An Unexpected Invitation by Daniel Marshall Wood

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“You are cordially invited…”

“Do you think black tie?” Delia asked her husband late Sunday afternoon. Beyond the diamond-paned library window flagstones disappeared under white powder.

“What?” Adam stirred from dedicated concentration on the Times crossword, upsetting a grey tabby from her corduroy perch. “The clue is ‘Barker of filmdom.’ Should be Les, but that’s three letters, not four.”

“Les is not less,” Delia murmured. “Asta. That cute terrier in the Thin Man movies. Myrna Loy and William Holden.”

“William Powell, dear. Oh, now I get it. Barker — a dog barks. I may write the puzzle editor again. What were you saying?”

“Do you think black tie?” Delia admired her now-white garden. “It’s snowing. Rhododendrons love cold feet. The angels are dusting us with powdered sugar.”

“Then let the angels shovel the damned stuff. Black tie for what?” Adam uncrossed his legs and the cat immediately reappeared, circling twice before settling down.

“For our next dinner party, of course. It’s been ages…”

“We had a dinner party before Christmas. I wouldn’t call that ages. Sixty-three down. Garden implement. Five letters.”

“Trowel? Spade? It’s been ages since we had black tie. December was tweedy and homey. You looked smashing in that jacket with the currant overplaid.”

“Black tie is fine. I have it, so might as well wear it.” Adam shifted slightly so as not to upset the purring Markle.

“The gardens are a hoary wonderland.”

“Pimps and prostitutes will adore it.” Adam’s pen poked at the crossword.

“Silly boy.” The ice in Delia’s highball glass rang softly against the crystal. “Need another drink, darling?”

“Just a thimbleful,” Adam responded, meaning ‘fill ’er up.’

“Just a thimbleful for me, as well.” In one deft stroke tongs flipped the hinged lid of the silver ice bucket and grasped an ice cube.

“Here we go.” Delia perched on the arm of Adam’s wing chair, mindful of the sleeping cat. “Thirty-three across is bogus.”

“The clue or the answer?”

“The answer, silly. Whom should we invite? So many of our circle are no longer with us.”

Adam looked up from the half-inked puzzle. “Is that your euphemism for death?”


“I know you dearly miss Phoebe.”

“I had such high hopes for Phoebe.” Delia rose and then settled onto a linen slipcovered loveseat. “Months went by with no word. I prayed she’d come through, like so many times in the past.” Her voice trailed off.

“But she didn’t. Not this time,” Adam consoled.

Delia sighed. “We enjoyed many delightful evenings together — both here and at Phoebe’s Riverbrink. Such a wonderful house — and the name, Riverbrink.”

“Succinctly poetic, as the house is at the brink of a river.”

“I love our house name. Crathorne. Delightfully English-sounding without stuffy connections to politics or furniture.” Delia leaned forward and shifted a cushion to her liking. “But Phoebe and Riverbrink are in our lives no longer. I wish Jefferson were still around.”

“Old Jeff. He went too quickly.” Adam gazed absently at a gilt-framed late-Impressionist painting depicting a gilt-framed Renaissance portrait.

“The very day after our dinner party. Do you think the police really suspected us in his death?” Delia closed her eyes.

“Simply a routine inquiry. How could they possibly think anything untoward? We couldn’t anticipate the unfortunate timing of Jefferson’s demise.”

Delia’s fingers brushed through slightly-highlighted hair. “Are we old, Adam?”

“Chronologically, we’re on our way, but don’t we feel otherwise? I may climb an Alp any day.”

“Of course, Adam — after you extend your walk to a mile. Most everyone feels younger than one’s true years.” Delia stood. “So many funerals lately. I’m weary of black, though it looks good on me.”

“You were the best-dressed mourner at Jefferson’s send-off. The grieving widow received less attention.”

“It was the veiled hat, you flatterer. Maybe that’s why I married you. One of the many whys.”

“Almost forty-five years ago.” Adam smiled. “I love you even more now, Cordelia Gardiner Weyforth Collier — if that’s possible.”

