Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7) (7 page)

BOOK: Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7)
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“My God.”

“Yes, and it gets better. There is apparently a kind of rogue school among the newer cozy writers. They want to break free and, well, do the unthinkable. Or do what only a few years ago would have been deemed unthinkable. They are to the cozy world what Monets or Picassos were to the world of painting at one time. They want to break boundaries and see words in shocking ways.”

“What do these people want to do?”

“They want to set cozy mysteries in quaint villages not in New England.”

This caused Nina’s mind to race, and her heart to skip a beat.

Almost immediately she leaned forward and blurted:

“Like Abbeyport!”

Amidon nodded:

“Yes. With scenes shot in Candles.”

“What,” Margot asked, “could Candles have to do with it? Candles isn’t cozy!”

Amidon shook his head:

“It’s only the heroine and her friends who are cozy, Margot. But the villain, either killer or murderer, always has to be obscenely wealthy––”

“––and live in a place like Candles.”

“Precisely. And even if the plantation house itself won’t be used in every episode, the production crew would have to have somewhere to stay. They certainly aren’t going to hole up in quaint hotels in Abbeyport!”

“I’m beginning to see,” said Margot, quietly.

“Yes, yes, isn’t it wonderful! This could be a multi- million dollar venture!”

“All right. You’re convincing me. But still––”

“But still what?”

“What are we going to do about the convention?”

“Why, host it, of course!”

“But the staff is gone! They thought they were going to have to deal with real writers, not cozy writers!”

“Margot, Margot, you still don’t understand the beauty of this thing!”

“All right, enlighten me! Who’s going to take care of these people?”

“Why, they themselves! Margot, these are thirty LITTLE OLD LADIES! Once they set foot inside the plantation house they’ll want to do nothing more than start dusting, and cooking, and brewing tea!”

“They won’t want marijuana?”

“They’re sixty and seventy years old, Margot! They may have once known what marijuana was, but they’ve almost certainly forgotten it. The most they’ll want to do is polish the silver and chat about the wall hangings. Margot, child, THEY’LL BE TAKING CARE OF YOU!”

Margot thought for a while and asked, quietly:

“So no sex raids into Abbeyport?”

Another laugh:

“The reason these little ladies don’t write about sex, Margot, is that they do not wish to do the requisite research. Why, they’ll probably be tucked safely into their beds by eight o’clock in the evening.”

“I don’t know. I still wish we had some––”

“You have a perfect situation.”

“I don’t know. Our cook spent most of the day in Abbeyport laying in stores, groceries, supplies––but we still don’t have a lot of meat.”

“Not to worry about. Most of these women will be vegetarians. Many will not even have teeth. If you have gruel, oatmeal––”

“Yes, yes, we have that.”

“And tea of course. Tea is to Miss Marple what bourbon is to Faulkner.”

“All right. We have tea, I’m sure of that.”

“Then what more could go wrong?”

There was a pause for a second, while a silent alarm went off in Nina’s brain.

There was that phrase again.

What more could go wrong?

They Skyped for perhaps half a minute more.

Congratulations were passed about like verbal cigars; money was counted; future publicity was listened to and read.

Then adieus.

And then a blank screen, and the near silent music room.

Then Margot suggesting that, since there was actually little more to do tonight in preparation, that the two of them should go downstairs and have dinner.

And then the rising, and then the making their way toward the doorway.

While, playing like a plaintive lyric from the old Victrola, came that same line:

What more could go wrong?

But it was time to do other things. First, Margot took Nina upstairs to her room.
The door swung heavily open and the chamber smiled out at them, its dark green curtains, huge canopied bed, oaken rockers, and tapestried rugs—not to mention the armoire that seemed to enclose a slightly smaller room within its doors—all issuing at once a silently harmonious yet obviously deeply felt greeting.

Then downstairs.

Dinner.

The two women would not have to put up the fine china and dishware, as they had been warned by a departing staff to do.

Because the people coming to stay here tomorrow were not ruffians and lunatics.
 

They were cozy writers.

They would appreciate fine things.

Perhaps even write about them.

“Right through here, Nina. The staff apparently made us a lovely evening meal. All we have to do is heat it up.”

Nina followed into the dining room.

“Oh, my!”

And worth an ‘oh my!’ it certainly seemed to be.

The table, the hutches standing by the walls, the serving trays.

A century of dining elegance.

Margot took two steps into the dining room, became a museum director again and said, quietly:

“The Havilland Dinner Service. Wheat Pattern.”

