The heady scent of caramelizing onions wafted through the Cooking Network’s kitchen studio, although it was well past midnight. Mandy Sweet looked up from the baking table, where she’d been kneading bread dough.

“Remember Andre’s rule for goulash,” she said.

Jeanette Tilton nodded, not taking her eyes from the pan before her. Jeanette always focused on the work at hand. She tapped a knuckle to her forehead. “I have it memorized.”

“We all do,” Barbara Shawnessy said. She stood before the maple chopping block, scrubbing at its broad surface with a wetted brush. “Fry your onions in your fat until they’re golden, never darker. Take your pan from the fire. Add paprika right away and stir well.”

Goulash hadn’t been the only thing Andre Kovac stirred.

From his first moment on the air, two years ago, Andre had been at ease before the cameras, projecting a smoldering appeal that had nothing to do with the temperature of his burners or his ovens. One on one, in the kitchen or in the bedroom, he’d been irresistible. Mandy, Jeanette and Barbara, his network production assistants, had each sampled Andre’s extended bill of fare.

“When you add your meat, stir immediately again, coating it thoroughly with the onion-fat-paprika mix before returning it to the fire,” Jeanette continued the litany. “That guarantees the paprika’s flavor will be released by its contact with the hot fat and prevents the dish from tasting bitter.”

Andre had called his show The Hungary Chef and specialized in comfort food from his eastern European homeland. Stuffed peppers called toltott. Rakott Burgonya, a hearty dish with sausage, potatoes and hard-cooked eggs. Kohlrabi soup, thick with a pungent scent reminiscent of cabbage.

Jeanette began to sniffle. “The first time he cooked for me was right here on the set, about a month after his premiere.”

“Did you do the deed here, too?” Barbara asked.

Jeanette shook her head, not taking her eyes from her pans. “No. At the Plaza. A room overlooking the Pulitzer Fountain.”

“On the tenth floor?”

“Uh huh.”

“That’s where he took me, too.”

Jeanette knuckled away tears, perhaps brought on by the onions.

“How about you, Mandy?” Barbara asked.

Mandy nodded, fingering the smooth, elastic surface of the langos dough, shaping it into flat circles big as her open hand. “Tenth floor of the Plaza. I’ll say this. When Andre found something that worked, he stuck by it.”

Barbara snorted, a hard, coughing sound. Soon her laughter, accented by Mandy’s giggles, echoed across the sound stage.

Jeanette adjusted the gas burner beneath the pan and rubbed her nose with the back of her free hand. She hiccupped. “I don’t see how you two can laugh at a time like this. The man is dead.”

“And we’re not,” Mandy said.

“That’s right,” Barbara said. “No crying. Eat, drink and remember. That’s how a wake’s supposed to be.”

“Amen to that.” Mandy slipped the last of the langos into place, scooped up the baking sheet, stepped to the smaller of the two ovens and slipped the flat bread inside.

“How long?” Jeanette asked.

Mandy twisted the timer knob. “Fifteen minutes.”

Barbara turned away from the chopping block. “I’ll toss a salad and pour the wine.”

“And I’ll set the dishes,” Mandy said.

The three women worked for a time in companionable silence.

Jeanette sighed. “He would have loved to see us, working together like this.”

Barbara scooped up a handful of greens and a Wusthof salad knife. Its razored edge tapped a staccato beat. She might have majored in broadcasting at Ohio State, but Barbara grew up in her father’s butcher shop in Strasburg, seventy miles south of Cleveland. She knew her way around a blade.

“So, Jeanette was the first,” she said, continuing to work. “When did he take up with you, Mandy?”

“Christmas, that first year. The Plaza’s lobby decorations were beautiful.”

“How about you?” Jeanette asked.

Barbara shrugged. “Not ‘til last April. His birthday. He cooked a full-course meal for me, right here. Naked. We recorded the whole thing.”

She settled the salad dishes into place and stepped to the wine rack, slid a bottle from its place to examine the label. “Here’s a thirty-year-old Egri Bikavér.”

Mandy nodded. “Good choice. Andre always said the Bull’s Blood Eger agreed with him.”

The timer dinged. Mandy opened the oven door, flooding the studio with the comforting aroma of baking bread. “It’s done. How about the goulash, Jeanette?”

