I. An Unappetizing Introduction

Butterick Codswallow, of the Kingsport Codswallows, insisted he was a man of good taste. He was not shy and would not hesitate to explain to those around him his fine breeding, his acute senses and keen palate. These, when combined with his inestimable skill at wordsmithing, eminently qualified him for the position he held as restaurant critic at large in the north central region of Massachusetts. The results of these skills and qualifications were used in exposing to his readers the flavors and frauds of the local cooking world each week in the column he wrote for The Eagle, the region’s guide to life and how to live it.

In this position, as in all things, Butterick Codswallow was not a man who did things in half-steps. He considered himself a man who single-handedly kept at bay the culinary tricks and edible traps set by the restauranteurs of his domain and stood guardian over the great unlearned, unwashed masses who, without him, would mistake grits for polenta.

To his few friends, he was a man who was enjoyed for the lengths to which he went to keep them and yet keep them at bay. He rarely enjoyed the company of others, but when he needed them, free meals flowed like fine wine from his expansive expense account. His friends merely wished they could enjoy the meals without enduring the company. They loved him with a vast indifference.

To his readers, he was a man with a moderate skill; master of the left-handed compliment, the just-shy-of-libel insult and the scathing put-down; an occasionally amusing man who stood astride that fine line between the pronouncement and the pedantic. They liked him with a vast indifference.

To his detractors, he was a man more gourmand than gourmet; a frivolous dilettante who covered his appalling lack of culinary knowledge with pointless invective and arbitrary ravings. They loathed him with a vast indifference.

To his enemies, he was a fussy fop who did not know just how ridiculous he was. A finicky, thick-lipped, morbidly obese little man to whom nothing was ever good enough; a bitter man who knew there was always something better slightly out of his reach and therefore resentful of whatever he got within his grasp. He was a man who, once slighted, would stop at nothing to ruin the waiter, owner or vendor who had handed him the imagined injustice; a man who did not care about the temperature of vengeance, only the portion. They felt he should be boiled in his own pudding, his head carted through the streets on an iron pike and his ample body tossed into the polluted river which ran through the heart of Bierce, the town Butterick Codswallow called home.

To the public at large, he was just a man who took up two spaces on the bus.

II. A Fishy Encounter

It was on a brisk October evening, and Butterick Codswallow was walking fretfully down the street, his mind whirling with various synonyms for abomination. He had just dined on what could quite possibly be the worst Salmon Tapanade he had ever had in his life. He was trying to determine a word that carried enough significant loathing to encompass the dry, burnt fish covered with a thin grey paste he had recently been served, when he suddenly caught a whiff of something.

It was not definable at first, but it came again as the wind gusted from the mouth of an alley he was just passing. He was in the waterfront district of Bierce, the southern side of that city’s circular harbor; the side that hadn’t been used since the new docks were put in across the bay. He was very close to the water and he could smell the tide, strong and sour. This new fragrance replaced that. It was heavy with a not unpleasantly oily odor of fish. Thick, but not raw like a Chinatown summer, and with a vague sweetness about it. If Butterick Codswallow knew anything, he knew when he smelled food. Mouth watering and curiosity piqued, he turned and headed down the alley, pushing wrappers, rags and other detritus out of his way with his walking stick.

The smell grew stronger; it reached his nose in an almost appalling way. However, this gave him more with which to work. There was ginger, garlic, a hint of basil. And of course fish. But hidden somewhere under those various layers was another aroma, sweet and meaty.

Halfway down the alley, on the left-hand side, were a small door and a window, both dirty and opaque. The stout columnist looked around for other possibilities, but the flat brickface of the building was otherwise featureless and across the way was only a pile of wooden traps. The smell was coming from this establishment without a doubt. He pursed his lips in dilemma.

The waterfront was, while not the seediest area of the town, certainly hovering near the bottom of the list. And judging from the warped and discolored door, the greasy flyspecked window and the long, dark stains running along the pavement under his feet, this restaurant could prove, at the very least, to be literally sickening. He was hesitant until he remembered his excursion to San Francisco .

