Excerpt

A Sampling from A Side of Murder

Chapter One

“Okay, so here’s how it’s gonna go down.”

I looked sternly at my dining companions, who were eyeing me warily over the rims of their wine glasses.  They were not used to me looking at them sternly. 

“We order one meat, one vegetarian, one seafood and one pasta entree.”

“Pasta doesn’t count as vegetarian?”

That was Jenny, a mother of three with the body of a sixteen-year-old that she proudly claims is the result of her dedicated meat-and-potatoes-only diet. She was probably worried that I was going to make her order eggplant.

“No.  Pasta doesn’t count as vegetarian,” I explained.  “Some restaurants like to think it counts as vegetarian, but that’s how vegetarians get fat.  That and too much cheese.  No, a real vegetarian entrée is about vegetables.  Maybe with grains or legumes, but the focus is on vegetables, like a ratatouille.”

“Sorry I asked,” Jenny muttered to Miles, who was sitting next to her and had been quietly entertaining himself by checking out the other patrons at the Bayview Grille. “What’s a legume anyway?” she asked him.

Miles looked at her like she’d just arrived from Mars. Miles is a farmer.  What he doesn’t know about legumes isn’t worth knowing.  “Beans, lentils, chickpeas, that kind of thing,” he said. “How do you not know that?”

Jenny shuddered.  “I don’t eat ‘that kind of thing.’ ”

I tried to continue with their instructions.  “Appetizers can be anything you like…”

“Well, hallelujah,” Miles said.  He poked Jenny in the side with one massive elbow, almost knocking her off her chair.  “I’d like that cutie pie over there at the bar.”

I ignored him. 

“Anything you like,” I repeated, “but it needs to make sense with your entrée.”

“I’m lost,” said Helene, running a ring-bejeweled hand through her mane of silver curls.  Helene was Fair Haven’s new librarian. I’d known her exactly 24 hours and couldn’t imagine anyone less like a librarian.

“I’ve been eating out for 40 years,” she said, “and I never once worried if my appetizer made sense with my entrée.  I don’t even know what that means.”

I sighed.  Well, no one had ever said writing restaurant reviews for the Cape Cod Clarion was going to be easy. Actually, I reflected, that wasn’t true.  I was the one who had said it would be easy.

I tried to clarify. “It means that if you’re having the hanger steak for your entrée…”

“That’s mine!” Jenny said, suddenly all in.  “I call I claim the hanger steak.”

I call I claim? What is she, six?

“And a half dozen Wellfleet oysters to start,” she added.

Jenny always had oysters to start.  And, as these were Wellfleet oysters, which are universally acknowledged to be the best on the Cape (and all Cape Cod oysters are awesome), I was surprised she wasn’t starting with a dozen.

“That’s fine,” I said.  “A classic pairing.”

I turned back to Helene.  “If, like Jenny, you’re having the hanger steak,” I explained, “you don’t want to order the barbeque sliders as a starter.”

She nodded thoughtfully.  At least Helene was taking this seriously.  But then she ruined it by saying, “Actually, barbeque followed by steak sounds yummy.”

I gave up.

“I’ll order for all of you,” I announced.  “And once we get our food and you’ve had a chance to taste and consider your choices, I will discretely exchange plates with each of you, one by one, and sample each dish.  Then we’ll discretely switch back again. We’ll go clockwise around the table, starting with Helene.” 

“I’m lost again,” Helene fake-whispered to Miles.

“Don’t you worry, honey,” he said.  “Wait until she gets a glass or two of wine into her.  Then we can do whatever we want.”

He grinned at me, looking exactly like the overgrown five-year-old he was.  If five year olds had big, hairy lumberjack beards.

I began to worry for real.  My dining companions were definitely not taking my first foray into restaurant reviewing seriously enough.  And Miles was right about the two glasses of wine.  I was a notoriously cheap date.  But I was also the night’s designated driver, so no worries there.

“No wine for me,” I said firmly, more to myself than to Miles.  “Even if it kills me.”

A poor choice of words, as it turned out.

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