It came as a very pleasant surprise when CB sent the ingredients for today’s episode. CB is new to the blogosphere. That information was unexpected, because I think “Better Dressed than Joe” is a great blog, with posts that are quick, evocative, and charming — and delightful sketches too. It’s not something I’d expect from a beginner. I especially liked the “Fox” sketch, and I thought it was appropriate to this episode! So before you read today’s spot, check out Better Dressed than Joe.
You can do catch-up reading at the page where this story lives, The Three Ingredients Serial Homepage. Just click the button at the top of this page. Also there are a lot of online resources for 1920’s slang if some of the lingo stumps you.
The animal characters have played such a fun part in this storyline that I’m happy to have the chance to feature all of them. I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing. Bon appétit!
24. Aubergine, Thyme, Red Pepper
That bossy butler, Mr. Farceur, put a nervous idea into my head when he suggested that it would be best if Queenie Wetson didn’t see me. I had a bad feeling that he was wright. After all, I had been drugged and hit over the head, and woke up in a cellar at the mill and herb farm owned by the Queen of Clubs and her husband. I couldn’t remember anything about that day, so for all I knew Queenie Wetson was behind the attack on me.
So I worked mostly in the kitchen, getting an occasional peep at the party, while the guys served at the tables. I carried a tray of marinated aubergine to the table that had just been set up outside, where Hank Hertz stood. I tried not to let him see me smiling.
He was all but unrecognizable with his henna treated hair and thin mustache. Rules said he was too young, but Hanks’ skill with the radio equipment got him special permission to be on the police force. It didn’t seem likely, but Granny was afraid someone in the rumrunner’s gang might recognize him. So she insisted he change his appearance, and then before he could back out, she hennaed his hair! I knew he was uncomfortable with the disguise, so I tried to smooth out my expression.
Hank inhaled and looked curiously at my tray, asking what it was on it. The dish was warmed to room temperature and had a nice aroma. “It’s marinated aubergine,” I told him.
“It looks like eggplant,” he returned.
“It is,” I said, and hurriedly turned to go back to the kitchen before I got drawn into a conversation.
Too many thoughts competed for attention in my head. I had just seen my grandmother in the arms of a man I’d sort of had a crush on up until recently, when he rejected my affection. He was a good deal older than me — Dabney Daniels was practically Father Time. But he was a lot younger than Granny Fanny just the same. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but maybe that was irrelevant since Granny told him the bank was closed. Although she had kissed him back…
Detective Daniels was the focal point of my thoughts, but not because I saw him trying to make Granny into his blue serge. What was really troubling me was seeing the copper sneaking around with that majordomo, Mr. Farceur. I’d bet anything the book I saw the butler hand Daniels was that secret journal, which Marshal Myrick hoped to obtain as evidence against the murderous gang of bootleggers!
Broad arched French doors opened from the mansion onto the large terrace. There was plenty of room to take the shindig outside. The paved area swept up alongside the back of the house, which overlooked the Savannah River. Everyone worked together quickly to setup tables out there at the sudden change dictated by Mrs. Kingston.
I couldn’t blame the lady of the manor for her mood. She had just learned her husband’s mistress would be at the party. I hoped the“parade of pets” she pulled together at a moment’s notice brought her some happiness. I shook my head at the
things some women were taught to put up with, and promised myself that I never would. After all, I was a flapper, a modern woman!
A commotion at the primary doors to the terrace drew my eyes. Queenie Wetson emerged in her dazzling flapper gown and jewels, flanked by her three “dates” who were dressed in all-white tuxedos. She had taken the arm of a nervous looking Bishop Bradley Binghamton. Tucking her hand into the bend of his billowy white silk shirtsleeve, she pulled the bishop along beside her.
