A Murder Hatched

Murder with Peacocks and Murder with Puffins, the First Two Books in the Meg Langslow Series

Meg Langslow Mysteries

Donna Andrews

Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books

 
Murder with Peacocks
Tuesday, May 24
I HAD BECOME SO USED TO HYSTERICAL DAWN PHONE CALLS THAT I only muttered one half hearted oath before answering.
“Peacocks,” a voice said.
“I beg your pardon, you must have the wrong number,” I mumbled. I opened one eye to peer at the clock: it was 6:00 A.M.
“Oh, don’t be silly, Meg,” the voice continued. Ah, I recognized it now. Samantha, my brother, Rob’s, fiancée. “I just called to tell you that we need some peacocks.”
“What for?”
“For the wedding, of course.” Of course. As far as Samantha was concerned, the entire universe revolved around her upcoming wedding, and as maid of honor, I was expected to share her obsession.
“I see,” I said, although actually I didn’t. I suppressed a shudder at the thought of peacocks, roasted with the feathers still on, gracing the buffet table. Surely that wasn’t what she had in mind, was it? “What are we going to do with them at the wedding?”
“We’re not going to do anything with them” Samantha said, impatiently. “They’ll just be there, adding grace and elegance to the occasion. Don’t you remember the weekend before last when we all had dinner with your father? And he was saying what a pity it was that nothing much would be blooming in the yard in August, so there wouldn’t be much color? Well, I just saw a photo in a magazine that had peacocks in it, and they were just about the most darling things you ever saw …”
I let her rattle on while I fumbled over the contents of my bedside table, found my notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe, flipped to the appropriate page, and wrote “Peacocks” in the clear, firm printing I use when I am not in a very good mood.
“Were you thinking of buying or renting them?” I asked, interrupting Samantha’s oration on the charms of peacocks.
“Well—rent if we can. I’m sure Father would be perfectly happy to buy them if necessary, but I’m not sure what we would do with them in the long run.” I noted “Rent/buy if necessary” after “Peacocks.”
“Right. Peacocks. I’ll see what I can turn up.”
“Wonderful. Oh, Meg, you’re just so wonderful at all this!”
I let her gush for a few more minutes. I wondered, not for the first time, if I should feel sorry for Rob or if he was actually looking forward to listening to her for the rest of his life. And did Rob, who shared my penchant for late hours, realize how much of a morning person Samantha was? Eventually, I managed to cut short her monologue and sign off. I was awake; I might as well get to work.
Muttering “Peacocks!” under my breath, I stumbled through a quick shower, grabbed some coffee, and went into my studio. I flung open all the windows and gazed fondly at my unlit forge and my ironworking tools. My spirits rose.
For about ten seconds. Then the phone rang again.
“What do you think of blue, dear?” my mother asked.
“Good morning, Mother. What do you mean, blue?”
“The color blue, dear.”
“The color blue,” I repeated, unenlightened. I am not at my best before noon.
“Yes, dear,” Mother said, with a touch of impatience.
“What do I think of it?” I asked, baffled. “I think it’s a lovely color. The majority of Americans name blue when asked their favorite color. In Asian cultures—”
“For the living room, dear.”
“Oh. You’re getting something blue for the living room?”
“I’m redoing it, dear. For the wedding, remember? In blue. Or green. But I was really leaning to blue. I was wondering what you thought.”
What I thought? Truthfully? I thought my mother’s idea of redoing the living room for the wedding had been a temporary aberration arising from too much sherry after dinner at an uncle’s house. And incidentally, the wedding in question was not Rob’s and Samantha’s but her own. After the world’s most amiable divorce and five years of so-called single life during which my father happily continued to do all her yard work and run errands for her, my mother had decided to marry a recently widowed neighbor. And I had also agreed to be Mother’s maid of honor. Which, knowing my mother, meant I had more or less agreed to do every lick of work associated with the occasion. Under her exacting supervision, of course.
“What sort of blue?” I asked, buying time. The living room was done entirely in earth tones. Redoing it in blue would involve new drapes, new upholstery, new carpet, new everything. Oh, well, Dad could afford it, I suppose. Only Dad wouldn’t be paying, I reminded myself. What’s-his-name would. Mother’s fiance. Jake. I had no idea how well or badly off Jake was. Well, presumably Mother did.
“I hadn’t decided, dear. I thought you might have some ideas.”
“Oh. I tell you what,” I said, improvising. “I’ll ask Eileen. She’s the one with the real eye for color. I’ll ask her, and we’ll get some color swatches and we’ll talk about it when I come down.”
“That will be splendid, Meg dear. Well, I’ll let you get back to your work now. See you in a few days.”
I added “Blue” to my list of things to do. I actually managed to put down my coffee and pick up my hammer before the phone rang a third time.
“Oh, Meg, he’s impossible. This is just not going to work.”
The voice belonged to my best friend and business partner, Eileen. She with the eye for colors. The he in question was Steven, since New Year’s Eve her fiance, at least during the intervals between premarital spats. At the risk of repeating myself, I should add that I was, of course, also Eileen’s maid of honor.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“He doesn’t want to include the Native American herbal purification ceremony in the wedding.”
“Well,” I said, after a pause, “perhaps he feels a little self-conscious about it. Since neither of you is actually Native American.”
“That’s silly. It’s a lovely tradition and makes such an important statement about our commitment to the environment.”
I sighed.
“I’ll talk to him,” I said. “Just one thing … Eileen, what kind of herbs are we talking about here? I mean, we’re not talking anything illegal, are we?”
“Oh, Meg.” Eileen laughed. “Really! I have to go, my clay’s ready.” She hung up, still laughing merrily. I added “Call Steven re herbs” to my list.
I looked around the studio. My tools were there, ready and waiting for me to dive into the ironwork that is both my passion and my livelihood. I knew I really ought to get some work done today. In a few days, I would be back in my hometown for what I was sure would be a summer from hell. But I was already having a hard time concentrating on work. Maybe it was time to throw in the towel and head down to Yorktown.
The phone rang again. I glared at it, willing it to shut up. It ignored me and kept on ringing. I sighed. and picked it up.
Eileen again.
“Oh, Meg, before you go down to Yorktown, could you—”
“I won’t have time to do anything else before I go down to Yorktown; I’m going down there tomorrow.”
“Wonderful! Why don’t you stop by on your way? We have some things to tell you.”
On my way. Yorktown, where my parents and Eileen’s father lived and where all the weddings were taking place, was three hours south of Washington, on the coast. Steven’s farm, where Eileen was now living, was three hours west, in the mountains. I was opening my mouth to ask if she had any idea how inconvenient stopping by was when I suddenly realized: if I went to Steven and Eileen’s, I could force them to make decisions, extract lists and signatures. I would have them in my clutches. This could be useful.
“I’ll be there for supper tomorrow.”
I spent the day putting my life on hold and turning over my studio to the struggling sculptor who’d sublet it for the summer. I went to bed feeling virtuous. I intended to spend the next several days really getting things done for the weddings.
A MURDER HATCHED: MURDER WITH PEACOCKS © 1999 by Donna Andrews and MURDER WITH PUFFINS © 2000 by Donna Andrews. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.