Dinner Club Mysteries

 

 Please enjoy the first chapter of

 

ROUX  THE DAY

 

 

“What’s the worst that can happen? Another dead body?”

                J.J. Tanner stared at her best friend and business partner, Skye Drake, her mouth hanging open.

Words eluded her.

                Skye noticed the look. “Sorry, I guess that was insensitive,   given what happened after your last event. Anyway, it couldn’t possibly happen again, so what’s got you worried?”

                “Only the fact that this is my first event for a non-profit,” J.J. answered, finding her voice. “And, I truly believe in their cause so I’d hate to see it bomb because I forgot to do something or even worse, made some wrong choices.”

                Skye flung her hands up in the air. “I hadn’t realized you were so uptight about this one.  Look, J.J., I’ve read your proposal and love the idea. You practically forced me to go through your bible for the casino night and I can attest that you’ve covered all the bases. This is a casino fundraiser for the People and Causes Foundation so any monies coming in, no matter how miniscule if that’s the unfortunate case, will make it a success in their books. And in my experience, it’s hard not to make money with a casino night. Now, I’m going to take you out for a glass of wine, some free advice, and a lift home. Grab your stuff.”

                J.J. let out a long sigh, shut down her computer, and stuffed her makeup bag into her purse. “You’ve already given me a lot of free advice,” she said, closing and locking the door of Make It Happen, Skye’s event planning business, behind them.

                “Did I say the advice is from me? No, I don’t think I said who it’s from. Do not assume. You know the old saying.”

                J.J. made a face just as Tansy Paine exited her office across the hall from them.

                “Very dignified, J.J.,’ Tansy commented and strode ahead of them, reaching the bottom of the stairs before they had started down.

                “Four-inch,” J.J. said.

                “Uh-uh. At least six, I’d guess. One of these days the stiletto diva is going to do a nosedive down these stairs.”

                “You are in a morbid mood this afternoon Skye Drake. I think I’d better buy you a drink.”

                “I was hoping it would work,” Skye said as she hooked her arm through J.J.’s. They’d made it to the front door of the two story historic home that housed their office, along with Tansy Paine’s law office,   when the door to the right opened.

                “Drinks?” Evan Thornton sang out. “Am I invited? I am, aren’t I?”

                “Of course.” J.J. glanced at Skye who nodded. “Are you ready or do you want to meet us at…where exactly are we going?”

                Skye’s eyebrows curved upwards and her lips flattened out. “All will soon be revealed.”

                Evan caught up to them on the sidewalk as they turned left onto Gabor Avenue. He quickly linked up with J.J.’s free arm, and the three of them walked a block towards Lake Champlain and then hurriedly crossed the street at the corner of Claymore.

                J.J.’s eyes lit up as they approached the outdoor patio of the O’Casey’s, Half Moon Bay’s newest Irish pub. Beth Brickner and Alison Manovich were already seated at one of the tables and waved them over.  J.J. glanced at Skye who shrugged. “I thought you needed your friends around you at a time like this so I gave Beth a call and she set it up. There’s nothing like talking food to bring back the sanity.”

                J.J. smiled and squeezed Skye’s hand. 

                “Connor’s going to be late,” Beth explained. “Something came up at the radio station.”

                At the mention of his name, J.J. felt her stomach do that flip flop again. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see him but since she’d signed him on to be one of the MC’s at the Casino Night, Connor Mac’s name was now synonymous with her fears of a flop. Skye noticed the look on her face and quickly ordered a glass of Shiraz for them both.

                “It might be hard to stay away from talk of the Casino Night once Connor gets here,” J.J. said, “but I’m really hoping we won’t be discussing it all night. I really need to think about something else for a while.”

                Skye jumped in, “And, I hope you don’t mind my tagging along. I promised her a drink. Or she promised me one. Anyway, we both need it about now.”

                “Happy to have you along, Skye,” Beth grinned as she plopped a brown paper bag on the table. “Well, I thought I’d take advantage of this opportunity to do the reveal for our next supper club night. That should keep your mind off your troubles, J.J.” She patted the bag. “It’s this baby right here and you’ll have to wait until Connor arrives.” She smiled and tilted her glass of wine towards each of them in turn.

                “Yikes, I’d totally lost track of time,” J.J. admitted. “When’s the next dinner?”

                “Three weeks from this Sunday. And you’d better remember it’s at my house.” Beth tapped the top of the bag again. “I think this will be a surprise and we’ll have lots of fun with it.”

                “Are you insinuating we haven’t been having fun?” Evan asked, a look of affront on his face. J.J. noticed his blue eyes twinkling and she tried to stifle a grin, waiting to see how this would play out.

