Christine was already in the kitchen when Rose stumbled in, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. The counters, usually spotlessly clean, were absolutely piled with meat. She blinked, wondering if she was imagining things. Christine often had strange things in the kitchen, but this was stranger than most.
“Good morning!” Christine called as Rose took a seat at the table.
“Morning,” Rose grumbled back.
She was wondering if she could get Christine to bring her some coffee when she noticed that Christine’s gloved hands were covered in blood almost up to her elbows. Her apron was similarly splattered with blood, some bright and fresh red and some an older, muddier brown. That was probably a no on the coffee, then.
“What are you making?” Rose asked instead. “That’s not all for dinner tonight, is it?”
“Oh no, of course not,” Christine replied, ruby red lips turning up into a smile. “Most of this I’m preparing to put in the freezer for later. I am planning to make some black pudding for breakfasts next week and an adorable mummy wellington for dinner tonight.
Rose hummed, watching as Christine picked up a large butcher knife. She pulled over a large cut of meat from the pile and brought it down again and again until she had the cuts she wanted. Rose was mesmerized by the flash of the silver knife, covered now in smears of blood.
The cuts went into plastic zip top bags, which were then put in a pile on the counter behind Christine. It had grown to a pile about a foot high by the time Rankle meandered in. He joined Rose at the table, their normal morning snarls at each other ignored in favor of watching Christine butcher what had to be an entire large animal in their kitchen.
“It’s barely ten in the morning, Christine. Where did you get so much meat?” Rankle asked after a little while. His face showed both disgust and awe at Christine’s butchery skills.
Christine chuckled, pushing away a hair that had come free from her updo. It left a small smear of blood across her cheek. “I have my sources,” she said vaguely. “I’m almost done with this if you’d like to help me with the wellington.”
Rose and Rankle looked at each other, then shrugged. “Sure.”
“Well, let’s get started, then,” Christine said, smiling off into the distance. Rose and Rankle looked at each other again and sighed. She was doing it again.
Christine pulled the bloody gloves off, throwing them into the trash, then wiped a portion of the countertop off with a towel. The bags of meat went into the freezer, neatly stacked for later. All that was left were a single fairly large cut of meat from the pile that had been there earlier.
“I’m making a mummy wellington for dinner tonight,” she said, gesturing at the meat in front of her. “We’ll need a tenderloin cut like this as well as puff pastry, prosciutto, thyme, and some mushrooms. I like to use a mixture of cremini and shiitakes, but you can use whatever you have on hand.”
“At least she didn’t say death cap mushrooms,” Rankle muttered, making Rose snicker. Christine didn’t appear to hear them, too caught up in directing her imaginary audience.
“So once this is seared, we can start assembling it into our mummy,” Christine continued, pulling the steaming tenderloin from a pan on the stove. Rose was pretty sure she hadn’t even seen Christine go over there until now. “Let it cool a little on the side and start on the mushroom filling. We’ll saute them with the thyme a little, just enough to get that duxelle mushroom paste. Such a wonderful, earthy smell, don’t you agree?”
“Why would I want to eat something that smells like Rankle?” Rose asked, wrinkling her nose. She dodged a swat from Rankle’s claws. “What? I’m just saying!”
Christine shook her head, smiling. “No arguing, please, you two,” she said fondly. They quieted down with minimal growling at each other. “We’re really getting to the good part of this mummy wellington! I can’t wait for you to see how it turns out.”
“I just can’t wait to eat it,” Rankle said, licking his paw.
“There will be plenty for everyone, don’t worry,” Christine assured them. “We’ll use this plastic wrap to make things easier layering the prosciutto, then the duxelle, then the tenderloin in the middle. Wrap it around into a beautiful little log, which will be set in the center of the puff pastry.
“Now for the fun part: making the mummy! This is my favorite part, where the decorating on an otherwise fairly simple dish comes in,” she continued. “Cut strips on the side of the puff pastry. These are what will make the ‘fabric’ strips for our mummy. Cross them over however you like, just leaving a bit of space for eyes. I’m using an olive cut in half for that.”
Rose was surprised how quickly it was all coming together, and she could feel herself salivating over the thought of eating it. Especially since Christine had long ago forbidden her from trying to eat Rankle. This was the next best thing.
“I can tell what you’re thinking,” Rankle hissed at her while Christine was busy putting the mummy wellington in the oven. “That thing is nothing like me!”
“Whatever you tell yourself to sleep at night,” Rose answered, sticking her tongue out.
Christine turned back just before things could devolve, clapping her hands together with a smile. “And that’s all for now!” she said cheerfully. “We’ll let that go so it’s perfectly baked for dinner, and while we wait, I’m going to start on the black pudding.”
Norman arrived just before dinner was served, and Rose immediately attached herself to his leg. He was just so handsome, she couldn’t stop herself. Even if he didn’t react much to her propositions, which she really just didn’t understand.
“Now, now, Rose,” Christine chided lightly. She pushed Rose away with a gentle hand, then leaned in for a kiss from Norman. “Let Norman come in. You don’t want dinner to get cold, do you?”
“I guess not,” Rose sighed.
She followed the couple into the dining room, where Rankle and Edgar were already waiting at their places. Once they were all seated, Christine brought out a huge platter with the still steaming mummy wellington on it to set in the middle of the table.
“Wow! That sure is something, Christine,” Norman said, earning a smile from Christine. “What a fantastic centerpiece, I can’t wait to just dig in.”
“Well then, would you please do the honor of cutting into it for us?”
Norman had a large knife in his hand almost before she finished speaking, the blade glinting in the candlelight. He stood and started carving up the mummy wellington in quick, precise movements. He was so fast that Rose could barely follow the movement of him slicing the whole thing, then passing the steaming hot slices out to everyone’s plates.
They all ate with gusto, the mummy wellington and the side dishes of roasted vegetables that none of them had even seen being made. Rose had to admit that Christine’s strange wellington really was delicious. She made sure there were plenty of puff pastry crumbs scattered in her fur for later.
By the time dinner was finished, Rose was feeling nicely round and plump with food, lounging on her chair and picking at her teeth with a fork. Everyone else looked just as relaxed.
Suddenly there was a knock at the front door, and everyone startled except for Christine and Norman. Christine just smiled and excused herself to go check who it was. The rest of them followed close on her heels.
Rose rounded the corner just as Christine opened the door. Outside were two police officers, who Christine greeted with barely a raise of an eyebrow. Rose wanted to rush over there, but Norman held her back.
“What can I do for you today?” she asked.
“Your neighbor, Mr. Brinkley, was reported missing by his wife this morning as he never made it home last night,” one of the officers said. “We just wanted to see if you saw anything or know anything of his whereabouts.”
Christine put a hand to her chest. “Oh no, that’s terrible,” she replied. “But I’m afraid I haven’t seen anything. I do hope he’s found alright.”
“As do we,” the other officer said. He smiled, tipping his hat at her. “Thank you for your time, we’ll let you get back to it.”
Christine closed the door behind them, then made her way to where the rest of them were waiting around the corner. She raised an eyebrow at them.
“Isn’t that the neighbor who keeps catcalling you whenever you take a walk?” Rankle asked, wrinkling his nose. “Good riddance, I say. Ugh.”
“Oh, I’m sure he got just what he deserved,” Christine said, looking over at Norman and winking. He smiled back, and Rose had the strangest feeling that they both knew more about what had happened to Mr. Brinkley than they were saying. “Now! Who wants dessert?”