Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dinner for Who?

Dinner for Who?
By Michael Cannata

The dinner crowd was finally settling at their tables, drinks in hand, preparing for the evening's entertainment. As the staff started serving, I couldn't help getting anxious. Tonight's dinner show was going to be something completely different.

My wife and our close friends loved going to the trendy, "Murder Mystery Dinners," where the dinner guests tried to solve a crime that would be played out by actors over the course of the meal. I found them childish and less than interesting. Most were held to raise money for charities and, knowing the money was going toward a good cause, made it hard to get out of going. My wife and I were considered pillars of our little community. Even after twenty-five years of marriage, I loved my wife more than life itself. If attending these parties made her happy I was more than willing to do it for her.

I tried my best to take part in the fun but rarely found the "mystery" challenging. The closest thing to a murder weapon was often the food on the menu. Frequently, the identity of the "killer" became pretty obvious far too early to make the mystery last. On the rare occasion where it was cleverly done, the various guests at the tables could get caught up in the game to the point where emotions got involved. The more serious amateur detectives would go so far as to start demanding that real detectives be called in to verify their solution. When their suspects were found to be the wrong man, shouts of cheating and fraud would ring out from the biggest donors with the worst guesses.

At the last event we attended, the reality that I could be bored to death occurred to me along with an idea that I found oddly appealing.  What would happen if an amateur murderer committed a real murder in front of all those amateur detectives?  As a doctor I knew lots of ways to kill people. It was always something I wanted to try. When I got home I started to give it serious thought. Once my most devious plan was complete I knew I had to put it into action.  I'd decided that making a few changes to the script would make the game a lot more interesting.

The dinner guests at tonight's party would have to guess the identity of the fantasy killer as always. Unbeknownst to tonight's guests this game would have an additional twist.  If things went as planned, somewhere between the main course and desert someone at one of the tables would suffer an agonizing, painful death. Unfortunately, and much to the shock of the audience, they wouldn't be acting. Some unlucky soul would enjoy the last meal of their life.

The suspense was excruciating. I couldn't be sure the guest would even eat their meal. And the possibility of someone I liked becoming the victim was something else to consider. However,  to make the game fair, everyone had to be a player. Fortunately, my wife and I would be safe. The menu tonight featured two main dishes, stuffed chicken breast and stuffed lobster tail. My wife and I would be having the chicken.

Once we got a tour of the large kitchen, one of the potential crimes scenes, the rest was easy. It had been a simple effort to put the poison into one of the large stuffed lobster tails that sat waiting to be prepared. The stuffing at this particular restaurant was always a favorite of the guests. I counted on at least that part of the meal being consumed.

Once things were in place, all that remained was to sit back and watch the scene play out. I already knew who the killer was. Who would die was the real mystery. Who was I going to kill? Even I had no idea. Finally, I was going to experience a new thrill, watching a show that featured a real murder.

I could hardly contain my excitement as they started serving the main course. For once this really was going to be a true, "Mystery Murder." I hoped the guests would enjoy this as much as I was going to. My wife couldn't help but take notice of my obvious interest in the evening's festivities.

            "Well, finally!" she remarked with a smile. "We seem to have found a show that interests this stuffed shirt of a husband I have here!" Her joke elicited hearty laughter from the table at large. I kissed her hand lovingly.

            "Why shouldn't I be interested?" I said, going along with the joke. "This crime takes place in a hospital setting. Solving this one should be easy. Obviously, if my guess is right, the doctor will have done it."

            As the waiter was serving the guest next to me he accidentally spilled some gravy on my dinner jacket. Too excited to be angry, I excused myself to wash up in the men's room. I chatted with a friend for a few minutes before explaining that I didn't want my dinner to get too cold or my wife to get too hot over my absence.

            It was when I took my seat that I discovered how horribly wrong my plans had gone. While I was away from the table, my wife had swapped her chicken with her friend's lobster. I tried to hide my rising panic. I kept telling myself that the odds were 100 to 1 that she would get the tainted plate. She was finishing the last of the stuffing and lobster as she marveled over the flavor. It was her first time trying lobster. As she started to cough during desert and suddenly excused herself, I knew it would be her last as well.

            When the screams started coming from the ladies room, along with shouts to "Call 911," I knew the show was over. I rushed to her side giving what aid I could but I knew better than anyone, there was nothing to be done.

            Fortunately for me, they never had to figure out who killed her. Her death was ruled a severe allergic reaction, just as I had planned. When it came to medicine I was a renowned specialist. As I quietly mourn my loss, unable to ever reveal my part in her death, I often remind myself of the lesson learned that night.

            I discovered in a cruel but well deserved way that I'd never imagined while losing the one person in the world that mattered…

…murder is not for amateurs.

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