“And I love you forever, still. Just don’t remind me of how long,” Delia said wistfully. “You make me laugh. That’s another why.” Delia caressed Adam’s shoulders. “Need any more help with the crossword?”

“It’s going well. Markle and I are contented beasts, soothed with respective lap and word game.” An upraised white-tipped chin demanded scratching.

Delia paused. “Whom should we invite? It’s time for new faces and fresh, witty conversation at our dinner party, with so many friends gone.”

“Gone for several reasons. Anyone in mind?” Skepticism tinged Adam’s voice.

“No one, really. It would be nice to find someone we know nothing about. Provided they’re charming, of course.” Ice cubes clinked.

“Charming — that’s understood.” Adam and Markle both yawned.

Delia flipped through the Times. “Such a lovely couple.”

“Whom, dear?”

“On the weddings page. They were married last month, though the announcement is made only today.”

“And how do these heretofore unknown nuptials affect us?”

“They’re an appealing pair. Mid-thirties it says, so time enough to have developed into the colorful, intriguing guests we seek.”

“Even if we don’t know them.”

“That’s the point, Adam. An infusion of new blood.”

“Maybe they don’t have black tie. Won’t that rule them out?”

“Oh, but they do. Right here, in the photo. Frank’s in black tie and kilt. That’s serious dressing up. If Frank has a kilt, he’s not renting.”

“Scottish descent, no doubt.”

“MacDougall. Do you think?” Delia laughed heartily. “Edwina is Frank’s lovely bride. They were married in a castle. I like them even more.”

“Hmm. Hanoverian ruler, seven letters. I’m listening, dear.”

“George the first. Edwina and Frank. Lovely traditional names. Edwina is English, it says. Devon. That cream is to die for.”

“As many doctors concur, but what’s a scone without it? So Edwina’s been imported to Staten Island?”

“I wouldn’t phrase it that way. Makes her seem like a mail order bride. Frank grew up here.” Delia squinted. “Attended St. Something’s school. There’s a blur.”

“St. Swithen’s? Elite boys’ school. Great basketball team. League champions almost every year.”

“Yes, that’s probably it — I can make out the ‘ith.’ I should look up Swithen in my saint-a-day book. Saints lead such interesting lives, or used to. I wonder what saints do now, day-to-day?” Delia lost herself in saints.

“Can’t really say.” Adam responded diplomatically when no answer would suffice.

“Frank looks tall, so he may have played basketball. I’ll get more ice. Freshen your drink?” Delia asked.

“Just a thimbleful.” Markle stretched, but didn’t claw.

Delia crossed to the desk. “Freshen your drink?”

“You’re a godsend. Just a thimbleful.”

“How’s the new story going?”

“Rambling, but I’m amusing myself. Want to read it?” Adam handed Delia six pages before she could answer.

Delia read silently, standing at the window. “It’s snowing.”

“You’ve already made that observation in the story — and more eloquently.”

“Oh, yes, I see. I like what I said. You’re using our names.”

“Do you mind? Write what you know is the dictum. Our names — I know them well.”

“Silly boy. You can change them later.”

“Why should I? Have we anything to hide?”

“You’re including my gardening and your crossword puzzling. Very autobiographical.”

“Start with what’s familiar.”

“You’ve made us older. I’m not ready for my sixties.” Delia tugged at the corners of her eyes.

“Delia and Adam can be so much more worldly and wise if I put them in their prime,” Adam said. “Traveled. Comfortably well off. Retired.”

“Just as we dream. Okay, then, but age me well.” Delia stretched her throat to remove any trace of a line or droop that might have crept in overnight.

“Like a vintage wine. Smooth and fragrant, with a surprisingly tart finish.”

“Your winemaking hobby has languished, so I’m not sure that’s a valid compliment.” She paused. “Delia comes across as rather vacuous. Am I that lightheaded?”

“My bride is too complex to accurately portray, so she must be abridged.”

“Oh, you are good. I’ll fetch your drink and see about Markle. She’s much too quiet. Ciao and meow for now.” Delia blew a kiss.

