The next morning, Drea opened the shop as usual. The front was being cleaned, but the side and back entrances were already spotless. Kirk and the staff were in the kitchen when the shop door swung open, a brass bell tinkling cheerfully. Drea smiled as she spun around to greet the newcomer. The smile pasted itself on her features when she saw the man. Not their typical customer, he was medium height, burly, tattooed, muscular and powerfully built. His sandy hair was close cropped, his eyes steely in his swarthy face. Even in a three piece suit, he didn't look normal.
Drea tossed her pale blond hair out of her face. "Hi, I'm Drea. Won't you come in?" She extended her hand.
He eyed her with disgust, not taking it. "I wish to book a party for the night of the full moon."
Drea blinked. Was this some sort of bizarre code?
Taking out her appointment book, she waited for him to expand on the topic. He didn't.
"You'll have to be more precise, sir. What date exactly?"
He glared at her. "I need a very special menu that I was told you could provide."
"Barr Nunne can handle even the most complicated...." Her voice trailed off when he glared at her.
Pen poised over her notepad, she waited expectantly. The smile was gone, frosted over with impatience. This fellow was some whack job who had wandered in off the street to test their reputation. He might be a competitor, but he had more the look of a soldier or policeman than a chef.
"What would you like to serve?:
"Blood sausage," he said, a hard edged glint in his eyes. He stared at her pointedly, looking for her reaction.
"There aren't many people who like that around here," she explained. "It's rather esoteric."
"Your chef can make it?"
"Of course, though it is something we generally would import. It's quite time consuming."
"I want it to be fresh," he demanded. "Fresh—blood." He elongated the words, pausing for dramatic effect, staring even more pointedly at her.
"You'll have to discuss that with our chef. He's unavailable at the moment. Surely that isn't the only item?"
"Steak Tartar." His head whipped around, snakelike.
Drea made a note, frowning. "I see, anything else?"
Drea flipped her notebook shut with an irritable snap. "I think that's quite enough, sir. Not only is your menu indigestible, but your attitude is disturbing, not to mention appalling. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"You can't do that. I'm a paying customer."
"We're booked solid for the next thirty days. I'm afraid we can't accommodate you. Good day." She headed toward the rear door of the shop marked Private.
"I know your secret," the intense man said, his voice suddenly layered with a heavy, dark accent. "You can no longer hide."
Drea ignored him, though she stiffened, the hairs on the back of her neck rising uncomfortably. Unhesitatingly, she let the door swing shut behind her. Visibly shaken, she went to the wine rack. Selecting a bottle of wine at random, she opened it, pouring a large glass, downing it in one, long gulp. She repeated the process as Kirk walked in.
"You'll make yourself ill," he said with a frown of concern. "What's put you in such a state?"
Drea told him of her encounter with the odd man. When she told him the man's parting comment, she went weak in the knees.
"He can't possibly know anything," Kirk tried to reason with her, but his voice lacked conviction.
"Of course he did! His method was crude, but he knows—or suspects. Why else would he want blood pudding, blood sausage and steak tartar?"
"He was probably just trying to gross you out."
"He—knows. We have to contact Phillida. The Council needs to know."
"You're right, of course. Will you knock off the wine? You'll vomit it all up in a minute. That's a very expensive vintage."
Drea grabbed a phial of dark red liquid from a steel box in a secret wall safe. She added the liquid to the wine, sipping the last drops from the phial. Rinsing it, she put the empty glass tube back in the box, hiding it once more.
He poured himself a glass of the modified beverage before pouring another for her. Raising his glass, he examined the liquid with a discerning eye.
"We knew there would be risks attracting this kind of attention, Drea."
"I know, Kirk. But so soon? I had hoped it would last awhile longer. You're just recognizing your dream."
"My love, my dreams were all answered when I met you." He took her hands to his lips. "You changed my life." He kissed her knuckles, turning her hands to kiss the pad of her thumb, as he let his lips drift to the center of her palm. "This is not the first business we've lost, nor will it be the last."
© 2019 Dellani Oakes