by Judy Voss
Lucille carried pens in her purse so she could make lists — laundry lists, shopping lists, “to do” lists, and, of course, a list of her lists. When she was brought into the hospital unconscious, nurses found one of her lists cleverly hidden in the sleeve of her jacket. It was titled People Who Might Want Me Dead for Whatever. Two nurses huddled together and speculated.
“She was found unconscious in the TV studio where The Art of Cooking is broadcast,” Nurse Sally said. “Was she poisoned?”
“Or drugged?” asked Nurse Emma.
“Or drunk?” guessed Nurse Sally.
“The studio’s janitor discovered her,” Emma chittered, “but wasn’t successful in reviving her. Did he really want to?”
“It took him a while to call the ambulance.”
“Did she have anything else up her sleeve?”
“Is this an attempted murder or suicide?”
“Is the TV kitchen a crime scene?”
Sally shrugged. “This is beyond our pay grade. Let’s call the police.”
Chief Inspector John Henderson responded to their call. He was a clean-cut, well-groomed man with a sophisticated dress code. His dark suits fit him well, successfully covering up the beginning of a middle-aged paunch. He preferred dark suits and always wore a striped tie.
Once he arrived at the hospital, he approached the nurses to question them. “You found the pen clipped to this list?” Henderson asked the nurses. “Up her sleeve?”
They both nodded.
“We examined the list and felt that the attached pen meant she was trying to work on it at the time of her collapse,” Sally suggested.
Speculation. Henderson sighed.
Emma pondered. “We just didn’t know if this list was important because Lucille’s postman’s name and occupation are on it.”
“He’s number five,” Sally said. “And under ‘Reason’ she wrote ‘He’s postal.’”
“Slow down here,” Henderson said using his hands to back them down. “This list appears to be a work in progress. Maybe,” Henderson said as he took a peek himself.
Number seven on the list stood out. It was underlined. Or possibly crossed out. Number seven was Cindy, who was perhaps Lucille’s work colleague. Lucille had written Cindy’s reason for wanting her dead as “I drive her nuts at Streamalign Data.” Lucille’s Streamalign Data identification tag with the word Supervisor below her name had been in her shirt pocket. The nurses found it along with some lint when they undressed her and put her in the usual hospital gown. They turned her ID tag, purse and the rest of her possessions over to Henderson.
He thanked the nurses for their considerations, and thought, Lucille might be a whack job. He asked them to keep him posted about any changes in Lucille’s status. Once again they nodded to him.
As he returned to the police station, Henderson deliberated about delegating the investigation to Roger Rogers, his assistant. He would send Rogers to Lucille’s apartment to collect evidence, but he feared Rogers might not be up to the task of probing suspects for truth. Henderson decided to start the questioning himself with Cindy at Streamalign Data to see if she could tell him about Lucille, herself, and any others on the list.
* * *
Early the next day, he found Cindy at the small Streamalign Data headquarters in the city. Streamalign Data consisted of five rooms in an industrial complex: two offices, a general administrative room, a short hallway leading to a small conference room and a tiny kitchenette.
Cindy consisted of pale skin and flattened brown hair surrounding a bland facial expression. She slouched in loose-fitting dark clothes as she stared at her computer screen. Cindy’s desk was midway between the front offices and the kitchenette with another desk behind her. Lucille’s desk was in a corner, facing Cindy.
She looked up as Henderson approached. “Are you Cindy?” he asked, taking a small black notebook out of his pocket.
Cindy pointed to the nameplate on her desk. “It says Cindy, right?”
Henderson nodded, clicking his ball point pen, poised for answers.
Ignoring the chief inspector, Cindy looked at her watch and muttered, “Soon enough.” She took a small cloth bag from her top desk drawer, opened it and poured out some pills. She shook her head as her fingers hovered, twitching over them. “Who will be the lucky one?”
Henderson, puzzled at the sight of so many pills, took a deep breath and said, “I have some questions for you. Lucille, you know, your supervisor? Lucille was found unconscious yesterday. She’s in the hospital.”
Cindy looked at him as though she was trying to focus.
“Do you know anything about her recent activities?” Henderson began. “Like why she was at the channel 4 studio?”
“Huh?” Cindy said, nervously turning the bag over and looking back at him.
Henderson saw the word Tranks scribbled with a sharpie on the outside of the bag. Tranquilizers? he wondered. He frowned, shrugged it off and focused on his questions. “What can you tell me about Lucille? Her lists are important, right?”
A faint alarm emitted from Cindy. She looked at her watch again as the sound grew louder.
“Who?” she said, as she swallowed one of the little pills. She returned the pills to the bag and the bag to her desk drawer.
“Lucille. She’s your boss, I believe?”
“Oh – that Lucille. Yes. What did you want to know?”
