A Light Supper
Hi-tech minimalist bachelor pads come at a cost. Hi-tech minimalist bachelor manor houses come at an enormous cost. But that’s ok. Milton Foy could handle cost. Cost wasn’t an issue since taking his crypto-currency business public five years ago. Now in his late thirties, he couldn’t spend the money as fast as it came to him. All he had to do was say “I want a hi-tech minimalist manor house surrounded by acres of beautiful estate” and it would appear. He wasn’t quite sure how this happened, but he paid his staff well and they just did things for him. He didn’t normally despise these people, but just now and then in the early hours silence of a Wiltshire night he sometimes might.
And he really had wanted a hi-tech minimalist manor house surrounded by acres of beautiful estate. Milton had several billionaire friends. He made no excuses for this. It’s hard for billionaires to mix socially with multi-millionaires, who still have to count their money. Two or three times a year he’d even find time to have lunch or dinner with Ethan Tusk (who Milton thought vulgar and not actually that bright). But Milton shunned his friends’ celebrity lifestyles. It was true that he had a private jet and helicopter, but these were necessary business tools. It was also true that he enjoyed the occasional week pottering around the Aegean on his private yacht, but that was his only real indulgence. Other than that he had everything he needed here at Monkton Hall, where he could keep a low profile and quietly get on with running his global empire and making more money. Milton was essentially a man of quiet routine. So much so that he sometimes wondered if he might be on the autistic spectrum. Once he’d even engaged an expensive Harley Street psychiatrist to assess his mental health. Unfortunately, the expensive Harley Street psychiatrist tried to engage Milton in a year long course of weekly therapy sessions, as expensive Harley Street psychiatrists often do when faced with a potential billionaire client, so Milton threw him out. Nevertheless, routine gave a structure and framework to Milton’s life and he did not like his routine to be disturbed, and if it was disturbed he could get edgy, anxious, even verbally, though never physically, aggressive. And part of Milton’s routine was dinner. Every night at 7.00pm precisely Milton would leave his Comms Room and take the few steps to his dining room where he would be served the meal he’d ordered the previous evening by his house-keeper from the adjacent kitchen. She looks like she could be Mexican. He thinks she’s called Imelda, but he’s not sure.
It was early December and early evening. Only the soft safety lights of the helicopter pad broke the liquid black. Imelda watched him as he took his seat. She felt safe to stare openly as she knew he wouldn’t look at her. She couldn’t remember him ever looking at her, not directly, certainly not in the eyes, so there was no real need to keep the contempt from her face. As he settled his tall spare body she thought how much she despised him. Nearly three years she’d worked for this man. Three years during which he’d hardly spoken to her except to give instructions for the following night’s dinner. To be fair, despite the occasional dinner party her work wasn’t demanding, she was a confident cook and house-keeper, but her life was still very hard. The money she sent back each month to Manilla gave her parents a roof over their heads and her four kids an education of sorts, but oh how she missed them all, especially the kids. She got to see them for a week each year over Easter, but sometimes she thought the agony outweighed the ecstasy. When she arrived in Manilla she would smile all day but then weep all night at how they’d changed and how she’d missed them grow. When she returned there’d be the sleepless nights of guilt-daggers in her heart and cold lead in the empty pit of her stomach. It was better these days she supposed, what with e-mail and Skype, but you can’t hug an e-mail, and you can’t kiss Skype.
As Milton waited he mused on the potential of chaotic algorithms to disrupt blockchain strato-phenomena. Imelda meanwhile was chopping mint and musing on which eye she’d prefer to stab him in first. Tonight was French onion soup, sea bream in butter sauce, minted new potatoes with asparagus, and Eton Mess. She’d worked the spit into the Mess, where he’d never notice it. She’d spat in his dinner every night for the last four months. Sometimes it went in the soup but she liked it best when there was a rich sauce where she could hide a thick green one. She almost looked forward to getting a heavy cold these days. He nearly caught her once. He turned round unexpectedly as she was dribbling onto a rib-eye steak. At a loss for an excuse she flatly denied everything, he must have been mistaken, a trick of the light. He gave her a quizzical look but he ate the steak.
