“To . . . to die for?” Cleric gaped at Dragon, who – in her customary guise of an elf maiden – stood there, pale and shaking. “What does that mean?”
Dragon’s voice was low when she answered, and it cracked several times as emotion constricted the woman’s throat. “It . . . it appears our obnoxious neighbors, Mace and Gloria, plan to . . . to do away with Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood get-together. Gloria was gloating over a . . . a dish she is preparing for what she termed a pot-luck, whatever that might be, which will be part of the festivities.” She took a deep breath before concluding. “The dish she spoke of is the stroganoff dish she was discussing with Mace last evening . . . the one laced with poison mushrooms.”
The dwarf stepped forward. “Now will ye be lettin’ me at ’em wit me axe?” He was seething, his bushy eyebrows squished together over his green eyes, and his mouth an angry line between his unkempt mustache and beard. He held his weapon in one hand, slapping the flat of the axe head against his other palm.
Many of the other eight characters nodded and murmured in approval, but Sorceress cut them off, slashing her hand down for emphasis. “No!” She whirled around and faced the dwarf. “I have already explained to you that should Mace and Gloria be found dead at the hands of an apparent axe murderer, Deputy Whitewash and her intrepid partner, Deputy Dawg, will be breaking down the door to get to you. They are sure to remember you brandishing an axe at them when they first encountered you six months ago!”
The dwarf stood there trembling, anger and frustration building. “Bah!” He spat out the expletive before his shoulders slumped in defeat.
Another character spoke. “Then what do you propose we do?” The speaker, the unpopular and annoying elf illusionist, glared at Sorceress, his eyes like slits, and his lips curled with disdain. “If Mistress Writer is killed, what will happen to us?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “We will cease to exist!” Seeing all eyes on him and a few of his companions nodding, the elf pompously drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “I say, let the dwarf deal with the would-be murderers. Then the authorities can deal with the dwarf.” He sneered with contempt at the dwarf.
Dragon had shape-shifted into her true form before the elf had finished talking. Flames shot from her mouth and the elf’s cohort, the Bounty Hunter, barely had time to push his friend out of the way and prevent the illusionist from becoming elf flambé.
“Do . . . not . . . ever think of allowing anyone to deal with the dwarf!” Dragon bared her teeth at the elf. Dark smoke plumed from her nostrils.
The elf scowled. “Better him than Mistress Writer. Her demise means our demise; do not doubt that for a moment! And it would be better to lose one of our number than for all of us to perish.”
The dwarf nodded, still slapping his open palm with the flat of the axe head. “I be agreein’ with tha elfie.”
“Do not call me elfie!” The illusionist’s face turned beet red with anger and contorted with hatred. His voice reached a register so high, the neighborhood dogs started howling.
“Settle down.” The Bounty Hunter placed a restraining hand on his friend’s arm, then glared at the other characters. “All of you. This is not accomplishing anything.”
The elf pulled away, his eyes flashing in anger. “Then what do you suggest?”
The Bounty Hunter shrugged, then raised an eyebrow. “If Mistress Writer and Master Miles do not attend the neighborhood get-together, they cannot partake of Gloria’s food.”
The Gypsy snorted. “And how do you propose we keep them from going?”
A sly grin spread slowly across the Bounty Hunter’s face. “Mistress Writer is always so eager to go on outings. Several days before the neighborhood event, we could all develop a sudden interest in going somewhere, somewhere that would necessitate us leaving the house early and staying away all day. We could manipulate Mistress Writer into planning the outing for the same day as the event.”
Cleric shook her head. “No!” Her face drained of color and she wrung her hands. “No! Do you not remember the ordeal we suffered on our last outing? We cannot go on another!”
Sorceress scoffed. “We have already discussed this. The chances of a portal to another world opening and us being transported from this world are exceedingly slim, but if it were to happen, it is just as likely to happen here, within this house, as elsewhere.”
“I know. My mind understands but my fear does not.” Cleric hung her head and fidgeted with the cord belt on her robes. Tears welled up in her eyes.
The Foreman of the group stepped forward and placed a reassuring hand on Cleric’s shoulder. His voice was soft yet commanding. “I do not believe we need to go on an outing right now. If Mistress Writer and Master Miles do not attend the neighborhood event, it will only postpone the inevitable. We need to find a way to prevent Mace and Gloria from committing this murder, not just at the event but at any place or at any time.”
Others nodded, but the Young Hero stroked his chin and frowned. “You are correct – if they do not attend the event, it will only postpone their demise. However, Gloria’s plot makes no sense. If Mace and Gloria want to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles, why would they do it at a public event, where the poison food could be consumed by any of those in attendance? They could conceivably wipe out the entire neighborhood!”
“The lad has a point.” The Foreman turned back to Dragon. “Are you quite certain you heard them correctly?”
The beast had settled down and had shapeshifted back to the form of an elf maiden. She pursed her lips and nodded. “Yes, I am sure. Mace was complaining about Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and Gloria revealed her plot to eliminate them using poison mushrooms. She said the mushrooms would be in her stroganoff. And just now, she was braying to Mistress Writer about her – and again I quote – to-die-for stroganoff that she will serve at the neighborhood get-together.”
