The Most Observant in the Room


Renee grabbed his phone and noted a few things down in coded shorthand, all the while keeping an eye on the severs’ movements over the top of the screen. After a three hour journey, he could finally sit down to eat, but still no relaxation was to be had.

The sounds of light conversation and the clinking of utensils on plates drifted through the restaurant, mingling with the cool blues and dark-wood furniture to accentuate the classy but casual atmosphere. Giving his order to a young lady, Renee surreptitiously pressed the timer button of his phone.

His gaze followed another server bringing a dish to a woman a few tables over. Steam came off the plate together with a heavy meaty scent that made his stomach growl. How long had it been since he ate? He had to skip lunch to make it here on time. It would probably affect his opinion on the taste of the food, but he didn’t have the mind to worry about it right now.

A blip interrupted his note-taking. A message from his mother. “Don’t forget to call tonight! 😃” Sometimes he wished he could just tell her about the work he did. Keeping secrets was so tiring. But he understood the need for secrecy. She would no doubt brag to her co-workers and friends…

As he answered—“I might sound a little tired, but I won’t forget!”—he inspected the food on the table next to him. Good presentation, maybe a little sloppy on the sauce. Judging by their expressions the taste made up for it though.

Another blip brought his attention back to his phone. “Good luck at work! Love you 😘”

“😘” As he pressed send, he locked eyes with the same woman a few tables down whose food he saw brought in. He’d noticed her following the movements of the servers and eyeing the food as well. A colleague perhaps? No matter, regardless of if she was or not she was busy with her meal right now.

He sank deeper into his chair, soft an pillowy, perfect to doze in, not so perfect for dining. Quickly shaking away the thought of a good nap, he noted the swift wipe with which a server cleaned a table. He’d seen worse, admittedly, but not a great sign none the less.

After another few minutes, a server with his ordered veal with mashed potatoes and mushroom sauce arrived. He ended his timer (thirty-two minutes) and plucked his utensils from their paper packet. A little difficult to remove, he’d have to make note of that.

Cutting his veal revealed it was prepared exactly to his tastes, but more medium than rare according to industry standards. The sauce was perfect—if not put on the plate aesthetically, and the potatoes could have been a little more creamy.

He sighed as he paused his meal to write it all down. This job would ruin good food for him one of these days.

He was halfway through his meal when the woman from earlier startled him by sitting down opposite him. “You need to be a little more subtle with your watching if you don’t want to be noticed,” she said. So she was a colleague after all.

He pierced a piece of sauce-covered beef on his fork. “Maybe look at yourself first, I noticed you as well.”

The woman smiled. “Ah well.” Her voice was low and warm. She leaned an arm on the table. “Then we can both hope the public isn’t as observant as the two of us.”

“I wouldn’t look forward to avoiding this place for the next decade no,” he said sardonically. He glanced around the room again, absorbing the atmosphere. He’d like to come back here outside of work some-time.

“The next decade?” She looked intrigued. “Isn’t that a little extreme?”

“Hmm, I suppose your higher-ups aren’t as strict as mine,” he mused, “If I think I’m compromised, I have to leave the area for ten years.”

“Wow, we definitely don’t have a rule like that at my agency. A different disguise and name, sure, but nothing that strict.”

How do you fake a name when you pay with a credit card? Would that even be legal? “They probably think this is less hassle for them.” Not for us though.

“I would never accept losing so much manoeuvrability.”

As if he got paid enough to not accept anything. “I just make sure it doesn’t happen.”

“You won’t if you keep being so obvious about it.”

He frowned. “Hey, I’m good enough for the job, been doing it for years. It’s not like I’m a spy or anything.”

The woman’s teasing smile vanished, her complexion paled. But for only a moment. In a blink, she was back to normal again, but making motion to stand up. “I’ll leave you to it then.”

“Hey wai-”

“Have a nice meal.” And then she was gone, lost in the passing of two servers. Renee frantically looked around, even—ridiculously—under his table, but she was nowhere to be seen.

While he usually didn’t drink on the job, he ordered a whole bottle that night. At least he had something to tell his mother about.

Inspired by the Wikipedia page on the Michelin Guide, and an internet post noting the hilarity of the secrecy involved in being a Michelin Inspector.

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