No turn, U-turn, Don’t run that light! Don’t you feel, as I often do, that traffic is hazardous to your health, your car, and your peace of mind? How much easier it would be to have your own private motorway. Or an invisible cushion of air that protects from the vagaries and distraction of others in their own motor vehicles. Even better, a system in your car that automatically takes a picture of someone else doing something stupid and forwards it to the proper authorities…because there never seems to be a cop around when a mini-van speeds past you at 45 miles an hour in a 30 mph one, crosses three lanes of traffic at the last minute with no signal, or chicken-races you in an attempt to beat you to the one-lane road that used to be a two lane road. Aside from the occasional desire to see just who IS the chicken in the Merge 250, especially since the other car seems to be newer and shinier than mine, I usually just mutter under my breath and let them have their way. After all, maybe there’s an emergency, they’re late for something important, or maybe they’re just expecting me to give in. Isn’t that a scary thought? Using your car on a power trip? But if someone needs this meaningless victory to feel good about themselves, who am I to squash their hopes and dreams of one-upmanship?
OK. I came to driving later in life than most, and I tend to still remember those pesky Rules of the Road, but it seems to me that if you’re not sure of where you’re going or when you need to be there planning might be the answer. What you say? Check how long it will take and what streets are the best to use? But where’s the fun? Well, I live in a college town. On most weekends during the fall and winter as well as August and May we are inundated with drivers from other cities and other states. While some of them have been through the C-U tangle of one-way streets and single lanes shared with bike lanes, many of them are here for the first time. The seasoned visitors should know to plan, but some of them don’t. The result can be fender benders, late arrivals. Add locals on their way to the same venue and it’s a circus of frustration and comedy. I stay home. I’ve learned to treasure those weeks when the campus is empty…traffic on Green Street is doable. And you can find a place to park!
My point here, if you’ve managed to wade through the traffic jam of my rationale, is that perhaps we’ve come to think of cars as more than just machines to take us where we want to go…at the proper speed and with consideration for others on the road. Today the car is…and stop me if I’m wrong…. a status symbol, a “chick” magnet (think teenage showoffs), a back seat playground for the kids we haul to school and soccer and dance class, and the one machine we use every day that can kill us if we’re not careful. Think of that the next time you’re on the road. Any road. The whole idea is to get where you’re going, right?
This winter has been a myriad of experiences: some good, some less than agreeable, and some absolutely eye-opening. If you’re a Facebook friend you will have noticed some posts earlier this month regarding the adventures of a bunny named Flynn. I was fortunate enough to have him as a guest in my house for eleven days while his “mom” went to Florida. He brought everything he needed…food, treats, hay, his spacious cage, including his little hut and an alfalfa tunnel. All I had to do was feed and water him, let him hop around for exercise, and reassure him that his mom would be back soon. I even had a bunny book to help me out. Who knew?
Flynn is a Polish Dwarf, small, quick, and very intelligent…too smart for his own good sometimes. Bunnies are curious little guys…and they love dark spaces. Under the bed is a favorite of course. They don’t come out until they’re ready. Or hungry. But Flynn also loved to try and climb the fort we’d built in front of the television (to protect the cords) and sit on the top of the one of the recliners to inspect the art work on the walls. Oh, and he also loved The Big Bang Theory. He sat on his own little chair and watched the entire episode. Seriously. I have a picture!
For my part, I introduced him to carrots. Not the Bugs Bunny big ones, but the petite ones from our local grocery. He loved them too (still does according to my friend), and raspberries. And paper. His pellets had to be precisely placed under the hay or he would upend his bowl. Sometimes he did that anyway just to be funny. He fell into the small trash can and tried to leap a tall table in a single bound (not). And he hopped. And hopped, And hopped.
We survived the eleven days intact: Flynn got some good care, and I got a taste of what it would be like to have an animal in the house again. We lost Rascal almost two years ago and it was odd at first to share a room with a four-legged fireball. I loved it. I hope Flynn did too. That little brown hopper made me want to become a pet parent again. After I declutter the house.
