Authors: Laura Durham
An Annabelle Archer Mystery
For my brother, James,
whose quick wit is matched only by his great kindness
“When you say that there's a bonfire in the ballroomâ¦
“Tell me this isn't happening.” My stomach churned as Iâ¦
“Giancarlo?” I strained to make out the figure in theâ¦
“I think it's safe to say that we won't beâ¦
I turned to find Detective Mike Reese, a dark-haired copâ¦
“Well, I know what I'm getting,” Kate said as weâ¦
“Go away,” I yelled from underneath my down comforter. Someoneâ¦
“I thought you weren't a suspect,” Leatrice said as Iâ¦
“Are you sure you should have told the police gossipâ¦
“You worry too much, Annabelle,” Kate said as I pulledâ¦
“My God!” I said, taking a step closer to theâ¦
“We're goners,” Fern whispered to me as all the guestsâ¦
“What about the rest of us?” Richard's voice crackled throughâ¦
A series of chimes sounded as Kate and I steppedâ¦
“Parking is a nightmare.” Richard breezed past the host standâ¦
“I need to order fifty of the daisy clear frostedâ¦
“Gail really said that?” Kate asked as she maneuvered herâ¦
“I get why Carolyn's husband would want her out ofâ¦
“Then you left?” Ian asked as he relaxed into myâ¦
“What do you mean there was a murder at Maxwellâ¦
“Are you sure you're okay to be here?” I askedâ¦
“I'm not feeling so great after all.” Kate slumped downâ¦
“Funeral homes give me the creeps.” Kate walked up theâ¦
“Someone call an ambulance!” The shrieks of a woman's voiceâ¦
“I'm calling to get the scoop,” I said, sinking downâ¦
“Please tell me that isn't what I think it is,â¦
“Are you sure this is such a good idea?” Kateâ¦
“You're sure you don't want to take my car?” Iâ¦
“Sorry I'm late,” Kate said as she rushed up toâ¦
“Hello!” I pushed open the front door to the Weddingâ¦
“Are you sure?” Kate asked as she helped me gatherâ¦
“So what happened when you told Detective Reese that youâ¦
“This had better be good, Annabelle. I'm in the middleâ¦
“Do you see a body?” I heard a faint ringingâ¦
“A little help would be nice.” Richard stuck his headâ¦
“This is a fiasco,” I said, watching the bridal partyâ¦
“Are you there, Annabelle?” Reese asked. I nodded mutely, andâ¦
“Surprised to see me?” Margery took a step inside theâ¦
“You rang?” Richard strode through the door holding his phoneâ¦
“I can't believe that Margery killed all those people,” Kateâ¦
“When you say that there's a bonfire in the ballroom, what do you mean exactly?” I asked my best friend, Richard Gerard. Even though he owned what was arguably the best catering company in Washington, D.C., and had plenty of weddings of his own, Richard had agreed to help me with the huge Persian wedding I was planning at the Mayflower Hotel.
Grace Ormonde Wedding Style
magazine was covering the event for its spring issue, and thanks to Richard the word had spread around town faster than it took for his spray-on tan to set. He said that if I could pull off a wedding this elaborate, it would put my company, Wedding Belles, on the Who's Who list of wedding planners for good. Naturally he would be the caterer of choice for all my weddings once I hit the big time.
“You know very well that I'm not given to dramatics, Annabelle.” Richard fanned himself with
a lime green and hot pink striped silk handkerchief. “I meant exactly what I said. The father of the groom is building himself a bonfire in the middle of the room.”
I motioned for Richard to lower his voice. We stood near the bank of brass elevators in the brightly decorated hotel lobby. A lighted green garland was draped from the balconies that overlooked the gilded lobby, and a Christmas tree decorated entirely with wide swaths of deep red silk and burgundy organza stood across from us, next to the wooden concierge desk. The hotel seemed even busier than usual with holiday visitors, and people were beginning to stare at us. I hoped they weren't wedding guests.
