Immaculate Reception, page 1
A Madeline Bean Catering Mystery
For my husband, Chris Farmer
The way the sun filtered through the lace curtains, softening…
“I love the name ‘Mad Bean.’ I mean, it’s funny.”
“You mean the pope pope, or some other pope?” Holly…
Things were moving fast. The Vatican had released the news…
Once the guard at the gated entrance to the Warner…
Arlo leapt up the three steel stairs to reach the…
Holly sat on the pink leather banquette, the exact spot…
The deadline panic of planning one of the most important…
“I am helping a friend look into a matter,” I…
“Are we going to see Donald’s movie?” I asked Wes,…
2424 PICO is a trendy restaurant that’s slightly off the…
I’d been to Miss Erica “Dottie” Moss’s house several times…
“The monsignor you met this morning?”
It was close to four in the morning and Arlo…
With the spins and twists of the last twenty hours…
I looked up at the information at the top of…
With all that, Honnett was not convinced we had any…
I pulled and Holly pushed, and soon the brown crate…
I crashed in Wesley’s guestroom. I surrendered to sleep as…
After only one ring, the phone was answered by a…
Spaceland was the largest and most established of the hot…
Waking up groggy from too little sleep, I jerked to…
Downtown L.A. is a deserted canyon of high-rises at 7 a.m.…
I ran as quickly as I could, whipping across the…
Holly, her pale skin even paler, ran out of the…
I nearly fell off the crate. I just managed to…
We pulled up to the valet attendant in front of…
It was almost midnight when Lieutenant Chuck Honnett pulled his…
Other Books by Jerrilyn Farmer
About the Publisher
The way the sun filtered through the lace curtains, softening the light as it danced upon the Formica-topped table, was beautiful. The sound of Xav’s voice, low, yet full of enthusiasm as he casually talked of traveling to Rome next month, was beautiful. The taste of freshly baked johnnycakes, the warm cornbread simple and moist and sweet, was beautiful. I smiled at Xav and then turned my face quickly away so that he wouldn’t see my eyes.
“This recipe came from Baltimore,” Xav said. “I think we might want to mention something about the history of the johnnycake. What do you think?”
I think I’m not as ready to work with the man I had planned to marry as I had thought.
Xavier Jones had been that one—the one you only find once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky to find such a one at all. We’d met at the Culinary Institute in San Francisco ten years ago. Xavier had been simply the most gifted student they’d ever had. He soared above our class and promised to be the future star chef, admired and followed and envied by us all. When Xav and I fell in love, our future seemed to be guaranteed. Together we’d create a wonderful restaurant and inn. People would make it their destination, like the auberge-hotels in France. I’d decorate and manage and help cook, while Xavier would create his incredible dishes and delight and astound the culinary establishment. In the world of fine food and wine, we’d rule. That was the dream. That was the plan. That didn’t happen.
“Did you know that back in colonial America, Jesuits would ride their horses on a circuit of towns in Maryland to see what the people needed and how they could help? They traveled with ‘journey cakes’…”
“Which is where we get the name ‘johnnycakes’?”
“Exactly. This old recipe for corn bread could be baked very quickly and these johnnycakes were sturdy enough to carry in their backpacks.”
“I don’t know if we need to emphasize the ‘sturdiness’ of the cakes, do you?”
Xavier laughed as he looked into my eyes. “You’re so delicate. Why not boast about their sturdiness? Hard times required sturdy food.”
We were working together on a project for charity. It was to be a cookbook that featured many historical recipes. When Xavier called me, I had been happy to hear from him. We were very civilized. We’d remained friends all these years. Of course, maintaining a casual friendship with an ex-fiancé had not seemed difficult when we’d been living three thousand miles apart. In fact, since we broke up we’d only spoken on the telephone a few times and exchanged cards now and then. I’d been curious to see him. In all those years he could have gained weight, lost hair, gone stupid.
I looked at him now, as he stood at the sink cleaning up from our afternoon of marathon johnnycake baking. His body was absolutely adorable, fit and on the thin side. His dark blond hair was thick and straight as I’d remembered, with a lighter streak that hung in a tuft over one eye. And there was not a stupid bone in his body.
Xavier turned and surveyed the tidied up kitchen. “Would it be okay if we leave the research materials here?” Xavier had brought over several crates of ancient recipe books, which were now neatly stacked in a corner of my commercial kitchen. See, the reality of my last ten years is that I haven’t married. I never even opened a restaurant, let alone an inn. For the past seven years I’ve been running Madeline Bean Catering with my partner Wesley Westcott, my best friend. I guess one of life’s lessons has taught me to think better of mixing my professional goals with my romantic ones.
“Just leave the crates where they are. I want to read through some of the recipes, anyway.”
Xav moved over to the table and picked up his jacket. I stood up.
