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Authors: Marian Babson

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BOOK: Canapés for the Kitties
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“Oh, perhaps just a teeny splash from that rather exotic purple curlicue bottle.” Gemma evidently felt that she had to live up – or down – to the Little Woman typecasting. She knew her
Woman's Place,
as she often used to jest. Lorinda wouldn't have risked it herself, that bottle looked
too
exotic; she wouldn't put it past either Dorian or Plantagenet, or both, to have slipped a few perfume bottles in amongst the collection.

“I'll have a whiskey mac,” Freddie said, “on a night like this.” A cold wind gusted across the terrace, in the distance more fireworks exploded and stray rockets soared into the sky.

“Ah, yes.” Plantagenet distributed the requested drinks. “Nice night for a murder, eh? With all the background noise, no one would notice the proverbial shots ringing out.”

“Red herrings,” Macho growled. “Check out that dummy on top of the bonfire first.”

“What a good idea.” Plantagenet beamed at him, carefully refilling his own glass from a bottle secreted on the lower shelf of a trolley. “Why don't you climb up and make sure? Be careful, that structure looks quite rickety to me. And, of course, you mustn't let yourself be trapped on top when the torch is set to the kindling at the base.”

“I know who I'd like to see on top of that bonfire,” Freddie muttered.

They all turned to survey the bonfire, instinctively looking at the sprawled dummy. A sudden flash brought on the familiar light-splattered blindness.

“Great shot!” Jack Jackley shouted. He and Karla had obviously been circling the bonfire, taking shots from different angles, and had come around it in time to catch the group on the terrace looking at it.

“Alternatively,” Plantagenet said thoughtfully, “you could strangle the victim with his own camera strap. You wouldn't need background explosions to cover that. It would be nice and quiet – and a public service.”

Hmmm, interesting to know that Jack was also getting on Plantagenet's nerves. One would never suspect him of objecting to being photographed anywhere, any time. Perhaps he felt he wasn't looking his best tonight.

Trailing in the wake of the Jackleys, more guests appeared; Rhylla Montague, talking with Professor Borley and Jennifer Lane, who owned the village bookshop. There were several other villagers as well, who had already learned that it was safer to be behind Jack and his camera than in front of him.

Karla made a helpless apologetic gesture as she and Jack stepped up on to the terrace. Lorinda noticed that, although Karla seemed to wish to dissociate herself from her husband, they were wearing matching outfits. Both were dressed in cream-coloured jeans, cream turtleneck pullovers and fawn jackets, making them faintly ghostlike in the darkness. They obviously had no idea of the effect on their costumes of the smuts and ashes that would be flying through the air as soon as the bonfire was lit.

The others were sensibly dressed in dark clothing and wore amused expressions every time they glanced at the Jackleys.

“I got some great shots of that Guy Fawkes dummy,” Jack said complacently. “It sure looks lifelike.”

“Come and get your drink now,” Plantagenet invited, becoming more proprietorial by the moment. Perhaps he had refilled his own glass often enough to forget where he was and actually did think he was the host.

“OK,” Jack said. “I guess I've got both hands free for a little while now.”

“No more pictures until they light the bonfire,” Karla said. “Remember, you promised.”

“Not unless something happens that's too good to miss,” Jack said. “I've got to keep alert, you don't get second chances on a really good shot.”

“What do you think might happen?” Karla exhaled a long breath of exasperation. “Freddie's going to dance naked on a tabletop?”

“Not tonight,” Freddie said, “it's too cold.”

“Here we are!” Dorian appeared in the far doorway and marched through the drawing room, holding aloft a flaming torch.

“Oh, gawd!” Freddie said. “He thinks he's lighting the Olympic flame.”

Nevertheless, it was quite an entrance. He had taken all the attention away from Plantagenet Sutton and reclaimed his rightful position as host and Master of the Revels.

Dorian was followed by Betty Alvin and Gordie Crane, who were almost staggering under the weight of enormous trays laden with dishes piled with sausages, each pile thoughtfully labelled with a brief description of the sausages on offer. It was clear that Dorian had spent part of his time in London at a gourmet sausage establishment. Trust Dorian – no common-or-garden-variety bangers at
his
Bonfire Night.

