House of Redemption
By Kathy Finfrock
Meet the Cast
Each guest at the private southern resort has his or her own reason for needing a quick escape from the outside world. Tensions mount quickly as, one-by-one, they come face to face with their worst nightmare. Will they repent their sin or remain at Blackstone forever?
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House of Redemption
Chris stretched his long legs across the roomy floor of the limousine. “Now this is the way to travel,” he said. The plane ticket had been first class, which didn’t make much difference other than the seats being a bit bigger and he got to sit in the front four rows of the small commuter plane. Still, it was nicer than coach. A thin, black man in a gray suit and skinny tie had met him at the terminal holding a sign. Same as they do for famous celebrities. The Lincoln stretch limousine provided was white with dark tinted
windows and room for eight, allowing plenty of leg space. The driver assured
him he was the only passenger. Chris didn’t mind the lonely drive from the
airport as the limo came with a fully stocked mini fridge. He took a quick inventory of the wide choices of alcoholic beverages. He grimaced. Now was not the time to be drinking. No, not even to take the edge off. With a bottle of water stuck between his knees and a bag of trail mix sitting next to him, he pulled out a contract from the inside of his suit pocket to peruse one more time. His fingertips rubbed the thick rich
creamy texture of the cover sheet.
Dear Chef Dunham,
your professional achievements. In further recognition of your expertise we are
honored to inform you that you have been invited to perform a service for a
reality program featuring your talent as a unique and prominent chef. You have
been hand chosen by a select group of food critics to prepare a dinner for a
party of eight…
He still could not answer the question of who these food critics were or how they knew him. The letter remained vague. He skimmed to the important part.
Please be assured this is a legitimate and genuine offer.
Our interests lie in talent and character. We have no desire to take advantage
of, or humiliate, our participants. In this regard, among others, we are quite
different than many other alleged reality shows.
His fingers tapped rapidly on his leg. He compared the letterhead name to the name on the contract as he had a hundred times before. Yes, he was sure the letter would hold up in court if they tried to make him look like a fool. They would indeed find a lawsuit on their hands if he showed up planning to prepare prime rib and there was only canned tuna or spam.
What if they’re a fake company? What if they don’t have any real money? Winning a lawsuit doesn’t mean you get something for your trouble. You know that, right? Is it an elaborate setup to humiliate you? Is it? Is it? What if it’s all a big joke on you?
“Then I guess we’re screwed. We can’t go back to the apartment,” he whispered.
No way can they tie the old bird’s death to us. Not even if they do an autopsy which they won’t. Her family is against that sort of thing and will claim it’s a violation of their religious beliefs. The family’s gonna assume it was heart failure. Case closed.
Chris tapped his forehead with the heel of his hand. If only his neighbor had minded her own business instead of calling the police to complain about the noise in his apartment. Maybe then he wouldn’t have sent her the box of chocolate candy laced with rat poison.
She had it coming. You know she did. The cops can’t trace it back to us.
That was probably true. Chris had slipped into her apartment after she died and removed all traces of the candy box and wrappers. The buzzing intercom interrupted his thoughts.
“We will be arriving in a few minutes, sir,” the chauffeur said. “Blackstone Manor is on your right.”
Oak trees framed the road on both sides. Chris’s eyes grew wide in amazement when he saw the house. Tall white pillars lined the wraparound porch. Tables and benches placed conveniently for lazy evening cocktails. Soft yellow lights lit the windows against the darkening skies. The limousine pulled up to the front entrance. A somber black man, wearing a white suit with a wide black tie, walked stiffly down the steps and opened the limousine door.
“Ah Mr. Dunham, we have been expecting you.” His slow drawl, smooth, and deep, with a southern accent as only deep-rooted southerners have. “My name is Washington. Allow me to show you to your room. Our staff will bring up your bags.”
“Thank you, I’ll carry my own.” Chris gave a Washington a polite smile. His eyes remained cold.
“As you wish.”
“Yeah, nothing personal.” But it was personal. Everything was personal.
The lid to the trunk popped open without a sound. Chris reached in and took the garment bag and a small duffle that held his kitchen knives and his unique seasoning.