                Beth looked abashed. “No, of course not. I’d never suggest that.” She leaned forward and squinted at Evan across the table. “Nice one, Evan. You really had me going there for a few seconds.”  She started laughing and they all joined in.

                J.J. looked around the table at the four members of the Culinary Capers Club.  Each would take a turn hosting the monthly dinner and that host got to choose a cookbook and an entrée. The others would bring along an accompanying dish, also from that cookbook. Evan had been the one who’d invited her to join and now, after many months of shared meals and laughter, she considered them all to be close friends. Food could do that.

                “Well, while we’re waiting for Connor, can’t you give us at least a quick update on the Casino Night?” Alison asked. “You know we’ll be there for you in spirit.”

                J.J. thought about it for a moment. I’m just being silly. She nodded. “As you know, it’s in two weeks and it’s the primary fundraiser for People and Causes, on board the Lady of the Lake. That’s the largest cruise boat in the Crowder Sightseeing Line so you can just imagine how cool that will be. We cast off at 6:30 P.M. and return to the dock at 1 A.M. Besides the roulette wheel, there’ll be black jack, craps, and three card poker. We’ll serve a buffet dinner at 10 P.M., and there’ll be a great DJ for those wanting to dance at the back of the boat.”

                “Aft,” Connor said, sinking into the chair beside J.J.

                She looked at him.

                “Aft. That’s the back of the boat. Hi, everyone. Sorry I’m late. Glad you didn’t wait for me.” He nodded at the drinks.

                “And,” J.J. took over again, “our celebrity Master of Ceremonies are our very own Connor Mac of radio WHMB morning show fame, and TV personality Miranda Myers, host of Tonight’s Entertainment on WBVT.” She looked at Connor and noticed the flicker pass over his face, almost so fast that she wondered if she’d really seen it. And what had it meant?

                Connor signaled the server and ordered a beer. “No one’s ordered any food yet? Are we doing dinner or what?”

                “It’s my night to cook,” Evan explained, “so I’m not eating. Well, maybe an appetizer.”

                “Okay, then let’s get a variety of small dishes on the table.” Connor signaled the server again and asked for one of each of the four appetizers on the menu. “I hope that’s all right with everyone,” he asked.

                They all nodded and Alison did the equivalent of a shrug with her eyes.

                “Well, I’d like to take over the floor then while we’re all waiting,” Beth said in a louder voice. The room had filled up quickly and what with the music and talking, it was getting hard to hear. She stared at Connor. “I’m doing the cookbook reveal tonight.” She pulled the narrow but large dark book out of the bag.  “There’s nothing like a good murder to whet the appetite.”

                Someone gasped. J.J. Tanner realized she’d been the culprit and she suspected that Beth was pleased with the reaction. The others chuckled and gave Beth their full attention.

                “So, my choice for the next Culinary Capers dinner is the Mystery Writers of America Cookbook.” She handed it to Connor and he started flipping through the pages. “The recipes are contributed by some of the most dangerous crime writers in the country. And I’m hoping they’re all safe to use.”

She grinned and J.J. thought it made her look so much younger than her sixty-something years. “I’m really sorry though, J.J. There are only a few full-page color pictures. I know how much you like those but I’m hoping you’ll bear with me for this one time.”

J.J. tried to make it look like she was giving her answer a lot of thought. “Okay. But just this once.” She smiled to show she was kidding. Sort of. “Have you chosen an entrée yet?”

“I have. I’m going to do the Chicken Gabriella which is contributed by Sara Paretsky, one of my favorite mystery authors.  And I thought it might be fun for us to each talk a bit at the dinner about the author’s whose recipes we’ve chosen.  Maybe, if everyone has the time, we could each read a book written by our author and just say a few words about it, too. I think it would be fun and a bit different. What do you all say?” She looked so expectant, J.J. knew no one would dare to pan the idea.

“Great,” Evan chimed out first. “You’re right, it will be fun adding another element and I put dibs on dessert.”

“Wow, right in there. We’re taking a big leap here, not having a good look at what’s offered before claiming a dish but I’ll volunteer for an appetizer,” Alison said, moving aside some glasses to allow the first two dishes they’d ordered to be set on the table. “Over to you, J.J.”

“Hm, maybe a side dish.”

“Do we need two of those?” Connor asked. ”I see they have a Soups and Salads section, also.”

“I trust your judgment,” Beth answered. “You can let me know what you think after taking a closer look at what’s there.” She glanced around the table. “Thank you. I appreciate your all getting into this. I think it will be memorable and quite delicious.”

 Evan raised  his  glass in a toast. “Here’s to an evening of mystery!”