“I knew it would be great to see you again,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about you. A lot.”
What could I say? I had that sense that there are way too many feelings swirling around. Like it hurts to blink. Like your throat gets stiff. Maybe a mixture of anger and hopefulness and forlorn attraction, but the anger wins.
He was looking at me with such a sweet and loving expression. It just made my heart hurt with a long-familiar pain. I hadn’t felt anything like this pain in years and years. What the hell!
“Madeline, would it be all right if I said a blessing on your beautiful home?”
Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention. My former fiancé? He’s a Jesuit brother.
“I love the name ‘Mad Bean.’ I mean, it’s funny.”
Wesley Westcott sat at a stool pulled up to the tall butcher-block table that occupied the center of my kitchen. Wes and I sold our previous catering firm a few months ago and we were now starting up a new one. Since there had been an unfortunate event at our last big party—well, all right, the host was murdered—our old business had spiraled downward. Don’t get me wrong, the Holl
Then, in a twist of fate that leaves me smiling still, our company was bought for millions just when we were about to go under. How did this amazing windfall occur? Wes insists I’m lucky. Lucky, yeah. I’m afraid you don’t have to know me very long to get the irony.
It’s odd how things work out. Making gobs of money was never my primary objective, but now that I am getting acquainted with having gobs, I am finding I do like the feeling. Finally, for once in my life, I am not worrying about How much? and Do we have enough? Maybe Wes is right and my luck is changing. It’s just that I’m forever on the lookout for the yang that’s around the corner, waiting to yank down my happy little yin.
“Mad Bean Events?” I was not pleased that Wes wanted to name our new events-planning firm using my nickname. After the fiasco with the poisoning at Madeline Bean Catering, it seemed prudent to go a little lower profile. “Don’t you think the connection to our unfortunate past…”
“Heck, no! Not only were we blameless, but you helped solve the crime. Let’s ride on the publicity. This town forgets the details, but not…” Wes prompted me, waiting for my acquiescence.
“…the star,” I said, shaking my head at him. L.A. has its own colorful rules, written and unwritten. Like bird-watching, Wesley and I had taken to identifying each oddly plumed one we happened to stumble across. A newly spotted rule was not to be ignored. So in that spirit, I guessed I would have no recourse but to christen our new business…Mad Bean.
“Mad Bean…hmm…” Wes picked up a pencil and started sketching in his notebook. He was drafting our new logo, trying this type style and that. I peeked over his shoulder and smiled. Wes had many talents.
We’d met eight years ago. He had been a grad student at Berkeley and I was starting out working as pastry chef at a very trendy restaurant there. We had become instant friends, like it had been meant to be and we got it. Eventually, we decided to try our luck down south. We moved to Los Angeles with the aim of starting small, specializing in parties that provided original ideas and knockout food, but our dream was to design major galas and give them a creative twist. Wit, we hope, might find us a niche. In time, we developed a reputation for the outrageous, like the full rodeo we staged for a famous T.V. cowboy’s third wedding. It was an awesome sight as the bridesmaids were carried in on the backs of white horses who’d been dyed lavender. To match the bride’s color scheme, the pooper-scoopers had been decorated with sunflowers tied on with raffia.
Our recent windfall meant we could concentrate on the lavish, technically challenging, food-oriented events we’d always dreamed of. My mood was lifting. After eleven years of cooking full time, I was finally going to “start” at the top.
“By the way, what are all those books and things?” Wes asked. He was coloring in his improvised logos with a set of markers, but he glanced over to the crates of recipe books that Xav had left behind.
Over the years I’d been in and out of several relationships. As far as I knew, Wes had not been involved with a woman in the time I’d known him. We didn’t discuss his love life, but mine was always open for debate.
Wes’s general opinion was that I neither selected men who were bad enough to be an obvious flight from commitment, nor good enough to keep. My feeling was, you can only choose from what comes swimming by and some days it’s just chum.
At the time that Wes and I became buds, I’d just finished cooking school. It was after Xav had left me and disappeared. Although Wes had seen pictures, the two of them had never met. I guess the time had come to tell Wesley that Xavier was back and I’d started seeing him.
Wes reminded me, “Those books, where’d they come from?”
I looked at the stack of cookbooks in the corner and answered him. “Oh, those,” I said, stalling. “Just some old recipes.”
Wes was like a terrier. He’d hunt this rabbit down. Best to be up front.
“Funny thing,” I began. As I spoke I walked over to the crates, shuffling the old papers and leather-bound volumes around. “I got a call the other day from Xavier Jones. You remember, I’ve told you about him. Xavier was my old…uh…friend.”
Wes put down the colored markers and regarded me. “Father Xavier?”
“Actually, he’s a brother, but anyway, he asked if I could help with a fundraising project he was putting together. He has plans to publish a little book on the secrets of Jesuit cooking. He’s made requests to the heads of all these Jesuit kitchens as well as other Catholic institutions and he’s collected some incredibly old recipes. Look.”
