Authors: Miranda Bliss
"Really!" I defended myself so vehemently that even I wondered if I was telling the truth. "Guys like Jim don't look at women like me."
"Because you're cute."
"Because I'm not . . ." I screeched my frustration. "Because he's sexy and gorgeous and has that accent that makes my toes curl. That's why. I'm not his type."
"If you tell yourself it's true, you will never be his type."
I chewed over the thought, and I have to admit, I didn't like the way it tasted. Mostly because I knew everything that Eve said was right on the money.
"Oh, rats!" She slammed on the brakes, effectively jarring me out of my thoughts.
"My watch is gone." Eve fingered her bare left wrist. "It's back at Tres Bonne Cuisine. I took it off when we were washing up, and I know just where it is. On the counter next to the sink."
I thought about Monsieur Lavoie and the way he kept the door between the shop and the cooking school locked. I shrugged. "It'll be there tomorrow."
"Well, yes, I know that." Eve chewed on her lower lip. "If it was only that . . ."
The driver behind us laid on his horn, and Eve started up again. "I'm having lunch with Clint tomorrow," she said by way of explanation.
I did a quick shuffle through my mental Rolodex.
It wasn't easy keeping Eve's love life straight. Or the legion of guys who always seemed to be hovering, like bees around an especially beautiful flower.
There was Joe, the professional football player. Michael, the attorney. Scott, the architect. And Clint . . .
I squeezed my eyes shut, thinking, and the pieces finally clunked into place.
"Oh, Clint. The jeweler," I said. "He's the one who gave you--"
"The watch. Exactly. If I don't wear it, he's going to notice. And if he notices, he's going to ask why."
"And you're going to tell him that you left it at your cooking class."
"Practical as always, Annie." As if
were a dirty word, she tsk-tsked away the very idea. "If I don't wear it, Clint is going to think that I don't care."
I thought back to the conversation we'd had only a few days before, the one in which Eve complained about everything from Clint's choice of aftershave to Clint's decision to trade in his BMW roadster for a sedate and sensible Volvo.
"You don't care," I reminded her.
Eve squealed a laugh. "Of course I don't! But there are better ways to deliver the news. No, no. I could never be that cruel. Not to Clint. After all, the shine may be off our relationship, but the boy does have exquisite taste in jewelry."
Eve wheeled left at the next street, ducked into the nearest driveway, and turned around. Before I could protest further, we were headed back toward Clarendon.
Fortunately, it was a Monday night, and the streets weren't as crowded as they can be later in the week. Between that and the fact that it was after nine and most of the stores in the area were closed, traffic was pretty light. We cruised past the Cheesecake Factory, where there was still a line outside waiting to get in, and the Whole Foods Market that sold the yogurt that I loved so much. We turned left at the cross street closest to the shop. It must have been our lucky day (or night), because we found a place to park within sight of Tres Bonne Cuisine's back door.
When we got out of the car, the first thing we heard was a woman's voice raised in anger.
"No! I will not listen. I will not change my mind. You know what I want."
"That's Beyla." I recognized the voice and the accent that belonged to the beautiful, dark-haired woman in our class. And in the glow of the security light near the shop's back door, I saw her, too. She was facing off against a man. He was farther from the light, and all I could see was a hulking silhouette. Though he kept his voice down and I couldn't make out what he said, there was no mistaking the anger in his voice when he replied.
"You say this? To me!" Beyla shot back. She raised her chin, and when she snarled, I could see her teeth glint in the light. "I'll kill you, Drago. I swear it on the souls of my ancestors."
Apparently, Drago wasn't buying any of this, and just to prove it, he closed in on Beyla. He stepped into the circle of light, and for the first time, I saw his face.
Eve had come around to my side of the car, and I grabbed her arm, automatically drawing her into the protection of the shadow of a nearby tree. "It's the big guy," I hissed. "The one who almost knocked me out cold when we got to class!"
"Yeah, and he's even more pissed than Beyla." Eve leaned forward, trying to hear and see more. "What do you suppose they're fighting about?"
"Something tells me it's none of our business." I tugged her toward the front of the shop. "I think we should get out of here."
"And miss all the fun?" Eve shrugged out of my grasp. "I'll bet they were lovers in the Old Country. You know, one of those family feud things. Forbidden pleasure and all that."
I heard Drago's voice again and saw him pull back his shoulders. He was a big guy. Call me a wimp but if I had I been in Beyla's position, I would have been intimidated. She looked more defiant than ever. I could practically feel the bad blood between them all the way over where we were.
"That doesn't look like love to me," I told Eve. "Think we should call the police?"
"Don't be silly! And tell them what? That a man we never met and a woman we barely know are having an argument about something we don't know anything about? The police have better things to do."
No doubt, they did. But I couldn't help but worry. "She said she was going to kill him."
"And you know she didn't mean it. Not like that."
"Then maybe we should go into the shop and tell Monsieur Lavoie what's going on by his back door." I latched onto Eve's arm, and when she didn't budge, I played my trump card. "If we don't hurry, the store will be locked up, and you won't be able to get your watch."
She recognized the ploy for what it was and made a face. "Party pooper."
"No, that would be you if you show up tomorrow at lunch with Clint without your watch," I reminded her.
She knew I was right, even if she didn't like it. Eve took one more look toward the verbal knock-down-drag-out going on by the back door and followed me to the shop.
There was a light on inside, and we could see Monsieur over near the front counter. But we had to knock twice before he looked our way, and another time to get him to open the door a crack.
"Yes, yes?" he asked. He peeked around the edge of the door. "What is wrong? What is it you want?"
