Authors: Diane Mott Davidson
with deep gratitude for excellent editing
and for possessing a kind heart and a light touch
Life does not cease to be funny when people die
any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.
Cynics say getting married is a death wish.
The morning of August the twentieth dawned with rain, again,…
Swathed in an apron, my handsome husband was refrigerating the…
Somehow, I don’t know how, Julian managed to get rid…
As I headed home, tatters of dark cloud hung in…
I thought you were having the churchwomen over for dinner,”…
I slumped into the kitchen chair closest to Tom. My…
I hung up rather than listen to those horrible noises.
Ah, the prodigal mother of the bride!” Victor Lane cried…
Luckily, I was able to get out of there quickly,…
Tom still wasn’t answering his cell phone, but a helpful…
No, Lucas Carmichael had not been on duty. Interestingly, though,…
The alarm burbled at six, and it seemed to me…
Sergeant Boyd, whom we’d always only ever called “Boyd,” had…
I repaired back to the kitchen, where any crisis was…
Somehow, Julian, Yolanda, the servers, and I finished the reception.
I’m very sorry, Goldy,” Father Pete said. I blinked and…
In the kitchen, I located my recipe for coeur à…
This time, I had the sense to put on a…
I woke in a sweat before the alarm went off.
That guy is a nut,” said Boyd, his voice low.
Julian and Boyd kept watch. I set up a ladder…
I tucked Jack’s keys and the paper into my pocket…
It was half past ten. I was already feeling guilty…
The OFFICE SPACE FOR LEASE sign in front of the…
Aspen Meadow, Colorado
For her wedding on June 8, no, July 15, no, August 22
Grilled Artichoke Skewers with Rémoulade
Deviled Eggs with Caviar
Crab Cakes with Sauce Gribiche
New-Potato Salad with Fresh Dill and Crème Fraîche
Chilled Haricots Verts Vinaigrette
Baguettes and Butter
Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Creams
ynics say getting married is a death wish.
Now, I’m no Pollyanna, but I try to ignore cynics. Anyway, what I usually say is that
weddings is a death wish. My assistant, twenty-two-year-old Julian Teller, and I laugh at that. Yucking it up provides a bit of comic relief within the stress of serving trays of appetizers with drinks, then lunch or dinner with wine, followed by cake with champagne or Asti Spumante—and doing it all quickly—to a hundred guests. Trust me: if there’s one thing caterers need at weddings, it’s comic relief.
Unfortunately, the events surrounding Bridezilla Billie Attenborough’s wedding proved the truth of the original axiom. Still, it wasn’t a death wish that proved troublesome. It was death itself. And as the bodies piled up around the Attenborough nuptials, I began to think someone was gunning for me, too.
Turned out, I was right.
M ALWAYS TELLING
my husband, Tom, an investigator with the Furman County Sheriff’s Department, that I should adore weddings. The reason? I love being married—to him, that is. With his mountain-man build, handsome face, jauntily parted cider-colored hair, and eyes as green as a faraway sea, he’s not only kind and loving—he’s gorgeous.
“You’re prejudiced,” he says.
“So what?” I reply. “You’re still the greatest.”
“There are any number of criminals in our state penal system who would take issue with that assessment.”
“I’m not married to one of them.”
Actually, having Tom for a husband means I can watch brides and grooms kiss, laugh, and embrace, and I can smile to myself, knowing I’m going home to a great man. So when there are wedding glitches, I remind myself: I’m helping people get married. And by and large, this is a good thing.
Here in Aspen Meadow, Colorado, if someone is going to have a hundred or fewer guests at their ceremony and reception, I’m the caterer of choice, by which I mean, I’m the only caterer you can choose. Our town also has but one florist, one photographer, one printing press—for invitations and the like—and a few bands. But these days, most couples choose a DJ.
Aspen Meadow has one of those, too.
If the bride, groom, or either family wants a bigger celebration, she, he, or they usually do all their own arrangements, and have their wedding down in Denver, forty miles to the east. There, you can hire a wedding planner, book a fancy venue, and have your pick of caterers, stationers, florists, even chocolatiers. If you go that route, though, you’re going to pay. What with the gown, limos, and all the rest, you’re probably looking at about a hundred grand.
