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The Perfect Candlelight Supper

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"Richard? Richard!"

Richard sighed heavily and went to see what Hyacinth wanted.

"Richard? Where are you, dear? I do hope you aren't -- oh, there you are." Hyacinth gave him a stern look and waved her notebook toward him. "Now, Richard, I need you to do something for me."

"Of course, you do," said Richard, bracing himself for whatever new demand was about to me made of him. "It's not as if you simply want my company."

"Hmm? What was that, dear?"

"Nothing. What was it you wanted?"

"I do hope you aren't going to be difficult today, Richard. You know how much this means to be." Hyacinth looked down at her notes. "Now, I want you to - pay attention, Richard, I'm relying on you. Our social position may very well depend upon your actions today."

"Yes, dear, I'm listening, I'm paying close attention to your every word, I swear."

"I'm not sure I like your tone, Richard." She stared at him a moment longer, watching to make sure he was properly cowed. "Now, you are to go to the market on Whitmore and ask for the owner, a Mr. Grenfell - no one else, Richard, you speak only to the owner."

"It'll be a challenge to ask anyone for Mr. Grenfell if I can't talk to anyone else," muttered Richard quietly. Pasting on his most earnest look, he said aloud, "And what do I want with Mr. Grenfell?"

"Prawns, Richard. You are to arrange for their finest select Norwegian prawns. I have it on good authority they are from the same boat that caught the ones brought in for The Gala - you remember, the Lord Mayor's fundraiser for trees or homeless dogs or something." She frowned, looking slightly confused. "But they are not the same, the prawns I mean. They're not leftovers or anything. But the boat was able to bring in the best prawns the last time, so they obviously know how to pick prawns."

Richard shook his head. "I don't think one actually picks prawns--"

Hyacinth clasped the notebook to her bosom. "Members of the aristocracy were in attendance, Richard, and we weren't even there."

"Now, Hyacinth --"

"We had an invitation and couldn't go! I was so disappointed," she huffed. "And I'm certain it was a terrible breach of etiquette to not show up when members of the aristocracy were present."

"The Lord Mayor understood it was a family emergency, Hyacinth. You did the right thing," he said.

"Still, it was so inconsiderate. They knew I had been looking forward to this event for months."

"Well, to be fair, it's not as if your father planned to be rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack," said Richard, chastising his wife.

"Oh, I know, dear, I know. It's just...I was so disappointed."

"Well, you'll get your chance to impress the mayor tomorrow evening," said Richard. "He's --"

The ringing of the phone - the white slim line telephone with last number redial - interrupted him.

"Excuse me a moment, dear. That's bound to be someone important," said Hyacinth as the rushed from the sitting room. "Oh, I do hope nothing has come up to spoil my candlelight supper."

Richard followed at a distance, part of him hoping the dinner would be canceled, part of him dreading what would happen if the dinner were to be canceled. Hyacinth would be impossible to live with either way.

"Good morning, Bouquet residence, the lady of the house speaking." Her posture immediately straightened. "The Lord Mayor's office? Oh, I do hope he doesn't have to can- wine? Oh, how kind, well, uh, white I think, yes, definitely white. Preference? I, uh, I-I-I, that is, I will defer to His Lordship's judgement on the brand, uh, vintage."

Richard just shook his head. As much as Hyacinth like to present herself as the ultimate expert in all things related to elegant and fine dining, she really was clueless when it came to wine. Her criteria tended to be limited to the more expensive, the better.

"Family? Family! Oh, yes, of course. Please let the Lord Mayor know I - we! We are looking forward to it. Th-thank you." She hung up the phone and sagged against the wall.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"The Lord Mayor and his good Lady are expecting to meet my family, Richard. My family!" She clasped a hand to her bosom. "Oh, Richard, we'll be ruined, socially. Can you imagine, Onslow at the same table as the Lord Mayor? Or Rose with her legs waving all about in those nonexistent skirts? Although, I suppose, if Daddy has one of his episodes we can pass it off as an aftereffect of his illness."

"Hyacinth!"

"Well, at least Violet knows how to behave - and dress. I wonder if she can persuade Bruce to stay home. Or at least wear proper trousers rather than that mauve pantsuit he's become so fond of. I mean, really. It does nothing for his complexion." She drew in a shuddering breath. "What shall we do, Richard? What can we do?"

Richard stepped close to her and grasped her arms. "It will all be fine," he said, giving her a slight shake when she continued to fret, ignoring him and becoming more and more wound up. "Stop that, Hyacinth!"

Hyacinth looked startled, but did pause for a moment at her husband's uncharacteristically take-charge attitude, giving him the opening he wanted.

"Now, dear, there is no reason to panic - I said, listen. The dinner isn't until tomorrow evening, right? So, you have plenty of time to get your family ready. I will give you my card and you can take Daisy clothes shopping."

