I hope everyone had a wonderful week. The characters in our 1920’s story might have been worried though. The “ingredients cupboards” are bare! The main idea behind this serial is to involve you readers, via the food-related things (the ingredients) you send. Now, you wouldn’t want Granny Fanny to worry, or Cracker to stop getting into trouble would you? So I hope you’ll send ingredients. Anyone is welcome to leave three ingredients in a comment.
Also, you can do catch-up reading at the serial’s homepage. Just click on the button at the top of this page.
You might be expecting the fancy shindig Granny is catering to be the climax of this storyline. So am I — but I’m depending on the ingredients you all send to take us there. We’re closing in on it, but this episode reveals an unexpected layer to the culinary mystery. I hope you enjoy it. Bon appétit!
21. Lettuce, Beet, Stew
Cinnamon Bun nibbled at a piece of lettuce. I wondered absently where the huge bunny had gotten it. Granny Fanny looked over my shoulder at the Joker playing card in my trembling hand and read the warning aloud.
Just then Alastair and Hank stepped up to the porch, having loaded the ice filled tubs of dandelion and burdock onto the young restaurateur’s truck. One of Alastair’s eyebrows climbed nearly to his hairline. He knew about the warning card that was found on me back at Wetson’s Mill.
Hank still looked uncomfortable with his henna treated red hair. He took the card from me, murmuring something about evidence. I reached to take it back and the sleeve of my white jacket tore free at the shoulder. Granny took the card from Hank and discretely put it away. Then she looked at my brand new uniform.
“Humph… That seam wasn’t properly sewed. It was only basted. Paisley, there’s still time if you’re quick about it. Take my Model-T and get whoever is at Eunice’s Uniforms to stitch that back up, and check all the other seams while they’re at it,” she said. Then she glanced at the black crepe trousers and said, “Make sure they check the pants too.”
My cheeks turned beet red at the thought of my trousers coming apart in the middle of the ritzy event we were about to cater. Without any hesitation, I hurried to the cherished automobile with its brightly painted yellow spoke wheels. The fact that Granny was willing to trust me with her car was proof that she was determined to do her first big catering job well. Or maybe it was confirmation that she still meant to carryout the sting operation that originated with Marshal Moses Myrick. If I were to be truthful with myself I’d have to admit that I was more than a little worried about the dangers involved in busting a bootlegger kingpin who was already behind the killing of the marshal’s men and God knew how many other people.
I said that I did, and waived cheerily as the Model-T puttered onto the road.
Moments later I pulled up in front of a little shop in an historic part of Savannah, not far from River Street. I knocked on the door but no one answered. Maybe Eunice, or whoever was minding the shop for her, had gone out for a quick errand. I bounced on the toes of my feet, feeling anxious and rushed. Granny would skin me if I didn’t get that jacket fixed. Well, okay, maybe not, but she’d surely be upset at the situation.
An unexpected cold breeze ruffled my bobbed hair. When the chill went down my back, I almost wished I still had my long hair. I shaded my eyes from the glare on the shop window and tried to see inside, wondering if I was being rude to peep into it like that.
While I didn’t exactly see anybody I did see movement inside the shop. I knocked again, and still no one came. I was sure someone was there. Maybe they had moved to the back of the shop and didn’t hear my knock. I placed my hand on the brass doorknob and it gave before I even turned it, as if the door had not been pulled all the way closed.
Leaning into the front room I called out, “Anyone here?”
In a jiffy, a girl who looked about my age came from the back of the shop. She had a bright bandana died around her hair, and she was dressed in men’s clothes. It was called the tomboy look. Even Margaret Mitchell was doing it, but Granny got upset if I wore menswear for anything but gardening. That’s why I had been so pleasantly surprised by her modern choice of uniforms for the catering business. Though I realized their design was modified and cut for a woman, unlike the rather sloppy looking tomboy style.
“Can I help you miss?” she asked with a warm smile.
I introduced myself and she said she was called Daisy. Then I explained about the uniform.
“It might be a little while before Miss Eunice gets back. I’d be pleased to help you if that’s alright? Being as you’re pressed for time,” Daisy said glancing down shyly.
That was a great relief to me and I told her I’d be delighted to have her help. So Daisy led me to the back of the shop. She handed me a robe and motioned to a hand painted silk screen that I could change behind. She made a quick but thorough inspection of the seams in the trousers, pronouncing them to be of fine workmanship. Then she went about stitching the sleeve back onto the white tuxedo jacket. By the time I got changed back into the pants, she was already half finished with her work. The hand cranked Singer sewing machine hummed as she worked. The needle and thread moved so quickly that it was an amazing thing to watch. In a moment she helped me into the jacket.