“On the table,” Dorian directed, indicating the long trestle table set up beside the barbecue. “Everyone can choose their own and have them cooked to order.” He stepped back and leaned against the stone railing, obviously gratified as his guests crowded around with cries of appreciation.

“Burgundy pistachio sausage …” Freddie began reading the tags. “Pork, prune and cognac ... steak and Guinness stout ... duck with apricot and orange ... smoked salmon ... venison and wild mushroom ... wild boar with Calvados and apple ... There's something for everyone here.”

“There's even a
green
sausage!” Jack Jackley peered at it mistrustfully. “I'm not eating that. How long have you had these things? Is your refrigeration working?”

“That's John Nott's sausage.” Dorian was amused and superior; it was obviously a reaction he had hoped for. “From his
Cook's Diary
of 1720. The green is fresh spinach and it also contains eggs, marjoram and savoury. You'll be missing a treat if you don't try one.”

“Jackley walked right into that one,” Macho said with satisfaction. “Dorian was hoping someone would fall for it. Did you notice how he had the recipe right on the tip of his tongue?”

“Yeah?” Jackley had noticed, too. “Well, whatever it is, you can find another sucker. I'm not eating anything that gives me cold chills to look at it.”


I'll
try one.” Karla gave her spouse a dismissive glance.

“It's hard to know what to choose,” Professor Borley said. “They all look fantastically exotic. But, tell me, what do vegetarians do on Bonfire Night?”

“Here comes the vegetarian selection now,” Dorian said, as Betty Alvin reappeared with another tray. “You'll find mushroom and tarragon sausage, chestnut and orange... a Welsh sausage of Caerphilly cheese and leek ... then there's one made with courgette, coconut and spices ...”

“Sorry I asked.” Professor Borley held up his hand as though quelling an unruly classroom. “I think I'll settle for the venison and wild mushroom.”

“I intend to have a bite of everything,” Rhylla Montague announced. “This spread must have cost dear Dorian a fortune and the least we can do is take advantage of it so that he can charge it up to research.”

“Dear Rhylla, how kind of you to be so concerned about my finances,” Dorian murmured. For a moment, their glances crossed like swords.

“Well,” Rhylla said, “are you going to stand there like a human torchère all evening, or are you going to light the bonfire?”

“Oh, I'm going to light it.” Dorian swept a glance around the terrace. “In fact, I think it's time. Jack,” he called, “are you ready to. record the great moment?”

“Yeah. Sure. Coming.” Jack brought up his camera in a reflex action as Dorian flourished his torch, sending a shower of sparks into the air.

“I'd better go with them,” Karla said. “It's supposed to be the record of my year. I mean, our year. One of us ought to be in the picture.” She hurried away to join the group following Dorian down the steps and onto the lawn.

“I wouldn't want to get too close to that bonfire myself.” Rhylla set her drink down on the stone balustrade and surveyed the scene below. “It looks as though it might collapse if someone sneezed on it.”

“Dorian should stick to his level of competence,” Macho said. “He's just about adequate as a writer; he has no flair at all for carpentry or building.”

“Actually, that bonfire is quite well constructed.” Gordie Crane joined them. “I built most of it myself. It only looks so ramshackle because he allowed the local children to come along and throw their contributions onto it. That's why it has all those bits sticking out in odd places.”

“Children?” Rhylla looked around nervously. “Where?”

“Oh, his hospitality didn't extend to inviting them to the party.” There was a trace of bitterness in Gordie's voice, perhaps because he wasn't a guest himself. “He fobbed them off by saying that their parents would have their own plans for private parties, but they must be sure to look out of their windows when the bonfire was going well and they'd be able to see the guy burn.”

“All heart, our Dorian,” Rhylla said.

“I hope he has that dummy firmly anchored in place. It would ruin his evening if it slid to the ground without catching fire.” Macho sounded as though he hoped the opposite; it would not ruin
his
evening if Dorian's plans went awry.