“Well, it should simmer for another hour, to do it right, but given the circumstances, I suppose we’ll be okay. One of you get the sour cream from the refrigerator.”

Jeanette began to plate the food. The three women gathered at the table.

Barbara picked up her fork, leaned close to her plate, closed her eyes and drew in a breath, savoring the rich vapors from the stew. “Oh, my. That’s a perfect Goulash Andre.”

Jeanette lifted an eyebrow. “Shall we say grace?”

Mandy giggled. “Too late for that.”

Jeanette sniffled. “I suppose. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“I can’t believe he screwed all three of us, in the same hotel room, all these months like clockwork,” Barbara said.

Mandy studied the dish set before her. “I can’t believe we just got wise to him tonight. What a bastard.”

Jeannette shook out her napkin and then lifted her wine glass in a toast. “Well, ladies, bon appétit.”

“Maybe we should let it cool a bit,” Mandy said.

“Don’t be silly,” Jeanette replied. “It’s just the right temperature.”

Barbara laid her fork beside her plate and pushed back from the table. “Mandy’s on to something. Let it cool.”

Jeanette shook her head. “It won’t taste right served cold. Andre would be adamant, would tell us goulash must be presented piping hot.”

Barbara moistened the tip of her napkin with her tongue.

“Maybe,” she replied, touching the wetted cloth to a spot of dried blood on Jeanette’s earlobe. “What do you suppose he’d have to say about serving up revenge?”

K.C. Ball lives in Seattle, Washington. Her short stories have appeared here at Every Day Fiction, as well as various online and print publications, including Analog, Flash Fiction Online, Murky Depths and the Writers of the Future 26 anthology. K.C. won the Writers of the Future competition in 2009. She is a 2010 graduate of Clarion West writers’ workshop and an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Love the irony in the title.

    A workmanlike, well written piece.

    Good job.

  • fishlovesca

    Pretty much telegraphed from the outset what the story was going to be about, and pretty much a story that’s been done and overdone.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    When Andre found something that worked, he stuck by it.”

  • They’re about to eat him at the end, right?

    A nice macabre little story of the the perfect length. As fishlovesca pointed out, this type of story is done a lot, but I think the cooking element brought some fresh air to the formula.

    That said, I did struggle a bit to accept that THESE three wronged women would not only kill Andre, but also eat him. Maybe that just goes to show you never can tell…

    ; )

  • Sheila Cornelius

    Very good story. I thought half way through one of them was going to despatch her rivals, so the ending came as a surprise. What a pleasant change, too, to read properly constructed sentences with punctuation and everything!

  • ajcap

    I agree with Sheila, well-constructed flash. Easy and enjoyable to read.

    I figured Andre would end up as the meal as soon as his prowess with women was mentioned so I was hoping for more of a twist at the end. Andre would join them as they sat down to eat and they would figure out their sexual schedule. Mandy on Mondays and Wednesday, Barbara Tuesdays and Thursdays and so on. Wouldn’t have been as macabre, maybe. Then again…

    The expected didn’t take away from the pleasure of the read, though. Four stars.

  • Nice one, as always. This one will leave me wondering about what will happen once they get caught for quite a while… Five stars.

  • Wait..what? They were eating Andre?!? I didn’t gather that from the story at all. The drop of blood on the ear sort of led me to assume Andre had met a less-than-happy end, but I never got the impression they were eating him.

    Murdering him would be (excuse the pun) overkill; eating him would push this story from chilling to disgusting. Frankly, that would ruin it for me, so I’m wishing that unhappy thought right into the cornfield.

  • J Howard

    What an enjoyable read!

    Well, sure, one could see the ending coming; but isn’t that true of a good many short pieces of fiction? For me, sometimes the joy is found in simply reading a well-constructed, pitch-perfect, smoothly-told tale. Utterly believable, too, with all those cool culinary references. And let’s not forget how expertly the dialogue was handled: three characters, each engaged in her own thoughts and activities, and yet so easy to follow on the page. No easy task, that! Well done.

    I’ll dodge the temptation to engage in silly self-indulgent food punnery and state simply: This one went down real easy.

    Nice work, K.C.! Thanks for sharing.

