No Cooperation from the Cat

A Mystery

Marian Babson

Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books

Chapter One
 

Life is full of little embarrassments. Especially when Evangeline is around.
Dame Cecile Savoy had made a perfectly reasonable request: a gin and tonic. The last time I had seen the gin bottle, it had been nearly a quarter full. Now it was empty.
“Evangeline—” I called. “Have you been cleaning your diamonds again?”
“I’m cleaning yours, too.” She appeared in the doorway, holding a glass jug with a tangle of jewellery immersed in a once-clear liquid. “We can’t appear at the BAFTA Awards wearing grubby gems—and yours are absolutely filthy. It’s all that Play-Doh from your games with the children.”
“It’s not Play-Doh,” I said. “It’s the real thing. Martha let us have the leftover pastry scraps for pastries and tarts. They were delicious. But Dame Cecile wants a gin and tonic.”
“She would.” Evangeline sniffed, swished the gin around, and offered, “I could pour some off for you. There’ll still be enough left to finish cleaning.”
“Don’t bother!” Dame Cecile looked at the sludge on offer and shuddered. “I’ll just have some of your brandy instead.”
“Fresh out.” Evangeline smirked. “We need more. I was going to remind you, Trixie.”
“You can’t remind me of something you never told me in the first place,” I said coldly. I hate being caught with my hospitality down.
“Well, what do you have?” Dame Cecile was losing patience.
“There’s rum—”
“No, there isn’t,” Evangeline said. “Martha is soaking the sultanas in the last of it for her spice cakes.”
“Whisky—”
“Martha made that Scottish dessert that’s all whisky and oatmeal yesterday. We need more oatmeal, too.”
“There’s vodka—” I belatedly recalled that the last time I had seen the glass jug Evangeline was holding, it had been filled to the brim with Bloody Marys for Sunday brunch—and replenished at least twice. “No, perhaps not.”
“Definitely not,” Evangeline said.
“Perhaps a liqueur…?” I waited. It came.
“The cherry brandy went into the cherry cobbler, the Grand Marnier into the whipped cream for the profiteroles, and the last of the crème de menthe into the peppermint creams. I tell you, Martha is cooking us out of house and home!”
Dame Cecile began tapping her foot.
“The cookbook will be finished soon,” I promised. “Then Martha and Jocasta will vacate our kitchen and life will get back to normal.”
“Normal?” Dame Cecile gave a sardonic laugh. “You two don’t know the meaning of the word!”
“Look who’s talking!” Evangeline glared at her. “I can remember when—”
The doorbell cut across this promising opening. No one else moved, so I went to answer it.
“Trixie.” My son-in-law brushed my cheek with his lips and straightened up, inhaling deeply.
“Martha’s spice cakes.” He identified the aroma. “Splendid! Just what I could use with a cup of tea right now.”
“We have lemon squares, too, and raspberry tartlets. Martha and Jocasta have been cooking up a storm.”
“Better and better.” He started down the hallway, impeded slightly by Cho-Cho-San and Frou-Frou, who came frolicking to greet him.
“How are you, girls?” He stopped to pat the little powder puff a Japanese Bobtail has for a tail and to roughhouse lightly with Dame Cecile’s French toy poodle puppy. He didn’t linger, he was too anxious to get to Martha. I followed him.
“Darling,” I said, when they had unwound themselves. “It’s time for another trip to the supermarket. Is there anything we can get for you while we’re there?”
“Oh, yes, please, Mother. We’re running out of a lot of things. I’ll make a list.”
“Butter,” Jocasta said. “Butter and margarine. I found a quaint little book with over thirty recipes for savoury butter—and we want to try them with margarine, too. So many people use that these days.”
“Margarine needs all the help it can get.” Evangeline had joined us. “I tried some once—and I haven’t had a taste like that in my mouth since the time I fell in the swamp when we were filming Mad Beast of the Bayou. And then,” she brooded, “the director wouldn’t let anyone pull me out for half an hour—and he kept the cameras turning all the while. I was deathly ill for a week afterwards.”
“Directors don’t care if they kill you,” Dame Cecile agreed, “especially if they’ve got most of the film in the can first. But wasn’t that the role that won you the Karloff-Lorre Award for Best Beleaguered Heroine of the Year? How we all laughed over here when we heard that.”
