(Richard and Araceli are at the Cattleman, to discuss catering a sumptuous wedding supper for serial monogamist Collin Wyler and his most recent bride. Handling the matter on behalf of Mr. Wyler is his trusted personal assistant, David Chung MacNamera. The meeting is going splendidly, topped off by a conference call with Mr. Wyler … until Richard finds out the name of the soon-to-be Mrs. Wyler ….)

“And as for the wedding cake itself,” Richard wound up the last ends of the discussion and opened his notebook of sketches. “I have a couple of proposed designs … there’s the classical four-tier round cake, with smooth rolled fondant and small nosegays of sugar roses and tulips tied with ribbon, topped by a pair of white sugar swans. We can do this in white, or with flowers tinted to any color scheme, from pure white, through pastel to vivid, and in a quantity sufficient to serve 300 hundred guests – if not in the main display cake, then in additional cakes already cut and plated in the kitchen. And we can make the basic cake in whatever flavor is preferred, although my inclination – since I know that the bride is English as I am, is for the traditional fruitcake. It really depends on what the guests will expect, of course. I am not adverse to making the smallest layer in fruitcake and the rest in something which the guests may savor. Has the … umm, happy couple settled on a general color scheme?”

“Black, gold and white has been suggested,” Anne Dubois interjected, and Chung nodded. “With a vivid accent color … perhaps deep rose or dark red. London to a brick on it, Dub – that would be ace! The décor of the ballroom itself would readily lend itself to that.”

“Now this design – elegant and slightly futuristic,” Richard turned the page of his sketchbook. “This one; the lowest layer in black fondant, with geometric shapes in gold foil, the next layer in dark gray with a monochrome photo effect, the third layer in white with a gold stipple effect, and the top layer pure white fondant with a garland of contrasting roses twining from top to bottom.”

Chung nodded, and brought out his iPhone. “Let me take a quick snap of that one, and the first. What next?”

Richard turned over another page. “Now this one – also four layers; not round, but square and elevated on classical pillars at the corners. Each side of every layer is adorned with oval or square plaques in Wedgewood style; the colors of the plaques depends on the predominant color chosen by the happy couple, and depict significant armorial bearings, initials, or classical motifs.”

“Very plain, I think,” Anne Dubois said, and Conchita nodded.

“Look nice with the Wyler brand on them, though. Silhouette of the HQ house, and a coupla longhorns – pretty fine. The personal touch.”

“On to the next one,” Richard turned the page again. “Six layers of cake in graduated pairs, each pair separated by pillars and a wealth of flowers filling the space. The topmost level is also crowned with a bouquet of sugar-paste flowers. This one I visualize in pale cream-color frosting, with the edge of each layer trimmed in an edging of fondant lace and the flowers in various pale tints to coordinate with the décor.”

Chung snapped another quick picture with his iPhone and waited courteously for Richard to turn another page.

“That all ya got?” he asked when no more designs were forthcoming, and Richard sighed. “All that I have at this time, Mr. MacNamara. I am supremely confidant of my talent and my staff’s abilities to deliver any one of these to the event – and I am perfectly open to considering any other designs which the happy couple would like me to duplicate. But I have always advised clients – that they are paying me to exercise my considerable expertise and professional judgement in such matters as this, and it is most unwise to disregard it in favor of their own half-baked notion.”

“Understood, mate,” Chung flashed a wry smile, as he was thumbing through his contacts list and selecting a number from it. “OK, I’m calling Mr. Wyler. I’ve already sent him the snaps … it’s mid-evening in London … G’day, Mr. Wyler! Chung here, and Connie with Anne at the Cattleman, and Richard and Araceli from the Café… Going to put my phone on the speaker mode so that we can all have a good chin-wag.” Chung nodded, and set his iPhone in the center of the table. “He can year ya fine, just be sure and speak up.”  Chung nodded to the others at the table and continued in a voice slightly louder than before. “Yes, we’ve been going over Richard’s proposed menu. You got my text messages – then whattya reckon? Yes … yes …  Big bikkies, but yeah, thought you’d be stoked. What about the cake, then – has Miss Cole had a dekko? That six-tier job is a real corker, that is.”

“She hasn’t, yet,” the voice at the other end of the line replied – yes, Collin Wyler, serial monogamist and financial ruler of the known world. “Sorry, old man. Out with her lady friends, so the decision on the cake will have to wait on her return … and a confab with all her friends; no idea on how long that will take. Sorry about this. Richard – so good to know that you are in on this. The old man says that you’re a better cook than a golfer; I trust you and Anne with the arrangements, regardless … just a couple of things to clear up, if you don’t mind taking the time?” The voice on the other end was crisp, decisive. Yes, Doc Wyler’s son would be all that – not a man with patience when it came to be flannelling about. He expected from his underlings and hirelings what he expected for himself, which was well-informed but swift decision-making. Richard waited, more or less in patience, as Collin reviewed the suggested menu, approving most of what had been suggested – which was gratifying. And time-economical. Richard thought of the hours – and hours – and hours that had been burnt on a pyre sorting out the Gonzalez-Gonzales quinceanera. So far, he had not spent a fraction of his time on this one event, although likely he and the Café team would spend hours more on the eventual prep. And as for the wedding cake … he would be burning the midnight oil on that one, and no mistake. The sugar flowers alone … He wrenched his thoughts back to the present, in time to hear Chung say,

“All right, blokes – and blokesses, anything to add?”

“No,” Richard replied, when his turn came. “Just let me know about the cake design, and the flavor of the cake itself. I will absolutely have to have that settled by … the first week in June to allow the time to complete the thing. There’ll be no quibbling with that, Mr. Wyler – if you want our best for this project, I must have the time in which to produce it in a way that will do you, your intended, and your guests proud.”

