Sheiks and Shebas I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Yes, there is pos-i-lute-ly going to be a new episode of our 1920’s culinary mystery serial! The ingredients for Episode-16 are from the astonishingly prolific Olga Núñez Miret at Just Olga. Serendipity was with us, and this chapter coincided with the launch of her latest book, I Love Your Cupcakes. Have a look at it — who can say no to a cupcake? Olga has a video trailer for this novel. I thought it was so adorable I couldn’t resist sharing it with you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGFcWLwoFfA . Once again I’m giving you a few fun, informative links, so keep an eye out for them. This episode doesn’t have cupcakes, but it has something sweet — the return of a favorite character. Bon appétit!
16. Apples, Broad Beans, Curry Leaves
I still remember the rough country road and how Granny Fanny patted her yellow Model-T every time we hit a bump. A half bushel basket of apples sat crowding my feet in the floorboard, and I held a peck basket of Vidalia onions on the seat beside me.
Andy Avis sat in the backseat with Granny’s favorite wicker basket in his lap. He sneaked the lid open and the aroma of Granny’s apple pie drifted up to my grandmother and me in the front seat. I looked over my shoulder and saw Andy lick his lips. I knew that pie was mouthwatering. The scent found its way to Granny’s nose, and she glanced suspiciously at Andy.
“Sweetheart, try and keep the basket closed so the pie will stay warm,” she said, as if the lid accidentally came loose, though it was obvious that she knew better. “Now that Moses is well enough to be moved, that pie was the one thing he asked for before he leaves,” she added.
Marshal Moses Myrick was a close friend of my grandparents when they were young. Not too long after Granddaddy passed away, Myrick’s law enforcement career took off. He worked his way through the ranks and eventually became a Federal Marshal — a Revenuer; a G-man.
Myrick nearly died when Queenie Wetson’s men ambushed him, but Savannah’s dashing Detective Dabney Daniels was able to get him to Dr. Veronica Vale. She had been a renowned surgeon, but tiring of hospital politics and spiteful attitudes about women doctors, she retired from medical practice. She and her veterinarian husband had a home and a sprawling facility for Vincent’s veterinary practice that was much closer to the site of the ambush than any hospital. If it hadn’t been for Detective Daniels’ knowledge of area back-roads and for the doctors Vale living nearby, Moses Myrick would have surely died. During the weeks since the surgery Veronica Vale had performed in her husband’s veterinary facility, Marshal Myrick stayed with the Vales. Veronica refused to allow him to be moved. Finally his condition improved enough that she wanted the marshal to go to Warm Springs, Georgia. It was well known for therapeutic mineral springs which flow constantly at nearly 32 °C (90 °F). Doc Vale wanted him to spend several weeks at a spa there.
Soon the yellow Ford puttered up to the lovely white house with a green roof. Granny Fanny reminded Andy and me to be quiet once we got inside. Moses Myric was still far from being well. When I stepped out of the Ford, I heard a horse whinny from the stable, and from inside the house I could hear a bird screech. A parrot. Cracker, I thought with a smile. So much for being quiet…
I became far too attached to that bird when I was taking care of her. But it seemed the marshal had stolen Cracker’s heart. She refused to leave his side after he was shot.
As I got out of the automobile, a streak of brilliant color erupted from an upstairs window and loomed toward me. I drew back reflexively, even though I knew it was the parrot. Cracker alighted on the open car door, chattering unintelligibly. Yes, I know the bird isn’t supposed to be able to speak the way humans do, and could only mimic our words, but sometimes it sure seemed like she knew what she was talking about. Her lack of coherent speech led me to think she was extremely excited.
Cracker hopped from the car door to my shoulder and started preening a strand of my bobbed hair, as was her old habit. I tried to push her away from my head and was scolded.
I stroked the feathers of her back and told Cracker I had missed her. The parrot started making a funny trilling sound. When Detective Daniels handed me the chore of bird-sitting after Cracker’s owner was murdered at the Bijou Theatre he asked Mr. Doctor Vale… not the same as Mrs. Doctor Vale… Oh applesauce! It sure got confusing having two Doctors Vale in one place.
Anyhow Dabney asked the vet doc to take a look at the parrot and make sure she was healthy. The memory of Vincent examining the parrot popped into my mind. He had said Cracker was at least forty years old!
“Parrots live a long time,” he’d explained. “They need a serious, long term commitment from their owners. Cracker is a macaw,” he said taking my name for the bird. “She might live to the ripe old age of 95.”