“It will remain in place, I assure you.” Gordie seemed to resent the implied slur on his handiwork. As well he might. His expertise in all practical fields was the reason he was here. One of the truly useful people Dorian had collected, he was able to build bookcases, solve electrical problems, fix the plumbing and deal with all the other mechanical faults that baffled the rest of them. (“Invaluable,” Dorian had said. “He can even mend broken-down typewriters. If the part isn't available anymore, he'll hand-craft it himself.” To writers nursing along obsolete machines to avoid the day they had to grapple with new technology, it was the major point in Gordie's favour.) Dorian had used his influence to have Gordie installed in the basement flat at Coffers Court as resident caretaker, on call for any emergencies among the rest of the literary inhabitants of Brimful Coffers. Gordie's only flaw was that he cherished ambitions to be a writer himself and imagined that living in their midst would help him achieve his goal. It was a delusion Dorian encouraged for fear of losing the services of such a peerless handyman.

“The dummy will stay in place,” Gordie insisted firmly. “I made sure none of the children got near it.”

“Children!” Rhylla sighed.

“Your granddaughter must be due any moment now, isn't she?” Lorinda obligingly picked up the cue.

“Three suitcases arrived this morning. Can Clarice be far behind?”

They watched as Dorian circled the bonfire, his torch dipping rhythmically to ignite the firelighters strategically concealed at intervals around the perimeter. Camera flashes recorded each flare of tinder and kindling. Crackling noises began to drown out the laughter and comments below.

“Gordie! The sausages are burning!” Betty Alvin's sharp cry made Gordie whirl about and dash for the barbecue grill where the first sausages were blackening and splitting.

“Oh, don't let Dorian see them!” Betty wailed in dismay. “They cost a fortune – he'll be furious. Here, hide them in the warming cabinet. We'll eat them ourselves later.”

“I'll take one,” Macho said. “I like them well done and crispy, anyway.”

“I'll help dispose of the evidence,” Freddie agreed.

“We all will.” Lorinda could say no less.

“Oh, bless you!” Betty Alvin looked at them hopefully. “You needn't actually eat them. Perhaps you could take them home for your cats.”

“Oh, I don't think so.” Lorinda looked at the blackened lumps and shuddered. She was in enough trouble with the cats for leaving them tonight. Their probable reaction if she brought home such burnt offerings made her cringe. They wouldn't speak to her for a week.

“No, no, won't be necessary,” Macho agreed quickly. His Roscoe was also accustomed to much better fare. “We'll eat them ourselves.”

“And
that
won't be necessary, either.” Gordie forked the ruined sausages into a pile and concealed them in a paper napkin. “I'll slip down and throw them on the bonfire later.”

“Oh, that's a good idea!” Betty Alvin's relief betrayed that she hadn't been looking forward to choking down the burnt food herself. “Don't get caught. Wait till Dorian is out of the way. He's sure to take some of the guests into his study to show off his tropical fish. That will be the best time to make a move. Then he won't get furious over the waste –”

“He can afford it.” Grimly, Gordie whisked the greasy bundle out of sight and set out a fresh row of assorted sausages on the grill just as the others returned to the terrace.

“It's well alight.” Dorian surveyed the scene below with the satisfaction of one who had done an excellent job. As a finishing touch, he had rammed the point of his torch into the ground beside the bonfire to burn itself out. “Now, how are things proceeding here?” He cast an expert eye over the grill. “Ah, splendid!”

Gordie nodded acknowledgment, his mouth a tight line. Much too soon; he turned the sausages over, frowning with a concentration that proclaimed he was too busy to talk.

“More drinks!” Dorian ordered. “
Bartender!
” It was not quite a joke. “You're falling down on the job. Fresh drinks for everyone!”

“Coming right up!” Plantagenet bared his teeth at the guests crowding around the bar. “Step up and name your poison!” There was no doubt who he would like to poison.

Dorian smiled blandly and stepped back, not relinquishing his own glass to be refilled.

“Keep the home fires burning, dear boy,” he murmured to Gordie. “I think I'll slip into my study for a few quiet moments and feed the fish.” He moved away.

“Feed himself, he means,” Betty Alvin translated when he was safely out of earshot. “His ulcer has been acting up again. He has a plate of sandwiches waiting in there for him. These sausages are too rich and spicy for him to risk.”

BOOK: Canapés for the Kitties
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