Thunder rumbled in the distant sky.
“Follow me, sir.” Washington opened the double doors.
Chris stopped and gazed at the horizon. Dark clouds were moving fast from the west. The air pressure was heavy as a wool coat that’s been dipped in a warm bath.
“Looks like a big storm is coming. It won’t interfere with the dinner, will it?”
“Oh no, sir. Not at all. We are prepared for these storms. They come the same time every year.”
Chris followed Washington into a lavish foyer. They walked pass a mahogany reception desk with a large vase of dahlia flowers in a variety of colors.
“Our grand room.” Washington gestured to the left. Chris saw the biggest fireplace he had ever seen taking up the far wall down the hallway.
“Fireplace isn’t by chance home to a lion’s head, is it?” Chris asked.
“Beg your pardon, sir? A lion’s head?” Washington asked.
“Yeah, saw it in a movie once. The flue handle was a giant lion’s head that happen to bite off the head of one of the guests.”
Washington straighten a little taller. His voice tight: “No, sir. There are no lion head flues in Blackstone’s fireplace. Nor do we have, or ever have had, any headless guests.”
Chris laughed, “That’s good to know.”
“The lion head sculptures are on the fireplace in the library, sir.” Washington remained serious. “This way, please.”
Chris decided to stay clear of the fireplaces. Just in case.
Dim sunlight filtering through high windows and echoing off the upper reaches
lit the main room. The lighting left no shadows and gave the grand room an odd
perspective. Bookcases lined the wall on the right side. An antique desk with
ornate engravings sat in the corner. The couches and overstuffed chairs looked
like soft leather surrounded the fireplace. Walking upstairs, Chris stopped at
a wide landing to look at the life-sized portrait of a man. “Who is this?”
Washington folded his hands and gazed at the portrait with
reverence. “The Reverend Blackstone. He commissioned this house to be built in
An involuntary shiver went down Chris’s spine. The man in the portrait was tall with broad shoulders. The eyes were hard, cold, ice-blue
and insane. The fact that he firmly held a riding crop by his side did not
bring forth feelings of warmth.
“Reverend, huh? Looks like a man of fire and brimstone. I doubt if Christ himself would ever want to step in this man’s church.”
Chris turned to Washington to gauge his reaction, but Washington had not waited for him. He caught a glimpse of him turning at the landing. I wonder if Washington’s
ancestors had a taste of that whip. Best to be politically correct and not say
anything. Chris hurried up the stairs.
They reached the second floor. A carpet runner with an intricate pattern of diamonds and triangles contrasted with the bare cherry-wood floors. Washington stopped at the first door on the right.
“The other guests will be arriving shortly, Mr. Dunham. You will need to start immediately.”
“Chef Dunham.” Respect was given when respect was demanded. He would set precedent now.
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. My apology, Chef Dunham. All is ready as you requested.”
“I’ll be right down after I change.”
“Yes, sir.” Washington stepped backwards out of the door, closing it with a soft click.
Chris walked into the corner bathroom. It was small, clean, and tidy. He washed his hands and face. A quick comb through his hair was all he needed. He pulled out his chef uniform and dressed. Everything was starched and pressed with crisp lines. He carried the cutlery bag that held his professional knives and left the room. Dinner would be in a few hours and he needed to get in high gear fast.
Washington met him at the bottom of the stairs. “This way, sir. The main entrance into the dining area.” He pointed at the archway across from the staircase. They continued down the wide hallway that ended in a gigantic game room. Chris saw another fireplace in a room large enough for dancing. A pool table covered in crimson red felt was placed at the opposite end. An attractive woman with the deepest chocolate cocoa powdered colored skin tended at a large bar next to the entrance, polishing glasses. A poker table sat in the far back corner.
Chris gave everything an impatient quick glance. They came to a wall and stopped.
“I thought we were going to the kitchen.” His voice impatient. Watch your tone. It would not be to our benefit to show our sarcastic side. Chris put on a large smile.
“Here it is, sir.” Washington pressed his hand on the wall next to a sconce. There was a click as a doorway space slid open inside the wall.
“Yes, sir. This house has many impressive features.”
