100 Cliff Drive
Home of Mrs. Carlotta Cliff and Mayor Charlotte Cliff
Cliffton's Dowager Empress, Carlotta Cliff is seated at the head of the dinner table; her daughter, Cliffton's mayor, Charlotte, is on her right and their guest, Alice Watson, is on her left. Alice is feigning a riveted delight in the cuisine (over-cooked pot roast) rather than need to respond with more than monosyllables to Carlotta's free associative tirade on things that offend her from inappropriate use of contractions ("the Fish 'n' Fowl Restaurant at the mall") to inappropriate use of money ("why do whining welfare mothers on television always have cigarettes to smoke?") to inappropriate use of God ("the next thing you know, Pat Buchanon will claim to know which side God's on for the Little League World Series!").
Alice marvels at how much passion Carlotta can imply without ever actually raising her voice. In fact, the old lady's delievery is so dry that Alice wonders if she sweats sand. Of course, in the interest of self-preservation, she wonders it to herself and makes a mental note to try the query out on Charlotte at some time when the old lady is far, far away. Alice studies Charlotte and wonders for the thousandth time what it must be like for her friend to have spent an entire lifetime under the same roof as this overwhelming woman. Charlotte has never seemed dominated, never given a clue to the side of her that would have... could have resisted the urge to run away from Carlotta.
Alice reacts with a start when she realizes that she has so successfully zoned out that she has not been responding to a direct question from her hostess: "For the third time, Alice-- just what are you doing about the dead body?" Alice finishes chewing before speaking (she'd been caught on that breach of manners twenty years ago), resists giggling at Charlotte's wink, and then proceeds to double-talk her way through Carlotta's inquisition on the Sayers House Corpse.
Finally, having convinced Carlotta that everything's under control to the good of Cliff College's esteemed reputation (although, once finished, she realizes that she has absolutely no memory of just what she claimed to be doing to that end), Alice catches Charlotte's eye with such a pitifully beseeching look that her friend extricates her from the confrontation and the house. As the two younger women speed down to the Cliffton Cinema to raid the candy counter Charlotte keeps well-stocked with goodies from Pink Moment Sweets, she tells Alice to beware of Dick Francis who has made it clear to Mayor Charlotte that he has no intention of being anything like cooperative when it comes to his end of the investigation. When Alice groans, Charlotte changes the subject and reminds Alice that their old friend, Melinda Dorsey, has just arrived in town and is staying at The Inn.