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Authors: Isis Crawford

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BOOK: A Catered Murder
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“But you know the worst? You know who Tanya is?” Bernie asked and then went ahead before Libby could answer.
“My supposed friend. The woman I've been working with on the shoot for Pillsbury. The one who was doing me the favor”—Bernie made a quote sign with her fingers around the word—“of letting me work late when all the time she was in Joe's apartment getting her rocks off . . .” Bernie took a deep breath. “I will be calm. I will be calm. I will be calm. That's better.
“No. I'm sorry. Let me correct that. That wasn't the worst. The worst was that I gave up a perfectly good apartment with a walk-in closet to move in with Joe. I don't get it. Tanya's got a lousy body. A big ass and no boobs. And on top of everything else, she's dumb. She thinks pâté is a sauce, for God's sake.” Bernie slid a thin silver and onyx ring up and down her finger. “So I took a taxi to LAX and here I am.”
“I'm sorry.”
“And you know the next worst thing? On top of everything else, I just loaned that no good sonofabitch three thousand dollars. So I have no money. Maybe I should have gone back and stabbed him. Or her.”
“You faint at the sight of blood, remember?”
Bernie made a face. “I think I could get over that.” Then she pointed to a pan of skinny white cookies. “They look like fingers.”
Libby smiled. “They're supposed to. I made them with cooked egg yolks, raw egg yolks, butter, sugar, flour, and powdered sugar.”
“Like the Christmas cookies Mom used to make.”
Libby nodded. “Exactly. What about your jobs?”
“What jobs?” Bernie bit at her cuticle. “They're cutting my column from the paper. A cost-saving measure. They're getting rid of all the freelancers because advertising is down by a third.”
“And the food styling thing?”
Bernie shrugged. “One company I do stuff for is filing Chapter Eleven on Wednesday, and as for the other one . . . If I see Tanya, I'm going to stab her with her carving knife. Listen,” she said. “Don't tell Dad what I told you. It'll just get him upset.”
“So what do you want me to say?”
Bernie chewed on her lower lip for a second while she thought. “I don't know. How about that I had some time off and I decided to come home for a visit. Which is true.”
“Without your clothes?”
“I'll tell him what I told you. The airline lost my suitcase.”
“And after a couple of days?”
“It shouldn't be a problem because I'm going to tell Emily to pack my closet up and send everything to me.”
Libby looked dubious.
“Will Joe let her in?”
“He'd better,” Bernie growled. “Or else I'll . . .” She stopped. Or else she'd what? Good question. Then she brightened. “What the hell. I can use a new wardrobe anyway, and speaking of which, I figured that as long as I'm here we can do a little redecorating. Spruce the place up a bit. Maybe paint the rooms upstairs. Heaven knows, they need it.”
“They're fine.”
“They haven't been painted since Mother died.”
“It'll make all the difference in your and Dad's attitude. You'll see. There's this great blue-gray slate color called Innuendo. We could paint your bedroom in it.” And Bernie wagged her eyebrows up and down. “Is that a name for a bedroom or what?”
Libby couldn't help laughing. As annoying as Bernie could be, she couldn't deny missing her.
“And I found this great red called Ruby Lips. It's a deep, dark red. Almost crimson. We could use that for the sitting room.”
“That sounds as if it's going to be really dark.”
“You'd think so, but it isn't,” Bernie was saying when the intercom over by the door squawked and spluttered. A second later her father's voice floated out.
“Libby, do you think you could bring me something to drink?”
She went over and yelled into it. “Be right up, Dad.” She looked at her watch. “He's early.”
“Let me go up,” Bernie said. “I might as well get it over with.”
“Be my guest.”
Ten minutes later Bernie was climbing the stairs to her father's bedroom carrying a tole tray containing a pot of coffee, a pitcher of cream, fresh-squeezed orange juice, two scrambled eggs, a side of toasted walnut-raisin bread, pots of butter and strawberry preserves, and a vase with a daisy in it.
“Look, Dad,” she said as she opened the door. “It's your little girl home from Sin City.”
“So what mess did you get yourself in this time?” Sean Simmons asked from his wheelchair, trying to sound gruff and failing miserably.
“Why do you say something like that?” Bernie protested as she put the tray down and gave her father a big hug. “I'm not in a mess.”
He chuckled.
“Sure you're not, and I was never the chief of police.”
Bloody Marys
Port wine cheese and white water crackers
Mixed marinated olives
Red caviar mold
Tomato Aspic in heart molds served on white or black plates
Crusty peasant bread
Mesclun lettuce and goat cheese salad with blood oranges and toasted almonds
Midnight Beef (Blood-rare black pepper-crusted tenderloin) with au gratin potatoes and asparagus tips
Devil's food cake and finger bone cookies
Coffee and selection of Romanian brandies
Chapter 2
ibby parked the van as close to the rear entrance of the Clarington High School cafeteria as she could get. This was the part she hated most about catering—loading and unloading.
