Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fictional Cookery & Mayhem

Over a period of more than one-hundred-forty years, the Larkin family employed four live-in chefs within the Collective Obsessions Saga. They all had specific character oddities, but were unique in their own ways: two were beloved, one was barely tolerated, and one met an insidious ending.

Claude Mondoux was the first chef, and perhaps the most cherished by the Larkin family. The following excerpt is from chapter eleven of Quixotic Crossings:

March 1936
Larkin City, Maine

CLAUDE MONDOUX HAD EXPERIENCED disturbing dreams of late. Winter was drawing to a close, so the bracing air from the sea was beginning to mellow and little buds of spring were blooming all over the estate. Yet Claude could not shake his winter doldrums, and the nightmares that plagued him for months continued unabated.

The dream was the same each time. Claude envisioned his old friend Colm Sullivan burning and writhing in the fires of hell, with Molly Larkin standing off just in the distance, untouched by the flames. She watched her former lover suffer, without a shred of compassion or concern written on her face. The injustice outraged Claude, and he tried to find his way to Colm through the fire. "Mademoiselle Molly should be suffering, not my beloved Beauty Man from Ireland," Claude thought angrily in each dream. But every time Claude was in reach, Colm slipped away farther and deeper into the flames, screaming in pain as the fire licked his flesh. Molly then laughed, head thrown back, and Claude had the overwhelming desire to wring her neck with his bare hands….His driving desire throughout the dream was to bring Colm to safety and to allow Molly to burn alone in her rightful place in hell.

He always woke from his dreams in a cold sweat. He was never able to finish the horrific episodes, and he never reached Colm to save him.

It was St. Patrick's Day 1936 when Claude awoke in his bed, clammy from his ritual nightmare. He lay in bed for several minutes, trying to orientate himself to the real world. It was early as long shadows still crossed the room, but he could hear birds chirping outside his bedroom window.

He sat up and swung his long legs to the floor, grunting in pain. His arthritis was particularly painful this morning, and he cursed his old age. He turned ninety-one two months ago, and he was still shocked that he had come this far. In his youth, he never imagined living so long but he was not ready to give up yet.

Claude was followed by the unfortunate Nicholas Bertrand, who found himself on the receiving end of Patrick Larkin’s psychotic rage on Halloween night 1947. The following excerpt is from chapter fourteen of Quixotic Crossings:

Halloween 1947
Larkin City, Maine

Gripping the knife in his hand, Patrick crossed the threshold quietly, following the muted light to the bedroom. Despite the coolness in the air, he could feel perspiration gathering in beads on his forehead. He hesitated for a brief moment, wavering just before he reached the bedroom door.

"Do I really want to do this?" he asked himself. "There will be no going back if I move forward. But how can I leave it as it is? Nicholas Bertrand had no right to touch my wife. He had no right to think of her as anything more than his employer…"

Imagining his wife in the arms of the family chef removed the waning clarity from his mind. Nicholas had to die and Colleen had to suffer for it, even if that meant Patrick giving up his own life to meet that end.

Nicholas and Colleen lay in each other's arms under the soft coverlet of the bed. They were not asleep, but dozing in warm rapture after their love play.

Patrick stared at Colleen's serene face, hoping to will her to open her eyes and look at him. But her eyes were closed as she rested her cheek on her lover's shoulder, her hand draped across his chest. Patrick resented the happy glow on her face, the obvious contentment that bespoke not a care in the world. She had never been that way with him - rather she had always seemed apprehensive and then dutiful, in a hurry to leave his presence in their long-forgotten marital bed.

Colleen was content. She was blissful in Nicholas' arms, where she wished away the unpleasantness of her marriage and circumstance. She knew they were taking a chance in being together because of Patrick's recent behavior, but she and Nicholas ached to be alone. Surely this once before the divorce wouldn't mar their future.

When Colleen opened her eyes she thought she was dreaming. Patrick stood over the bed, his silhouette inky and his face almost obscured by the shadows in the room. Nicholas was unaware of him, his face turned to her with his eyes half-closed.

Before Colleen could open her mouth to speak and warn, Patrick plunged a knife into Nicholas' neck. Colleen felt her lover's body tense. In slow motion, she saw herself recoil and then try to scream as she met Nicholas' bewildered eyes.

He stared at her in shock, in disbelief. She reached for him and felt the wet stickiness of his blood.

Then Patrick plunged the knife again - and again. Back, head, rollover, heart, lungs….

Colleen pulled away, screaming. She scrambled to the other side of the bed. Her own body was covered in blood, her hair wet and stuck to her face, but she was sure Patrick had not stabbed her. From across the expanse of the bed, she looked at Nicholas and began screaming again.