While he derided common cuisine as a rule and had ostensibly gone to ‘Frisco to experience The Stinky Rose (as well as Citizen Cake), he had found the time to cross the bay into Oakland . There, he found several barbecue joints where he gorged himself on sweet and tangy ribs, thick brisket and spicy pulled pork sandwiches. Like the establishment before him now, they were common, out of the way and looked thoroughly unappetizing, but in the end were rewarding in the extreme.

Additionally, he had discovered a new restaurant. Certainly not actually new, but new to him and therefore new to his readers. Tucked back unobtrusively in this unfamiliar passage right here in his own hometown, it had escaped his notice all this time. He had discovered a new world and, like all colonials, was champing at the bit to exploit it.

Furthermore, there was the smell; that exotic intriguing smell lingering in the air beckoning him to the grimy window. The restaurant looked closed, but he could see vague shapes sitting in the dimly lit region beyond the glass.

He went to the door. Between it and the window was a rough hand-painted wooden sign of a steaming bowl; a weather-worn placard, slightly askew, which looked as if it had been screwed into the worn stone for as long as the building had stood. He made a mental note to get the name of the place and realized he was already working out a column in his mind.

As he went to open the door, his hand slipped a bit on the knob and his fingers came away vaguely greasy. He almost pulled away in distaste, but the door had popped from the frame and creaked open with a black cat whine. Inside it was dim. The light was negligible and what could be seen of the interior had a worn, seedy look. Dry, brittle and faded drab colors, like a Howard Pyle sea storm: olive, black and grey. In for a pound, Butterick Codswallow stepped through the door.

Inside the smell was much stronger. The odor of fish and sweet spice clung to everything, even to the few other customers scattered in the narrow dining room. Heads turned as he entered. He was used to it. His good taste extended to his mode of dress: the Italian cut silk suits with highlights of color (hatband, tie, handkerchief, socks), the jewelry (onyx and white gold ring, gold pocket watch with chain and fob, gemstone tie tack) and his signature gold and chrome walking stick. He reveled in the minor spotlight, feeling their awe and their envy. However the heads remained facing him; the flat, wide eyes stayed focused on him for a bit too long.

Of course, there were always proles who could only see his thick jowls and protruding belly and chose merely to gawp like yokels at a carny barker. However, this corpulent critic wore his girth like a badge of honor. When he looked in the mirror he did not see a drooping abundance of flesh, but the battle scars of dinners ravaged, lunches pillaged and fasts broken with such ferocity and fervor that the heavens shook. The ground trembled when he walked, and rightfully so for he was a colossus bestriding the world. And he was hungry.

A waitress came out of a door he had not noticed in the dimly lit café. He raised his hand, beckoning her over. At first she responded, approaching him in a shuffling gait, but as she got close she halted and stared at him in confusion. He thought she looked rather like a dog that had been shown a particularly complex card trick.

“Your best table, my dear. Something by the window, perhaps.”

She continued to stare mutely at him with a lifeless, vacant expression in her enormous eyes. He was just reaching that point where benevolent amusement was sliding into questioning annoyance when she suddenly turned and hurriedly ducked back into the kitchen.

Puzzled, he watched the swinging door reveal lessening glimpses of a slightly brighter grey from whatever light lay beyond. It was now his turn to be confused. It was conceivable she had gone back into the kitchen to get a cloth with which to clean his requested table; more likely she had not understood him as she seemed to have a foreign cast to her features. He sniffed at the thought.

From somewhere ahead of him the sweet, thick smell continued.

The other diners continued to stare at him under their thin eyebrows and high foreheads. He pursed his lips in distaste. He was beginning to regret his rashness in coming here, but was determined to see it through to the bitter end. There was an untasted delicacy hanging in the balance and he was not to be denied, certainly not by a bunch of foreigners.

