Day 32: Dinner at Horton’s – Part 1

John Masterson’s wife, Judy, watched the door as if she expected Tom Cruise to walk in and ask her to tango. Standing in the cocktail room of Michael Horton’s mansion, he sipped a bleu cheese martini while she nursed the straw in her tequila sunrise. Michael’s old friend James Carson read a book by the fire. James always reminded John of that movie star who played the Kentucky federal marshal in that TV show.

“I hate being early,” Judy said.

“You dragged me here on threat of purse shopping and now you wish you’d waited?”

“You know what I mean.” She stirred her drink. “We’re conspicuous and awkward, but I had to see who would show up.”

“Conspicuous and awkward to whom?” John swept his arm across the room. “James doesn’t even know we’re here.”

“I know you’re here,” murmured James. “I just don’t care.”

Judy pouted in that way that reminded John of the actress in the movie The Bone Collector. Joline or Juliana, something like that. “Do you think he should kill himself?” she asked.

“What makes you think it’s a man? Why not a woman?”

“It would have killed a woman,” said Judy. “But I’m more curious if it will be old money or new. I’d find great satisfaction in Michael’s discomfort if it was old.”

“I’m still not fully certain it was one of us. What about a vagrant?”

“Don’t be silly, dear. Vagrants never get into these estates.”

“A burglar, then,” said John.

“With our party in full swing? The blood was on the front drive. Is a burglar going to walk right up the front drive to rob the biggest mansion in Dobbs End? Someone in our party got bit, John.”

John shook his head. “Maybe I’m still in denial.” He fished the last olive out with the toothpick. “It’s the exact same guest list from a month ago. Do you think Michael set it up intentionally to flesh out who it was?”

“You still haven’t answered my question,” said Judy. “What would you do? Would you kill yourself?”

“Depends,” he said.

“Here comes someone,” said Judy. The butler opened the door. Doctor Philip Bradford and his wife Lena came in with Father Robert Davidson, an old friend of the Horton’s.

“Hi, Lena. Hi Philip. Good to see you could make it,” said Judy.

“Nothing to keep us away,” the doctor said.

“Hello, Flip,” said John. “Nice to see your shiny pink skin.” Judy punched him in the arm.

“Uh. Yeah,” said Philip. “Likewise. I half expected you to beg off this soiree, but my money is on Spenser.”

“Mr. or Mrs?” asked John.

“Mr., of course.”

“Everyone assumes it’s a ‘he.’ Why Spenser?” asked John. “Oh, hello, Father Bob.” The priest had stepped into their group with a neat scotch in his hand. “We were making predictions regarding our guest list.”

“Do you really think it charitable to speculate which friend carries a curse?” asked the priest. “We should pray for him.”

“Again with the male gender,” said John.

“Maybe you could answer this, father,” said Judy. “Should the one… kill himself?”

“No,” said the priest. “He would have to be in his right mind to even contemplate it, and that would be a state of innocence. No, only defense can justify killing him, and it would be impossible for him to defend against himself.”

“So cocksure, you Catholics,” said John.

“Only when we are, in fact, sure,” said the priest.

The butler opened the door and let in Bartholomew and Elizabeth Spenser.

“Looks like you’re wrong, Doc,” said John.

Flip laughed. “I’m actually not. I really think it’s Schumacher, but I wanted to see your reaction when I said it was Bartholomew.”

“You’re so crafty,” said John. Flip grinned smugly as John turned his face away and rolled his eyes at his wife.

The butler admitted Sarah Horton, the long brown-haired and beautiful sister of Michael. Michael met her at the door with a kiss on the cheek and led her into the cocktail room.

“Let’s to the dining room,” he said. They all sat in their usual seats, their host at the head next to his wife, his old friend James at the foot.

All seats were taken except for Kyle Schumacher’s, the journalist Michael had employed for his memoir. Judy squeezed John’s hand, a little regret in her eyes as she looked at him, then back to the empty chair. Across the table, Flip nodded with grim satisfaction.

“Father,” said Michael. “Can you say the blessing?”

“Of course,” he said.

“Wait! Wait.” Kyle Schumacher hurried in and took his seat. “Sorry,” he said.

They all looked around the full table, some with menace, some with fear, and some with bewilderment. Someone at the table was a wolfman, and sundown with a full moon was mere hours away.

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