Becoming impatient, Henderson demanded, “What is that noise?”
“It’s not Lucille!” she answered. “Just a sec,” she said pushing a button on her watch and touching its screen. “I have to re-program it.”
“How often do you take those?” the chief investigator asked.
“Take what?” Cindy responded.
“I’ll ask the questions here,” said Henderson, trying to get anything resembling a response from Cindy. His frustrations with her swelled as he clicked his pen repeatedly.
She gave him a vague look. “Who are you?”
“I’m Chief Inspector John Henderson,” he answered, suddenly remembering police
protocol. “I’m with the police.” He dug his badge out from his jacket pocket and showed it to her.
The alarm started beeping again while Cindy fiddled with her watch.
Henderson finally shouted, “Shut that noise off!”
Cindy backed away, blocking his shouting with her outstretched hands. From behind her hands she asked, “What’s wrong with you?” Then, as she snapped the small watch alarm off, she gave him a vacant stare.
He considered asking Cindy for one of her tranquilizers, but quickly figured a wiser approach would be to give up on her for now. He peered over her shoulder searching for other possible clues.
On a desk nameplate behind Cindy, he spotted the name Joanna Williams. Henderson glanced down at the list, found Joanna as number 3 and checked out “Reason.” “Stole her recipes” was written boldly next to her name.
Upon questioning, Joanna admitted that she was miffed when Lucille won a local baking contest using one of Joanna’s prized, secret family recipes. Despite the softness of her flowing black hair, the steely look from her icy blue eyes and her tepid smile belied friendliness. “I don’t know how Lucille came to have a copy of the recipe,” she stated, taking a bite from a brittle-looking biscuit. “The same recipe for making these,” she explained, as green crumbs fell from her mouth. “Chocolate Spinach Crunchies.”
Joanna went on to tell Henderson that she always brought printouts of several of her recipes with her for proofreading during her lunch hour. She held up a stack of them for him to see, but then quickly shielded them from him. “I guard them closely because we’re in the final pre-press stage of the recipe book I’m compiling. This is my purpose in life,” she said bringing her fist down on her desk with a loud thump. Frowning and glancing at Henderson with wide darting eyes, she went on, “I have a signed contract, and exclusivity is part of the deal. Any use of the recipes before the book is published and the whole deal could be off. I don’t want to be a data entry clerk, sitting behind dopey Cindy at Streamalign Data forever,” she said. She lowered her voice when she said “dopey.”
“Lucille is my boss, too. I’m guessing that she may have been snooping over my shoulder during one of my more intense proofing sessions.” Joanna added, “Lucille has a photographic memory. She saw it then stole it.”
Joanna started to mention the trail of suspicious crumbs she once found leading from her backpack to Lucille’s desk in the corner, but thought better of it. Joanna did a fair amount of snooping herself, and those crumbs could very well have been her own crumbs, from her very own Chocolate Spinach Crunchies that she munched on as she snuck around the office.
Henderson couldn’t imagine baked goods being a motive for any wrongdoings. But it was early in the investigation. He had yet to check back with Rogers about Lucille’s home and neighbors. He looked earnestly at feisty Joanna and changed the topic. “Where does Lucille live?”
“Ask Miranda,” Joanna replied. “She’s our human resources manager.”
Henderson glanced down at Lucille’s list once again and, sure enough, Miranda’s name was on it. She was number two. “Would that be Miranda DuBois?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Joanna. “Miranda keeps business details and all that personal contact information in her pocket address book. And she keeps that close to her vest, if you catch my drift.”
Henderson didn’t. But he saw on the list the reason Miranda DuBois might want Lucille dead was that she “Slept with her boyfriend.”
“Whoa!” Henderson exclaimed. “Where can I find Miranda?”
“Right here, honey,” came the answer, softly southern and sugary, from one of the two offices behind him. Miranda swayed as she sauntered into the admin room towards him.
Henderson spun around to face a plump-breasted brunette standing five-and-a-half feet, wearing a bright yellow two-piece suit with a low-cut, black and yellow flowered blouse. Miranda reached within her suit jacket and slowly drew out the little black book. The word Addresses was scripted in small gold letters across the front.
“You keep this information in an address book?” he asked, baffled. “Shouldn’t it be in a computer file?”
“Oh it is, sugar,” she purred. “But we all here at Streamalign Data know how computer files can be hacked and corrupted.”
“I did NOT!” shouted Cindy in an outburst directed at Miranda.
“I didn’t say you did,” Miranda yelled back. She turned from Cindy to Henderson and continued softly, “My little black book is my backup file, you see. Secured.” Miranda licked her index finger and paged through her book to the “L” page. She read “423 Oak Drive, Apartment 3B.”
“And your boyfriend?” asked Henderson. “What’s his name and where does he live? I’ll need to question him, too.”
