Mrs. Beverly Pitts frowned as she tasted the cake batter. Too bland. There was still something missing. It wasn’t that big a deal at the moment, but she knew that the cake needed to be perfect for the big party tonight. It was the big one – Master Thomas was turning fifty – so there was no room for bland cake anywhere. Of course, he would never be cruel about it, but she didn’t want to disappoint him in the slightest.
She pursed her lips as she thought, her face wrinkling. Not that it was a problem, mind you. She had been taking care of this family for generations but still didn’t look a day over sixty. What did this cake need? She found herself getting annoyed at the time she was wasting. This wasn’t acceptable. Maybe there was something in the pantry she could use to spice things up a bit.
Beverly turned and, with no great deal of surprise, saw a hulking figure in the doorway. It was dressed all in black and a gleaming silver knife was gripped in its left hand. Slowly, with menace, it closed the door and moved toward her.
Sugar? No. The cake already had enough sugar. It needed something else.
The man came up right against her and held the knife to her throat. She looked directly into the man’s eyes, which were the only body part not covered by the suit. This one had blue eyes. How lovely! She liked blue eyes. Her dear departed Harold had blue eyes once upon a time. That is, until cataracts and a stray bottle rocket had removed both the blue and her Harold from her life. She sighed. What a sad way to go. If only he hadn’t been sitting by that gas station. Oh well. What might have been.
“Don’t scream,” the man growled, his voice all shadow and gravel. She blinked but did not break her gaze.
“What does the cake need?” she asked. The confusion that came across the figure’s eyes was immediate and intense.
“The cake. It’s too bland. It needs…something to make it stand out.”
The thought she had been looking for finally struck her, and she smiled, and her green eyes lit up with pleasure.
“Molasses! You’re absolutely correct. Thank you, young man.”
By the hesitance in his voice and the puzzlement in his eyes, she could tell that things were not going exactly as he had expected.
“Very good. I’m going to go get that from the pantry…if that’s okay with you.”
The man lowered his knife and she made her way to the pantry and opened the door. Molasses, molasses…ah, there it was. She frowned again. Naturally, it was on the top shelf.
“Excuse me, young man?”
The man turned to look at her, utterly perplexed at this point.
“Would you be a dear and come get the molasses down? It’s a bit too high for me and the stepstool has been so rickety lately. I’d hate to fall and hurt myself.”
“Of course,” the man said as he walked over to her. He squeezed by her and, with no effort, reached up and plucked the jar of molasses from the top shelf, handing it to her gently. She smiled and patted him on the arm.
“Thank you so much. Now, why don’t you go sit down at that table and we can talk while I finish making this cake. I’ll put a kettle on. Are you hungry?”
“I…well…I mean, I guess I could eat.”
“Lovely!” she said, “I’ll make up some sandwiches too when this is finished. For now, I think there are some leftover ladyfingers in the cupboard over there. Feel free to take a couple and pour yourself a glass of milk. I won’t be too long.”
With that, she began work in earnest to finish making the cake. The dollop of molasses was just what it had needed! It was going to give a little bit of sweetness and spice to the cake. She knew Master Thomas loved a little spice. She shook her head in amusement – a pinch of cayenne would have worked too!
At the table behind her, the man sat down gingerly with a plate of ladyfingers and a small glass of milk he had poured. She could tell he looked extremely out-of-sorts but was being polite. She liked that. So very often, they were impolite. She couldn’t abide that.
Within a few minutes, she had poured out the cake batter into a pan and popped the cake into the pre-heated oven to bake. When the door closed, she sighed contentedly and turned to her companion. By this point, he had pulled the mask down, revealing a handsome young face with a thin blonde beard, and was eating the biscuits slowly.
“Now then! Are you liking your ladyfingers?”
“Uh, yes, ma’am. They’re good.”
“Wonderful! While I make us some sandwiches, why don’t you tell me why you’re here? I assume it’s to kill Master Thomas, but who sent you?”
The man reared up a little at that, surprised.
“I…I can’t tell you that, ma’am. Not for all the sandwiches in the world.”
“Come now. Who am I going to tell? You’ve already threatened my life and now I’ve seen your face. When we’re done here, you’re obliged to kill me, so why not give an old lady some peace of mind?”
The look on the man’s face would have been amusing if it wasn’t so sad. He looked completely devastated at the prospect of killing this old lady, but she saw that he knew she was right. She turned away from him to let him think as she started gathering the ingredients for the sandwiches. Roast beef and cheese with some lettuce and tomato sounded quite good right now and she figured that he would not object. Once all the food was laid out, she began methodically putting together the sandwiches.