Hello, my name is Maryann and I’m a bibliophile…sounds better than book addict, doesn’t it? Most of you already know this because you are bibliophiles too. I love to read: Mystery, Fiction, History, if it catches my eye I’ll give it a chance to pull me in. Doesn’t have to be a new book or a bestseller either. I’ve discovered new friends in many places, including used book stores (knew that was coming, didn’t you). Our library has one on its lower level. There’s one (across Wright Street in in our next door neighbor, Urbana) with the intriguing name of Priceless Books. Their shelves are filled floor to ceiling with every type of book you can imagine. Carts too with “newer arrivals” and oversized pictorials. It is easy to lose an hour or so craning your neck to scan the upper reaches of the store or bending down (ignoring the creakiness in your knees) in search of a book by Richard Russo (my friend found one of his, autographed) or finding a Tom Clancy previously unread, or coming eye to eye with an older biography of someone important. Theodore Roosevelt, Alan Turing, Helen Keller. Hardcover or paperback, it’s like exploring someone’s library. Priceless also carries used CDs and DVDs; mostly jazz and the classics but with a few surprises as well. And it breaks down the orchestra by instrument; woodwinds, brass, you get the idea.
The library bookstore (Friends of the Library) is not as extensive in quantity but just as much fun to browse. You must know your alphabet and their system of classifying some fiction as mystery and vice versa (or you may never find Kent Krueger) but each section has frequent new additions. I find something I hadn’t seen before every time. And the prices are definitely right. Last week $7.00 bought me two hardcovers in great condition, one trade paperback (self-published by someone whose other books I’ve read and enjoyed) and a paperback mystery that I had somehow missed. Color me a happy shopper.
What does this have to do with elderberry wine you might ask? My last book search occurred after visiting a local winery. Wyldewood specializes in elderberry wine and it’s darn good. Two friends and I went there for a tasting not knowing much about berry wines and were happy to find we enjoyed the semi-dry and semi- sweet versions of elderberry, cherry (tart) and blackberry wines. These are not your grandmother’s cordials, although Mae would insist that…along with a wee dram of single malt…elderberry wine is good for your health. Really. It’s all about the antioxidants these days and evidently both scotch and berries are brimming over with them. Who knew? Did we walk out with wine? Indeed. The winery also has several grape wines made from regional varietals, also quite tasty. And did I mention the cordial and dessert wines suitable for sipping or pouring over ice cream or trifle?
Now, all you need to do is connect the dots. Cold winter evening, a comfy chair (and throw if you need one), a new (used) book to read, and a glass of the wine of your choice. Elderberry anyone?
PS. Next time out, I’m introducing you to one of my favorite characters. The language is a bit rough and the setting a bit gritty but this character is a major part of one of the books I’m working on and I think you’ll find him fascinating. Intrigued? I hope so!
I may be a bit late welcoming in 2015 but I have a good excuse. I’m still in 2014! I still have presents to mail, and my cards will be New Year’s cards instead of Happy Holiday ones…all because I spent most of the last four weeks in “I don’t know what this is but I’m coughing, sneezing, and simply exhausted” limbo. NOT the dreaded flu….and I’m finally on the mend thanks to my MD and an antibiotic to kick ass on the bacteria. But while I made it to work…more because I knew other people were calling off than any rational decision…I had to parcel out baking and shopping and wrapping and shipping to bursts of energy. I did some shopping online as well (I love bill to—ship to, yes I do) but my tree didn’t go up until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was quietly spent in my jammies. So, here I am in January, getting the rest of the goodies ready to go and wondering if I sent in my deposit for the snow removal. It is what it is. And I’ll get caught up before February…then I can make my New Year’s Resolutions (another story altogether).
Despite all the angst above, I did reap one reward. I got to catch up on my reading. Or attempt to, anyway. Being a bookseller has its advantages but also one drawback. I seem to have a To Be Read pile that never really stops growing. Still, I made a temporary dent in the pile. Steve Berry’s Columbus Affair AND an ARC of his newest, The Patriot Threat (the latest in the Cotton Malone series with an intriguing premise) as well as Julie Hyzy’s latest Manor House Mystery are now read. If you get the chance, check them out….find the first in the series if you like. They’re all worth a read.
I also got the latest Anthony Horowitz. I had enjoyed his first take on Sherlock Holmes, The House of Silk, and the title of his second venture into Sherlock’s world, Moriarty, was too tempting to pass up, especially since it begins approximately one week after the infamous events at Reichenbach Falls. A body has been recovered from the waters below the falls; everything indicates that it is the corpse of James Moriarty. The local constable is unsure of just how to proceed until an American appears. Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton operative, claims the body may hold a clue about the criminal overlord he has been pursuing from New York. A Scotland Yard Inspector Anthelny Jones also arrives, his interest purely in retrieving Moriarty’s remains. Chase tells Jones of his belief that Moriarty may have been planning to meet with Charles Devereux, New York’s king of crime and the two of them search the dead man. Jones, an admirer of Sherlock Holmes and his methods, discovers a secret pocket in which there is a coded message. And the game is afoot.
