One Lump or Two - Chapter Eight

Progress on the shop continued at a steady pace, and as the business took shape, so did the relationships between all who were involved with the enterprise. Zara had gotten nowhere with her unabashed seduction of Hank, and as a result, had turned her gaze back toward Paolo. He was all too happy to take up where they left off, and they made up for their time apart by vigorously necking in public, much to the discomfiture of those around them. Only Stella seemed entertained by their primal behavior.
Dan and Hank were like a well-oiled machine combined with a comedy duo. They’d worked together for years, and each had a sixth sense when it came to the actions of the other, anticipating his next move and word. They joked and carried on and never seemed to get a thing done, until they stopped to view their handiwork, which was always far beyond what seemed possible to achieve in the time allotted.
Penelope spent much of her time conferring with Hubert. He proved to be instrumental and efficient when it came to outfitting the tearoom. Dan put in his two cents regarding kitchen equipment; and Zara shrewdly persuaded Penelope to eschew her color scheme choice of subdued beiges, light woods and ivory lace in favor of a bolder palette of burgundy and gold with dark woods and rich fabrics.
Four small brass chandeliers were installed around an enormous crystal chandelier outfitted with beads and tassels—Zara was an enthusiastic advocate of beads, tassels, feathers and fringe. The brocade curtains were fringed and tied up with tassels, and a veil of beads clattered in the doorway leading from the shop to the tearoom. Standing Chinese vases displayed both palms and peacock feathers in the corners of the dining room and were lit from within.
The focal point of the space was a large three-tiered fountain topped by a pineapple finial. Its clear gushing water gleamed along with the crystals of the massive chandelier that loomed above it. Four dining tables surrounded the fountain, each with tufted chairs, starched damask tablecloths, and rose-colored napkins folded into the shape of a blossoming flower. Centerpiece epergnes waited on shelves, at the ready to display fresh fruit and flowers on each of the dining tables.
Each corner section of the room bore a low coffee table, settee, and pair of armchairs. When at last open for business, these tables would each bear a dish of nuts, a small vase of flowers, and a dainty bowl of candied fruit.
In homage to the town’s association with butterflies, Penelope chose a Limoges china pattern of colorful butterflies against a delicate white porcelain background. Cut glass goblets lined shelves in the serving area, and silver teapots, creamers and sugar bowls sat on sideboards against the walls adjoining the kitchen.
As Penelope had run through the bulk of her inheritance, she held off on hiring full-time wait staff. Ruby from the Butterfly Café offered to take a few shifts once the place was up and running, and Zara cajoled Stella into serving as a waitress for the time being. In turn, Stella talked her boyfriend Vincent Caruso into coming on board to assist with the grand opening.
Vincent was something of a celebrity-by-association owing to his kinship to famed tenor Enrico Caruso. Though Enrico’s talent had by-passed his nephew, Vincent loved Italian opera, and was known to break out into song at the least provocation, and even when begged to refrain. A university student, attending Stanford through a correspondence course in pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology, he worked part-time as an unclassified assistant at Pacific Grove’s police station in order to help pay the family bills. His father was a derelict whose only vocation was drinking to excess then taking out the failings of his life on his wife and eldest son, with his fists.
Aside from Stella, Vincent’s mother and siblings were the center of his affections. The oldest of the Caruso offspring, twenty-year-old Vincent approached his role in the household pecking order with dignity and devotion. His career aspirations were more for his family’s sake than his own. He was determined to be successful so that he could take care of his mother and the children. From his father’s fiery example, Vincent had learned at a young age the value of watching and listening, as opposed to shouting and showboating. He’d also learned to run very fast in order to avoid the belt or a flying bottle, and had received a small scholarship as a result of his numerous track and field victories.
* * * *
Penelope had been agonizing over the menu, driving everyone mad with her absolutely final versions that changed with increasing frequency as opening day approached. While Penelope wanted simple food for simple tastes, Zara had subtly coaxed her to inject a continental sensibility into the line-up. Penelope worked on the menu down to the deadline for ordering food supplies, eight days prior to the opening. All considered the final result a triumph.