“Just when I thought this day couldn't get much worse,” I grumbled. “I already had a run-in with Carolyn Crabbe.”
Richard's eyes widened. “The Grand Dame of wedding planning spoke to you?”
“If you consider warning me to stay out of her way a conversation. This must be Wedding Planner Central today because I also bumped into Gail Gordan and Byron Wolfe.”
Richard glanced around him and winced. “I hate it when there are multiple weddings at the same site. That means multiple brides and wedding planners.”
“Hello?” I said. “I'm a wedding planner, remember?”
“I don't mean you, darling. You're perfection. But Gail and Byron are too puffed up for my taste. You'd think they were the only planners in town doing high-end parties.”
“Well, they were both perfectly nice to me. Maybe a bit stressed, but their bride was running late to the church so I understood completely. Carolyn was out and out mean.”
“Did she threaten you with her pointer?”
“She really uses a pointer? I thought that was just a story people had made up to make her seem scarier.”
Richard leaned in. “The last I heard, she was still using one of those expandable metal pointers to direct vendors at weddings.”
I gulped. “No, she didn't threaten me with her pointer. Yet.”
“I wouldn't worry about her. She's just jealous that your wedding is getting media attention and her wedding is in the smallest ballroom in the hotel.” Richard gave a dismissive wave with his hands. “All the big wigs in the industry earned their chops being tormented by her. Trust me, darling. Being threatened by Carolyn Crabbe is a step in the right direction.”
“That's one way to look at it.” I rubbed my temples. “I'm still going to steer clear of her. Now how far along has our father of the groom gotten with his bonfire?”
Richard placed a hand on his hip. “I don't know. He's got wood in a pile. Do I look like I was a Boy Scout to you?”
“Not exactly,” I admitted.
“I mean, really.” He gave a quiet snicker. “Can you imagine me in a green polyester uniform?”
“I think the Girl Scouts wear green, not the Boy Scouts.”
“Then do I look like I was a Girl Scout?” Rich
ard held up a hand before I could speak. “Don't even think of answering that. All I know is that the man is hell-bent on starting a fire.”
“I guess he isn't in favor of the marriage.” I tucked a few loose strands of long auburn hair back into my wilted French twist. We'd been running around the hotel for the past six hours getting ready for the wedding, and I knew I looked as frazzled as I felt. I was glad that I'd worn one of my comfortable and practical black pantsuits with a shimmery silk top the color of cranberries. I didn't think I could bear wearing a dress and heels for this long.
Richard ran a hand through his dark, choppy hair. “Apparently he's paying tribute to his ancient Zoroastrian heritage. A sacred flame is one of their wedding traditions.”
“Whatever happened to traditions like throwing rice?” I muttered, wondering why I couldn't have one wedding where someone didn't forget the marriage license, leave the wedding dress in a taxi, or set the ballroom on fire.
“They're throwing rice?” My assistant, Kate, stepped out of the elevator in front of us with her ten page wedding schedule in hand. Kate's blond bob had lost its usual bounce and her pink lipstick had worn off. Although she also wore black, her short black cocktail dress and cropped jacket could never be considered conservative. No matter how many hours we were on our feet, Kate dressed to show off her legs and her absurdly expensive high heels. I could bet money that she was the only wedding planner in town who worked in
Jimmy Choos. “When did that get added to the schedule?”
“I'd like to see people throw rice again.” Richard tapped his chin. “Kitsch is in, you know.”
I rolled my eyes. “There's no rice.”
Kate shoved her schedule in the pocket of her black jacket. “Good. If I have to make any more marks on my timeline, I won't be able to see the paper.”
“We do have a bit of a problem, though.” I pulled Kate closer to me and dropped my voice to a whisper. “The father of the bride is building a sacred fire in the ballroom. Can you go back up to the bride's suite and keep her there until I call you? I don't want her to see her ceremony go up in smoke.”
Kate cringed. “That's what I came to tell you. Fern is bringing the bride down for pictures.”
