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Authors: Jerrilyn Farmer

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BOOK: Killer Wedding
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“Vivian, before we go back to the party, I thought I'd better get something…”

“Mother!”

I looked up to see a tall, thirty-something woman approach us, and sighed. What was I thinking? I should have known how difficult it would be to talk to a party
planner just before an event. I'd have to wait until the wedding was over to get Vivian alone. I noticed that Vivian's daughter did not look a whole lot like her mom. Dark-haired, built on a heavier frame, she wore a deep gray pantsuit with no makeup or jewelry.

“Beryl, darling, I'd like you to meet the woman who is buying out your mother's business. Madeline Bean, please meet my daughter, Beryl.”

“Nice to meet you,” Beryl said, hardly looking over at me before plunging ahead. “Mother, I told you…”

“Before you ‘tell me' anything, you know I've asked you to call me Vivian. It may not matter in front of dear Madeline, but in front of my clients I insist.” She stood there looking at the tall young woman with disapproval. “Now, Beryl, if you don't intend to wear those lovely earrings I had made for you, then send them back to me.”

“Vivian!” The young woman sounded strained. “Vivian, you must stop forcing my father to run your little errands. I just got a call from Dad…”

“Whining, I'm sure,” Vivian said, with a throaty chuckle. She pulled a cigarette out of her evening bag and played with it. “I give him so much business and how does he repay me? By doing the most incompetent job he can possibly do.”

“Mother!” Beryl's irritation was getting the best of her. “Vivian, he's your husband. Can you for once talk about something other than his ability to do business? You know he doesn't really care about any of that.”

“Madeline,” Vivian said, keeping her eyes on her upset daughter. “Wouldn't it be nice if we could all live a comfortable life and never have to think about business? Is that what your father tells you?” she said, with heat, forgetting to address her caustic comments my way. “Your father is not able to deliver the wedding couple's honeymoon plane tickets
before the goddamn honeymoon!
I have to send Whisper to the house because I doubt very seriously whether your father can find them and find his way down here. Pretty sad, Beryl. But what
exactly was your point, dear? I'm in the middle of a marvelous wedding and,” she consulted her exquisite jeweled wristwatch, “the ceremony is about to begin.”

“Just forget it!” Beryl's voice had lost its thin veneer of patience, although no one back at the party was likely to overhear the row going on down this corridor.

I had already turned to escape when I saw Wes, coming to look for me.

“Did you tell her?”

“Impossible. My timing sucks.”

We walked back to the main foyer, leaving the heated pair to their own family drama.

“Was that Beryl Duncan back in that hallway?” Wes asked as we gathered with the two hundred others to file into the Hall of Large Mammals where the wedding ceremony was to take place.

“She's Vivian's daughter. Do you know her?”

“I know Beryl Duncan slightly. Friends have used her. She's the meanest divorce attorney in Los Angeles.”

“Between mother and daughter, they do seem to have all the bases covered.”

Before Wes could comment, we entered the hall.

“Oh my God,” I whispered.

Two long walls of the large museum hall were lined with glass-windowed exhibits. Each diorama showed a different natural habitat in which were displayed various large mammals, from snow leopards to grizzlies, a tribute to the lately underappreciated art of taxidermy. Eerily frozen enactments of nature glowed from the lit cases along the walls, while the rest of the hall was quite dark.

“Amazing,” Wes said.

“Funky,” I whispered.

Large potted ficus trees, atwinkle with tiny lights, formed a backdrop at the end of the long aisle which was flanked by two sections of chairs. Tall standing candelabra, in pairs, proceeded down the aisle at each row of seats. The white wax pillars flickered down the narrow aisle, giving the museum gallery the look of some surreal monastery. A full orchestra was set up at the side,
playing a classical piece as the elegantly dressed wedding guests found seats.

Holly was already seated and she turned and gave us a small wave. We slid into a row about midway down the aisle and joined her.

“I went to the bathroom and you wouldn't believe the flowers they have in there.”

“Darius,” I murmured to Wes under my breath as Holly went on.

“And the buzz is that Spielberg will be here for the dinner.” She took a moment to look over the crowd, now mostly in their seats.

Wes cleared his throat.

“What?” Holly looked down at us. “Oh.” She settled back in her seat. “Was I standing? Jeesh.”

“Don't worry about it,” I said, smiling. “So, who'd you see?”

“Maddie. There's this amazing guy across the aisle and two rows back. He's been staring at you.”

“Really?” Wes craned his neck as the twenty-four-piece string section began to play the theme from
Out of Africa
.

“Is he incredibly handsome?” I asked, dropping my voice.

Wes gave a quick look back and answered, “If you dig cops.”

What? I turned my head impatiently, expecting to catch a quick glimpse of my dark, mustached Euro-stranger, and instead came eye to eye with a more familiar face. I was caught checking out Lieutenant Chuck Honnett of the LAPD.

“He saw you,” Holly pointed out.

Bitch.

“Honnett?” I said, snapping my head back. “What's he doing here?”

