Minister's wife, sometime sleuth, and culinary artist Faith Sibley Fairchild is intrigued by rumors of mysterious doings at Hubbard House an elegant, secluded retirement home for the well-heeled Yankees of Aleford, Massachusetts. Determined to do some surreptitious snooping, she joins the pricey retreat's flu-depleted kitchen staff, only to witness an aging resident collapse face-first into a bowl of Faith's hot and savory bouillon. But it isn't until a blackmailing drug dealer turns up dead in Faith's bedroom that the amateur investigator realizes that Murder not only happens at Hubbard, it's the specialty of the house! And Faith's own demise might very well be the next item on the menu.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Body in the Bouillon
By Katherine Hall Page
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1991 Katherine Hall Page
All rights reserved.
"I'm not going to tell you anything unless you do exactly as I say and do not get involved any further than is necessary for my peace of mind. I want you to promise, Faith."
Faith Sibley Fairchild considered for a moment. Her Aunt Chat, short for Charity, was using her most uppish aunt voice. The only way to find out why she had called all the way from New Jersey to Massachusetts—and before the rates went down—was to agree with Chat's no uncertain terms. But, Faith reflected as she dutifully swore, peace of mind could cover quite a bit of territory.
"I don't know if you remember my old friend Howard Perkins. He moved to a retirement home near you last month. I had meant to tell you, so you could go and see how he was."
This didn't seem like much to ask, and Faith was puzzled about the oath. Going to pay a call on Howard Perkins, whom she vaguely remembered as a dapper colleague of Chat's in the advertising business, wasn't even up there with the secret of the Rainbow Girls. Why all the cloak and dagger?
"No problem, just tell me the name of the place and I'll be happy to run over—today, if you like."
"I said 'was,' Faith. Howard died last week. He had a very serious heart condition and certainly should have stayed in his apartment, but he wanted to spend his last years in New England, where he'd grown up. The move was a strain, and then there's all that abominable weather you have."
Chat sounded bitter. She had lived in Manhattan all her adult life and moved out to Mendham, New Jersey—a sensible distance away—when she'd retired as head of her own lucrative ad agency. Faith, a native New Yorker herself, was torn between loyalty to her new home in the small village of Aleford and tacit agreement with Chat as to the climate and even the virtues of city life. She'd been in Aleford for more than three years, and she still missed New York. She wondered what Howard had done with his apartment. Like Chat's old one, it had been in the San Remo on the West Side. Not that the Reverend Thomas Fairchild, Faith's husband, would ever entertain the idea of even a pied-à-terre anywhere except in his own backyard, but Faith would always enjoy playing that absorbing and perpetual New York pastime "Apartment, Apartment, Who's Got an Apartment?"
"Oh Chat, I'm sorry to hear that. I do remember him. He was a lovely man."
"Yes, he was. We thought we might get married once, but we were such good friends, it seemed foolish to risk it." Faith thought she detected a slightly wistful note in her aunt's voice, which quickly vanished as Chat got back to business. "Now, I'm sure you're wondering what this is all about and too polite to say so. There was a letter in the mail from Howard today—another example, incidentally, of the scandalous way the postal service is being run. He mailed it several days before he died and I'm just getting it now. Anyway, I'll read you the relevant part:
... I must close now, Chat dear. It's time for dinner and I don't like to be late. The food takes me back to my boyhood—all sorts of old favorites I haven't had for years. I've put on a pound or two! There is one thing that is bothering me, though, and I don't quite know what to do about it. I plan to tell Dr. Hubbard eventually, but I want to get it all straight first. I'm sure he'll be able to handle the matter. I'm already fond enough of the place to want to avoid involving the authorities. I'll tell you all about it in my next letter. Human nature being what it is, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised—even here at Hubbard House, surely an oasis, and that's why I must do something to keep it that way for my fellow residents—and yours truly too. I miss you. ...
"Well, the rest you don't need. Poor Howard—he must have stumbled across some kind of scandal, who knows what. But I feel a certain responsibility to follow up on it. I'd hate to think that people were being mistreated in any way. I thought of going there myself and having a look around. I could pretend to be interested, however difficult that might be, but it might not be necessary if you could make a few discreet inquiries for me and find out what kind of reputation the place has."
"Hubbard House is nearby—in Byford—and I've never heard anything negative about it. Tom has made some pastoral calls there. I could start by talking to him and then speak to Charley, if you like. If there are any rumors, he'll know."
Charley Maclsaac was Aleford's veteran chief of police. While consuming bottomless cups of coffee and dozens of corn muffins at the Minuteman Café, he was also taking in at the same time whatever was happening—or not happening—in the town and surrounding environs.
"And don't leave Millicent out," Chat admonished.
"I was afraid you'd say that." Faith sighed. "But for you, anything."
