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Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

Could This Be My Diggory Venn?

I’m at The Beatnik as they open the next morning, but Dennis isn’t there. An older woman with a streak of blue in her hair is taking orders from a few young people at a table when I walk in. But there he is: the American is standing at one wall, flipping through a Kerouac book, cradling it on his arm with his beige trench coat. Maybe he’s in the Beatnik Reading Group. He sits down at a table by the window, folds his coat onto the back of the chair, sets his Kerouac on the table, and signals to the waitress. I sit at another table, listening carefully to his voice.

“Could I get something with my coffee? Toast, a teacake, or a croissant or something?”

“We have all of those, love, but we also specialize in cakes. My brother makes a very good lemon cake.”

“Well, then I’ll have coffee and some of the very good lemon cake, please.” Was that a Midwestern accent? I have a sudden, weird surge of homesickness.

The waitress comes over to me. I’m very curious about Oscar since Dennis hasn’t called me.

“Hi. So, where is Dennis? Is he still at the hospital with Mr. Briggs?” She looks at me with a hard eye.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Ophelia Perhaps, and I’m a friend of Dennis and Oscar.”

“Oh, well, yes, isn’t it sad, love? But Mr. Briggs does seem to be getting better. At least that’s what Denny told me when he rang this morning. I’m his big sister, Rita, come from London to help out a few days. What can I bring you, love?” I order a coffee and also a slice of Dennis’s lemon cake. Even when it’s a few days old, I love his cake.

This is heaven on earth, I think, as I pick out a mug from the collection Dennis keeps on his shelves. The cake is moist and tangy with little curls of zest throughout. I always relax here. Even with Dad in town and Robert getting weird about our cat and an American guy being mysterious, I feel downright langorous. I could sit here a very long time with this stillness, a porcelain sky slanting through the window, the quiet camaraderie of fellow bibliophiles, the poetry of some lovely lemon cake. It’s home but not home, literature but not a Dad literature lecture, America without being Republican.

I look up a few times at the American. He looks up at me from Visions of Gerard. Oh my god, those ocean-blue eyes. Could this be my Diggory? Diggory Venn who saves Thomasin Yeobright?A Diggory Venn who likes ketchup?

Rita interrupts my reverie when she slips me an index card. “I’m sure Den would like you to have this,” she says.

“Mom’s Lemon Cake” is written at the top in a backwards slant.


1 cup butter (not margarine), softened
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur)
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon extract (don’t get this on your hands)
2 or 3 lemons for juicing, depending on how lemony you want the glaze to be
powdered sugar, which I just keep adding to the lemon juice until it is sweet enough, zest if desired


Cream the butter, add in oil, blend in the sugar. Beat in each egg one at a time.

Add in a cup of flour, some milk, then more flour, then milk, then flour. Gently add in extract.

Lightly spray a 10-inch bundt pan, and pour batter into pan.

Bake at 300 degrees about 90 minutes till done. Cool. Invert bundt pan onto a large plate until cake slides out.

Juice lemons into small bowl and whisk in powdered sugar to taste. (Mom liked her glaze kind of tart.)

Spoon glaze over cake.


Rita comes over. “Brilliant, isn’t it?”

“I love it. Can I keep this card?”

“Of course. He’s got a stack of  ’em back there.” She positions my French press and lays down a fork, napkin, and plate with the slice of cake. She straightens as I stare at the cake.

“I didn’t think something so gorgeous could be this easy to make.”

“Some things are a mystery, aren’t they, lovey.”


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