Still, she couldn’t get the image of Babs and the portfolio out of her head. “You know, Will, I was thinking about that puzzle you gave to Charley—and how it would only take a second for someone to alter it.”
Will blinked. “In my portfolio?”
“You didn’t hold on to it every instant. Do you still have the puzzle? More important, do you still have it on your computer? Maybe you should print out a new copy for comparison.”
“Maybe,” he said vaguely. Liza had the sinking feeling Will wouldn’t even remember this conversation.
Instead, he surprised her. “That’s what I really appreciate about you, Liza. You’re always concerned. It’s like when you write about Sudoku Nation in your columns. You believe it should be a democracy. Babs . . .” He made a face. “She wants to be the queen, calling the shots. Quirk thought he would be the philosopher king, laying down the law. I suppose I’m like that, too, except I try to get people involved. Young Terhune . . . he was just glad to find something involving numbers that he was good at. Still, he got his old company to hold a yearly sudoku get-together for kids.”
He frowned. “That won’t be happening anymore. And Roy Conklin, he uses it to show students that they don’t have to be afraid of numbers. The thing is, none of them—and that includes me—is able to do what you do. I don’t know if you can win this tournament. I didn’t mention it when I announced the leaders, but you’re only seconds apart. All I’ll say is, it will be a damn shame if you don’t.”
Liza couldn’t imagine an answer to that, so she didn’t give one. “I think it would be a shame if someone was trying to ruin this tournament—for any reason. Promise me you’ll print out a copy of the puzzle?”
Will promised and moved on. A second later, Fergus Fleming moved to the center of the room and boomed out, “Ladies and gentlemen, please find your seats. If you don’t know where they are, consult with Mr. Roche.”
Oliver Roche came over to join him—yes, clipboard in hand. Liza and Michael had little trouble finding the head table, where Fleming, Gemma, Will, and Scottie Terhune all sat, fortifying themselves with another round of drinks.
As she and Michael took their seats, Liza heard Gemma say, “I think I’ve taken on enough liquid courage to ask you, Fergus. Exactly what is this haggis we’re supposed to be eating?”
“Ah,” he said, though it came out more like “Och.” Apparently Scotch whiskey made Fleming’s Scots burr more prominent. “I think the poet Burns gave the best description when he called the haggis ‘proud chieftain of the sausage race.’ ”
That information came as something of a relief for Liza. Ever since she’d heard Fleming talk about piping the stuff in, she’d had visions of some sort of sludgy brown soup.
“Sausage, huh?” Scottie said. “That can cover a variety of sins.”
“They call you ‘Scottie,’ and you have no idea what goes into a haggis?” Fleming demanded.
“The ‘Scottie’ is a nickname,” he answered. “And Terhune is a fine old Dutch name, with a side order of French. Besides, my family has been here so long, our national sausage is the hot dog.”
“Well, I’ll just put it this way,” Fleming finally said. “We Scots are a thrifty people, and there’s a good deal of meat left on a sheep after you take the lamb chops.”
“What did they call those leftovers?” Michael said with a smile. “The lights and livers?”
“Probably some of that, along with other bits and pieces,” Fleming agreed. “Chopped up, mixed with oatmeal, onions, and spices, wrapped in a sheep’s stomach and boiled for three hours.”
He took in the expressions on the other people at the table. “Och, you Americans,” he said. “It’s nothing ye ha venae had in a hot dog, only not as finely ground.”
Then Fleming glanced at the door and must have gotten some sort of signal. He rose from his seat. “Be upstanding, please.”
“I guess that’s Scots for ‘everybody up,’ ” Michael whispered to Liza.
“Welcome, everyone, to what I hope will be a memorable evening. Before we introduce the guest of honor, I ask Pastor Gordon to say a few words.”
A man in a black suit and a clerical collar stood up at a nearby table. “I shall give the Selkirk Grace,” he said, his Scots accent a bit fainter than Fleming’s.
“Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.”
That earned a round of applause from the well-oiled crowd, and servers brought out the first course, a cream of leek soup.
“Looks like Angus knows his stuff when it comes to soups,” Michael whispered to Liza.
