Table for Thirteen [Short Story]

He had booked a table for thirteen, 1pm. The staff at the restaurant didn’t have a name for him – just a deep voice on the end of the phone and the promise that everything would be paid for. They were busy, and so they didn’t pay much attention to the unusualness of this booking. The girl who took the booking the day before wasn’t there anyway that day.

The restaurant was busy when the group began to arrive.

A booking under the name of Smith, for 1pm.

It couldn’t have been a more diverse group of men and women who eyed each other distrustfully. None of them knew why they were there. They didn’t really have anything in common and none of them had met before.

But all the same, they ordered food and the wine flowed, so that soon the group forgot that they didn’t know why there were there. There were thirteen of them all sitting round that table, in the middle of a busy restaurant. The waitresses passed by, bringing more drinks, carrying food to other tables, and soon they too forgot to notice that the big party was still there.

The guests round the table continued drinking.

After the first course had been eaten, one of the guests excused himself to go to the toilet.

He didn’t come back.

They didn’t notice at first.

It was only when the pudding menus had come and gone that they realised one of the group was missing.

And then there was a scream from the corner of the restaurant.

‘A body, a body in the toilets.’

It was then that they noticed.

In the middle of the excitement, another of the party, who had leapt to his feet in horror collapsed onto the table.

The group exchanged horrified looks.

They had all only just met one another – but now, they were all dropping off like flies. Nobody ate pudding or ordered any coffee. The restaurant was vacated, the ambulance service called. But by the time they got there – they were too late. Another had gone down.

They couldn’t find anything wrong with any of the victims, couldn’t work out why they had all fallen dead without apparently any idea.

The diners were all held back. But, they confessed, they had never seen one another. They didn’t even know who had brought them there together. The staff at the restaurant only knew the name of the person who had booked – but there was no Mr Smith present, and anyway, the police said when they arrived, it was probably a false name. So they had nothing to go on. None of the diners could think of why they might have been called there, or what their connection was. There was no obvious link.

They all shifted uncertainly, none of them wanting to look at the dead bodies, wondering if maybe they were next. They all refused to eat or drink anything else, even when they were offered by the restaurant. They all at there in silence, being questioned by the police one by one.

No one else went down.

Well, not right away.

It was later, when the police had taken a break from their questioning, that another of the diners suddenly collapsed. And there was no explicable reason for it. The police all said that. The ambulance crew who came said the same thing. They took the bodies away for examination.

After relentless questioning, the police let the survivors go – and that was what they felt like: survivors. And they couldn’t help but wonder how many of them would be alive come morning…

There were ten of them left that evening.

By the next morning, there were only three, and none of them could work out why.

They were pulled back in for questioning, but none of them had a reason to have killed ten people they didn’t seem to know.

The police, like everyone else, were baffled. There was no reason for these apparently healthy people to have all died – and only three survived. They had all eaten the same thing. Drank from the same bottles of wine and beer. There was no rational explanation.

*

Mr Smith watched the chaos unfold, his hands deep in his pockets. Just a smile remained on his face and he watched a little longer, before sauntering away, leaving his mess to unfold behind him, his enemies, now lying dead and without a voice.

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