Scene: Dinner for Nine

I thought it would be fun to do a little Flashback Friday post since I’m gone on vacation this week. For a while during my teens I was addicted to reading mystery novels— specifically older British mystery novels like Agatha Christie and M.M. Kaye (whom I still love to this day). The following scene excerpt is from one of those long ago unfinished teenage attempts at writing a novel. If any of you have read M.M. Kaye, I am sure you will see her inspiration in my style here.

The premise of the story— as best as I can remember— is that while on a cruise across the Atlantic, two friends are invited to a dinner party by their acquaintance, and before dinner is served murder visits their little cabin party. I’ve only cleaned up typos and some grammar here and there. I feel this will give you a better idea of the writer I was, say, about fifteen years ago or so.


P.S. Enjoy the name choices because they certainly cracked me up on re-reading them!

As Conrad stepped them off while the swaying beat began, Byron had a sense that this was all contrived somehow. None of them looked as though they wanted to dance. In fact, Byron was sure she had never been to a dance that looked as somber as this one now. It was rather like dancing at a funeral wake. The only one who truly looked to be enjoying herself was Eydie, who always seemed to have that large, easy smile transfixed upon her face. It was as though nothing could wreck her night.

Byron gazed at the back of her friend’s head with a bit of jealousy throbbing in her gut.

“Something the matter?” Conrad asked her in an undertone. His hand was strong yet gentle as it cupped hers, and his arm rested snuggly about her waist.

Turning as though she had been caught at something terrible, Byron stared up at him with innocent eyes. ‘No,” she replied.

“You don’t want to be here, do you?”

Byron sent a small scattered glance across the dark, dim room and found it strange how easily they all swayed across it. “Well, I hardly know any of you. You’re all Eydie’s friends.”

A slow, apologetic smiled pulsed across Conrad’s lips for a moment as he gazed past Byron’s head to where Eydie and Fitz were suddenly laughing in the background. He, like Byron, noticed that they were the only two in the room who truly seemed to be having fun. “Yes, my dear Eydie has always been like that for as long as I can remember. Many men would easily have given their hearts to her if she hadn’t been so…” his voice trailed off and his distinguished, hearty face drew blank.

Byron’s brow twitched as she stared up into that handsome face. “So what?” It had never occurred to her before that the reason Eydie had wanted to come tonight was because she was such good friends with Conrad, not Amber.

“So very Eydie-like,” Conrad told her and brought his gray-eyed gaze back down towards hers. “Darling, Byron, you are too young to understand the intricacies of an old maid’s heart, and I sincerely hope that you never do. You’re quite a pretty young woman— have the character to match you face, and you’ll never be alone.”

“You seem to know Eydie pretty well. How long have you know her?”

Suddenly Conrad’s face brightened a little, and he chuckled lightly into the swaying beat of the jazz tune. “I remember the day she was born. That’s how long I’ve known her. It was a very big event when her father finally got his child. It was in all of the newspapers— how could one forget that? She was quite heralded, and I just happened to be in America at the time. But, pardon me, I’m giving you a false impression. I remember the day she was born, but I didn’t meet her father until two months later. Still, I suppose that’s a considerable time.”

“Indeed,” Byron agreed, with a little knit to her brow. She stared into the center of Conrad’s chest absently while she thought. Now that she gazed back on the last two days, she did remember Eydie saying something that first day out about how she had known Conrad for a long time… that he was a trusted friend of the family’s. “What about all of these other people? How do you know them?”

Conrad smirked and looked across the room again, taking in the smattering of people his wife had brought into their suite. There was a strange tightness around his eyes as he did this, and Byron watched it with an acute little pang in her stomach. “Many different ways, for many different reason. Why do you ask? You seem very interested in the circle of friends that I keep. Are you spying on me, Miss Adriance?”

Byron blushed and looked down toward the floor, where their toes glided with each other perfectly. They were both very good dancers. “No, I just— I’m curious about people. I supposed I’m one of those kinds who could sit around and listen to old stories for hours. It interests me: friends and family and— even the enemies of others.”

“That’s a very interesting hobby. How did you come by it?”

Looking away from him, Byron shrugged and noticed that Martin Ville was watching them quite closely. When her eyes came in contact with him, his flickered away. Such a covert look sent shivers down her spine. “I don’t know. I suppose it has something to do with the easiness with which people open up to me. I‘ve always been a rather good listener.”

“Well, then, if I ever have a problem, I’ll know who to come to.” Conrad smiled down at her indulgently and gave her one more quick twist before the music ended and they parted. For a moment he stared down at her with laughing eyes, before stepping away.

“Connie, darling, do be a good soul and fetch me a drink,” Amber cried plaintively, as Boris led her toward the couch, which had been pushed up against the wall.

Conrad glanced toward his wife with a hidden glint in his eyes, and then looked back down toward Byron. He bowed away from her with his apologies and slipped back through the door to the dining room.

With him gone, Byron found herself standing at the corner of the room all by herself. Eydie moved toward the phonograph to select a different band, and Dudly inched his way toward Amber who was laughing up into Boris’s narrow face. Byron glanced over at them and watched for a moment with shaded eyes the way that Amber manipulated both men around her finger in a subconscious way. She was rather like Eydie, only a bit subtler in her methods. Men seemed to enjoy the way she laughed and shone despite what was happening around her.

As Byron studied them, she noticed some movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see Fitzhugh coming her way with slow, steady, long-legged strides. She beat a hasty retreated toward Eydie.

“Something lively, darling?” Eydie inquired from over her smooth, rounded bare shoulder. Her eyes gazed down at the stack of records that she was flipping through, and there was a small crease in the center of her wide gray eyes. “That last bit was rather slow for my tastes. Something the matter?” She had glanced up momentarily to find that Byron’s face had been fixed on the reflection glaring back at her from the glass of the picture frame.

At first, Byron did not hear her. She was too busy watching Fitz as he sauntered back across the floor and out of the door Conrad had exited through a few moments before. There was something surreptitious in the way that he casually glanced over his shoulder toward the three figures seated upon the couch, and it made a cold hand run up Byron’s spine. A picture flashed through her mind rapidly, and she was sitting back in her room and there was someone on the deck outside her bedroom. She gazed at his broad-shouldered, retreating figure with her mouth slightly agape in a look of chill horror.

“Byron, what’s the matter?” Eydie demanded once more, now thoroughly distracted from her pursuit of music. Her wide gray eyes tightened farther and glared darkly from beneath constricted brows. Hardly ever had she used Byron’s name in that tone without an endearment attached to it.

Jumping slightly, Byron turned from the reflection and looked innocently into her friend’s face. “Sorry, I kind of got… lost in a daze there for a moment. I suppose I’m a little overwhelmed by all of this rich food and good company.”

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