“Here’s your drink. All’s right with the world. You and me and a cozy fire and soft snow blessing the garden landscape.” Delia remained at the window.

“Is falling snow anything but soft?”

“Do you prefer icy pellets?” Delia turned toward Adam.

“But that’s not snow. Snow is always soft, so what you said is redundant.”

“I call it expressive. Saturday?”

“For what?”

“For the dinner party with Frank and Edwina. Two weeks from Saturday, perhaps.”

“They may already have plans.”

“No one has plans in February. It’s so cold and bleak. It’s too soon after all the holiday hubbub to have plans. That’s a good crossword word, hubbub. Add it to your list, next to hurly-burly.”

“But we’ll have plans if we invite Frank and Edna.”

“Edwina. So will they. That’s the point. A blank square on the calendar transcends into a delicious, impetuous, decadent black tie dinner party. Thursday?”

“For what?”

“Would a Thursday be too rash? No, I think Saturday for the first occasion. Mid-week might be off-putting. Too much, too soon.”

“If you say. The food will taste the same either evening.” Adam’s pen poised, mid-air.

“What about Bitsy and Charles?”

“At the dinner party?”

“Yes. Do you think they’ll mix well with our new friends?”

“Why shouldn’t they, since none of us know anything of Frank and Edwina. They’re a blank slate.”

“Waiting to be inscribed — in a proper, cursive hand like we learned in third grade.” Delia traced capital D’s in the air.

“Or waiting to be erased.”

Delia frowned. “Give them a chance before you erase them. Frank and Edwina may come through and delight us to no end with reciprocity and thank-you notes. But what do you think about Bitsy and Charles?”

“Invite away, dear lady.”

Delia’s hands flew up. “An alphabet run. I love it!”

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Like that odd puzzle clue — alphabet run or alphabet trio, just a string of letters. With Bitsy and Charles, we’re now an alphabet run. A — B — C — D — E — F. Adam, Bitsy, Charles, Delia, Edwina and Frank.”


“It’s too wonderful! Edwina and Frank are so thoughtful to have the right initials. It’s all falling into place, like it’s meant to be. Prophecy fulfilled, don’t you think?”

“Can’t really say.”

“Maybe I’ll just ask B & C for drinks. On Saturdays they usually dine with Charles’ mother at the club.”

“A command performance to keep in the good graces and better will of his rich heritage and parentage.”

“That’s not nice.” Delia assessed her nails.

“But it’s true. You know it is.”

“Well, yes, but one doesn’t have to say it.”

“Or write it.” Delia read over Adam’s shoulder. “What would they say if they read your story?”

“I’ve disguised their names. Betsy and Carl would never recognize themselves as Bitsy and Charles. Besides, when do they read? They’re too busy golfing and drinking.”

“Adam Collier, stop that. They’re dear friends. They reciprocate, unlike so many others. That alone is irreproachable.”

“B and C can be amusing, at times. We’ll postpone judgment on E & F until we actually meet them.” Adam discreetly cleaned under a thumbnail.

“Carl’s so handsome. Such a distinguished gentleman — all that salt and pepper hair and craggy laugh lines. Men age so deliciously. It’s not fair.”

“Perhaps I’ll have a transplant in twenty years and go from badly thinning mousy brown to a full black and white mane. Would you like that?”

“I’m teasing. I love you just as you are, thin and thinning. But you must admit Carl is quite easy on the eyes.”

“Your eyes, perhaps. He does nothing for me. But Betsy? For her age, she’s well put together.”

“Then it’s agreed. We’ll keep them because they’re beautiful and invite them to meet Frank and Edwina.” Delia twirled.

“What if they can’t make it?”

“They have to. There’s no story if they don’t.”

“So it’s settled. We’ll invite everyone for two weeks from Saturday. I can’t wait.” Delia twirled twice.

“What if Frank and Edwina can’t make it? Aha.” Adam confidently entered letters into empty squares.

“They have to. It wouldn’t be the same without them.” Delia twirled again.

“That’s true.”

“What?” Delia’s brow furrowed.

