This vintage illustration of a “Queen of the May” from a bygone day immediately made me think of Daisy, “the dainty dish” mentioned in our previous episode. She has the ethereal beauty of a romantic heroine. The image popped up in a timely way too, because the ingredients for today’s episode were provided by a dear friend who is a romance writer.
Yes, author sent this set of ingredients. She has so many books both published and in-progress that I lose count. (Do you hear a bit of awe in my voice?) One of my favorites is called Cowboy Boss and his Destiny. I hope you’ll visit Mary’s site and learn more about her books.
In an unrelated aside, those of you who know me well, are aware that something (in my non-blogging life) didn’t go as I had hoped this week. I’m still in search of a path to a dream… and as usual, wandering the dark forest of life without a flashlight! 🙂
However, maybe this episode will shed some light on the mysteries that all of your ingredients have facilitated. This is a true “panster” story — each ingredient gives a glimmer to light the path the serial takes. Remember that you are welcome to leave “three ingredients” for a future episode in the comments.
Will Pip and Granny Fanny get a chance to see what’s in that safe behind the painting of the late Daisy? Or will that bossy butler, Mr. Farceur, stick his nose into things again? Is it just a coincidence that that his name seems to mean “Joker” — the same as one of the gangster code names? Maybe we’ll find out today. This episode will provide something of a recap of the several mysteries that have to be worked out before the storyline ends.
22. Black Olives, Mascarpone, Thyme
I shivered from a sudden chill, and I felt queasy too. As I lay on the rug, pretending unconsciousness in case anyone else happened to look, a few things went through my mind. First I realized the sad look in the eyes of the Daisy in the portrait was the same expression I had seen earlier that day — but those melancholy eyes had belonged to Daisy the young seamstress at Eunice’s Uniforms. And she had used the phrase “dainty dish” as well. It was just too much to be a coincidence… Wasn’t it? The cold sensation ran down my spine again.
Granny had told me to fake a swoon, as an excuse for us being in the off-limits library. However, after I thought about it, I hadn’t heard anybody except that bossy major domo, Mr. Farceur, say it was forbidden. If my name had been Alice, and I had gone “through the looking glass” I would have described the butler as curiouser and curiouser. Since I my prone position gave me a close-up view of the luxurious Persian rug, I kept an eye out for blue caterpillars and door mice, just in case.
The sound of a woman’s shoes clicking on the parquet floor just outside interrupted my whimsy. Before he stalked out of the room, the butler sent for Hortense Houston, the housekeeper, so that would be her. I hoped she wasn’t suspicious. I also hoped that I got another chance to see what was behind the painting of Daisy the Dainty Dish. Surely it must hide a safe, maybe the safe where the King of Clubs kept the incriminating ledgers that Marshal Myrick suspected were somewhere in the huge house.
Cracking one eye open I could see the tall painting behind the massive desk. It was of the man who made the fortune that allowed the beautiful estate to flourish, Henry Kingston. Both my eyes popped wide open. Henry Kingston! Until that moment, I had been unable to remember the name of our host — Henry Kingston III. Then I remembered that I was supposed to be unconscious and shut my peepers tightly.
However, the King of Clubs didn’t necessarily have to be Henry Kingston. Earlier, Alastair said everybody called the man in the portrait “the king,” but that was maybe a hundred years ago. I figured that it was most likely that the current Kingston was the King of Clubs, but I was trying to keep an open mind.
My memory flashed to the unexpected radio transmission Hank picked up. Oh, that was good, I thought. Had another hole in my memory just been filled? I remembered the voice of the Joker, but with the imperfect quality of the sound coming over the radio, I still couldn’t be sure if it had been Farceur’s voice. It might have been his voice… But it could have been someone else’s too. I sighed, and Granny whispered “Stay down.”
I wished the other holes in my memory would suddenly and miraculously heal. A few things had come back to me since I was attacked and drugged at the Queen of Clubs Herb Farm out at Wetson’s Mill, but nothing about that day. Not who attacked me; not what I might have seen on my way to the farm; not even what I had for breakfast that morning. The entire day was a blank.