I was all set to tell him about Drago and Beyla, but Eve didn't give me a chance.
"Well, maybe I just wanted another look at your smiling face, sugar!" Eve slipped inside the store. I had no choice but to follow or end up standing out on the sidewalk by myself. "What we really want is just to pop upstairs." She displayed her empty wrist. "My watch," she said with a little pout. "And I was just devastated when I realized it was gone. You wouldn't make a poor girl spend the whole night without her very favorite piece of jewelry, now would you?"
Something told me that Monsieur Lavoie was tempted to say he would do just that.
Except that he seemed to have something else on his mind. He glanced toward the front counter where he had a tall spice jar opened, along with a measuring cup, a funnel, and a few smaller jars.
"Yes, yes, you must get your watch." One hand on each of our backs, he hurried us over to the door that led to the cooking school. "Jim is gone. Everything is cleaned up for the night. I must leave soon. But if you hurry . . ."
We did. A couple seconds later, we were at the top of the stairs.
With no light except for the glow of the streetlights outside, the room looked like a negative of itself. The stainless steel stoves still glinted, but all the golden warmth was lost in heavy shadows.
Automatically, I felt along the wall. "I don't know where the light switch is." Don't ask me why, but I was whispering. Must have had something to do with the after-hours atmosphere and the dark. "How are we going to--"
"Don't you worry. I told you I know exactly where I left the watch." Eve stepped into the classroom. "I'll just--ow!" I saw her stoop to rub her knee. "Forgot that bench was in the front of the room."
"And I forgot this." I felt around inside my purse for the pint-size flashlight I always carried with me. I flicked it on and arced the beam around the room. "Better?"
We had our bearings now, and flashlight in hand, I led the way toward the door in the mural of the Cafe Jacques. On the other side of it was a kitchen that included the sinks where we'd cleaned up our saucepans and soup bowls.
"You're amazing, Annie. Honestly." Eve's voice came out of the dark behind me. "What else do you have in that purse of yours?"
"Antacids. Gum. Pain relievers--aspirin and ibuprofen." I went through the list. I don't know why. Even though we had Monsieur Lavoie's permission, something about being in the school alone after closing made me nervous, and reciting the familiar litany calmed my nerves. "Paper and a pen. My address book. A roll of quarters, just in case." I stopped at the door and Eve caught up.
Shaking her head, she pushed open the door. "Like I said, amazing. Have I ever mentioned that? Next time I need to pack for a long trip, you're the first person I'm going to call."
It was a threat, not a promise. Every time Eve went out of town--anywhere--she called me to help her pack. It was not a pretty thing, stuffing seven days' worth of outfits into a bag she was taking for a two-day trip. Still, I always managed to make it work.
Eve headed into the kitchen. I aimed the light in the right direction, and soon after, I heard her satisfied purr. "Ah, here it is! Right where I thought I left it." In the glow of the flashlight, I saw Eve slip the watch on her arm. She checked the time. "Nine twenty-five already. Can you believe it? The evening went so fast."
. I tried not to think about it or the fact that I had to show up here tomorrow and risk embarrassing myself again. Jim had promised to send us an e-mail tonight for tomorrow's class: appetizers. I wondered if chips and dip counted.
"Ready?" Eve was already back at the door, and we made our way across the classroom. "We can stop for coffee if you're in the mood."
I remembered what she'd said about the time and shook my head. "This late? I'll never sleep. And I have to get to work early tomorrow."
There was just enough light coming through the front window for me to see Eve grin. "How did I know you were going to say that?"
We weren't upstairs that long, but when we got back downstairs to the shop, all but the front window lights were off, and there was no sign of Monsieur Lavoie. For one panicked moment, I thought we'd been locked in. I was already formulating what I'd say to my head teller the next morning to explain why I was late when we heard a noise near the back door.
I peeked outside. Beyla and the man she called Drago were gone. The only one around was Monsieur Lavoie. I was just in time to see him toss something in the Dumpster near the door.
He saw me and just about jumped out of his skin. "Oh! You are done. Already!" He tried for a smile that wasn't exactly convincing, then waved us outside. "We will lock the door behind you, yes? You have what you were looking for?"
Eve held up her arm, displaying the watch.
"Very good. Then we are ready to say good night, no?" He backed away from the Dumpster, distancing himself from whatever he'd been doing. "I will see you both tomorrow, yes?"
Even before we had a chance to answer, he locked the door and scampered into the shadows.
"Well, that was odd." I peered into the dark, but the chef had disappeared around the side of the building. In fact, the only sound I heard was that of a car door slamming and an engine starting up. I had no doubt it was Monsieur Lavoie hightailing it out of there.
"Maybe he's got a hot date." Eve laughed. "Wish I did. We could head over to that bar on Wilson and see who's there tonight."
"Or not." We stepped out of the circle of light thrown by the security lamp near the back door and into the shadows, heading in the opposite direction from Monsieur Lavoie. "Early morning tomorrow, remember? We're getting ready for the yearly audit and--"
The rest of my words dissolved in a little squeal of surprise when I tripped over something.
I regained my footing and looked over to where Eve had stopped to see what was wrong. She'd been walking on my right, and whatever I stumbled over, she skirted without incident.
I spun around, squinting through the darkness to make out what I had run into. But all that I could see was something that look like a black garbage bag lying right in what had been my path.
"Except it's too big to be a garbage bag," I mumbled.
"Huh?" Eve came a couple steps closer. "What are you talking about, Annie? Of course it's a garbage bag. What else could it--"
My flashlight was still at the top of my bag. I dragged it out and flicked it on.