Once decoded, the message sends Chase and Jones on a chase through London, discovering key people in Devereux’s scheme only to have them turn up dead. Jones’ office is bombed, causing the Inspector and Chase to become even more certain they are on the right track. Jones refuses to give up, despite his wife’s pleadings, as the two men get closer and closer to their prey. Who is Devereux and what does he really want with London now that Moriarty is dead?
Anthony Horowitz spins this tale with all the assurance of someone who loves all things Holmesian and builds suspense at every turn. His characters are intriguing in themselves….why is the Pinkerton agency so determined to discover (and possibly dispatch) Devereux? Is Jones truly a student of Holmes or a man who wants to prove he too can solve the unsolvable? And just who can be trusted? Twists and turns abound. And the reader dare not trust his own eyes. Even if you have not read House of Silk, Moriarty is a glorious way to introduce yourself to the work of Anthony Horowitz.
And how I must go do some errands and bake some cookies before the weather decides to join the party that is January. Mae is busy with Carnival Season in New Orleans. I’m working on a mystery set in 1942….as well as my Carstairs stories. Who knows what the next week will bring?
We all make promises, right? To ourselves, to friends, sometimes to people we don’t really know but somehow feel a connection to. And we make them for a variety of reasons. It would be lovely to think that making a promise is altruistic, that our motives are pure, and that we aren’t out for personal gain. That we intend to keep the promises we make is implied. A promise is a solemn vow to do something or act in a certain way in order to accomplish a particular goal. But what happens when promises are not kept?
Before we go any further, I should explain that this post comes to you courtesy of the off-cycle elections. In my state the candidates alternate between bashing their opponents and promising to do what they cannot possibly do without the cooperation of an entire corps of others. Governors can’t accomplish much if the legislative branch shoots them down every time. The legislative branch can’t accomplish much if there’s infighting or small groups intent on having their own way no matter what. It fairly boggles the mind to remember the promises made four years ago and realize that those promises are simply being recycled, not kept. Most of them anyway. It’s downright depressing to think that nothing has been accomplished in this state in the past four years. Of course things have been accomplished. Right?
That said, I voted before I left on my travels. It’s one thing I can do, and although there are those who say one vote doesn’t make a difference, my belief is that at some point they will be wrong. That someone will keep a promise made, no matter how small. That the people we elect will put the people they represent first and foremost when they take their oaths of office. Am I a dreamer? Of course…but it can happen. Think of that when you vote next week and think of your choices as promises in themselves.
And now, I’ll keep my promise regarding Mae. She’s on her way to resolving her latest mess…and then taking a rest as I spend November doing NaNoWriMo. Wish us both luck!
I’d like to tell you that everything went according to plan, and it did after a fashion, but not without some improvising on the part of yours truly and help from an unexpected quarter. My visit with Celine had not set well with Marie-Therese. On my return to the kitchen, she laid into me with a passion about neglecting my duties to cozy up to the young master, as if it would do me any good once the Mister found out my motives. For a brief moment I feared she’d found me out, but when she mentioned some mishmash about how her long years of service had made her immune to any “foreign takeover”, I realized she thought I wanted her job. I meekly assured her that was not the case and finished up my chores for the afternoon, hoping I could at least talk with Benard if I couldn’t revisit Celine before I left.That much I did accomplish. Benard reluctantly agreed to meet me at the cathedral to let me know if Cameron had agreed to Celine’s wish to visit Laura. Sylvain and I could then set the trap and hope our plan would work
It almost all went wrong from the start. Cam did indeed agree to Celine’s request and decided it should be a picnic as well. He arranged with Lisa to put together a basket of Celine’s favorite .foods and to add a thermos of jasmine tea for me. Celine, he said, had requested me to come in case she felt “weary” again. When Marie-Therese overheard the preparations, she promptly declared her intention to join us. Cameron was in no position to go against her wishes, especially as we had no real proof she intended harm to his wife, so our cozy party of four became one more. And I had no way to tell Sylvain. Benard and I could only hope for a miracle.
We left New Orleans by way of the I-10 but soon exited on to one of the many smaller roads that wind through the bayous. Celine wanted to see the country, not just cement and metal and Benard followed her wishes, despite Marie-Therese protesting that the drive would be shorter if we stayed on the interstate. Marie-Therese had commandeered the front seat next to Benard, leaving Cameron, Celine and me in the spacious rear of the car. While I wasn’t pleased with the idea, it did offer up an option for dealing with the Madame once we got to the meeting place, a small abandoned house just two miles from the plantation. It also meant I would need to stay behind. We were almost there when Benard started frowning, as if he heard something unpleasant.