At least the bride was in good hands. Fern was the city's wedding hair guru and took pride in fussing over his brides up until the last possible second. The elevator doors opened and Fern rushed out. He'd pulled his dark hair back in a severe ponytail, and clouds of white tulle spilled over his arms.
“The bride took the next elevator,” he explained, dragging the cathedral-length veil behind him. “No one else could fit in there with that huge dress. I was afraid munchkins were going to start running out from beneath her skirt.”
“Can you keep her away from the ballroom?” I asked. “Kate and I need to take care of a little issue before she sees the room.”
“An issue? Say no more.” Fern handed his armload of tulle to Richard. “Hold this for a second, will you, doll?”
Richard spluttered a few words of protest before his mouth gaped open. “What are you wearing?”
“Do you like the jacket?” Fern turned to let us admire the long fitted merlot-colored jacket with embroidered lapels. “It seemed appropriate for a holiday wedding.”
Fern lived to coordinate with his brides' weddings. I feared that one day he would show up in a matching bridesmaid's gown.
“Not the jacket.” Richard pushed a layer of tulle off his face. “Is that a skirt?”
Fern smoothed what appeared to be a black pair of pants with a wraparound front. “It's called a man skirt and I'll have you know that it's Gaultier.”
Richard raised an eyebrow. “I don't remember seeing this in the collection. Is it last season?”
Fern gave him a scandalized look. “Bite your tongue. This was the talk of the fall collection.”
“Don't we have a fire to put out?” Kate tugged on my sleeve. “Literally.”
I turned to Fern. “Can you keep the bride far away from the ballroom for ten minutes while we stop her father from burning the building down with his ceremonial bonfire?”
“You can count on me, honey.” Fern winked. “I'm a master at creating distractions.”
“That's putting it mildly.” Richard passed the billowing tulle back to Fern, and then motioned for me and Kate to follow him with a jerk of his head. “Let's go extinguish a sacred flame.”
Kate and I followed Richard down the long
black and white marble hallway that cut through the middle of the hotel. We went down a few steps and passed the open air restaurant, CafÃ© Promenade, which had an enormous crystal chandelier hanging in the center and sleek arrangements of white and red amaryllis on the tables. We continued down the hallway, passing tall fir trees decorated with white lights and red ribbon every few feet.
Richard stopped in front of a set of tall white doors that had garland draped across the top and tied at the corners with red sashes. A brass plaque to the side of the door read:
“I don't hear fire alarms,” Kate said. “That's a good sign.”
Richard opened the doors, and we were met with total darkness.
“Why are the lights off?” I asked, stepping inside the room and groping along the wall for the lighting control panel.
“Do you think the lighting company blew a fuse when they were setting up?” Kate started looking for a switch on the other side of the door.
I groaned. The bride's favorite part of the wedding decor was the specially designed monogram that we planned to project in light on the dance floor. “The wedding gods must be punishing me.”
“Be careful,” Richard said. “Don't forget the steps.”
“Here they are,” Kate said. “You could kill yourself on these in the dark.”
Richard screamed and we heard him tumble to the floor. “Don't forget the second set of steps, either.”
“Are you okay?” I asked, holding my arms out in front of me to find a railing.
“I hate hotels,” Richard complained.
“The lights aren't on the main wall. They're behind a curtain somewhere,” Kate said, her voice getting farther away. “Found them!”
The ballroom lights flooded the room. I blinked a few times as my eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness. The holiday theme of garland continued in the ballroom, with swags of lighted greenery on each of the wood and iron balconies that jutted out over the room. We'd hung red and gold Christmas balls from clear wire throughout the room at different levels, and they sparkled in the light from the dangling chandeliers. I strained to see across the room to the stage where the ceremony would take place, but my eyes were drawn above the platform to a long piece of fabric hanging from the center balcony.
“I thought we weren't allowed to hang anything from the balcony railings,” Kate said as she walked over, and then paled a few shades. “Is that what I think it is?”
I nodded as I watched Carolyn Crabbe's limp body slowly twist from the end of a long white veil.