Authors: T'Gracie Reese,Joe Reese
THE MAJOR ASSAULT
By the time Nina and Margot had reached the driveway, the last of the limousines had parked and begun to disgorge its passengers.
All thirty of them, emerging from ten huge black shining cars.
“My God,” said Nina, softly. “Who are these people?”
For they were not, in any sense, what she’d been expecting.
Nor were they the crowd expected by the staff, who were all standing on the back porch, open-mouthed and staring.
What all of the Candles had been expecting were frail little old ladies.
And, in fact, there were some little old ladies scattered through the bunch.
“That one,” Nina whispered, “must be Rebecca Thornwhipple.”
“The short one there, getting out of the third limo.”
“With the frizzled white hair?”
“What is she wearing?”
“I know, but the thing printed on it––”
“The male reproductive organ?”
Both of them stared for a while.
“A reproductor reproduction,” said Margot.
“Yes. And it certainly stands out, drawn in red like it is.”
“But what is that thing she’s carrying?”
“A cat carrier.”
“Wait a minute! Am I crazy? Look at them! What are they––I thought for a minute they were all getting suitcases out of the cars, but––”
“Cat carriers,” said Nina. “Every one of them has a cat carrier.”
“With cats in them, you think?”
“Betting on it.”
Nina watched Margot and waited while her friend deduced the obvious.
“We can’t take care of thirty cats.”
“You’ll have to.”
“Why are they all travelling with cats?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, my God! And just look at them! Those aren’t little old ladies at all!”
“Well, except for the one with the penis on her shirt.”
“Well, come on, we have to go and meet them. We’re their hosts.”
That was true, but it hardly seemed to matter, simply because the people milling in the driveway seemed more concerned about the names of their cats and the names of their characters than their own names. The cat carriers came forth from the limousines in a continuous and marvelously garish stream, onyx and pearl and filigree and black-satin and jewel-covered, as though they were the cats of sultans travelling in state and spread out across an oasis for the night. The felines’ names were etched across the receptacles in which they travelled––wild, bizarre, non-earthly, supernatural and mythological names:
Balthazaar, Plethorius, Cullegmugeon, Clawdius, Hisstoproprius, Edapuss, Deflepard––
––and as important to the writers as their cats were, their banners and posters, which were now being unfolded and held up to the light, so as to be checked for wrinkles, blemishes, or, Nina surmised in a necessary deduction, cat poop. Some of the banners contained pictures, some script, and some cartoon figures, but all bore the code:
“The .……. Mysteries.”
The Sheila Hammersmith Mysteries.
The Griselda Hecubine Mysteries.
The Patty Parity Mysteries.
(Patty Parity, Nina assumed, must be a fighter for women’s equality.)
The Olivia Smitherman Mysteries.
And on and on.
“This,” Margot was whispering as they made their way through the crowd, “is my worst nightmare.”
Nina looked up at her:
Margot shook her head.
“I’m allergic to cats.”
“Stupid furry disgusting creatures. I start sneezing and their hair gets all over me and they leave little round turds on the rugs and––”
“No I mean it. I just can’t––”
“Get control of yourself. I think you have to say ‘hello’ to this woman.”
And it was indeed a woman to be dealt with. Almost six feet tall, mannishly dressed, stentorian in posture and bearing—no, if the caretaker was the Scarecrow and the cook the Tin Man, this was certainly the Wicked Witch of the West. Not green perhaps, but––
––well, now that one looked closely at her, maybe a little green.
“Hello!” she said, extending a hand and smiling broadly, “I’m Harriet Crossman—you must be Margot Gavin!”
“Yes, I must be!” answered Margot.
If all of these characters are from The Wizard of Oz
, Nina found herself asking,
then who am I?
she finally had to admit as she settled into shadows of the two women who towered around her.
“Margot, it’s so good finally to meet you, and to experience Candles! Mr. Phillips has painted an exquisite picture of both you and the establishment!”
“Well, Ms. Crossman, we’re just more excited than I can say to have the honor of hosting you.”
“The honor is all ours! I must tell you, the AGCW—oh, and I should tell you, I do serve as president of the organization—has convened in some absolutely dreary hotels and convention centers. But this! This is magnificent! Positively dripping with romance and intrigue. Why, I can already envision at least a dozen lovely murders after seeing only the exterior!”
