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Fiction Funny Thriller

King Richard Rainsbury licks his lips as he scans the menu.

“I think I’ll start with the oysters on the half shell with tequila mignonette.”

His son, Prince Quentin Rainsbury, a younger version of his father with thick, chestnut brown hair, large, inquisitive black eyes, and a devilish grin, replies, “You always get that. I’ll have the escargot en brioche .”

“I like oysters. Why change?”

“Change can enlighten, father. So, I’m told.”

“More liberal gobbledygook drummed into your head by the Queen.”

“She’s just a mother looking out for her son.”

“We’d also like a bottle of Cristal,” King Richard says to the attentive waiter with the dark pompadour. “Since you’re now a man, Quentin, maybe we can polish off two.”

“We’ll see, father. I don’t want to have a man-sized hangover.”

King Richard smiles at his son. “I’m proud of your accomplishments at the university. Now I have an heir I can trust. I’m glad you’re home, son. Between your mother, your sister, and their clucking entourages, I felt like I was drowning in a sea of estrogen.”

“How is mother?” Prince Quentin asks.

“Queen Abigail is still playing the role of a recluse at the summer castle.”

“So, you two are still fighting over rights for Batavians?”

“Your mother doesn’t understand that we Moravians are the ruling class, and her people, the Batavians, are the working class. She wants to establish a council of Batavians to advise me. Can you imagine? Carpenters, electricians…waiters, all telling me how to rule!”

“She’s just looking out for her people,” Prince Quentin says. “After all, Batavians make up seventy percent of the population.”

“Our country is called Moravia, not Batavia,” King Richard replies.

“Sometimes I wonder why the two of you married.”

“It wasn’t for love. We were forced to. The civil war between us and the Batavians started during your grandfather’s reign, almost the day after we defeated the Florians. When he died, I was advised to make peace with the Bavarians. The best way to do that was to marry the shining symbol of their resistance.”

“A wise move, at least politically,” Prince Quentin comments.

“We separated as soon as they were done throwing the rice. We’ve been together for thirty years and have spent less than ten of them together. I don’t hate your mother, after all, she gave me you. I just don’t understand her.”

“And my sister, Princess Enid? I’m surprised she’s so pro-Batavian, given how much you’ve spoiled her.”

“She’s her mother’s daughter, and she’s a hypocrite. Publicly she says, ‘Give money to the poor Batavians’, while privately she rides around in limousines and eats like a condemned woman. I take it back, she’s not a hypocrite. She’s crazy.”

Patrice, the Rainsbury’s waiter, places his order with the chef.

Alegre Allen turns to Dustin Crumb, the restaurant’s owner.

“See, I told you. The Rainsburys are creatures of habit. They always order the same appetizers and champagne.”

At fifty-five, wearing a flowery kaftan, a curly black wig, heavy gold earrings, and thick mascara, Alegre “Angel Maker” Allen looks like someone’s well-healed grandmother.

Bald, with a thick, inky black mustache and constantly clenched features, sixty-two-year-old Dustin Crumb has been the owner of Le Bernadine, Moldavia’s most successful and cherished restaurant, for twenty-five years, yet his nerves remain constantly on edge.

La Bernadine's lavish décor features plush velvet carpets, king-sized chairs, and frescoed ceilings. gold accents, and giant chandeliers. The patio where the Rainsburys are dining is in the midst of a lush garden.

Alegre notices Dustin’s sweaty, grey pallor.

“Don’t let it get to you.”

“Easy for you to say. Your head won’t wind up on a pike if the King finds out.”

“By the time he figures out what’s going on, he’ll be as good as dead.”

Dustin exhales raggedly. “How in the world did you get involved in poisoning people for a living?”

“I had a philandering, violent husband. One night, before dinner, he hit me hard enough to loosen my teeth. So, I put some strychnine in his spaghetti. It’s used to kill rats, so I thought it was appropriate. He had what the police later said looked like a heart attack and was dead by the third spoonful. I told my best friend what I’d done, and pretty soon her husband had a heart attack too. Then four of our friend’s husbands had heart attacks. When the number of heart attacks in our small town reached seven, the police took an interest. I was supposed to be sentenced to twenty years, but the Queen intervened.”

