07 December 2012

#fridayflash: well-preserved

In a city of solid, wealthy architecture, this building didn't particularly stand out. The reporter was mildly surprised to find that the entranceway was modern instead of period. He supposed even three-hundred-year-old, super-secret gentlemen's clubs had to renovate occasionally.

The receptionist was dressed in an Edwardian-style suit, and looked old enough to have worked at the club since its inception. When the reporter gave his name as "Giles" per his instructions, the receptionist checked a (paper!) appointment book, then glanced up and down several times from Giles to the book.

"You looked like you were checking my face against my passport photo," said Giles.

"I was, sir," said the receptionist, closing the book.

Giles frowned. "But I never gave —"

"The club is very strict about security, sir," said the receptionist. "This way, please. I should warn you that there is an iron-clad silence rule in the sitting area."

Giles pursed his lips together as if to ziploc them shut. The receptionist led him through a large brass door, down a dark panelled corridor, and finally through the most quiet sitting room Giles had ever been in. There were armchairs of every colour, style, and historical period scattered throughout, each with a mismatched side-table, and almost all occupied. Most of the men were reading newspapers, but a few were scribbling into notebooks. All of the men were dressed in very expensive, conservative suits.

At the opposite end of the room was a door camouflaged to look like part of the wall's ornate panelling. The receptionist opened it with a touch and ushered Giles through. After the dark and heavy d├ęcor of the sitting room, the dining room was shockingly light and airy. The walls were papered with a silver design overlaying a robin's-egg-blue background, and the furniture and trim were pickled pine. The receptionist pulled out a chair and indicated Giles should sit in it, then left through the hidden door. Giles checked the table setting in front of him and noticed that the edging on the china matched the design of the wallpaper. When he verified this against the wall the door was in, he realised he couldn't make out where the hidden door was anymore.

A quick check of the usual places revealed no surveillance cameras. Giles pulled out his phone and was about to stand up and get some photos of the dining room when a second hidden door opened at the other end and his contact at the club walked through. He wagged a finger at Giles's phone and mimed putting it away.

"Glad you made it," the contact, Mr. F----- said, taking the opposite seat at the table. To Giles it sounded like he was referring more to making it through the sitting room than keeping their appointment. "Conversation is permitted in this room, the better to enjoy the meals, but since our soundproofing is a little less than state of the art, we do try to keep it down."

"It was like something out of a Sherlock Holmes story out there," said Giles. "I half-expected to see Mycroft fretting over the Bruce-Partington plans."

"He only comes in on Wednesdays since he retired," said Mr. F-----. Giles started to laugh, but stopped when his dining companion didn't join in.

He chose to change the subject. "So everything we're eating today is... old, is that it? Preserved?"

Mr. F----- shrugged. "Not everything... but the highlight of each course was first prepared at least five years ago. And then preserved, yes, or else it would be inedible." He reached for a bell at the centre of the table and rang it. Almost immediately a tuxedoed waiter walked in with a silver-domed tray.

The appetizers were hundred-year-old eggs. The wine was bottled in 1947. There were pickles and pemmican, fruit cakes and aged cheeses. Mr. F----- introduced each course by pointing out how long the age of the "historical" dishes were, often remarking on how the world had changed since this or that food had been jarred, dried, tinned, or bottled.

Every time Giles reached for his phone to make a note or record some conversation, Mr. F----- would offer him some other morsel to try, or else another waiter would arrive with some other course. Giles despaired of getting good copy out of the experience, but the meal itself was remarkable. He noticed that the fresher items on the menu — the salads and vegetables, the bread and crackers — tasted all the fresher for being accompanied by the aged ones.

They finished the meal by enjoying a dram each of hundred-year-old whisky. Giles was embarrassed when he caught himself nodding off. Mr. F----- assured him that it was quite normal for people partaking of that particular menu for the first time. In point of fact, the club had rooms set up for post-prandial naps.

Mr. F----- led Giles to the hidden door opposite the one Giles had entered. Beyond it was another dark hallway, this one with doors every few metres. Mr. F----- paused in front of one that was open, and gestured for Giles to let himself in.

Inside was a small but impressively antique bed, a side-table, and a wing chair.

"Completely private," said Mr. F----- from the hallway. "There's a valet stand behind the side-table if you want to avoid creasing your trousers. Just follow the hall to the end when you wake up and you'll find yourself in the reception-area again. I hope your visit has been instructive."

Giles thanked him and gave the usual assurances about what he planned to write. Mr. F----- pulled the door shut. Giles pulled off his shoes and slacks, took off his shirt and jacket, and arranged his clothes on the valet stand. He barely got under the bedclothes before he fell unconscious.

Mr. F----- leaned out of the doorway to the reception area and cocked an eyebrow at the receptionist. The receptionist nodded and quickly crossed to the hall, carefully closing the door behind him.

"That's that one sorted out," said Mr. F-----. "Wait a few minutes, then get that horrible device he kept trying to use all the luncheon. Bring it to me — I want the satisfaction of smashing it myself."

"Perfectly understandable, sir," said the receptionist. "And the man himself?"

"He ate and drank everything I put in front of him," said Mr. F-----. "He won't wake up again. I expect everything will run as usual."

"Very good, sir."

"I hope so. Poor Mycroft could use a boost. He's been looking awfully peaked lately."

12 comments:

  1. Enjoyed that very much Katherine! :)

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  2. What a fantastic story! I love your descriptive talent!

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  3. really enjoyed the concept of this - your description of the gentleman's club and the dinner itself. Very good indeed

    marc nash

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  4. I enjoyed the gentle, but intriguing flow of the storyline, I had a feeling that there was going to be sinister goings-on, and I enjoyed the twist when it came too.

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  5. Great story, Katherine! I particularly like the contrast of how gently Mr F redirected Giles' focus with his ultimate goal. Well done.

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  6. Always suspicious of chaps with redacted names. Seldom hiding for being cuddly.

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    1. Now there's a premise for you... "Oh, we don't say his name out loud. You see, he's... cuddly."

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  7. Nice twist and nice descriptive writing!

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  8. I thought there must be something up but now I wonder how they're going to preserve the reporter...

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    1. The way I was thinking of it, it's more they were going to preserve themselves with him. You know that part in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where they talk about getting pituitary gland extract from someone who's still living? Something like that.

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  9. It's rare I feel sorry for a journalist. I'd echo the comment about good descriptive work.

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