“Once you get inside the place,” Margot said graciously, “I’m sure more will come to you.”
“I certainly hope so!”
“I’m sure of it. Well, to get on to more practical matters:
we’ve assigned fifteen of our guest suites to your group. We’re assuming people won’t mind pairing up.”
“Oh, not at all! We have some couples, of course, like Jim and Pat Hershey, the husband and wife writing team. There they are now, getting out of the car. Look at them:
THEY ARE SO CUTE TOGETHER!”
Yes, they are,
thought Nina, noting also that they looked a great deal like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, except that they were dressed in matching blue blazers and had no cowboy or cowgirl gear on. But otherwise, dead ringers they were, looking for all the world as if they were eager to do nothing more than get inside and start a-baking or a-rodeoing.”
“They will share a room, of course,” said Harriet Crossman, as will several other of our authors, who are already paired up. But as for the rest of us, we’ll be happy to choose roommates. And, of course, there are our little feline friends!”
“Yes there are!” said Margot, grinning broadly. “Does every writer have a cat?”
“Oh, of course! It’s one of the marks of being a cozy writer! We don’t absolutely require it in the by-laws, but it was for so many of the early years, when we were all just getting to know one another through Facebook pages. Well, at any rate, so many of the postings contained cat pictures, and then we started having the cats pose with copies of our books, and then various authors started taking cats to book signings, where they found that people were more interested in the cats than the books—so one thing just led to another––and now none of us will go anywhere without our little tabbies. I do hope you like cats?”
“Love them!” beamed Margot.
I’m about to get sick,
“Well, then, I don’t know if you have a schedule set up for us––”
“Not a rigidly fixed schedule, no. But we generally serve dinner in the main dining room around seven o’clock. That will give everyone time to get into the rooms, unpack a bit, perhaps walk around on the grounds––”
“––and discover our first corpse!”
“Ha ha ha!!” fake-laughed Margot.
“Ha ha ha indeed! Oh, this is going to be so much fun!”
“I do hope so!”
“It will, it will. I do need to let you know:
we shall have our first plenary session tomorrow, hopefully around nine. We’ll need a large hall for that.”
“Hopefully the dining room will suffice. We’ll get all the breakfast paraphernalia cleared away.”
“Good, good. Then a bit later, we’ll be dividing into sub- groups and committees to do break-out sessions. The Guild has much business that must be taken care of in the most efficient manner possible.”
Be quiet, Toto,
said Nina to herself.
“What kind of business?” she asked.
Harriet Crossman, as though noticing her for the first time, glanced down and resisted the urge to pet her. Then she said:
“Well, our biggest concern remains the issue of standards. Thousands of amateurs are attempting to write cozy mysteries these days, and all of them wish to be a part of our guild, and have their books bear our trademark.”
“And the books aren’t any good?”
“Oh it isn’t a question of that! Some of them are quite good! It’s just that in so many cases they aren’t cozies. There is a list of fifteen qualifications a text must have for it to be considered a cozy. Failing in any of these—well, to give you just a brief example:
War and Peace
is––I suppose you might say––‘well–written,’ if one has a taste for such things. But it could hardly be considered a cozy!”
“So you wouldn’t accept it?”
“Of course not! Of course, the problem is—well, Mr. Tolstoy’s piece of verbiage fails in so many obvious regards that it would hardly be an issue. But other works are more difficult. And there is always this pressure to expand our parameters. Make an exception here or there, allow into our little library of works a town that is not truly quaint, a sleuth who is not the proper age––”
“What is the proper age?”
“Sixty-five and up. Writers who are not perceptive enough to grasp that need to take their young women detectives and go elsewhere. If we start making these kind of seemingly small exceptions, then the floodgates of dilettantism will swing open and our literary civilization will degenerate into chaos.”
“So this,” Nina continued, wondering why she was speaking at all, “is what your meetings will be about? Choosing or rejecting new members who want to be cozy writers?”
“This is one of our issues. There are many others.”
The cat carriers, by now, had all been taken out of the limousines and were being carried by their owners, in a small parade, in the direction of the main house. Several of the animals had begun to notice each other and were hissing and snarling, throwing themselves against the small wire doors of the carriers.