“His name is Fool!” Miranda spat out. “He’s not in my book anymore, and I haven’t heard from him in over a month. I’m just guessing the little jerk is also living at 423 Oak Drive, Apartment 3B.”
“Thank you,” Henderson said, relieved to finally get some answers. He made notes about the boyfriend in his own black book. “We’re checking the apartment at this address right now,” he said. “But I had to confirm it. No one reported Lucille missing. And no one answered her phone when we called.”
Just then, Henderson’s cell phone beeped. While he grabbed at his own suit jacket, trying to find which pocket held the phone, he told the three women in a distracted manner, “Don’t any of you move while I’m on the phone.” He found it, swiped it, and held it to his ear. “Henderson,” he spoke.
He listened, made several grunts with a glum face, mumbled an “okay” and ended the call. “Good news,” he offered, attempting and failing at a smile. “Late yesterday evening, Lucille regained consciousness long enough to say, ‘That murdering fiend is on my Blacklist!’” He cleared his throat, replacing the smile with a garish frown. “Bad news,” he resumed. “The nurses also informed me that Lucille was pronounced dead shortly after and carted off to the morgue for an autopsy. Her death is now considered suspicious.”
“For your information,” Henderson continued, taking a slow turn at eying each of the women frozen in place, but his phone beeped again. “Henderson here,” he said, followed by more low grunts and gloomy expressions.
He ended the call. “The morgue. They put a super rush on the autopsy. It looks like Lucille suffered a tranquillizer overdose, introduced via biscuits.”
Henderson’s phone beeped yet again. “Henderson still here,” he sighed. “Oh, OK,” he said. “You found her briefcase at the studio? And all sorts of people frequent this studio? Okay, no, don’t go back to fingerprint the studio. And now you’re at her apartment? Good move. There’s nothing to be gained from—no, I said don’t – do not – fingerprint the studio. We’re going to focus on the lists.” Once again, he clicked it off, sighing. “Rogers, my colleague, calling from Lucille’s apartment.”
He started to sum up the call for himself. “A male, presumed to be the boyfriend, was found unconscious on her couch in front of her TV. He was stretched in a position of reaching for a plate of biscuits.” He observed each woman as he realized he was speaking out loud. “He’s not dead yet. Emergency room doctors are pumping his stomach. It’s now officially a murder investigation, and when he wakes up, we will be getting to the bottom of this!”
Miranda cleared her throat. Seeing Henderson watching her with distrust, she let out a feminine scream that ended in a southern drawl.
“He never reached for my biscuits,” whimpered Joanna, not strictly thinking of biscuits.
Cindy gave them all another vague look and shook her head. She glanced at her watch and muttered, “Too soon.”
* * *
Most noticeably missing on Lucille’s list of People Who Might Want Me Dead for Whatever, was the name in the number one spot. It simply read See Blacklist. Who was this murdering fiend and where was the Blacklist?
Roger Rogers, assistant to Chief Inspector Henderson, thoroughly searched Lucille’s apartment for the Blacklist. His colleagues made fun of his constantly irritated nose, always red due to frequent colds. He carried a bandana in his shirt pocket that usually contrasted badly with his plaid shirts.
His colleagues had aided him with getting an ambulance for transporting the boyfriend to the hospital, collecting evidence from the kitchen and picking up miscellaneous pieces of paper.
On their way out of the apartment one of them whispered “Let’s leave Rudolph to secure the crime scene and lock up.” Left alone the only additional thing Rogers picked up was another head cold. He wiped his runny nose while he wondered Rudolph who?
Back at Henderson’s office the next day, Rogers blew his nose into a large blue and red checked bandana while he tried to answer Henderson’s questions. “Looks solid enough,” he was trying to say. Henderson didn’t want to speculate whether he was referring to the boyfriend’s alibi or what ended up in the handkerchief.
“Finish with that,” Henderson barked, pointing to the damp cloth as Rogers wiped his nose and sniffled. A hurt look from Rogers softened him. Henderson suspected Rogers idolized him. This admiration annoyed Henderson, but he relented and changed his tone. “Finish with what you found out about the boyfriend. Please.”
“We don’t have his alibi yet. His name is Pierre Renoir, and he was, in fact, living with the deceased.” Rogers folded the hankie and stuffed it in his pocket. “Looks like Lucille baked the biscuits herself. The biscuit pans were in her sink and the recipe was leaning against a box of ready-made mix.”
Ah. The recipe. Henderson sighed to himself. “Notice anything about the recipe?”
“Like a name?”
“Well, a brand name was on the package, if that’s what you mean.”
“I mean Joanna Williams’ name. Perhaps in the upper right hand corner of the written recipe?” Henderson had seen the stack of Joanna’s recipes, and each had her name and address typed neatly in the upper right hand corner.