With the preliminary organizing, decorating, and menu planning handled, Penelope accepted the fact that she would have to get out and publicize the tearoom’s grand opening—a task to which she’d not looked forward. She was saved the effort of contacting the local newspaper when the local newspaper contacted her. Elsie Davies, Culture Columnist for The Butterfly Bugle, placed a surprise visit to the shop seven days before it opened. She’d learned about the budding business the way she always did, by snooping around at City Hall and sweet-talking Police Chief Walter Harrison.
Elsie had established herself as the go-to girl when it came to the news of who was doing what, and with whom. She had a bloodhound’s nose for scandal, and if none existed, she was happy to stir some up.
“My, my, if this isn’t a curious cross-section of Pacific Grove society,” she said, standing in the open front doorway of the antiques shop, one hand resolutely placed on each side of the doorframe to ensure no one could bolt out the door upon seeing her, a situation that occurred routinely due to her brazen and indelicate manner of questioning. “Morning, Hank,” she cooed, tossing her hair as she flounced past him. “Dan,” she said curtly, not bothering to give him eye contact.
Dan’s wife, Lily Cooper, was Elsie’s best friend, and Elsie had been chummy with Dan during the days when he ran the Half-Way House Saloon. She frequented the place, viewing it as a goldmine for liquor-fueled gossip. It was a quarry she worked arduously and cunningly. When the saloon dried up, so did her source for indiscretion-laden fodder, and she showed open contempt for Dan once he was no longer wealthy and thus not able to offer Lily the comfortable lifestyle Elsie wished her to have—a lifestyle from which gal pal Elsie benefited greatly. Dan’s change in finances meant Lily’s change in social standing, and that was a scenario appearances-conscious Elsie could not abide.
“Ahh, Vincenzo,” she said, putting on an exaggerated smile and sidling up to Vincent. “When are you going to introduce me to that uncle of yours?”
“Same answer as always, Miss Davies. Next time he comes to town, I’ll make a point of getting you a few minutes with him,” Vincent replied with good-natured patience, having answered the same question innumerable times.
“Such a clever young man,” she said, pinching his cheek. “Now tell me, what brings you here to this work crew?”
“Her, of course. What else?” he said, nodding toward Stella with an adoring smile.
“Yes, of course,” she said, turning to regard Stella. “Ee gawds, Stella, what happened to your eyes? Were you struck? Vincenzo, don’t tell me your father—”
“His father has nothing to do with anything,” Stella barked. “The smoky-eye look is all the rage, as I would think a society reporter would know.”
“Steela, show some reespeect for your eeldeers,” Hubert said as he entered the shop.
“I’m really not so much older than Stella, really,” Elsie said, directing her comment to Hank.
“Good morning, Hubert!” Penelope said entering the shop from her office.
“A very good morning, it appears,” he returned warmly, gesturing to the shop in general that had shaped up more beautifully than anyone could’ve imagined. As he strode to her side to chat, Elsie schmoozed both Vincent and Hank, the one for business, the other for pleasure.
“Just the person I wanted to speak to!” Penelope said. “I was thinking it would be nice to have some lace doilies on the sideboards and coffee tables … to protect them from the tea serving sets. Do you carry those?”
Hubert stroked his chin. “Eet would take meh seeveeral wehks to acquire theem, and under thee ceercumstancees, that weell not do. But I behlive thee consignmeent shop neext door has a seet of twelve, Mees Price.”
“Oho! So you are Miss Price,” Elsie said, wheeling around to look Penelope over.
Since migrating to Pacific Grove, Penelope had approximated the life of the town’s most beloved residents, the monarch butterflies. She’d taken the first imperceptible steps toward sloughing off her own non-descript caterpillar trappings so that one day she would emerge as a magnificent butterfly in her own right. But the moment Elsie Davies began interrogating her, Penelope retreated back into the safety of her cocoon, wrapping herself in timidity and confusion. It was like the first day in Bernard Beekham’s law office all over again.
“As I’m sure you guessed, I’m Elsie Davies, Culture Columnist for the Butterfly Bugle,” she said, poising an oversized pencil over a small notebook.
“How you do do?” Penelope stammered, wringing her hands.
Sensing Penelope’s distress and impending doom, Zara swooped in. “What a pleasure to meet a female reporter. Your life must be so fascinating, full of galas and soirees,” Zara gushed. “Oh how I envy you, Miss Davies.” Zara added a dimpled smile to ensure her conquering of Elsie Davies.