“What is wrong, Benard?” Marie-Therese saw his expression and moved closer to him.
“Keep your seat belt on, Madame,” he growled. “The engine is skipping. Or so it sounds.” I looked past him to see our true destination just a few hundred feet down the road. “I…there. It’s getting worse. I think we may have…”and with that he hit the gas and then turned the key back to the off position, sending the vehicle rumbling into the high grass and almost ramming the railing on the sagging porch. “…a problem,” he finished. “You all right back there?”
“We are,” I answered. “Do we stay inside or get out of the car?”
and…” her voice faded as she saw two shabbily clad figures emerge from behind the house itself. “Who are you?”
“We’d best get out of the car, Mister Cameron,” Benard said, ignoring Madame’s question as the figures came closer. “I don’t see any weapons, but I don’t want us trapped inside just in case I’m wrong.” He got out from behind the wheel and motioned to us to leave by the doors farthest from the strangers.
“He’s right, sir, “I said as I slid the short distance to the door. “Just in case.” I nodded to Celine and was rewarded by a smile. She’d recognized her brother, and I was pleased to see Drum as his companion.
“Looks like y’all have a spot of ve-hicle trouble,” the taller of the two (Sylvain) drawled. “Kin we help? Maybe take y’all to the nearest phone?”
“We have a cell phone, thank you,” Marie-Therese scoffed. “Benard?” She held out her hand, only to have it swatted by my brother as Benard tried to pass it to her. The cell fell on the scraggly brush.
“No bars out here,” Sylvain said. He bent to pick it up, dropped it again, and then stepped on it. “My bad, y’all.” He grinned.
“I guess we’ll take you up on that phone,” Benard scowled. “How far?”
“Not very,” Sylvain said. “My cousin here will show you.” He motioned to Drum to lead us toward the house. “I’ll bring up the rear.” He ambled over to Marie-Therese. “Madame? After you.”
“In there?” Marie-Therese exclaimed. “You expect us to go in there?” She took two steps before falling to the ground, knocked out by the iron skillet Sylvain had liberated from his oversized coveralls.
“One down,” Drum announced.
“Explain yourselves,” Cameron said as he moved in front of Celine.
“This is my husband,” Celine said to Sylvain. “ Cameron, this is my brother Sylvain.”
“Which explains nothing,” Cameron said to her. “Including why my car suddenly dies right here on this country road. Someone had better tell me something I can believe, and soon.”
“More than happy to oblige, Mr. Rodrigue,” Sylvain answered, all business and no drawl. “If you and Celine will join me…” He indicated the interior of the house.
“It’s quite all right, Cameron my love. He’s here to save us. Please.” Celine took his arm and led him a few steps.
“I’ll listen, Cherie, for your sake, but this feels like a kidnap try and my father…”
“Hear me out, sir. Mae, perhaps you’d better come as well.”
“Mae? How does she…”
“Cameron, please. I promise you will understand once you hear it all.”
Unfortunately Benard was in no shape to answer, having been coshed by me with frying pan Sylvain had dropped on the grass. Well it was part of the plan.
“Five minutes of your time sir. But my sister leaves with me at the end of it, no matter what you decide. I won’t have her facing any more danger from your family than she has already.”
Cameron did not look convinced but the expression on his wife’s face was enough for him to grant Sylvain those five minutes. I went too, leaving Drummond to guard the unconscious Madame and cousin Benard.
I won’t bore you again with the details, except to add that Sylvain had the results from Marie-Therese’s soup. Old fashioned laudanum. Powerful and addictive but thankfully not given in enough potency to do more than case extreme lethargy. We’d caught it in time. It wasn’t much of a leap to plant the seed that Cameron’s mother might have been jealous enough of Celine’s beauty to enlist Marie-Therese to “solve” the problem. No proof of course, unless Benard could add that to his list of things to discover. Sadly, he would have to risk getting cozy with either the Missus or Marie-Therese to get any results, but that was for another day.
It took more than five minutes, but in the end, Cameron decided to leave with Celine. He’d been getting more and more unhappy with the turn his father’s business had taken but had hoped, untl this week, that the company was still a legal one. We never mentioned Benard’s role. Just in case. As for me, well I had the honor of being beaned with the frying pan just before Sylvain, Drummond, Celine and Cameron took off into the brush surrounding our meeting place. Like Benard, I had to go back.