Through the window of the kitchen door, he could see a figure looking out at him. The door creaked open and a narrow knife of grey light slid into the room. The door opened fully and a man, tall and wiry shuffled through. The stained paper hat cocked to one side on the sparse, balding pate and the cleaver in the man’s hand led the rotund reviewer to believe this was the possible creator of the delicate fragrance which had brought him here. The cook glowered at him .

“What you want?”

As the cook advanced, Butterick Codswallow was momentarily taken aback by the ferocity of the man’s demeanor. His eyes, filled with malice, seemed large in his rough, scaly face. He looked to have some kind of skin condition as gathered at his neck were long discolored creases. The fussy reviewer shuddered thinking of this man as responsible for food preparation. He decided to counter the man’s manner with his natural lordly superiority.

“As I told the girl, I would like a table. I am looking for some dinner and have chosen your establishment.”



“You want dinner?”

The man’s voice was thick and watery, as though bubbling from the bottom of a well. Butterick Codswallow was unable to place the accent and so was unable to drop bon mot in the man’s language into the conversation, as he was wont to do when talking with foreigners. So he merely sighed, “Yes.”

“You want dinner here?”

He eyed the cook warily checking for signs of mockery, but the wiry man seemed truly surprised by his request as he flicked the cleaver nervously between rough, scaled hands.

“Indeed. I was hoping to try whatever is causing that delicious aroma.”

The man looked at him through bulging eyes.

“The chowdah?”

“If that is the dish in question, than yes. I wish a bowl or two of your chowder.”

The cook leaned back warily sizing up the portly critic. The pause stretched. The columnist, feeling the eyes of the other patrons on him as well as the unblinking stare of the cook, came to a sudden boil. He was just about to unleash a rather scathing string of invective when the cook quietly said, “We no got.”

Fishlike, Butterick Codswallow’s mouth dropped open, snapped closed and then opened again in quick succession.

“I beg your pardon?”

The cook seemed to have reached a decision about a private matter and stood, one arm akimbo the other tapping the cleaver softly against his thigh.

“You want eat? You want chowdah? We no got. You go.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you are no longer serving?”

“Yeah. Yeah. No serving. You go now. We no got.”

“But I just saw the girl serve that man there as I came in.”

“Yeah. He last. We no got. We no serving. You go. You go now!”

The last was said enough force to unnerve the rotund reviewer. He retreated a step back and the cook took the opportunity to step forward, closing in, cleaver catching the dim light. The cook was close now. Whatever seafood dish he had been preparing, it was something he must have thrown himself into, as the heavy raw odor of fish was all over him. It bombed the stout little critic, cloying and dense. He squared his shoulders and, still facing the cook and his cleaver, retreated the way he’d come in.

“Alright, sir. I will no longer intrude on your establishment. However,” having reached the door, he paused pointedly, “I shall return soon. Hopefully you will still be serving your chowder at that time. Good evening to you sir.”

Butterick Codswallow turned on his heel and walked as swiftly as he could muster back to the mouth of the alley. He was fuming, angry at the cook for rebuffing him and angry at himself for being cowed. It had been quite some time since he had been refused something he wanted. He railed at the environs and the dirty little outlanders who dwelt here. He pictured them back in the seedy café laughing at him. He would show them. He had always relied upon his wits as being stronger than any veiled threat, and he would bring them powerfully to bear on this pitiful dive.

A shame really. All over a bowl or two of chowder that was in all likelihood unpalatable. If so, he could say as much in his column and write the place up as a health hazard. Start a campaign against the dingy little pesthole and even make some calls to the Board of Health. First though, he had to try the chowder. Just once. He had to find a way.

Butterick Codswallow submerged himself into his petty outrage. So wrapped up in his thoughts and schemes and plans, he never looked behind him. He never saw cook come out on the sidewalk to watch him waddle away. He never saw the narrow-faced girl come out of the kitchen and stand by the man. Never saw a few of the diners join the pair and begin to speak quietly among themselves.