“Okay,” she said to Bernie as she swung open the van doors. “Let's get to work.”
Her sister glanced at the nicked windowsills and dented garbage cans. “I don't remember the place looking this bad.”
“That's because when we went here we came in the front entrance.” Libby plunked two cartons filled with produce in Bernie's arms. “Put these on the counter next to the sink.” Libby was turning to get another two when she heard, “Miss Simmons. Miss Simmons.”
She turned around. A thin lady with frizzy red hair wearing a suit and high heels came running towards her followed by a man strung with cameras.
“Are you Libby Simmons?” the woman asked in a breathy voice.
“Yes,” Libby said cautiously.
“The Libby Simmons that's catering the reunion dinner for Laird Wrenn?”
“Good.” She turned to the man in back of her. “Fred. Take the shot.”
Fred stepped forward and raised his camera.
“Wait,” Libby cried.
“Don't worry. It's for a story we're doing for Laird Wrenn's fanzine,” the woman said as Bernie came out. “Are you helping her?” the woman asked, gesturing to Libby.
Bernie nodded.
“Great. Both of you scootch together in front of the van. Closer,” she said, herding them like a sheepdog.
“But we're not dressed for this,” Libby protested, looking down at her shorts and stretched-out T-shirt.
“You look terrific,” the woman said. “Now smile.”
The camera clicked. A few seconds later the woman pressed a business card in Libby's hand.
“I'll send you a copy. Do you know where Lime Street is?”
“Three blocks and take a right,” Bernie answered.
“Thanks. Come on, Fred,” the woman cried. “Try keeping up. We've got places to go.”
Libby looked at the card. “Ms. Griselda Plotkin. Reporter at large.”
Bernie whistled. “Can you imagine what life must have been like for her in grade school?”
“Fanzine?” Libby asked her sister. “What the hell is a fanzine?”
“A magazine for fans.”
“I've never seen one.”
“They're one step above the tabloids.”
Libby grunted and glanced at her watch. “Whatever.”
At this point she didn't have time to care about Griselda or fanzines. The clock was ticking. All she cared about was getting into the kitchen and getting to work.
Libby nervously regarded the small mold sitting on the counter in front of her.
“Can we change the music to something other than Depeche Mode?” Bernie asked. “Don't you think it's time you got out of the eighties?”
“Nope.” Libby went to the sink, wet the towel over her shoulder with hot water, wrung it out, and draped it over the mold. “My job. My choice of music.” She tapped the mold with the bottom of a spoon. “And don't touch that box,” she warned.
“I wasn't going to,” Bernie replied even though she had been. “The least you can do is get a decent system. They have much better stuff on the market these days.”
“I like this one.”
In Libby's view there was a lot to be said for things that just kept going. She put the towel on the counter, took a deep breath, and lifted the mold up. It was perfect. Thank goodness. Sometimes the aspic stuck for reasons she had yet to ascertain.
“What do you think?” she asked her sister.
Bernie stopped chopping parsley long enough to glance over at the shimmering tomato aspic heart in the center of the white plate.
“We've already discussed this.”
Libby's mouth tightened.
“Leaving the historical dimension aside . . .”
“You can't.”
I might as well be suggesting child sacrifice,
Libby thought, looking at the shocked expression on Bernie's face.
“Accuracy is important,” her sister pontificated. “Especially in a themed dinner. For openers, tomatoes, let alone tomato aspic, didn't exist in Dracula's day in Romania. Tomatoes originated in South or Central America and weren't introduced into Europe until the early 1500s. Dracula—well, not really Dracula but Vlad, one of the sources of inspiration for Bram Stroker's literary character—was born in 1431, so you can see the problem.”
Libby almost got the words “not really” out, but she wasn't fast enough and Bernie continued steamrolling along.
“And when they were first introduced,” she said. “They weren't eaten. They were used as ornamental plants in Europe. People thought they were poisonous because they come from the nightshade family, but I'm sure you know that.”
“Doesn't everyone,” Libby muttered.
Bernie pretended not to hear.
“Ergo any dish made with tomatoes is—in my humble opinion—a bad choice. That said, I have nothing against tomato aspic per se. It's even kind of interesting in a retro fifties way. I just thought it might have been more interesting to serve the kind of food people ate back in Transylvania during Vlad's time. That's all.”
“That's enough.”
When Libby had first heard the phrase, “That's more than I need to know,” her sister had immediately come to mind. If Bernie had her way, they'd be serving blood soup to start and boiled beef heart hash as the main course at the high school reunion dinner. That would certainly go over well with the alums.
For sure the inhabitants of Longely—bottled water guzzling, yogurt eating, health obsessed yuppies to the core—would not be appreciative of the fact that they were eating an authentic six-hundred-year-old Transylvanian recipe—give or take a hundred years one way or another. Few people would. But in the unlikely event she'd ever have to cater a dinner for a pack of medievalists specializing in Carpathian culture, she'd be all set.
