Morgan sprayed the counter dividing the kitchen from the dining room with disinfectant, wiping it with a new towel, just removed from its sterile wrapper.
“I don’t know why you invited them,” his wife, Ellen, snapped as she drained the potatoes.
“He’s my boss, E. He just promoted me. It seemed like I should thank him in some way.” He forced the sterile gloves onto his hands and pulled the plates, glasses and silverware from the sterilizer and began to set them on the dining room table.
“You should have a mask on,” Ellen said across the counter.
Morgan could tell his wife was upset by the way she was pounding the potato masher into the pot. “It will be fine, hon.”
“You should have just given him an expensive bottle of wine.”
Morgan sighed. She didn’t get it. He wanted to do something personal to show his appreciation. There were six other people in the company that could have been chosen. The promotion made him a vice-president. Initiative and risk-taking were part of the job. This would show his boss that he’d made the right choice.
He opened the Beaujolais and poured it into a sterilized carafe, setting it on the tray with the glasses, turned upside down.
Ellen finished the potatoes, scooped them into a sterilized serving dish and put them in the oven to keep warm. She removed the standing rib roast and covered it in foil to rest then started the process to make béarnaise sauce for the asparagus.
Morgan leaned over the stove. “That smells wonderful.”
“Get your germy face out of the food!” She shook the whisk at him splattering béarnaise sauce all over the stove and Morgan.
“Ellen!” Hands outstretched he looked down at his shirt. “Now I’m going to have to change.”
“Good. That will get you out of the kitchen.”
He swallowed his annoyance. She had every right to be nervous. It was chancy inviting people over to eat. He went to the bedroom to change. Maybe I should have invited Jack and Margaret to dinner. After Hours would have made the exact same dinner and Ellen wouldn’t be such a wreck. He sighed as he buttoned up his shirt. Casual dress he’d told Jack but that didn’t mean jeans and T-shirt. He’d chosen gray slacks, a dress shirt worn open-collared and the sleeves rolled to three-quarters length. He adjusted the tuck of his shirt and went back to the living room.
While he was gone Ellen had set the hermetically sealed tray of appetizers on the coffee table next to the tray with the wine and glasses. He resisted the urge to uncover the appetizers, deciding to wait until Jack and Margaret were here to see him do it. The individually wrapped, sanitized paper napkins were laid out between the wine and food. When he looked into the kitchen, Ellen was grilling the asparagus. He checked his watch, six-thirty on the dot. His boss would be here any minute.
He watched her put the asparagus in a serving dish and cover it with foil before sliding it into the oven. The plan was for him to carve the roast at the table, in plain view of the guests. Ellen passed him. “I’m going to change and tidy my hair.”
Morgan kissed her on her flushed cheek. “Thank you, Sweetheart.”
Ellen arched an eyebrow but said, “You’re welcome.” She disappeared into the bedroom.
Morgan checked his watch again. Six-thirty-two. It wasn’t like Jack to be late. It just wasn’t done. Ten seconds later the doorbell rang. Morgan sighed with relief. At the door, he did a fist bump with Jack and the faux-bump and wave with Margaret. Any more would be a huge broach in etiquette.
Ellen came out, greetings were done again. Morgan remembered turning the wine glasses over, popping the cork, pouring wine, unwrapping the appetizers. Then he remembered sitting at the table, carving the roast, pouring more wine. It was going well until it wasn’t. Margaret started to choke. Ellen screamed. He and Jack raced to Margaret, grabbing at her throat, a horrible wheezing whistle coming from her instead of a constant flow of breath.
After Morgan yelled at her, Ellen dialed emergency. They tried everything, the Heimlich maneuver, bending her over the chair back. The EMT’s were heroic though destructive of furniture and the dinner table food.
Six months later he was reading the thin plas-screen in his cell. The trial had been dragging on forever. Rumors were that he’d tried to assassinate his boss and Margaret had gotten the wrong bite. He shook his head as he read the gossip column. It was no such thing. The stupid woman had drunk two bottles of wine before they’d sat at the dinner table. She managed to choke on mashed potatoes. He’d protested to his boss, the paramedics, Ellen. It didn’t matter.
Now here he was, on trial. He should have listened to Ellen. He should have taken his boss to a restaurant. They were insured for this kind of thing.
He scraped his finger across the screen. Liability. That’s what it was all about. Ellen had already divorced him. He didn’t blame her. It was all his idea. She shouldn’t be held accountable financially for the rest of her life for his error. With nothing but time on his hands he read every article. It didn’t make him any happier. The Karshan’s were suing the Westwood’s for infringing on their media time. Of course, everything was in litigation these days, whether it was anyone’s fault or not.
He couldn’t read that drivel and swiped the page. Thank goodness the cow hadn’t died from any bacterial or virus infection. That would have put him in prison for life. Morgan figured the trial would go on another three months. His lawyer would prove Margaret was a suicide. After all, who goes to dinner at someone else’s house?
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