"And Rose. She needs a longer skirt."

"If you must," he muttered under his breath.

"What was that, Richard?"

"Oh, I-I said yes, you must. Get Rose a longer skirt, I mean."

"Yes, I do think it's best, don't you?"

Richard could almost see plans coming to life in her head. He dreaded the credit card bill, but at least his wife was calming down somewhat.

"I won't bother taking Onslow, he won't go, but Daisy can get him something decent," she said. "And as for Daddy..."

"Call Daisy and invite her out. I'm sure she'd be willing to go today, maybe even get her hair done - Rose, too. Perhaps Violet will go with you to help."

"Oh, Richard, how clever of you! Between us, we can have the others whipped into shape before tomorrow's dinner. And we can instruct everyone on proper behaviour in the presence of the Lord Mayor and his good Lady wife," she beamed. "Oh, wait, I can't - there's still so much else to do! There's so little time--"

“And that is why I am going to help you.” Richard gently removed the notebook from Hyacinth’s grasp. He began flipping through the pages. “This has everything that needs to be done. Every…single…detail…”

“Richard—“

“Everything will be fine, dear. Go call your sisters while I look through these notes.”

“If you’re certain, I—“

“Go. The sooner you do your part, the sooner I can get started with this,” he said, waving the notebook at her. When she rushed (in a dignified manner, of course) to the phone, he wandered toward the kitchen.

"Daisy, dear, how are you? I have a lovely treat for you - and Onslow, I suppose."

Richard sat heavily one the nearest chair and let her voice wash over him as he began flipping through the pages - and pages - of notes. "What have I gotten myself into?" he moaned. So many details, so many ways everything could go horribly wrong. He was so tired of these damn candlelight suppers and all the drama.

+=+=+

"Richard! Richard, where are you?" Hyacinth poked her head into the sitting room. "Oh, there you are. Why are you just sitting there, dear? We haven't time for lounging about."

With a heavy sigh, He stood up and tugged at his suit jacket.

"Now, dear, let's have a look at you." She walked around Richard, eyeing him critically. "Are you certain about that tie, dear? I'm not convinced it projects quite the right impression. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Don't ask me," said, holding up his hands in surrender. "You're the one who chose it, so you've no one else to blame" he said.

"Hmm? Don't be difficult, Richard." Whatever else she would have said was interrupted by the melodic tones of the door chime. "Never mind, dear, you'll have to do."

He shook his head at her once she turned away toward the door, patting her hair as she went.

"Richard! Come along, dear, everyone must practice before our guests arrive - everyone, Richard."

"Your family are our guests, too, Hyacinth," said Richard, but quietly so as not to draw down his wife's attention. He entered the dining room in time to watch her inspect everyone's clothing.

"Yes, fine, you all look presentable," she said before urging everyone to have a seat. "We'll just have a quick practice before the Lord Mayor and his Lady wife arrive."

He met Onslow's gaze and gave him a small shrug, trying to silently convey both sympathy and his innocence of any part in Hyacinth's mad scheme.

Once everyone was seated to her satisfaction, Hyacinth began drilling everyone in table manners and which eating utensil was to be used with which food. Her intensity seemed to make everyone a bit clumsy.

Richard was privately relieved that Elizabeth and Emmet had other plans this evening. Poor Liz would never have survived the pressure. A particularly sharp rebuke from Hyacinth brought Richard to his feet. He flinched slightly under his wife's irritated stare, but straightened his spine.

"Hyacinth, everyone knows what to do and how to behave." He moved around the table to the sideboard and reached into the back of the lower cupboard, searching for his emergency bottle. "Where is - ah! Here we are."

"Richard, I hardly think-"

"Think of it as being for medicinal purposes." Goodness knew he could use a belt, perhaps even the whole bottle, but he made his way around the table, pouring out generous glassfuls for everyone. He smiled when Onslow quickly downed his drink in a large gulp, and poured him another before adding a bit to his own glass.

He raised his glass. "Here's to a perfect candlelight supper. Cheers."

Everyone raised their glasses and drank. Well, everyone except Hyacinth.

"You, too, Hyacinth." He leaned in and whispered, "Look, everyone else has finished their drinks."

She sighed, but obediently finished her drink.

After a few minutes, the tension seemed to melt away. With his wife's grudging permission, Richard refilled everyone's glasses. He watched with satisfaction as everyone finished their drinks and settled back in their chairs. The mood in the room turned mellow, and Richard sat back in satisfaction, idly turning his glass on the table. He sat back and let the growing silence wash over him, calming his own nerves.

The clock in the sitting room chimed the hour, prompting him to get up and begin collecting the used glasses. "I'll only be a moment," he said. "Everyone just relax." He took the glasses into the kitchen, washed them and brought them back to the table.

