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Authors: Laura Childs

Crepe Factor (21 page)

BOOK: Crepe Factor
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Suddenly, Boo was doing her best prance dance, her triangle ears pricked forward and her muzzle quivering with
interest. When they walked past the bloodhound, Boo gazed up at the bloodhound with an expression that was almost akin to love.

“I'm glad somebody still thinks romance is alive,” Carmela murmured. She gazed across the parking lot at Babcock. “Because I have a terrible feeling that mine might have fizzled.”

But no. Babcock was holding up a hand, signaling to her. She put the dogs back in her car and walked over to him.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“Hardly,” Babcock said. “Come. Sit with me in my car.”

They climbed into his BMW and she turned sideways to face him. “You're angry. I feel like this is going to be an inquisition.”

“You should be so lucky.” Her rubbed the palm of his hand over his chin and said, “So you've been investigating. Tell me. Give me the whole enchilada. And don't sugarcoat it.”

“There's no sugar on enchiladas.”

“Carmela. Just tell me. And don't leave anything out.”

So Carmela laid out the whole story for him. About finding out about all the lawsuits. About meeting Josh Cotton at Martin Lash's viewing and then talking to Allan Hurst. She detailed all the things that had made her suspicious of Cotton and Hurst. And, more recently, how she'd had an impromptu meeting with Helen McBride, who professed to despise Lash and practically chortled over his death. What she left out was the break-in that she and Ava staged at Martin Lash's cottage. That would have really tipped Babcock over the edge.

When she'd finished, Babcock said, “What you've done is absolutely preposterous. Ridiculous.”

“I was trying to weed out suspects.”

“So I'm guessing you're no longer suspicious of Trent Trueblood?”

Carmela's brows pinched together. “Well . . . no. Obviously he's not a legitimate suspect. Now that he's been taken out of the equation.”

Babcock put an arm on the back of Carmela's seat and leaned toward her. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Help me follow up on those other possible suspects?”

He pinched his thumb and forefinger together. “Carmela, I'm this close to putting you under house arrest.”

Carmela tilted her head at him. “Whose house? Mine or yours?”

Babcock glared at her, but pain flickered in his eyes, too. “You tell me. Maybe it should be Quigg Brevard's house.”

“That's so unfair!” she cried.

“Is it, Carmela? Is it really?”

“You know there's nothing between Quigg and me.”

He reached over and pulled her close. “Except for the fact that you're trying very hard to pull his fat out of the fryer.”

“I love
you
,” she said.

Babcock sighed. “I wish I could believe that.”

Carmela threw herself into his arms and buried her head against his chest. “I do.” Hot tears streamed down her cheeks and burned into his shirt. “I love you.”

Babcock circled her with his arms. This time he spoke a little more gently to her. “And I love you, my crazy Carmela.”

Chapter 21

C
ARMELA'S
ears were still stinging from the tongue-lashing Babcock had given her last night. Her tummy was in turmoil. Not even a new shipment of handmade paper or the promise of new wax seals could lift her out of her nervous funk.

Gabby was concerned. “You're like a zombie this morning, Carmela. What's wrong? Are you feeling poorly? Maybe you should go home and rest.”

“Aw,” Carmela said. “I'm just really screwed up.”

“Tell me. Maybe I can help.”

So Carmela told Gabby about her trip down to Boothville the previous night, about finding Trueblood's dead body and then calling Babcock to come down and straighten things out.

Gabby listened breathlessly, making little eeks and squeaks
in all the appropriate places. Then she said, “I don't think I can help you. That's some serious doo-doo you stepped in, Miss Carmela.”

“And don't think I didn't get seriously chewed out,” Carmela said. “I know I've pushed Babcock's buttons before, but this time I might have gone too far. I'm not sure our relationship—the tattered remnants of it, anyway—is going to survive this.”

Gabby shook her head vigorously. “Please don't say that, Carmela. Don't you dare put that negative thought out there in the ozone where it can buzz around and gather steam. You and Babcock are
crazy
about each other. Anyone can see that you're both deeply in love.”

“Babcock was positively apoplectic about my being down there. He basically wants me in a no-fly zone.”

“Carmela, think about it. You can't blame Babcock for being upset. He's worried about you. I mean . . .” Gabby knew she was treading on eggshells here. “You
are
a little headstrong. And you
might
have gotten a little too involved in this Martin Lash business.”