Bishop was one of the code names we’d heard the crooks use on the radio transmission. However, Bishop Binghamton was such a slight, unassuming looking man. I couldn’t imagine him as a criminal. Then the thought came to me that perhaps he was not a willing party to whatever was going on around him. He did seem like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Before they could see me, I ducked behind a large camellia bush. Then I left the trail of stepping stones, taking a shortcut to the kitchen. I tried to step carefully, but I blundered into the herb garden despite myself. There weren’t any of the pretty fairy lights there, but I felt it when I stepped on a plant, and then I smelled the scent of thyme. I stooped down to see how badly I had damaged the herb.
Most of the party noise was still inside the Kingston mansion, with the guests only beginning to move out to the terrace. So it was quiet enough that I heard a man muttering. Pacing and apparently deep in thought, I saw Farceur in the shadows near the main kitchen door. He sure was acting hinky.
Just as I was about to move on, he started muttering again. To my astonishment, I realized he was chanting the old nursery rhyme.
Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty parrots 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?
“Dainty dish…” he said. “That strangely beautiful woman — I keep getting just a glimpse of her… There’s more here than meets the eye, no matter what anyone else believes. I’m certain of it,” Farceur mumbled to himself.
The majordomo’s behavior surprised and mystified me. It was bad enough that he was babbling to himself. I would have thought he had a screw loose, but his words gave me pause. What did he say? There’s more here than meets the eye. And he mentioned an unknown beautiful woman. His comment was so similar to what the lovely party guest wearing the billowing chiffon gown said to me, “Not all things are as they seem.” And she was strangely beautiful — obviously gorgeous, and strange in that it was as if she was there one minute and then she disappeared the next.
Whatever Farceur was about, he was interrupted by the housekeeper, Hortense Houston. “Oh Mr. Farceur! I’m so relieved to find you. We need your expertise coordinating the guests for Madame’s parade of pets,” she told him.
For a second, Farceur was looked so distracted that he didn’t seem to know what the housekeeper was talking about. However, he blinked and then acted more like his usual self. The majordomo walked straight-backed, tailcoat twitching, into the mansion.
I waited until the butler and the housekeeper were inside, and then I followed discreetly. Once inside I perceived an air of uncertainty. Guests and many new arrivals with their pets — thankfully on leashes, milled around. The shindig no longer appeared quite as elegant. Farceur and Mrs. Houston consulted quietly for a moment, their heads close together. Then they maneuvered quickly among the partygoers. In moments the party returned to its former posh state.
Mr. Farceur stepped to the middle of the room and tapped a spoon against a champagne flute. It rang like a chime three times. He had a pleasant yet authoritative air, with a vague smile on his lips. Everyone turned attentively to learn what he would say.
“For your enjoyment, Madame has arranged a Parade of Pets. If you’ll kindly step out to the terrace, you will find tables with finger foods, along with drinks at the outdoor bar,” he said.
Nobody had to tell that group twice. All it took was the hint of hooch, and the guests meandered outside. I saw Hortense Houston’s dark bun bobbing among the pet owners who gravitated toward her. That must have been what she and the butler had been mentioning to people when they mingled among the partygoers a moment before.
I didn’t know Granny Fanny was at my elbow until she spoke. It startled me. “Granny! There is something I need to talk to you about,” I exclaimed. “I saw Detective Daniels and that butler. He sneaked a book to Dabney.”
“When would you have seen Dabney?” she asked; that cagy old fox.
“I know who’s under that Sheik of Araby getup,” I said, unable to keep an edge from my tone.
Granny looked at me wide-eyed, and I plunged ahead before she could assert any grandmotherly authority. “And so does that butler! Those two are up to something, and I don’t think it can be good,” I said.
My grandmother’s face paled. After a moment she said, “It’s best we don’t jump to conclusions.”
She scanned the vast room and my gaze followed hers. I knew she was looking for Dabney Daniels. However, there was no sign of a hunched old man in sheik’s robes. Neither was there a man among the guests that fit the general shape and size Dabney would be without the disguise.