Elsie stood silent for a moment, gawking flabbergasted at Zara who stood like a statuesque goddess, the incarnation of charm and elegance. “You … who …?”
“She’s Zara and she’s the cat’s meow,” Stella called from across the room, enjoying watching Elsie shrink before Zara’s magnificence.
“Zara what?” Elsie sputtered.
Zara sat on the banquette sofa and patted the seat next to her, inviting Elsie to join her. As Elsie settled in, Zara discreetly motioned to Penelope to shut the doors to the tearoom to prevent Elsie from viewing it prior to opening day. Penelope stood up and attempted to act inconspicuous, meandering and softly humming as she slowly approached the tearoom doors. Not being adept at deception or subtlety, she drew the attention of Hank and Dan who had to cover their mouths and look away in order not to snicker as she looked around the room aimlessly, pretending to adjust her dress and touch up her hair while closing the doors.
“I am Miss Price’s public relations director,” Zara said, “and am delighted to answer any of your insightful questions. It would be an honor. Oh, what a fetching cloche. Is it a Molyneux? I do so love his new shop on Rue Royale, don’t you?” Zara gushed, sending Elsie into a state of reverent overwhelm. “Excuse me, Penelope, didn’t you say something about needing doilies?” she added, giving Penelope an excuse to flee Elsie’s prodding.
“Eef you’ll eexcuse meh,” Hubert said, exiting the shop.
“Oh yes, doilies. Of course. Doilies … doilies doilies doilies,” Penelope said, swinging her arms to appear carefree while backing toward the shop’s front door.
Zara tilted her head, her eyes burrowing into Penelope’s, exhorting Penelope to evacuate the premises.
Penelope walked the twenty steps to the consignment shop, stopping to look over the hodgepodge of items arbitrarily displayed in the storefront windows.
“How may I heelp you,” a voice called from behind a clothing rack.
“Is that you, Mr. Allen?” Penelope asked, cheerily.
“Eet eez,” he said, his mouth forming a thin smile and his left hand perfunctorily wiping oil off of his right hand—oil that that had come from his head when he’d smoothed back the scant crop of hair that clung to his scalp. “May I eenteereest you een some hand-tatteed doilehs?”
“But … I don’t understand … Do you own the consignment shop too?”
“Meh? Noooooo. The town owns eet. And eet is manned eentireleh by volunterrs … such as myseelf.
“I had no idea.”
“Her are thee doilez,” he said, producing a stack of white starched linens tied together with a blue satin ribbon. “Note the intricate needlework …”
* * * *
As Penelope stretched her hand to open the consignment shop door and depart, she heard Zara’s voice. Peeking out the window, she viewed Zara and Hank escorting Elsie to her automobile while Dan held the car door open for her. Elsie put a hand out the window and waved as she drove off. Penelope regarded the scene as her cue the coast was clear, and followed the others back to the antiques shop.
“Zara, I’ve never witnessed anything like your handling of that newspaper woman. You really are something else. Smooth as honey. No wonder you were so successful as … in your career. You must’ve been a sight to behold.”
“What career was that?” Stella asked, jumping at the chance to learn more about Zara.
“Don’t you worry your pretty little bobbed head over it,” Zara said, tousling up the crown of Stella’s hair—an action Stella would have repelled if performed by anyone else. “Now … invitations.”
“Awwww, do we really have to?” Stella whined.
“Yes, you really have to—all of us do. As AntiquiTeas’ newly self-appointed public relations director, I command you,” she said, brandishing her cigarette holder like a royal scepter. “I’m thinking we should break up into teams to cover the most ground. Vincent, you go with Dan.”
“But why don’t I get to go with Vincent?” Stella complained.
“Because you’re coming with me,” Zara answered.
Stella bounced up and down on her heels and clapped her hands.
“Looks like you’re second fiddle, sport,” Dan said, nudging Vincent’s ribs with his elbow.
“You can say that again,” Vincent replied.
“That leaves Hank and P. Now everyone grab a stack of invitations, and prepare to charm the socks off this town. We have one week to make AntiquiTeas’ opening day the most memorable in Pacific Grove history.”
“Amen!” Dan cheered.
