A beautiful woman of middle age and shimmering brown hair sat at a century-old secretarial desk. She wore an elegant ensemble of loose-fitting blue pants and a flowing white blouse. The dainty white slippers on her small feet tapped the wood floor impatiently like the terrible ticking of a clock. In front of her was an open window that looked out on a vast estate of trees and grass.
The woman’s elegant features, however, were marred by the terrible look of concentration that caused her to bite her lower lip. Her hand trembled as she perused a long list of names in a little black book. The tip of her pencil wavered over the bold black letters, and with each line the shaking grew worse. Small cards were stacked beside her, and as she went down the pages she marked a check next to the names. Finally she put down the pencil and cupped her face in both hands.
A soft rap behind her startled the woman.
She spun around to find a handsome man of middle age standing in the oak doorway. He had a smile on his face until he saw the distraught look on hers. “What’s wrong, Linda?” His gaze rested on the black book in front of her. “Has no one answered your reservation request?”
She dropped her hand onto the desk and shook her head. “That’s just the problem. So many people have agreed to come and I don’t have any idea what to feed them.”
He walked over and leaned his rear against the side of the desk. “What about roast?”
She wrinkled her nose. “That’s too plebian, Bill.”
“Hunan Kung Pao Shrimp?” he suggested.
“Peanut allergies,” she countered.
“Seared Scallops with Jalapeno Vinaigrette?”
“Some of the ladies I’ve invited dislike spicy foods,” she told him.
A sly smile slipped onto his lips. “What about our specialty?”
She perked up and her eyes widened. “You don’t mean-?”
He nodded. “Yep. It’ll be the talk of the town for years.”
Linda leapt to her feet and wrapped her arms around his neck. “That’s it! Or darling, you’re just wonderful!”
Linda pecked a kiss on his cheek and hurried out of the room. He walked after her with a chuckle and watched her go down the stairs ahead of him. She took a right into a dining room and to the back of the house while he turned left. The archway led into a living room decorated in leather furniture and with the walls covered in bookshelves. Many of the pages of the tomes were yellowed with age, and some were even behind glass panels. He picked up a thick paper off the mahogany coffee table and settled onto the couch with the entertainment page before him.
A few minutes later Linda rushed into the room, her face pale and her hands shaking. “Bill! We’re out!”
She shook her head as tears pooled in her eyes. “We just haven’t had any new deliveries, and I was so hungry last week that I must have eaten the last package without thinking.”
He stood and tossed the newspaper onto the coffee table. “I’m sure there’s some left in the fridge. Let me help you look.”
Bill led the way across the entrance hall and into the dining room. They turned right and deeper into the house where the stainless steel kitchen awaited them. A large, glistening refrigerator stood between snow-white cupboards, but they bypassed the fridge and went to a door at the end of the long row of cupboards. Bill opened the entrance and they stepped into a small pantry. The neatly arranged shelves to broom closet.
Bill reached through a pair of jars of imported peaches and pressed a small, pin-sized button in the wall. There was a click and the wall swung away from him. He pushed the shelves further inward and revealed the whole thing as a false wall. The area behind the facade was a ten-by-ten foot room that was covered in white tiles from the ceiling to the floor. A long, wide table sat in the middle of the space with straps. Two large fridges stood against the wall opposite the door.
Bill and Linda each took a fridge and opened the doors. Inside were a few clear plastic bags stained red. They both rummaged through the bags and came up empty-handed.
Linda’s head drooped as she forlornly put her bags back. “I. . .I can’t believe it’s all gone.”
“I’m sure we’ll think of something for your dinner, darling,” Bill assured her as he shut his fridge.
She was still holding back tears. “But what about us, Bill? Even a month without it will be obvious.”
He wrapped his arm around her waist and smiled down at her. “I’m sure something will happen. Maybe even today.”
They both froze as a soft little ding-dong sound rang into the hidden room.
Linda looked up at Bill and grasped his arm with a shaking hand. “Bill, you don’t think-” The bell rang again.
They rushed out of room and back into the kitchen. Bill made sure to shut the pantry door behind them, but Linda made a beeline for a rear door that led out into the back garden. She flung the portal open to find a hobo on the doorstep. The ragged looking man of some sixty years started back at the quick opening. He bolted down the steps and hurried along the stone path that wound its way through a fantastical garden of wildflowers and trees.
“Wait!” Bill shouted as he stepped out onto the small porch. The hobo paused on the stone path and half-turned back. “You’re looking for a good meal, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” the scruffy man replied.
Linda smiled and opened her arms to him. “We have a delicious leg of lamb all ready for you.”
The man eyed them suspiciously. “Why’d you give that to me?”
“Because we absolutely adore men such as you,” Linda assured him as she walked down the steps. She wrapped her arms around him and led him back to the open door. “And we want to make sure you receive the best treatment you deserve.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Even a warm bath?”
“You’ll be heated to perfection,” she assured him as she guide him inside.
Bill swept his eyes around the enclosed garden. Seeing no one, he slammed the door shut behind them.
A few minutes later a terrible, muffled scream came from the other side of the door. Then there was silence.
A soft breeze blew through the open window in the upstairs study. The black book fluttered to the last page of the guest list, and the final name on the list glistened in the sunlight.