“The same. If they weren’t here it wouldn’t be the same.” Adam’s voice rang sharper.

“You are being silly again, Adam. You know what I mean.”

“But what if they can’t come?” Adam asked again.

“But what if they can? I’m always the optimist — half full to your half empty. Maybe that’s another why, as to why I married you.”

“What do you mean, dearest why-er?”

“We balance each other.”

“Or cancel each other out.”

“Either way, it works. Bitsy and Charles are a given. Keep your fingers crossed about Frank and Edwina. They just have to!”

Adam held up the finished puzzle. “All done. Not a bad afternoon’s work.”

“It’s not work to you. What shall we serve? Bitsy and Charles know my repertoire by heart. I’ll find something new. The last time I was in the basement I tripped over a stack of Gourmet magazines from the late ’80s.”

“Something chocolate for dessert?” Adam licked his lips.

“Isn’t chocolate trite in February? Commercialization of Valentine’s Day has soured my taste for chocolate that month only. We need to counteract — nutmeg and anise poached pears or angel food cake.”

“Why not both?” Adam hesitated. “With a chocolate sauce.”

“Oh, yes! Dessert is settled. I’m wondering about Dimple.”

“What about her?”

“She’ll have cross words for days if I ask her to stay late to serve and wash up.”

“Dimple is getting on a bit. Maybe it’s time to look for someone else. We could ask her daughter to start coming in.”

“Oh, that would never do. Dimple is too proud. It would kill her not to work until she’s dead.”

“Such a way with words, my dear.”

“No, I’ll keep Dimple on just for drinks. That’ll make a nice impression on Edwina and Frank. Dimple can leave after serving the soup. I’ll handle the rest.”

“All in good order.” Adam’s breathing signaled relief.

“And I’ll do most of the dishes. Dimple can wash the crystal in the morning. She’s so protective of the Waterford. That’ll keep her happy.”

“She’ll be ecstatic if most of her work’s been done by us.”

“So Delia and Adam have a maid.” Delia leaned on Adam’s shoulders and kissed his neck. “Dimple. Such an odd name, but it suits her.”

“She’s a housekeeper. One must be P. C.” Adam cleared his throat.

“In Britain they’re called cleaners. Sounds so clinical. Being politically correct takes the fun out of life.” Delia grabbed Adam’s apple and took a bite. “Where did you get the idea of inviting total strangers to dinner? Isn’t that rather bizarre?”

“Not at all.” Adam leaned back. “Remember that peculiar cocktail party in Stapleton last fall? The overstuffed Edwardian townhouse. Our twin hosts said they had done exactly that — invited strangers to a dinner party.”

“I must have missed that conversation while flirting with the handsome Greek stockbroker,” Delia said dreamily. “So you just made up the details?”

“No. It’s all true. Weddings page, kilt, English castle, invitation from unknown hosts to unsuspecting guests for a black-tie dinner party.”

“So you’re a plagiarist?”

“Every writer tucks away odd bits in his head, like you tuck away recipes. This peculiar scenario was filed in my brain, waiting for the right time.”

“Did the twins have a grand evening? Were Frank and Edwina everything we imagined?”

“Their story didn’t end well. Frank and Edwina never responded to the unexpected invitation.”

“Their lives may never have been the same.” Delia mused.

“Would you have accepted?”

“Of course, dear. I’d have no qualms. If it’s black tie, they couldn’t possibly be axe murderers.”

“What if they’re axe murderers?” Adam tossed the business section aside. Compared to the crossword, it held little interest.

“Who, dear?” Delia’s foot straightened the upturned corner of a threadbare Oriental rug as she crossed to the desk.

“Frank and Edwina. They could be axe murderers, for all we know.”

“And they might think the same of us, once they receive our unexpected invitation penned in distinctive calligraphy.” Delia picked up a green pearlized pen.

“We could all be axe murderers, Bitsy and Charles included. An impromptu convention of axe murderers. One never knows.”

“Darling, if it’s black tie it couldn’t possibly involve axes. Too unwieldy. Too much blood. Ick!”