“Friend of someone, probably,” Holly suggested. “Are you going to dance with him later?”

Wes let a grin escape.

The two of them had decided that I was harboring a
secret thing for this cop. Which was nuts. I don't like authority, with the single exception of my own, and I especially don't like cops. Tell me this, who in their right mind would ever want to be a policeman? Someone who has to bully people and catch them doing things they shouldn't. A cop sees things in black and white and no matter how gray the world really is, a cop is happy to call it black and pull out his gun. In my opinion.

I'm not saying they don't have a place. Even vicious, brainless guard dogs have a place. But still, I wouldn't want to sleep with one.

“I doubt he'll ask me to dance,” I answered. “I haven't heard from him. It's been a long time.”

“Oh, he'll ask,” Holly said, snorting. “He's hot for you. He can only see you from the back now, but just wait until he gets a load of your chest in that dress. His eyes will water.”

The string section played on, and two six-year-old flower girls took their first steps down the long aisle. Each wore jungle-print velvet dresses with ivory satin bows and solemn expressions. I'd bet good money that mothers had strongly suggested this would not be the time to act goofy. The tiny ladies threw rose petals from little baskets as they moved up the aisle.

Turning to get a better look at the procession, I was free to check out Honnett, whose head was now turned back to watch the flower girls. In a classic tux, he looked almost, well, dashing. His rough, tanned, rugged face seemed softer. Yeah, he looked damn good in that tux.

I wondered if he could feel my eyes on him, but he didn't turn back my way. We'd met a little over a year ago under pretty bizarre circumstances. Police business. Not that I could imagine meeting an LAPD detective under any normal circumstance.

As I stared at Honnett, unnoticed in the sea of turned heads, I saw his mouth twitch into a wry smile as he watched the little darlings prance past on their floral task. I noticed, in the soft candlelight, his thick, brown hair was a touch more gray than I'd remembered.

Well, he was too old for me, anyway. Mid-forties, I'd guess. And even though we'd talked about getting together at one time, I'd since heard a rumor he was married. Or separated. Same thing to me. I quickly moved my eyes towards the back of the room, to catch the next bridal attendant, but not so quickly that I didn't scan the seat next to Honnett. A woman in her thirties, dressed in black of course. Very thin. Very long neck. More later.

“Honnett will catch you staring,” Holly whispered, as we watched an adorable little boy come down the aisle carrying a ring on a cream satin pillow.

“Hush,” I warned her. “I'm looking for some other guy.”

“Who isn't?” she whispered. “Omigod!” she yelped, and clutched at my hand.

“What? Who?” I asked.

“Brad Pitt, seven o'clock,” Wes offered calmly.

I swiveled my head to where I thought seven o'clock should have been and made eye contact. Not with Brad Pitt. With my British mystery man as he came walking down the aisle.

“I'm going to faint. It
is
Brad Pitt. I'm going to faint.” Holly began to make slight fan-waving gestures at her pale face with her left hand.

Instead of watching the line of beautiful bridesmaids as they entered the procession, each on the arm of a groomsman, I turned to Wesley and whispered, “Coming down the aisle. See the guy with the longish black hair?”

We remained silent as they passed right by our row.

“What a body,” Holly sighed. “Who is he?”

“Don't know.”

“He's the best man,” Wes said, softly. “Maybe the groom's brother.”

“Too old. Too Euro,” I answered.

But before we could go on, the violins and cellos began playing “Here Comes The Bride,” and we all stood and turned our heads to watch Sara Silver make her grand entrance.

I had to admit, Vivian had done a stunning job with this wedding ceremony. In the semidark, amid hundreds of flickering candles, among the animals frozen in history, the bride made a striking entrance. Dressed in a slender sheath of white burn-out silk that I was positive must be a Vera Wang gown, Sara Silver was escorted down the aisle by a man too old to be her father. Deep Pockets Grandpa, I was guessing. And then I recognized Grandpa's face. I'll be damned. It was a face I recognized from old T.V. reruns.

I watched Sara pass, moving slowly to the lush music, like a virgin princess in a mystical jungle. At the head of the aisle she was met by Brent Bell, her husband to be. Together, they walked up to the clergyman who was officiating at the service.

At that moment, the darkened display case behind the bridal party suddenly lit up. The diorama that extended across the entire back wall of the Hall of Large Mammals could now be seen. In it, two African elephants were engaged in a primitive, animal act. A large bull with immense tusks was up on his two hind legs. The female looked resigned.

Love, I was reminded, could be ferocious.

I
crossed the deserted foyer and peeked through a pair of double-high doors. While the bride and groom were busy taking their vows, I had slipped out of the ceremony to take a look around. Weddings make me jumpy.

A few last-minute workmen were adjusting tall ficus trees around the impressive Hall of Small Mammals, a twin in size and shape to the one where the nuptials were now in progress across the way. Twenty-five tables, swathed in the finest beaded Indian organza, sparkled, their skirts refracting tiny gleams picked up from the diffuse lighting. The most amazing ice sculptures, perfect frozen replicas of a haunting list of endangered species, graced the center of each table.

