By early afternoon, however, icy raindrops fell in a chilling, slashing curtain. To arrive early enough for the Prospect party, I allowed an extra half-hour of travel time and secured pan after pan of the expensive appetizers into a cambro, a heavy plastic stacking device that locks into place on my van floor. When I inched my vehicle onto Aspen Meadow's Main Street, I winced at the sight and sound of Cottonwood Creek. Our normally placid, usually picturesque tributary of the South Platte River had developed into a roaring, turgid beast. In fact, the rain had turned our whole town into a mud pit. The shoulders of all the mountain roads oozed mire. Streamfront properties, usually highly prized, became disaster areas when creeks had crested their banks. As the van rocked forward behind a line of cars, I fretted about the appetizers tilting inside the cambro, not to mention the trays on the overhead racks. Cleaning up six dozen meticulously layered quesadillas from the floor of my van was not my idea of a rousing good time.
Unsurprisingly, traffic in Idaho Springs was detoured. I prayed the bungee cords would hold the trays in place as I piloted my trusty vehicle over rocks and through silt to avoid a road crew. Sporting fluorescent life vests and calf-deep in mud, workmen pulled debris from a plugged culvert. I inched forward and tried not to imagine my platters of savory hors d'oeuvre skimming down the rapids.
At last, I pulled up to the sheds in front of the Eurydice mine. No one else had arrived, so I parked the van and rushed through the rain with the first plastic-wrapped platters. Once under the tent, I scanned the dark interior until I spotted the portable ovens. I heaved the trays onto the makeshift counter, checked the ovens, then switched them on. I paused to look around. A string of light bulbs that went back as far as the eye could see illuminated the railroad track that led into the depths of the old mine. The light bulbs had been strung beside the track for the Prospect investors' tour of the Eurydice in May. I shivered.
"There's a superstition about women in mines," Marla had told me after she returned from the tour. "We're supposed to be bad luck. 'Women prohibited for decades!' they told us before we went in. Poor Edna Hardcastle showed why by promptly having a claustrophobia attack. Got fifty feet inside and threw up."
Maybe I was better off with savings bonds.
I pulled my eyes away from the dark portal of the mine, which seemed to leak cold, dank air, and nipped back and forth through the downpour to unload more trays. Ten minutes later, Macguire roared up in his Subaru. Lanky, acne-scarred, and endearingly unambitious, Macguire was the son of the headmaster of Elk Park Prep. Macguire was taking what was euphemistically called a "year off," while he lifted weights, did odd jobs, and occasionally attempted to decide what to do with the rest of his life. He wasn't too adept at the food biz. But he could carry heavy trays. And he liked people. From my point of view, that was half the battle.
"Hey, Goldy." His tall body curled out of the Subaru and he smiled crookedly, squinting against the rain. He wore an unbuttoned, too large, yellow plastic slicker he'd probably scrounged from the Elk Park Prep lost-and-found. But the gaping slicker revealed that he had remembered to wear black pants and a white shirt, a good sign. "The beers are gonna be late," he informed me. He shook his short, wiry red hair. Droplets skittered through the damp air. "It was all the truck driver could do to get up Marla's driveway. When she told him he needed to come up a dirt road leading out of Idaho Springs, he said, Forget that! So she bribed him to put a few cases into the trunk of her Mercedes. Tony could only get a couple into his Miata, and Albert's going over to get the rest in his Explorer. Marla is not happy. But I told her, hey! You know, it's like the bumper sticker, sh--"
"No," I interrupted him. I put the covered platter of quesadillas I was holding down on the van floor and held up one hand. "Need to change your thinking, Macguire. Clients cuss. Caterers don't."
He grinned good-naturedly, released the lock, and heaved up the cambro. "Your clients are going to cuss a lot if they get up here and don't have anything to drink. Anyway, I really need to talk to Marla before the festivities get started. She here yet?"
Even as he spoke, we heard the distinctive growl of the Mercedes. Marla emerged from her shiny new car in a cloud of dark green silk dotted with gold. She shook her fist dramatically at the weeping clouds and struggled to open her new Louis Vuitton umbrella. Although she'd only lost about ten pounds since the heart attack, she swore she was exercising regularly, eating virtuously, and not losing her temper more than once a month. As she merrily trundled toward us through the downpour, I doubted all three.
"Darlings," she exclaimed extravagantly once she was under the tent. She closed the umbrella with a flourish and shook it. The bright gold barrettes holding her unruly brown curls in place twinkled in the light of the rented tent lamps. She sniffed at the succulent aromas seeping from the ovens. "Let's indulge! Correction: Let's unload this designer beer, and then indulge. Ah, Macguire," she trilled, "you left a message saying you had something for me?"
"I do," he muttered with uncertainty. His face darkened. "But I don't think you're going to like it."
"You don't think she's going to like what?" I asked as I whisked the mustard and cream for the bacon appetizers.
But Marla reopened the umbrella, walked with Macguire to his car, and ignored me. The rain continued to pelt down, so I couldn't hear what the two of them were saying as they huddled next to the Subaru and spoke in confidential tones. Then Macguire ducked into his car and brought out a manila envelope. Marla tore into it and yanked out a sheet of paper. Under the shelter of the umbrella, she pored over it while he talked quietly, pointing here and there on the sheet. Marla scowled. Macguire appeared to be trying to calm her.
"Brau-au-au-gh!" she yelled, as the first of the guest cars crested the dirt road. I couldn't help wondering what had upset her so. She continued to stare at the paper in her hands. "I don't believe this!" I heard her yell.
"What are you going to do?" Macguire said loudly, crossing his arms and frowning at her. "Confront him?"
"Are you kidding?" my best friend shrieked. She crushed the paper and stuffed it into a silk pocket. "I'm going to kill him!"