“Moses was going to use a sheik disguise when he planned all this,” Granny said softly, and it sounded like she was thinking out loud. “He set everything up, including a fake identity to make them believe he was making a deal with the King of Clubs. I learned how he’d be disguised just before the ambush when his men were murdered. I didn’t think he told anyone but me and maybe his men about the disguise. But he might have taken Dabney further into his confidence. Moses Myrick knew I trusted Dabney…” Granny said putting her hand over her mouth. “And he brought him into his confidence, at least to some degree… because of me.”
“Granny, you aren’t blaming yourself for anything, are you?” I exclaimed. “The Feds knew they’d need the help of the local police if it turned into a big sting operation,” I reminded her and she nodded, looking down at her feet.
I studied the troubled expression on my grandmother’s face. It reminded me of how I felt when I had my first doubt about Frankie back in Florida. The pain of that betrayal and of knowing he’d been shot washed over me as if it had just happened. It hurt me to think Granny might be feeling something similar.
“Maybe Daniels is just taking the marshal’s part in this charade,” I offered in a whisper, because anything was better than thinking my grandmother’s heart was hurting.
“Maybe I misunderstood what I saw between him and the butler. Applesauce! Maybe it wasn’t even Dabney under that sheik getup — after all, it was dark, and I never saw his
face. Like you said, Granny. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” I told her and the idea of mistaken identity started to appeal to me. It was perfectly plausible.
When she didn’t seem to be listening I tried to distract her from her troubled thoughts. “By the way isn’t farceur a French word for joker? As in ‘joker’s wild’ like Cracker keeps squawking? What could it mean?” I asked.
My attempt to divert Granny from her thoughts fell flat. The faraway look was still in her eyes. “I knew he must have duties at his job,” she continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “But it bothered the dickens out of me that he didn’t take a bigger part in the search for you that day…” her softly spoken words trailed away.
When the butler sauntered to the big front door we both watched him. The door opened and Granny gasped. “No! I told her to stay away from here. It could be dangerous. Why didn’t they listen to me?” Granny said with a worried look.
For a second I didn’t know what Granny meant. Then I saw Cotton dance through the doorway on her hind legs. The white poodle wore a tutu made of pink toulle. Her toenails were painted a matching shade of pink and they clicked on the shining white marble floor as she pranced. Cotton’s pirouetting display got everyone’s attention as well as a round of applause. Veronica and Vincent Vale followed the dog into the stylish foyer.
Cinnamon Bun, the Flemish Giant rabbit thumped quietly alongside Vincent. The veterinarian had him in a harness and leash. The huge bunny wore a white collar and bow tie, along with a top hat that had holes cut into it from which his long ears protruded. As Cotton bounded back to Veronica, it pulled the crowd’s attention to the bunny. Cinnamon sat up on his back legs and was at thigh level beside Vincent, who was not a short man. Amazed murmurs filled the room when people realized how large the rabbit actually was.
The blue of Mrs. Kingston’s gown caught my eye as she hurried to greet the Vales. She met them warmly. It was clear that she was acquainted with the couple and was very fond of Veronica. Mrs. Kingston carried a remarkably big housecat. The poor thing was shaved to look like a lion. I stepped closer so I could hear their exchange.
“Vincent dear, you were so right. It about killed me to watch them shave Marie Antoinette’s beautiful fluffy fur, but her condition has cleared up!” Mrs. Kingston told the veterinarian with obvious gratitude. “They left her a mane, and a fluffy tip on her tail. She actually seems rather pleased with herself. Once she got over it that is.”
“It’s not unusual for Maine Coon cats to get that skin condition, especially in our warm weather,” Vincent told her. “The shaved coat makes it easier to get the medicine where it needs to go. I don’t recommend this kind of shaving except for medical reasons, but still — Antoinette is the bee’s knees,” he praised the cat who purred loudly as he scratched under her chin.
“She is a particularly calm cat, with all these dogs and other animals around,” Veronica said appreciatively, which cause Mrs. Kingston to blush like a proud parent.