We were a sorry sight when the largest of the Rodrigue vans found us. It was the GPS in Cameron’s car that finally led them to our location. By then, we’d all recovered from the frying pan bashing, my head plenty sore even though it was Marie-Therese who had the worst of it and sported two blackened eyes. She and Benard told their story to the Mister…and as a result I got fired. I didn’t fuss too much since the Mister gave me a week’s wages, but I got a few licks in against the Madame before I got myself gone and back to the loft by the river. Benard managed a message to me about Celine and Sylvain, but I didn’t see Sylvain himself. Drummond met me at the loft, his lovely eyes beaming at the adventure, but we agreed to pretend it never happened.
Life in The Big Easy went on, Thanksgiving nearer every day. Drummond and I stayed at the loft, hoping to see our landlord, but mostly just grateful we had a warm place for the winter. Most of my days were spent doing cleaning work by way of the parish. Drummond worked at keeping the church yard in shape, and getting his health back bit by bit. We had volunteered to help serve at the Thanksgiving dinner the church threw for those without any other place to give thanks and were busily setting up the trays and utensils when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“One minute and we’ll be done, Father,” I said as I turned to see Sylvain’s smiling face. “Well, I’ll be blessed, “I finished. “You are a welcome sight to these eyes.”
“As are you, Miss Mae.” He looked at the tables and chairs and baskets of bread and fruit . “I see you’re in the thick of it as usual.”
“Can you stay? How is your sister? I can set you a place at the table.”
“She’s just fine, Mae. So is he. They’re building a new life. Benard is, well…he’s still inside, but getting closer to the truth every day. He says “Hey”.”
“Better than ever. And I’d be glad to stay. Do you have room for two?”
“I brought an old friend.” He motioned to a shadowed figure, a big smile on his face.
“Morales!” My face felt suddenly hot.
“Mae!” He gave me a hug and nodded at Drummond. “I hear you’ve been getting in trouble again.”
“All his fault,” I said, glancing at Sylvain. “But it was fun while it lasted.”
So much to do. So little time.
I’m amazed. September is eight days away from being October and today is the first official day of autumn. Perhaps it’s because summer and fall have been tag-teaming each other for most of the past two months….hot and humid, cool and rainy, hot and rainy, cool and clear. Like frenetic frogs doing their infamous jumps and leaps over one another. Or it could simply be that I’ve been running around trying to balance job and home and writing and planning for travel and most of the other “real life” events that seem to be happening in clusters rather than in a straight line. “Take a number,” I say. But they don’t listen. And I can only multi-task so much…as for juggling, well…that’s another story altogether.
This morning is definitely a taste of autumn. Cool and crisp and a good night of sleep. The heat’s not on and the air conditioner is getting a breather. I’m going out to get apples at the local orchard; some for eating…think Honeycrisp…and some for baking. I hear Empire is a good choice so they’re on the list. And yes, I said baking…something about autumn triggers my desire to create…bread, cake, cookies, pies are all fair game. Bread dough rises quickly in a sunny window, the spices for pie and cookies waft through the air, and I remember some favorite recipes and find new ones as well. Fortunately Chuck doesn’t mind being a taster, and the people at work love brownies, banana bread, apple cake, and all cookies.
But really, this post is about how much can crowd our real life calendars and give us pause about handling everything and anything without losing something…or ourselves…along the way. I should be doing more writing, but I’ve been working more hours these days. My mornings at Biggby have been few and far between. October is a traveling month for me…what to pack, where to stay, and the sights to see all crowd into each other. New York is first…a quick three days and two plays, with whatever else can be done in between. Portland is easier. Should be anyway, but my daughter will tell you I start packing three weeks ahead of time. I’m getting better. Now I make a list, check the weather, and only pack the weekend before. I envy those who can pack for a week in a carry-on. No matter how I try, I seem to have more to pack each time. Is this normal?
NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month) is also on the agenda this year. It’s been suggested by someone who knows me all too well that I need to clear the cobwebs of my current work from my brain and focus on a totally new project for the month of November. She calls it organic writing….a challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days, no editing, just writing. Period. Because it’s a deadline, and I hate to fail to meet a deadline, I have to make time to write every single day no matter what. I have one month and eight days to figure out how to do just that. And get Mae and her partners in crime to the conclusion, for better or worse, of her latest adventure.
I handed Sylvain my contraband, explaining my suspicions as I did. His expression ran the gamut from disbelief to downright anger as I related what I’d seen Marie-Therese do in the kitchen as well as Celine and Cameron’s separate concerns for her health. He looked ready to storm the castle and damn the consequences. Not the best idea.