“That’s comforting.”

“Do they still make axes? It’s all electric or gasoline now. Chain saws to hack away at will for easy disposal. Trees or people.” Delia lettered the invitations. “There may still be metaphoric axes to grind.”

“Surely a few old-fashioned lumberjacks use axes,” Adam said. “What about that paper towel guy? He’s been updated, yet the axe remains essential to his masculine persona.”

“Poisons. That’s the way to go if one should need to do away with dinner guests. Much neater. No blood. Lots of different symptoms and time frames.” Delia paused. “From a sudden slump-in-your-soup, hands clutching a constricted and burning air passage…” Delia clutched her own throat and struggled. “… to days of lingering, brain-frying, stomach-churning, fever-wracked comatose torture. Definitely poisons.”

“And how do you know so much about this subject?”

Delia looked up from the desk. “Poisoned pen, perhaps? I read. I watch crime shows. Fascinating concoctions, poisons. An endless variety to rid the world of unwanted pests.”

“Or unresponsive guests?”

“Certainly an option.” Delia waved her pen. “What about place cards?”

“Always a nice touch.”

“No, not this time,” Delia mused. “With B & C out of the way after cocktails, it’ll just be the four of us. We know who we are and E & F will automatically take the other two seats.”

“Unless you need them at certain places for specific reasons,” Adam offered.

“That may be necessary, but I’ve got time to decide.”

“A couple of weeks to answer the burning social question: to place card or not to place card?”

“Can ‘place card’ be a verb?” Delia capped the pen. “The invitations will be posted posthaste.” Her voice hinted of satisfaction. “Edwina’s dress in the newspaper looks like dark velvet. Crimson would go well with our library rug during cocktails. Or emerald. I’ll wear winter white silk taffeta, so as not to compete.”

“Edwina is certain to appreciate such a thoughtful hostess.” Adam stroked Markle’s soft fur. “Every detail accounted for, down to coordinating with the rug.”

“It reads like a play.” Delia put down the pages. “Is that what you had in mind?”

“I visualized it somewhat as a play.” Adam clasped hands behind his head.

“Then why not structure it that way?”

“I’m too lazy to type all the names. Adam. Delia. Adam. Delia. We’re the only ones with lines, so far.”

“I like it being just the two of us, so I don’t have to share you.” Delia kissed Adam. “The descriptive passages read like stage directions. And I quote: ‘Delia’s foot straightened the upturned corner of a threadbare Oriental rug as she crossed to the desk.’ End quote.” Delia crossed to the desk, mimicking the words she had just read aloud.

“So they’re stage directions. It’ll be easier to convert to a play.”

“Oh do another play! Your last one was an SRO hit!” Delia bowed to her husband.

“Two evenings at the Sundog Theatre, underwritten by me and anonymously reviewed by you. Is that what’s called a smash hit?”

“I found it smashing. So did B & C. Perhaps it’s time for a revival so Frank and Edwina can also be astounded by your talent.”

Adam bowed at the waist.

“A director would appreciate as few characters as possible. Keeps expenses down,” Delia said, ever practical.

“It’s a slim cast already.” Adam sounded skeptical. “Whom could we cut?”

“Bitsy and Charles may be expendable.” Delia pondered. “I know — just allude to them. We’ll say goodnight at the door and wave as they trundle off to a command performance with his filthy rich mother. The audience would never see their faces. Stage hands could fill in if a backside or two helped the scene.”

“That’s a possibility. Now we’re down to four.”

“Don’t forget Markle. We can cast about for a trained cat.” Delia sighed. “Poor Bitsy and Charles. With their characters cut, those actors may never qualify for their Equity cards. They’ll be waiters forever.”

“We could hire them to serve at our dinner parties.” Adam said tartly.

“That’s a splendid idea, dear. Then Dimple won’t have to stay late and be all crabby.”

“What about Edwina and Frank?” Adam asked.

“What about them?”

“They aren’t as superfluous as Bitsy and Charles. So far, the story…”

“Play,” Delia interrupted.

“Or play. Anyway, the storyline hinges on them.”