“Wow,” Vincent whispered reverentially as he picked up one of the cards. “These are the fanciest invitations I’ve ever seen.”
The thick beveled pale grey cards were edged in silver and bordered with a silver art deco design:
The pleasure of your company is requested
At the Grand Opening of AntiquiTeas
Tea Parlour and Home of Dorothea’s Finds
Saturday, the twenty-second of May
At ten in the morning
Refreshments to be served

“Not bad,” Stella said, peering over his shoulder.
“We have your godfather to thank for those,” Penelope said. “If it weren’t for Hubert’s guidance and ability to achieve the impossible, none of us would be standing here right now, preparing to go public with our little labor of love.”
“And there he goes now!” Stella said, pointing to Hubert as he walked down the sidewalk from the consignment shop to his own store.
“Three cheers for Mr. Allen!” Penelope cried, drawing his attention.
“Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!” the group cheered as Hubert stopped to observe them.
When he realized the adulation was directed toward him, he palmed back his dwindling quantity of hair strands and bowed humbly, then continued walking toward his store, a spring in his step.
As the faithful ambled out the door, invitations in hand, Penelope searched for her keys, mumbling to herself and avoiding eye contact with Hank. She’d never been alone with him for more than a moment or two, and the thought of canvassing the town with him unnerved her. She was relieved that she found the keys in much less time than usual; even so, the invitations shook in her hand as she struggled to lock the shop doors.
“Miss Davies really got to you, eh?” he asked.
“Miss Davies? Oh, you mean the reporter? No, I mean, oh, uh.”
Hank chuckled. “Why don’t you let me carry those for you,” he offered, relieving her of the jingling key ring she tightly clutched.
Both walked in silence for an awkward moment until saved by the near collision of a mother and toddler in a perambulator.
“Good morning, Mrs. Jenkins. Good morning, Timmy,” Hank said, tipping his fedora to the mother.
“Hank,” the lady said, smiling.
“Handyman Hank!” the little boy cheered, rising up out of his carriage.
“Mrs. Jenkins, may I present Miss Price? She’s opening up a tearoom at Dorothea Tate’s old antiques shop.”
“A tearoom! How delightful.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Jenkins. Here’s an invitation to our grand opening next week if you’re free. There will be refreshments and music and—”
“Can I come too?” Timmy asked, bouncing in his pram.
“Of co—” Penelope began.
“Oh no, Timmy. It’s just for grownups,” Mrs. Jenkins said. “Please, Miss Price, it would be my one chance to alktay ithway ownupsgray,” she said, using Pig Latin so that Timmy wouldn’t know she said, ‘talk with grownups.’
“I hear you loud and clear, Mrs. Jenkins,” Penelope said, adding an overt wink to show she was in on the ruse. “Another time, Timmy?”
“But, I wanna—” Timmy wailed.
“Good day, Mrs. Jenkins, Timmy,” Hank said, putting his hand on Penelope’s back to gently urge her on.
With all her might she resisted the shiver she felt coming on, occasioned by Hank’s touch.
“One down, nine hundred ninety-nine to go,” she said, attempting to pre-empt another awkward silence as they strolled.
“I beg your pardon?” Hank said.
“I figure if there are roughly three thousand residents in town, and we’re in three teams of two, then you and I have about a thousand residents to contact … unless you break it into five hundred each, then—”
“Ahh, now I follow you,” he said, placing his hands behind his back as he escorted her, making a point to adjust his pace to hers given that he was nearly a foot taller than she.
Within seconds, the dreaded awkward pause ensued. Penelope busied herself staring at the sidewalk and noticed there were a good many cracks in the pavement caused by sprouting tree roots. I really should write to the city council about this. Someone could easily twist an ankle. I’ll have to make a note of it when we return to the shop, she mused, filling her head with any thought she could come up with to take her mind off the melting sensation she experienced walking alongside Hank.
The pair ambled on for several wordless minutes until they turned a corner right just as the cinema’s latest show was getting out. A small little crowd emptied out of the theater, and once Hank called out the words, “Free food!” all were eager to hear about the new tearoom and grab an invitation to its grand opening. A half hour later, Penelope and Hank were out of cards and started back toward the shop.