    (One tiny nit: In the para beginning “Amen to that” you’ve used the word “slipped” twice. Certainly no big deal, but enough to distract me. Maybe it was the alliterative series of verbs in that sentence that drew my attention to it?)

  • Debi:

    The story means what you, as reader, want it to mean. I was purposely ambiguous to allow multiple interpretations. Mostly, it’s a snark on cooking shows. So push what ever you need to way back in the cornfield.

  • Wonderful story, K.C. And food is such a metaphor for life, whether erved up rare, medium, or well-done. This is writing in a humerus vein.

  • Jen

    These women work well together, with such a friendship they don’t need their boss at all.Thanks for the morning smile.
    Five stars [for such a fine tasting meal.]

  • Thanks for clarification, KC! I prefer to believe the women smacked Andre around a little bit (hence the blood), then had a lovely dinner together to celebrate no longer being duped.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this story and admire the skill with which you handled the dialogue between the three women while each was engaged in her own task. Their three distinct personalities came out masterfully.

  • ajcap

    I must put my two cents in again. It seemed so clear Andre was the main course but when I go back and re-read, there is nothing to prove that is what happened. I drew the conclusion from my own slightly sick mind.

    Excellent writing. Wish I could go back and give the story five stars.

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  • A very expertly crafted tale with some tantalising food imagery. It hadn’t occurred to me for one moment that they were eating Andre.
    I’ve upped my rating to accommodate an extra one for you ajcap! 🙂

  • ajcap

    LOL, thanks Sandra. It’s comforting to know I won’t be shunned for being twisted. Cheers!

  • michaelehart

    Very nice, K.C.
    I love to cook (vindaloo last night) so this was especially delish.

  • Merlin

    @ ajcap “I drew the conclusion from my own slightly sick mind.” Hehe! Me too! 🙂

  • John Im

    don’t worry, it wasn’t just morbid imagination leading
    you to the cannibal theory. Title as double meaning:
    “Serves Him Right” as in Twilight Zone Episode
    “To Serve Mankind” ? Now why exactly did he deserve
    to be served up for revenge ? Well, they are sharing
    him literally now perhaps !

  • Chris

    I’m another who assumed early that Andre was going to be the meat that put the ‘Goo’ in the goulash. The title alluded to it also, being that he might be the one who was being served. ;^)

    But — and kudos to KC for doing it so well — there’s enough ambiguity that it’s never certain.

    Well done. It’s rare to see such talent ooze out of the medium.

    5 stars for a fresh taste from a familiar dish.

  • My reading is this: Andre had received the same answer from each of the young girls after proposing to each. Each said, “I’m not yet ready for marriage.” Falsely believing that this was Woman’s denial of his worthiness, he decided to kill all of them together and any others with whom he entangled thereafter. After the girls won the shocking battle, the girls, being softies anyway, decided to hold a wake and at the appearance of his spectre shout “Won! Only won!”

    Hey, there is a reason why “prowess” is an “ess,” a feminine word. The boys are only “prows,” the front line to absorb the blows but we girls love them anyway provided we are over age twelve. Anyway, now understanding the tenderness of his ego and in sorrow, each decide to accept him when he manifests at Holloween (the reason for holding the wake). His anger will have waned by that time, his normal emotions will have been restored, he will have his first choice of wife and they all will remain good friends forever after.

  • kathy k

    K.C. I always get excited when I see your name at the top of a story. I loved this macabre little piece.
    A five from me.

  • robin

    What a well-written, thoroughly enjoyable story. In the end he gets his just desserts (or maybe not).

  • Simone

    Expertly written – loved it!

  • Great story, nice work, lovely prose. Makes me miss the cooking shows!

  • Devil’s Advocate

    Poor Andre.

    I wonder, did these three witches eat his wedding tackle as well?

    If so, could that be considered a posthumous blow job? Maybe it was worth being eaten after all? 🙂

  • John Drake

    WOW !!!
    What an amazingly interesting story
    5 stars are not enough…..BUT
    that’s all that are allowed

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  • MMMMmmmmm!

  • K.C. This story is vintage you!!! So well written, especially, the presenting of the story through the eyes of three modern TV types really worked for me. Though people eating people seems what it was about to me, I think the skill of the story is the way it engages the reader from the very beginning. I saw it and loved reading it. Fresh as corn on the cob in an Iowa cornfield.