Fleming stood again, this time raising his glass of whiskey. “To your feet, please, ladies and gentlemen. I give you . . . the haggis!”
The entrance doors to the ballroom flew open, and silhouetted in the doorway stood a kilted figure that looked about seven feet tall. Then a wild blast of sound hit them—a skirling bagpipe march.
that kind of piping.
Michael brought his lips close to her ear. “I think Shake speare has a line about people having a hard time holding their water when they hear the pipes. With all the drinking going on here, that could be a disaster.”
As the piper advanced and the sound got louder, Liza remembered a cartoon she’d seen years ago. At first glance it looked like three bagpipers playing. Closer examination showed one of them had a cat, not a bagpipe, tucked under his arm—with the animal’s tail between his teeth.
She finally realized that the bagpiper was only the leader in a brief procession. Behind him marched a short, stocky man in kitchen whites—Angus the chef, not the beef, Liza realized. Angus carried a silver tray raised high, and in the middle of the platter gleamed something that looked like a cross between a small football and a brown water balloon.
Fergus Fleming had begun clapping in time to the music, and the other guests followed suit. Then Liza realized there was a third member of the procession, a uniformed member of the staff cradling a large bottle of Scotch.
The little parade reached the head table, and Fleming called out, “Oliver, would you do the honors?”
Roche appeared, looking about as comfortable as a vegetarian at a hot dog-eating contest. He took a knife from Angus and proceeded to make a lengthwise incision on the displayed haggis.
“Good man!” Fleming said as everyone applauded. He relieved the third man of his bottle and leaned over the open haggis. “Perhaps a wee bit of whiskey sauce!” Fergus cried, splashing a little Scotch onto the steaming contents.
“Well, that ought to sterilize everything,” Michael whispered.
More clapping followed as the piper played a new tune, leading the march to the kitchen.
Soon enough, the servers reappeared bearing large plates. “What goes with the haggis?” Liza asked, trying to get a look.
“Champit neeps and tatties,” Fleming replied. “That’s mashed turnips and—”
“Potatoes?” Liza guessed.
“Spot on!” Fergus complimented her.
By then, the plates had actually arrived. Half the plate was taken up with a chunky brownish mound, the rest with a whitish mound and a yellowish mound.
I guess in this case, tradition trumps presentation,
Liza thought, looking down in silence.
She poked a tentative fork at the mass of haggis.
“Stout hearts, now,” Fleming encouraged. “It is good, I promise you.”
“Well, the rest of me didn’t get stout by turning down a meal,” Scottie said. “I went to a school that served the world’s worst meals. By way of protest, I’d eat the Styrofoam plates, too.”
Fleming offered a cut-glass bowl. “Some folk prefer a wee bit of horseradish,” he suggested.
Scottie took a forkful of the condiment, dropped it atop the haggis, and then scooped a good amount of the mixture into his mouth.
Beaming, Fergus did the same—but he quickly stopped chewing with a frown. Scottie took another serving, then coughed.
“No, lad.” Fleming made a “hands down” gesture to Scottie and the others at the table, who were still nerving themselves for a mouthful. “I’m embarrassed to say—”
Another cough from Scottie interrupted him.
Liza turned to her fellow sudokologist. Scottie looked even redder than the whiskey he’d consumed would warrant.
Could that be the horseradish?
Scottie’s face seemed not just red, but swollen. The whites of his eyes had gone a bright pink, too. He tried to say something but couldn’t.
All he managed to do was tap his wrist as he fell from his seat.
Silence fell over the restaurant, then a buzz of questions as people began getting to their feet, trying to see what had happened.
Oliver Roche appeared in a broken-field run through the gawkers. “What’s going on?” he demanded a little breathlessly.
“Scottie fell,” Liza said. “I think he’s choking.” She was already on her knees, loosening his tie and shirt. “It’s like his throat is swelling.”
“Did he say anything?” Roche knelt beside her, almost in a replay of what he’d done when Ian Quirk collapsed.
“No, but he was tapping his left wrist.”
Roche pulled back Scottie’s cuff to reveal a metal bracelet. “This says he’s got a shellfish allergy.” He immediately pulled out a cell phone to dial 911.
