Title: Love and Crime: Stories
Author: V.S. Kemanis
Genre: Short Stories/Psychological Suspense/Literary Fiction
Publisher: Opus Nine Books
Loves big and small, crimes forgiven or avenged. These are the themes that drive the eleven diverse stories in this new collection of psychological suspense from storyteller V.S. Kemanis.
Meet the husband and wife team Rosemary and Reuben, master chefs known to sprinkle a dash of magic into every dish. Lucille Steadman, a dazed retiree who can’t explain why she’s left her husband, only to discover, too late, the meaning of love and commitment in the most surprising place. Franklin DeWitt, an esteemed ballet critic who witnesses—or abets?—a bizarre criminal plot to topple a beautiful Soviet ballerina. Rosalyn Bleinstorter, a washed-up defense attorney whose stubborn belief in her own street savvy leads her unwittingly into a romantic and criminal association with an underworld figure.
These are just a few of the colorful characters you’ll get to know in these pages, where all is fair in love and crime. While the endings to these tales are not always sweet or predictable, and self-deception is rarely rewarded, the lessons come down hard and are well learned.
This collection includes stories originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The William & Mary Review, Lynx Eye, and Iconoclast, and previously unpublished stories.
ROSEMARY AND REUBEN
ANDERSON IS SINGLE by choice and always has been. True to his one love, he treats himself to an epicurean delight every Saturday night. At this stage of his life, he’s indifferent to money and mortality and gladly indulges to excess. Only the finest restaurants in Manhattan will do.
Before stepping out, Anderson trims the goatee and puts on his evening best. Invariably he dines alone, although he isn’t without a list of possible companions, female and male. Still, there’s no wish for a lover to dine with. On his evenings out, he indulges a craving of a different sort, the sensual experience of taste, texture, and aroma, the heft of silver and gleam of crystal, the lengthening and savoring of time. For a few hours he forgets his life—everything it is and is not. A full belly and a buzz from the grape will do that.
On this particular Saturday, Anderson is fortunate to have a reservation at the celebrated Ole Factory in the Village. Competition is high. It’s rumored that, after thirty-five years in business, Rosemary and Reuben Blandrigard will soon be retiring.
At seven o’clock, Anderson alights from a taxicab, braves an icy blast, and darts over the frozen pavement into the restaurant. The small foyer is square, dim, and hushed like a confessional, with a single, warm light directed from the ceiling toward the opposite wall.
Anderson is drawn to the sepia-toned photograph of the owners, framed in a simple mahogany rectangle, displayed on the eggshell wall. Rosemary lovingly gazes at Reuben, and Reuben gazes at Anderson with a look of glazed contentment.
Past the foyer and over the threshold, a young hostess looks up. Anderson squares his shoulders and announces his name. She seems to know him. “How are you this evening, Mr. Anderson?”
“Fine. Just fine, thank you.” He strokes the goatee and drops his eyes to her neck.
“Is this your first time at the Ole Factory?”
“Yes, indeed it is,” he informs her neck. “I’ve run the gauntlet successfully it seems.”
“And you’ve earned your reward.”
“I look forward to it.”
He senses her amusement, feigned or real, from the tension in her neck.
“Right this way, please.” She turns, sending her long skirt into a gentle swirl, and guides him at a leisurely pace through the well-spaced dining room of about twenty tables. The décor is spare but pleasing. In the far corner, a small, round table awaits him. The single chair is backed into the corner, allowing him a view outward into the room—a thoughtful arrangement. At some establishments he’s made to face the wall, and at others, an empty, second chair stands in silent rebuke of his social failings.
Anderson sits and orders an aperitif. Glancing at the menu, he senses, in the periphery, the sexual murmurings of a young, starry-eyed couple at the next table. Against his will, he’s aroused by a fleeting emotional stirring. The moment passes, giving way to the pleasing texture in his hand—the single sheet of cardstock. This is the message printed on the front:
“Welcome to the Ole Factory. We’ve created a unique menu for tonight’s meal. Let your server know if your pleasure is One or The Other. Your hosts, Rosemary and Reuben.”
Always a surprise, always superb. (The critics agree.) Each meal at the Ole Factory is specially created for the clientele, a process that begins with a telephone interview to vet personal aversions and food allergies. Simpatico tastes of prospective patrons are carefully matched, and a guest list is compiled for each sitting before any reservation is confirmed. It can take a year to get on a list.
As a successful applicant, Anderson has won the right to ponder his two options for the evening. Without much thought, he selects “The Other” before flipping the card over. Printed on the back is a short paragraph entitled “The Story of Rosemary and Reuben.” Legend might be the more descriptive term. Everything about them is legend, including their habit of circulating through the dining room during coffee and dessert. They appear at the kitchen door, wrench apart like cloven chopsticks, and weave different routes through the tables, separately greeting their guests.
As he sips his aperitif and reads The Story a second time, Anderson silently hopes that Rosemary will be the one to visit him at the end of his meal.
Two and a half hours later, he gets his wish. At nine thirty, she emerges from the kitchen with Reuben. Nearly touching, they suspend all movement for barely an eye blink. Reluctantly they part. With a quick, light step, Rosemary toes a straight line along the wall to Anderson’s table. She’s a roundish, dwarflike woman of about Anderson’s age, with silvery-gray hair pulled tightly back into a doughnut at the nape of her neck, exposing delicately-lobed, naked ears. Coming to a halt in dramatic proximity, she’s not much taller than Anderson as he sits. With a familiar air, she regards him from beneath jet-black eyebrows. Hold still please, says the creator of that sepia-toned photograph.
“Mr. Anderson. We’re very glad you could come this evening.”
His heart races in confusion. Her visit to his table fulfills his dearest wish, but everything else has been less than expected, troublingly so. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the past two and a half hours. He wants to tell her, but the words are bottled under a well-aged cork.
Before Anderson can speak, Rosemary lifts a bent index finger and rests the knuckle on the tip of her sharply-pointed nose. The finger covers her nostrils, the fisted hand covers her mouth.
Anderson searches for polite words but finds only the single, obvious truth. “The service was excellent, thank you.”
With a nod, she removes her hand. “It’s been our pleasure. Is there anything else we can get for you? Anything at all?” Pausing after the last word, the silence that follows announces her omission. She hasn’t inquired whether he enjoyed his dinner.
* * *
V.S. Kemanis grew up in the East Bay Area of California in a family with six amazing siblings and parents passionate about politics, social issues, theater and music. Mealtimes were often raucous, stimulating, intellectual and fun gatherings in a household full of family and interesting guests, musicians, actors, artists, professors and university students.
Ms. Kemanis holds a B.A. in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, and a J.D. from the University of Colorado, School of Law, at Boulder. In her legal career, she has been a criminal prosecutor of street crime and organized crime for county and state agencies, argued criminal appeals for the prosecution and defense, conducted complex civil litigation, and worked as a court attorney for state appellate courts. She is also an accomplished dancer of classical ballet, modern jazz and contemporary styles and has performed, taught and choreographed in California, Colorado and New York.
Dozens of short stories by Ms. Kemanis have been published in noted literary journals and award-winning collections. Her three novels in the Dana Hargrove legal mystery series draw on her personal experience in criminal law, juggling the needs of family with a high-powered legal career. Ms. Kemanis is a member of the Mystery Writers of America.
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