Penelope was energized and elated by the crowd’s enthusiasm, and began jabbering mindlessly to Hank, going on about what this and that person had to say about Aunt Dorothea, and how so many were keen to have a tearoom in town. The pair arrived at the shop to find a robust, well-groomed matron leaning on a parasol and peering through the shop windows.
“May I help you, ma’am?” Penelope asked respectfully.
“You may … if you are Miss Price, that is,” the older woman said, turning around and producing one of the grand opening invitations.
“I am,” Penelope said tentatively.
“How lovely to see you, Mrs. Morgan. You’re looking well,” Hank said cordially.
“As are you, Mr. Edwards. Now, young lady, what can you tell me about this tearoom business?” the woman asked.
“Well, you see … my grandaunt … I’m from San Pedro …”
“Uh, perhaps you’d like to come in and sit down, Mrs. Morgan?” Hank suggested, unlocking and opening the door with the keys he still carried.
“Indeed I would, Mr. Edwards,” Mrs. Morgan said, entering and taking a seat on the banquette, her hands again perched atop her parasol handle. “And a cup of tea, I should think, if this establishment is to be a tearoom.”
“Of course, right away,” Penelope said, turning to go to the kitchen.
“Tut tut, not you, Miss Price. I’d like a word with you,” Mrs. Morgan commanded.
“If you ladies will excuse me, I suddenly have a craving for tea,” Hank remarked, winking at Florence Morgan.
“Now tell me about yourself, Miss Price, and this tearoom of yours.”
Penelope stumbled her way through her uneventful biography, explaining her work as a bookkeeper, her service in the war, her lifelong dream of operating a tearoom, and her duty to her grandaunt’s legacy.
“In my day, marriage and children were our only dream, Miss Price—our only duty was to God and country; but war does strange things to civilization, and none more so than that abominable conflict that took so many to early graves,” she said, kissing the locket that hung from her neck. “May I see your menu, Miss Price?”
“Oh, certainly,” Penelope said, handing a gold-edged ivory card to her.
While Mrs. Morgan studied the menu, Penelope studied her. Florence Morgan was the recognized matriarch of the town. Old-fashioned, proper, and opinionated, when she spoke, others listened, and followed suit. Fortunately, she was fair and reasonable, as well as a good judge of character. She and her husband had raised their children in Maine, but once the nest was empty, the Morgans moved to California for the sake of Mr. Morgan’s health. Ironically, he was often called back to the east for business, leaving Mrs. Morgan alone in California. She never lacked for company or activity, and was the most sought-after citizen in Pacific Grove.
“This is something of a provocative menu, Miss Price—rather continental in tone,” Mrs. Morgan said.
Penelope felt her temples throb, and she mentally scolded herself for not going with the blander, safer offerings she’d initially planned. In a moment of startling inspiration she explained, “We’d hoped to come up with something that reflects the character of my aunt’s collection of treasures … something evoking far away lands and adventures while remaining approachable.” She marveled at her own words, wondering where they’d come from.
“I believe you have succeeded, Miss Price,” Florence said, placing the menu in her purse.
“I put extra milk and sugar in your cup, Florence, just the way you like it,” Hank teased as he set down a tray devoid of sugar or milk.
“Oh, Henry, you fiend. You know full well I take my tea without additives—dilutes the brew, in my opinion.”
He poured a steaming cup as Penelope sat insensible and stunned, still trying to process the knowledge that Mrs. Morgan had approved of the tearoom menu.
Florence took several slow sips then put her cup down. “Now, let’s see that tearoom.” She raised herself using the parasol for balance and strode toward the dining room entrance, the doors still closed following Elsie Davies’ visit.
“Oh, really, we’d planned to keep the tearoom under wraps until the grand opening,” Penelope said, worrying her hands as she scuttled behind Mrs. Morgan.
“It will be all right, Miss Price. I promise,” Hank said quietly.
Penelope took a deep corset-compressing breath and separated the large sliding doors as Hank pulled a section of the beaded curtains aside to allow Florence to enter. Wordlessly, she strode around the room, employing a mother-of-pearl handled set of spectacles now and again in order to scrutinize the china and silver.
“I see your choice of décor is in keeping with your menu,” Florence said.
Is that good or bad? Penelope worried as she searched Mrs. Morgan’s face for an answer.
