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Authors: Isis Crawford

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BOOK: A Catered Murder
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Chapter 14
B
ebe, Susan Andrews' miniature poodle, danced around Libby's feet, growling and snapping as Susan ushered Libby into her house.
“I thought last night's dinner at Nigel's house was brilliant,” Susan told her.
Libby smiled. Compliments were always nice even though she'd rather be hearing them at a different time. At three o'clock on Tuesday afternoon she should have been in the store making Indonesian cole slaw and talking to her suppliers.
“Come in, come in,” Susan said as she scooped the poodle up in her arms and planted a kiss on its muzzle. “She's just a little nervous today, aren't you, sweetums?”
Nervous wasn't the word Libby would have used to describe Bebe as the little dog made a valiant effort to jump out of her mistress's arms and go back to trying to bite Libby's ankles.
Maybe it was the haircut that was making her grumpy, Libby reflected. Aside from a little ball of fur on its tail and a little pom-pom on its head, Bebe was practically naked. Not an attractive look on man or beast, Libby thought as she followed Susan into the kitchen.
“This is Bebe's summer do,” Susan informed Libby as she entered the kitchen.
Bree Nottingham was already there, sipping white wine out of a glass as she leaned against the counter of Susan Andrews' kitchen. Bree nodded hello to Libby and Libby nodded back.
“Such a sweetie,” Bree cooed at the dog who, Libby was glad to see, growled at her too.
“No. No.” Susan tapped Bebe on her nose. Bebe tried to bite her finger. “I'm going to put Bebe in her bed,” Susan informed them. “She needs a little time out.”
She needs a personality transplant,
Libby thought as she wondered if Bernie had remembered to make the deposit at the bank.
“Wine?” Bree asked Libby.
“I've got to go back to work.”
“So have I.” And Bree poured her a glassful and handed it to her. “Last night was wonderful, although I did think the crab cakes were a bit heavy for a summer appetizer. Perhaps next time some hollowed-out perfectly fresh steamed new potatoes with a dab of sour cream and a little caviar on top.”
“Good suggestion,” Libby said, trying to smile. Of course Bree's suggestions were always stellar, a fact that annoyed her no end.
“I'm so glad you could come.”
“So am I,” Libby lied.
Then she reminded herself that this was good for business, even if Bree had dragooned her into it. Her mother had liked to say: Never underestimate the schmooze factor in bringing in catering business.
And Libby had found this to be true. Bottom line: People liked having people working in their homes that they felt comfortable with and people felt comfortable with people they knew. It was as simple as that, Libby thought as Susan Andrews came back in the room.
“The others will be here shortly,” Susan told Libby.
Then she smiled brightly and reintroduced her to Julie Chang, their cooking teacher, who had just wandered in from the garden. Not that Libby was likely to forget her. After all, she'd been here in May.
Bernie would have approved of her, Libby thought as she studied Julie Chang's clothes. Today she was dressed in white silk pants and top and three-inch sandals. Last time she'd been wearing black silk and pearls. Libby remembered wondering how she managed to stir-fry and not get splattered with cooking oil.
Libby herself couldn't seem to fry an egg without getting grease all over her clothes. Maybe she'd use an apron this time, Libby thought as she studied the middle island. All the ingredients for the coming lesson were laid out in neat precision on the countertop.
There were deep green Chinese long beans, crisp bean sprouts, bright green bok choy, two heads of garlic, ginger root, already peeled shrimp, a whole sea bass, not to mention sugar, salt, black bean paste, soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, and sesame oil with chili paste.
“Today I decided to do dishes with ingredients that one can purchase anywhere,” Julie Chang explained.
Which was a tad more practical than the stir-fried beef with fresh bamboo shoots, sea slug with cucumbers, and bird's nest soup they'd cooked last time, in Libby's opinion.
“Even though,” Julie Chang continued, “I think it is important to expand people's horizons about what is and is not edible.”
As the cooking teacher glanced at the kitchen clock, Libby wished she had that kind of latitude in the store. People didn't want the unfamiliar. Hell, they wouldn't even buy a dish made with olives they couldn't recognize.
“We will wait five more minutes,” Julie announced. “And then we start.”
Bree Nottingham took another sip of wine, broke off a cluster of grapes from the bunch in the bowl next to her, and ate one.