Millicent Revere McKinley gathered her information from the vantage point of her authentic colonial clapboard house with a bow window (a nineteenth-century addition by a like-minded ancestor) affording a panoramic view of Aleford's Green and Battle Road, its main street. Millicent had regarded Faith with suspicion ever since Faith had rung the historic call-to-arms bell in the old belfry after discovering a fresh corpse therein. The body was warm, and Faith had surmised it was not impossible that the murderer was lurking nearby on the hill in the bayberry bushes. Although the event was long past, Millicent still managed to remind Faith whenever possible that the bell was solemnly tolled on only three occasions: the death of a president, the death of one of the descendants of the founding families of Aleford, and on Patriots' Day as part of the reenactment of the events of that famous day and year.
Millicent had also saved the lives of Faith and her son, Benjamin, and there was that burden too. Faith figured she'd spend the rest of her days in Aleford making amends. She longed for a chance to even the score—snatch Millicent from under the hooves of runaway horses, dash into her burning house to save the glass-enclosed mourning wreaths plaited from the tresses of Millicent's forebears, or have the legislature pass a bill establishing a state holiday honoring Ezekiel Revere, distant cousin of Paul and great-great-great-grandfather of Millicent, who cast the original Aleford bell. But Chat was right. Millicent would know what was going on at Hubbard House. The question was, would she tell Faith?
"And remember, if you turn up anything that looks serious, tell Maclsaac or your nice state police friend."
"Of course, Chat. Yet I'm inclined to think it's probably that they weren't getting their evening snacks on time or one of the people working there was a bit rude, although there is that reference to 'the authorities.'"
"Exactly, and that's why I want you to be cautious. Now, call me when you have something to report. Love to Tom and Ben."
And with that Chat hung up abruptly, as was her custom. She could talk your ear off in person, but she hated the phone.
Faith walked back into the parsonage kitchen. It bore little resemblance to the one she had encountered when she had crossed the threshold as a new bride. Faith could only assume whoever had cooked there prior to her arrival had had no need of counter space, light, a proper stove, or a refrigerator. A properly equipped kitchen to work in was a question not simply of avocation for Faith but of vocation as well. Before her marriage, she was the Faith behind Have Faith, one of Manhattan's most successful catering businesses, lending her culinary talents to the glittering parties she had previously graced with her attractive presence.
Now that Benjamin was old enough to go to nursery school in the mornings, she had been looking for locations to start the business again. Husband, home, and child were fascinating in their own way, of course, but sometimes a woman needed more. In Faith's case, much more. She was blissfully happy watching infant Ben evolve into toddler Ben and now little-boy Ben, and there was no one she'd rather be with than Tom—usually. However, the four walls of the parsonage, quaintly vine covered though they were, were beginning to move in a little too closely. By chance she'd found a caterer right in Aleford, who called himself Yankee Doodle Kitchens and who was preparing to retire to Florida in February. He was happy to sell her his equipment and arrange for a transfer of the lease, but he would not relinquish the name. He might want to start it up again, he told her, and besides, people associated his work with it. Faith was afraid of that and quickly assured him she would continue to use her old name, as her ecclesiastical mate didn't think it would cast any blasphemic shadows on his surplice. Faith, daughter and granddaughter of ministers, who knew exactly how much glass her house had always been made of, wasn't really so sure of that, but she had been well on her way to a national reputation with articles in Gourmet, House Beautiful, and Bon Appétit and wanted to capitalize on that publicity. She had also continued to market a successful line of Have Faith jams, jellies, chutneys, and all sorts of other good things to eat.
She took the bread she had been letting rise from the back of the stove, punched it down, and started to knead, filling the room with a strong aroma of cardamom and yeast.
It was that peculiar time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when all the women's magazines were running articles on how to avoid holiday burnout, suggesting everything from long baths with ice-cold slices of cucumbers over the eyes to transcendental meditation, in the same issues in which they were including patterns for gingerbread models of Chartres Cathedral, replicas of the Ghent altarpiece in needlepoint, and recipes for croquembouche for one hundred.
Faith was not feeling too stressed—yet. She'd been steadily filling her freezer with yuletide treats, and while she was not like those people who have selected and even wrapped all their presents by Labor Day, her Christmas list was almost finished. Shopping, Christmas or otherwise, was something she did as a matter of course all year. She was a strong believer that what went on the body, or what that body looked at, should be of the same caliber as what went into it. And some of her old habits had died hard, or not at all. She knew about Filene's and Jordan's, and had heard tell of a Bloomingdale's and a Barney's not too far from Aleford, but if it wasn't from Madison, Fifth, or SoHo, it wasn't the genuine article. And besides, shopping in New York gave her a chance to go to Zabar's for lox, whitefish salad, knishes, and all the other comfort foods of home she craved.
She glanced at the clock. Eleven thirty. Ben was finished at noon and Tom was picking him up, as he did when he didn't have another engagement. Ben's school was in the Congregational church located directly across the green from First Parish, the Fairchilds' church. The two churches looked like bookends with all the old houses bordering the green arranged tidily between them. A liberty pole with an enormous flag and various rough-hewn boulders with plaques marking significant events or individuals were the only things on the green itself. Even the path went around, but it was a true common, and in good weather those who worked in the handful of businesses comprising downtown Aleford ate their sandwiches there at lunchtime, and schoolchildren on their way home stopped for a game of Frisbee. Faith had often taken Ben, first to crawl on the blanket of grass and now to run.
