The door from the kitchen opened into the main front room of the house. Guests milled about, coming and going from the open dining room to the left. A grand piano sat to the right of the door and a man was seated playing a soft jazz song I did not recognize. A large Christmas tree sat in the far right corner in front of the bay windows, the angel on top nearly reaching the twelve foot ceiling. A model train ran around the base of the tree.
Well, I say the door opened into that room. It also opened into a young girl carrying a tray of hors d'oeuvres.
The tray went tumbling down to the varnished floors, crab cakes and shrimp bouncing everywhere. A small glass bowl of red sauce splashed down on the toe of the girl’s shoe and she let out a cry of surprise.
“Oh, damn, I’m sorry, Bern,” I said, “Let me... damn.”
Before I could turn to get a towel from the kitchen, the girl pulled out a white cloth from the small of her back where it had been tucked into her belt.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “Not my first rodeo.”
I laughed and started picking up the small assortment of bite-sized seafood from the floor while Bern wiped up the sauce. She was fast and I could tell that she had some experience in doing it. By the color of the towel, it had already had some use tonight.
“When’d you start waiting?” I asked.
“Mom’s thing. I help her out on the big jobs like tonight. I suck at it, though, but I cut myself in the kitchen.”
I nodded, thinking of all the faint scars up and down my arms from my time in kitchens. Those lessons were hard learned. I guessed that Bernadette Finch had learned a few lessons of her own over the years.
The girl was tall and pretty but hid it under baggy clothes and a sour face. Bernadette and her boyfriend Adam worked at the library a couple of nights a week. It had started out as punishment for some friends of theirs trashing the library, but ended up as a long term thing. She was smart and once she got over being seventeen, she could help people with an easy grace that even I do not have with my decade of experience. I had mentioned more than once that she might want to think about library school after high school. I think she might be considering it.
We finished the clean up and she took the tray from me and retreated to the kitchen. I stood and looked around at the crowd. A few nodded to me and I tilted my head back. Nothing like making an impression.
“It’s nice to see you can still charm a room,” a female voice said.
I turned to see a small brown and silvered haired woman in a red silk top staring up at me.
“Learned it from my mother,” I said, leaning down to kiss her cheek.
“You didn’t learn that from me. I come in the front door. And what are you wearing?” she said.
“Clothes. Covers my nekkidness.”
Mom rolled her eyes and waved absently at someone in the dining room, “You could have at least taken off that horrible jacket. Smells like a cigarette.”
“Sorry, I didn’t really mean to stay long.”
“Well, either way I’m glad you came. Shows you care.”
“That’s me. All heart. Have you seen Caleb? He’s the last person I need to see before I go.”
“Go? You just got here. Evan, it’s New Years. Have some fun.”
“I plan to, as soon as I can get away from the suits.”
She shook her head again, “I told Natalie you wouldn’t come.”
Now it was my turn to look surprised, “She said you wanted me here.”
“I do, I did. I always want you around. You’re a part of this community. But I know you. Like your daddy, never one for this kinda thing.”
“Where is dad?”
“Home. I wouldn’t drag him to this.”
“You seen Natalie? Or Caleb?”
“In the dining room last I saw, but there’s people everywhere. Did you at least see the tents?”
I nodded, “Saw em.”
“Isn’t it pretty? I told Ginny Wade it was like being in a box of Kleenex. I was afraid to touch anything that I might leave a smear on all that white.”
“Everybody’s here. Somewhere, anyway. Okay, now you go and mingle. Talk to some people for heavens sakes. And take off that nasty jacket.”
“I like my jacket,” I said, but she was already gone.
I wandered around the house, not wanting to go outside in the cold. After about ten minutes I settled in around the dessert counter in the dining room picking at the trays of chocolate. As I was contemplating a piece of red velvet cake, I felt two figures stand on either side of me.
“Mr. Banned?” Captain Stein of the Bannville Police said, “Can you come with us?”