Authors: Laura Childs
“I sincerely wish you would.”
“Did you remember that we have a date tonight?”
It took Babcock a while to answer. “We do?”
“The cathedral concert. Over at St. Louis Cathedral. I bought tickets, like, a month ago.”
“I did promise to go with you, didn't I?”
“Don't sound so enthusiastic.”
“Do I have to dress up?” Babcock asked.
“Formal attire is not required, but your presence is.”
, Carmela thought to herself.
“What time does the concert start?”
“I think eight o'clock.”
“I'm really under the gun here. Is it okay if I work late and meet you there?”
“Does that mean you're coming? For sure?”
“AhÂ .Â .Â . yes,” Babcock said.
“In that case I'm happy to meet you there,” Carmela said. “I'll be the one hanging around the front door waving an extra ticket. Probably trying to scalp it if you're a no-show.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Is this about the murder?” Babcock asked. “Murders?” He sounded wary.
“Then just one question, Carmela. And only one.”
“Are the carving fork and the butcher knife from the same manufacturer?”
A long silence spun out and Carmela was afraid that Babcock might have hung up on her. Then he finally said, “Yes. Both utensils were manufactured by a German company named Bocker.”
more moping,” Gabby ordered. She was standing at the craft table, where the white pumpkins and stacks of colorful paper awaited them. “From this moment forth I declare Memory Mine to be a mope-free zone. A murder-free zone, too.”
Carmela touched a hand to the side of her head, saluting Gabby. “I read you loud and clear.”
“And just look at how perfect these pumpkins are.” Gabby tossed Carmela a soft cloth and they each rubbed a pumpkin to a dry sheen. “This is gonna be great.”
“I think you're right.”
“So how do you want to start? Go for the gold foil or do you have another idea?”
Carmela studied her pumpkin for a few moments. “I'm thinking we should decoupage some Christmas sheet music on.”
Gabby grinned. “See? I knew you'd come up with a great idea. You want me to start on that? What sheet music should I use?”
Carmela grabbed a stack of vintage sheet music from one of her flat files and handed it to Gabby. “How about âO Holy Night'? Just cut it into strips and don't worry if the lyrics and stanzas don't match up. We just want to convey a fun, musical concept.”
Gabby quickly painted her pumpkin with a thick layer of Mod Podge, then began placing strips of sheet music up and down the pumpkin. Carmela, meanwhile, had dug out some artisan tissue paper that featured a cheetah print against a bronzy gold background.
“You're going to do an animal-print pumpkin?” Gabby cried. “I love it!”
Carmela's pumpkin was easier to decorate just because the tissue paper was more pliable and easy to work with. Like Gabby, she painted on a layer of Mod Podge and then pressed her cheetah-print tissue paper all over the pumpkin. When she gave it a good squeeze, the cheetah print crinkled a bit but then it conformed directly to the pumpkin as the glue took hold. And as Carmela continued to smooth and fine-tune her pumpkin, it began to look rather gilded and spectacular, while still retaining its pumpkin essence.
“For some reason, I thought we'd be slaving over these silly things all day,” Gabby said. “But this is really quite easy.”
Once the paper completely covered their pumpkinsâexcept for the stems, of courseâtopcoats of Mod Podge were painted on and they set their projects aside to dry.
“What's next?” Gabby asked.
“What if we just spray-painted one of these pumpkins gold?” Carmela said.
“And then left it plain?”
But Carmela was already digging into her ephemera file. “I was thinking we'd decoupage some antique Christmas decals onto the gold pumpkin.” She held up a handful of paper. “We've got decals of woodblock Santas, antique sleighs, old-time carolersÂ .Â .Â .”
“Perfect,” Gabby breathed.
Carmela grabbed a spool of gold cord and cut off a few two-foot lengths. Then she wound it around her cheetah-print pumpkin, pulling it tight at the seams and tying the cord at the top. The pumpkin was now sectioned off and looking even prettier.
“I think I'm going to tie a sprig of holly at the stem,” Carmela said. “Not real holly, the silk stuff that we have.”