“I hear Queen Abagail only helps Batavians. Most people hate Batavians.”

“I’m Batavian.”

Dustin swallows hard. He reaches for a nearby glass of water. Looking at Alegre’s wide smile, he puts the glass back down on the counter.

“Most Moravians have a distorted view of Batavians. We’re not all fire-bombing radicals who want to hang the King and live like socialists. All we want is to be treated as equals. There’s not a single Batavian in King Richard’s court.”

“What about the Queen?”

“He won’t listen to her. The only other member of the royal family willing to help Batavians is Princess Enid. She wants to rule so badly, she’s made a pact with those fire-bombing radicals I mentioned.”

“Are you sure they’re the type of people you want to represent all Batavians?” Dustin asks.

“A loudmouth may be unpleasant, but they’re hard to ignore.”

“Can you trust Princess Enid? There’s a rumor she was in an asylum and she’s terribly unstable.”

“The Queen saw to it that instead of being sent to jail for my crimes, I was sent an asylum. That’s where I met Princess Enid. Do I trust her? Not completely. But I know when to trust her.”

Patrice’s hand quivers as he places the oysters in front of King Richard.

“Something wrong?”

“Begging your pardon, your majesty. I’ve never served a member of the royal family before.”

Patrice reaches for the champagne, cautiously popping the cork.

“You may not serve any of us ever again if you spill any of that. And get a proper haircut.”

“Be nice, father.”

Patrice steadies himself, then pours the champagne.

“Are you ready to order your main course?”

“I’ll have the Tasmanian Salmon fillet with Dutch carrot puree and a Fiambre Salad,” Prince Quentin says.

“Watercress and spinach soup, and dry-aged Ribeye for me. Well done. I see any bloody red meat and the next blood spilled will be yours.”

Patrice bows, scurrying away.

King Richard snickers.

“You shouldn’t have treated him like that, father.”

“Why not? I can.”

“That’s one of the complaints I heard in town when I was at the university. The Batavians are tired of being treated like servants. They want to be treated as our peers.”

“But they’re servants. They serve our food, clean our houses, drive the buses and trains.”

“Maybe we need to consider what would happen if they didn’t.”

Peering through a row of large ferns, Dustin and Alegre spy on the Rainsburys.

“He sent his bodyguards out to eat in the car,” Dustin says.

“Good. That’s where their bodies will be found. It was a clever idea to put the Rainsburys outside on the patio away from the other customers.”

“The King insisted,” Dustin replies.

“Typical. He’s always been a snob.”

“I find his son to be more reasonable, even pleasant,” Dustin offers.

“He’s still a roadblock to our achieving equality.”

“Can we be sure we won’t be trading one form of oppression for another if Princess Enid becomes Queen?”

Patrice and a second waiter come out of the kitchen, arguing.

Several couples look up at the commotion.

“What’s this all about?” Dustin asks.

Patrice points at the second waiter. “Edgar took my oysters and escargot.”

“What’s it matter?” Edgar complains.

Alegre’s fiery stare fixes itself on Edgar. The slightly built waiter cringes. “So, where is the order meant for the King and Prince Rainsbury?”

Edgar points toward a young couple seated on the far side of the restaurant.

The man face plants into his half-eaten oysters. The woman’s head leans back, her eyes closing as her mouth drops open.

Dustin shakes. “Are they?”

“Dead? I’m afraid so. You’d better get a couple of bus boys to carry them out. I’ve got a discreet gypsy cab I can call.”

“It was their anniversary!” Dustin laments.

“Well, happy anniversary!”

Dustin follows Alegre into the kitchen. They pass the chef, who is sampling the carrot puree for Prince Quentin’s salmon.

“You’re going to need a new chef.”

“What? Why?”