“So,” she said to Libby. “How's Orion doing?”
Libby blinked. She'd been expecting people to ask her about Lionel's death, but she hadn't been expecting anyone to ask her about her ex-fiance, although, she reflected, she should have been since everyone had seen them talking at the reunion dinner.
“He's doing fine.”
“Howard's playing golf with him at the clubhouse this afternoon.”
Libby tried to think of something to say and could only come out with, “Well, it's a nice day for a game.”
Bree smiled.
“Now that he's back, Howard is thinking of asking him to come into the firm.”
“But he's . . .”
Bree waved her hand.
“Doing jewelry. Yes, I know. He can do both.” Bree ate a grape. “You did know he was coming to the reunion, right?”
“He was on the guest list.”
“Still. It must have been a shock. This the first time you've seen him since . . .” Bree allowed her voice to trail off.
“Yes, it is.”
“That was so unfortunate.”
Libby wished she could think of something blindingly clever to say, but she was never as good as Bernie in a clutch so she just kept quiet.
“Howard tells me he's getting a divorce,” Bree continued.
“That's what I hear.”
“I'm surprised.” Bree adjusted her diamond tennis bracelet and ate another grape. “Sukie is such a lovely lady. I saw her in the city two months ago and she didn't say anything. She still has that great body of hers and after two kids.”
Libby flushed. “It's nice that she has time to spend in the gym.”
Bree took another sip of wine. “One makes time for what's important to one.”
Libby was just about to tell her that that was a lot easier to do if you weren't on your feet twelve hours a day when Susan grabbed her arm.
“Would you like to see what I'm working on now?” she asked Libby. “It'll just take a minute.”
“I'd love to,” Libby said, allowing herself to be led away.
Susan patted her arm.
“Bree doesn't mean anything. That's just the way she is.”
“That's because everyone has allowed her to say whatever she wants all her life,” Libby told Susan as they walked down the hall.
Susan frowned.
“You're too sensitive, Libby. You take things too personally.”
“How else am I supposed to take them?” Libby demanded.
“With compassion and grace.”
Libby snorted. “I'm kinda an Old Testament person myself.”
“Meaning?”
“I believe in an eye for an eye.”
Susan reflected for a moment.
“I suppose there are situations in which that's appropriate,” she conceded as she stopped in front of a door on the left. “Here we are.”
Libby followed her inside.
“This used to be Bud's office,” Susan told Libby. “I moved my studio in here a month after he died. It makes me feel close to him working here. I know it's a little crowded.”
“Cozy,” Libby said as she edged her way past Bud's desk.
“I haven't been able to get rid of it yet,” Susan explained.
“Maybe you shouldn't.” Libby was still using her mother's knives even though they weren't very good anymore.
“I have to.” Susan spread her arms out. “There's no room.”
“It is a little cramped in here,” Libby allowed as her eyes strayed to the copy of
Damned to Death
that was sitting on the desk. “I didn't know Bud read Lionel's books,” she commented.
“Oh, he read everything,” Susan said as Libby walked over to the picture of Laird Wrenn hanging on the wall. There were three black candles burning on the shelf below it.
“A memorial,” Susan explained. “I feel it's important to pay one's respects to the dead.”
Libby, who hadn't been to the cemetery to visit her mother since she died because in her opinion dead was dead, walked over to the loom.
“It looks complicated.”
“It is.” Susan pointed to the small band of cloth on it. “This is what I wanted to show you.”
Libby leaned closer so she could see. It looked like a plain black piece of fiber.
“It's very nice,” she told Susan.
“Thank you.” Susan bent over and traced the weave of the cloth with the tip of her finger. “It's hard to see in this light, but I'm using five different shades of black to make this and then I'm going to hand paint streaks of red and dark blue on it when I'm done.
“This will take a while because the pattern is so complicated. It's going to be eight by ten. Maybe bigger even. I'll have to see. It's a tribute to Bud. And then I'm going to do one for his brother Josh. I just have a feeling that then their souls can rest.”
Libby brushed her hair back off her face. “I remember when Josh shot himself. That was so awful.”
Susan shook her head. “I don't think Bud ever got over his brother dying like that. So tragic.” She turned to Libby. “I know I must sound crazy to you . . .”
“No, you don't . . .”