“I think I have a plan that could work.” It was out of my mouth before I even knew what came next. “But if it doesn’t, we won’t get another chance.” To tell the truth I was hoping Sylvain had already sketched out something in his mind and I would be off the hook. New Orleans was supposed to be a respite of sorts for me and Drum after the mess in Charles City, and yet…well, all I wanted to do was sit by the river and share the music and the sun with my brother until it was time to move on again.
“You know the situation better than I do, Mae.” Damn. I could feel the hook being set. “I’ll get this mug to a friend at the crime lab and see what they can find from the remains of the liquid. From what you’ve said Cameron doesn’t know anything about this, but someone in that house wants my little sister out of the way. Did you speak to Benard?”
“We met at St.Paul’s after I left the mansion. He’ll do what he can to keep an eye on Celine. I don’t think Cameron knows about the drugs, but Benard will check on that as well. You know your sister will refuse to leave without her husband, don’t you?” Might as well tell him now.
“Celine loves hard,” was all he said.
“Then we need to be sure of him. Benard is as close to him as anyone and he’s convinced the man loves your sister. After tonight, I am too. Almost. But you sent me in for Celine, so it’s your decision.”
Sylvain stared at the wall for a good minute before he nodded his head. “I have to trust you three. But Benard is the best one to handle Cameron Rodrigue. You and I will take care of Celine. Now,” he leaned toward me, his eyes fixed on mine, “what’s the plan and when do we start?” I sighed. It was almost sunrise before we made sure all the details seemed taken care of; no loose ends or threads that could trip us up or get us killed.
Putting things into motion was as simple as me getting on the streetcar and heading to work.
Sylvain was to take the mug to his friend and press him for some quick results. Drum would be kept busy at the church for as long as they could find work for him. Sylvain had promised me to talk to the priest and custodian so that was one less worry. I would manage to run into Benard as soon as possible and pass him a message detailing the plan. At least I think that’s what it was. Sylvain had managed to use a language I’d never seen before to communicate the details. For security, he said. Did I say simple?
From the moment I walked into the kitchen, things went sour.
“And just where have you been this morning, Miss Mae?” Marie-Therese was in high form.
“I was coming into work as usual, Madame,” I replied, sliding a glance toward Lisa, who shrugged her shoulders. “At my usual time. Is there something wrong?” Might as well find out how much trouble I was in.
“I distinctly recall informing you last evening that we needed an early start this morning. Our guests have been complaining that their meals have not been delivered to their rooms in a timely manner. Lisa cannot prepare and deliver by herself. If we did not need your services during this time, I would be quite pleased to dismiss you. Now put your things away and take those last trays upstairs.” She whirled out of the room, her heels clicking on the tile.
“Did I miss something, Lisa? Madame said nothing to me at all last evening. I assumed we’d be back to normal today.” I placed my coat and bag in the small closet and put on my apron. “Breakfasts in bed?”
“At the last moment, the Missus suggested it as an alternative for those who wished to sleep later. She did not inform Madame Marie until after the guests had gone into the library. Madame told me but you had already gone. Perhaps she forgot that.” Forgotten or not, her ego would insist I had made the error. She’d be eager to catch me in another and get rid of me, of that I was sure. Watching my back would be one more thing to carry. Shite.
“So which trays need the delivering?” I spotted several on the long worktable. “Those?”
“If you would take two, I can manage the other,” Lisa replied. “The one with the cranberry juice is for Mr. Adams. The plain water in the carafe is for Mr. Washington.” I took the two she’d mentioned and started for the rear stairs.
“We can take the service elevator, Mae.”
“We only use it on occasions when we have guests. It makes serving and cleaning up much easier. Did Madame Marie not mention this?”
“Perhaps I forgot,” I muttered, thinking of dragging the vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies up the stairs. And wondering if it went to the third floor.
After we’d taken the trays, collected those already outside the doors, and started the first load of dishes, I excused myself and went to look for Benard. Unfortunately I only encountered Madame again and manufactured an excuse for checking the rooms on the lower floor to see what needed cleaning after the prior evening’s dinner. She grudgingly gave me credit for the effort, so I asked after Benard.
“And why would that concern you, Miss Mae?” Suspicion ran fleetingly across her stern face. I had an answer, although she wouldn’t like it.
“I am working on the second floor, Madame, correct?” She nodded. “For some reason, when I am doing my job in those rooms, Benard feels the need to accost me and question my presence. I have no wish to be throttled by him as I change the bedding.” Given our first encounter, it was a reasonable response. Evidently Madame thought so as well.