Here, too, the dozen exhibit cases set into the walls provided the main source of illumination. In one, a family of beavers was at work on a dam. In the next, a porcupine stood alert beside a pond. Across the way, wolves stood on a winterscape knoll, snouts raised, mouths forming O's, suggesting eternally silent howls. Nature under glass—a mixture of creepy and curious, tacky and touching.

Tacky and touching. Well, that could also describe the state of my late relationship with my former boyfriend, Arlo Zar. The trouble with weddings was they made you introspective about the state of your own love life. How romantic they could be when you were sitting on the
aisle holding hands with someone you cared about. How alienating when you were just getting over a man you thought would be around for a while longer.

I couldn't go back and face the wedding vows, and I was determined to find Vivian Duncan. Down one hallway, I discovered double fire doors held open with pegs. Beyond them, a large tented structure bustled with activity. Ah, the food. Stepping from the tomb-quiet museum into the noise and swirl of the cooking area brought with it the delicious aromas of simmering sauces and expensive spices.

“Madeline Bean!”

“Freddie Fox!”

The big man stood near a giant trough, its eighty gallons of water coming to the boil, his round face shiny from steam. Freddie, the chef/owner of Santa Monica's favorite restaurant, Fox on Main, was in charge of this dinner. His restaurant catered many of the hottest parties on the west side of town. Freddie was doing what I usually did in the middle of major catering jobs—tasting and laughing and joking around. I felt a pang of something like envy.

“So you brought out your boiler for the crawfish?”

“But of course,” he said, smiling. “We are doing my famous
étoufée
, darlin'.”

Freddie kissed my cheek, and then stood back, holding me out at arm's length. “You are not dressed for cooking tonight, baby. You are dressed to kill.”

“Tonight I'm a civilian. But tell me…” I peered into one of the large tubs behind the boiling station. Live crawfish for days! “How many pounds total? A thousand?”

“A thousand pounds, live. On the dot. How do you do that?” Freddie asked, smiling widely. “Flown in a few hours ago.”

I could barely hear Freddie. Not far off, a droning roar like the unmuffled scream of a dirt bike engine whined from beyond the far end of the tent. I looked up, startled. Through an opening at the back, I could see a
powerfully built man, shirtless, wielding a chainsaw. He was standing in the loading dock carving a five-foot-high ice sculpture of a rhino. Each time the jittering saw blade bit into the 300-pound block of ice, the pitch of the aggressive buzz changed.

I stood watching. The quivering blade kissed ice once more, gouging out the area under one perfectly formed tusk, and then the man looked up. The dark, intense eyes of a power chainsaw freak met mine.

“He's Ethiopian,” Freddie Fox commented. “Or South African. Anyway, he's a brother.” He smiled.

The iceman, muscled chest wet with sweat, stood out in the night under a lamp, breathing hard. He pulled his saw from the sculpture in progress and let it rev noisily in the air, his gaze still on me.

“He's wild,” I said.

Freddie snorted. “We're all wild in here, take a look.”

Three men, young and Hispanic, moved closer and began to lift the first large tub teaming with seafood. Their joking Spanish stopped for a moment as they heaved the tub up and began to tip nearly 200 pounds of crawfish into the boiling water in the trough. There was practically no backsplash. Pros.

“So,” Freddie said, leading me to a quieter corner. “Are you here to look us over? From what I hear, you'll be running Vivian's business pretty soon.”

“Is that right? And when will I be elected Queen of the May?”

“Just give me a call and I'll set up a demo dinner for you,” Freddie continued. “We'll have fun. Now that you're giving up catering, we can work together on weddings. Cool, huh?” My former competitor's eyes gleamed.

Cool? I was about to answer when a shout from the back of the tent called Freddie away to make some critical decision about the balsamic vinegar and whether or not it was the same brand he had ordered.

“Gotta get this,” he said, turning to take over that debate. “Call me.”

“Where is Vivian, do you know?” I had my own crisis to solve.

“I saw her about ten minutes ago with her old man,” Freddie said, happy to pass on one last comment. “Whoeee. Man, she was brutal.” He put his hand up and rubbed his short, black hair under a navy Negro League baseball cap. “Now I know Vivian is loaded, but no man should take that abuse. Know what I'm saying?”

I stopped backing out of the room. “Vivian is what?”

Freddie chuckled. “She's worth millions, they say. Shit, she don't have to do any of these damn wedding gigs. But, shi-i-it…” He walked back to me, lowering his voice, forgetting his balsamic worries for a second, “I would sooner be kicked in the groin than be married to the woman.”

“Freddie.” I laughed.

He gave me a peck on the cheek and hurried off to his vinegar debate.

Back in the semidark hallway of the museum, taking the first turn quickly, I jumped. Someone had been standing there, just outside the kitchen door. Waiting. Silently.

Startled, I collided with dark flesh—smack into the warm, hard, damp body of the mad dog, chainsaw-toting ice sculptor.

BOOK: Killer Wedding
7.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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