III. A Trail of Crumbs

The next day found Butterick Codswallow visiting the offices of The Eagle, bright and early, much to the dismay of his co-workers. Those who had been there long enough saw the short stabbing strides he took as he walked, noticed the gleam in his eye and could not help but hear the audible manner in which he sucked his lower lip. These were classic tell-tale signs. The corpulent columnist was on the track of something or other, and whatever had offended him was due for a nasty turn in the near future. He was avoided doubly when this mood was upon him.

He spent no small amount of time that day in the morgue of the paper, researching the history of the café and its surroundings. There was nothing that mentioned the establishment directly, but the history of the neighborhood as a whole was as unsavory as one could imagine.

Tales and stories of the region dated back to colonial days, when smugglers and privateers used the sheltering harbor of Bierce as a refuge from the King’s ships. There were accounts of eerie lights under the water and the occasional missing ship. In 1860, a small two-mast schooner was found adrift in the middle of the harbor, pot of stew burning in the galley and a game of cards abandoned along with the stacks of coins on the table below decks.

One story from the late 30s, made brief mention of the garden of corpses supposed to reside under the waves near the wharf; the result of the year-long conflict between the Potrello and McNally gangs at the height of Prohibition. More recently, there was a detailed series on the unsolved child murders during that long hot summer of 1970, the season and the killings ending with the tragic fire that swept the town.

The latest: a tongue-in-cheek blurb regarding the series of mysterious assaults on denizens of the neighborhood by Sebastian Dumas, a Californian sociology professor tracing his genealogy while on sabbatical. When asked to explain his actions, he gave a lengthy and meandering tale of humanoid sea creatures and nautical horrors given safe harbor in the shanties and shacks gathered like barnacles along the docks of the district.

Butterick Codswallow took it all in and voraciously, greedily searched for more. He went through everything carrying any mention of the neighborhood: shipping news from the docks, tabloid tales of underwater cities of the dead and legal notices of property transfers and foreclosures, but nothing on the café, the building which housed it nor the people who worked there.

He left the office late that night, eyes blurry, lip sore and ire raised. He was vexed and disappointed and more determined than ever. At home after midnight, he played the incident over in his mind. He looked beyond the outrageous personal slight and realized what had actually transpired in that dingy restaurant. There was the solution. He tapped the cigarette from the long holder, took a sip of the vodka martini and smiled at the cold waxing moon.

IV. The Meat of the Matter

He went to the café the following morning, but it was closed. The window was full dark instead of the grey dimness of his previous visit. He returned to the alley erratically throughout the day but it wasn’t until evening when the dingy restaurant was open. He stepped again into the enveloping gloom.

The same rich, heady aroma lingered in the air. There were fewer patrons this evening but they still looked up as he entered, fixing him with unwelcomed and unwelcoming stares. This time he looked back directly at them. He did not wait by the door but instead went directly to a table ignoring the other patrons and their cold, unblinking eyes.

The same girl was waiting tables and she watched him as he sat down, bowl hovering in her hand midpoint in front of the woman she was serving. He stared fixedly at her. She placed the bowl in front of the customer and ran into the kitchen.

“Yes,” he thought, “go get him.”

Moments later the cook emerged from the kitchen glancing at the other customers before heading toward the critic’s table. Butterick Codswallow remained seated, but turned the full force of his considerable size upon the cook, whose eyes bulged even further than usual with outrage.

“I tell you -“

“Now I’m telling you,” the critic interrupted, holding up his hand. “I am the foremost food critic for the most popular weekly paper in the state. There isn’t a restaurant in the region that does not live or die on my word. I can review your establishment. I can write fantasies of delicacies that are served at your table, especially your ‘chowdah’ and make this dive the place to see and be seen. But that isn’t what you want is it? You want anonymity. You want to serve out of this cramped little hole and choose whom to feed, don’t you? That’s fine. I want a bowl of that wonderful smelling concoction you serve. That’s fine too, isn’t it? Because unless I get one, I will give this place a write-up for the ages, a pitch for the angels, and if I push it long enough and loud enough, people will flock to this dive.