“But—but there’s no shellfish in haggis.” Fergus Fleming’s boozy bonhomie had vanished, Scotch fumes boiled off as he was shocked closer to sobriety. His accent disappeared, as well.
The hotelier stared down at his plate, his eyes clearing a little more. “But then, this haggis tastes funny.”
Fleming shot to his feet, looked around, and saw everyone else in the place eating—or trying to eat—the haggis. “Everyone!” he said in his loudest voice, raising his arms. “I regret to interrupt your dinner, but you’ll have to . . . interrupt your dinner. No. Please stop. I’m afraid there’s a—er . . .” He fumbled for words, painting a ghastly smile on his face. “There’s a wee problem with the haggis.”
A look of sudden panic wiped out that smile. “There’s no one else—I mean, no one here with any fish allergy, is there?”
The Scottish clergyman who’d done the grace looked puzzled. “But there’s no seafood in haggis.”
“Aye,” Fergus said, “that’s the wee problem.”
The paramedics arrived all prepared this time, ready to deal with anaphylactic shock. They gave Scottie an injection, but Liza could see that his face had gone from congested to waxy pale.
As the ambulance people wheeled their gurney away, Liza had another burst of déjà vu. The crew had that same grim, hopeless look on their faces.
This time, Detective Janacek didn’t need convincing to come out to Rancho Pacificano. He arrived on the double with a complete crime-scene team, confiscating the diners’ meals and sealing off the kitchen.
Angus the chef appeared to protest this invasion of his domain. But if the stocky chef was aggravated before, he nearly burst a blood vessel at the idea of shellfish getting into his haggis.
“It isnae possible!” he hissed, his own Scots accent peeking out in his agitation.
“You don’t have any fish in your kitchen?” Janacek asked.
“Of course we have fish—trout, salmon, and haddock. We smoke it for the finnan haddie and cullen skink,” Angus replied. “But there was none of it out yesterday. We were closed all day, preparing the haggis.”
“Well, unless this Terhune fellow also had an allergy to oatmeal, something went wrong in your kitchen.” The detective’s broad face looked hard but also worried. Obviously, two possible murders in the same place on the same day stretched coincidence a little too fine for Pete Janacek’s liking.
Liza walked down the hallway to the Hebrides Room, heading for a more intimate function than the others she’d been to. No cocktails and canapés or sudoku contests, but at least no one had died there.
She’d been invited to give a statement, an event about as optional as one of Michelle Markson’s demands. Sure, she could say no, enjoy a lovely ride to police headquarters in the back of a squad car, and still be questioned, just under less pleasant circumstances.
Well, it was only a statement, after all. She saw no need to get on the phone to Michelle and have her unleash Alvin Hunzinger, Lawyer to the Stars. The guy might look like Elmer Fudd, but Liza had seen him reduce competent police detectives to piles of steaming frustration.
“Get in, take care of the formalities, and get out,” Liza told herself as she reached for the doorknob. Before she could actually grasp the darned thing, it pulled away from her fingertips as the door was yanked open.
A tall, young detective who looked sort of like Sherlock Holmes except for the May suit stood in the opening. Liza recognized him as the guy who’d been sacrificed to keep Oliver Roche away from the rest of the investigators that afternoon.
From the look on his sharp features, the experience may have soured him—or maybe he’d been recruited to play bad cop in the forthcoming interview.
He stepped out of the way, silent but polite enough, and gestured Liza into the room. The chairs and tables hadn’t been cleared away after this evening’s competition round, but then they’d probably be needed in the same places for tomorrow.
Janacek had established himself behind the monitor’s table at the far end of the room with a couple of competitors’ seats from the first row pulled up to face him.
The detective consulted his notebook, reading “Liza Kelly” aloud. As if he needed that prop. Pete Janacek might be broad in the face and in the beam, but Liza had dealt with enough police types to look at the eyes. And Janacek had eyes that missed nothing.
“Good evening, Detectives,” she said, taking one of the seats. Young Holmes didn’t sit. Instead, he stood somewhere behind her. Was that supposed to put her on edge? Liza decided to ignore him and put her full attention on the older member of the partnership.