I can remember when a hundred grand used to buy a house. And a nice one, too.
But for a hundred or fewer guests, I can do all the arranging. Once I’m given a bud get and specifics as to menu, flowers, photographer, music, you name it, I draw up a detailed contract, then get signatures, along with a down payment. After that, I call the vendors, set the schedule, and arrange deliveries. Any changes to the contract mean big bucks, so generally, people are content to leave well enough alone.
But Bridezilla Billie, as I’d come to call her, was never content. Billie’s long-suffering mother, Charlotte, was footing the bill—Attenborough
having died of a bleeding ulcer long ago—and Billie seemed not to care that every single new arrangement she was demanding was costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
“It won’t be a problem,” Billie would say breezily, each time she called in April, then May, then June, to say we absolutely had to have lunch so she could talk about new things she wanted. “We can just put all this on my tab.”
And then I would arrive at the appointed time, at what ever place she’d said she wanted to have lunch. And she would be late, usually more than an hour late. The reason? She’d say she’d gotten lost, never mind that she’d lived in Aspen Meadow all her life. Or her Mercedes wouldn’t start. Or she’d thought we were meeting an hour after when she’d originally said. One time, when she didn’t show up at all and I called her house, she said she thought we were meeting the following week.
Billie was, in short, a flake.
Like most of the weddings I cater, Billie’s ceremony was taking place in the summer.
Let the weather cheer you up,
I told myself as I typed up contract change after contract change and faxed them through to Charlotte Attenborough.
And so I planned and ordered food, and waited for spring, which at eight thousand feet above sea level, generally doesn’t arrive until June. By then, the thick crust of ice on our town’s lake has melted. The fresh scent of pollinating pines and newly leafy aspens fills the air. With snow still blanketing the Continental Divide—visible in the distance—the setting is particularly idyllic.
But this summer was different.
“Maybe I should quit doing weddings,” I told Tom when Bridezilla Billie stopped insisting we have lunch, and instead started phoning me an average of seventeen times a day. She’d already moved her wedding date twice. The reason? She said she wanted to lose twenty pounds to fit into a new dress she’d just bought. She claimed she was working with Victor Lane out at Gold Gulch Spa to get into tip-top shape. Getting into tip-top shape was the euphemism Billie used for trying to sweat off some of her rolls, the kind that had nothing to do with Parker House.
Did I know Victor Lane? Billie asked. Yes, I began, but she tossed her highlighted blond hair over her shoulder, helped herself to the Key Lime Pie I’d left on the counter, and cut me off just as she placed an enormous piece of pie on a plate in front of herself. Once she’d forked up a mouthful, she was eager to provide me with an update on embroidery that was being added to the waist of the new dress. Then I heard about the seed pearls that were being sewn into the train, and the lace now edging the veil.
Aside from myself, I’ll tell you who I had sympathy for: her dressmaker.
“Why do you put up with her?” asked Jack Carmichael, my godfather, who had moved to Aspen Meadow from New Jersey in February. “I mean, I’m going out with Charlotte, and I can barely stand to listen to Billie for a New York minute.”
“I feel sorry for Billie,” I said.
Jack raised his gray eyebrows and did one of his energetic little waltzes around my kitchen. “You want to feel sorry for someone, make it her poor mother. You’re too kind, Gertie Girl.”
Gertie Girl was the nickname Jack had always used for me. It was short for Gertrude, my real name. Jack didn’t like the name Goldy, he’d told me when I was very small. It had been one of the times he’d shown up without warning at our house, laden with gift bags full of books, puzzles, and games. He always loved to pose riddles to me, too. “What word appeared when So met Imes?” he asked when I was five. After a moment, I shrieked, “Sometimes!” which had caused him to erupt in gales of laughter.
“I learned kindness from you,” I replied, when he stopped dancing around my kitchen. In addition to all the goodies Jack had always bestowed on me, he’d written me letters when I was away at school. And he’d sympathized with me when I was trying to get out of my first marriage, to an abusive doctor, now deceased, thank God.