“You will have the cream of Bierce society knocking on your door, pestering you for food everyday, all day. People will begin to stop by out of the blue, they will come in droves on my say-so looking for the next new thing, not wanting to be left out.

“If you serve them, they will come back and others will come, they will talk at parties and lord it over each other, ‘You simply must go.’ Sheep that they are, they will make a game of it, dressing down to slum for the evening and God forbid if someone should take a real interest in this place, offer to become your partner and expand the menu, add a wine cellar and some other seafood items; a sushi bar perhaps.” He chuckled cynically.

“The funny thing is, if you turn them away, they will come back twice as often. They will come back, wanting to make reservations, wanting you to cater. They will consider it a competition, to be the first. To be the one that has had, however fleetingly, something that no one they know has had. To get that, to be that, they will hound you forever.

“Do you understand? You will never have another moment’s peace. I can guarantee it. The pen is mightier than the sword, you oafish bumpkin and with it I shall raze this place. I will bring the public to your door and you will be forced to feed them or turn them away. Eventually, no matter what course you take, questions will be asked, you will need to explain. Eventually, you will be made to explain. I don’t think you want to. You cannot refuse me.

“I’d like my dinner now, I think. Soup first.” Butterick Codswallow turned back towards the rickety table, watching the cook out of the corner of his eye. He tucked a napkin under his belly so it draped over his leg and waited, mouth dry and watering all at the same time.

The cook removed his cocked paper hat and ran a large rough hand over his pate. He was balding in places and closely shaved irregular patches of his hair bristled between his fingers. His other hand crushed the hat in a slowly clenching fist.

“You eat, then you go. You go, you not come back.”

The girl had come back into the dining room and hearing the surrender of the cook, stepped forward and gurgled at him. There was a series of disgusting, thick bubbling sounds, fast and angry, that could only be epithets or protestations.

Butterick Codswallow felt his prideful flush of victory give way to unease. This was not an accent, he was not even sure it was a language. It was low and guttural hitting him firmly in his ample stomach like a blow. His unease gave way to revulsion as he watched the cook grab the girl by the neck and bring her towards him. The cook bristled as he slowly dragged her close, aligning her narrow head with his mouth; a mouth which suddenly seemed to the critic to be impossibly wide. Just when it looked as though something horrifying and tragic were about to occur, the cook jerked the girl’s head to the side and whispered something in those same throaty, bubbling tones.

The girl, released, bowed her head and shuffled off into the kitchen. The cook followed, pausing only to look back at the big man, sneering.

“You eat, you go.”

In a couple of minutes the girl brought out a bowl of the chowder. Set before him it looked surprisingly unappetizing. Perhaps it was just the lighting of the place, but it looked like week-old vichyssoise, glutinous and grey. However, the amazing aroma wafted gently up from the bowl and Butterick Codswallow went into action.

The broth, although unappealing to look at, was thick and full of various seafood. He sampled some quickly. It was creamy and flavorful. He detected hints of ginger, green peppercorn and some other spice he couldn’t identify. He sampled a potato next. It was high and firm with a full, buttery flavor. Slightly earthy. Yukon Gold obviously. He sniffed, probably not the best choice for a soup dish, but flavorful nonetheless. And then the fish.

There were lighter colored pieces, flaky and tender that dissolved on his tongue releasing a strong, almost overpowering fish flavor. There were smaller pieces of what might have been clams, but had a complex sweetness that reminded him of pork. There were dark, solid pieces with a rich flavor of mahi-mahi, but less fatty. It was a marvelous balance. The spice of the broth, the strong seafood flavor of the lighter fish pieces and the pleasant richness of the dark fish pieces were all undercut and smoothed over by the sublime sweetness of the pork-like item and the buttery warmth of the potatoes. It was like nothing he had ever tasted.

