Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Middle Shelf Story: Frederick Waterman's "Best Man Wins"

What would you do if is one of the workhorses of the writer’s toolbox, right up there with imagine that and supposing there were. It’s the grit around which a narrative can accrete. It’s also the central question that shapes Frederick Waterman’s “Best Man Wins.”

I walked on board Flight 587 from Paris to New York, showed my ticket to the flight attendant, then walked though first class, where I usually sat, and continued back to coach. At Row 22, I stopped and looked down at the man sitting in Seat A, the man who I knew would be there, the man who had been having an affair with my wife for the past four months.

I sat down in Seat B.
The short initially appeared in what one might think an odd market for genre fiction -- United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine. But Waterman has penned numerous stories for the publication in an ongoing series called “Row 22, Seats A&B,” in which characters from all walks of life meet and interact in the titular seats. “Best Man Wins” features Edward, a New York restaurant owner and chef, and Jean-Louis, the French vintner who supplies his wines -- and who is carrying on a surreptitious affair with his wife. Not surreptitious enough, though, because Edward is entirely aware of the transgression. He has a whole trans-Atlantic flight to ask himself a simple question: What would a cuckolded chef do if his wife’s lover came to his restaurant for dinner?

“Jean-Louis,” I said, “have you ever tried amontillado?”

Vachon did not look up from the glass he was pouring. “That little sherry from Spain? I choked a glass down once because the silly woman who gave it to me was pretty. Why do you ask?”

“I remember reading about it once,” I said, “but I’ve never tried it.”
That is, of course, what happens, and Edward rummages in the darkest corners of his culinary toolbox to create a very special meal. The Frenchman’s gradual sense of impending danger is deliciously plotted, swelling like a baking soufflé. In this case, revenge is a dish best served hot.

You can read “Best Man Wins” in
Row 22, Seats A&B or The Best American Mystery Stories 2004.


Loren Eaton said...

Click here to download an interview with Waterman about the "Row 22, Seats A&B" stories.

Ignacio said...

Years ago I read three of four of his short stories in the magazine and loved them so much that I ended up buying the book. Very good short stories, all of them.

Loren Eaton said...

I may need to check out the book then. "Best Man Wins" is such a great story, and I don't want to miss out if the rest of Waterman's stuff is of the same caliber.