She was pulling a sprig of holly from a plastic pack when she heard her ringtone. She slid the cell phone from her pocket and saw the name
She passed the cell phone over to Gabby and shook her head vehemently.
Gabby clicked on the phone. “Memory Mine, this is Gabby. How can I help you?” She gazed at Carmela and grimaced. “Yes, you did call her cell phone, but Carmela is teaching a class right now and really can't be disturbed. Can I give her a message? No, IÂ .Â .Â . yes, I do realize how busy you are and I promise to let her know you called. Okay, thank you, Mr. Brevard. Okay. Thank you, Quigg.”
Gabby hung up and handed the phone back to Carmela. “He's a persistent fellow, isn't he?”
“Yes, he is. And thank you for fending him off like that. With Babcock so crazed about QuiggÂ .Â .Â . after everything that's happenedÂ .Â .Â .”
“Carmela, you have to settle down and let Babcock do his
job. Then he'll start to relax, too, and everything will get back to normal.”
“No,” Gabby said. “I hope.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Carmela waited on a couple of customers, finding some sheets of Nepalese handmade lokta paper for one lady, a black antique-looking photo album for another, while Gabby worked on the last three pumpkins. Once Gabby was finished, Carmela was able to duck into her office. There were a couple of hot potatoes she needed to take care of.
First, she grabbed the little voodoo doll and pulled out the pin. Had her stabbing the pin into the doll caused Babcock's shoulder to hurt? She didn't think so, but she wasn't taking any chances. This was New Orleans, after all. A city that celebrated their above-ground cemeteries, set up vampire cams at Halloween, had actual voodoo high priestesses, and featured a number of haunted houses.
Then Carmela leaned back in her chair and thought about Martin Lash. Closing her eyes, she could still picture the man staggering toward her, making hideous gagging sounds as the serving fork quivered in his throat. As that image slowly faded, it was replaced by one of Trent Trueblood lying on the floor with a butcher knife stuck in his belly. Both the fork and knife seemed like terrifying murder weapons. Like something Alfred Hitchcock would have dreamed up. Ordinary utensils used to commit horrifying crimes.
And Babcock had told her that both utensils were from the same manufacturer. Bocker.
What were the odds of that? Practically nil, she decided.
Her curiosity whirring at a frantic pace, Carmela began
tapping the keyboard of her computer. When the search engine spat out the results for “restaurant supplies” she was surprised at how many suppliers there were in New Orleans. Of course, it was a restaurant town. A foodie town, though she had come to loathe the term.
But it's strange that I've never noticed any of these places. Never walked by one on the street.
She scrolled down through the list and realized she had probably walked by quite a few restaurant supply houses. In fact, the nearest shop, Hawking's Restaurant Supply, was only a few blocks away on Esplanade Avenue.
Impulsively, Carmela shut down the computer and pulled on her leather jacket.
“Gabby, I'm going to skip out early today.”
“Hmm?” Gabby looked up from the stack of Asian-inspired papers she was flipping through. “You're leaving? I hope you're not going to get in any more trouble.”
“I'll try not to. I just have to, um, run a couple of errands and then get ready for the cathedral concert tonight.”
“Lucky you. I wish I was going to that concert. But Stuart's mother is hosting a command performance dinner tonight for the entire family. I'd like to blow her off, but Stuart will never knowingly disappoint his
.” Gabby cocked her head. “I assume the illustrious Detective Babcock will be your escort?”
“He'll be running late but he promised to be there.”
“It sounds like things between you two aren't nearly as bad as you think.”
Carmela fervently hoped Gabby was right.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
It was a cool, cloudless day and Royal Street was vibrating with just as much excitement as it had
during the Art and Wine Stroll. She breezed past Temperley's Antiques and the Rosebud Gallery and, in less than the distance from the fifty-yard line to the goal post in the Superdome, was suddenly standing in front of a window filled with everything from pie plates to chef's toques. The name
Hawking's Restaurant Supply
was painted across the window in a scroll of yellow letters nearly a foot high. Carmela chuckled to herself. She'd hurried down this block a thousand times and never noticed this shop. WellÂ .Â .Â . duh for her.