She brought him the soup and he ate in silence. Then he hurried through the fish to get to the Mess. Milton had a sweet tooth. He lingered over the Mess, preferring the melted liquor to the cold hard ice cream. On finishing, he sat for a minute thinking, then spoke.
“Spit-roast chicken salad. Take off the skin. No dressing. No starter or dessert.”
And with that he rose and walked back to his Comms Room, where he planned to spend the rest of the evening relaxing by bullying his Singapore office and sacking the Australian Sales Director. Getting them out of bed in the middle of the night was part of the fun. Ha!
Now Imelda had a problem. Where do you hide spit on a spit-roast chicken salad with no skin and no dressing? Was vinegar a dressing? No calories in vinegar. If he was just trying to cut down his calories she might be able to drool into the vinegar bottle and persuade him to use that. And why was he trying to cut down the calories? He wasn’t over-weight and he always enjoyed her desserts. She decided to sleep on it, let her sub-conscious do the work.
Imelda cleared up and went to her room to Skype her mother but Milton stayed in his Comms Room till the early hours. He’d started by going through the Singapore sales figures but then strangely for him he’d lost interest. What the hell, the Australian Sales Director could have another day’s salary. His mind kept returning to a youtube documentary he’d stumbled upon the night before. It was called “Our Dark Numbered Days” or something like that and he’d only started watching because it had “Numbered” in the title and he thought it might be about mathematics. It turned out to be about climate change and what the presenter described as the “wholesale rape and destruction of the Earth’s precious natural resources”. She was particularly insistent on the urgent necessity to eat less food, particularly meat, in order to avert global catastrophe. All Milton had thought about for nearly forty years was money and how to get more money, so he’d been quite surprised to find the evidence presented as quite compelling and indeed disturbing. He watched it twice more, then checked the opening prices in Tokyo, turned out the lights and went to bed.
The next evening, at exactly 7.00pm, Imelda served Milton with spit-roast chicken salad, no skin, no dressing, no starter, no dessert. After careful deliberation she’d discarded the drooling vinegar plan as she couldn’t be completely sure he would use it. Instead she’d taken some pine nuts and rolled them lasciviously around inside her mouth, till they were liberally coated in her saliva, when she scattered them over the cherry tomatoes, still drying from a similar treatment. She only had one brief moment of concern, when he seemed to hesitate before his first forkful of chicken, but in the end he cleaned the plate, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes and all. She was right to have planned with care, he didn’t use the vinegar. As he rose to leave the table he called to her.
“Same as tonight but no chicken, just the salad.”
So the following evening that’s what he got, a full plate of iceburg lettuce, chopped red onions, raw button mushrooms, sliced yellow peppers, delicately spittled pine nuts and slobbery cherry tomatoes. No chicken. He seemed to enjoy it. At least she’d had a relaxing day not having to devise a new spit delivery strategy. This all changed when Milton announced his menu for the following evening.
“Five leaves of lettuce.”
What in the name of The Madonna? “Five leaves of lettuce”? Santa Maria! She really couldn’t care less what sort of a crazy diet the deluded fool wanted to eat, especially since it made so much less work for her, but where on earth could she hide sputum in five leaves of lettuce? She couldn’t roll lettuce leaves around in her mouth. This was going to require considerable thought.
When Imelda went to her room that night she took with her a shallow dish. She made her nightly Skype to Manilla but this one was longer than usual. As well as her children and parents she had long chats with both Aunt Isabella and Uncle Francesco. Each time a relative was speaking she wouldn’t swallow but would collect her saliva in her mouth, then before speaking herself she would dribble the contents into the dish. At one point her mother asked her what she was doing. She said she had a sore throat and it was difficult to swallow. By 2.00am the dish was an inch deep in her slobber and close to overflowing.
The next morning she carefully carried the dish downstairs to the kitchen ensuring she didn’t spill any of the precious contents. She then cut five full leaves of iceberg lettuce and bathed them tenderly in the dish, before placing them back into the salad chiller to retain their crispness.
That evening the lettuce leaves were gone by 7.02pm. At 7.03pm he rose from the table, said “Nothing” in the general direction of Imelda, and strode off to the Comms Room.