“No, the upper right corner was ripped away,” replied Rogers.
“And the rip wasn’t unusual, you didn’t think?”
“I did think, sir. I thought it was an ordinary tear.”
“Ahhh.” He never got anywhere with Rogers. The man seemed to bait him. The only thing he liked about him was his name. He could call out “Roger” or “Rogers” or even “Roge,” and Rogers would come running. It was convenient, that name. And, of course, Rogers made Henderson look good. Brilliant, in fact.
Another thought struck Henderson. He wondered if Joanna’s recipes were all truly from her own family. If not, was her book plagiarism or stealing? Or both? He didn’t know the difference, so he told Rogers to look into it.
Rogers was taking out his bandana again. He had a disgusting habit of waving his handkerchief when he got excited.
“That’s enough for now,” said Henderson, dismissing him.
“You might be interested in what Pierre does for a living,” Rogers said, unfolding the bandana.
“Make it quick, if you think it’s relevant.” Henderson was now urging Rogers out the door, the hankie almost at full mast.
Rogers, pausing at the threshold said with a small smile beginning to form, “He’s a celebrity chef.”
“What’s a celebrity chef?”
“He cooks on his own live television show. Chefs on TV. A popular trend.”
“And what’s the name of his show?” asked Henderson wondering if he would recognize it. Or if it was important. He was gently but assertively pushing Rogers out of the door.
“The Art of Cooking. Get it?”
“Pierre Renoir, The Art of Cooking.” Rogers made air quotes around the word “Art.” “Like a work of art. Like Renoir.” He flipped out his bandana and waved goodbye.
Henderson returned to his desk and sneezed as he reached for the phone. He had to dial twice.
* * *
The police had also discovered that Alfredo, number six on her list, was Lucille’s dog. Under “Reason,” Lucille had noted, “Don’t feed enough.” Not knowing if the lap dog became vicious when hungry, they had fed the dog and left him with an unwilling man who lived next door. Overhearing the police talk about Alfredo at number six, the reluctant neighbor pointed out this meant the dog was evidence and belonged at the police station with all the other evidence they were collecting. “Or in a pound,” he suggested.
The police, fearing that the lap dog might be seen as an unmanly station mascot, insisted that Alfredo stay with the neighbor. “And don’t let the dog leave town!” one of the officers said. The man sulked and proved uncooperative with further questioning.
Now, revisiting the list, Henderson saw number four was Herb B., Herb Buchannon. He turned out to be the CEO of Streamalign Data and Lucille’s boss. The “Reason” Lucille had written for him wanting her dead or whatever, was “Screwed up reports – royally.” Henderson missed him during the first round of investigation at Streamalign Data and was questioning him on the phone.
“Lucille had her own system of how to streamalign data,” Herb was explaining. “Since she supervised Cindy and Joanna, she was responsible for the accuracy of the data they put in the system. She pulled reports from that data, and those reports are what we provide to our customers.”
Henderson yawned heavily on his end of the phone.
“Am I boring you?” Herb asked indignantly.
YES! Henderson wanted to say. “Sorry,” he said instead. “I’m catching a cold.”
“You’re supposed to be catching whoever killed Lucille,” said Herb in his CEO voice.
Taken aback, Henderson pictured Herb as a stuffed shirt. He wanted to tell Herb not to tell him how to do his job. He sneezed instead.
“Go on,” with a sniff.
“Pay attention, then,” said Herb, taking a deep breath. “Part of Lucille’s job was to make sure the reports made sense and that clients found them useful and important. I recently discovered that Lucille’s idea of streamaligning the data was to fix numbers that didn’t look good in the reports. If an expenditure was too high, she manipulated it.”
Henderson, thinking of his own expense reports, warmed to Lucille’s methods. “She rounded a bit?”
“So clients were unhappy?” It occurred to Henderson that a Streamalign Data client could be the missing number one name on her list.
“Clients were misinformed,” Herb clipped. “And if and when they find out, they’ll kill me!”
Once again, Henderson warmed to Lucille.
* * *
“Now remember,” Henderson was saying later to Rogers in a coaching voice, “You play the bad cop. You need the practice.” Motivating Rogers was a challenge, he thought sadly as he added, “I, of course, will play the good cop.”
Rogers nodded, coughed loudly and sniffed.
“Furthermore,” Henderson said after a moment of broader thoughts, “consider this interrogation as part of your performance review. You’ve got a raise coming. It depends on your getting the right answers here. No right answers, no raise. In fact, you might get a demotion. That will disappoint your wife and possibly destroy your marriage. So, for God’s sake, don’t screw this up!”
Rogers blinked at him. “Right,” he managed manfully.
They were riding up the hospital elevator on their way to Pierre Renoir’s room. Pierre had regained consciousness and had expressed an anxiousness to talk with the police.