Libby spread out the damp towel to dry on the edge of the kitchen counter and smoothed out the edges. Even when they were kids, her younger sister always had an annoying mania for authenticity.
Libby clicked her tongue as she remembered the incident with the beeswax candles and the beehive in the oak tree out back.
“Your sister has no common sense,” Libby remembered her mother saying as she'd dabbed Calamine lotion on Libby's stings. “She takes after your father's brother.”
Did she ever, Libby thought, recalling the time Uncle Jack had, despite warnings, decided to wash Fluff n' Stuff, the family's Persian cat. He'd emerged from the bathroom with rivulets of blood streaming down his chest, a sadder but no wiser man.
Even though the menu was already done, Bernie had insisted on going onto the Web to look for old Romanian recipes from Transylvania. “Just for kicks,” she'd said. Amazingly, she'd found some. Most of them seemed to involve boiling parts of animals Libby didn't want to know about for long periods of time. Granted, beef heart hash would fit in with the Dracula theme, but it sounded horrible and probably tasted worse.
She was taking enough of a chance serving rare beef tenderloin as it was. Her clients would eat seared, raw tuna but they wouldn't eat bloody meat. Go figure. But it was hard to come up with a themed vampire dinner that featured poultry. No. It was impossible. And God only knows, she'd tried. The pressed duck actually would have worked but you needed a duck press for that—something not even Williams Sonoma was making.
Libby was wondering if anyone did as she watched Bernie put her knife down and wipe her hands on the dishtowel she had tied around her waist in lieu of an apron.
“Working here, I can see why institutional food is really bad,” Bernie mused.
“Why?” Libby asked, glad for a change of subject.
“Look at the color of the walls.” Bernie indicated the school cafeteria kitchen.
Libby snorted.
“Color is important,” Bernie continued. “These walls are beige. So was most of the food we ate, if I remember correctly. Whadayathink? Could there be a correlation?”
Libby rolled her eyes. Bernie put her hands on her hips.
“You don't think that color influences people?”
Libby carefully placed a sprig of mint on the tomato aspic. “In some ways.”
She wasn't going to get into another New Age-y discussion with her sister, not when they had so much work left to do. If she weren't careful, they'd be talking about Feng Shui next and why the current arrangement of the furniture in the living room blocked the flow of energy.
“It's a well-known fact,” Bernie said as she went back to chopping. “Red makes people hungry, blue calms people down, and yellow cheers people up.”
“What about puce? What does puce do to people?”
“Makes them redecorate.”
As Libby watched her sister's brow furrow, it occurred to her that living with Bernie was like living with a talking encyclopedia, an encyclopedia that followed you around, bombarding you with facts you had no desire to know.
“I believe,” Bernie said, “the word puce comes from the French by way of Latin and means flea-colored.”
Libby felt like slapping her.
“That is enough.”
“Sorry.” Bernie reached for the last bunch of parsley. “It's not my fault if I have a photographic memory.”
“Go on one of those game shows. Make some money.”
“Don't think I haven't thought about it, but all those people. . . I'd get so nervous I'd blank out.”
“Pop a beta blocker.”
“I'll stick with tranqs.”
“Whatever,” Libby said as she put the aspic in the cooler and began washing the celery under the faucet. She preferred to hide in her kitchen, but she never thought of Bernie, the belle of Clarington High, the person who had dyed her hair bright blue, as shy.
For the next minute or so the women worked in silence. The only sounds in the kitchen were the thunck of Bernie's knife on the cutting board, Depeche Mode coming from the CD player, and the sound of water as it hit the sink basin and swirled down the drain.
“I can't believe that reporter,” Libby said.
“Why not?” Bernie answered. “Laird Wrenn is big business. According to a friend of mine at Willie Morris, he just signed a contract for two books at three million each.”
“But they're horrible,” Libby protested.
“Damned to Hell
was unreadable.”
“Someone's reading them. I don't know why. His vampires can even walk in the daylight. Where's the fun in that? And on top of everything else, he's such an asshole.”
“He's probably worse now,” Libby said. “Fame doesn't usually bring out the best in people, that's for sure. And changing his name from Lionel Wrenkoski to Laird Wrenn?”
“That was Lydia's idea.” Bernie grinned. “Maybe we should call him Lionel when he shows up.”
Libby was just about to remind her sister that you never insulted the guests when she heard a tapping on one of the windows.
“Is that Tiffany Doddy?” Bernie asked, looking at the face staring at them through the panes of glass.
“I thought you told me she was moving to New Jersey.”
“She was there for two months and came back,” Libby said. “Let me see what she wants.” And she hurried outside.
“Is that Bernie?” Tiffany asked when she saw Libby.
BOOK: A Catered Murder
13.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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