“I poisoned the puree with arsenic.”

Dustin’s head drops to his chest. He spots the sous chef blowing on a steamy spoonful of watercress and spinach soup.

“Did you poison the soup too?”

Alegre chuckles. “You know, I was so far into the zone that I don’t remember.”

Dustin gasps when he sees two dishwashers sampling a piece of ribeye steak.

Running across the room, he knocks the forks from their hands.

“How many times have I told you not to pick at the customer’s food? If you two weren’t going to die, I’d fire you!”

The two dishwashers share bewildered looks.

“I poisoned all the ribeye steak I could find. Looks like you have your two volunteers to move the bodies,” Alegre says.

Dustin tells the dishwashers what to do with their expired customers.

“People are dying to get into this place. I didn’t know you had to die to get out,” the first man says.

“I see a big tip in my future,” the second dishwasher says.

“Take the rest of the night off,” Dustin tells them. “Tell the driver to take you home. Come back for your shift tomorrow and there’ll be an extra thousand for each of you.”

The two dishwashers walk away high fiving each other.

“You just saved yourself a lot of money,” Alegre says. “They’ll be dead in an hour. The driver will be leaving four bodies at the landfill.”

Patrice places King Richard and Prince Quentin’s entrees in front of them. He stands nearby, holding a large pepper mill.

Alegre and Dustin watch Patrice from the dining room.

“There’s curare in the pepper mill,” Alegre says.

“This had better work,” Dustin replies, “I’m running out of staff.”

Patrice grinds the pepper mill over King Richard’s Ribeye steak. Prince Quentin points at his salad.

“How long?”

“Curare acts more slowly than the other poisons. Hopefully, they won’t die until they’re back at the palace.”

Relieved, the pair heads back to the kitchen.

Princess Enid is in the kitchen, raising a spoonful of watercress and spinach soup to her lips.

“PUT THAT DOWN!” Dustin screams.

Princess Enid gives him a withering look.

“I mean, please put the spoon down, Princess. It could be fatal if you don’t.”

“And it’ll be fatal for you, Crumb, if you ever use that tone on me again.”

Short, with fat, jowly cheeks, a snout-like nose, and a massive maw for a mouth, the spoiled twenty-six-year-old princess is impatient, indignant, and impolite. She is so heavyset that she struggles to breathe, wheezing heavily.

“Are you trying to poison me before I take the throne? Are they dead yet?”

“Sssh, your grace. The staff may hear,” Dustin says.

“Don’t sssh me. Keep disrespecting me, baldy, and I’ll bring the guillotine back just for you. Are my father and brother dead yet?”

“No. They just started eating, your grace,” Alegre replies.

Princess Enid snorts angrily.

“We’re honored by your presence, princess, but we’re surprised you’re here,” Dustin says. “Perhaps you’d like to go to my office until this is all over. We can’t let King Richard and Prince Quentin see you.”

“The future Queen of Moldavia cowers for no one!”

“How about the present Princess of Moldavia?” Alegre asks. “Is she willing to take the advice of two of her most loyal subjects in order to become Queen?”

Wheezing heavily, Princess Enid grabs a Boston Cream Pie off the serving table, waddling away.

“Did you poison the pie?” Dustin asks.

“No.”

“Too bad.”

Prince Quentin notices a crowd of protesters across the street. Dropping his fork, he moves toward them.

“Come back, your food will get cold,” King Richard urges.

The two men cross the street. The crowd, chanting, “Bread for Bavarians!” quiets when they recognize King Richard and Prince Quentin.

A short-haired woman with glasses and a polite smile steps forward, curtseying.

“What is this?” King Richard asks. “Shouldn’t you people be working?”

“That’s part of what this is all about, your majesty,” the woman replies. “Did you know Batavians earn half as much money as Moravians and work an average of more than twenty hours per week than Moravians?”

“No.”

“Or that a landlord can refuse to rent to a Batavian?”

“That can’t be true,” King Richard says.