Henderson and Rogers reached his room. Rogers pushed the door open without knocking and marched over to the patient laying on a bed spread-eagled, rolling his bandaged head from side to side.
“Tell us everything you know about the biscuits, the murder and your sleazy love relationship with Lucille, you low-life chef.” A forceful opening, Rogers thought.
Henderson, right behind him, nodded to the patient in the second bed, a distinguished older man, sitting up, reading the latest issue of Forbes. This second patient became alert and regarded the two newcomers with caution. Rogers, sensing the attention, puffed up with a renewed sense of self-esteem.
“A biscuit, a basket, a green and yellow casket,” the first patient responded. “I have a sleazy relationship with Lucille?”
“I’ll ask the questions,” Rogers snapped. He strutted closer to the bandaged patient, hovered over him hawk-like and glared past the dressings into his eyes. “You just give me the answers, Pierre. The right answers.”
“I have no answers,” the patient said with a great sigh. “I am lost in this grand universe . . .”
“I am ze low-life chef,” interrupted the gentleman from the second bed, bending the corner of his current page and folding the magazine shut.
Pierre ran long, nimble fingers through his wavy black hair. His liquid brown eyes above his soft, dark moustache hinted at enchanting nights and warm cuddles on the French Riviera.
“You are questioning Ramon,” Pierre said, “a recovering alcoholic who cut himself shaving.”
Henderson frowned and rolled his eyes.
Rogers straightened abruptly, did an about-face and approached the newly found Pierre. “I have some questions for you!” he began again.
“You have ze right to remain silent,” Pierre replied, frowning at Rogers.
“What!” Rogers was caught off guard. He glanced at Henderson. My review, he remembered. “You,” Rogers hissed, recovering, “answer my questions.”
“I am guessing you are ze police,” Pierre continued. “If you are treating me like a suspect, I’m merely reminding you zat you have to tell me my rights. But also let me remind you zat I asked you here to speak with you about ze biscuits, give you anything I might know zat can help you with solving ze murder, and, of course, tell you about my caring relationship with my beloved Lucille.”
“That’s more like it.” Rogers puffed up again. “You met Lucille through Streamalign Data?”
“Specifically through Miranda DuBois?”
“Non. I met my beloved Lucille through Joanna Williams. Joanna is writing a recipe book. My business enterprise, ze TV cooking and ze discovering recipes, is ze publisher of her book. We have a contract. I tell you zis because you will find out anyway.”
“How does Miranda fit into it?”
“Miranda handled ze contract.”
“And nothing. She is, how do you say it? Miranda handles ze resources. Miranda does not fit anywhere else.”
“But she did.”
At this point, Henderson cleared his throat, “Pierre, you were right about us being the police.” He dug through his jacket pocket and produced his police identification. “We have information leading us to believe that you had a relationship with Miranda DuBois, before you moved in with Lucille.”
“But of course!” Pierre smacked his head as if suddenly remembering. “My beloved Miranda! That was, as you say, ze experiment.”
“Experiment?” asked Rogers.
“A short-term relationship.”
“Okay, okay. A one-night stand!” Pierre blurted. “Must you pry?”
“Joanna recommended Streamalign Data for tracking ze sales of our book. She introduced me to my beloved Miranda. I now use Streamalign Data for my whole enterprise,” Pierre continued, “I met Lucille at my first business consultation with Streamalign Data. I tell you zis because you will find out anyway.”
Rogers now followed up on the biscuits. “Did Lucille make the biscuits herself?”
“Did anyone help her?”
“Did she use her own recipe?”
“A recipe?” Pierre asked. “I do not remember a recipe. She used a ready-made mix. From a box. A brand name, I believe. The box was still on ze counter. I thought about cleaning up a bit and throwing ze box out, but I was so hungry and . . .”
“The recipe was leaning against the box,” offered Henderson. “The corner was ripped off.”
“I encouraged Lucille to use ze recipes. I encouraged ze beautiful Joanna to share her recipes. But non. I, myself, do not remember ze recipe.”
“So, Lucille was baking for a chef and she used a ready-made mix?”
“Just like my beloved Lucille! After all, I am not a pastry chef. I am an expert with meats and vegetables. As long as she wasn’t cooking meats or vegetables, my beloved Lucille could cook anything any way she liked.”
Rogers changed his line of questioning. “Do you take drugs?”
“Have any access to them?”
“Not directly? Explain.”
“My beloved Cindy at Streamalign Data. I believe she indulges herself with ze drugs.”
“She is our taster. We value her opinion of our results once Joanna cooks from her family recipes.”
“Another experiment. The road to true love is very rough, indeed.”
“But not ‘beloved’ Joanna?”
“Joanna is business. To mix business with pleasure is dangerous!”
Henderson wanted to ask more pointed questions but decided to not butt in further. This was Rogers’ interview.
“When did you and Lucille eat the biscuits?”
“Right when zey were still warm from ze cooking. I had more later, of course.”
“What was Lucille doing at the studio while you were alone at her apartment?”
Pierre shrugged. “I believe she went back to get her briefcase. My beloved Lucille was working out the tracking system and new logistics for our book sales and my other business ventures. Sometimes she would work at the studio while I cooked for ze TV show.” He sighed.
“Ah ha! I thought you said you didn’t mix business with pleasure.”
“I said it was dangerous.”
“How do you rationalize this exception, then?”
“I have become a man of danger!”
“A dangerous chef?”
“Mais oui,” Pierre said.
“A chef who pigs out on biscuits. You call yourself a man of danger?”
“Mais oui. I take risks. I ate Lucille’s cooking. I did not know ze biscuits were spiked. I did not think drugs were in ze recipe, non? I trusted my beloved Lucille. She may have been suicidal, but she was trustworthy.”
“You’re suggesting Lucille committed suicide?”
“I ask myself zat day after day after day. I do not know. I deny all such knowledge. I will have to consult with my beloved lawyer if you continue with ze badgering questions.” Pierre drew himself up and pulled the covers over his knees.
Sensing a dead end, Rogers tried his glare once again. “Have you told me the truth?”
“The whole truth and nothing but the truth?”
Rogers leaned over to add to the intensity of his final question. “So. Help. You. God?”
“Mais oui, ha!” Rogers said turning his glare on Henderson with a knowing look. He proclaimed, “I’ve got all the relevant answers I need from Pierre le suspect!” With one more abrupt turn, Rogers, needing to depressurize, stormed out of the room.
“Well, Roger that,” Henderson muttered, barely loud enough for Pierre to hear.
Pierre picked up his magazine and thumbed through it, searching for his place. As he raised the magazine to resume reading, his eyes met those of Henderson. “Que sera, sera,” he shrugged.
Henderson nodded, “He needs more practice.”
“So do I,” said Pierre dismissively. “Please do not tell him I lied.”
* * *
Henderson was catching up with him back at the police station after lunch the next day. They sat across from one another at a card table in the war room. The card table was unsteady. Rogers wobbled it as he drummed the fingers of one hand while sifting through evidence collected at the scene of Lucille’s demise.
“Of course I know he lied,” Rogers stated when Henderson told him of Pierre’s parting remark. Rogers was nodding as he blew his nose.
“Everyone is lying,” Henderson agreed. Suspects who deceived under investigation weren’t news to him. He usually kept an open mind and realized he might have to revise his theory of the crime. “Let’s go over the facts as we know them.” he said.
Lucille had collapsed at the TV station in the studio kitchen where Pierre broadcast The Art of Cooking. Police found her briefcase there. Several of Joanna’s recipes were stuffed in Lucille’s briefcase in a sealed envelope. The seal had been broken. Attached to each recipe was a taster-review chart, all completed and signed by Cindy.
“A clue, perhaps?” Henderson asked Rogers. “What have you got?”
“All the reviews are thumbs down,” Rogers reported. “Cindy, the taster, has added her comments, too. And I quote, ‘Did not want seconds.’” He paged through several recipes. “Cindy says ‘I suspect this isn’t food, but what do I know?’ And finally ‘Would not ever eat again if this were the only food on a desert island, but would use it to build a hut or furnish a cave.’”
“More of a motive for Joanna to kill Cindy,” Henderson pointed out. “Let me see those.”
Rogers handed the recipes from the envelope over to Henderson along with the papers collected at her apartment. Noticing one page left in front of him, Rogers picked it up and promptly sneezed on it. Henderson glared, grabbed it from him and fanned the sneeze back toward Rogers.
As he finished fanning with it, Henderson saw handwriting on the back of this recipe. He frowned as he studied it.
Rogers, reading upside-down, could only make out ___klist.
“What else have you got?” Henderson asked as he placed it carefully on top of other lists found at Lucille’s apartment.
“Her thermos, several Streamalign Data reports on Pierre’s accounts, and a draft of a love letter.”
Henderson’ eyebrows went up. “Love letter? Really? Read it to me.”
Rogers cleared his throat and began, “My beloved Miranda, It was wrong of me to end our love. I do not know what I was thinking. You are ze sauce of my life. Please take me back. Let us talk soon and set things right. Your beloved, Pierre.”
“Maybe Lucille was suicidal,” Henderson remarked. “She was losing Pierre back to Miranda. More of a motive for Lucille to take out Miranda, though. When was that written?” Henderson asked, alert and suspicious.
“It’s dated last week” said Rogers. “There’s more.”
“Little X’s and O’s on the bottom? Hugs and kisses?”
“No. It says ‘PS: do not believe a word Lucille says about money I take from my various enterprises. She only knows data, not finance.’”
Henderson studied one more piece of paper in front of him. It was a newer list, also dated last week. He bolted up from the table. “I’ve got it!” he exclaimed as he gathered the recipes and picked up the briefcase. “Get everyone over to Streamalign Data immediately, Rogers. As soon as possible!” Henderson stuffed all of the papers into the briefcase. “At long last we can rule out the postman and the dog!”
* * *
The suspects were talking to each other as Henderson and Rogers entered the conference room at Streamalign Data Corporation later that afternoon. It was day four of the investigation and day three of Rogers’ cold.
Miranda, wearing a tight V-neck, orange sweater, had an “all business” air about her as she faced Herb. Herb was sporting a retro plaid leisure suit and trying to flirt with her. Pierre, now fully recovered, and Joanna were softy debating the merits of adding more cherry liqueur to the family’s Watermelon Banger recipe. Pierre was quietly insisting; Joanna was stressing historical authenticity. Cindy was checking her watch and mumbling to herself.
“Ah, there you are,” said Herb, tearing himself away from Miranda. “I called a staff meeting to announce changes here at Streamalign Data now that Lucille’s position is vacant. Sit over there,” he said pointing to the far end of the table, away from the others. “You may as well hear the restructuring plan.”
Henderson looked down at him and said, “I have a few announcements myself.” He slapped Lucille’s briefcase down on the conference table directly in front of him, next to Cindy. He stood behind the chair, his look daring Herb to challenge his choice of seat. Henderson sat.
Miranda leaned close to Herb and said, “Herb, honey, before you start, I need to tell you Lucille streamaligned more than data, here.”
Herb ignored her and faced his staff, smiling. “Good news first,” he began. “Cindy is getting a promotion. She’s our new Data Supervisor. Let’s give Cindy a hand.” He started to clap, stopping when no one joined in.
Instead, Joanna’s head snapped up and a scowl took over her whole body. “Why on earth Cindy? I’ve worked here longer, and I know more.”
“Your outside goals are leading you down another career path,” Herb replied. “Cindy is loyal to Streamalign Data. She shows up and does her work. She doesn’t make waves.”
“Doesn’t make waves?” Joanna shrieked. “Here’s a wave for you!” she said making an arm gesture with one prominent finger.
“Joanna!” Pierre exclaimed. “Zat is improper for a woman of your position.”
“Position?” Joanna blurted. “Here’s a position for you!” and she started to rise.
“Sit down!” Herb shouted.
“You!” Joanna pointed to Cindy. “You don’t know data from salt,” she snarled.
“Sit down, honey,” Miranda drawled, and then turned to Herb, tugging on his sleeve.
“Stop hanging on me, Miranda,” said Herb pulling away from her. “I’m going to continue.”
“No!” interrupted Henderson, “I’m going to continue. We have a Check-Off Checklist that leads to the Blacklist that points to the murdering FIEND!”
Silence engulfed the room.
Henderson pulled the briefcase towards him and took out several papers and placed them on the desk. He found the one he was looking for, lifted it from the pile and held it up. Everyone squinted, trying to read it. Even Cindy looked up.
“I’m holding before you,” Henderson said, enjoying the spotlight, “Lucille’s Check-Off Checklist.” He pointed to it. “No, it is not the People Who Might Want Me Dead for Whatever list. No, this list is the key to the ever-mysterious Blacklist.” He paused for dramatic effect. “It’s Lucille’s handwriting, all right. We had it analyzed and it matched her other lists. And last week, Lucille checked off all the boxes on her check-off list. But what, I ask myself, was Lucille checking?”
He rattled the paper. “The first item,” he said, “reads ‘Streamaligns.’ If she’s thinking about those who Streamalign, besides herself, this could be a clue implicating,” here he lifted his arm and pointed, “Joanna or Cindy. After all, Lucille supervised them. Perhaps she trained them too. Showed them the tricks of her trade.
“Or, it could indicate” and here he raised his arm again, straightened his finger and pointed at “Herb, the leader of all Streamaligners. The man at the top of this streamaligning pile.”
Herb grew ridged at the accusation. “I run a reputable business,” he uttered, his voice rising at the end.
Henderson ignored him. “For another clue, let me go on to the next item on her Check-Off Checklist. I see here ‘Human Relations.’ This could refer,” again with his arm he moved on “to Miranda DuBois, your queen of various resources and relations. Or,” now pointing at Pierre, “our favorite chef, with whom Lucille, and a number of others I might add, had relations.”
“But not Alfredo,” piped in Rogers protectively. “He’s not human.”
“Thank you, Rogers. Be quiet.” Henderson cleared his throat and watched for reactions. Only squinting showed on their faces.