“I didn't mean to.” Carmela's voice was as gloomy as the sky on a foggy day. “I was just trying to help Quigg.”

“You were trying to help Babcock's rival.”

Carmela waved a hand dismissively. “They're not rivals.”

Gabby held up an index finger. “In Babcock's mind they are. Men are like that, they're territorial beings. And they like to fight over territory.”

“Me being the territory?”

“Yes. Absolutely. You're like the Falklands or something. Small, but worth going to war over.”

“Then how do I make Babcock stop obsessing over this . . . this silly turf war?” Carmela asked. She reached under the counter and grabbed her handbag. She pulled out the little cotton voodoo doll Ava had given her two nights
ago. Frowning at it, she took one of the bright red pins and stuck it deep into the doll's shoulder.
There, maybe that will put a stop to it. Or at least give Babcock something to think about.

But Gabby was talking quietly, trying to impart her gentle guidance. “You just have to put aside your investigation and start to rebuild some trust.”

Carmela glanced up. “Huh?”

Gabby put her hands on her hips. “You know what? Enough with my advice. Because I can see it's going in one ear and out the other.”

“Sorry.”

“You're incorrigible, Carmela. Better you should help me with a project.” Gabby pointed to a cardboard box that contained six white pumpkins. “I don't know if you remember this or not, but we promised to decorate those pumpkins for Betty Ritter's holiday table.”

Carmela shook her head, unenthused. “I really don't remember.”

“Do you have any idea how great a white pumpkin can look once it's been decoupaged with gold foil and Uzumaki lace paper?”

“No,” Carmela said, a smile finally playing at the corner of her lips. “But I bet we're going to find out?”

“We're going to wave our magic wands and transform these pumpkins into gorgeous centerpieces.” Gabby paused. “Picture, if you will, a lovely bed of green moss set against a white linen tablecloth. Then add our elegantly decoupaged white pumpkins along with stalks of dried red bittersweet and a handful of ripe red apples.”

“It does sound rather beautiful.”

“I see it as a cornucopia of creativity,” Gabby said. “So. Do you want to work on a pumpkin?”

“You've more than convinced me,” Carmela said. “But
first . . . I think I have to call Babcock and eat a little more crow.”

“Poor baby,” Gabby said. “Crow is never very tasty.”

*   *   *

Sitting at her desk, still feeling a little glum, Carmela reached for the phone. When her fingers were mere inches away, it shrilled loudly. Oh my, was mental telepathy at work? Was Babcock calling to tell her that all was forgiven? She could only hope.

But, no, when she answered the phone, she found that it was just stupid old Shamus.

“Hey, babe,” Shamus said. “I'm calling to remind you it's my weekend to have the dogs.”

This was not what Carmela was expecting and it rubbed her the wrong way. “Honestly, Shamus, this really isn't the best time . . .”

“C'mon,” Shamus wheedled. “You know darn well that it's my turn. I've been looking forward to having the dogs all week long. I even bought a new Kewpie doll for Boo. Pink velour, just what she likes.”

“Shamus, I need to keep the dogs with me this weekend. How about we work out a swap? You can take them next weekend.” Carmela was feeling needy and wanted the dogs to stand guard in her apartment. Of course, cuddling was good, too.

But Shamus was a stickler. “No way. It has to be
this
weekend. Next weekend is all booked up. Hey,” he said, sounding petulant, “we made a deal, remember?”

“We made lots of deals, most of which you didn't bother to keep. Remember our marriage vows?”

“Don't start with me. Just tell me what time can I pick them up.”

“There's no wiggle room here?” Carmela asked.

“None.”

Typical Shamus. What a jerk.

“Tell you what,” Carmela said. “I'm supposed to attend a concert at St. Louis Cathedral tonight, so maybe you could swing by there and pick them up. That will at least give me a chance to walk Boo and Poobah and spend some quality time with them.”

Shamus sighed heavily to convey his disapproval. “I suppose. What time and where?”

“How about seven-thirty in Jackson Square?” Carmela asked.

“No. No way,” Shamus said. “I detest having to dodge all the street musicians, palm readers, and crazies that populate that place. To say nothing of a few panhandlers. No. You'll have to make it someplace quieter, someplace where the dogs won't get upset. They're very sensitive creatures, in case you hadn't noticed.”

Exasperated, Carmela tossed out the first place that came to mind. “Okay then, how about that little park right behind the cathedral? You know, the Place de Henriette Delille down Pirate's Alley?”