Seeing me sprawled on the floor, the housekeeper exclaimed, “Oh my heavens!” as she walked into the library, carrying the smelling salts. Granny assured Mrs. Houston that I would be fine, that it was just a little bout of the vapors. Honestly — as if I were some shrinking violet… The vapors, Granny? Applesauce!
“Paisley dear, can you hear me?” Granny asked, and I knew she was warning me to keep up the act. Then I heard her open the little bottle of smelling salts and she waived the noxious potion under my nose. I thought the smell would take off the top of my head, but at that moment it wasn’t much of a challenge for me to act bewildered and woozy.
While I pretended to struggle into consciousness, I chanced a look at Hortense Houston. She seemed to be a kind hearted woman. Her brunette hair was tied into a neat bun. She had the darkest eyes I’d ever seen, like shining black olives, but there was compassion in her gaze.
While Granny Fanny waived the bottle at me again (which by the way was just plain mean) the housekeeper walked to a gleaming brass bar set that was in the corner of the room. She picked up a crystal decanter and poured some water onto a white linen napkin and told me to hold it under my chin if I felt nauseas. Then she and Granny knowingly exchanged a few words of wisdom about me and my delicate constitution. Then the housekeeper went back about her business. She wasn’t concerned about leaving us in the room the way Mr. Farceur was.
Anyhow, the faint may have been faked, but I honestly did feel a little wobbly. So I was grateful for Granny’s arm around me as she steered me out of the study.
“It might be a while before we’re able to get back in there,” Granny Fanny whispered and I nodded silently.
Alastair was arranging an assortment of Italian cheeses on one of several tables that would soon be laden with delicious food from Granny Fanny’s Goodies. Wong’s Chinese was Alastair’s family restaurant, but he had a broad knowledge of cuisine that extended far beyond Chinese food. He was expecting a slow night, so he left the running of his own establishment in the capable hands of his immediate family and was helping Granny Fanny with the big reception, her first significant catering job.
His attention was fixed on making an artful presentation, and he barely glanced up when we came into the room. “Miss Fanny, should we put out any serving utensils for spreading the mascarpone?” Alastair asked, but then concern painted his face when he took in my appearance. “Pip? Are you sure you’re okay? Here, let me make a plate for you. I remember that you liked the mascarpone,” the young restaurateur offered.
I shook my head — cheese in my queasy stomach did not seem like a good idea. I assured Alastair that I’d be fine, but I needed to sit down for a minute. He was quick about pulling around a chair for me. Before I knew it, he took the white linen napkin from me and folded around a bit of ice. I held it under my chin, and started to feel better. Then Granny handed me some hot tea with honey and told me to just sit still for a while.
Even before I drank the tea I started to feel more like myself. In fact, I felt minutely better the moment I left Kingston’s library. I stared at the closed door to the room with a mix of accusation and suspicion. I had begun to feel chilled and nauseas the minute I walked into that room.
The sound of the doorbell drew my focus down a long marble floored hallway. The polished surface reflected light from the sconces on the walls in a way that dazzled my eyes. Tall and trim, Mr. Farceur was dressed in a perfectly tailored black tailcoat. He was the embodiment of confidence and elegance as he strode to the door.
The butler exchanged a greeting with an obviously wealthy man and woman. The man wore a tuxedo and the woman’s glad rags were to die for. She wore jewels in her hair that were doubtless custom made. Light from the sconces glittered the yellow-green peridot stones as her head moved, and long fringe at the hem of her chartreuse flapper gown swayed as she walked. She responded in giggling delight to some compliment that I didn’t quite hear from the major domo.
I did a double take at his next words. He ushered in another man with a very respectful bow. I didn’t see him do that with the rich guy. “Bishop Binghamton,” he said. “You honor us with your presence. Won’t you please come inside?”
I leaned so far forward in my chair that I nearly fell out of it. The Bishop was a dead ringer for Byron Binghamton, the owner of Binghamton’s Bijou theatre! The theatre was where all the intrigue began. When I first got to Savannah, Cracker the parrot’s owner, Cracker Jack Daddy, turned up dead at the Bijou, with cilantro all over his shoes. Was this the Bishop mentioned by the Joker during that radio transmission?
Alastair deftly sliced goat cheese I had prepared with thyme, peppercorns, and lemon oil. I was comfortable with that part of the event preparation — it was something I couldn’t burn! My eyes followed Alastair’s quick hands, but my mind was still back in the library with the old portrait of a woman who was the spitting image of a girl I met mere hours earlier.
