Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody of Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws her annual society ball, in the middle of a crime wave in Soho. Chief Inspector Tent grills her but the Man in Red intervenes.
Malcolm Tent finally untangled himself from the cape. Taking a moment he looked under the fabric to find a stuffed turtle, which had created the illusion of a hump. How infantile. Tent stood and stomped around the chaise lounge, obviously furious that his dignity had been defiled. Cecelia was not intimidated.
“And now, Chief Inspector Malcontent—“
“That’s Malcolm Tent,” he corrected her with irritation. It was one thing to be pushed down on his rump and be covered by a cape with a fake hump, but quite another to have his name repeatedly mispronounced.
“I must request you leave my home immediately.”
“I will not! I’m expecting to receive—“ The inspector stopped. He stammered about a bit, leaving an unbiased observer to assume he was about to let the cat out of the bag about something either highly unethical or socially irredeemable or both. “I’m expecting to receive all the respect and hospitality due my office.”
“And why should I do that?” Cecelia held both of her chins as high as possible.
“Because if you throw me out I’ll tell everyone you’re nothing but an old gossip!”
“Very well. You may remain.” She wagged a bejeweled finger in his face. “But don’t expect me to be very nice.”
Millicent entered from the ballroom with a tray of canapés. Cecelia immediately put her finger away and turned to smile innocently at her daughter.
“All the guests have arrived,” Millicent announced, looking down at the tray with a disdain that should be reserved for pigs in a blanket. “The canapés are rotten, as usual.”
Cecelia’s mixture of dismay, disappointment and frustration launched her into another soliloquy.
What can I say? I make some really lousy canapés.
The word around town, you can’t keep them down.
The recipe has anchovies and nice sharp cheddar
And chicken liver, just a sliver so thin. I make it to please.
No matter what I do, my guests still claim they taste like poo.
I must find ways to make much better trays of canapés.
Tent tried to escape back into the ballroom. “I swear you make me pull out my hair. I don’t care! I just care about the lair of the Man in the Red Underwear!”
Cecelia placed herself in front of the doorknob.
I still remember it made my day when Lily Langtry stopped by to say,
“Cecelia dear don’t be so sad. These canapés can’t be all bad.”
And she ate two right away but turned an awful shade of gray.
And then in a poof my friend went woof which through the roof.
She said just give the rest to me and off she flew in a hustle
To force feed them to that man trap slut, her enemy Lillian Russell.
Canapés, canapés, they won’t eat any of my canapés.
Come on and be a good sport. Eat one of my canapés.
“No, thank you.”
“No, I insist.” She took one of the canapés from the tray and crammed it into the inspector’s mouth before he could make another protest.
While Tent made a valiant effort to masticate the inedible glob, Millicent handed the tray to Cecelia.
“Here, Mother. No one in the ballroom wants one.”
“Are you sure?”
“Most of them were at Lily Langtry’s last week and –“
“Never mind.” Her ladyship sighed.
Bedelia Smart-Astin, the daughter of same Hardesty Astin, whom Cecelia had disdained only moments earlier, entered from the ballroom and took a jaunty stance, displaying her nifty riding outfit, the pants a flattering shade of mauve. “Millicent!” She waved her crop proudly over her tightly woven chestnut colored hair.
Millicent rushed to her and hugged her. “Bedelia, darling!”
Cecelia was clearly displeased to have a relative of one of her gossip victims invading her social event of the season. She marched over and stuck the tray of liver drops under Bedelia’s nose. “Canapé, my dear?”
“How sweet of you, Lady Snob-Johnson, but I’m watching my figure.”
“Too bad.” Cecelia receded to the chaise lounge where she considered for the briefest of moments eating one of her concoctions herself.
Millicent took Bedelia by the elbow to guide her to the chief inspector. “Bedelia, let me introduce you to—“
“Of course! Malcolm Tent! We’re old friends!” She thrust her hand toward him.
“Don’t you remember me?” she said and then, by the sheerest of coincidences, broke into rhymed iambic-pentameter also. There must have been something in the air.
Mom didn’t marry Dad and that’s okay with me.
She had the cause, whatever it was, but she still loved me.
She told me always to wear pants and never heed those who say can’t.
I’m better than boys so I treat them just like they’re toys.
“I don’t care, ma’am,” Tent muttered. “Give a damn, ma’am! Ticker’s dam, ma’am!”
His protestations did not deter her at all.
Now Daddy dear married last year a girl named Dumb.
I think Marie is not too bright but sweet as a plum.
My Mom decided from the start to keep the family name of Smart.
So Marie decided that she would do the same thing too.
Tent could see this coming a mile away. “So she’s called—“
Marie’s hyphenated name won such acclaim that I
have done the same to show the world my family pride.
Which I know will be long lastin’ and I became Bedelia Smart-Astin!
Cecelia swept over to her daughter to whisper in her ear. “Why did you invite her to my party?”
“I invited Bedelia because Lord Andrew Taylor wanted to see her,” Millicent replied.
“Andy’s back in town?” Pleasure erupted across Cecelia’s face. Now she had a genuine social elite attending her party. “I approve of the Taylors. Andy was such a charming, athletic, handsome young man when his family moved to their estate in Wales.
“I must warn you,” Millicent cautioned her mother. “Andy has changed quite drastically.”