As Daisy carefully inspected the fit of the shoulder seams, her smile got even brighter. I could tell she liked the uniform. I commented on my amazement that Granny chose the style. Daisy nodded her understanding. A sad expression shadowed her eyes, though the smile didn’t falter.
“Yes, Miss. It’s dangerous to be a girl out and about. Too many men think you’re a dainty dish free for the taking. I feel a lot safer when I wear men’s clothes,” Daisy confided as the clock in the front room chimed the quarter hour.
“Yes, Miss. But I’m no woman of easy virtue,” she added looking suddenly fearful.
I hastened to reassure her that no one would ever think such a thing of her. It would have been nice to sit and talk with another girl — someone my own age, but the sound of the clock reminded me that I had to hurry. I thanked Daisy and regretfully said goodbye.
As I got back into the Model-T, Eunice called out to me. She quickened her step on the sidewalk. “Hold your horses! I’m back now,” she said looking a little annoyed.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “A seam broke in my jacket but Daisy took care of it,” I said as I put the automobile into gear. I didn’t mean to be abrupt, but I really had to hurry, so I wasn’t paying much attention to what she said.
“Who?” Eunice asked, looking confused.
“No worries,” I said pulling out onto the street. “She did a fine job!” I called, and a backward glance showed Eunice standing with a fist on her hip and her head tilted in consternation.
Minutes later I was taking the Model-T up a long and winding drive. Far below I could see the Savannah River glitter in the afternoon sun. What a view those big wigs must have! I forced my mind back to business and kept driving. Granny Fanny met me at the side entrance of 420 Kingston Lane. As she led me inside the grand home she admired the workmanship of the tuxedo jacket. She asked if Eunice made any complaint, commenting on the occasional grumpiness of the seamstress.
“I only saw Eunice as I was leaving. Her assistant, Daisy, took care of the repair,” I informed Granny.
“Paisley,” she began with my given name again. That told me she was feeling stressed. “There’s something sticking out of your pocket. Make sure it’s tucked away.”
“But I don’t have anything in my pocket,” I said with a sudden sense of déjà vu as my fingers touched a folded slip of paper. I removed it from my jacket and was relieved to see that it was only a receipt from Eunice’s Uniforms. However, when I unfolded the paper I recognized the handwriting as a match for the warnings on the playing cards. The front of the receipt said “No charge.”
Could the young seamstress be the person leaving the warning cards? It was beginning to seem impossible for one person to have been in all the places where the playing cards had been left. If Daisy was doing it, then maybe she wasn’t working alone. How else could she manage to be in so many places?
I turned the receipt to look at the reverse side of the paper. The words on the back made me gasp.
Suddenly I felt dizzy. I must have looked frightful too, because Granny took my elbow and pulled me into the next room. The next thing I knew, Granny had put me in a big leather chair and pushed my head down between my knees. A moment later I looked up to see Hank and Alastair staring down at me in concern.
We were in a big office room, or maybe rich people would call it a library. French doors opened onto a terrace and a view of the Savannah River. I looked around at the beautifully appointed room. One wall was covered with book shelves from the floor to the high ceiling. The other walls were paneled with expensive burled wood. A massive desk dominated the room. It was polished so well that the gas lamps reflected on the surface.
Behind the desk hung a tall painting of a regal looking man with a touch of gray at his temples. There was something familiar about his face, but he couldn’t be anyone I had met because the style of his elegant clothes told me the painting was about a hundred years old. I stared at the picture, trying to figure out what was so familiar about the face.
Alastair quietly moved behind my chair and it startled me when he spoke. “I remember my great-grandfather saying they called him ‘the king.’ He controlled most of Savannah at one point.”
I got up so I could take a closer look at the painting. Hank pushed past Alastair and took my elbow as if he was afraid I might fall over or something. Ordinarily that would have annoyed me, but I was too preoccupied by the painting and the half remembered thoughts that I was trying super hard to pull together. It was as if I could almost touch a memory, but it kept slipping through my grasp. I wondered again just how much I had forgotten when I was attacked and drugged back at Wetson’s Mill.
Several other paintings and photographs adorned the walls. Another portrait caught my eye. I pulled free of Hank’s grasp. He made a surprised, indignant noise. Let him stew about that if he wanted. Colors of grass and sky were worked into the background of the painting. The artist showed a beautiful dark haired young woman with a simple white daisy in her hand. Her eyes held a sad expression. I moved closer to the portrait.
“Daisy…” I whispered in awe, reading aloud the name on a brass plaque beneath the portrait.
