Maggie shifted in her seat as the servers brought out the palate cleanser. It was sorbet, but not like the kind one bought at the grocery store. She watched as her boyfriend chose his and then picked one opposite to his. That had been a strategy Pierce—her boyfriend—had come up with once they started.
They didn’t know which dishes were poisoned, so he figured that if they chose the dishes that weren’t close together, they would have a better chance of picking the servings that weren’t poisoned. And it had worked so far. Five people had died, but she and Pierce had survived thus far. She only hoped their good fortune would not run out.
She traded a glance with Pierce and they both took a bite. The flavor was surprising. She had expected it to be sweet—and it was slightly, due to the fruit—but it tasted fresher than typical sorbet. She took four more spoonful, as was required, and then pushed it away. But then she pulled it back and swallowed another bite. Pierce slanted her a sharp glance.
“What are you doing? You only need to take five bites.”
She shrugged. “If my dish is poisoned, me taking or not taking another bite would not save me.” Still, she fully pushed away the dish this time, the flavor souring in her mouth.
She reached for her water glass and was bringing it to her mouth when Pierce stopped her. “What?!?” Maggie turned wide eyes on him.
He put the glass back on the table. He looked around before leaning close to her ear. “What if they poisoned the water? You never know. If this chef person has no qualms about forcing everyone here and making us eat tarnished food, then he surely wouldn’t mind poisoning the water.”
She nodded. It was a good thing Pierce was with her. If not, she surely would have been one of the first to die. She told him as much.
He squeezed her hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it. “I am glad that you are not here alone, but I don’t know how the rest of the courses will go. If I don’t survive…” he trailed off.
“Don’t say that, Pierce. Let’s just focus on surviving.”
And they did, survive that is. But two people hadn’t. One had sat across from Maggie and the other two seats away.
Pierce, with his cataloging brain, paid attention to everything. He had noticed which dishes everyone else had picked and where the people who had died were sitting. But there hadn’t seemed to be a clear rhyme or reason why some died and others didn’t.
The next course came out before he could figure out the reason, and how he could ensure that he and Maggie continued to survive each course. He took his plate and studied the food. A lamb chop with a basil and mint sauce.
He waited until everyone had been served to lift his fork. He cut a piece of his meat and almost had it to his mouth when the person on the opposite side of him touched his arm.
“Please, I don’t think I chose the right plate. Can you trade with me? I need to make it out of here. My family needs me. I don’t know what they will do if I die.” The young woman regarded him with tears in her eyes and a desperate look.
Pierce hesitated. Maggie had apparently heard the woman’s words and tugged his arm. “Don’t switch plates with her. What if she is right and her food is poisoned? I can’t lose you.”
Pierce didn’t want to leave her either, but then he looked at the woman on his left. What if it had been Maggie who had been begging a stranger the same thing? He would want the man to sacrifice for Maggie, so how could he not sacrifice himself for this young woman.
He turned to Maggie and tried to explain with his eyes that he was doing it for her. Then he turned and nodded to the woman. He looked around to make sure that no one was watching before he switched the plates. He didn’t know if what they were doing was allowed and didn’t want the woman to die because they were caught.
Once she had the new plate in front of her, she thanked him profusely and picked up the fork.
Pierce picked up his fork as well, but was slow in taking a bite. Boris—the big man with the knife—glared at him. Pierce looked away and quickly popped a bite of the meat in his mouth.
The meal tasted bitter to him. Was that the poison that was surely in this food, or was it simply his mind playing tricks on him? He wanted it to be the latter, but he wasn’t so sure that it was.
He took smaller bites than he had with the other courses—though those bites had been small as well—and pushed the plate far away. Far enough that should he be poisoned; he would not fall face first into the food as others had.
Maggie’s stomach tightened as she watched Pierce eat. He was going to die. She knew it inside of her, just as the woman who had traded with him knew that her food was tarnished. But why had Pierce traded?
They were both supposed to survive, but now Maggie would be all alone. It was selfish thinking, on her part, but she wished he hadn’t done as he had. He should have told the woman no. Didn’t he deserve to live as much as the woman did? He may not have a family that needed him, but she needed him.
She held tight to his hand, knowing that any minute his hand would grow cold and still within her own.
She felt the table shake slightly. Was there an earthquake? She looked at Pierce and then past him and realized the reason for the shaking. The woman who had traded plates with Pierce and two others convulsed.
Maggie watched in horror as the woman’s mouthing began foaming as she continued to tremble. A moment later, she fell utterly still before slumping over. Right into Pierce’s lap.
Pierce looked at her with wide eyes, before glancing down at the woman. “I killed her.”
Maggie snapped her gaze up to her boyfriend’s. “What do you mean?”
His hands shook, but not as the woman’s had. “I should have never traded. My plate was poisoned, not hers. And by me trading with her, I killed her.” Guilt and horror filled his eyes. “I should have died. Not her. She told me that she had a family that relied on her. What will they do now they she’s dead?”
Pierce had asked the question, but she could come up with no answer. A part of her felt sad that Pierce would now carry this misplaced guilt, all because of this stupid meal that the chef had prepared. But another part of her, was glad now that he had switched plates because that meant he was still alive.
But watching as the woman—and the two others, who she had completely forgotten about—got carted away, she was filled with guilt of her own.