“Antoinette is used to being around other animals. She’s good with dogs, and just very lady like,” the hostess said lightly. “She was practically nursemaid when Charlie Chilton’s Chihuahua had her pups,” she said with a nod to a rotund man. “Antoinette loves little Chichi.”
Vincent bent to pet the cat again as Mrs. Kingston let her down. I saw that she was trained to walk on a leash, which I thought was pretty impressive. One of the guests said precisely what I was thinking. Mrs. Kingston chuckled. “Yes, as long as we practice it every day, she does well with the harness and leash. But she wouldn’t have a
thing to do with the dress I had made for her to wear tonight!”
“Antoinette’s haircut is quite striking enough rather than a costume,” Veronica assured Mrs. Kingston.
Other pet owners moved forward to greet the Vales as they all moved to the terrace. I noticed the big man, Charlie Chilton, held the tiny Chihuahua and a big sequined sombrero. The man dropped the hat to the floor and shouted “Ole!” at which the little dog ran circles inside the brim of the sombrero, barking as it went. Cotton was so inspired that she did her dance again without being prompted. Cinnamon Bun looked on stoically.
A flash of vivid color streaked the length of the terrace bearing straight at the Vales. Vincent ducked and dropped Cinnamon’s leash. However, the giant rabbit only moved a few feet away. He sat up on his haunches as Cracker the Parrot flew circles around him. Cinnamon grabbed a carrot from the parrot’s outstretched talons as the bird made another pass. I had to wonder how many times the two friends had played that game while no humans were watching.
When Cinnamon sat back down to gnaw the carrot, Cracker perched on his harness.
She looked rakish with a white flower in her beak. The rabbit hopped around a bit with the parrot clinging to the harness to the delight of the spectators. The Vales were clearly surprised by the unexpected antics of the pair. After a moment Veronica nudged Vincent, pointing to the leash that dragged behind the bunny, and he moved to take hold of it. When everyone applauded, Vincent made a self-conscious bow.
“It seems our entertainers had their own schedule,” Mrs. Kingston said happily. Then, with assistance from the butler, she had all the owners and pets line up to promenade the length of the terrace.
Cracker swooped to one of the hors d’oeuvre tables and I hurried to shoo the bird away from the food. Only then did I pay attention to the flower that she still held in her beak. It wasn’t just a white flower.
It was a daisy.
“Cracker, what’s that you’ve got, sweetheart?” I said coaxingly and she fluttered onto my outstretched arm.
The parrot bumped a silver condiment bowl when she launched herself. The container rocked wildly but the contents didn’t spill. I breathed a sigh of relief, because the dish held red pepper. I wouldn’t have wanted that to go up in a big sneezy puff!
“Dainty dish,” Cracker said with a whistle.
Automatically, I looked in the direction from which Cracker had flown. She’d soared the length of the terrace. The library was at the upper end. That was where I’d briefly seen the beautiful dark haired woman in the diaphanous chiffon gown. Suddenly I felt that odd chill again, as well as the nausea that came with it.
“Pip, what is it?” Hank Hertz asked.
I hadn’t realized he was near. All I could do was hold up the daisy. He looked at me like I was loony, and rubbed that silly skinny red mustache.
Cracker hopped to my shoulder as I lowered my arm. She ran her beak down a strand of my hair, her avian gesture of concern. Then the parrot looked toward a small area just behind us, where a paved trail led to a birdbath and a flower bed. The fairy lights illuminated the spot but no one was there. However, as Cracker looked at it, she bobbed her head excitedly and squawked, “Dainty dish, dainty dish!”
“What’s the parrot carrying on about?” Alastair asked, having left his table to see what was happening.
“You got me,” Hank told him. “I don’t see a thing over there. Do you?”
A mischievous glint came to Alastair’s eyes. “You know… animals can see things that humans can’t see,” he commented.
“What do you mean?” Hank asked, taking the bait so quickly that I had to shake my head. I was sure Alastair was about to get one over on Savannah’s youngest policeman, disguised as a redheaded waiter though he was.
