Muriel passed the profiteroles through the serving hatch to a chorus of “oohs” from the dining room. She’d invited the neighbours, Dot and Tiffany, over to lunch – and poor Phyllis as well.
‘You are spoiling us, Muriel – I thought it’d just be a sarnie, being as it’s lunchtime,’ said Tiffany. She tucked her platinum blonde hair behind an ear with three piercings in it.
‘Well,’ replied Muriel, walking into the dining room and placing the glass dishes on the table, ‘I like to do things properly. And profiteroles were Derek’s favourite.’
There was a moment of respectful silence.
‘Dig in!’ said Muriel, sitting down and raising her pudding fork.
They did so, with a collective squeaking of choux pastry against glass.
‘So,’ said Dot, a solid woman whose clothes were covered in fur, ‘the police still haven’t found him?’
‘Poor Muriel,’ Phyllis whispered, patting Muriel’s hand.
Muriel shook her head, her mouth making neat chewing movements. She swallowed.
‘I’m afraid they haven’t. And of course his car went missing, so…’
They all stared down at their profiteroles.
‘It must be so hard for you, not being able to say goodbye,’ said Phyllis.
‘I can’t say it isn’t, Phyllis, I can’t say it isn’t. And the same for you, though, I’d imagine. Working for him for… how many years?’
‘Seventeen years. Seventeen and a half.’ Phyllis frowned. ‘He was…’ She shook her head.
‘A good boss, was he?’ asked Dot.
‘Well, I suppose I am difficult to work with, you know? Forgetful. He was right to tell me off. Oh! No, I shouldn’t have said that… Derek would never raise his voice, of course. Oh, dear me.’ She bent her head over her dessert, wisps of thin hair falling over her face.
Dot harrumphed and speared a pastry ball. ‘I’d like to say he was a good neighbour, Mu, but you know my thoughts. Don’t like to speak ill of the dead and all that, but, well, he might not be dead, might he? Might just have run off.’
‘Ooh!’ squeaked Phyllis.
Tiffany said, ‘Gawd, Dot!’
‘Well, I’m plain spoken. Everybody knows that.’ She took another sip of Blue Nun. ‘And Timmy and PawPaw won’t miss him. The vet found the air gun pellets, you know. My poor kitties were lucky to survive.’
‘I wish there was something I could have done, Dot. The number of times I told him to sell that rifle, but Derek… he loved his man toys.’ Muriel sighed and smoothed her Marks and Spencer blouse.
‘While we’re on the subject, not being funny or anything, but I won’t miss him ogling me from your bathroom window,’ said Tiffany. ‘I’ve gotta have a tan for my glamour modelling, and I prefer it natural, so if the sun’s out… And the number of times I looked up to see those binoculars pointing at me!’
Muriel’s cheeks turned slightly pink. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘Would anyone like coffee and liqueur? I’ve got Baileys or Creme de Menthe.’ She pushed back her chair and opened a cupboard in the teak sideboard.
Everyone agreed on Baileys.
‘Just a small one for me, as I’m driving’, said Phyllis.
‘Rightio,’ Muriel said, and she went into the kitchen to set the filter machine going.
‘Poor woman,’ whispered Dot, bending forward across the table, ‘I bet she’s glad he’s gone!’
‘I know,’ said Tiffany, leaning in. ‘I’m not being funny, but the number of times I heard him yelling at her. “There’s crumbs on this work surface! Clean the bloody pelmets!”‘
‘Hmph, well, you share a wall – but even I heard it sometimes!’ said Dot.
‘Yes! “That poor woman,” I said to PawPaw, “it’s a wonder she doesn’t leave him.” I’d never guess he’d leave her!‘
‘You think he’s still alive, then?’
‘Who knows? It’s very odd.’
They fell silent as Muriel pushed four cups and saucers through the hatch. She walked round into the room to serve the fragrant coffee.
‘It’s Javan,’ she said. ‘Derek always preferred Kenyan, but I like Javan.’
They sipped their coffee as she poured Baileys into sherry schooners.
‘By the way, Mu, I loved that casserole. Pork, was it? I’ve never had anything so tender. Where’d you get it?’
‘It’s locally sourced,’ said Muriel.
There was a short pause.
‘Well,’ said Tiffany, raising her glass. ‘I’ve really enjoyed this little get-together. What say we do it again some time?’
‘Count me in,’ said Dot.
‘Yes, please!’ said Phyllis. ‘Lovely!’
Muriel also raised her glass.