What Would I Do Without You?

Short Story

Ken Preston

10 April 2024

A photograph of raw rump steak with a garnish

The crash of glass smashing on the stone floor echoed through the castle kitchen.

Fabian, the head chef, looked up from attending to the first course, a selection of cold meat cuts wrapped in spinach and stuffed with Gorgonzola.

‘What was that?’

The clatter of dishes and pans, the rat-a-tat-tat of knives on chopping boards, all fell silent.

‘Well?’ Fabian shouted.

The kitchen staff parted like the Red Sea, allowing Moses passage to reveal a sweating, red-faced boy, staring wide-eyed and helpless. At his feet, a puddle of liquid expanded in rivulets between the ancient cobblestones and the sparkling shards of glass.

‘I'm sorry, sir! It slipped from my hands!’ His plump, glowing cheeks wobbled with every syllable uttered.

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Fabian closed his eyes. ‘Please tell me that wasn't the Château Lafite-Rothschild?’

Silence.

His face tight with anger, Fabian said, ‘That wine was bottled in 1869. It has survived world wars and revolutions. And Mr Henderson paid $230,000 for it at auction.’

The familiar red rage built within Fabian, consuming his mind, his chest, flooding through his system.

He breathed in. He breathed out.

He let the red rage evaporate, just as he had been taught.

Fabian opened his eyes.

Tears were running down the boy’s face and gathering on his trembling chin.

‘Davide!’ Fabian’s voice rang out through the vaulted kitchen.

A massive brute of a man stuffed into a chef’s uniform stepped forward.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Please, give me some good news. How are we doing with the main course?’

‘The rump steaks are old, sir, as you suspected. But with some trimming and extra garnish, I believe they will pass.’

The chef ground his teeth together and growled. ‘Pass? You believe they will pass?’ A girl’s scream echoed down the stone stairs, followed by raucous, male laughter. The chef’s face drained of colour. ‘And you!’ Fabian pointed at the boy. ‘How long have you been apprenticed here?’

The boy stammered inaudibly.

‘Speak up, boy!’ Fabian's face flushed with anger once more.

‘This is my first day, sir.’

‘And who entrusted you with that precious bottle of fine wine that you so carelessly dropped?’

The gathered kitchen staff stood in silence, heads bowed.

Another scream echoed down the stone stairs, cut short by laughter and roars of approval.

‘It was Veronique, sir,’ somebody said.

A short, round woman stumbled into view as she was shoved before Fabian.

A drumbeat of fists pounding tables and feet stomping the floor grew in volume from above.

‘Do you realise what you have done?’ Fabian said, his voice tight and controlled. ‘Once a year, Mr Henderson holds a dinner party for his very special guests, and he expects only the finest. And now here we have substandard rump steaks for the main course, and no Château Lafite-Rothschild! Don't you realise the dreadful repercussions there will be?’

The kitchen staff stood in silence. Those who had been there long enough knew all about the dreadful repercussions.

Somewhere in the depths of the kitchen, meat sizzled on a grill.

Davide stepped up to Fabian, and murmured in his ear. ‘Sir, I believe I may have a solution.’

‘Yes?’

‘Yesterday I took delivery of several bottles of a rather robust, yet delicate, Romanée-Conti, extremely hard to get hold of as there are only six hundred bottles left, and the Great French Wine Blight of the 19th Century obliterated the vines required to produce more.’

‘Good, good, I can always rely on you, Davide. But what about the main course? What about the rump steak?’

Davide leaned in close and whispered into Fabian's ear.

The chef’s eyes lit up, and he smiled as he gazed at the new boy, and Veronique.

‘Davide,’ Fabien said. ‘What would I do without you?’

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