Homicide at the Hydro – Part 7
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales
Continued from this morning …
‘Oh for pity’s sake, Hugh, how long do we have to wait here? They’ve probably started serving dinner already; what time is it?
‘It’s about quarter past seven Nellie, I’ll go and speak to that policeman again.’
‘Yes, you do just that. Impress on him who he is delaying here, that’s Dame Nellie Melba! The very idea! Most inconvenient of them to have a bushfire on at this time; the controlled burn must have got away from them. Honestly, you’d think they would get their priorities in the right order.’
‘I don’t think they’ve done it to deliberately inconvenience you Nellie …’
Dame Nellie cut in. ‘Yes Hugh, I do know that. I lived in Mackay in Queensland when I was a girl remember. They were always burning the sugar cane to get rid of the vermin. Perhaps they’re doing the same thing here; I know there’s a few on my list.’ Then, she laughed—realising how absurd she sounded. ‘Do your best, we’ll just have to return to Sydney if necessary. Whereabouts are we anyway?’
‘Ah Bullaburra, I think.’ said Dame Nellie’s accompanist, who was looking furtively out the window from the back seat of the Bentley.
‘Hugh don’t bother the police again, let’s turn around and call into the hotel at Lawson—they’ve probably got a telephone we can borrow! See if we can get onto old foxie Foy!’
The first course had arrived in the dining room at the Hydro Majestic. Foy, resplendent in his tux, had decided that the first course bearing no association with Dame Nellie Melba, could be served to Sir Arthur’s table without loss of face. Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle were informed that Dame Nellie had clearly been delayed and would arrive shortly. Foy could feel a trickle of sweat running down his spine from neck to coccyx: it had no relation to the abnormal heat. Thierry Mercier—the head chef—had still not made an appearance in the kitchen. Foy beckoned Annie over who was in charge of service to the VIP’s table.
Annie, with a silver serving platter still in her hands, nervously bent close to hear what Foy had to say sotto voce: ‘Well you little minx or should I say “my assistant”, has Monsieur Mercier graced us with his presence yet?’
‘I’m sure I wouldn’t know My Foy, I’ve been rather busy.’
‘Oh yes, I can see that you and Sir Arthur are getting along famously,’ replied Foy with an acid tongue. ‘And what have I told you before about fraternising with the guests?’
Annie held her ground, ‘I was only being civil and-’
Foy cut her off. ‘Don’t argue with me madam, I am your employer! Now, have you thought over the generous proposal that I put to you earlier today? You’ll say yes … if you know what’s good for you and your wretched family.’
‘You’ll have my answer later tonight, Mr Foy I promise,’ then she added coquettishly, ‘I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.’ Annie gave him a sweet smile then turned on her heel and headed for the kitchen.
Foy allowed himself a conceited smile. Sometimes you just have to be firm. What Foy did not know was that Thierry Mercier had indeed returned to the main kitchen.
Given that Foy had only given the kitchen staff very short notice of changes to the evening meal (in order to impress both Dame Nellie and Sir Arthur), Shirley Locke and Charlie Watson had acquitted themselves rather well. Shirley had improvised as best she could and her version of Melba Garniture: chicken, truffles and mushrooms stuffed into tomatoes with velouté sauce, would’ve passed muster … but for Mercier’s untimely reappearance. Thierry burst into the kitchen through the staff entrance to the outside. He was weaving about unsteadily; his chef’s hat was askew and he held in his left hand a cognac bottle that contained only about a quarter capacity. He picked up a meat cleaver.
‘Voila, I ’ave returned to chop up zee joint for zee ‘rosbif’, s’il vous plaît!’ He brought the cleaver down with force on a wooden chopping board and nearly split it in two.
‘Hang on Frenchie,’ exclaimed Shirley. ‘Had you been here earlier, without a skin full, you’d have known there was a change in the menu from roast beef to Chook Melba.’
‘Vat is ziss you say you stupid woman—Chook Melba?
‘Yeah you know, whaddya call it? Melba Garniture Chicken. It’s for that singin’ canary Nellie Melba, she’s arriving later tonight; accordin’ to the fabulous Foy who asked for it. See? Here’s the new menu.’
‘Impossible à faire!’ He screamed, ‘Ve have no truffles—is Foy mad?’
‘Aw keep your shirt on, Charlie here had already peeled quite a lot of spuds, we’ll use them instead.’
At this point Thierry Mercier flew into a rage. Much of what he was shouting was slurred and unintelligible apart from, ‘Garniture Chicken was created in her honour by zee cerveau (mastermind) Auguste Escoffier. I vorked for him, zis is sacrilège. IL doit être truffes you … nincompoops!’
Thierry threw the brandy bottle at Charlie who ducked and it struck a shelf of dishes and shattered. Many of the dishes fell to the floor and smashed on the tiles. He swung the meat cleaver and board in the other direction, and struck Shirley Locke a glancing blow on the arm. In doing so he slashed his hand and blood ran down his arm. Blood also splashed over Shirley’s chef’s blouse. She in turn dropped the tureen of soup she had been carrying. At that moment, Annie came through the swinging doors into the kitchen. She slipped on the spilt soup and the silver platter flew out of her hands. It fell to the floor with a loud clatter, smashing ever more dishes.
Everyone was shouting at the top of their voices. Thierry Mercier staggered backwards from a retaliatory blow from Charlie, as they grappled for control of the meat cleaver. The intruder, who had been aroused by the pandemonium, came out of hiding and saw an opportunity; striking just as all lights failed and the hotel was plunged into darkness.
To be continued next Sunday …
Bio: This is the seventh instalment of James’ account of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s visit to the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the 1920s. For more examples of James’ writing click here