Pushing open the door was like entering a veritable chef's paradise. Floor-to-ceiling stainless steel racks were stacked with fry pans and stockpots, many of them large enough to cook Christmas dinner for a small army. Carmela also saw pans for baking sheet cakes, drawer warmers, proofing ovens, and banquet carts, as well as tables stacked high with round, square, and oblong-shaped plates and bowls. Restaurant dinnerware, she supposed.
As Carmela wandered through the shop, she spotted an intriguing display of kitchen hand toolsâladles, graters, wire whips, scoops, and wooden spoons. She picked up a long-handled whip and was beating eggs for an imaginary soufflÃ© when a voice behind her said, “That one's a beauty. At twenty-four inches, the nylon handle is long and lean. And you'll notice that the bulbous cage has plenty of spokes to whip any food you want into a delicious frenzy.”
The salesclerk, a middle-aged man with a gray goatee, was wearing a full-length white chef's apron with the name
embroidered over a top pocket.
“We also have it in sixteen- and eighteen-inch handles if that one is a might long for you,” Ned said. “Depends on how deep your mixing bowls are, of course.” He stopped his pitch and cocked an appraising eye at her. “You using another kind of whisk or just learning how?”
“I can handle a whisk,” Carmela said. “But I think maybe the sixteen-inch would be better.” She put the longer one back as the clerk reached under the table and pulled out a box.
“Here you go. A sixteen-inch Jacob's Pride by Vollrath. Guaranteed for a lifetime.”
“I'm familiar with the brand. Do you carry their cookware, too?”
“Sure do,” Ned said. “You want to take a look?”
“Not today, I'm afraid. What I am interested in are kitchen knives and serving forks.”
“You want a complete set?”
“Well, you've come to the right place. We have the largest selection of cutlery in Louisiana.” Ned crooked a finger. “Come along with me.” He led her to a large display case near the rear of the store and made a sweeping gesture.
Carmela stepped forward and eyed the gleaming cutlery. The first thing that struck her was how long and dangerous-looking the forks were. She'd never thought of a carving fork as being deadly before, but now, after seeing Martin Lash impaled, that notion seemed to be firmly implanted in her brain.
“These are all carving forks?” she asked.
“Carving forks, cook's forks, and what we call pot forks,” Ned said.
Carmela pointed to a dangerous-looking fork with long, curved tines. “What kind is that?”
“That's made by Victorinox,” Ned said. “Extremely popular. We also carry lines from Mercer and Dexter-Russell.”
“I was wonderingÂ .Â .Â . do you carry the Bocker brand?”
The clerk moved a few feet down the display case and Carmela followed.
“Right here.” He waved his hand over a set that included
a carving fork as well as a large knife. “These are stainless steel with rosewood handles. Very durable. Very reliable.”
Carmela reached a hand toward the carving fork. “May I?”
Ned handed the fork to her.
Carmela gripped the fork's handle and balanced it in her hand. It had a serious weight and heft to it, almost like a good dueling sword or rapier.
Ned gave an approving smile. “Feels comfortable, huh?”
“Very nice.” Carmela thought the gleaming tines looked razor-sharp. As if they could pierce a piece of flesh with ease. She handed the fork back to him. “Do you sell a lot of these? Forks, I mean.”
“They're some of our best sellers. With more than fourteen hundred restaurants in New Orleans, we help outfit a lot of chefs.”
“And many of them prefer the Bocker brand?” Carmela asked.
“Yeah, even the sous chefs seem to like them.” Ned smiled. “We get a lot of younger guys and gals who are apprenticing or working as sous chefs, dreaming of the day when they can open their own restaurant. So they're hot to get their own tools.”
“I can just imagine,” Carmela said. But her mind was elsewhere. Back to a dark night with a stumbling manÂ .Â .Â .