Alastair shouldered Hank aside and continued his account of the paintings. “Yes,” Alastair said. “Nobody was dumb enough to say it in front of ‘the King’ but she was known as ‘the dainty dish.’ Rumors said she was given to him as a payment for a gambling debt, but he fell madly in love with her. Daisy died mysteriously. There must be half a dozen stories about how she died, and none of them match or make much sense.”
No wonder there was such sadness in her eyes, I thought. To be given as a payment? Like property? I couldn’t imagine what that had been like for her, even if the rich man had fallen in love with her. The eyes in the portrait held mine in an almost hypnotic way. I forced myself to look away.
I had thought Cracker the parrot was calling me “dainty dish,” but I started to wonder what the extraordinary bird had on her mind. The headache that plagued me on and off ever since the attack, came back with a vengeance. I put my fingers to my throbbing temples.
“What’s the old nursery rhyme?” I asked, causing everyone to think I’d lost my marbles with that apparently sudden and incomprehensible subject change.
“Sing a song of sixpence. A pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds. Baked in a pie. When the pie was opened. The birds began to sing. Wasn’t that a dainty dish. To set before the king?”
I looked at the bewildered faces surrounding me. I plunged ahead with the rhyme.
“The king was in his counting house. Counting out his money. The queen was in the parlor. Eating bread and honey. The maid was in the garden. Hanging out the clothes. When down came a blackbird. And pecked off her nose.”
I’d probably be lucky if they didn’t lock me up in the lunatic asylum, judging by their expressions. But they probably forgot all about me acting oddly when the mean faced major domo walked in, acting like he might huff and puff and blow us all out into the river.
He demanded to know what we were doing in that room. His tone and manner were enough to make the boys and me jump and start babbling. However, Granny Fanny looked up at the gruff man and tilted her head slightly to one side as if studying an insect. Then she spoke in a tone every bit as chilly as his.
“My granddaughter became faint. Sit back down, dear before you knees buckle again,” she told me sharply before turning back to the major domo. “Would you kindly bring some smelling salts,” she said in a firm statement, not a question. Then she turned to Hank and Alastair and told them to get back to work.
“There are salts in the kitchen. You can ask the housekeeper for them,” he said in a haughty voice that more than implied that he would not take orders from her. Then he turned on his heel and walked out with his nose in the air. He turned back just long enough to snap at us. “I suggest you regain your composure quickly, young woman, and do not go into this room again.”
Granny wriggled her eyebrows at his back and then winked at me. My eyes strayed back to the portrait of Daisy, “the dainty dish.” Then my thoughts went to something that had been troubling me, one of those gaps in my memory.
“Evidence,” Granny summed it up in one word. “He said ‘the King of Clubs’ keeps meticulous records and he was sure they were hidden somewhere in this house. Probably in a safe,” she said.
I moved wordlessly to the portrait of the young woman. Heaven knows how I could feel so sure, but I was. My fingers traveled along just beneath the edges of the intricately carved frame. I felt something and pressed. The picture moved slightly I was sure it would swing back on hinges if I pushed.
However I pushed it back into place when I heard a noise just outside the room. It sounded like a bit of a scuffle. I heard Hank’s voice making a profuse apology and the gruff voice of the major domo who muttered something like, “Red headed buffoon!” I could see my friend through the partially opened door, and he gave me a significant look. Whatever had happened, Hank had done it on purpose to warn us.
Granny Fanny whispered. “Fake a swoon. Now!” she hissed insistently, and I obediently sagged to the sumptuous Persian rug on which we stood.
With caution I cracked one eye open, just a hair. He haughtily strutted to the big desk and picked up a house phone. Even his breath sounded impatient and domineering as he waited for someone to answer. Then I heard a woman’s voice from the other end. He told her to bring some smelling salts, pronto. “Yes Mr. Farceur. Right away sir,” the voice said.
I saw Granny’s expression shift as if in sudden comprehension. But I had to close my eyes because he turned toward me. Mr. Farceur bent over me with a distasteful expression on his face. Yes, my eyes were shut, just like I said. But I knew what look was on his face, just the same. You could practically hear the look on his face. He sniffed disdainfully.
My mind worked furiously. There was something about his name. It was French. I had some French lessons when I was younger, but I didn’t learn the language very well. Farceur… Applesauce! Didn’t that mean joker? As in “Joker’s wild?”
The memory of Cracker excitedly repeating that phrase rattled me so badly that I nearly sat up and opened my eyes. I managed to control myself except for one little twitch. Fortunately that spasm seemed to convince the major domo of the honesty of my faint and he strode out of the room.
As I sat up, I suddenly felt icily cold. I shivered and wondered if maybe something really was wrong with me.
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Copyright © 2014 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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