“The next item,” he continued, “reads ‘frozen dinners.’ It’s underlined on her list” Once again he looked at them for reactions, especially signs of fear. Herb was still angry. Miranda continued to tug on his sleeve, anxious. Pierre and Joanna each had one raised eyebrow, Pierre’s left, Joanna’s right, with anticipation. Cindy stifled a yawn.
“I don’t even like frozen dinners,” Herb said. “Can I get back to my meeting? I’m honoring Miranda as our Employee of the Month.”
“What, again?” asked Joanna, rolling her recipes into a tube and striking the table with it. “You promised me a turn this month. You lied to me!”
“That was before I found out about your signed contract,” Herb proclaimed. “I have a business to run here, and I can’t count on employees whose ambitions are outside of Streamalign Data.”
Miranda shushed Joanna with a warning look and said, “Listen Herb, it’s just fun to give little ol’ Cindy a promotion and all, and put that snooty Joanna in her place, but Lucille streamaligned our client base down to one client!” She was tugging urgently on Herb’s sleeve now while pointing to Pierre with her other hand.
“Snooty! I am not snooty! I’m too good for this place!”
“And I’m loyal,” Cindy snapped back at Joanna. “And your recipes,” she drew in a long breath. “Well!”
“Well, what?” Joanna was cracking her knuckles.
“One client?” Herb, caught off guard, was asking Miranda. “Who?”
“Your recipes,” Cindy whined back at Joanna, “They’re awful. The whole family tree of them. I should know. Your family tree tastes like bark. I got a bad taste from them.”
“Speaking of bad taste!” shouted Henderson above the others, angered at losing the spotlight, “I shall arrest you all for rudeness!” He paused and inhaled loudly. “But the one I shall arrest for the murder of Lucille, is the murdering fiend at the top of the Blacklist.”
He reached for a recipe from among the papers and found the one with writing on the backside. He held it up. “And that is . . .” he stopped quickly, glancing around the room. Joanna was glaring at Cindy. Herb was waiting for Miranda to answer his question. Cindy looked up at Henderson. Everyone squinted, trying to read the page. Rogers sneezed.
Henderson raised his arm in a final gesture, and pointed.
“Mais non!” Pierre protested.
“I’m afraid it’s mais oui, Pierre,” Henderson continued. “And I’ll be able to find evidence that shows you embezzled from your very own company. Lucille found out and that’s what she really meant by ‘Streamaligns’ on her Checklist.”
“At the same time, she was threatened by Joanna’s relationship with you. So she stole Joanna’s recipes and won the baking contest to get your attention. And she was jealous of Miranda. We’ll be able to prove that. Your dealings with both women is what she meant by ‘Human Relations.’”
“And, you, you self-embezzling little chef, you moved in with Lucille to find out just how much she knew and to try to keep her quiet about her findings.”
“And you stole drugs from Cindy.”
“And you bought the ready-made biscuit mix and you baked the drugs into the biscuits yourself. There were no other packaged mixes of any kind at all in Lucille’s cupboards! You left Joanna’s stolen biscuit recipe propped against the package mix to implicate Joanna or perhaps to confuse us. You ate some of the biscuits to cover your tracks.”
“And most importantly,” here again, Henderson paused for dramatic effect. “This is the damaging clue! You murdered Lucille to silence her about the absolute, undeniable fact that you eat frozen dinners!”
“Mais non,” Pierre started again but then stopped. “Zey are convenient,” he admitted. “And zey taste much better than Joanna’s recipes,” he said, ducking away from Joanna’s swinging fist.
“Rogers, arrest Pierre. Take him away.”
“Mais oui,” said Rogers clipping on handcuffs, once again awed with Henderson’ deductive capabilities. “Mais oui,” he repeated for emphasis, his cold giving his accent a true French twang.
“Mais nooooonnnnnnnn!” the group heard as Pierre was led out of the room and down the hall.
Henderson gathered the papers and looked at the others still seated at the conference table. They were stunned, reality slowly creeping up on them.
“My beloved Pierre,” moaned Miranda, “a murderer?”
“My astute business partner,” Joanna whispered, “gone?”
“Our one and only client,” whimpered Cindy, “arrested?”
“Prove it, Henderson,” said Herb. “And this better be good.”
Henderson knew he had some more work to do. For now, he looked down once again at Lucille’s final list as he returned it to her briefcase. He had discovered it on the back of the recipe that was propped against the box of biscuit ready mix, found in Lucille’s kitchen.
Typical of Rogers to miss it. He bet Pierre never looked.
There, scrawled in Lucille’s handwriting were two little words:
© 2022 Judith Voss All rights reserved.
Click or tap here to see Judy Voss’s profile.
Use the “Leave a Comment” form below to submit comments on this piece.