“Did you design the space yourself, Miss Price?”
“I conferred with Mr. Allen who procured nearly everything for me. And my friend Zara was invaluable in preventing me from making the place too drab.”
“Zara … interesting name,” Florence said.
“She’s an interesting woman,” Hank said with a slight smile.
Penelope felt her cheeks color, but she had no idea why, as she was in no way embarrassed. No, it was a different sort of feeling. She clasped her hands tightly.
“We hope to make Pacific Grove’s tearoom a destination for out-of-town visitors, as well as a place of comfort and solace for residents,” Penelope said, impressed by her own public relations pitch.
“I’ve seen enough,” Florence said, returning her spectacles to her purse and snapping its clasp closed. She turned and headed toward the front door at a brisk pace.
Penelope’s heart dropped, and she looked at Hank with pleading eyes. He put out a hand, gesturing for her to relax.
“Good day, Florence. I look forward to seeing you next week at the opening,” Hank said.
“As do I, Henry. As do I. Miss Price?”
Penelope stood at attention.
“You have the makings of a blue ribbon enterprise in your hands, Miss Price. I trust you will treat it with care.” Florence concluded. She then tapped the tip of her parasol twice on the ground and departed.
Hank closed the shop’s front door after Florence was a good distance away. He turned to face Penelope and found her face frozen in a strange fish-like fashion, mouth wide and eyes bulging. “Are you all right, Miss Price?” he asked, half-amused, half-concerned.
“All right? All right?!” I’m euphoric! I’m beside myself! I can hardly believe what has transpired!” she said, once more adopting the same disturbing facial expression while leaning over with her hands on her knees. “I don’t know what to do with myself.”
“So it would seem,” Hank said, entertained by Penelope’s peculiar comportment.
Seconds later, Zara and Stella waltzed in.
“Copacetic,” Stella said, giving the thumbs-up sign to Penelope then plopping on the banquette sofa, her legs spread out in front of her.
“Looks like you’re in with the queen bee,” Zara said, sitting next to Stella and pushing the teen’s knees together.
“But how—” Penelope started.
“We ran into old lady Morgan on the street,” Stella said. “She’s the big cheese in town and basically, what she says goes.”
“And what she says is that she ‘sees a bright future for the enterprise.’ Her words,” Zara said.
“Truly?” Penelope asked longingly, clapping her hands together in front of her heart, a winsome smile on her face—a much gentler, more attractive expression than her previous tortured one.
“Mmm hmmmm,” Zara said, removing her gloves. “Mrs. Morgan addressed us on the street and handed us the invitation to the grand opening. She adjured us to attend—”
“And said that she would be there too!” Stella interjected.
“‘O sole mio!”
“What on earth?” Penelope asked, looking anxiously out the shop window. “Is someone hurt?”
“Only if human eardrums count,” Hank said, opening the door for Dan and Vincent who were singing opera together, loudly and badly.
“It sounds better if you speak Italian,” Vincent said.
“Not really,” Hank remarked.
“Speaking of Italian, where’s Paolo?” Penelope asked.
“Well … he and I needed a little break,” Zara said.
Penelope raised an eyebrow. She had no idea what Zara was up to, but was sure she was up to something.
“All right, I needed a little break,” Zara said. “Anyway, I know it’s been hard on him being around all of us, hearing us whoop it up and carry on when he doesn’t understand most of our jokes or what we’re saying. So I told him he could take the Duesenberg and visit Carmel-by-the-Sea for the day. He’s been dying to see the mission there, and I just haven’t had the time to go with him—there’s been so much going on here with the shop.”
“That was awfully nice of you,” Vincent said.
“Well he’s been awfully nice to me,” Zara said quietly.
An uneasy silence fell, and, unsure what to say, Penelope resorted to once again contorting her face in piscine fashion.
Inspired by Zara’s words, Vincent slipped an affectionate arm around Stella.
Embarrassed in front of the rest of the group, she rebuffed him. “Get a coat hanger!” she snarled.
“I think we could all use something of a break at this point,” Hank said, trying to ease the room’s sudden and palpable tension.
“So what next, boss?” Dan asked, changing the subject.
“I don’t really know. There’s so much still to be done,” Penelope said. “I suppose we should all just try to get through this next week without killing one another.”