Nina would have been content to stare out of the vast window, opening out onto the front lawn in twilight and count the kinds of things growing in a Fall Garden just beyond it.

But Margot circled the room like a bird of prey, all senses honed by the artworks spread out around her and visible through clear glass hutch doors:

“Dinner plates; pickle caster:
 
Meridian Silver, Pin Inverted Thumb Print pattern; ruffled and quilted satin glass peach bowl; salad plates, cups, saucers, bread and butter holders, four each platters and serving bowls––there are, to the best of my knowledge, six complete Havilland Dinner Services in the world. The Chicago Art Museum has one.”

They spent some time gawking as the room darkened and night fell on northern Mississippi.

Then they went into the kitchen, found the plates that had been laid out for them, and heated them in the oven.

Within half an hour, they had lighted candles at The Candles, pressed a button on the Boze radio to produce soft music, and sat down before a small tray of thin sliced ham, a tureen of turtle soup, a bubbling hot sweet potato casserole, a bowl of just out of the field salad—and two seductively glittering cut glass canisters of red and white wine.

Nina had a glass of the white.

After dinner they adjourned and went outside for Pernod.

An evil luxury.

They sat at a rain-stained wooden table square in the front yard, shaded by massive oaks through whose leaves the first evening stars had begun to twinkle. Their chairs rocked ever so gently on the soft turf of the lawn each time one of them happened to lift or set down one of her glasses.

They were seated perhaps fifty feet from the floodlit front entrance to the plantation.

“She is supposed to have appeared up there,” said Margot, pointing to a balcony above the main doorway and sipping her smoky yellow drink, “while the plantation was burning and the union troops were standing around watching the blaze. Her hair was on fire while she cursed them. Burning-haired Sarah she is still called.”

“What a story.”

“Yes. Quite a tale.”

Nina breathed deeply. She could feel herself relaxing.

Since the only entranceway to Candles now led in from the back, and dropped visitors near the rear porch, the old roadway up to the front had been overgrown by pines and undergrowth. Tree frogs sang in the dense foliage behind them as they sipped their drinks.

“So,” said Nina quietly, “are the two of us going to be able to take care of these people?”

Margot shrugged:

“Shouldn’t be hard. Thirty old ladies who sit around knitting and writing. They’ll probably read a lot. And chat. It’s like Amidon said:
 
they’ll be in bed by eight o’clock. If anything, it will be boring.”

“Well. I came up here to rest.”

“You should get a lot of that. I think I saw her, you know.”

A pause.

Nina leaned forward in her chair:

“What?”

“I saw her.”

“Who?”

“Sarah. Sarah Morgan.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Flaming-haired Sarah.”

“Yes, I know that. I remember the story, maybe because you just told it to me about a minute ago. It’s the other thing I’m asking ‘what’ about.”

“Me seeing her, you mean?”

“That’s it. What are you talking about?”

“I was out here at dusk. I had drunk some wine…or maybe gin, or maybe both. Could have been both. It was a Sunday, and a group had just left. We were relaxing. Goldmann had gone inside to watch television. I guess I was dozing, or had dozed, whatever. But I sensed movement from the direction of the house. I lifted my head and saw a figure up there, on the balcony. At first I smiled and started to wave, knowing that it must be Goldmann. But then I saw more clearly. It wasn’t Goldmann at all; it was a woman.”

“A woman? Okay, but you’re not going to tell me her hair was on fire. Because then I’m going to start to be really worried.”

“No. Her hair wasn’t on fire. But it was lush and red. She was dressed in—well, the clothes a woman would have been wearing in 1864. She was a strikingly beautiful woman with high cheekbones. She smiled down at me, and gave me a little wave. Then she turned, went back into the house, and disappeared.”

“You dreamed it. You had a kind of fantasy. A daydream.”

“Maybe.”

“You never saw her again?”

“No. I went up there, to the balcony. But there was no one.”

“And you’re being serious now?”

“Yes, I’m being serious.”

“Because when you drink gin…”

“I hadn’t drunk that much gin.”

“Then it was just a daydream.”

“I suppose.”

“Trust me. There are enough problems to go around. Something tells me we’re going to start having them tomorrow. Little old ladies. We’ll see. Anyway, Margot, I’m about ready to go to bed. It’s early—but I’m a little old lady, too. So do you have anything to read?”

BOOK: Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7)
13.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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