“You have no need to worry, Miss Mae. Benard has been duly chastised for his…exuberance in his duties. In any case, he is otherwise engaged for most of the morning, so you have no worries.” As she moved away from me, I risked the question I really wanted to ask.
“And Missus Cameron? She is better after last night? I prayed for her.” Well I had, along with asking for help in getting this job done so this lot would disappear from my life.
“I’m sure she is, as I am sure she appreciates your concern. Now I have things to attend to and I believe you need to get started while our guests are out.” Out? Where? But Marie-Therese was gone.
I took the opportunity I’d been given…guests out of the way, no Benard to caution me, and the Madame safely working elsewhere…to do some meddling as I worked my way through the guest rooms. I didn’t find much, although a stray business card or two found its way into my apron pocket. The Master bedroom took longest, but it had the day before. Evidently wealth did not mean tidiness. As I put the books on the bedside table in a neat stack, I noted an address not far from where Drummond and I were staying. Not good news if someone were to see me near there. Not for Benard either if he paid another visit. Chanting the street and numbers like a mantra until I knew I could repeat them later, I hurried through the rest of the dusting and left the room.
My last stop was the bedroom Celine shared with Cameron. Neither was inside, so I changed the rumpled sheets and pillowcases and talked myself out of checking the armoire and dresser. We were helping these two, I hoped, and that meant trust. On both sides.
“I wondered where you were.” Benard’s voice came from the doorway.
“Ach, mon, air ye daft? Dinna ye ken now to knock?” I gave him the best glare I could despite my heart pounding in my ears.
“Dinna I what?”
“Never mind,” I said. “What do you want, Benard? I’m tryin’ to work here.” He nodded as though I’d said just the right thing. And then I knew why. Right behind him stood Marie-Therese. “Madame, I thought you told me he was…”
“I had to return to get something for Mr. Cameron.” Benard addressed his words to her rather than me. “And he asked me to have you keep Miss Mae here until Missus Cameron comes back from her appointments. It seems the young Missus has taken a liking to her.” I could tell by the look on Madame’s face that she was not pleased, but there was nothing to do but assure Benard I would be available whenever I was wanted.
“I’ll be happy to wait on Missus Cameron, but then I had better get the rest of my chores done and help Lisa with the kitchen work.” I smiled at Madame and left the two of them as quick as I could, hoping Benard would track me down soon. And that Madame would leave me alone.
I was finishing up the silverware when Benard came to fetch me.
“Missus Cameron is back and would like to see you,” he informed me, smiling at Lisa’s curious stare. “Make yourself presentable if you don’t mind.” The cheek of the man caused a flush on me own cheeks. “And, Lisa if you would make some tea and a light snack for Mae to take up when she goes?”
Ten minutes later, because I’d insisted on steeping the tea myself, we were on the elevator to the second floor.
“Make myself presentable? Do I look like I’ve been mucking about with the pigs?”
“Look, Mae. You and I are supposed to dislike each other. I’m just giving as good as you give me. Did you and Sylvain get a plan made?”
“Aye, we did. Your part is simple as it happens. The next time Celine and Cameron go outside these walls, you’ll be car-jacked.”
“Seriously? That’s the plan?”
“That’s all you need to know. There’s more to it than that, but you need what Sylvain calls deniable plausibility. You can’t tell what you don’t know. That way you can keep doing your job.”
“Or they’ll get rid of me. This business doesn’t tolerate mistakes.”
“That’s why you’ll be coshed.”
“Hit over the head from behind. By me. And I promise to make it count.” I gave him a wink and a smile as the elevator doors opened. “You’re a hard-headed lummox anyway.” We walked down the hallway toward Celine’s room in silence. It was the easiest plan, with the least risk to everyone involved. If we could pull it off. Celine and Cameron had to want to do this together or it was no good. And convincing Cameron was my job. I wanted the results of the soup sample to prove Celine was being drugged and that he needed to take her away from here and disappear for a while.
“Here with some tea for you, ma’am,” I said as Benard opened the door to her room.
“Mae!” A smile lit her face and again I could see how beautiful she was. “I wanted to thank you so much for helping me last night. Would you stay and talk with me while I eat? Benard will bring up the tray, won’t you, Benard? Ask Lisa to make her pudding and perhaps a salad and sandwich.” Benard could do no more than nod as he left us to do her bidding.
“I shouldn’t stay long, ma’am, since Madame will be looking for me.”
“Phfft on Madame,” Celine said. “You are my savior. I said so to Cameron last night.”
