Read Spoiled Rotten Online

Authors: Mary Jackman

Spoiled Rotten (10 page)

Still at my desk, I went online and moved funds out of my personal line of credit to pay last week's wages. The creditors and feds would have to form a line. It's not like we've never been forced to close before. I should have some kind of financial protection in place by now, but I don't.

Last year, an underground main water valve broke, bursting through the foundation's ancient limestone. The foaming water flooded the basement in seconds. If anyone had been in the staff changing room or in the washroom, they would have drowned. Fortunately, it was midnight and the only one left was Abdul, the dishwasher. He was about to leave through the back door when he heard a strange gurgling sound in the stairwell. Nervously, he grabbed the chef's flashlight off the salamander and thrust the light at the sound. I heard the shock was so great he nearly fell in. Instead of stairs, he saw a black well of rising water lapping at his runners.

He went running down to the fire station around the corner. By the time they arrived in their trucks, the water was spilling out through the doors and cascading in rivers along the gutters. The firemen closed off the area and cleared the building, making sure no one was left inside. The emergency hydro task force was called in to disconnect the hydro lines with massive steel cutters. Although I was already half asleep in bed, Rick gave me a blow-by-blow account of the ordeal from his cellphone. Another reason I don't like phones.

A year before the great flood, gunshot spray from a drug-bust-turned-street-chase blew out an entire section of the dining-room wall. Good thing it was after midnight. Rick had just ushered the last couple out the front door. Shutting off the main control switch for the restaurant's lights, he left by the side door, stepping out into the cool night air. No sooner had he zipped up his jacket when he heard the bullets ripping through the restaurant behind the closed door.

The repairs to the interior slowed us down for a few days and the patched wall is still noticeable to this day. It's proudly pointed out by our waiters hoping to impress tourists with Toronto's dangerous city nightlife. I've been trying to curb them of this annoying habit. Too many of our employees from the encompassing rural townships are preoccupied with the search for lurid excitement.

I'm happy to close for Hollywood anytime. They pay good money.
Fabulous
money and I get to see a few stars. Many movies have been shot in Walker's Way because it resembles a New York–style restaurant. Many years ago, soon after I opened for business, a major American film company used the restaurant for an action movie starring Billy Dee Williams. They set off mini-explosions in a violent re-enactment that ironically blew out the same wall that would be shot up years later.

Unfortunately, no amount of policy insurance covers possible food poisoning or health closures. In the face of bankruptcy, I've always clung to the illusion that at least I eat and drink for free. I'm not fond of dining out, anyway. To me it's a busman's holiday. I just can't relax. I either want to correct the spelling on the specials menu or tell the waiter to turn the music down.

After kiting a few checks and making a few more pledges of payment to a list of hopeful creditors, I stared at the transom of stained glass adorning the bay window. Daniel's story didn't add up. I really couldn't be sure that the voice I heard in the hall (at the exhibition before I got my head conked) was Daniel's. More and more, I couldn't justify his actions for walking out on me and running home to his sister. I tried to make a connection to the mystery voice in the convention hall, but all I could remember was someone not wanting to be part of the grand scheme. If it was Daniel, who was he talking to?

All alone in the office, the sounds of life and cooking smells drifting down from the apartment above taunted me. Rick was on his way home, eager to prepare dinner for his recent fling. I was envious imagining the exotic delicacies marinating in his fridge and the spectacular year of Chablis he no doubt had waiting to be chilled. Rick was smart, very funny, knew how to cook, and was irresistibly charming. When he needed a new girlfriend, all he had to do was open a window and yell, “Next!”

chapter eight

I
decided to go home and make dinner for my son. I'm not a great cook, but I've watched the chefs over the years and a few memorable dishes have stuck in my head. Jon was a vegetarian and loved my pasta prima vera. Personally I find it lacks something. I'm guessing the meat. I'd rather have a gooey grilled-cheese sandwich with bacon any day. I loved Scotch, wine, and beer in that order. Oh, and sugar, I mustn't forget sugar. I could feel a heart attack coming on just thinking about it. I'd be a lot fatter or even dead if I didn't visit the gym three times a week. My mother said my metabolism will change and I better be careful about gaining weight that I can't shed when I'm older. She's hilarious.

After talking about my situation ad nauseam, Jon suggested I talk to the people in the market personally. See what they know, do a little digging. I agreed. Tomorrow the locals and I would have a little chit-chat.

The young female cop who drove me home after my hospital visit called at the house just after dinner. Jon said he was meeting her for a drink at the pub on the corner. I thought they would make a cute couple. Seems they got together while I was on the east coast, and, speaking of couples, I wondered what the whimsical Winn was doing. Hopefully, he was making some headway into uncovering the truth about the two murders, a sleazy butcher, and an underhanded councillor. Were their deaths connected and how was my chef involved?

I had no money coming in and almost no line of credit left. I would have to tighten my belt until this mess was cleared up. The word “bankrupt” was right on the tip of my tongue when I noticed a car's engine was idling out front of the house. I looked out my bedroom window to see an unmarked police car parked at the curb. Detective Winn got out. The doorbell rang.

I ran to the hall mirror and discovered I was due for a serious makeover. My dirty sweatpants sagged heavily in the back, suggesting I was carrying a fresh load, and a pair of Jon's size-twelve tube socks worn around the house as slippers were about as sexy as clown shoes. My face had been scrubbed clean of makeup and my hair brushed one hundred times with my head bent over my knees. I tried to pat it back into shape, but the static made it stick to my hand.

The doorbell rang again. After nearly tripping down the stairs in the giant socks, I pulled open the door and greeted him. “Hi, Detective, fancy meeting you here.” I waved cheerfully with one hand while trying to get my hair under control with the other.

“Hello, Ms. Walker, I hope you don't mind me dropping in unannounced. I have a couple of questions I was hoping to ask …” He paused, looking at my hair. “I don't want to intrude. If you're busy, I can make it another time.”

“No, of course not, I'm just doing the laundry. No clean clothes left, that's why I'm dressed like this.” A bold-faced lie.

“But, still …” He left the words hanging.

“Please, detective, come in. I'll put the kettle on, unless you prefer something stronger.”

“Coffee is fine with me, thanks.” He followed me into the kitchen.

I put the kettle on and said, “I'll be right back.” I ran upstairs, changed into my black jeans, threw off the sweatshirt, and pulled on a tight clean T-shirt. I flew back down the stairs leaned my chin on my hand and asked coyly, “Tell me, what brings you out here? Am I one of your suspects, too?”

He did a double-take, hesitated, and then replied, “I was on my way home. And no, you're not a suspect. Maybe I should be treating you as one, except your alibi checks out.” He turned a wooden kitchen chair about face, and straddling the seat, sat down. He folded his arms across the top of the chair back and leaned his head on his arms. It made him seem younger and more vulnerable.

“You never asked me for an alibi,” I pointed out.

“My rookie, Susan Waltham, the same one who drove you home and is rapidly becoming your son's new friend, filed a report.” He removed the little notebook from his jacket and tapped it. I placed two cups of instant on the table.

“Says here that you were both at a Raptors game. We know it went into overtime and didn't get out until midnight. Mr. Vieira was dead by then. We also know you took a cab home with your son, we checked that out, too.”

I bristled. “So she was using my boy to get information when all the while he thought she liked him.”

“She does like him. It was an innocent discovery. The night they went out, Jon reached into his pocket to pay for a jug of beer and two ticket stubs from the game fell out. She followed it up with a few questions and made a note of it for me. Look, she's a cop, what can I say?” He looked at me and blinked. “Somehow you don't look like a basketball fan to me.”

“It's quality time with my adult kid and I'll take it any way I can. What about you, do you have children?”

“No, my wife and I never got around to it. Instead I got a house and mortgage payments to keep me company. She moved directly out of our house and into another guy's. I guess we'll sort the mess out with the house during the divorce.”

I had to ask. “Wow, she moved right in with another guy? You didn't see it coming?”

“I wasn't home much. I used work as an excuse to stay away. We weren't happy.”

There was a long drawn-out pause and he asked me, “Do you regret not being married anymore?”

“The only thing I regret is those sweatpants.”

“No comment.” He chuckled.

Well, weren't we having fun?
I smiled and asked, “You said you were on your way home. Do you live around here?

“About a half a mile down the road.” He took a sip of the coffee and grimaced. “Instant?”

“Sorry, I keep forgetting to pick up groceries for the house. Shopping all the time for the business leaves me tired and my own cupboards bare.”

“Instant is fine. I'm a little surprised, that's all, you owning a fancy restaurant and everything. Believe me I'm not complaining.”

I got the feeling he was and wished I had something better to offer. Why was I so sensitive around this man? Maybe it was a reaction to his unorthodox method of police sleuthing: rogue interrogation mixed with romantic undertones.

“How did it go with Daniel? I know I'm not supposed to ask, but he is my chef and I honestly think he's innocent. I would like to get him back to work as soon as possible.”

“We're not holding Daniel. I questioned him for the better part of the afternoon after he arrived from Halifax with his sister. She waited outside the interview room for him. I get the impression she's the brains in the family. A lawyer is probably waiting in the wings by now and I didn't want to get bogged down with a legal entanglement. I let him go, this time with a serious warning not to leave town again. I need more information, more time.”

“Tell me the truth, Detective. What do you really think about Daniel?”

“Other than your young chef's unfortunate involvement with Anthony Vieira, I believe Daniel doesn't have any knowledge of either of the two deaths. I don't believe he was having an affair with Maria, or you for that matter, and I apologize for the presumption. It seems ridiculous now.”

I resented the ridiculous part, but sighed and blew a thin whistle through my teeth. “Whew. That's a relief.”

“Your chef stated that Tony Vieira, besides causing a severe case of food poisoning, was also going to spread rumours the new spring cattle show was plagued with mad cow disease. Why would he do that?”

“I suppose he felt that a simple case of food poisoning wouldn't be enough to cause a scandal. I mean people experience mild cases all the time, and since most of the symptoms are similar to the flu it's generally not reported. I've never heard of anyone trying to intentionally cause food poisoning. It's a pretty unreliable means of payback, if you know what I mean. Only in a few isolated cases where the person's immune system is weakened would a severe reaction be fatal. The elderly and the young are more susceptible, for sure.” As soon as I said that, I remembered the old guy wheeled out of the restaurant. The hairs on my neck stood up and a shiver ran down my spine.

“BSE stands for mad cow disease. I know what the first two letters stand for, but for the life of me I can't remember what the E stands for.”

“It stands for
Encelopathy
.
Bovine spongiform encelopathy
is a controversial subject. It's a disease no one wants to be connected with, especially cattle ranchers and dairy farmers. A fabricated lie linking the disease to the show would tarnish the show's image and threaten the livelihood of the demonstrators and the only proven method of detecting it is through autopsy of the suspected animals. There would be a lynch mob from here to Calgary looking for Albright.”

“Okay, I can see why the councillor might have had a motive for killing Tony, but he's dead. And I understand Tony would have killed Albright, but he's dead, too. If we maintain Daniel was incapable of murder, then who killed them?”

“How about his wife?”

“She has an alibi. Besides she was almost killed herself, along with the councillor.”

Our conversation was rolling along nicely and I thought we were really getting the hang of this when the metaphorical shoe dropped.

“I'm wondering if you could do me a favor. It would help me in my investigation.”

“Yes…?”

“I like Maria.”

Well, stick a fork in and tell me when I'm done. I knew it. I knew he wasn't interested in me. He's been pretending all along.
“She is lovely,” I spit out.

He screwed up his eyes. “Not
like
, as in I'm attracted to her. It's a police term. Don't you watch television? I
like
her for a possible connection in this case.”

There must be something wrong with me. I turned my back and wiped the counter so he couldn't see the relief on my face.

He continued, “I think there's more to her than there appears on the surface. She's keeping something bottled up inside. Something's bothering her and she's worried sick I'll find out what it is.”

I faced him again. “You interviewed her. You said she was in shock after her discovery of Mr. Tony's body. Maybe that's all it was.”

“She was in shock initially and then when she came to the station for questioning, she had changed.”

“How do you mean
changed?

“I've seen enough court-room attire in my life to recognize a futile attempt to appear in control. She had on a black two-piece suit, stockings, and low-heeled pumps. Her hair was pulled straight back and she wasn't wearing make-up. I admit it was difficult concentrating on the interview because the plain Jane routine only heightened her beauty. I had even more trouble deciphering her mood. Corpses down in the morgue show more expression.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Listen, it's probably just me being a cop. I'm trying to cover all the bases. Forget I asked.”

“No, what is it?”

“I thought if you saw her in the market again you could talk to her, see if she opens up.”

“Why would she do that? I told you that we're not friends.”

“And I believe you, but sometimes people open up to strangers. Especially if they want to get something off their chest.”

Winn looked at the on the kitchen stove clock. “I just realized that the time on the stove hasn't changed since I got here. It says 9:10. According to my watch, it's a lot later than that.”

“It's been the same time for over two years. I haven't got around to changing the fuse. Don't feel badly, it fools a lot of people. And hey, it's right twice a day!”

The detective stood up, arched his back, and removed his jacket from the back of the chair.

“Before you leave, tell me what it is I'm supposed to be looking for?” I asked.

“When we questioned the Superior Meat employees about working for Mr. Vieira, they all said it was a nice place to work, no complaints, and no comments about their jobs. But the answers were too pat. And when the questions were regarding Maria, they said they didn't know anything and got all shifty.”

“What did they mean by
anything?

“That's what I wanted to know. We did a personal background check on each of them and found out that one of the girls had an invalid social insurance card with a bogus number. She had only been in the country for two months. No visa, just here on a visitor's pass. We threatened her with detention if she didn't divulge how she obtained it and eventually she cracked. She said she borrowed it from Maria.”

“Was it Maria's?”

“No. And when we asked Maria if she gave it to her, she said the girl was lying to prevent being sent back home. No way of proving any of it right now. We're bringing in the Immigration Bureau to investigate and it's not my problem to solve. I've got two murders and if they're connected in any way we'll know soon enough.” Winn stretched his back again and looked down at his watch. “Right, I should be heading home. I've got an early court appearance tomorrow.” I walked him to the door, spiralling quickly into a grumpy mood and he sensed it.

“It's not unusual for the police to ask for help in an investigation, you know. I'm not trying to use or manipulate you in any way and I don't want you to do anything you shouldn't. Keep your eyes and ears open and trust your instincts. You want everything to return to normal as soon as possible, so help me. I know you're smart. And maybe someone in the market might talk to you because they like you. They sure as hell don't like me.”

“I'll think about it, Detective. Drive carefully.”

Winn bent over and kissed me on the cheek, “It was nice talking to you, thank you for the coffee.”

I washed the cups and rinsed out the teapot. The kiss worried me. I was a dyed-in-the-wool cynic and my mind was racing. I needed a diversion, but having forgotten to visit the library on the way home, I had nothing to read. I climbed into bed and began to compile a grocery list for tomorrow. Starting with ground coffee, I instantly nodded off.

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