“Garcia Lopez,” he finally said. She nodded.
“That boy and my Thomas have never liked each other. You’re not the first person he’s sent, you know. There was that Peruvian boy. He was a bit rough-and-tumble. Not like you. You’re more refined. That is, you will be if you get your arms off the table! This isn’t a barn, young man.”
The man sat up and took his arms from where they had been resting on the table. Without looking away from the sandwiches, she actually could just tell he was feeling that old-school shame from back when he was a child.
“Uh, yeah. Sorry, ma’am.”
“Perfectly alright. Now, let’s see. There was also that Russian lady. She was lovely. So sweet and gentle. She helped me in the kitchen a few times! Of course, she was playing the long game and was just seducing my poor Thomas. Nearly got him too. If she hadn’t aimed low, she would have gotten him in the heart with that stiletto as opposed to just hitting muscle. I will give her credit, though. She got the closest. So, how are you going to do it, then?”
She frowned and shook her head as she turned to him.
“Kill him. How are you going to kill him?”
“You know, for a mercenary or secret agent or whatever you are, you’re not being particularly articulate. Come now, young man. Use your words.”
“I was just going to get him alone and stab him.”
“That’s it? No plan? No finesse? Just…get Master Thomas alone and stab him? Stab him where? In the chest? In the back? The throat? The face? Please not his pretty face.”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”
She finished up the sandwiches and brought them over with a kettle of tea and some glasses, setting them down on the table in front of him as she sat down and continued to scold him as she poured the tea for each of them.
“And how did you intend to get him alone? Go ahead and eat now. I mean, this is his fiftieth birthday party! Can you imagine that he is going to be alone for even a split-second tonight? The Mayor is here, as is the District Attorney. I believe that Governor Maddox is going to make an appearance. Not the mention the Chief of Police and Commissioner Hollis.”
She smacked his hand as he stuffed half a sandwich into his mouth as he was speaking.
“No talking with your mouth full! Come now.”
He nodded and finished chewing and swallowing.
“I was gonna just wait until he had a moment and then, you know, just stab him.”
“Assuming that would even have worked,” she said, “how were you going to stab? Here, show me. Stand up and show me the motion. Go on now.”
The man stood up and grabbed his knife. Unsure of himself, he took a wild downward swing that would have likely knocked his target to the ground. As it stood, he nearly fell over. She sighed and stood up.
“If you want to be a butcher, be my guest. However, I can’t imagine that Mr. Lopez would appreciate that lack of artistry and there is no chance that you would make it out alive from the party. Not with that kind of blood spray that you would garner. Here. Let me show you. May I see your knife?”
He hesitated, but she gave him a look. He flipped the knife and handed it to her grip-first. She smiled. She liked how polite he was. Taking the knife in her left hand, she slowly jabbed it upward around where the middle of an average-sized man’s back would be. She repeated the gesture a few times so he could see it.
“Do you see what I’m doing? I’m not flailing around like some lunatic with a cleaver. I’m using this upward motion to get the knife around the spine and between the ribs. That angle of the cut is going to cause considerable damage but not leave blood spraying everywhere. That will allow a cleaner, quicker getaway.”
“That makes sense.”
“Yes, it does! Have you finished your sandwich?”
“Well, sit back down and finish. We have plenty of time.”
She handed the knife back to him and he sheathed it at his side.
“Now,” she asked, “how were you planning on killing me? Or were you not going to kill me? Were you just going to knock me out and hide me in the pantry?”
“I was…maybe thinking about it, yeah,” he said, looking slightly ashamed. She shook her head again. Such an amateur. A cute one, but an amateur.
“Blows to head, especially for women and especially for women my age, can be fatal if done incorrectly and I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but your clumsiness with the knife does not give me much faith in your being able to be precise with where you would hit me and how hard you would hit me. In all likelihood, your big brute hands would have cracked my skull and left me to die – alone – in a pantry where I would not be found for days, given that you would have tried to and possibly would have killed my employer.”
“Sorry, ma’am. Won’t happen again, ma’am.”
The man looked ashamed. She patted his arm again.
“It’s quite alright. What’s your name, young man?”
“It’s…it’s Clifford, ma’am.”
“Well, Clifford, I hope you’ve learned something today.”
“I have, ma’am. Very much so.”
“Good! I’m so glad. Now, you know I can’t have you killing my employer, right?”
“I also know that you were paid probably a significant amount to kill him, right?”
“Okay. We can fix this. Go over to the cupboard there. Go on!”
He stood up and followed her directions.