Butterick Codswallow was stunned as he was unable to identify the ingredients. It was wonderful, to actually be unsure of something. He needed more and demanded another bowl. The chowder was very hearty and it had been a long while since the portly gourmet had been bested by a dish. However, even after his fifth bowl he had not yet identified all the components of the dish and the challenge turned taxing as he became surprisingly full. He could eat no more, but could not figure it out. He had to know. He called for the cook.

The wiry man was visibly upset. Butterick Codswallow could see the tense muscles under the greyish scaly skin.

“This is wonderful stuff. Did you invent this dish?”

“I make this chowder, yes. But not first. Was given to me by the Father. Is very old. Is…..” The cook searched for the word.

“Traditional?” the critic offered.

“Yes. Is traditional.”

“Well it is a very good tradition.”

There was a pause during which Butterick Codswallow scraped his spoon along the bottom of the bowl gathering every last drop of the broth. He then suckled the spoon.

The cook turned to leave.

“I want the recipe.”

The cook stopped and turned towards the fat interloper scowling, mottled brow furrowed.

“No got. Not written down. Is all here.” He pointed at his patchy pate.

The porcine critic leaned back gently, almost obscenely, rubbing his expansive middle.

“You know, maybe I will review this place after all. I mean I can still do that. If I should leave here…..unsatisfied.”

The scowl on the cook’s face deepened widening his mouth until it seemingly touched his neck. His hands crabbed into angry claws and just when Butterick Codswallow thought even he might have gone a step too far, something sparked behind those wide and mild eyes. The cook smiled, showing his small, widely spaced teeth.

“Not recipe. Not written down. Cannot be written down,” he chuckled in his burbling way. “If you really want, I show you. I show you everything.”

Butterick Codswallow smiled back. He had gotten his way again.

He rose and headed for the kitchen, but was stopped by the cook’s hand on his shoulder as he passed.

“Not made here. Not made now. Will need to make more soon; you eat many servings.”

“It’s my job…..”

“Come back in five nights,” the cook continued, not listening. “Moon is full then. You come back that night.” The cook patted him on the back. This close Butterick could smell his livelihood emanating from the man; a fishy smell, strong and sour.

He grimaced, but more from the idea of having eaten a stew that seemed to have been made a while ago in large batches. However, he was a worldly man and used to the vagaries of the culinary world. In Iceland he had once sampled skyrhakarl, shark that has been buried after being urinated on for flavor. And of course, there was kim chee.

“Very well then. I will see you next Wednesday.”

“Yes. You come back. Come back and we make chowdah with you.”

Butterick Codswallow left the restaurant and toddled back into his life to wait. However everything during that long, long week seemed to drag. He spent the days pinched and uncomfortable; restless and anxious. He twitched and fretted, feeling like he did whenever he outgrew a suit. Nevertheless time rolled on, as it does, to the inevitable conclusion.

V. Just Desserts

His anticipation had reached fever pitch by Wednesday. Butterick Codswallow stormed about his home in the morning, was intolerable with his co-workers during the day and actually threw a gravy boat at a waiter that evening. Fortunately, he had emptied it first.

Eventually, night fell and at ten o’clock, he was back down in the waterfront district. The cook was waiting for him outside of the café, looking even greyer under the light of the full moon. He beckoned the critic with a wave of his hand and silently led him down the narrowing throat of the alley into the geometric maze of cramped houses, small shops and rotting docks that had seen better days. His answer to all of the critic’s questions was a gruff, “Soon. We get there soon.”

The night was cool and the flabby critic was thankful for it. The stench from the low tide could have been so much worse; he was right over the water as he wandered along the rotting pylons and piers of the waterfront. Additionally, for all the walking he was doing, a warmer evening would have left him bathed in perspiration.