The kitchen left Chris with his mouth hanging open. He released a deep exhale. He hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath, still unsure whether this little venture was going to be a trick, but one brief glance at the kitchen proved to him that it was on the up and up.
“Oh my God. This is beautiful,” Chris said more to himself than to Washington.
The ceiling was high. White cupboards lined the walls. Stainless steel countertops, appliances, and a commercial doublewide refrigerator were laid out by someone who knew how to prepare food.
“Are the ingredients I requested here?”
“Yes, sir. The supplies arrived fresh this morning. The walk-in pantry is this way.” Washington swung the paneled door open. “Does it meet your approval, sir?” Washington asked.
Chris leaned forward and looked inside. The pantry was fully stocked with bins of potatoes, onions, both fresh and dried herbs, citrus fruits, a wide variety of fresh vegetables, canned hams and more.
“Good Lord, how big is this pantry? There’s enough food to feed an army for a month.”
“We like to be prepared for extended stays. There will be
eight guests this evening. Dinner is to be served at precisely 8:00 p.m. Do you
require assistance with preparing the meal?”
“Which is preferred?”
“The people who hired me for this gig. Do they want to see how I supervise others or do they want to see what I can do on my own?”
Washington looked at him with a blank stare. “I am unaware of your agreement, sir.”
Chris straightened his chef’s coat high collar. “No, Washington. I do not require assistance. I prefer to do this on my own so there is no confusion what is done when. We don’t want to have too many cooks in the kitchen, now do we?”
“No, sir. One chef will be fine.” Washington smiled.
Chris smiled back and this time the smile did reach his eyes.
“One more thing for your approval, sir.”
“This doorway is the entrance to the dining room from the kitchen.”
A red swinging door swished open revealing a wide room lined
with portraits projecting a rich, flamboyant décor. A long table with eight
chairs sat in the middle of the room. Small candles surrounded a floral setting
in its center. Chris did approve. The floral setting was low enough so people
could see and converse across the table during the meal and there was ample
room to navigate with dishes behind the chairs. Against the wall was a heavy,
dark wood buffet with a centered, full floral arrangement.
“I’ll leave you now. If you need anything, you may dial 323 on the phone.”
Washington left by the dining room doorway and Chris returned to the kitchen. He paused. He realized he had not seen a single white person. All the staff was black. It felt a little odd. He shrugged it off. Maybe this southern tradition hasn’t changed since the civil war.
He unpacked his knives, opened his notebook, and contemplated his menu.
What about that quirky person who is sure to be here? You know the one? The ‘I don’t eat that’ person?
“You aren’t helping.” Chris hissed. “Besides, this is a fantastic menu.”
Can we make them a special dish if they complain?
“Will you be quiet if I say yes?”
He had done his research on the regional cuisine and had chosen a plantation style menu with local ingredients to reflect it. The hors d’oeuvre would be an apricot chambord brie with roasted apricots, apples, toasted pecans, and raspberries wrapped in pastry.
The main course, the plats principaux, pan roasted pork tenderloin with a blue cheese and olive stuffing where Pork tenderloins would be pounded flat, spread with olive tapenade, and blue cheese, then rolled up and roasted. A Dijon-lemon sauce finishes this elegant dish. For dessert, strawberry and cream crepes soaked in a brandy
liqueur and served flaming tableside. He turned the oven on as he passed. He
went into the pantry and found the fresh apricots and apples.
Where is the camera crew? Where are the people in charge of this shindig? Are we in the right place?
Rinsing the fruit, he ignored his shaking hands.
The director should have met us. Where is the cleanup crew?
“Shut up already,” Chris began to slice and dice.
“What if? What if? We’ll kill them all. All right? Can we cook now?”
He shut out the voice in his head and stopped thinking of anything but the food. The texture and smell, the process of taking raw food and turning it into something to awe each sense. The scent of the food for the nose, the sizzling for the ears, the appearance for the eyes, the texture of the touch and of course the fine twist of the seasoning to tantalize the taste buds.
All of them?
“Every single one.”
Chris’s body fell into the meditative routine of food preparation. “God have mercy on their souls if this setup is a joke because I most certainly will not.”