She could no longer see his face. His dark hair was matted, obscuring view of his features. His bloodied limbs were lifeless, like oars adrift in a pond. She thought she could hear him moaning, but there was no movement of breathing, no signs of life.

"Why isn't he fighting back?" Colleen thought dazedly. "Why isn't Nicholas thrashing about, or yelling at the top of his lungs?"

"Because he's dead," another voice whispered in her ear.

Patrick stepped away from the bed. He, too, was covered in blood. He still held the knife in his hand, staring down in wonder at Nicholas Bertrand. He heard Colleen's sobs in the back of his mind, but her anguish had no affect on him. He dropped the knife on the floor, and then turned to walk away.

Colleen watched her husband, incredulous that he was leaving her there, acting as if he had just taken a walk on the beach.

"Patrick!" she screamed from her place on the bed.

He stopped but did not turn around.

"Why?" she wept hysterically. "Why did you do this?"

There was silence, a long pause. Colleen could hear the wind and rain against the glass window pane next to the bed as she waited for an answer.

The finally he spoke: "You're an adulteress," he said tonelessly. "The rest of your life will be spent in misery, remembering your lover, and what your treacherous actions cost you."

Colleen was speechless. Suddenly it did not matter what Patrick said, or why he killed her beloved. Her reality was the bloody form of Nicholas, who such a short time ago was warm and loving in her embrace. Now he was gone from her forever. In the blinking of an eye, her only chance of true happiness was destroyed by the nemesis known as her husband, the once-reputable man who made her life miserable for daring to seek happiness away from him.

Patrick heard his wife's sobs as he left the chef's suite of rooms. The further he walked away, the more muffled the sounds became. He smiled slightly as he reached the foyer. Colleen's misery was now complete.

It wasn’t until 1951 that Nicholas was replaced by Larkin City widow Mae Jensen. She was kind-hearted and generous, very much part of the Larkin family until her natural death in 1989. The following excerpt is from chapter six of Enthrallment:

August 1989
Larkin City, Maine

LESS THAN THREE MONTHS after the death of Phoebe McGarren, Mae Jensen died in her sleep. The Larkin family cook had shown no signs of illness, but rather passed away suddenly in her rooms at the mansion.

The hot summer was winding down at the end of August, just after the Larkin Fair Days, when Kevin discovered Mae dead in her rooms. He arrived home one Saturday morning after spending the night with a female friend in Larkin City to find the kitchen deserted. Mae was typically an early riser, who had the coffee brewing long before the rising sun.

The hallway to the cook’s rooms was dark and quiet. Kevin made no pretence at being stealthy but rather ambled his bulky frame along at a steady pace. When he came to the closed doorway of Mae’s suite, he paused, listening for signs of activity. Nothing. He knocked loudly, several raps in quick succession. When he received no answer, he put his face closer to the door frame and bellowed:

“Mae, for God’s sake, I’m dying out here. Are you sleeping the day away or can we possibly get some coffee brewing in the kitchen?”

Silence greeted him. Muttering under his breath, Kevin opened the door slowly, almost fearful of finding Mae in the altogether and shrieking in panic when she spied him. Neither scenario unfolded, but he was puzzled by the dark stillness of her rooms. He passed through the sitting area and stood in the doorway of the bedroom.

He saw Mae’s form in the bed, her head facing the wall away from his view. He stared at her for a moment, looking for signs that she was breathing. He wasn’t sure what prompted him to think she might not be breathing, but the eerie quiet in the room made him uneasy.

He stepped toward the bed, reaching out gingerly to shake her shoulder. She moved with the motion but did not waken. Kevin walked around to the other side of the bed to look at her face, gasping as she came into full view.

Mae was the color of ash, her eyes open and staring, her mouth slightly twisted into a grimace. He knew she was dead before he touched her again, and the knowledge filled him with dread. He placed his fingers to the pulse point in her throat, unsurprised to find no rhythm to indicate her heart was beating. She was gone. Considering the color and coldness of her skin, she had been dead for several hours.

“Damnit,” he swore, hanging his head. Mae had been such a permanent part of the family for almost forty years. It was unimaginable that in one short night she was gone from them.

“What is it about this damned house?” Kevin wondered aloud. “It’s as if death and dying likes to roost here, waiting and watching for its next victim.” He knew it was the hang of last night’s alcohol speaking for him, so he stopped talking and stepped away from the bed.

After a moment, Kevin left the room.