“When do you want to go shopping?” Martha intervened hastily, before the nasty glint that appeared in Evangeline’s eye could resolve itself into action.
“As soon as possible,” I said. “We’ll just ring Eddie and have him collect us.”
“No need for that,” Hugh said. “My car is downstairs. Benson will drive you anywhere you care to go.”
“Marvellous, Hugh! I’ll just change my shoes—” There was no hurry. Martha and Jocasta had their heads together, earnestly debating the present and future ingredients they might need. Their list was growing longer by the minute.
“I’ll come along, too,” Dame Cecile said. “There are always bits and pieces one wishes to pick up. And I can leave Frou-Frou here and not have to worry about her being tied to railings outside a shop. She’s so tiny someone could pop her into a shopping bag—and so friendly it wouldn’t occur to her to object.”
“Fine, fine,” Hugh said absently, far more interested in the lemon square he was shoving into his mouth. “We’ll take good care of her.”
“I’m sure we need more than this.” Martha frowned at her list. “I’ll just check the larder.” She disappeared into the storage space at the back of the kitchen. Evangeline met my eyes accusingly. From the sound of it, we weren’t going to get our kitchen back as soon as I had rashly foretold.
Jocasta was still frowning over the incomplete shopping list and no one else seemed inclined to move when the doorbell rang again.
“I’ll get it,” Hugh said. “It’s probably for me, anyway. I left my cell phone in the car and Benson will know enough to bring it to me if there’s an urgent call.” He carefully selected a raspberry tartlet from the array of delights on the cooling trays and ambled towards the door.
Before he could reach it, the doorbell rang again—and kept ringing insistently, demandingly, and arrogantly. It was reinforced by what was obviously a fist thumping on the door for good measure.
We looked at each other, except for Jocasta, who went on studying her list.
“Either World War Three has just broken out,” Evangeline said, “or that isn’t Benson.”
We heard the door open. “All right, all right,” Hugh said irritably. “Take it easy.” There was another thump, as though the door had been pushed so hard and so fast that it had bounced against the wall.
“Where is she?” a voice bellowed. “Where is she? Where is my beautiful bride?”
“I beg your pardon?” we heard Hugh reply.
“Oh, God—it’s Banquo!” The colour drained from Jocasta’s face. I thought she was going to faint.
“Oh, no! No!” Dame Cecile and Evangeline didn’t look so well themselves.
“She said it!” Evangeline gasped. “She actually said it!”
“How dare you!” Dame Cecile rounded on Jocasta. “You wretched, wretched child! Now you’ve done it!”
“Quick!” Evangeline snatched at Jocasta’s arm. “You must go outside, shut the door behind you, then turn around three times and—”
“No, no, no!” Dame Cecile said. “That’s for whistling in the dressing room. She has to use profanity to drive the evil spirits away. Just start saying all the obscene words you know?” She looked at Jocasta doubtfully. “You do know—”
“I thought that was for a hat on the bed,” Evangeline said. “How about—?”
I knew the superstition they were on about, only “Oh, God—it’s Banquo!” didn’t sound very Shakespearean to me. But what do I know? A few seasons on the Straw Hat Circuit playing Bianca in Kiss Me, Kate was as close to Shakespeare as I ever got.
“I’ve remembered!” Dame Cecile declared triumphantly. “She has to say, ‘Fair thoughts and happy hours attend on you’ from The Merchant of Venice. And then there’s reciting ‘Angels and Ministers of Grace defend us.’ That’s supposed to ward off the bad luck, too. She’d better do both of them, to be on the safe side. And never, never, never”—she glared at poor Jocasta—“quote from That Play again!”
“I wasn’t quoting anything,” Jocasta protested. “Banquo is his name. And he’s here! And he wants— He’s looking for—”
“Someone actually named a poor defenceless child Banquo?” Dame Cecile marvelled.
“Some people will do anything,” Evangeline said.
“Where’s my wife?” Banquo was beginning to sound truculent. “I know she’s here. I can smell her—her cooking, that is. She’s creating a magnificent cookbook for the Lady Lemmings.”
“I beg your pardon,” Hugh said icily. “But it’s my wife who is creating that cookbook and— Oooof!” There was the sound of a scuffle. “Come back here!”
