growing confusion. “Sample 11.” “Sample 26.”
“I’m disappointed, Carlos,” said a voice behind him. “Always so impatient.”
The chef turned to face the Frenchman. He had been caught red-handed, but was too curious to care.
“What are these?” he said, holding the packages out in his hands.
“Just what they say…samples.”
“Samples of what exactly?”
Only then did Carlos see the cleaver concealed in Bernard’s hand. The Frenchman quietly closed the door and moved forward.
Copyright by Jessica Llanes 2015.