“You told him about the soup?” Too soon, I thought. I had no real proof.
“I did. But I also told him you wanted to make sure and not to say anything. Not to his brother, or anyone else.”
“Did you say anything else?” About Sylvain? Or leaving? This plan was morphing and I didn’t like it. Not one bit.
“I told him we needed to go out more, perhaps explore the city. Benard could drive us, and you could…” I could tell she was full of plans and had to stop her.
“Missus, I think you need to slow down a bit. Take things one step at a time. Get your strength…”
“Oh, Mae I am fine. Or I will be when I’m away from here. Cameron wants me to be happy, so he’ll do whatever I ask him. I know he will.”
To gain a moment to organize what I needed to say, I poured her a cup of the steaming jasmine tea I’d carried in a few minutes before and watched her sip from the cup. Then I began, keeping my voice low.
“Sylvain wants you to be away from here, Celine, and as quickly as possible. Cameron too if he will come but you are his main concern. Do you know your husband’s family business?”
“How could I not? He is in textile shipping. The meetings here are to expand the company, take on new investors. Why?”
“Your husband told you this?” If Cameron lied to her, we were in for a tough road.
“No. My sister-in-law told me before we were married. Cameron doesn’t want to talk about business with me. He says he wants to keep business away from personal. But right now he’s worried. And I want him to tell me. Is there something wrong, Mae? You seem to know things, and I…”
“You are just fine,” I said. “And I think your plans to go out more with your husband are a wonderful idea. And perhaps a way to get you both away from the business and the family. But I will need to talk with both of you. Is there sometime tomorrow we can all meet?”
“I will ask Cameron to take me for a drive toward Laura Plantation. It’s one of my favorite places, because the original Laura was Creole, just like me. I’ll ask that you come too. Marie-Therese will have to let you go when he tells her I want you for my companion so he and Benard can discuss business. Marie-Therese understands business.” I had the feeling Marie-Therese more than understood this business but kept that to myself.
“I would like that,” I said. Just then Benard returned with the tray from Lisa, and I made an excuse to get back to my duties, promising to return before I left for the day. By then Celine would have talked to Cameron and I could report back to Sylvain. Maybe we could kill two birds with one stone. Rescue Celine and give Benard some inside information at the same time. Maybe.
“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”
“Dance like nobody’s watching…” Good advice from Satchel Paige. “Life is a dance”, said Martha Graham, or if she didn’t she should have. Even Voltaire had thoughts on what dance means to life, but what none of them tell you is that the dance isn’t necessarily a waltz, or even one of those slow dances we all craved in high school; standing almost in one spot, swaying to the dulcet tones of the likes of Frankie Avalon, Elvis, Axl Rose, Styx…the generation doesn’t matter. The slow dance did.
Who knew that sometimes the dance of life is done in double-time, like the old quick-step we see on Dancing With the Stars…or in The Music Man. Buddy Hackett and partner whirling around the dance floor and collapsing at the end….glad to have done the dance but just as glad to stop and rest a bit before returning to a slower pace, perhaps a foxtrot.
I’ve been doin’ the quick-step almost non-stop these days. Summer is coming to a close, the population here has increased by around 30,000 with the arrival of a new school year at the local U, I’m working more hours than I have in months, and the days seem to morph into evenings before I notice. The ideas in my brain rattle around, colliding with the lists of things to do. Cloning myself would be lovely.
Frustration over things I can’t control only makes me dance faster, hoping that someone will take action while I whirl around the floor. Worrying about what I can control gets in the way of solutions. Sometimes, anyway. I’m querying one mystery, working on a second, filing rejections, re-reading my query letter, trying to imagine a two paragraph synopsis when I’m fortunate to have condensed my plot to one page, and of course being witty and readable on this blog. I don’t ask too much of myself, do I? And did I mention my day job?
Play no little violins for me though. Like most people fortunate enough to have choices, I make mine and dance to the music they create. Would I give up my writing and the pleasure it gives me? No. Creating stories feeds my soul. Would I give up that day job? Again, no. Helping people find books, music, even movies that touch their hearts is something I relish. Sharing the things I love gives me joy. Oh…and the paycheck is nice as well, especially for those little perks like travel, plays, and books of my own. Will I stop complaining? Probably not. I’m human. Will I keep dancing? Indeed. As long as my feet don’t fail me and I can hear the melody.
Mae dances too, as we saw when she joined that Second Line. She’s probably out there right now. But she’ll be back. Until then, why not take Satchel Paige’s advice and do a step or two? There’s music if you choose to hear it.
“And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon.”
― Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat