The August prompt for my writers group was loosely based on Cluedo, with members having submitted names for characters, places and settings and the murder weapon. I wanted to carry on with my characters in the Garden, so I didn’t quite use the prompt correctly but I hope you enjoy the story anyway. I used several of the characters given in the list, mentioned a place and used one of the murder weapons. If you would like to read the first story, ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’, you can find it here, the second story ‘A Visit from Peggy the Pram’ here and the third story,’Nightly Disturbances’ here
Why does he always pick me?
“I expect you’re wondering why I always pick you, Crispin,” Bartrum said with alarming perception, “it’s because I can rely on you.”
Crispin sighed and took the list Bartrum held out. He considered volunteering for cess pit duty instead of accepting this assignment but there were glooping sounds coming from the putrid water and Gusty Bob, who was currently on duty, had complained about the stench and the enormous bubbles that rose to the surface with alarming frequency. If Gusty Bob complained about a smell… well, it didn’t bear thinking about.
Crispin sighed again. He knew he was beaten.
“Good, that’s settled then,” said Bartrum, smiling delightedly. “The French Chef arrives today, so you only need kitchen helpers, waiters, security and a band for tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” asked Crispin weakly.
“Indeed,” said Bartrum dismissing Crispin with a wave of his hand.
“It’s imperative Lord and Lady Arscott, Sir Edmond Fairweather and the Honourable Mrs. Shaydser-Grey enjoy themselves. Nothing must go wrong. D’you understand? Nothing! You’ll be held personally responsible should any of our esteemed guests have cause for complaint.”
“Band?” No, I don’t know any bands,” said Sylvester, “but if you like, I’ll DJ for you. I’m wicked at mixing and scratching…”
“Thank you, but no. Somehow, I don’t think Bartrum’s guests are into Hippedy Hop or whatever you think passes for music. But I’d appreciate it if you could wait at the table.”
Sylvester got up and stood next to the table. “What am I waiting for?”
“I haven’t got time for this!” snapped Crispin, “I’ve got the dinner of the century to organise.”
“Dinner? Why didn’t you say? I’ll round up a few of the chaps to be waiters, Gusty Bob can play any tune you like. If we put him in the begonias and are mindful of prevailing winds, the guests should be safe. And that new troll pulls some pretty scary faces. He’ll make a good bouncer. ”
Crispin collapsed backwards into a chair, his mouth open.
“Sometimes Sylvester, you amaze me. That’s brilliant…”
“But if you change your mind about the DJ,” Sylvester said, swivelling his hat round so it was back to front, “I’m your elf.”
Against all odds, everything was going smoothly. Sylvester’s friends appeared, suitably attired in black, and once Crispin demonstrated that cutlery needed to be carefully positioned and not dumped in a heap, things started to pick up. Nina the Ninja, insisted on wearing the French maid’s outfit she’d worn to a fancy dress party. It was similar although admittedly shorter, skimpier and altogether racier than a waitress’s uniform but she was so keen and arranged the flowers so beautifully, Crispin said she could stay hoping he could restrict her to the kitchen once the guests arrived.
There was a deafening crash from the kitchen, rapidly followed by a stream of French invective. Crispin didn’t speak French but judging by the tone and volume, the language had nothing to do with culinary arts and a lot to do with temper.
When he arrived in the kitchen, the chef was standing on a chair, brandishing a meat cleaver.
“Monsieur!” he shouted when he spotted Crispin, “I cannot work in conditions such as zeeze, I need ze ‘elp zat is ‘elpful. Not zeeze numpties!” he waved the cleaver at the startled kitchen aids.
A large gnome rolled up his sleeves, “I’ll give you ‘numpty’! You jumped up little…”
“See! You are a numpty” the irate chef shouted, leaping from the chair, “I am not jumped up, I am jumped down. And I qweet!” He flounced out of the kitchen, thumbing his nose in a Gallic insult that was lost on the kitchen aids.