I couldn’t help thinking about the old photograph, our only hint of a clue to who was involved in the death of Daisy the Dainty Dish. According to the ghost woman, what I thought was a flaw in the photo was actually a parrot. I looked into Cracker’s bright, intelligent looking eyes. She might be old enough to have been the parrot sitting on the shoulder of Alastair Wong the elder in that photograph. Andy’s eyes bugged out when I turned to him and whispered that thought to him.
Movement further down the gently sloping green caught my eye as I looked beyond Andy. He turned to see what had my attention. Beyond the spot where we stood, was the vegetable garden where the last of the summer foods grew. A few of the broad beans Veronica praised for their nutritional value remained. I tried to point discretely in their direction. “Just past the garden,” I told Andy. “Those two men. One is Doc Vale. The other one looks familiar to me,” I said uneasily.
The two men made their way to the stable. It was as if they felt our eyes on them. They turned our way. Vincent Vale threw up his hand in a cheery wave. The second man was dressed in working clothes. He was smaller than the veterinarian. When he turned I saw a spot of bright white at his neck. It seemed out of place with the work clothes.
“I can’t really tell from here…” I began, squinting in attempt to see farther.
Cracker had her eyes glued to the men right up until they went inside the stable. “Dainty Dish,” the parrot chirped and bobbed her head up and down.
Andy gave a suspicious look at the bird. I’d told him how clever she was, but he had not believed me. However, he knew the spirit, Daisy, had been known as The Dainty Dish. I wondered if he was about to change his mind and see how smart the parrot was.
“Well?” Granny Fanny looked back over her shoulder as she reached the front porch. “Come along you two. And Paisley, do try to keep that nasty bird quiet!” she said emphatically.
It had taken awhile, but Cracker eventually won Granny over despite my grandmother’s aversion to having an avian in the house. I thought Granny might need a refresher course to remind her that she actually did like the parrot. Or maybe she just didn’t like to let on that she did.
Andy shifted the wicker basket to his left hand and knocked on the door. Veronica called to us to come on inside, so he opened the door for Granny. I was happy to see Moses Myrick doing well enough to be downstairs in the living room.
“Take this mixture of curry leaves with you,” Veronica was saying as she handed Moses a small tin container. “It will help control your stomach acid.”
The G-man sat in a cushioned chair with his feet on an ottoman. A carved walking stick was propped against the cozy looking chair. Veronica Vale leaned down to hand him the tin, and then looked up at us with a warm smile.
I didn’t really expect the range of emotions that played across my grandmother’s face when she saw the marshal. I knew she cared a lot about him, but I thought it was just a carryover from the fact that he had been such good friends with my granddaddy.
Yet before my eyes I saw her expression shift from anxious, to pleasure, to concern, to something that it took me a moment to name. To my surprise I realized she was feeling the pain of loss. That puzzled me. However, I remembered her saying that she didn’t understand how any woman could bear to have a law man for a husband or a son. The dangers were just too much and the agony of losing them too great.
She had refused a romantic relationship with Detective Dabney Daniels, but she insisted it was because she was too old for him. I didn’t think their age difference was all that big, so I had always wondered if that was the truth of it. I could see where his line of work would be a constant source of worry.
After seeing the expressions parade across her face, I couldn’t help wondering if something similar had happened between Granny Fanny and Marshal Moses Myrick at some point in the past. As my grandmother had once reminded me, she had a life before and after my grandfather.
The G-man picked up the cane and made to get up from his chair. Doctor Veronica shot him a warning look. Granny gently laid a slender hand on his arm and he relaxed into the cushions of the chair. When Moses looked up at my grandmother the most peaceful expression came to his face. I didn’t realize I was staring at the two of them until I felt Andy’s elbow nudge my ribs.
“Fanny…” was all Moses said.
She sat down on the sofa opposite his chair. She didn’t sit all the way back, and she leaned a little forward when she spoke to him. Cracker the parrot settled on the back of the marshal’s chair. She preened a strand of his gray hair in the same way she had mine. He brushed a hand at the bird to shoo her away.
“Hold your fire!” Cracker squawked at his hand, causing Andy to burst out laughing.
“Hold your fire,” she said again when he told her to go to her perch by the window.
Moses pointed his index finger at Cracker, a pretend gun, and made a clicking sound with his tongue. Cracker plopped over, playing dead. Then she got up and stretched her head so that it was under his chin and whistled quietly. I couldn’t say quite how, but the parrot seemed sad to me and I commented on it.
“She knows he’s leaving,” Veronica said. “They don’t allow animals at the spa.”