"There now, we're all set," said Richard. He paused a moment to take in the scene, everyone dressed in their Sunday best, relaxed in their chairs. He lit the candles - it wouldn't be a candlelight supper if there were no candles - and turned down the main lights.

"I must admit, this is perhaps the most perfect supper we've had in years. It does my heart good to have family at this table and no sniping or complaining." He was about to sit when the doorbell chimed. "Don't get up, I'll let them in."

He greeted the Lord Mayor and his wife, thanking them for coming. "This way, everyone is here. Everyone's made themselves comfortable in the dining room so that Hyacinth's father didn't have to move about more than necessary."

His guests were ushered into the dining room, with its elegantly set table and candlelight reflecting off the crystal glassware and highly polished silver. Richard slipped into the room and began walking around the table, laying a hand on each person's shoulder as he introduced them.

"You know my wife, of course. And this is her father, her sister Daisy and her husband Onslow. This is Rose, her youngest sister, and Violet, her other sister, and husband Bruce." He quickly hurried back around the table in time to catch Rose before she tipped out of her chair. "Sit up straight, that's a good girl."

Richard pulled out a chair, and invited the Lord Mayor's wife to have a seat, but her husband began to nudge her out of the room. "Excuse us a moment, would you - we forgot to make a call. To the babysitter. We just want to let her know how to get in touch in case of an emergency. We'll be right back, you just wait here."

"The phone is just there in the hallway," said Richard, taking his seat. "You can't miss it. It's a white, slim line telephone with last number redial. Hyacinth is very proud of that phone." He leaned over to give her a peck on the cheek, but had to grab her when she began to tilt sideways.

"We'll just be a moment," said the Lord Mayor, backing out of the room, keeping himself between his host and his wife.

+=+=+

Flashing lights greeted Liz and Emmet when they turned onto their street.

"What do you suppose that's about?" asked Emmet.

"An accident, maybe," replied Elizabeth. "It looks to be pretty close to the house."

Emmet watched more emergency vehicles arrive. "Well whatever it is, it's serious."

Elizabeth hit the brakes when she realized where all the vehicles were parked. She and Emmet got out of their car and walked toward the commotion, stunned at the realization that the emergency was at Hyacinth and Richard's house.

A uniformed officer stopped them when they reached the driveway. "I'm sorry, this area is off limits. Please return to your vehicle and leave the area."

"Actually, I live over there," said Elizabeth, pointing to her house. She reached into her purse and pulled out her identification for the officer. "We were out for the evening - what's happened?"

"Do you know Mr. and Mrs. Bucket?" he asked.

"She pronounces it Bouquet, but yes," she replied. Before she could repeat her question about the goings on, she heard Richard call out.

"Oh, hello Liz. Emmet. I hope you had a good evening."

Emmet took a step toward him, but stopped when he realized Richard's hands were bound and two officers gripped his arms.

"Sorry I can't stop to chat," said Richard as got into the back of the police car.

They watched in stunned horror as the door was closed and the vehicle pulled away, Richard smiling pleasantly at them the whole time.

Emmet and Elizabeth turned back to the officer who had approached them. "What exactly happened here?" asked Emmet.

"That's what we're trying to figure out. We got a call from the Lord Mayor asking that police come to this address. When we arrived, there are multiple bodies inside, all propped up in chairs around a dining table."

"Bodies," gasped Elizabeth. "What - how -"

"When we arrived, a man - a Mr. Bucket - was trying to convince the Lord Mayor and his wife to join the dinner party."

"Candlelight supper," murmured Emmet.

"Beg pardon?"

Elizabeth nodded toward the house. "Hyacinth insists they are candlelight suppers, not dinner parties."

"Well, she won't be insisting on anything anymore," said the officer.

"Hyacinth? You mean...?" gasped Elizabeth, leaning against her brother as shock settled in.

"Afraid so. We're checking IDs on the other guests."

Emmet paled. "Dear lord. I-I think the other guests are her family - three sisters, two brothers-in-law and their father. I saw Richard yesterday. He said something about Hyacinth's family and the Lord Mayor coming over for a candlelight supper."

"We'd been invited, but had other plans," said Elizabeth, the horror of the situation rushing over her anew.

A voice called out to the officer. "Best get inside, then. Someone will be over to interview you." He nodded to them and started to leave, but turned back. "It's funny, you saying it was a candlelight supper. Mr. Bucket kept rambling about how difficult it was to create the perfect candlelight supper."

Someone called the officer over. "Sorry, I have to go. Please wait inside your house and I'll have someone come by to interview your about Mr. and Mrs. Bucket."

"Bouquet, it's pronounced Bouquet," said Elizabeth quietly, allowing Emmet to guide her into the house.

 

-end-