“Oooh…” said Sylvester.
“Stop!” said Crispin “If you’re thinking of adding ‘La La’ to that ‘Oooh’, it won’t be funny,”
Several of the younger gnomes tittered.
Crispin wailed and held his fists to his temples.
“Don’t worry,” said Sylvester, “we’ve got another cook.”
“Frank used to be a cook.”
“Frank?” said Crispin weakly, wanting Sylvester’s solution to be a real solution and not the craziness he suspected it might be.
“Yes, Frank Fowle, the troll, he used to be a cook.”
Having seen the unsavoury character guarding the door, Crispin didn’t doubt Frank Fowle knew how to use a knife, but could he handle a fork or spoon?
Fortunately, before the French Chef had flounced, he’d left lobster bisque gently bubbling on the Aga, a peacock that was browning nicely and a splendid chocolate gateau, decorated with enormous whirls of cream which were still wobbling gently after the flamboyant and vigorous exit of the chef.
“What’ you gawpin’ at?” Frank Fowle asked the kitchen aids with a sniff. He wiped his nose up his sleeve – the whole length of his sleeve.
The kitchen aids were mesmerised.
“What yer bleedin’ waitin’ for? C’mon we got work t’do,” he said and seized a wooden spoon by the bowl.
Crispin couldn’t decide which was most excruciating, watching Frank stir the bisque with the handle of the wooden spoon or Bartrum fawning over the guests. He was sporting a rather fine pair of red, velvet trousers and lacy shirt. Mrs. Bartrum was resplendent in orange satin, her hair piled high on her head and she’d even had a shave.
The guests were equally as colourful and grand and were happy scoring points, establishing their position in the social pecking order. The gazebo which had been set up as the dining room sparkled with fairy lights and from somewhere in the begonias, music drifted on the breeze – thankfully,away from the gazebo. A satisfied Crispin headed back to the kitchen. To his surprise, waiters were loading trays with steaming lobster bisque, ready to take into the dining room. It was all going perfectly. There was only one thing that bothered him. He wished Frank wouldn’t keep putting his finger up his nose.
Crispin checked his watch. Everything seemed to be running like clockwork and when he realised he was getting in the way, he hid in the pantry watching the coming and going of the waiters and Nina, the French maid-waitress, as plates charged high with food left the kitchen and empty dishes returned. It was amazing how fast Frank could organise the courses and staff. Crispin wasn’t sure he actually knew what he was serving, especially when he told the waiters the ‘lobster beaks’ were ready but it all went to the table in the right order and from the laughter in the gazebo, a good time was being had by all. It was difficult to see the furthest end of the kitchen from the pantry, but as that was where Frank was working, Crispin was happy with his restricted view. The sight of a troll with his finger up his nose whilst dolloping food on to plates was more than Crispin could bear. He could, however, see the pile of dirty dishes grow ever taller and he suspected that later, that would be his job. Frank didn’t seem too concerned about cleanliness. Still, mused Crispin, Frank had saved the dinner.
It was going brilliantly although Crispin couldn’t imagine why Mrs. Bartrum was shouting so loudly but since the other guests were laughing and cheering, it was all right. Wasn’t it?
Apparently, it wasn’t. Well, not from Nina’s point of view. She burst into the kitchen hotly pursued by Bartrum wielding a feather duster. The same French maid’s feather duster that Crispin had banned from the dinner. Luckily for Nina, whose stiletto shoes were hampering her escape, Frank was a messy cook. If Bartrum hadn’t been so intent on tickling Nina, he might have side-stepped the blob of chocolate cake on the floor and and he wouldn’t have aquaplaned across the flagstones on a thin film of cream. Crispin watched aghast as Bartrum collided with the Aga, collapsing in a red, velvet and lace heap.
“Blimey! Just like a sack o’ spuds,” remarked Frank as he kicked the rest of the cake under the table, “there, that’s better, can’t have people slipping over, can we?”
