Murder [and Baklava] – Blake Pierce

London Rose felt a surge of air rising out of her lungs. Don’t yawn, she sternly told herself. Whatever you do, don’t yawn. She didn’t want to make her boredom any more obvious than she thought it already must be. But her boyfriend, Ian Mitchell, didn’t seem to have noticed. He just kept talking endlessly—and nervously—about his accounting business. “I’m talking about the future, London,” Ian said. “And I think the future looks very good.” The yawn now started retreating, collapsing on its own weight. The future, London thought. She wished she had Ian’s confidence in the future. She hadn’t told him that she had every reason to believe she was about to become unemployed. She wished she didn’t have to tell him eventually. That might fit his plans perfectly, she thought as he kept talking. “You know, I’ve been asked to prepare all the books for my corporation’s acquisition and merger …” She’d been dating Ian for about a year now, spending time with him whenever she was here in New Haven, and he didn’t always drone on like this.

She had an uncomfortable suspicion why tonight was different. “All told,” Ian continued, “our business looks very sound indeed for the foreseeable future …” London was sure that this buildup was poor Ian’s clumsy way of trying to get to a certain point. She had guessed his intentions when he told her he’d made reservations at Les Chambres, one of the finest and most expensive restaurants in New Haven. She’d been here a couple of times years ago, but she had never been ushered past the maze of rooms into a private nook like this before. She and Ian even had their own small fireplace. In May, Connecticut evenings could be cool enough to enjoy a fire if you wanted the ambience. The setting was perfect, with firelight and candlelight, a soft glow from the wall sconces, warm brown-and-cream-colored walls, and comfortable upholstered chairs drawn up to a small, elegantly set table. The meal had been spectacular—chilled English pea soup with mint-marinated goat cheese, followed by a wonderful lobster tortellini. The conversation, however, left something to be desired. Ian was still carrying on about business.

“… you see, I’ve been doing annual projections for the company …” As London tried to listen, she poked her serving of choux profiterole with her fork. The dessert pastry crumbled exquisitely, revealing an airy puffiness inside. She took a small taste, and it melted sweetly in her mouth. It’s perfect, she thought. As someone who’d traveled the world trying the most delicious foods of hundreds of different places, she knew she was a pretty good judge of fine cuisine. In fact, the choux profiterole was so light and delicate that it seemed almost a wonder that it didn’t float off into the air. Surely she could enjoy it despite the awkward circumstances, just as she had the rest of the meal. She only wished the evening wasn’t destined to end the way she expected. “… and we are mapping out a ten-year plan and a twenty-year plan,” Ian continued. Suddenly he paused.

Is he going to ask me now? It would certainly seem like a non sequitur after what he had said so far. He looked at her intently and smiled the warmest smile he could muster. “You see, our business is all about stability. Predictability.” He leaned toward her across the table and murmured, “And I think stability and predictability are important—not only in business but in life.” He paused again, then added in a significant tone, “Don’t you?” London swallowed hard and painfully. What on earth am I supposed to say? Fortunately, before she tried to say anything, their haughty French waiter approached their table. “Is everything as you wish, monsieur, madame?” he said with a thick accent. Before London could open her mouth to say everything had been perfect, Ian spoke up. “Madame and I would each like a glass of your best cognac.

” “Very well, monsieur.” As the waiter left, Ian forced out a chuckle. “The waiter called you madame,” he said. So did you, London wanted to say. “Yeah, well, I’m not getting any younger,” she replied. “I guess the days when French men automatically called me mademoiselle are over.” Although thirty-four isn’t exactly matronly, she almost added. “Oh, I don’t think it’s an age thing,” Ian said. “You’re still young and beautiful. I’m sure the waiter thinks so too.

” The compliment didn’t make London feel any better. Unfortunately, she knew that the waiter had given Ian a near-perfect opportunity for a follow-up. If Ian had his way, French men would be calling her madame for the rest of her life. And a lot of other people would be referring to her as Mrs., no matter how old-fashioned that had become. Ian smiled at her knowingly and said, “If you ask me, Marcel called you madame because we look so much like a couple.” “Do you think so?” London asked. “Oh, I know so.” It was probably true, London had to admit. And was that such a bad thing, really? Why couldn’t she just accept a good thing when she found it? What could possibly be wrong with marrying a stable guy like Ian Mitchell? She knew she ought to appreciate how he was doing his inelegant best to make this evening really special.

And the food really had been wonderful. But all this talk about predictability was getting to her. Predictability had never been something she’d sought out in her life. She’d always been more inclined toward spontaneity and adventure. But tonight London found herself wondering if maybe her older sister’s advice was right. Maybe she was reaching an age when she should be reining in her adventurous spirit. Would that be so bad? I’ll always have memories—and stories. She and Ian both fell quiet for a moment. London was starting to wish he’d ask and get it done with. She figured she’d somehow manage to let out an appropriately ecstatic if not entirely sincere yelp of surprise, then breathlessly say yes two or three or four times.