They passed over walkways and catwalks, threaded their way through abandoned buildings, scurried through vast empty warehouses, crept along constricting alleys, ducked under causeways and lost themselves in passages of hanging sailcloth; all of it the prefect setting for boy’s adventure stories and penny dreadful pulp fictions. The cook led the way, patiently waiting those times when the flabby columnist needed to catch up only to lead on again uncaring. His answer to all of the critic’s questions was a gruff, “Soon. We get there soon.”

At first, Butterick Codswallow had looked in dreadful fascination at the warped and decaying surroundings, but after a time he concentrated on keeping his feet moving, stopping to catch his breath by pretending to check his watch with great difficulty in the moonlight. They had been walking since ten o’clock and in another few minutes it would be midnight, it would be November.

He was about to request yet another halt, when the cook turned suddenly and opened a narrow door the critic hadn’t seen and would not have been able to distinguish even in daylight. The long staircase beyond led downward to another door.

“We are here.”

The cook went down the stairs, opened the lower door and gestured for the critic to go ahead. Butterick Codswallow paused at the doorway, breathing deeply. There was the spice and the fish and the splendid secret scent of something underneath; something he would soon know. He caught his breath as best he could, heart racing in anticipation. With quick and nervous hands, he polished himself up and went through.

The room beyond was dimly lit, but bright enough to see it was a charnel house. There were pieces of flesh and long runnels of blood covering the floor. Carcasses hung from the exposed beams. The unknown odor clicked into memory as the high coppery smell of blood, thickly layered over the tidal fish odor that clung to everything. He felt gorge rise in his throat. This was where the wonderful chowder was crafted? Here in this abattoir?

He heard the cook enter behind him and turned to admonish him regarding the condition of this kitchen, no matter how improvised it might be. His words sank back in his throat. The cook was grinning at him as he slid a bolt home, sealing the door. The cleaver in his hand was larger even than the one he had wielded at the café. The cook blurted out something in that guttural, burbling language. A response came from far side of the room. They were not alone.

In the corner, two figures lurked over a huge industrial soup kettle. The palpable odor of fish radiated from that corner. The kettle, however, was empty. Butterick Codswallow took a closer look at the carcasses hanging about the room and noticed for the first time the familiar position of the stumps of the limbs. There were two other figures donning leather aprons as they stepped towards him out of the dark corners of the room.

Each was greenish-grey with a white belly. Shiny, slippery skin topped with scaly ridges on the back and forearms. Clotted green claws at the end of thick webbed fingers. Hunched and shuffling, they watched him with bulging unblinking eyes. Something like a smile played across their faces. It was their necks that drew the connection for him though. The figures were not human, but had been. Where the cook’s neck had reddish creases, these new figures had palpitating gills. He could hear their heavy, labored breathing as they shambled over to him. He turned toward the cook in horror. The cook was smiling, the length of his mouth showed wide and full of teeth. He blocked the doorway with his body and his cleaver.

“Mightier than sword.”

Butterick Codswallow swung his walking stick wildly at the cook but it glanced harmlessly off his shoulder. The creature on his left easily grabbed the weapon from his hand and tossed it off into the shadow. He began to scream then. It did little good, but it passed the time while they lifted him up and wrapped a length of chain about his ankles. They then hefted him with some difficulty to an empty hook on the rafters and hung him head down. The worm-eaten beam creaked but held steady as he swung slowly to and fro. He stared up at the cook leering crazily below him. The cook approached him smiling that wide fish smile

“You last long time. Maybe a moon. Maybe two.”

The cleaver passed above his field of vision and he felt it cool along his neck. He stopped screaming and looked into the cook’s flat bulging eyes.

“But I’m –” And then he could no longer speak.

So Butterick Codswallow hung quietly watching the spreading pool of crimson beneath him as his life drained away. As the claws started to pull gibbets out of his generous belly, he began to laugh. A deep throated chuckle that eventually wound down to a wet rasping rattle. He couldn’t help it, some part of him found it horribly funny. After all, he had always insisted that he had good taste.

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