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Sunday, 10 July 2011

CHAPTERS 25 & 26


25
A wire fox is one of many breeds of terrier.  They are full of energy and display intelligence not seen in many fellow dogs.  They love attention and without it boredom sets in and the lack of company, stimulation, attention and the room to run around starts to affect their behaviour.  Billy Bob was a sturdy dog, alert to events around him, even if he was caught off guard outside the café.  Normally, he would have been quicker to get out of the way but the stumbling man came out of nowhere.  Now, he was alone.  His mistress had gone away along with her companions.  Billy Bob was restless.  This was the first time he had been left alone since coming to this new home.  There was always someone around.  He checked each room repeatedly, listening for any sound, trying to detect any movement.  He ran to the front door and sniffed for any trace of a human being.  He began to jump up to the knob in a useless attempt to open the door.  He scratched at the paintwork and began to simper.  The simpering was accompanied by faster and faster, heavier and heavier breathing.  The sniffing and whining developed into short, subdued yelps and then into loud rapid barks.  This was a lonely dog becoming more and more distressed.
26
Dot decided to check out the buffet food.  She was a trained caterer and she liked things like this to be done well, not thrown together.  She was taught that a great buffet contributes to the atmosphere of a party by becoming a talking point for guests.  It was also a statement, a kind of appraisal of the hosts and from her first glance, Dot summed up that Tom and Jennifer had just put dishes of stuff out without any thought of sequence, blending, centre-piece arrangement or any degree of organization at all.   Her trained eye knew that the ideal way to plan a buffet display is to work from left to right, starting off with the plates, cutlery and napkins.  Here the plates were in the right place, the napkins, boring, white and cheap, were in a pile in the middle of the table and the cutlery was on the right, at the end of the natural flow of party people, rather like a down-market café. 
“Amateurs,” she whispered to herself, “who couldn’t organize a penguin competition in a convent.”
“Sorry,” said Jonathan behind her, did you say something, Dot?”  Dot coughed a little.
“No, no, just singing along to Stevie Wonder.”
“Marvin Gaye,” corrected Jonathan, “you know, I heard it through the grapevine, classic, classic, classic.”
“Yeah, right, whatever,” said Dot still looking over the food.
“Wait a minute.  I know what you are doing Madam.  You’re being sniffy about the food because they didn’t buy anything from your deli.”  Jonathan laughed as he said it.
“Well, what do you think of it?  It’s crap in choice and presentation.  I could have done something wonderful here on the same budget as this supermarket junk.  I mean, look at the potato salad, just a pale bland dish of slop.  My potato salad is homemade and delicious.”  Dot became aware of someone close behind her.
“What did you just say?”  Jennifer was furious.  “What did you just say?”, she repeated.  Dot’s face was a mixture of shock and fear.  Jennifer’s shouting had silenced the room, except for The Four Tops’s “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”.
“Oh, oh, I was just commenting…..,on…on..the…food.”   Dot was spluttering and looking to Jonathan for some support to get her out of this embarrassment.  Jonathan was smiling a tight-lipped smirk.  Dot gave him a death-glare.  Jennifer squared up to Dot.
“You called my food crap.  How dare you come here with your high and mighty attitude?  You’re a guest, for God’s sake, and you don’t come into people’s houses with sneers and insults.”  Jennifer was blazing.  Tom rushed over.  Everyone else gawped.  The Four Tops faded out and Sophie hit the stop button on the CD player.
“Now, now, let’s all calm down a bit,” said Tom as he positioned himself between Dot and Jennifer.  Jonathan continued to smirk.  Chico took advantage of the distractions to plant a lingering kiss on Annie’s lips.  Sophie spotted them and locked eyes with her mother before making a sick sign with her fingers in her mouth.  Her mother winked at her daughter, who looked away in disgust.  Cass retreated to the kitchen in search of more wine.  Matt followed her.  Maxine walked over to the argument corner and watched Tom in action as the crisis negotiator.  Molly’s view was blocked by Maxine but she could hear the exchanges.
“Oh here comes Henry Kissinger,” spat Jennifer.
“Henry who?” Chico, “and who was he kissing?”  He started giggling and before long Annie had joined in.
“Henry Kissinger,” said Sophie, “an American politician, but that’s serious news and what would you know about anything remotely serious?  Annie stuck her tongue out at Sophie and blew a raspberry.  Sophie tutted and turned away.
“Sssssssh,” hissed someone.  Jennifer looked round.
“Who said sssssssh?  It’s my bloody flat and no one tells me to be quiet and no one calls my food crap.”  And with that she picked up the bowl of potato salad and tipped it over Dot’s head.  The bowl teetered like a wobbly hat for a few moments before sliding off and falling onto Jonathan’s shoes.
“How’s that for a bowl of crap?”  Jennifer turned to walk away but Dot grabbed her sleeve and swung her back round, hitting her in the face with a handful of iceberg lettuce.  Tom tried to step in between them again but was met by a swinging punch to the cheek.  He regained some composure and realized that his assailant was his wife.  Cass and Matt appeared at the kitchen door and looked on in amazement at the angry scene that was slowly evolving into a slapstick fight worthy of Laurel and Hardy.  A couple hours into a planned happy event and all hell was breaking loose.  It is difficult to separate the several things that happened next but there was much pushing, pulling, shouting, arms in the air and enough negative and aggressive body language to keep a psychologist occupied for decades.  In a short time, the buffet table a disaster area, food was flying all over the flat. Punches were being thrown and, thankfully, only connecting with fresh air.  It was a mixture of warmongers and peacemakers.
Jonathan stood in the corner looking at this collective group of residents, in an apartment in the rather peacefully named Maple Court.  He reflected that this was a microcosm of world disorder and sighed at how trivial things done and said could start conflicts.  The flat and some of the people in it looked like the aftermath of a Laurel and Hardy custard pie battle.  He put his wine glass on the table and glanced over at Molly.  She was the only one without splashes of food anywhere near her.  She was an example of elegance, placid in the armchair.  He reckoned she had seen more than she would ever tell.  He walked over to see that she was okay in this melee.  He touched her shoulder and realized immediately that something was wrong.
Matt came into the flat.  Maxine had ordered him to go upstairs to check on the dog.  He looked shell-shocked.  “Billy Bob’s escaped,” he whimpered.  Maxine was about let him have it with all her fury, but Jonathan butted in.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you all, but dear old Molly is dead.”

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