It seemed a shame there weren’t any other customers around to applaud. That would complete the scene perfectly. Why shouldn’t I say yes? She hadn’t found Ian to be boring a year ago, when her sister, Tia, had fixed her up with him. That had been right after London’s awful year of dating Albert, a charming, sophisticated, well-to-do ne’er-do-well—and an utterly self-centered narcissist. After that nasty breakup, she’d felt more than ready to date a square and stable sort of guy. And maybe this wasn’t such an inopportune time to tie the knot. She’d recently returned from her most recent assignment as a hostess on a Caribbean cruise tour. She was pretty sure that the elevenday Yucatán trip was going to be her last with Epoch World Cruise Lines. Rumor had it that the oncethriving company was about to go under, finally succumbing to growing competition in the cruise tour industry. In fact, she’d received a text message just a couple of hours ago from Jeremy Lapham, the cruise line’s CEO, asking her to attend a video meeting with him tomorrow morning.

Probably to fire me, she thought. It was going to be a sad milestone in what had so far been a pretty eventful life—the end of an “epoch,” so to speak. And right now, London really wasn’t sure what the future held for her. Suddenly, the choux profiterole seemed less sweet. But maybe it was time to welcome a little blandness into her life. Surely there was something to say for square and stable. Also, she was still taken by Ian’s good looks. With his handsome, cleanshaven face, he projected a no-nonsense, down-to-basics quality—not like Albert, who had first attracted London through sheer smoothness. And Ian looked especially nice tonight, dressed in his best three-piece suit. And at the moment, she figured they looked pretty good together.

She’d put on one of her loveliest outfits, a chiffon maxi dress with a demure black top that burst into a colorful riot of printed flowers near the hemline. She had even wrangled her short auburn hair into a style that resembled intentionally tousled waves rather than simply looking windblown. Meanwhile, London sensed a change in Ian’s demeanor. The poor guy was sweating now, and he tucked his finger under his collar as if it suddenly felt too tight and he was getting dizzy. Please, just get it over with, she thought. “London, the point I’m trying to make is …” His voice faded. “I think I understand,” London said as gently as she could. “Life and business are really just alike, aren’t they?” He let out a small, self-deprecating laugh. “If only I could put it so succinctly,” he said. Succinct would be good, London thought.

But it quickly became apparent that still wasn’t going to happen. “London, when my parents were about our age, they made a … merger, not unlike the one I’m currently negotiating in my work.” A merger? London thought, trying to keep her jaw from dropping. “And do you know what their secret always was?” Ian continued. “Planning. From the very beginning, they planned everything they were going to do with their lives down to the last detail. And that’s what I’d like us to do, too, starting tonight—make plans.” London felt her face grow pale. Make plans? This was going to be worse than she’d expected. She’d seldom planned anything serious during her whole life.

Ian added, “And you know what a productive, prosperous, and happy merger my parents’ marriage has been.” London didn’t know anything of the kind. During the few times when she’d met Ian’s parents, she’d found them to be robotically distant—not just to her, but to everybody, including each other. To London, Ian’s family home had felt like a scene from the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when everyone got turned into fake-human pod people. Ian looked upward meditatively. “I think, now that the second quarter is ending, and mortgage rates are at a historic low, it’s a good time to put down a payment on a house …” London shuddered deeply. “We’ll be frugal, especially at first,” he said. “We’ll live below our means, in the same neighborhood with Tia and Bernard. That’s right near a good school. We’ll buy a ranch-style house.

No stairs, so we won’t have to move again for fifty years. We’ll have one child in two years, then another two years later, and another two years after that …” Three children? London thought. She’d seldom given much thought to having children at all. They had always been a distant possibility, never a scheduled priority. “We should seize this moment,” he continued. “This is a great time to open college accounts and start layaway plans. We can also decide what schools the kids will go to, starting with kindergarten and continuing all the way through college.” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “We’re both in excellent health, I’m sure we’ll be able to enjoy life well into our nineties.” London shuddered as she tried to imagine all those decades of meticulously weighed and measured bliss.

She hoped he hadn’t already picked out a cemetery plot and a tombstone. Fortunately, his monologue faded away before he could start talking about what they might say on their deathbeds. He was sweating even more than before, and he looked like he’d just run a mile or so. He spoke a little hoarsely now. “London … I guess what I’m trying to say is … I’d be deeply honored if you accepted this …” “Merger?” London asked. He smiled and shrugged and nodded, apparently speechless. “Um, Ian … what just happened? Did you just … pop the question?” Ian squinted thoughtfully. “Why, yes. ‘Pop the question’ might be the right way to put it.” He reached into his jacket pocket and took out a little black box and opened it.

Inside, of course, was a diamond ring. “London Rose, will you … merge your life with mine?” As London felt the world swimming around her, the waiter returned to their table with two crystal snifters of cognac. Ian started to raise his glass in a toast. But unable to help herself, London took an ungracefully large swallow. She figured she was going to need at least one more cognac before the evening was over. Meanwhile … What on earth am I going to say?

.

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