“You never saw me!” Jocasta clutched my arm desperately. “You don’t know where I am! You never heard of me!” She dashed into the bathroom and bolted the door behind her.
“That girl”—Evangeline looked at the closed door—“has been acting very oddly ever since we got back from Brighton.”
“Woman,” Dame Cecile corrected. “They all want to be called women these days. But have you noticed? The more they insist on being called women, the less like real women they behave.”
“Where is she?” A tall wiry man with an unkempt beard shouldered his way into the room and took up a belligerent stance.
“Melisande—” he called. “Melisande—your Banquo has returned! I have dreamed of you through all those Arctic nights—and now I am back triumphant to claim my bride! Where are you? Where is the best little cook in the world?”
“Oh, Hugh!” Martha came out of the larder laughing. “That is the worst imitation of a male chauvinist pig I have ever—”
Banquo moved forward to block her path. They looked at each other with growing incredulity.
“Who”—they demanded simultaneously—“are you?”
“Martha is my wife!” Hugh pushed past Banquo to stand at Martha’s side and put a protective—and proprietary—arm across her shoulders. “As I keep telling you. She is the compiler and creator of the Lady Lemmings’ cookbook.”
“She can’t be,” Banquo said. “Melisande is. Where is Melisande? What have you done with her?”
Who is Melisande?” Martha moved closer to Hugh. “I’ve never heard of her.”
“Melisande is my wife, the perfect cook, the perfect woman. I want to see her. I want her now.”
“Are you sure—” Evangeline asked delicately. “Are you quite sure you don’t mean Jocasta?”
“Jocasta?” He was astonished—and affronted. “Why would I want to see her?”
There was a muffled sob from the bathroom. I frowned Evangeline to silence. Occasionally, she can take a cue.
“See here!” Hugh had had enough. “You barge your way in here, shout and bully your way around—and you haven’t even had the decency to introduce yourself. Who the hell are you?”
“I—” He all but took a bow. “I am Banquo Fitzfothergill!” He seemed annoyed when none of us reacted to the announcement.
“The media,” he prompted, “call me the last of the gentlemen adventurers.”
Evangeline and I looked at him and then at each other. Errol Flynn he was not.
“Ah, yes, I remember,” Dame Cecile said. “It was a few years back,” she explained to us. “He pushed a peanut with his nose—unshelled, of course, for better purchase—” She made it sound vaguely unsporting. “Actually, several peanuts, as they wore out, from Tasmania to the steps of his club in Pall Mall. And when he had to take a ship to cross the seas, he pushed it around the deck all day, on all fours, of course, all the way and—”
“No, no, no!” Banquo spluttered indignantly. “That wasn’t me! That was Hubert von Wagnerhoff—you can’t call him an adventurer.” The implication was clear that you couldn’t call him a gentleman, either.
“Oh, sorry,” Dame Cecile said distantly. “Er, what do you do?”
“I,” he announced grandly, “am a circumnavigator.”
“A what?” Evangeline looked to Dame Cecile for a translation. Cecile shrugged her shoulders.
“I circle the world,” he said. “I have done it by sailing craft—backwards, against all known tides. I have challenged the Bermuda Triangle—and won! I have just returned from a solo mission to the North Pole to personally monitor the retreat of the glaciers, the melting of the ice floes and—”
“Yes, yes, that’s all very well,” Hugh said impatiently. “But, whatever you’re trying to prove here, you can forget about it. We know nothing about this—er—”
“Melisande,” Martha supplied, an increasingly thoughtful look growing in her eyes.
“Yes, well, whatever her name is,” Hugh said. “She isn’t here—and we know nothing about her. I suggest you go and look for her elsewhere.” He began moving forward, looking menacing. “Now!”
Banquo looked uncertain for a moment. Then Evangeline moved forward to stand beside Hugh. That did it. Hugh was menacing enough, but reinforced by Evangeline, he was too formidable to argue with.
“I’ll go—” Banquo blustered. “But I’ll be back! I’ll find her if I have to take this town apart!”
“You do that,” Evangeline said. She and Hugh herded him down the hallway and we all waited silently until we heard the door slam behind him and their footsteps returning.
“Right!” I went over and banged on the bathroom door. “You can come out now, Jocasta,” I called. “He’s gone.”

 
Copyright © 2012 by Marian Babson