The Foreman nodded. “If we elect to protect the lives of not only Mistress Writer and Master Miles, but the majority of our neighbors as well, we should alert the authorities.”
The dwarf scoffed. “And iffin we even be figurin’ how ta be contactin’ ’em, why would they be believin’ us? I be rememberin’ tha two o ’em been takin’ Mace and Gloria’s word over our lass an’ ’er lad. Nay, we be needin’ ta be takin’ care o this our own selfs!”
“That is not an option!” Sorceress snapped at the dwarf. “Get that through your thick skull!”
Dragon furrowed her brow. “If we need to alert the authorities, we can do it easily enough. The deputies left their cards with our Mistress when last they were here, and I believe several of us have mastered the use of the talking device, the thing called a telephone.”
The dwarf snorted. “So’s we kin be gittin’ ahold o ’em. How, perzactly, do we be gittin’ ’em ta be believin’ us?” He crossed his arms over his barrel chest and tapped a foot impatiently.
“The dwarf is right – they simply would never believe any of us, should we accuse Mace and Gloria. However, mayhap we have no need of the authorities.” The Young Hero quirked an eyebrow, and there was a twinkle of mischief in his green eyes.
“What do you propose?” Dragon looked intrigued.
“Well, you know how clumsy some of us can be.” The lad grinned. “It would be such a shame if Gloria’s stroganoff was to be knocked all over the ground.”
Everyone relaxed and started nodding and smiling; there were even a few impish chuckles from the group.
* * *
I cringed. Before I even looked, I knew who it was. My far-less-than-favorite neighbor, Gloria, had an unmistakable voice. It was full of perk, arrogance, and acid, all mixed together with a Midwestern twang. I turned and watched as she bounced over to our yard, all but dragging her husband, Mace, also one of my far-less-than-favorite neighbors.
“Hello, Gloria, Mace.” I tried to paste a smile on my face, but all I could manage was a thinning of my lips. My husband, Miles, didn’t seem any happier than I to see these two.
If Gloria noticed, she didn’t let it dampen her enthusiasm. She started in, sounding like a high school cheerleader, almost every sentence sounding like it ended with an exclamation point. “It’s a beautiful day! Not a cloud in the sky! Looks like every single person in the whole neighborhood made it to the get-together! And there are a lot of guests, too! You aren’t the only folks who have visiting out-of-town family! I hope we have enough food for everyone! What culinary delight did you contribute?” She said all that in one breath, and never ran out of air.
“Marge made a few of her specialties.” I detected a hint of pride in my husband’s voice. “She made her famous German potato salad, two baked hams, and four cakes – two apple cakes from her Bubbie’s recipe, and two chocolate chip cakes. And I made my famous stew.”
Mace looked impressed, but Gloria seemed annoyed. “You didn’t have to bring all that.”
“Miles and I volunteered to contribute more, since we have so many guests attending the event. Your fellow food-committee member, Joanne, gave me the thumbs-up on the choices. She checked what everyone else had signed up to bring, and she said our stuff wouldn’t be redundant.”
Before Gloria could sputter a reply, Cleric, Sorceress, and the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, joined us. They nodded politely to Mace and Gloria before Dragon turned to me. “Excuse us, Missy . . .”
Gloria interrupted, her brow furrowed and her hand on her hip. “Why do you always call her Missy? Isn’t her name Marge?”
Dragon blinked. “It’s just a family nickname.”
Yeah, I thought, my family of characters calls me Missy in public because I’ve warned them enough times not to call me Mistress Writer in front of other people.
Dragon turned back to me. “Missy, the lads are taking your food for the pot-luck to the tables that have been set up in the park at the end of our street.”
I nodded. “We should go there now. It’s almost lunchtime.”
“We’ll meet you there!” Gloria waved and headed for the park, still all but dragging Mace along. “Should we save a couple of tables for you?”
Miles shook his head. “We’ll find some seats when we get there.”
Miles and I walked down the street arm-in-arm, with the three companions a few steps behind. We were approaching the park when we heard Gloria above the sounds of the crowd.
“Noooooooo!” Gloria was wailing. We ran the rest of the way to see what had happened. When we drew near, we saw Gloria standing next to one of the picnic tables that had been set up to hold the pot-luck buffet. On the other side of the table, my Young Hero and my Gypsy stood, looking aghast. By their feet, Gloria’s to-die-for vegan/tofu stroganoff was all over the ground.
My red-faced Young Hero was apologizing profusely. “Oh, I am so sorry! It was so clumsy of me! I was just trying to move it over a bit to fit our food onto the table, and the next thing I knew, the whole thing was on the ground.”
Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress exchanged knowing glances. “Oops.”
Just then, Deputy Whitewash and Deputy Dawg walked up behind the lads. Deputy Dawg placed a beefy hand on my Young Hero’s shoulder. “Son, that didn’t look like an accident to me.”
Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress exchanged guilty looks. “Oops.”
Be sure to join us next week to see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.