Delia moved to the window. “Now I’m having second thoughts about the story becoming a play.”

“Just when you’ve begged me to turn it into a minimalist stage production?”

“But if it’s a play, we won’t have those delicious passages with the real Adam and Delia between the sections with the pretend us.”

“Why not?” Adam crossed to the window and ran fingers through Delia’s auburn hair.

“Well, those passages are just transitions — the real us talking about the story. Or play.”

“Let’s see.” Adam paused. “Maybe we can use props to distinguish between the separate identities.”

Delia turned, smiling.. “A headband for the older Delia and a pipe for the seasoned Adam. Small props easily put aside when not needed. Perfect.”

“You are too clever, by half, to solve a problem we didn’t know existed.” Adam hugged her. “And may very well never exist.”

Delia absentmindedly adjusted her black velvet headband. The subtle, woodsy aroma of Adam’s pipe reassured her of his loving presence. Dimple entered the library and handed her mistress the morning post.

“Bill. Bill. Junk. A Neiman-Marcus catalog. Markle and I can curl up with that. What’s this?” Delia turned over the envelope, not recognizing the hand in which it had been addressed. “It’s from them!”

“From whom?” Adam tamped fresh tobacco into the briar bowl.

[Headband and pipe are removed.]

“Wait a minute. How did we get their address?” Delia stamped her foot. “You have to consider every detail.”

“We looked them up in the phone book. Remember, Frank grew up here.”

“What if he’s unlisted? Or moved?” Delia persisted.

“Then we called his parents and said we wanted to send a wedding gift. How’s that?” Adam volleyed back.

“What if they’re unlisted, too? We’ve got to think this through. The MacDougalls may be a very private family, shunning the public eye we’ve suddenly cast on them.”

“Then we called St. Swithen’s. Said our son went to school with Frank and he’s lost the address.”

“But we don’t have a son.”

“They don’t know that.”

“What if they ask his name?” Delia kept on.

“They won’t.”

“But what if they do?”

“Then we found an old yearbook at a tag sale and picked someone who looks like he could have been our son and friends with Frankie. Someone on the basketball team.”

“What if our son died ten years ago in a fiery, multi-car pileup on Route 17?”

“Stop it, Delia. There are many ways we could have found Frank’s address. Satisfied?”

“I guess so. I’m just teasing you. And testing you.”

“And I passed with high marks, right?”

“The highest I’ve ever given. You set the curve. Did Frank and Edwina accept our unexpected invitation?”

[Headband and pipe are replaced.]

“Good night, Bitsy. Good night, Charles. It’s been too much fun, as always. Thanks for joining us for cocktails. Sorry you can’t stay for dinner.” Delia slammed the door. “Dreadful people. I don’t know why we’ve kept them around for fifteen years. He’s a pompous ass who pontificates about golf. She was in her cups upon arrival and still knocked back three martinis. Good riddance!”

“But they reciprocate, dear.”

“Their only redeeming quality. Let’s get back to Frank and Edwina. A charming couple, don’t you think? His kilt and her sapphire gown — perfect! At least they’re socially adventurous enough to accept an invitation from total strangers who could be axe murderers, for all they know.”

[Headband and pipe are removed.]

“Edwina and Frank accepted! A grand time for all at our fabulous dinner party.”

“As the song says, ’tain’t necessarily so,” Adam said wryly.

The county coroner added to Crathorne’s distinctive red front door another strip of fluorescent yellow tape reading ‘CRIME SCENE. DO NOT ENTER.’

“Wha’ shappened?” Bitsy slurred her words.

Charles feared his wife could be arrested for public intoxication. “We were headed home and noticed the hubbub and hurly-burly at our friends’ home. We were here earlier for cocktails.”

“So I smell,” the coroner replied. “Sorry to tell you, but this is a crime scene. Possibly homicide. Four bodies found head down in their soup bowls.”

“You’re wrong!” Bitsy teetered on the lawn’s brown grass patched with snow. “Soup plates. Delia said she was serving cream of cauliflower soup, so they had to be the Herend soup plates.”