Was the Daisy I met somehow involved in Marshal Myrick’s sting plan? Perhaps she was working secretly and he did not mention her to Granny. Or maybe somebody told me about it, and that was one of the holes in my memory… The continued partial amnesia was maddening!
I tried to let go of that baffling part of the puzzle and focused on the other bits. In my mind’s eye, I spread the clues out like jigsaw pieces, irregular pointy edges and all. I realized that most of the clues came from Cracker the parrot, except for the warnings on the playing cards.
First there was “fourandtwenty,” the phrase Cracker repeated with such excitement — and the address of the shindig was 420 Kingston Lane. Then the parrot came up with the term “dainty dish,” which went with the portrait that concealed something, presumably a safe.
I tried not to think about the other mystery, of the Daisy I met that day being so similar to the woman in the portrait. Maybe she was a relative. Didn’t they say the simplest answer was usually the correct one? I forced myself to let go of that line of thought.
Another phrase Cracker spoke was “Joker’s wild.” I thought about the way the parrot acted when she repeated those words. I was certain that whoever the Joker was, Cracker did not care for that person at all. And I was pretty sure the very unpleasant Mr. Farceur’s name meant joker.
Then I pondered the playing card code names of the bootlegger gang. We knew Queenie Wetson was the Queen of Clubs. Maybe Farceur was the Joker. I still didn’t know exactly who the King of Clubs was, but it seemed likely that he was the host of the big reception and the owner of the big house in which it was held. A needling thought reminded me that I had no evidence of that. For all I knew the “king” was the husband of the “queen.”
My thoughts turned to that day at the Vales’ when the antics of Cracker and Cotton the poodle jostled the settings on the radio, inadvertently allowing us to realize the gangsters were spying on the police. The man told Eight and Five to pick up Bishop and Nine. I didn’t know who those bootleggers were, but I was sure it meant there were at least four more bad guys in addition to the King of Clubs, somewhere inside that house for the party. Also, I had a strong hunch that Queenie Wetson, the Queen of Clubs, would not be able to resist the fancy shindig, and the men on the radio were more afraid of her than they were of anybody!
But wait… the Bishop wasn’t a playing card. That jigsaw piece didn’t fit the puzzle I was working. I gave up that line of thinking for the moment. I wondered if the rest of the nursery rhyme had any part in what was happening. The words ran through my mind again. Wasn’t there something about King Henry VIII and the Dissolution of Monasteries?
And the maid… Could that somehow be tied to Daisy the Dainty Dish? The local story had it that she was given to “the King” as payment for a gambling debt. The nursery rhyme said,
“The maid was in the garden; Hanging out the clothes; When down came a blackbird; And pecked off her nose.”
I had read that the blackbird taking the maid’s nose was seen as a demon stealing her soul. I thought of the sad look in the eyes of the woman in the portrait and the girl in the shop. Another chill went down my spine.
Granny had said that there was no telling when we’d get a chance to sneak into the library again. Considering how busy she was right then, there was no wonder she’d said that. Granny moved quickly and gracefully among half a dozen food-laden tables, and back and forth from the kitchen, sometimes stopping to consult with Hortense the housekeeper.
Alastair moved skillfully, with very little direction from Granny. Hank, with his henna treated red hair… well, Hank was working really hard, but I didn’t think he’d have much of a future in catering. When he glanced at me he knocked a small silver serving plate off the table. The plate landed on its edge and rolled several feet before disappearing beneath another table. Hank ducked halfway under the table in pursuit of the plate.
Yes, Granny was too busy to do anything else. However, Farceur was also busy ushering in one important group of guests after another. He was even busier than Granny. I noticed my grandmother follow the housekeeper to the kitchen. I took a surreptitious look at the closed library door and I thought I heard the unmistakable “knock of opportunity.” When the bossy butler moved fluidly to answer the door again, I walked nonchalantly to the library and slipped inside, softly closing the door behind me.
The painting drew me right away, just as it had the first time I saw it. I would have been drawn to the portrait even if I had not felt the lever beneath the edge of the frame a short time earlier. There was just something about it that compelled me to look into the sad eyes of the Dainty Dish.
