Wow! Each time I post a new section of our collaborative cozy mystery, A Brunch with Death, I get so eager for the alerts to start popping up. I love seeing all the comments, ideas, suggestions start flowing in. It’s easy to see how much you love cozy mysteries.
Speaking of loving cozy mysteries, how about some new pages? Are you ready for another cliffhanger? Be sure to watch to find out what your next assignment is. This week I have another couple of questions for you to answer, so starting sending me all your wonderful thoughts and suggestions. I can feel the excitement building already!
“Fair, Lance? Of course it’s fair,” I told myself. “It would be a sin against all that is right in the world not to involve your BFF.” With that I proceeded directly across the plaza toward Torte. The bakeshop was bustling as always. I waited impatiently for Jules to catch my eye. “Darling, I need a minute of your time,” I called when she looked up from the pastry case.
“Lance, what are you doing here?” She asked, twisting her ethereal blonde locks into a ponytail and brushing her hands on her apron as she approached me.
“Darling, there’s no time for chit chat. We must talk—alone.” I nodded to a free booth by the front windows.
“Okay.” She wrinkled her nose. “Can I get you a coffee or something?”
I tapped my watch. “No time to dally, darling. This can’t wait.”
Juliet followed me to the booth and sat across from me. Her sea blue eyes were filled with concern. “Lance, what is it? You look stressed.”
“Stressed doesn’t even begin to explain it.” I leaned across the table and gave her a recap of my conversation with Richard Lord and the subsequent chaos at the Merry Windsor.
“Lance, that sounds like a disaster. Can you back out?”
I let out a long sigh. “If only. I fear I’ve made a grave mistake but alas, I can’t turn down that level of funding for the festival. You know the dire straights we’re been in with these ungodly wildfires.”
Juliet nodded. Her calming aura helped me breathe slower. “What can I do?”
“You have to help me do a little digging into this insane crew Richard has running the Merry Windsor. I don’t trust any of them. There’s something up with the desk clerk and Pierre—the head chef who is most certainly not French. And, don’t get me started on Toni. She’s in a category all to herself.”
“Sure, but how?” Juliet bit her bottom lip. “It’s not like I can just waltz into the hotel. Richard sees me as public enemy number one.”
“Exactly.” I snapped, a plan suddenly forming in my head. “Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll play the role of double agent. I’ll tell Richard that I’m inviting you to happy hour tonight under the guise that you will be distraught about his incredible new chef and our partnership. He’ll get to gloat about snagging me and the company members from the festival, when in reality you and I will be working together to figure out what in the world is happening at his dreaded hotel. What do you say?”
“I mean, I guess.” Juliet looked like she wanted to say more, but I cut her off.
“Excellent. It’s a plan. I’ll see you tonight. Five o’clock sharp. Ta ta, darling.” I scooted away before she could change her mind.
I took the long route back to the OSF campus. These luscious auburn-hued fall days wouldn’t last forever. Golden light flittered on wispy tree branches and illuminated colorful leaves. I twisted my cashmere scarf tighter and tucked my hands into my pockets as I passed the Lithia Bubblers and headed up Main Street. When I reached the corner of Pioneer Street, I stopped to admire the season’s incredible costumes on display in the window. Closing a season always brought about a touch of melancholy. I was excited to dive into set designs and staging for next year’s productions, while equally sad to say goodbye and turn the theater dark for a few months.
I suppose Richard’s ridiculous farce would provide a distraction if nothing else, I thought as I continued up hill.
Speaking of distractions, I turned my attention to the bricks—the outdoor venue attached to the Bowmer and Lizzie. Toni and Pierre were huddled near the entrance to the Tudor Guild Shop. They were deep in conversation.
I slunk against the far wall, trying to get close enough to overhear their conversation, while keeping out of sight.
“I’m doing it tonight, Peter, and you can’t stop me,” Toni’s voice was quiet but laced with anger.
Did she say Peter? That made more sense. He looked and sounded like a Peter, not a Pierre.
“No. We need more time. I haven’t gotten it signed yet.”
“It doesn’t matter. It has to be tonight. I’m not waiting around like last time. We learned our lesson, remember? You have to strike while the iron is hot, and the iron is scalding hot right now.”
Pierre—or Peter—cleared his throat. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. Give me a little more time.”
She threw her finger in his face. “No. It’s not up for debate. I don’t care what you think. I’m done and it’s happening tonight over your dead body if that’s what it takes.” A gust of wind sent leaves scattering across the bricks and Toni’s bleached hair flying. “I’m serious Peter, if you get in my way, you’re dead.” With that she tossed her hair and stomped away.
Peter, assuming that was really his name, raced after her. “Toni, wait!”
She didn’t wait. Neither did I.
I hurried to my office and placed a call to Richard. Juliet had to be part of this. “Richard, it’s Lance. I had a thought. What if I invite Juliet this evening?”
“Well, you mentioned your new menu and our show and I thought it might be an opportunity to give Torte a little glimpse into the new and improved Merry Windsor.”
Richard was silent for a moment. Maybe I’d laid it on too thick.
“Brilliant idea, Lance. I love it. Capshaw will be squirming for sure. Oh yeah, and bring some sketches for costuming and sets, would ya?”
“Absolutely. I’m starting on them now.” I hung up and pulled some old sketches from a production of Kiss Me Kate we had put on for our high school tour. Then I headed to the costume department to take some photos of potential options. We certainly weren’t going to design anything new for Richard.
Once that task was complete, my next project was more daunting—casting. Fortunately, the production didn’t require a large cast and I already had my Kate. I needed a Petruchio, Lucentio, and a few ensemble actors. A knock on my office door became a twist of fate. “Come in,” I called.
Brady, one of the newest members of the company, a young actor who had been an understudy this season, stood in the door frame. “Sorry to bother you, Mr. Rousseau. Lighting wanted me to give you this.” He held up a work order.
“Please, come in.” I waved him closer.
Brady handed me the work order.
“How has your first season with the company been?” I asked. “I know you’ve been understudying, but hopefully it’s been a good experience and you’ve learned a lot.”
“Yeah, it’s been great.” Brady grinned. He had a fresh young face with well-defined features. He had star potential.
“Glad to hear it. Actually, since you’re here I have a proposition for you.” I motioned for him to sit down. “Are you familiar with the Merry Windsor?”
Brady nodded. “Yeah, I work there part time in the kitchen.”
“You do?” What luck. I was going to see if he wanted a small role as one of the ensemble members, but this changed everything.
“Three days a week. I bus tables and wash dishes.”
“Excellent.” What divine intervention. “How do you feel about playing Petruchio?”
Brady’s face lit up. “Wait, I thought you weren’t announcing next year’s cast until the end of the season.”
“Sorry. That’s correct. I’m doing a special production at the Merry Windsor. A brunch fete, so to speak, and I think you’re ready for a leading role. What do you say?”
His face fell, but he recovered quickly. “Yeah, sure that would be awesome. At the Windsor?”
“Exactly. Is that a problem? I don’t think it should be a conflict of interest, but if you’re concerned I can speak with Richard.”
“No. That’s okay. It’s not a conflict. It’s just that I have a new boss in the kitchen. You mentioned brunch, so I was just wondering if he’ll be involved.”
“Yes. In fact, we’re having a cast happy hour with the chef’s new menu at the Windsor this evening. If you want the part I’d love to have you join us.”
Brady shifted uncomfortably. “Pierre is cooking tonight?”
“I believe so, why?”
“Uh,” he hesitated. “I’m not sure if I should tell you this, but…”