Susan Andrews laughed. “Yes, I do. But honestly, doing this”—she swept her hand around the room—“I feel good. I feel as if I finally have closure.”
Libby was just about to tell her that she was glad, when the doorbell rang.
“Time to get started,” Susan said, as she hurried towards the door.
Chapter 15
B
ernie was not happy. It had been a bad morning and a worse early afternoon.
First there had been the burnt scones, then she'd tripped and spilled a pot of coffee on the floor, and she wasn't even going to think of the half-moldy raspberries she'd taken delivery of.
And having to shop for clothes wasn't putting her in a better mood. Far from it. Even though Bernie was trying, she couldn't help dwelling on the clothes she'd been forced to leave behind in L.A. Especially her red leather skirt. And her Jimmy Choo's.
She'd never be able to afford to replace them. The thought of their sitting around in the Salvation Army gave her an actual pain. At least Joe could have had the decency to take them to an upscale consignment shop. She should have killed him when she had the chance, she decided.
And if that wasn't bad enough, here she was reduced to finding something to wear in Longely. In Cara's Dress Shoppe, for heaven's sake. She hated places that had names that included words like Olde and Shoppe. They should be purged by the cuteness brigade.
At least back in L.A., Bernie thought as she walked towards Cara's, finding something wearable wasn't a problem. Unlike here in the land of soccer moms and elastic waists and pastel colors.
All Bernie was asking for was a plain black or white T-shirt and a pair of low-slung, slightly bell-bottom jeans. They had to have something like that, right? And then on Thursday she'd take Metro North down to the city and do some real shopping.
But when Bernie opened the door, she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Everything had changed. The place could have been in Brentwood or SoHo.
Bernie's eyes widened as Nigel's girlfriend, Janet, came out from behind the counter to greet her. She was decked out in a prairie skirt, T-shirt, and a knotted leather and turquoise belt that could have come straight out of the pages of
Elle.
The orange suede sandals she was wearing weren't bad either.
“You work here?” Bernie asked.
“I own it,” Janet replied. “Libby didn't tell you?”
“Maybe she did and I wasn't listening.”
Something that happened more than she was willing to admit.
Janet indicated the store with a sweep of her hand.
“Nice, isn't it?” she said to Bernie.
“Nice? It's fantastic. Where's Cara?”
“She got married and moved up to Alaska. I bought the place from her last year.”
“Good change,” Bernie said appreciatively. “Very good indeed.”
“I like to think so.” Janet tucked a curl of dark brown hair behind her ear. “I sold all the old merchandise and brought in new lines. Now I've got Prada, I've got Harrari and Nicole Rozan, Dolce and Gabbana. I've got Robert Clergerie shoes, Carol Little sweaters, Lisa Jenks jewelry.”
“How come?”
“I decided to stock stuff like this?”
Bernie nodded.
“I saw an opportunity to fill a niche.” Janet gave the word the French pronunciation. “We're getting a lot of Japanese families moving into town and they have—ah, how should I put this—more sophisticated tastes and the money to back them up. This way they don't have to go into the city to shop. It's all right here. Anyway, two boutiques carrying soccer mom clothing in one town are enough. We don't need three. I was thinking of changing the name to Chrysalis.”
“Emerging from a cocoon. I like it.”
“It doesn't sound too . . . exotic?”
“Not really. Or,” Bernie suggested, “you could use the word chrysos, the Greek word for gold from which chrysalis is derived.”
“How do you know that?” Janet asked.
“What can I say? I read dictionaries in my spare time,” Bernie said as she took in the store's brick walls, polished cement floor, and exposed air ducts, its silk-covered chairs and pots full of Johnny jump-ups and forget-me-nots and Shasta daisies spilling out onto the floor.
“Dictionaries?”
“I've always loved words,” Bernie explained. “You know,” she continued, “this is a wonderful space and I love the stuff you have,” she told Janet. “But I don't think I can afford you. My ex-boyfriend threw out my clothes. I'm starting from scratch.”
“I'd kill him.”
“I would if I were there.”
Janet retied her belt.
“Nigel would never do anything like that.”
Bernie sighed.
“I didn't think Joe would either.”
“Men are such a pain in the ass,” Janet observed. “Speaking of which, how's your sister doing now that Orion's back in town?”