“Spirits and things,” Alastair told him in a very serious tone. “Di fu ling, earth bound spirits,” he said. “You know — ghosts,” he added upon seeing Hank’s blank expression.
The merriment that lit the young restaurateur’s eyes quickly disappeared. His shoulders twitched beneath his waiter’s white tuxedo jacket as if a chill went down his spine.
“When a di fu ling is near, people who are sensitive to spirits get a cold chill. Sometimes they get sick to their stomachs… like has been happening to Pip tonight,” he said raising one eyebrow as he studied my face.
I was beginning to think Alastair was serious about this spirit business.
Loud, shrill yapping cut through all the party sounds. Chichi the Chihuahua tried to chase Mrs. Kingston’s cat, Marie Antoinette. I expected the cat to hiss at the dog, but the incongruous difference in their sizes was in the cat’s favor. It seemed almost like Antoinette was amused that the tiny dog would even try to provoke her. Antoinette really did look like a lion standing near the Chihuahua. The cat gave a disdainful lash of her tail. With a leap she pulled free of Mrs. Kingston and chased the dog.
I reminded myself that Mrs. Kingston said the two animals were playmates. The cat could have caught the dog easily if she’d wanted to, and there was nothing in her posture that suggested aggression. Bemused, I realized Antoinette truly was playing with the dog.
Cotton jumped excitedly into the game, ignoring Veronica’s dismayed demand that she sit. The Main Coon chased the Chihuahua and the poodle chased the Main Coon in a circle around the feet of the astonished Mr. Farceur. Then the cat spun around and proceeded to chase both dogs down the length of the terrace.
When I stood up, I spotted Granny talking to the bent-over man in sheik’s robes. She must have felt that she was being watched, when she looked covertly over her shoulder, because she started to act as if she was pointing out the food tables, just assisting a party guest.
The commotion of the animals was too much to ignore and I reflexively returned my gaze to that chaos. That’s when I saw Queenie Wetson and her three white clad men. They all stepped out onto the terrace just as the animal chase came by. The dogs barreled right into them.
Multiple feet went into the air. One of Queenie’s rhinestone encrusted shoes spun skyward. The four people went down in a tangle of arms and legs as the two dogs seemed to run right under them. The cat leaped over the group as the humans hit the ground. None of it did anything to slow the momentum of the trio of pets as they careened straight at the table where Alastair, Hank, and I stood.
I looked in helpless horror at the silver dish of red pepper…
The poodle pounced onto the table, scattering all the carefully arranged appetizers. Cracker glided over to Cotton and I remembered they time those two cavorted and ran into Hank’s radio equipment. They were already friends. The parrot flew over the poodle and whistled, “Bad bird, bad bird!” but she sounded more like she was encouraging the poodle than admonishing her.
Somehow the tiny dog got up onto the table top, and the Chihuahua ran from one end of the table to the other, careening into all manner of dishes, and Queenie and her men, just as they were getting up off the ground. They went back down in a heap and Cinnamon bounded to a safer spot.
I never saw how it happened. Time slowed like a movie projector running down. I watched light reflect off the polished silver condiment bowl as it sailed high into the air. Amazingly, it flipped all the way over without spilling a bit. One time anyway. It flipped again and a puff of fine red powder burst into the air. The cloud of red pepper settled on the Queen of Clubs and her henchmen…
Be sure to come back next time. There are still mysteries to reveal!
Recipe: Broiled Eggplant with Capers and Mint
Recipe credit: Yummly.com
1 pound thin Italian or Asian eggplants (2 to 3), cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped mint
2 tablespoons small capers, rinsed
Preheat broiler. Arrange eggplant in 1 layer on a large baking sheet and brush both sides with 2 tablespoons oil (total). Broil about 4 inches from heat, turning once, until golden, 8 to 12 minutes total.
Stir together vinegar, mint, capers, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil and toss with warm eggplant. Marinate at least 20 minutes.
Marinated eggplant can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Makes 4 appetizer-size portions
Copyright © 2014 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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