Then the most remarkable conversation ensued between the revenuer and the parrot. The fact that there was any conversation at all between a G-man and a bird was astonishing enough. Moses told the bird that he would be away for a month or so. His tone suggested this was something he had explained many times. The bird made squawks and whistles and even something a lot like a raspberry sound! It was obvious that she was protesting. Then he took a firm no-nonsense tone.
“Look Cracker, I need you to stay with Pip until I get back. No argument,” he said. “And that’s an order!” Cracker squawked back at him, but she flew over to me and perched on the arm of the sofa. “Don’t you backtalk me,” Moses told the bird and pointed threateningly.
“Hold your fire!” Cracker snapped, but she moved closer to me and looked suitably chastened.
Granny commented on the parrot’s new phrase, hold your fire. Moses said he wasn’t sure where she got it. It wasn’t something he had said to her. However, we knew the parrot had had a number of owners in her lifetime.
Then she took an interest in Andy. She waddled down the back of the couch to where he sat. Cracker cocked her head to one side and peered at Andy. I could tell it was beginning to make him nervous. She tilted her shoulder toward him and bobbed her head up and down. To me it looked like the equivalent of a human bobbing their eyebrows flirtatiously.
“Who’s your daddy?” she chirped at Andy, causing him to blush.
“Oh that foul mouthed fowl,” Granny Fanny said. “Haven’t you broken her from saying that yet Moses?” Granny demanded.
I remembered how my grandmother hated that phrase. She said it was horrid and vulgar. However, Cracker was saved from any scolding by the entrance of Vincent and the man we saw go into the stable with him.
“Dainty Dish,” Cracker hissed quietly, looking at the two men who stood in the foyer.
“It’s odd, but she says that every time she sees the Bishop,” Veronica murmured as if she voiced a thought. “He is a rather slight man. I wonder if that’s what she means.”
Veronica explained that Bishop Binghamton’s mare was soon to give birth and her husband was watching over things. So Binghamton had been a frequent visitor during the past few weeks. I supposed that explained the work clothes he wore, Levis and an old twill jacket, but with the priest’s collar at his neck. It was hard for me to reconcile that attire with the elaborately dressed, fancy bishop I had seen from a distance at that ritzy shindig at the Kingston mansion.
However, he looked perfectly comfortable being seen in a working man’s clothes. I half expected him to apologize for his appearance, considering how he had looked at the party, but he didn’t seem concerned. That added something unexpected to my perception of him. Was there a touch of the common man to this high ranking churchman?
Vincent Vale introduced Bishop Bradley Binghamton to Andy and me. Apparently he was already acquainted with Granny Fanny. I supposed that was to be expected. They were of a similar age and from the same town, even if their social circles hadn’t mixed when they were young.
“A fascinating creature,” he said with a nod to Cracker whose steady gaze didn’t waiver.
I noticed that he didn’t offer to get any closer to the bird, but considering the hard look in her eyes, I couldn’t blame him. So this was one of the “boys” — the men that Mattie Maddox believed were implicated in Daisy’s death… However, when I looked at him I saw a kind face and a gentle manner. There was no harsh expression in his eyes or anything that would make me think he would threaten anyone; to make them leave town and never return. Yet I didn’t disbelieve Mattie either.
Bishop Binghamton looked like a man remembering bygone days and a small smile came to his lips. He motioned toward Cracker. “When I was a lad, one of my teachers had a parrot a lot like this one,” he said. “The name escapes me,” he commented thoughtfully and put a knuckle to the little cleft in his chin. “A brilliant Asian gentleman,” he said and Granny’s eyes got wide. “Ah yes. He was Asian, but from England. Wong. That was it! Alastair Wong.” My mouth opened, but no words came out. Cracker looked from Granny to Andy to me. “Hold your fire!” Cracker hissed at us and I closed my mouth with a pop.
Recipe: Southern Indian vegetable curry with curry leaves
With courgette, squash, peppers and cauliflower Photo and Recipe Credit: JamieOliver.com
Method Heat the oil in a pan and fry the mustard seeds for 2 to 3 minutes or until they start to pop. Add the chillies, curry leaves, onions, coriander, cumin seeds, garam masala, turmeric, and chilli powder. Stir and cook over a medium heat until the onion is soft. Stir in the chopped tomatoes. Add your potatoes and aubergine to the sauce. Pour in the coconut milk and cook until the potato is soft and cooked through. Throw in the beans, peas and okra. Season and cook for a few more minutes until tender, then serve with some nice fluffy rice.
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.
All images are either the property of the author or from Pinterest unless stated otherwise.