Sometimes, Tony Gordon reflected, the best pleasures in life are simple, and free. He basked in relief as he drained his bladder, visceral satisfaction enriched by the long, exquisite fart he simultaneously let rip. Just as well he was alone in the restaurant’s bathroom. The dark, heavy fetor embraced him like a lover as he finished and zipped.

Washing his hands, his deflated colon and de-stressed waterworks lending him a strong sense of well being, he marvelled at the restorative power of simply emptying a couple of body cavities. Tony’s degree subject was biochemistry. He knew that the cloying odour of his intestinal gas arose from enzymic action on the proteins he had consumed over the past three hours, making sulphurous by-products. It had been a truly excellent meal, with generous portions and nothing to nitpick about.

Bread and Broth had been open for six months and this was Tony’s second visit. Tonight, it had not just been the bathroom experience that was free of charge. His whole meal had been on the house, courtesy of the proprietor, Tony’s old friend, Ben Brayne. They had been at Liverpool University together, spending much of their spare time studying the effects of alcohol on the human mind and body, and on sexual performance in particular, as they had entertained their various girlfriends. Both had managed to fit in sufficient serious study to pass their honours degrees, though neither now worked in a job directly related to his field of study. Tony was a professional restaurant reviewer, with a thriving website, styled Gordon the Gourmet. His previous visit to Bread and Broth, on its grand opening night, had been the first time he had seen Ben Brayne in person in ten years. From Facebook, Tony had learned Ben had married an attractive brunette named Debbie, although Ben’s social media posts were infrequent.

Venturing out on a financial limb, Ben had bought and rebranded an old, failing restaurant that had been in receivership. Under its previous owner, The Rose Bowl had gone bust, thanks to a complete lack of charm and originality. Tony would never have bothered to review the place before Ben took it on. It had been well known for its mediocre food, surly table staff and inflated menu prices. Ben had re-themed the joint, with his own house-made broths as the leading line. Each had a French name and they were to die for. Tonight, Tony had gone for the bouillon d’os, and it had been everything he had hoped it would be. A complex blend of savoury and spice that delighted the palate; substantial and oh-so filling. He had barely found room for his main course, the set dish of the day, an excellent liver and kidney casserole.

When Tony got back to his table, the restaurant was empty and he realised how late it was. A glass of brandy had appeared on his placemat. He sat down, swirled the amber liquid and took an approving sniff. Another good review, for sure.

“Is everything to sir’s satisfaction?” Grinning, Ben Brayne had appeared from somewhere. He walked over to his old classmate, his own brandy glass in his hand.

“Just me left?” replied Tony, raising his brandy and taking a sip. Rémy Martin VSOP. Nothing but the best.

“Yes, you dirty stopout. Just like old times, you and me drinking and putting the world right till dawn. Or at least until our student loans ran out. Listen, I’ve got some cashing up to do and making sure all’s well in the kitchen, then I’ll be back.”

Tony nodded and took another sip of the exquisite brandy. Ben hadn’t changed physically that much, he thought. Tony was glad his old friend had made it as a successful restaurateur. When they’d been at university together, Ben had sometimes shown a darker side, which Tony was glad had not been in evidence at either of their more recent meetings. For some reason, Tony vividly recalled one night, years before, when they had eaten at Rooney’s pizza restaurant in Myrtle Street, right in the middle of Liverpool. Ben had pushed away his emptied plate, belched pleasurably and remarked what a shame it was that the only way to appreciate good food was to destroy it. “Digestion is basically accelerated rotting,” Ben had observed, and Tony had been forced to agree, since the statement was factually correct in biochemical terms. Ben had continued, “We dismantle the protein chains in our intestines, then shit out most of the bits and flush them down the glugger. Hey presto, gone, back into the carbon cycle, as ecologically friendly as you can get.” Then, Tony recalled, Ben had changed the subject, to something quite different: murderers, and the difficulties they faced, disposing of their victims’ bodies. The rush of nausea that had prevented Tony finishing his last forkful of pizza capricciosa all those years ago engulfed him once again, and he took a quick swig of present-day Rémy to quell it. “You see,” Ben had smiled, “they tried such crass ways to get rid of the remains. That’s why they got caught. One guy, who’d killed his wife, took a boat at midnight and dropped her weighted body in the deepest lake in England. A diver found it while he was looking for someone else, over a decade later, more than a hundred feet down. They tried the husband and he served time for manslaughter. Another killer, in the 1940s, tried to dissolve his victims’ bodies in acid, but he was convicted when the pathologist found recognisable human fragments on his rubbish tip. What they needed was a way of cleaning up biologically, breaking everything down to undetectable bits. Enzymes are the way to go. The ones we all have, in our guts. Every piece of evidence reduced to its component amino acids. Completely untraceable.”