The chef post remained vacant until 2002, when Cora Ann Hogan was hired to take over culinary duties. Coarse and uneducated – with a penchant for heavy drinking – Cora actually took the job in order to spy on the Larkin family. The following excerpt is from chapter eight of The Twilight (due for release this summer):

November 2003
Larkin City, Maine

CORA ANN HOGAN SPENT a pleasant afternoon at the mansion. Family members were supposed to be in Larkin City all day, attending the opening trial date of Andrea's lawsuit. Cora never had the house to herself - there always seemed to be someone about - so she enjoyed the time knowing it would never last.

After the noon hour, Cora went into the drawing room and poured herself a brandy from the sideboard. She never dared do that before - she was usually in the drawing room to serve the family rather than to help herself. She sat on the divan, in the same place Shannon often held court, and sipped the fine-quality liquor.

Cora imagined being the mistress of such a fine house, to have others wait hand and foot on her. In her mind Cora saw the elegant and elaborate bedroom suites upstairs, lying on her own silky bed amongst the fine furnishings and lazing away the day. "Those that have it don't know how to use it," she thought. "Look at the Larkin's - they're swimming in greenbacks but they're up early and out working. Why bother when the money comes from a black hole?"

Coming out of her fanciful reverie, Cora drained her brandy and returned to the kitchen, washing the snifter. Wouldn't Miss Hoity-Toity Shannon be furious to see her sitting like an equal in the drawing room, drinking fine liquor? Cora chuckled at the thought.

Today would be a tough one for the Larkin family, Cora realized with glee as she rummaged through the refrigerator for something to eat. Andrea would surely win her case and receive a portion of Scott's estate, and then Cora's life would finally change. She could leave the toil in the mansion and live a life of ease. Not for the first time, Cora wondered how the court proceedings were going.

She fixed herself a sandwich and gobbled it down, contemplating what to fix the Larkin's for dinner. Since none of them were courteous enough to call her and let her know when to expect them, she had no clue when they would arrive at the mansion.

She opened the freezer door and pulled out a large package of pork chops. What if Andrea won her case today? "Then I won't have to cook these people another damned morsel. They're an ungrateful lot, anyway." Deciding to play it safe, Cora seasoned and floured the pork chops and cooked them in a large skillet on the stove. She threw together a mixed green salad and a casserole dish full of potatoes au gratin. "Just in case," she said aloud.

As the food finished cooking, Cora noticed it was nearing six o'clock. She placed the dishes in the oven to keep warm and then brewed a pot of coffee. Just as she was setting the coffee tray with mugs and saucers, she heard the back door open and the tramping of many feet.

Cora turned from the counter and faced the Larkin clan. They stood in the kitchen, still wearing their coats, regarding her in return. Cora failed to notice their gazes were anything but friendly.

"Dinner is ready if you're all hungry," Cora managed to say, somewhat intimidated by the group of them. "Or if you'd rather, there's fresh coffee."

Shannon stepped forward, removing her coat and draping it over the back of a kitchen table chair. "Miss Hogan, you no longer work here," she said coldly. "Pack your belongings and get out."

Cora felt the blood drain from her face. "Excuse me?" she stammered.

"You heard me loud and clear," Shannon continued evenly. "Your employment here is at an end. Because of the filthy state of the quarters we so kindly let you use, severance pay is out of the question. Your final wages will be used fumigate and re-paint the cook's suite of rooms."

"I don't understand," Cora insisted plaintively. "What have I done wrong?"

"Deception and lies," Shannon spat. "Miss Hogan, we've been aware of your relationship to Andrea St. John since Thanksgiving. The fact that she's your daughter came out in court today, as did Andrea's plan to snare my husband and her ploy in getting you to work here."

Cora stood open-mouthed, unable to speak.

"That being the case, your daughter did not receive one red cent," Shannon said with finality. "Your granddaughter, on the other hand, will receive a trust fund that cannot be accessed by you or Andrea. So you see, all of your plans were for naught." She turned to Brose. "Will you escort Miss Hogan to the cook's quarters so she can pack her things? And please make sure she doesn't try to steal anything."

Cora followed the giant Brose Larkin to her rooms, still not comprehending what had just happened to her.

Back in the kitchen, the family was relaxing and taking off their coats, congratulating Shannon on her performance.

"I've wanted to fire Cora since the get-go," Shannon declared. "Today was doubly sweet because we are rid of her mendacious daughter as well."

"Let's all sit down for dinner now," Dana suggested. "I'm starving."

Shannon shook her head. "Not on your life. I refuse to eat another meal cooked by that woman. We can throw her food away - I won't even force it on the dogs." She winked at Dana. "What do you say we whip up some pasta and break out a dozen bottles of good Chianti wine?"

More to come this summer, so stay tuned!

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