“It’s true, father,” Prince Quentin adds. “It’s one of grandfather’s many unfavorable laws.”

“I’m sure the prince will corroborate this too,” the woman says. “Moravians with a B average can have their college education paid for, while a Batavian with an A average can be turned away.”

“You’re not making that up, are you girl?”

“No, your majesty. And my name is Adele Archer. Perhaps you recognize my last name.”

“Was your grandfather Alex ‘Iron Pants’ Archer?”

“Yes,” Adele replies. “Grandma used to joke he got the nickname from being shot in the rear end, but you know how he got it, don’t you, your majesty?”

“I do,” he answers. Turning to Prince Quentin, he says, “He saved the lives of six hundred Moldavian soldiers, including your grandfather, King Olin, at the Battle of Stanwyck Valley. A thousand Florians had them pinned down in the valley. Iron Pants Archer and his army of two hundred men charged at them, forcing the Florians to retreat. They called him ‘Iron Pants’ because he was shot half a dozen times and stayed in his saddle.”

“The Moldavian commanders all received medals and pensions from King Olin. Do you know what my grandfather got? Nothing. Not even a thank you, because King Olin refused to believe that men descended from servants, the men who cleaned the latrines, served the meals, and repaired the tanks, could be as brave as any Moldavian. That’s the crux of what’s wrong with Moldavia to this day. Batavians do the work, make the sacrifices, but Moldavians reap the benefits.”

“My father was embarrassed by the incident,” King Richard says. “He always seemed to harbor a hatred for Bavarians. My mother said it was because the woman he loved rejected him, preferring to marry a dirt-poor Bavarian over him. He swore no Batavian would ever be able to take something away from him again. But you make it all sound so simple, Adele. The ruling class has to make the laws, we have to make the tough decisions.”

“Why can’t we make our own decisions?” Adele asks.

“You sound like my wife.”

“Queen Abagail is a very wise woman.”

“If we want a unified country, I think it’s time we start listening to people like Adele,” Prince Quentin says. “Or the next time our enemies try to conquer Moldavia, we may be fighting by ourselves.”

“Perhaps it is time to undo the damage done by my father,” King Richard agrees. “We should discuss this further. I’m thinking of forming a council to represent Batavians in my court. Would you like to be chairperson, Adele?”

“I accept.”

“In the meantime, would you like to join us for dinner?” Prince Quentin asks.

“Le Bernadine is a bit overpriced.”

“We’ll pay.”

“It’s not that. Pizza’s more fun.”

King Richard turns to his son. “What’s pizza?”

Adele laughs. “It looks like we’ve got a lot to learn about each other.”

Princess Enid storms out of Dustin’s office. Boston Cream pie is smeared on her cheeks.

“What did she do, dive in it?” Dustin whispers to Alegre. “She’s going to be very angry with us.”

“I’ll handle her,” Alegre says, “although another pie might help.”

Princess Enid rumbles through the dining room, scanning the tables as she walks toward the patio, her wide shoes leaving deep impressions on the plush carpet. The customers nod tentatively as passes by.

Placing her meaty hands on her hips, Princess Enid looks down at the untouched food.

Her blood pressure skyrocketing, Princess Enid wheezes, “Where are they?”

“They were distracted by some protesters,” Alegre says.

“So, they didn’t eat the poison?”

“They were about to.”

Princess Enid’s face turns crimson. She points a chubby finger at Alegre.

“I want them dead. Do you hear me? I WANT THEM – “

Princess Enid’s eyes bulge and she exhales with a loud, labored wheeze.

Still pointing at Alegre, Princess Enid falls forward face first.

“What…What happened? Did you poison her too?” Dustin asks.

“No. It looks like she had a heart attack.”

“This is really going to play hell with my Yelp rating. What do we do when the King finds out about this?”

“They hated each other. He might thank us. I’m hungry. Do you have anything to eat?” Alegre asks.

“How about a nice bowl of watercress and spinach soup?”

September 08, 2022 17:18

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