Bernie groaned. “They went out for a drink.”
“That's too bad. I'd hate to see her getting hurt all over again.”
“I know. I'm trying to get her interested in Marvin.”
“Marvin's a nice guy. She could use someone like him.”
“We all could,” Bernie observed, thinking of Joe.
Janet laughed and changed the subject. “You should check out the back room,” she told Bernie. “I've got great sale stuff. If I were you I'd buy a few really nice pieces and fill in the rest at Old Navy.”
Bernie nodded and walked towards the back. A couple of moments later, she returned with an armload of clothes.
“Any dressing room?”
“Whichever one you like. So,” Janet said as Bernie closed the door and began to strip, “would you consider staying here permanently?”
Bernie wiggled into a black spandex dress with little holes cut in the side.
“I really don't know.”
Nope. Too weird. She took it off and tried on a pair of black straight-cut pants. Yes. These were better. She slipped on a vermilion T-shirt with a heart in the center and the words Havana written across them and came out.
“Not bad,” Janet said as Bernie looked at herself in the mirror.
“I don't know. The pants make my ass look too big.”
“Men like women with big butts, but if it bothers you, wear a longer shirt.” And Janet went to get one. “Here,” she said, handing Bernie a white shirt. “Try this on. I bet Libby's happy you're here.”
Bernie slipped the shirt over the T-shirt.
“I'm not so sure she is.”
“Why? This way she can take some time off. You can help out with your dad and the store.”
“That's the problem. She says she wants help, but I'm not sure she really does. I don't think she would know what to do with free time if she had it.”
“That's true of a lot of people,” Janet observed.
“Not me.” Bernie looked at herself in the mirror again. Then she inspected the price tag. “It's a little high.”
“Get the shirt,” Janet urged. “You can wear it with everything.” She moved closer to Bernie. “So who do you think did it?”
“Did what?”
“Poisoned Lionel, of course. Nigel says he thinks Lydia did it. What do you think?”
Bernie frowned.
“I don't know. Why does Nigel say Lydia did it?”
“Two reasons. One, she got him the water.”
“Everyone had access to the water,” Bernie protested.
“But Nigel overheard Lydia and Lionel fighting downstairs just before they drove off to the dinner.”
“What were they fighting about?”
Janet lowered her voice and looked around even though no one else was in the store.
“Lionel threatened to turn Lydia in to the authorities.”
“For what?”
“Nigel doesn't know. He didn't hear the rest of the conversation.”
“Did Nigel tell the police what he heard?”
“It's just his word. And he and Lydia aren't exactly friends. He's afraid they'll think he's trying to railroad her.”
“How come?”
Janet waved her hand in the air. “It's a long, complicated story.”
“Even so. He should tell them anyway.”
“That's what I keep saying to him, but he won't listen. He thinks he's got a line straight to God. I can't tell you what a pain in the ass he's being since Lionel died.”
Bernie clicked her tongue against her teeth while she thought. Finally she said, “I'll take the shirt and the T-shirt. I'm still thinking about the pants.”
“Marked down from three hundred dollars to fifty,” Janet said. “You're not going to do better than that.”
“You're right. I'll take them too,” Bernie told Janet.
She picked up a large bag. It was yellow canvas in front, leather in back, with the words
Italia Postale
stenciled on it. “How much?”
“Six hundred. It is great, isn't it? I got it in Milan.”
Bernie nodded and handed the bag back to Janet.
“Who knows,” Janet said as she put it back where it had been. “Maybe you'll win the lottery.” Janet straightened up. “Anyway, from what I heard, Lydia and Lionel were always fighting.”
“Then why did she work for him?”
Janet shrugged. “I imagine the money was good.”
“I don't know.” Bernie picked up the bag again and slung it over her shoulder. “Sometimes famous people pay worse than anyone else,” she said, thinking of the time she'd worked for a famous chef. “They think it's a privilege to work for them. What I'm wondering about is what was Lydia doing in Lionel's room.”
“She said she wanted to show us Lionel's fangs. Did you know she's planning on selling them and his capes on eBay?”
Janet shook her head as Bernie handed the bag back to her.
“I don't know who's worse,” Bernie said as Libby walked through the door. “The people selling or the people buying.”
BOOK: A Catered Murder
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