James straightened his tie as the limousine stopped out front of the restaurant. Mr. Frank Kravenport, the CEO of Kravenport Industries, surprised them with reservations to some French place where it was impossible to get a table. It was to be a memorial dinner for their colleague Doug Longman. Cancer.
“We’re here boys!” Frank’s voice roared, “Ahh, ain’t we in for a treat?”
James and three others waited while Frank hefted his weight from the limo before following him onto the deep red carpet that led to the front door. An elaborate awning in matching red bore the name “Le Restaurant de l’Homme” in gold script. James hadn’t taken French since 8th grade, but apples vaguely came to mind.
As the hostess led their small group of suit-clad men through the maze-like dining area, the smells from the food were intoxicating. The dimly lit tables provided a relaxing atmosphere. Strange paintings hung on the walls. James scanned the room, seeing portraits in various styles, all in elaborate gold frames. One painting caught his eye as looking just like Jeffrey Dahmer, but was probably some French icon.
The private table reserved for Frank in the back was expertly set with gold rimmed china and crystal glassware. Red napkins dazzled in gold rings. Fancy, James thought as they were seated.
“Now, boys, you know why we’re here. I took the liberty of pre-ordering for you. Steaks, as this is a special occasion.” Frank looked around the table at James and his colleagues, his face suddenly falling to a grim stare. “I’ve asked you all here firstly to honor Doug’s work, and secondly to see if any of you have what it takes to step up and fill his shoes. You can tell a lot about a man by what –and how– he eats.” His wide-mouthed grin returned and he looked around the table again.
The men each visibly straightened in their chairs. They knew Frank was looking to fill Doug’s position. He wanted someone with guts and someone who was ruthless. James looked sideways at his competition. Mike was vegan, and he already looked visibly shaken, so was hardly competition. He was already sweating.
The kitchen doors burst open and a train of three servers brought the pre-ordered steaks to their table. James thanked his waiter, who smiled down at him, “Bon appetit, monsieur.”
The steak glistened. It was huge, smothering nearly three quarters of the oversized plate. A small side of sauteed asparagus accompanied the meat, but nothing else.
Frank raised his crystal glass, “To Doug!” he proclaimed.
The other men raised their glasses in unison.
Frank had a fork and knife in his hand and was sawing away at the juicy cut on his plate. James followed suit, and stole a glance at Mike who was holding his utensils, the blood drained from his face.
“I’m sorry Mr. Kravenport. I can’t.” He simultaneously pushed the plate away from himself and his chair away from the table.
Frank grinned and motioned with his hand for Mike to leave, “You can pick your things up on Monday”. Mike made a quick exit.
And then there were three.
James wouldn’t be intimidated. He eagerly cut up and began eating his steak, which was chewy and delicious. He kept close watch on his colleagues. Peter to his left was making steady progress. Matt to his right seemed to be having trouble. Frank was nearing completion. James ate faster, taking brief sips of water from the heavy, faceted crystal glass between bites.
Frank stared at them, a fevered grin on his face and grease shining on his lips. “Atta boy!” he was speaking directly to James, “nothing like a good steak to put iron in your blood!”
James smiled, meat juices coating his chin. Frank continued.
“In this business, you need to go for the throat until you taste blood. We need men at the top who will not hesitate to devour the competition.”
James finished, putting his fork and knife down.
Frank laughed hard, his hand slapping the heavy table.
James felt the steak heavy in his stomach. He looked down on his plate. A hair, silver, just like Doug’s. His stomach clenched. He tasted bile. He held his food and Frank’s eyes while he listened to the men on either side of him vomit.
And that was how James became Vice President of Kravenport Industries.