My hand lifted as if of its own volition and touched the canvas. I shook my head, feeling almost like I had drifted off into a dream. I moved my hand to the edge of the frame where I felt something earlier. A moment later my finger came to the small lever. Just as I was about to press it, I heard a muffled thud followed by a clanging crash that must have been the large serving tray. Mumbled apologies were overrun by the angry voice of Mr. Farceur. Bless Hank! He had been watching out for me again.
I darted to the closest concealment, the massive desk. I moved the chair the tiniest bit so I could tuck myself out of sight. The trouble was — I couldn’t see a thing! At the sound of the door opening, I held my breath. Footfalls softened by the thick Persian rug, came surely across the room. I knew it was the butler without looking, just by the confidence of his step.
At first it seemed like he was heading straight for the desk; and I was sure I’d been found out. However, he didn’t seem to know I was in the room after all. Farceur angled away toward the French doors that could open to the moonlit terrace. When he didn’t open the doors I thought maybe he was going to draw the drapes. My ears strained to hear, but there was no sound from the draperies.
It was hard to resist the temptation to peep out from my hiding place, but I knew the butler was far too alert for me to risk being seen. A moment later I heard a soft click, followed by the sounds of subtle movements I couldn’t identify. I was sure he had moved the painting of the late Daisy Kingston, the second wife of “the King.”
I heard the sound of paper moving, like the pages of a book turning. Various other low noises reached my ears, and finally another soft click. Farceur moved rapidly across the large room. I heard party sounds as he opened the door. Then he closed it behind him. Or did he?
With a shiver I stopped in mid motion. I was about to crawl out from under the desk, but what if he was still in the room. What if he was sneaking back across the room and to the desk right then? I froze in such an odd position that I didn’t think I could stay that way a moment longer. I was getting cramps in one of my legs, and an especially painful one in my neck.
When the sounds of the party told me that he had opened the library door a second time, in the distance I also heard the doorbell. I was sure Farceur would leave to answer it, but when the door closed, I was still afraid to crawl out of my hiding place. By then, the cramp in my leg was so bad that I wasn’t sure I could move anyway.
As I eased out inch by inch, the desk still concealed me from most of the room. I paused, still on hands and knees. Maybe I could see part of the room reflected in the terrace doors. Unfortunately, there was enough light from numerous fairy lights outside that I couldn’t tell much from the reflections on the glass. While I hesitated, looking outside I thought I saw a bright flash of color. I watched for a moment, but I didn’t see anything else. Maybe it was a trick of the light. Then I remembered overhearing someone mention fireworks. Maybe they tested one.
I hazarded a quick peep around the corner of the massive desk. It looked like I was alone. I was about to stand up when movement from outside caused me to duck under the desk again.
My heart was about to beat out of my chest when I heard the sound. It was sharp, but not loud. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap. Tap-tap. Wide-eyed and halfway to panic I stuck my head out and peered at the French doors. There was one more tap, and I beheld Cracker the parrot on the other side of the French doors. She fluttered her wings and turned in a waddling circle, bobbed her head once, then gave me with what seemed like a conspiratorial wink!
“Dainty dish,” she chirped so softly that I barely heard her through the glass. Then the parrot shook her foot and in a louder pitch she called, “Joker’s wild!”
Recipe: Goat Cheese with Thyme, Peppercorns, and Lemon Oil
Recipe credit: Epicurious.com
Total Time: 15 min
Calories: One serving (without baguette) contains the following: 134.12 Calories (kcal)
• 1 (5.5-ounce) log soft mild goat cheese
• 1 teaspoon pink peppercorns or peppercorn mélange, cracked
• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
• ½ small garlic clove, pressed (optional)
• Sliced baguette (toasted, if desired)
Pink peppercorns and peppercorn mélange (a mixture of black, pink, green, and white peppercorns) are available at many supermarkets
Place cheese on plate; using plastic wrap as aid, shape into 5-inch round. Sprinkle with salt, peppercorns, and thyme, and press into cheese. Mix olive oil, lemon peel, and garlic, if desired, in small bowl. Pour over cheese. Serve with baguette.
Copyright © 2014 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
Photos and images courtesy of Pinterest unless otherwise stated.