Flash Fiction: A Taste of Retribution

Posted: November 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

A Taste of Retribution

By Jack B. Strandburg

“Gramercy Tavern is an upscale restaurant, Shelly,” John said. “How did you know I had such expensive taste?”

“I know more about you than you think, John Maxwell,” Shelly Robinson replied with a trace of a smile.

“I was surprised when you called and asked me out to dinner. Have we met before? You do look familiar.”

“We have a couple of things in common, John.”

“Oh? Such as?”

“Melanie Kramer.”

John reacted by raising his eyebrows, then his eyes dropped to the table and he played with his fork. “Yes, Melanie. We went out a couple of times. How do you know her?”

“She’s my patient,” Shelly said. “I’m a clinical psychologist.”

“A noble profession,” John said. “What made you choose it?”

“I guess I didn’t have what it took to be a world-famous chef,” Shelly said with a shrug.

John furrowed his brow. “I’m missing something. What do a psychologist and a cook have in common?”

Chef, not cook,” Shelly corrected. “My brother, Richard studied at the Culinary Institute in New York. He’s worked all over the world. He actually recommended this restaurant.”

“Whatever,” John said, with a shrug. “Anyway, I’m not surprised Melanie is seeing a shrink. I didn’t see our relationship as long-term. In fact . . .,”

Shelly raised a hand. “She told me things about you, John, things that can damage your reputation if made public. You’re a liar and a heartless bastard. You use people, John.”

John’s mouth fell open and he slapped a hand to his chest before twisting his mouth into a sarcastic smile. “If you asked me out to dinner to threaten and insult me, why choose Gramercy Tavern? The dinner bill and drinks alone will run a few hundred dollars. Once you add in the tip . . . ,”

Shelly stopped him with a shake of her head. “You don’t get it, do you? Melanie told me all about you stealing funds from your company. What’s the matter, John, a six-figure income isn’t enough?”

John stiffened in the chair before relaxing, but the reaction was unmistakable. Shelly touched a nerve.

Forcing a smile, he said, “You have no proof of anything other than the ramblings of a sex-starved woman. I have connections, and besides, what Melanie may or may not have said must remain confidential. Doctor and patient relationship and all that. True?”

“You don’t care for Melanie, you never did. She told me about your meeting at the night club. You filled her with liquor and she made a bad decision, in my opinion, the worst decision of her life. She must have been pretty drunk to sleep with the likes of you.”

“That’s your opinion . . . doctor,” John said, “but I expect you’re bitter. When was the last time you had a man in your bed?”

Shelly narrowed her eyes. “This is not about me. You need help, John.”

John curled his lips into a smile, then picked up the glass, and took a sip of water. He sat back against the chair and folded his hands on his stomach. “Are you offering your services? How does it work? I come into your office, lie down on your sofa, discuss my childhood, and despite my parents not raising me right, I still became a successful businessman. Or maybe you’re jealous because you can’t have what Melanie had, and want me in a prone position. Is that what this dinner is really all about?”

Shelly curled her lip. “You disgust me with your arrogance and self-centeredness. You’re not worth giving the time of day.”

The waiter brought their entrees to the table. John ordered Roasted Pork Loin, Shelly ordered the Black Bass.

“This looks tasty,” John said and picked up his fork and knife. “I’m going to sit here and enjoy my dinner, light up a smoke, sip on a brandy, and then call it a night. You can sit there and talk your psycho head off for all I care.”

“I want reparations, John. Either you meet my demands or I’ll have a long conversation with a detective.”

John looked up from his plate. “You’re out of your mind, Doc, and what business is it of yours anyway? I’m very good at reading people, and I don’t think extortion fits your personality.”

“I may have nothing more than Melanie’s word, but if I make the allegations, the media will be all over this. Your career and what you call a reputation will be irreparably damaged.”

“I’ve been through this before, Doc. People have been trying to bring me down for years. What makes you think you’ll be any different? And for the record, if anything should happen to hit the papers, I have enough connections with people in high places to destroy your career and your life.”

Shelly leaned forward and put her elbows on the table. “I’m asking for one hundred grand, that’s all. You would hardly miss it.”

“Forget it, Doc, you have nothing on me.”

Shelly leaned back against the chair and sighed. “So you’re turning down my offer?”

John laughed. “Doc, I’m afraid you’ve wasted your money and your time. If you actually believe you can blackmail me, you’re the one who seek help.” He looked off to the left. “What is it they say? Oh yeah, physician, heal thyself.”

“I told you before we had a couple of things in common, John. You were right when you said I looked familiar, because we have met before.”

“Like I said, I know people. So when and where did this memorable event take place?”

“My maiden name is Madison. Arlene was my sister. You remember Arlene don’t you, John? Ten years ago to this day your raped her.”

John put down the fork and ran a napkin across his mouth. He looked around the restaurant before looking back at Shelly. After a few moments to gather his composure, he nodded in recognition, and wagged his finger. “Yes, I remember you now. Your hair is different and you’ve put on some weight. Apparently you forgot the facts of what happened that night. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘it takes two to tango.’ There was never enough evidence to charge me, let alone take me to court.”

“That’s because your scumbag attorney made sure the press destroyed my sister’s reputation. You bought your way out, John, and as far as I’m concerned, both you and your attorney should be burning in hell for what you did.”

John resumed eating his meal. “That will never happen. By the way, how is Arlene?”

Shelly looked away. “She was never the same. The doctor prescribed medication for depression and arranged for therapy. My brother and I paid for both and watched her waste away for nine and a half endless years.” Shelly paused and her eyes welled with tears. “Six months ago she committed suicide. We buried her next to our parents.”

“Touching,” John said. “Look, Doc, I’m not a monster, and I’m sorry for your loss, but if you expect me to feel guilty for her suicide, you’re barking up the wrong tree. She wanted it as much as I did that night.”

Shelly stared into John’s eyes for a time before tossing the napkin on the plate. She reached into her purse and took out a wad of bills and threw it on the table, then got up from the chair. “I’ve suddenly lost my appetite. This should cover the bill and the tip. Mark my words, your time is coming, John. One of these days you’ll pay for your sins,” she said and then went to the restroom.

As she walked away she heard John say, “I wouldn’t bet on it, Doc.”

* * * *

A week later, Shelly Robinson stood at the graves of her sister and parents at St. Paul’s Churchyard in Manhattan. The sky was cloudless and birds chirped in the trees. The temperature was a pleasant seventy-two degrees with low humidity. She turned to the sound of footsteps crunching leaves underfoot.

“Hello, Richard.”

“Hello, Shelly. Did you see this morning’s headlines?”

“Yes, I did. John Maxwell died of an apparent heart attack during a bachelor party at an unnamed strip club. Rather poetic don’t you think?”

“Perhaps the performance was too stressful,” Richard said with a chuckle.

“I assume the coroner didn’t find anything unusual during the autopsy.”

Richard shook his head. “Nothing but a weak heart. No traces of toxins in his system.”

“Good, then we’re on schedule.”

“Like clockwork. Have you contacted Maxwell’s attorney?”

“We have reservations, eight o’clock on Wednesday at Carmine’s in the Theater District. He likes Italian.”

“Arlene would be happy to hear that,” Richard said. “Carmine’s huh? I know the head chef there. I understand the Chicken Scaloppine is to die for.”

Shelly looked at Richard and smiled. “Let’s hope so.”

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