“Sure thing, Richard,” Over the tinny iPhone and god-knows-how-many time zones, Collin Wyler sounded proud and decisive – rather like the Doc, if truth be told. “Chung – send me the contract as soon as you have it in hand. My sig is assured. Thanks, Richard – your work is appreciated. So is yours, Anne. I have your bank numbers – so, payment on the dot.”

“Our thanks for the business in return,” Richard said. “Anything else for yourself and Miss … Cole, is it?”

“Colquhoun,” came the reply, and Richard felt a sudden bloom of cold sweat. “Samantha Colquhoun. You might know of her – did a few TV series a while back, gets into the tabs a lot and she’s real tight with the Kardashians, but a real down to earth person, once you get to know her.”

“I’m sure she is,” Richard said, “Since you are marrying her.” He was aware of Conchita Gonzalez’ carefully blank expression, and Araceli, suddenly alert and looking from Chung’s phone to his own face. “I … erm. Look forward to … erm, working with you both.”

“Same here,” Collin Wyler’s tinny voice exuded confidence and enthusiasm. “Is this everything, Chung?”

“Sorted,” Chung looked around the table. “Any questions, cobbers? No, then. I’ll print up the contracts and bring them round for the proper signatures. G’night, Mr. Wyler.”

“It’s been grand seeing you again, Anne … Mrs. Dubois,” Richard excused himself with alacrity from the meeting. “We’ll be in touch, sorting out the details when we’re closer to the day. Basically, I see this as the same operation as we did for the Boathouse – all the work in our own kitchen and kite it over to yours for final serving … all right. Grand. Must be going, have a Café to supervise.”

To his great relief, Araceli kept her mouth closed until they were safely out the front door and away from anyone likely to take an interest.

“That Sammi, who was your – ahem, is now marrying Collin Wyler,” she announced, as they strolled. “Well, this is going to be interesting, Chef, I must say.”

“I had no idea,” Richard protested. “And it’s not as if I was her one and only. She’s probably gone through half the English Football League by now, as well as the fling with Pip Noel-Barrett. God, I’m buggered. As soon as she lays eyes on me, she’ll shop me to the tabloids. Everything about my life here will be an open book. Screaming headlines. You all won’t be able to walk out the kitchen door without being bombarded with a bunch of sweaty news-proles with cameras and microphones. And nice, long shiny knives, all ready to slip into my back.”

“You can’t know that,” Araceli said, bracingly, but Richard refused to be solaced or reassured.

“Oh, yes, she will,” he retorted. “Sammi is the most purely self-centered, thoughtless, conniving tart outside the pages of a Mills and Boon romance. And now we’re committed to catering her wedding! Jesus, should I just leave town now, or wait until I am door-stopped by the press!”

“You can’t leave town,” Araceli repeated, patiently. “And don’t take His name in vain, Chef. Look – you’re just the caterer. So we’re committed to her wedding cake, but you don’t actually have to meet with her, do you? Luc and I can cover anything at the Café, and that Mr. MacNamara is doing everything at his end.” Araceli warmed to the subject. “She need never actually lay eyes on you. And besides,” she squinted thoughtfully. “You really look pretty different from when you first got here. And from when you used to be on the Food Channel. Much less scruffy, and thinner. All that bike riding is good for you. I’ll bet that if any of your old friends saw you across a crowded kitchen, they wouldn’t think anything of it. Just don’t talk, Chef. As long as you keep your mouth shut, they’ll think you’re from around here … I’ve just had the most brilliant idea, Chef!” Araceli’s face brightened with inspiration, and Richard sighed.

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“You know how Abuelita always said you reminded her of Abuelo Jesus? Well – what if you pretended to not speak English… you look Hispanic enough, you know. When your old GF comes to town, you stay in the kitchen and pretend not to understand English!.”

“You have gone completely out of your mind,” Richard finally brought himself to say, and Araceli shook her head.

“All you have to do is look blank and say, ‘no habla Ingles,’ to anyone who looks like they might recognize you! Most everyone calls you Ricardo anyway – just play along with them. You’re Chef Ricardo from … from Jalisco, and you don’t speak English.”

“Barthelona,” Richard insisted. “Can’t I be Manuel from Barthelona and say ‘que? That’s a joke, Araceli. A joke. It would never work.”

“Must be an English thing,” Araceli replied, insisting, “It would so work! You just wait and see. I’ll explain to everyone at the Café… Oh, look – there’s our weird little customer with the take-out menu fetish.”

They approached Café, as the odd little man in the tinted glasses and moth-nibbled pork-pie was just at that moment coming out through the Café door, laden with his usual bag of takeaway in clamshell covers. They were, in fact coming almost nose to nose with him, as blundered across the broad sidewalk set with tables and chairs in the shade of the green awning, blinded momentarily by the glare of the harsh afternoon sunlight slanting into Town Square.

“Pardon me,” Richard said, almost automatically, as the man dodged as adeptly as an offside defense player.

“No trouble, I’m sure,” the odd little man snapped, and something about him drew Richard’s attention, as he scurried across the road, cutting through the stand of trees in his hurry to return to his lair.

Richard stared after him – and yes, that was the second penny of the day, dropping with a clang which outdid the first.

“Oh, Jesus,” he exclaimed, ignoring Araceli’s half-spoken reproof. “I know who that is! It’s Gunnison Penn, the treasure hunter!”

“And dog-meat if Doc Wyler catches up to him,” Araceli scowled. “What is his game, I wonder? Is he still after the Mills treasure?”

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