Authors: A. Gardner
"I'll take it to him," I volunteer. "I could use the walk." I look to Marta for approval. She shrugs. Jean Pierre hardly notices, keeping his eyes on the wedding cake. I snag a chocolate macaroon and add it to the tray. A true test of my
recipe deviation. But I know the added chocolate will liven up the taste and boost the presentation, especially the white chocolate ones.
"Well, you are finished with the sweets," Marta mutters. "Be back in five."
I take the serving tray from the waiter called Greg and leave the kitchen for the first time in hours still wearing my chef's jacket. I stick out like chocolate in a jelly roll walking down the hall amongst guests in fine-tailored suits and cocktail dresses. I spot one of Sam's blonde exes sipping champagne alone near the staircase. She tucks a strand of platinum blonde hair behind her ear and glances around the room suspiciously. Her eyes dart to her phone before they wander up the stairs.
I slide past a few clusters of newly arrived visitors and open the door to the back garden. The teacup on my tray shakes slightly as a light breeze zips past led by a lone seagull. I look up at the deep blue sky, and my eyes move to the crashing waves in the distance. I take a few steps, surveying the garden. Sam isn't here.
I walk closer to the ocean, remembering I interrupted Sam's little stroll along the cliffside. Maybe he walked down to the beach for a pre-wedding breather? My legs take me to the last place I saw him standing. I can see the rolling waves much closer, and I scan the cliff's edge, hoping to see Sam's shadowy figure in the distance.
Since last night, I've been wondering if I should say something to him. Return his diamond maybe? But chances are if he's still sending expensive gifts to women he hardly knows, he doesn't need me to point out he might not be ready for a long-term relationship.
I sigh, enjoying my break in the moist English air before going back inside to help Jean Pierre move the wedding cake. I readjust my grip on the serving tray and scan the cliffside one last time. My eyes wander down to the jagged rocks below. With such a steep drop off, I'm surprised nothing other than a modest set of stairs has been built to keep any accidents from happening.
I freeze when I see the beach beneath me.
My heart pounds so loudly that I can hear it in my ears. I let out a loud gasp, feeling as if someone has squeezed every last bit of air from my lungs. I drop the serving tray, and the sound of clanging of porcelain china bursts through the wind. But it's not loud enough to pull my eyes from the scene in front of me.
At the bottom of the cliff there's a body.
It's face down on the rocks, completely motionless. I don't have to look at it twice to know who it is. I stare at the sleek gray suit and a full head of wavy chestnut hair.
The man down below is Sam.
Seeing his body lying there forces back memories I wish I could permanently forget. Memories of my former pastry instructor I found dead last semester. Like this one, that's an image I can never unsee.
"No," I say out loud. "Not again."
I must be cursed.
My hands shake as I run into the house empty-handed. Adrenaline pumps through my veins, and my heart races like I'm running a marathon. I don't have time to stop. I barely have time to take a breath. I have to make sure the man lying dead at the bottom of the cliff is the same man who is supposed to be getting married in less than an hour.
Maybe I was wrong? Maybe the dead man
The first thing I think to do is run to the staircase. I slip past numerous guests, most of them unaware that I'm frantic. I run toward the second floor, taking two steps at a time. Greg, the server I just covered for, passes me on his way down. He barely looks at me. Instead he stares at the floor, concentrating on his steps. My shoulder brushes against his, but I keep my eyes on my final destination.
When I reach the second floor, I look both ways. I have to find the bride. Maybe she's having a last-minute chat with Sam about kicking out his ex-lovers before they jokingly walk down the aisle. I take deep breaths, hopeful that what I saw is some misunderstanding. I pick a direction and jog through the upstairs hallway checking every room I pass.
"Excuse me?" a voice says behind me. "What do you think you're doing?"
I turn around, relieved to see Olivia, the bride, with her makeup and hair done. She tugs at the sleeve of her jacket, having yet to put on her wedding gown. She pauses for a second and places a hand on her hip when I don't respond right away.
"I was just looking for Sam. I mean, Lord Dovington." I fail to get his title right the first time, and Olivia rolls her eyes.
"You're joking?" she responds. "Well, this is bloody fantastic." She rubs the side of her forehead as her cheeks go scarlet. "You know, when my parents arranged this little
they never mentioned that it would come with gold-digging tarts like you."
"Whoa," I interrupt her. "I'm not…
not…do I look blonde to you?"
Olivia looks me up and down.