To me, Jack was the model of the perfect godfather, which I told him often.
In my kitchen now, he hugged me, and I handed him a batch of the salty fried pecans I’d made for him and his new drinking buddy, a recently retired, much-loved local physician named Harold Finn. They relished the pecans with their scotch. I invited them over often, but they seldom came. Sometimes I worried that the nuts were the only food the two of them ate.
Well. No matter how many contract changes I was forced to make for Billie Attenborough, I kept telling myself to be patient. At age thirty-six, Billie was getting married for the first time, after two broken engagements. Unfortunately, Billie held an intense dislike for my godfather’s pal, Doc Finn, and never tired of telling me how awful he was. According to Billie, Doc Finn had told both of her ex-fiancés—one with gastritis, the other with migraines—that they needed to break off their engagements to her. Since this didn’t sound like any medical advice I’d ever heard, I asked Doc Finn about it. The kindly, white-haired general practitioner had rubbed his goatee thoughtfully, then looked at me over his half-glasses. He’d said that while he couldn’t comment on any particular patient, he was in favor of everyone lowering levels of stress.
Now I knew what Doc Finn was talking about. Stress?
I’d gotten to dreaming that I was throwing Billie off the nearest mountaintop. Too bad Doc Finn had hung up his stethoscope: I needed him to treat me for Billie-induced insanity. As I kneaded bread for the small baguettes Billie had insisted be served at her reception—instead of the croissants she’d demanded initially, or the corn bread muffins she’d wanted the second time around—I wondered how difficult it would be to dial 911 with a tray in my hand once I began to have the symptoms of a heart attack.
At least Billie was happy in love, I reflected. In fact, by her account, she was ecstatic, head over heels, and had found her true soul mate with her intended, a man eight years her junior, a newly minted general-practitioner named Craig Miller.
Miller, quiet, good looking, with round horn-rimmed specs and an easy smile, had recently joined Spruce Medical Group to replace Doc Finn. Once, during a particularly excruciating lunch, Billie was again critical of Doc Finn, saying everyone knew he was senile and incompetent, and it was long past time for him to be replaced. Craig had joined us for this meal, and he calmly told Billie that Doc Finn had been a great asset to the community. Back when Spruce Medical Group was a small practice located in an old office building on Upper Cottonwood Creek Road, Finn had spent hours listening to, and talking to, patients who adored him. She should be kinder toward him. Billie had immediately shut up, and I wanted to ask Craig if he could come to all our lunches.
I kept telling myself,
Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm.
Eons ago, I’d majored in psychology, which had its uses in the catering biz. Billie just hadn’t learned how to get along with people, I told myself. Even though she graduated from college, she’d never held a regular job. She’d been jilted by two fiancés; maybe she’d imagined them critiquing everything about her, and that was why her chief occupation in life was criticizing people. But I couldn’t find a reason for what to me was Billie’s main problem: the flakiness. Yes, she got lost; yes, she couldn’t keep track of her calendar. But she’d also completely changed her menu six times.
Each time she changed the menu, she gave oddball reasons such as, “Oh, I tasted shrimp cocktail at the Pardee wedding, and knew we couldn’t have it, too, because some of the guests would be the same. So I want calamari.” When I told Billie’s mother what that would cost, the menu was quietly changed to include deviled eggs topped with a spoonful of caviar. But then there was, “Last night Craig and I had a chicken satay at a Thai restaurant in Denver; could you make us a satay, but with duck?” Duck satay? Charlotte vetoed that one, too. But finally, Billie whined, “C’mon, it wouldn’t be that much trouble for you to roast three or four suckling pigs, would it? You could dig the roasting pit outside your house.” Right. Charlotte also vetoed the roasting pit, thank God.
“I’m giving up weddings,” I told Tom, when I came home from that particular lunch.
Tom sagely commented, “Then you’d go nuts.”
“I’m there, Tom. I’m totally bonkers. First I waited for her for two hours while she was lost trying to find the restaurant, and then she hit me with the roast suckling porkers.”
Tom said, “Uh-oh.”
“Billie Attenborough’s wedding is killing me.”
“Aw, you always say that.”
“This time I mean it.”