Crispin rushed to Bartrum’s aid but just as he was wondering at the wisdom of slapping him, there was a piercing scream from the gazebo. Mrs. Bartrum ran into the kitchen, “Murder!” she screamed, “Murder most foul!”
“‘Ere, what you sayin’?” asked Frank.
“Sylvester, look after Bartrum,” Crispin said, “I’ll find out what’s happened.”
The Honourable Mrs. Shaydser-Grey was lying spreadeagled on the floor, her fuchsia pink evening gown smeared with chocolate cake. Lady Arscott crawled out from under the table, fanning herself with a table-mat, Lord Arscott was snoring, his head on the table and Sir Edmond was staggering about the room. “Ah, Crispy, Mrs. Shaydser-Grey seems to be dead. Either that or she’s still in character from Charades.” He stumbled against the table, waking Lord Arscott.
“Four!” shouted Lord Arscott before slumping into his dessert.
“What happened?” Crispin asked.
“She went down like a sack of Maris Pipers. Or possibly King Edwards. Crispy, dear chap, is there any more of that divine chocolate cake? I’d kill for a slice…” said tiny Sir Edmond,as his knees buckled. Crispin rushed forward just in time to catch his diminutive body.
Just like a sack of Jersey Royals, thought Crispin.
At first light, the Garden was unnaturally quiet. However, Crispin, who’d been up all night, had sorted everything and everyone out. Mrs. Bartrum’s cries of “Leave my husband alone, you hussy!” had drawn Crispin to the cess pit and he’d patiently explained the glooping sounds were just that – and not Nina and Bartrum. He led her back to her husband, who’d finally regained consciousness and with one hand holding a pack of frozen peas to his forehead and the other pinching his nose, he shepherded his stinking wife home.
When Lord Arscott’s driver arrived, he stoically tucked his employer under one arm, his wife under the other and carried them to the coach.
“Over-exuberance,” Crispin said, by way of explanation for their dishevelled appearance. I hope, he thought, fearing Frank Fowle had inadvertently poisoned everyone.
“Whatever,” said the driver.
Tiny Sir Edmond had wandered off and was later found half a mile away in the graveyard by his driver, who took him home.
And to Crispin’s relief, the guest who’d given most cause for concern, Mrs Shaydser-Grey wasn’t dead, just dead drunk and he’d gratefully handed her over to her driver, to take home.
Although everyone had survived and had eventually made it home, the evening had been an unmitigated disaster. It wasn’t his fault Frank had poisoned everyone but Crispin doubted that even Bartrum would dare put Frank on cess pit duty, so Crispin would bear the brunt of the punishment and it would probably involve the cess pit, soap and a toothbrush.
He hurried the black sack to the bins and was surprised how much rubbish was already there. Mrs Bartrum’s orange gown was stained brown, possibly with chocolate cake or possibly not but obviously now unwearable. A French maid’s outfit and feather duster had also been discarded and to Crispin’s amazement, a mountain of empty drink bottles, six of which he noted, had once contained finest French cognac.
It was Sylvester who explained what had happened, once he’d woken up and had an aspirin. Frank had apparently added a bottle of cognac to the ‘lobster beaks’ and all the guests had had seconds and then thirds. The roast peacock had been served with a delicious cognac sauce which took a further two bottles and the chocolate gateau had been liberally laced with…
“Cognac,” said Crispin sighing, “And I suppose you and the other staff ate the leftovers.”
Sylvester nodded and then winced.
Bartrum summoned a dejected Crispin to his office.
“Excellent evening, absolute triumph,” he said to Crispin’s amazement, “everyone had a wonderful time and have asked when the next dinner will be, so, I’d like to book you for next Tuesday…”
If you enjoyed the story, why not check out the ebook ‘Daffodil and the Thin Place’ here on the Muse It Up Publishing website. #MuseItUp #DaffodilAndTheThinPlace