Presently the back door opened and Ben tumbled in shrieking, with Tom close behind. "This time I really am going to catch you, Benny Boy!"
Ben grabbed Faith ecstatically around the knees. "I won, I won!"
Faith picked him up, gave him a big kiss, stroked his hair, blond like hers and beginning to lose its curl, then asked that timeless maternal question, "What did you do in school today, sweetie?" It received the usual answer, one that varies only among "nothing" and "I don't know" or, in Ben's particular case, total silence. She reflected how silly it was to ask day after day, but knew she would keep on and one day, perhaps when he was in high school, he'd sit down and give a blow-by-blow account of his every waking minute since he'd left her side and then she'd probably not be paying attention.
Tom held up a blood-red finger painting. "Look what Ben made. Isn't it wonderful?" Their eyes met. Neither of them had any illusions as to their son's precocity or lack thereof. It looked like millions of other two-and-a-half-year-olds' finger paintings. Ben was affectionate, cheerful, sometimes cooperative, and that was enough for them.
"Sit down and I'll get lunch. I had an interesting call from Chat this morning."
Tom would miss supper—much of a minister's life is spent not in prayer but at committee meetings—so Faith had cooked a big lunch, as she often did when his schedule was like this. They'd have something light when he got home, and she'd feed Ben early. With luck, he'd be asleep. Now they sat down to a casserole of boneless chicken breasts she had lightly poached in white wine and layered with zucchini and carrot matchsticks and blue cheese. The juice from the chicken and what was left of the poaching liquid that she had poured over it made a delicious sauce. There was also some nutty basmati rice and steamed pea pods. With the holidays, she was trying to keep on eye on their calories, although Faith was as slender as she had always been and Tom never seemed to fill up his tall, rangy frame. He was trying manfully now.
"This is delicious, honey. Ben, we are two lucky guys." Ben was daintily picking up each grain of rice left on his plate after he had impaled all the rest of the food on his eager little fork.
"So—what's the news? Why did Chat call? It had to be for a reason; she never calls just to talk."
Faith related the call and, as she did, wished she had jotted down the exact wording of Howard's letter. She'd call Chat back and ask her to read it again.
"Farley is over at Hubbard House now. You met him before he moved—Parley Bowditch. I've dropped by a couple of times to visit him. He seems happy enough and I've never seen anything that would suggest he should be otherwise. The place itself is beautiful. It was the Aldrich estate, and Dr. Hubbard has kept the grounds pretty much as they were. People go over to see the rhododendrons in the spring. They're planted along the drive and pretty spectacular." Tom glanced out the window at the overgrown, woody shrubs in the parsonage backyard. They looked particularly bleak in winter. "This year we really have to do something about those bushes. Cut them back, fertilize ..."
"Yank them out and start over," Faith suggested. "But tell me more about Hubbard House."
"I don't really know much more. I've met Dr. Hubbard several times, and he seems to genuinely care about the elderly. People around here have a great deal of respect for him—and his whole family. They're all involved with the home. His son's a doctor too and his daughter's a nurse, I think."
"Sounds like 'Marcus Welby' and 'Father Knows Best.'"
"Now that you mention it, he does look a little like Robert Young, except Dr. Hubbard is taller—bigger all over, and he has that old Yankee voice, sort of a combination of marbles in the mouth and foghorn."
"Not unlike your father." Faith laughed.
Tom glanced involuntarily over his shoulder. The adage in the Fairchild house had always been "Spare the voice and spoil the child."
"I can't see that there could be any harm in asking around about the place—or danger," Tom added pointedly, referring to some of Faith's previous investigative endeavors.
"You know, Tom, I'm pleased that Chat asked me to help. Not that I'm about to trade my whisks and spatulas for a cape and magnifying glass, but it means she has some respect for my sleuthing abilities."
Tom's reply, which Faith recognized as a heavy-weather warning flag gliding up the mast, was cut short as they both suddenly realized that during their conversation Ben had slid down from his chair and was quietly and gleefully scattering an entire box of linguine over the pantry floor.
"Ben! What are you doing? No, no. That's very naughty! You help Mommy pick up all these spaghettis immediately!"
Tom surveyed the mess. On the Ben scale it was merely a two. Nothing like emptying the vacuum or the ultimate ten, crawling into Tom's mother's car and releasing the emergency brake—fortunately on level ground with several adults running frantically after him.
"Honey, I have to run. I have a meeting with the new divinity school student who's going to be working with us this winter. I'll call you later."
Faith came over and gave him a kiss. "You mean you actually prefer talking to another adult to cleaning up pieces of spaghetti from the floor? Naughty, naughty."
"Don't put ideas in my head. I have to work this afternoon.
Excerpted from The Body in the Bouillon by Katherine Hall Page. Copyright © 1991 Katherine Hall Page. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.