The fish was cooked to perfection. Large chunks of soft flesh fell apart on my fork, salty capers and silky smooth vermouth soaking through the fillet resting atop a seabed of tender greens. I raised the fork and admired it for a split second, wondering the lengths the chef had gone to, the miles the fish had travelled from the coast, the effort of the fishermen on this fine catch; I put it in my mouth. No need to chew it was so tender. The flavours slid over my tongue and around my teeth and lips and gums and down my throat. Exquisite.
I was having dinner alone in The Coq d’Argent, awaiting for my next target to be sent through. I didn’t usually treat myself to any downtime, let alone in such an opulent setting, but it was my birthday. My table was on the terrace and the sun had just dipped below the skyscrapers of the city, the diaspora of shapes and sizes of the buildings and the shadows they cast briefly reminded me of a cemetery. I probably think about death too much.
The skyline was visible through the leaves of honeysuckle, (or some other wall-crawling garden plant) and the shrubbery framed the glass and concrete of the city in a border of lazy contrast. The terrace contained roughly twenty small tables and was peppered with pot plants that varied from orchids to fir trees to topiary, complete with a babbling brook that ran like a moat on the outskirts atop a redbrick wall. It was jarring, like eating dinner in a garden centre, and I did not care for the half-hearted attempt to distract from the urbanity of London.
I was not the only solitary diner in this terrace and I felt a strange kinship to my companion. She was wearing a white dress with a high neckline and an oval slit across her breasts; sleeveless and plain, it looked to be made of silk or a similarly luxurious material. Her skin was a deep tan, her arms were lithe and her figure was slender but firm. A long, thin neck grew out of her dress but was halted by a sharp jawline and pointed chin. Her face was beautiful, full red lips, deep cheekbones, fluttering eyelashes, but her hair fell unnaturally over the left side of her face and obscured one of her azure blue eyes. I would later discover she brushed it this way to hide the scarring down her left cheek and mask her missing ear. She did not look old but she did not appear young, her face showed signs of worldliness only afforded to a woman of a certain age but I could not tell you what age that was. She was wearing a modicum of make-up – black mascara and black eyeliner was all she needed – and her hair flowed freely around her shoulders. Save for the strands that draped diagonally across her brow it did not look like it had been brushed. This relative lack of care for her appearance was in contrast to every other diner in this restaurant and heightened her air of worldliness. Worldliness is the wrong word, in fact. Confidence is better.