Nothing? What the hell did that mean? Not “I’ll be away” or “I’ll be eating out” but “Nothing?” There was nothing in his planner to suggest he’d be either away or eating out and he was normally meticulous about his planner. By morning Imelda had concluded he must be out for the evening and so she spent a relaxing day watching TV and occasionally re-arranging her kitchen cupboards. She was astonished therefore when at 7.00pm he walked into the dining room and sat at the table. This put her in a very bad position, she hadn’t even laid the table. After a moment she stepped briskly to his side.
“Good evening Sir. But Sir, I am so sorry Sir, I have prepared no food for you. I thought that last night you said you wouldn’t be eating Sir, I must have been mistaken. So sorry, what would you like to eat Sir?”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t be eating Imelda, I said I wanted nothing. And that is exactly what I want. As I said, nothing.”
“But Sir…?” By now Imelda was extremely confused and concerned.
“Look Imelda, it really is very simple. Just serve me with a plate of nothing. It’s so easy. Just lay the table quickly and bring me the plate.” He was clearly irritated.
But if he was irritated Imelda was beside herself. What on earth did this hangal na Inglés want from her. She quickly laid the table then selected an empty china plate from the crockery cupboard and after a brief hesitation, timidly laid the empty plate before him then retreated to her kitchen to watch.
Milton stared at the plate intently for at least ten minutes with his head down. Then he raised his head and pulled out his phone.
“Winters? Get the helicopter ready to leave asap. And give Captain Cowles a call, I want to leave at 8.00pm. But get the helicopter ready as soon as you can. I want to be ready to leave as soon as he arrives.”
She couldn’t hear Winters’ response, but Milton spoke again.
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll tell him when he gets here.”
Milton knew the timing would be crucial, but he should be OK. It would take Winters half-an-hour to get the chopper ready but it would take Cowles at least that long to get here. Nevertheless, as soon as he’d finished messing with his phone he pulled on a warm coat and went out to the pad to check on progress.
“All ready Winters?”
“Five minutes Sir.”
“Quick as you can Winters.”
Milton stood impatiently in the dark, shivering and stamping his feet in the cold. After an age Winters called out to him:
“All ready Sir, keys in the ignition.”
“Excellent Winters. Now get inside and get warm, I’ll wait for Cowles.”
Milton watched Winters disappear into the house and close the door before climbing aboard the chopper. But he didn’t get into the passenger seat, he walked around the helicopter and got into the pilot’s seat. He wasn’t going to need Cowles tonight. True, he didn’t have a licence, but he’d been having lessons and was pretty sure he could fly the thing. Anyway, licences are for wimps. He got it into the air just as the headlights of Cowles car appeared at the end of the drive.
The wreck of the helicopter was found next morning being washed by waves on rocks at the foot of the dusky pink cliffs which run east from Salcombe to Dartmouth. The body was still inside, though in several pieces. No paper note was ever found, but that afternoon his followers received a series of time delayed Tweets:
“Friends, we must all know by now that the Earth and consequently mankind is facing catastrophe. (more)”
“The climate change caused by our rapacious plundering of our planet’s precious resources will likely mean the end of our civilisation. We are all guilty but I am guiltier than most. (more)”
“I have flown enough to circle the planet a hundred times. I have a helicopter, a yacht and an enormous mansion. I have eaten enough red meat to feed a small city. I have used up far more than my fair share. (more)”
“I hope that by this small act I have at least removed one consumer from the chain, and your children may live a minute longer. Goodbye.”
Imelda felt nothing when the police gathered the staff together to tell them of Milton’s death. Her only concern was that she would be sure to lose her job. So she could not even speak when the solicitor called to say that Milton had left her five million pounds and a lifetime free tenancy of the gatehouse cottage at the entrance to the estate. Within a week she’d moved into the gatehouse, and two days later her kids and parents arrived to join her.
Milton was buried in a compostable coffin in a quiet corner of the estate. Nobody ever went there, but if anybody ever had walked past, they’d wonder why there was always some type of salad, often a punnet of fresh tomatoes, sometimes a lettuce or a bunch of onions, laying on the grave.