Several weeks later the coroner released his findings. Boiled down: Adam and Delia Collier died from tainted homemade red wine, a hostess gift from their guests, who did not partake. Frank and Edwina MacDougall succumbed to cream of cauliflower soup, a lethal dose of laudanum blended into the extra strong pesto garnish.

The MacDougalls had informed the Colliers they were moving to England the following week and would never have the opportunity to reciprocate.

“How funny! I love it, Adam!”

“Thanks to my best — my only — cheering section.” Adam blushed.

“You’ve brought in Bitsy and Charles, after all.”

“They brought themselves in, though I tried to stop them. The scene just didn’t work any other way. Stories and characters often play unexpected tricks.”

“And now Bitsy and Charles will get their Equity cards. This promises to be the start of distinguished stage careers.” Delia kissed Adam on the cheek. “I love you — and happy endings.”

“For Bitsy and Charles, at least. They’re the only survivors.”

Delia put her arms around Adam’s shoulders. “You’re the proud papa of a spanking new story that’s soon to grow into a strapping play. Congratulations.”

“Finishing is always a mixed grill.” Adam turned to Delia.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“A combination of pride and regret. Pleasure in a satisfying conclusion as well as sadness that it’s over — and soon to be examined and poked and subjected to God-only-knows-what by agents and editors everywhere for years to come.”

“Silly boy. It’s perfect. They’ll love it.” Delia massaged Adam’s shoulders.

“That’s wonderful. Don’t stop.”

“How did you ever come up with the notion that I — the faux Delia, I mean — was knocking off our dinner guests with poison? Preposterous!”

“Is it? Remember, writers write what we know.”

“I’ve never done — or even said — anything remotely related to killing friends in our dining room.”

“What about your annual January hit list?” Adam smiled wickedly.

“That’s only purging the cretins who have not returned our kind invitations during the previous year. Simple and appropriate etiquette-approved cleansing, that’s all.” Delia smirked. “Certainly nothing relating to death.”

“Don’t you use the term ‘social death,’ dear one? Remember Phoebe? Alive and kicking, but dead to you because she didn’t extend an invitation to afternoon tea one last time.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it!”

“But that’s the concept I worked from. Delia as social arbiter to the extreme. Miss Manners on steroids, run amok, eliminating purported friends yet to reciprocate in kind or with close-to-even numbers of invitations. Or those who — gasp! — fail to send prompt notes of thanks. Dainty crustless strychnine-laced cucumber sandwiches or pork tenderloin stuffed with prunes and dioxin will usher them to their proper places — six feet under.”

“Any situation can be misconstrued. What about Betsy and Carl? They’re still around.” Delia put her hands on her hips.

“Currently exempt because they adhere to the strict rules of the reciprocity game.”

“You are wicked and too, too clever. That’s two more whys on my list.”

“A never ending list?”

Delia kissed Adam’s forehead and reached for the jingling telephone. “Hello?… Betsy! Adam and I were just speaking of you… Dinner? We’d love to!… Black tie? Wonderful!… A Thursday? Thrilling and too, too decadent… A new couple to meet? Could it be any better?”

Delia perched on the arm of the chair, patting Adam’s hand and Markle’s back. “Won’t it be great fun? Let’s surprise Betsy and Carl. Or is it Bitsy and Charles? After five years of aging in our musty basement, let’s unveil your homemade Crathorne Reserve red wine at their party.”

“Dare we?”

Edwina (in reality, Laurel Pierpont Fitzpatrick) again pondered the unexpected invitation received last fall, now tucked away in the drawer of her dressing table. The prospect of a dashing dinner party — black tie, no less — hosted by twin strangers had thrilled her. Her husband, though, had been reluctant. So they remained at home, not even sending their regrets. She still wondered if that had been the right decision.

Daniel Marshall Wood leads a double life (legally) as an identical twin and as an innkeeper and executive assistant in New York.  He cranks out short stories [mostly mysteries] on the side, published on several online sites and in Woman’s World magazine.  Dan has also written a mystery play.

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