“Right over there. Good! Now, open it up and pull out the cookie jar. Yes, I’m giving you permission. Okay, good. In the jar, there is, I think, about twenty-thousand dollars in unmarked bills. It usually is a bit more, but I had to do some last-minute shopping. Take it. Go ahead, it’s okay.”
Confused beyond reason at this point, Clifford pulled out a wad of cash from the blue-and-white jar.
“Is this it, ma’am?”
“That’s it. If you leave now, it’s yours. There’s no way that Mr. Lopez paid you that much. He is notoriously cheap when it comes to his employees. You take that and go find yourself a nice new place to live, far away from all this unpleasantness. You’re a nice boy.”
“I…ma’am, I have a job to do.”
“And I appreciate your work ethic! It is so refreshing to see a young person with the singlemindedness that you have. I just can’t let you kill Master Thomas. He is far too dear to me, you understand.”
“It’s not that simple, ma’am. I’m not –”
The door to the kitchen burst open as another two men, equally bulky and equally dressed in black, stormed in while waving assault rifles. They looked at Clifford in disgust. The one in front shook his head and spoke. His voice was even less pleasant than Clifford’s and sounded like treading being scraped off a tire.
“Clifford, what are you doing? You’re supposed to be doing recon! Instead, we find you in here, eating sandwiches?”
Clifford stood up and walked toward the pair, his hands held in a placating gesture.
“Look, Brock, I can explain…”
“Who are your friends, Clifford?” Beverly asked.
“These are –”
“What? Clifford!” Brock said loudly, “You gave her information? You gave her your name and now you’re going to tell her who we are? You’ve lost your damn mind.”
“Language!” Beverly said, offended. The man rolled his eyes.
“Lady, you need to shut the f-”
“Don’t you talk to her like that!” Clifford yelled.
“What is wrong with you?” Brock asked, annoyed, “Why are you defending this old bat?”
“I said don’t talk to her like that!”
“And what if I do?” Brock said.
Tension filled the room as the two men stared at each other. The third man slowly backed out of the room, not wanting to get involved. Beverly watched and sipped her tea.
“This isn’t a fight you want, Brock,” Clifford snarled.
“You’re defending some decrepit old cook against me? We’re blood brothers, man.”
“I told you not to talk about her like that. Last warning.”
“Come now, boys. No fighting in the kitchen,” Beverly said.
“Woman, shut your mo-”
Brock didn’t get the chance to finish. Clifford charged across the kitchen, drawing his knife as he ran, and slammed – knife-first – into the chest of Brock. That spray of blood that Beverly had mentioned erupted into the kitchen as the pair sailed out the open door. The sound of fighting and punching and gunfire filled the air as Beverly finished her tea and sandwich and began to clean up the dishes. The sandwiches could have used a touch more mayo, she thought. Oh well. Next time.
A few minutes later, the sounds ceased, and she looked to the door. After a moment, a bloody and limping Clifford shuffled through the door, his wounds painful to look at but likely not fatal. In his right hand, he held the grip of his knife. The blade, Beverly noticed, was not attached.
“I’m…I’m sorry about the mess, ma’am,” Clifford grunted out as she came over to him and helped him sit down.
“Oh, it’s quite alright, you sweet boy. You just sit there and stay alive. I’ll fetch the doctor and we’ll get you fixed up right as rain. I’d imagine that Master Thomas would love to speak with you and thank you for saving my life. You could kill him then if you liked.”
The man winced. She gathered it was both from pain and her words. Good. That was what she wanted to see.
“Alternatively, the two of you could talk about bodyguard work if you were so inclined.”
From the door on the other side of the room, another man – tall, brown-skinned, bald, and armed – ran in, his face a mask of alarm.
“Beverly! Are you okay? Who is this man? I heard gunshots!”
She motioned for him to holster his weapon. He did so.
“I’m perfectly fine, Chester. Just another incursion gone awry. This lovely young man here is Clifford. As of late, he was working for Mr. Lopez, but he quite handily managed to incapacitate his colleagues. To me, I think that means he’s unemployed, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I suppose I would, ma’am,” Chester said with a smile.
“Good! Why don’t you take Clifford to get patched up and show him around? He’d be new here and could use that helping hand. You remember what that was like, right?”
“Of course. I don’t recall killing two people though.”
“You didn’t. Just the one. What was your sandwich again?”
“Turkey on rye with mustard, ma’am.”
“That’s right! You boys go have fun now. I’ll clean up here.”
Chester helped Clifford up and the two of them left the room. Beverly smiled as she retrieved her mop and bucket. They were always such sweet boys.
Here is where I''ll post random stories that aren't, as of yet, in a larger book. Call it a free ride into the mouth of madness, yo.