"Fair point," she admits. Her gaze fixates on my chef's jacket. "What do you want?"
"Do you know where Sam is?" My eyes wander to the glittery diamond on her finger. Olivia holds it up, so I can take a closer look.
"Brilliant, isn't it?" She grins and admires it. "It was specially made by the Dovington's private jeweler, Mr. Iversson." She pauses and studies my expression. "Jesper Iversson."
Olivia raises her eyebrows and chuckles. She pulls her hand back and gently smoothes one of her chocolaty curls.
"Right, you're American. He's a famous Swedish designer and the owner of one of the most magnificent jewelry companies in the world."
," I joke, having absolutely no idea what she's talking about. Of course, I don't own many diamonds. Actually, at the moment I only own one.
"You think I'm exaggerating?" she responds. "If you owned something Kräm, you would know exactly what I'm talking about."
"Kräm?" I question her. The name sounds familiar.
"Yes, that's the name of the company." She turns her back and begins walking to her dressing room. I follow her, hoping to see Sam reading a newspaper or sipping a cup of tea on her sofa. Olivia retreats to a full-length mirror in the middle of an elegant sitting room. Her wedding dress is hanging from a wardrobe—strapless with layers of lace.
I scan the room as she runs her fingers over her delicate dress.
There is no sign of Sam.
My heart sinks.
"He's not here, is he?"
"Very observant," she remarks. "If you see him, tell him he had better be ready in time."
"Oh, I saw him," I admit out loud. I gulp, wondering the best way to deliver the news. I don't know if Olivia will be devastated or not. Since she said her marriage to Sam is nothing but a business decision, maybe she'll be relieved. I could be delivering the very message she has been hoping for.
Maybe praying for?
"Then you don't need me." She primps her hair, watching me out of the corner of her eye.
A large man steps through the doorway. His cologne is strong, and his likeness is similar to Olivia's. They both have chocolaty brown hair and prominent noses. The man has wrinkle lines on his forehead. He checks his watch—a shiny Rolex matching his bronze cuff links.
"Are you almost ready, love?" The man glances at me. "Splendid, someone from the kitchen. I've been trying to get a hold of a decent cup of tea all afternoon." He nods at me. "You think you can do that?"
"She's not here to take orders, Father," Olivia informs him. "She's here because…actually, why are you still here?"
Olivia's father takes his place at her side and watches me skeptically. The longer I wait to spit out the news, the harder it will be to inform the bride, and now her father too, that the wedding is off. For good.
"Okay, I don't know how to say this but—"
I'm interrupted by a blood-curdling scream that echoes through the manor. The three of us freeze in place, eyes darting around the room. My heart pounds even louder. I can't help but cringe as a woman screams at the top of her lungs a second time. I know why she's screaming. It's the same reason I ran all the way upstairs. The same reason I felt like I needed to prove to myself that I'm only sleep-deprived, not seeing bodies.
Someone else found Sam's body.
* * *
I nervously pace back and forth in the kitchen. Jean Pierre leans against the counter with his arms crossed as Marta sits and stares out the window. I came back downstairs to find that the wedding cake was moved into the reception area without me. But amongst the screaming and the panicking as to what might be lying dead in the back garden, the wedding festivities came to a screeching halt. Now, we are all waiting impatiently for the police to finish their examination of the crime scene.
Guests are huddled in groups throughout the manor whispering and helping themselves to an early sampling of hors d'oeuvres. The catering staff is cramped on their side of the kitchen, debating whether or not to go ahead with dinner service.
"So we won't be feeding them for a wedding," the head caterer, a plump but springy middle-aged woman with thick glasses, points out, "but what about a wake? These carrots aren't going to julienne themselves." The woman shrugs.
"Mary," one of the servers scolds her. "Honestly, why would you say a thing like that?"
"She's right," Marta chimes in. "This
the Lord of the estate we're talking about here. The man who hired you. The man who will still be paying you for your services even though he's dead." For the first time, the divide between us and the catering staff is the center of attention. Mary raises her eyebrows and glares at the three of us—Chef Gautier, Marta, and me. Mary's staff outnumbers us.
"You don't know that it's him out there," Mary argues. "All they've said is that a man was found at the bottom of the cliff."
"It's Lord Dovington." Marta stands up straighter, "not
"Who knows what that woman was screaming when she ran into the manor?" Mary grabs hold of a wooden spoon and points it at Marta. "She was hysterical. I couldn't understand a bloody word she was saying."