Tony shivered as he remembered, although it was quite warm in the deserted restaurant. He drained his glass and looked around. Where was Ben? Probably in the kitchen. Feeling a little light-headed - must be the wine and the brandy - Tony swayed over to the kitchen door, pushed it open a crack and peered through. He blinked at the fluorescent-lit whiteness. A row of tall freezers stood along one wall, and on a stainless steel work surface were two large liquidisers, like oversized nutri-bullets. Suddenly, Ben was there, slapping Tony on the shoulder and turning him around. “Mate, don’t feel you have to do the washing up,” he said, with overplayed faux bonhomie. “Come and sit down. Let me get you another brandy.”

Tony allowed Ben to steer him onto a bar stool. Ben poured and fiddled at the far end of the bar, just around the corner, and came back with two more glasses of Rémy. They clinked them together, in a most un-brandy-like fashion, and drank.

“Thanks, old mate,” said Tony, “for a belting good meal and a superb drink.”

Ben shook his head. “Nah, it’s the least I can do, after the rave write-up you gave me last time. Really brought the punters in. Never looked back since. We’re on a roll now. Unstoppable. Your dinners and drinks have paid for themselves a thousand times over.”

Tony felt he had to ask. “Mate, that bouillon d’os was heavenly. Just like the bouillon de foie I had last time. How do you make those broths so damned delicious? Secret recipe? I saw the liquidisers. I suppose that’s where all the magic happens.”

Tony thought Ben looked less pleased than he should have, at the compliment. “Yeah, you could say that,” he replied. A glance at his watch. “Look, mate, it’s been great to see ya, but I’ve got to…”

Tony stood. “I understand, Ben. It is late. You’ll be wanting to get home to that gorgeous wife of yours, you jammy devil.”

Ben’s eyes went to the floor. “Er, Debbie and I aren’t together any more. She… left. Just last week.”

Tony was aghast. “Any chance she’ll come back?”

Ben shook his head, not making eye contact. “No, no chance at all.” In fact, he seemed to be staring at Tony’s midriff. 

Tony leapt into the silence. “Mate, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’ve put my foot right in it, haven’t I? Look, why don’t we go out next weekend? Get plastered and find ourselves a couple of girls. I’ll pick one out for you.”

Without warning, the room tilted, and Tony’s eyelids were at once as heavy as granite blocks.

With a cold smile, his long teeth glistening in the lamplight, Ben’s voice seemed to come from a long way off. “Good idea, mate. I just know your taste is going to be perfect.”

April 13, 2022 21:06

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Amanda Lieser
18:06 Feb 04, 2023

Hi Rob! This story was the perfect blend of eerie and vivid. I loved the way you designed this restaurant and I think I was definitely picking up what you were putting down on the page. This story felt like a nightmare and I immediately thought something was wrong with that line about dark humor. And then that gorgeous paragraph on digestion-my hair stood up. Nice job!


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Craig Westmore
01:32 May 04, 2022

Very creepy, Rob. I like how Ben casually brings up the subject of murder which is when my interest was piqued. I would cut out the bathroom scene and start on the third paragraph. Maybe add a few more details that reveal Ben's odd behavior and heightens the tension. In any case you captured the mood really well.


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Zelda C. Thorne
08:55 Apr 14, 2022

Oooo creepy, Sweeny Todd eat your heart out. As soon as Ben's darker side was mentioned, I knew exactly where this was going (maybe because I know what bouillon d'os means). Well written. I liked the effort you made with the biological detail, it added realism. Nice one.


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