“Just be there,” Shamus snarled.

*   *   *

Carmela sat there with the phone in her hand. Talking to Shamus, aka The Rat, was always a drain. But now . . . now she had to call Babcock and do some penance. She steeled herself and hit speed dial.

“Carmela,” Babcock said when he picked up his phone. His voice carried a faint whiff of
Why are you bothering me now?

Carmela decided to dive right in with her apology. “Listen, I know you're still upset with me about last night . . .”

“Yes?”

Carmela wondered if that meant
Yes, what else do you want?
Or
Yes, I'm still upset
. Too soon to tell. She stumbled on.

“I honestly didn't think I'd be in any danger,” Carmela explained for about the forty-seventh time. “My plan was to meet up with Trueblood, ask a few pertinent questions, and then head right back home.”

“By ‘pertinent questions,' you mean ‘investigate,'” Babcock said. “Haven't we been over this enough? Or should we beat it to death a few more times?”

Carmela took a deep breath. “How many ways can I say I'm sorry?” She crossed her fingers, hoping for forgiveness. Was that too much to ask? Apparently so.

“Carmela, you have to stop getting involved in every crazy murder that comes down the pike.”

His demeanor was so cool and distant, she was almost grateful that he wasn't screaming at her. Hadn't she had enough of that last night? Oh yes, she had. But wait, Babcock sounded like he was just warming up, working himself into a nice angry tirade.

“Now a second person is dead and there's a shitstorm brewing over here at City Hall!”

“I'm sorry,” Carmela cooed, trying to sound as meek as possible.

“Yeah, sure you are.”

Carmela hesitated. “Edgar. Are you feeling okay?” Did she detect something else in his voice besides anger?

“As a matter of fact, I'm not. I'm getting tons of flak from the mayor's office as well as from the police chief. And now some flunky councilman down in Plaquemines Parish has jumped on my case, too. To top it all off, my left shoulder is killing me. I don't know what happened, maybe I slept on it wrong.” He snorted. “Thanks to you, it's a wonder I slept at all.”

“If there's any way I can make this up to you . . .”

“Aw . . .” Babcock seemed to regroup and shake off some of his anger then. “I'm just frustrated because nothing seems to make sense. Lash filed suit against Trueblood but now Lash and Trueblood have
both
been murdered. It's a barrelful of crazy.”

“You're right,” Carmela said. “Nothing adds up. There's got to be another factor at work here. An x factor. Something—or someone—we don't know about. It feels almost like a Machiavellian plot.”

“I might have to agree with that. But, Carmela, I can't solve the Martin Lash case if I have to spend all my time worrying about you. Nothing related to the Lash murder has fallen into place. I'm almost considering going back to square one.”

“Square one?”

“Bobby Gallant thinks it's possible that Martin Lash
was
killed over a nasty review that drove some restaurant out of business.” Bobby Gallant was another detective who worked closely with Babcock. “So I'm going to have my team try to look at
that
angle.”

Carmela flinched. That path could boomerang right back to Quigg Brevard. And she didn't want that to happen.

“There were that many nasty reviews?” she asked. “Are you telling me that Lash actually had the power to drive several restaurants out of business?”

“We're checking that information right now. So far we've come up with four possibilities, but I'm going to meet with that editor, Helen McBride, and try to hash out some more stuff.”

“I thought all Lash's reviews were permanently deleted.”

“We have cyber experts. They'll try to recover them from the magazine's servers.”

“But if you look at restaurateurs now, how do you explain Trueblood?” Carmela asked. “I figured there had to be a Martin Lash connection, considering the lawsuit and all.”

“I don't know. There's always the possibility that Trueblood's murder wasn't related to any of this. That he had some kind of nasty dispute with one of his contractors. It wouldn't be the first time. Apparently he's been in knock-down, drag-out fights before. Put a guy in the hospital over a project near Baton Rouge.”

“Was Trueblood charged with assault?”

“No,” Babcock said. “The guy he beat up dropped the charges. Said it was just a business misunderstanding.”

“I had no idea housing was such a rough-and-tumble industry.”

“These days, I guess any business can be dangerous. People are angry over the economy and just more hostile in general.”

“Well . . . maybe you'll get lucky,” Carmela said.

Babcock sighed. “It's not exactly smart police work when you have to count on being lucky.”

“Can I change the subject?” Carmela asked.

BOOK: Crepe Factor
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