I felt the binding on a heavy old leather notebook. I opened it and noticed that the recipes had been written by hand in a beautiful script. Some of the old recipes had dates that indicated the loose pages had been gathered into the notebook over two hundred years ago.
“Yes. I’m sure they’re amazing, Madeline.” Wesley stared at me. “But what about the good brother?”
“He’s fine,” Wesley said, parroting my nonchalant tone. “And how are you?”
“I’m fine, too. We’re all just fine.” I smiled to make it so. “Anyway, he had a pretty stunning suggestion.”
Wesley, at upwards of six feet three or four, stood up. His perfect posture, his thin frame, his thick brown crewcut all seemed to be at attention. “Oh, my God,” Wes said in a stunned tone. “He’s leaving the church.”
If the conclusion was irresistible enough, Wes could be counted on to jump.
“God, no! Can we please leave the past back in the past?”
“Can we?” Wes asked me kindly. He was a good friend. He would not be fooled into thinking his best pal had no feelings on this touchy subject. I just wasn’t ready to look at them, yet.
“Aren’t you in the least interested in what Xavier wants us to do?”
“You, me, Holly…” I ticked us off on three fingers. Including our assistant, Holly, we were what remained of Madeline Bean Catering.
“You mean Mad Bean Events?” He asked, perking up.
I ignored the figurative elbow that was being jabbed into my ribs. “If you insist. The reason that Brother Xavier Jones is in Los Angeles is to help the city coordinate planning for an unbelievably special event. Xavier asked us to oversee L.A.’s official…”
Wes was looking at me with attention. The sadist in me made me string it out. “Sit down Wesley,” I instructed.
Intrigued, Wes sat back down on his stool.
I can be mean, so I waited a bit and then, with great dignity, said, “We’re going to throw a party for the pope.”
“Well, just about. Yes.”
“But I had no idea! You mean here? In L.A.? I haven’t heard a thing about the pope coming.”
“It’s not been announced, yet. But Xav is in town to do advance work.”
“I’m blown away,” Wes said.
I was content. I could count the times I’d shocked the man on one hand. With four fingers missing.
“So, what do you think?”
“Feed the pontiff? Are you kidding? No sweat. What’s the count?”
“Two thousand for breakfast,” I said. “I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
It was good to be getting back to work. We both loved the creativity and problem solving involved in planning parties.
“Mad, this is too cool. I mean, the pope will be eating our food. And a whole bunch of saintly types, as well.”
“Calm down. This is a city-sponsored party. I’m sure a good number of local politicians will be in the mix.”
“How on earth did we get this gig? Don’t we have to be blessed or something?”
There’s an element of good luck and good timing to everything. One week ago, Xavier called me. It was the first time we’d spoken in almost four years. He had a couple of favors to ask, he said.
His first request was easy: could I help him do some work on his Jesuit cookbook project?
So. We would finally see each other again, I thought, as I said yes, sure, fine.
Then he told me the real reason he was in L.A.—the secret reason.
He said the city needed someone to take over a very special party. They needed a firm that would work well amidst the mind-numbing realities of city bureaucracy as well as the equally labyrinthine levels of decision-making within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and then be willing to submit every idea to Rome for overall approval. Not to mention set up a kitchen under the glare of the LAPD and U.S. Secret Service. The city’s original choice to handle the event planning didn’t work out. Now, time was short and they needed a miracle.
The event was to be truly awe-inspiring, and such a lavish party would usually have a skyrocket budget to match. But to honor the pope, I was told most of the supplies and services were being donated by generous benefactors. I’d heard that Mayor Burke, who was a serious contributor to Catholic charities and causes, was personally underwriting the cost of insurance for the gala. There were other wealthy friends of the church involved, as well.
No detail was being left to chance. Security was incredibly tight. I was asked not to let anyone know of the pope’s visit, not even my partner, until they’d cleared him and the job was truly ours.
On the morning I presented our bid, I was asked to see the mayor. After the city’s recent false start, he was taking it upon himself to approve the event planner.
The charming man did not try to grill me, but instead joked around and flattered me for three minutes. Then, he graciously ushered me to his outer office to wait among a roomful of hopeful visitors.
“Victor,” the mayor called out to a very elderly man, perhaps the only one in the room not trying to catch the mayor’s eye. “We are so grateful to you. Let me wrap up a little business and I’ll be right with you.”
Across the room, an overweight Latino man, dressed in ultra baggy jeans and an oversize T-shirt, made his presence felt. His dark complexion was marred by scars. As he sat, waiting, he kept hitting the fist of one hand into the palm of the other, like he was toughening up for the ring. I felt he wanted to get my attention, but I carefully looked the other way, back towards Victor and his companion.
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