I study Mary's staff, starting with her whiny server Greg. He drums his fingers on the table impatiently and stares up at the ceiling. I saw him do the same thing this morning when he was asked to help fill saltshakers. Beside him is the woman who kept her eye on Jean Pierre while he decorated the wedding cake most of the day. She is about my height with a long, thin torso and pencil-like legs to match. Her midnight black hair is in a tight bun, and she hides a grin as she watches Marta and Mary argue.
"Oh really," Marta responds. "How hard is it to understand
he's dead…he's dead…the groom is dead
"Well, I'm not about to waste a perfectly cooked chicken Kiev," Mary retorts.
"Chicken Kiev," Marta criticizes. "We're right next to the ocean, and that's what you're serving?"
Mary clenches her jaw and resumes cooking with her head held high. The server with the neatly pinned black bun giggles. She takes a few steps toward me and eyes Jean Pierre as he pulls a mug from the cupboard to make himself a cup of something strong.
"Good idea," the woman says quietly, glancing at me. "Who knows how long we might be here. I might just make myself a double espresso." Her voice is soft and different from the rest of the servers. She doesn't have the same accent as Marta or Chef Gautier. She's not American either.
"I'm Poppy," I introduce myself.
"Cira," the server responds. "Nice to meet you."
"You're not English."
"I know." Cira laughs.
"Right," I clarify. "I mean, you're not from here like everyone else seems to be. Sorry, I can't help but notice since I'm in unfamiliar territory myself at the moment."
"Yep," I answer.
What gave it away?
"I've been in England for years, but I'm originally from España."
"What brings you to Cornwall?" I take a deep breath, seeing a man in a suit and tie approach the kitchen entrance.
"The money," she boldly answers. "What else?"
"Excuse me." The man clears his throat, and waits until we all give him our full attention. His sandy hair reminds me of the beach out back. "I'd like to have a word with everyone in the front foyer, please."
Mary huffs, putting her kitchen utensils down and turning off the burners. Marta nudges Jean Pierre's arm, and the two of them follow the man in the suit out into the hallway. I walk behind the group with Cira, watching as all the wedding guests pile themselves into the front hall.
The man in the suit walks halfway up the staircase so he can see everyone. He surveys the crowd below him and promptly nods to another suited man by the front doors. He clears his throat again. Olivia whimpers as she leans on her father's shoulder and lightly dabs her eyes with a handkerchief.
"Can everyone hear me?" the man on the staircase asks. The foyer falls silent, and he clasps his hands together matter-of-factly. "I am Detective Casey, and this is my assistant this evening, Detective Berry." The man standing at the front door nods. His hair is much darker in comparison, and his blue tie contrasts with Detective Casey's candy apple red one.
Detective Casey's sandy blond hair is neatly parted on the side. Compared to his partner, he looks much older with smile lines and creases on his forehead. He's well-mannered, doing his best to make eye contact with most of the crowd when he speaks.
"I want to inform you all that Detective Berry and I are taking charge of this investigation," he continues.
"Where is Lord Dovington?" someone shouts. My heart pounds.
"Sadly he cannot be with us," Detective Casey replies. The crowd gasps. "I am afraid there will be no wedding today."
Olivia lets out a sob as her father puts his arm around her.
"Detective Berry and I will be questioning each one of you before you leave tonight."
"What?" another guests shouts.
"I'm sorry but we must account for every guest and every alibi," Detective Casey says. "We ask that no one leave the premises until then."
"Looks like Mary will get to serve her chicken Kievs after all," Cira mutters.
Jean Pierre sips his coffee and slowly turns back toward the kitchen. Marta shakes her head and waves at me to follow her as Detective Casey calls the names of the first few people on the guest list. Chef Gautier escapes into an adjacent hallway and waits for me and Marta.
"We are not guests," he states in his heavy French accent.
"You think we can sneak out of here within the hour?" Marta asks.
"Oui." Jean Pierre nods.
"I'll finish packing our equipment." Marta sighs and slumps her shoulders as she trudges back to the kitchen. I glance down the hall where an open bay window displays a full view of the seaside. The sky is no longer blue. The ocean waves swirl in the distance as a gray storm cloud overtakes the rays of sunshine beaming down on the lawn.
"I don't know if leaving right now will be possible," I say out loud. Jean Pierre follows my gaze to the window. He frowns and shakes his head. This quick weekend assignment might turn into an extended stay in an English nightmare.
Hopefully, I made enough chocolate macaroons.