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Authors: Mary Jackman

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BOOK: Spoiled Rotten
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To make matters worse, I had to be at the restaurant at 8:00 a.m. sharp for the staff meeting the next morning. I moved down an aisle toward my car. That's when I saw Maria's dancer friend, Inez, up ahead. She jumped into the passenger seat of an idling car. The car slowly backed up. Rather than passing behind it, I waited courteously for the owner to reverse out of the narrow space. It was a big car. The driver turned to gauge his room and as he neared I saw him. It was Detective David Winn.

He saw me, too. He stepped on his brake and I ran for my car. I jumped in and took off out of the driveway, bouncing off the curb with a slam dunk. After a few blocks I slowed down. Checking my rearview mirror, I realized he wasn't following me. Fine with me, I didn't want to talk to him, anyway. That's not true. I wanted to tell him the girl he was squiring around was in league with Maria. Some kind of an exchange could mean drugs. I shook my head. My mind was imploding and all I wanted to do was go home to bed.

Typically, I couldn't find a parking space at that time of night. So I left the car partially up on the curb in front of my house, a move guaranteeing I'd find a ticket stuck under the wiper in the morning. I had a room full of tickets. One more wasn't going to make a difference. I walked up the front path, noting that the house next door was pitch-black inside. My new neighbours moved in a month ago and the only glimpse I've had of them so far was when I got up one morning before dawn to pee. I heard a car coming to life out front and watched from my window, hidden behind the bedroom curtains, as four clean-cut men dressed like missionaries were boarding a black m
inivan with tinted windows. It was always so unnaturally dark in their house, I wasn't even sure they had their hydro hooked up yet. In contrast, my house always had a light on it somewhere. I've been known to wander at night, I hate knocking into things.

The neighbours on the other side of my house were ex-pat Lithuanian professors who dined every night at a filigreed cast-iron table covered with a white linen tablecloth. They drank frozen vodka from crystal glasses, talking more loudly of war as the evening wore on. I've been invited over many times and been fed Belgian chocolates while getting drunk on Kir. Good, bad whatever, Toronto is unquestionably a melting pot of diversity.

I walked in the front door of my house. Simultaneously, Jon called out to me from the kitchen.

“Hey, Mom, where have you been? I've been trying to get you on your cellphone for hours.”

“Sorry, Jon, I turned it off.” I sighed. He ambled into the hallway and leaned against the door.

“Boy, you look beat. Come into the kitchen, I have a surprise for you.”

“Not now, honey, I'm exhausted and before I go to bed, I was wondering if I could use your computer.”

“Can't right now, I'm defragging the hard drive and it will take a couple of hours. Leave a note for me and I'll do it tomorrow. Now come on into the kitchen, I have a surprise.”

Too tired to argue, I hung my coat up on a peg to dry and wandered wearily into the kitchen. I thought my heart would stop. Sitting in the same chair where Winn had sat two days ago was Maritime Andy, drinking a beer, and looking very pleased to see me.

I can't say the feeling was entirely mutual. After our heated east coast encounter, I had invited Andy to visit me in Toronto whenever he liked. I never dreamed I'd see him a few days later in my kitchen.

Andy's pompadour hairdo and sideburns had been replaced with a stylish close-cropped haircut. He was wearing a simple black crew-neck sweater that exposed the collar of a crisp, white shirt beneath. Black khakis and tan walking boots finished the look. He looked good and I told him so. After the initial shock of finding him in my kitchen, I succumbed to his easy charm and decided I was happy to see him again. I also told him he could stay as long as he liked, meaning not more than a week, and made up the spare bedroom for him.

Andy brought me up to date on events back at the schoolhouse hotel. The big news was that Evelyn had successfully smooth-talked the painter into coming back to finish the job at the hotel and now they were dating.

He explained that, after hearing me prowling around on the fire stairs earlier and thinking the rest of the hotel was deserted, the painter decided to investigate on behalf of Evelyn, who was visiting her mother. He got considerably more trouble than he bargained for and Andy felt bad for tackling him.

“So it was him feeling his way along the walls.” I said. I was relieved no one was trying to kill me, but was angered by the unnecessary scare. “Maybe you should have told him a late-night guest had checked in.”

“I know, I'm sorry, but I knew he went to bed early so he could up at dawn to paint and I figured he'd be fast asleep. I didn't want to disturb him.”

“Hello,” I said, “not everyone falls asleep as easily as you think. Take me, for example. At least he was brave enough to check it out.”

“That's what Evelyn thought, too. She's been fawning over him ever since.”

“It's difficult imagining her fawning over anything. She looks as hard as nails.”

“She's not hard and she didn't have to let you stay the night in the hotel, either.” Andy was clearly offended. “The hotel was closed for renovation, but she was worried about you driving at night in the fog.”

“Oh, Andy, forgive me, I've had a bad day. This revelation comes as quite a surprise and I should have thanked her. We'll talk in the morning.”

Upstairs, in my bedroom, I thought about seeing David Winn earlier in Toscano's parking lot. Nice excuse, him telling me it was police business before bolting from the deli in Chinatown. After fuming for a while, I decided it wasn't his fault he was more interested in the attractive young dancer than me. Why not? From the looks of her, she probably didn't have food stains on every item of clothing she owned.

I hadn't fallen asleep fantasizing about anyone for a long time and figured there wasn't much point in me doing it tonight, either. Don't get me wrong, I was attracted to Andy, but he was seven years younger than me. Not enough to be criminal, but just enough to make that night at his house a one-time only kind of deal. I wasn't sure how he felt about me, either. I wasn't getting any obvious romantic signals from him. Maybe he was shy in front of Jon. I just didn't know.

Using the remote control, I turned on the television set, perched on an old parsons table, positioned at the foot of my bed. The last remaining piece of furniture I bought for my first apartment so many lifetimes ago, the well-designed table was still good as new.

Undressing, I took off my grey slacks, creased them with my fingers, and folded them over a hanger. The card, found in Toscano's dressing room, flipped out of the pocket and smacked the floor. Holding it up, I inspected it curiously. It looked as if it belonged to the same deck Maria had dropped and scrambled after in the hospital cafeteria. The jack of spades appeared on one side, soccer superstar Pelé's handsome face on the other. It felt heavy and thick, as if two cards were stuck together.

I picked at the top of the card where a slight gap showed, but I couldn't wedge my baby finger inside. I tried the nail scissors from the bathroom. It gave and split down the middle, revealing a small, hard piece of white plastic inside. It appeared to be a social security card. Red raised printing on the numbers and a blank where the name should have been. I wondered about the rest of the cards in Maria's deck. Considering the ramifications this presented, I'd have to tell Winn. The fact that I never wanted to speak to him again was clearly beside the point.

I stifled a yawn that would scare a rhinoceros, let alone a houseguest. I was still overwrought from the day's events and thought that watching television for a few minutes might clear my mind. First, I surfed the forensic shows, seen them all. Then the house and home renovation channels, seen those, too. I clicked up one more channel and hit a food show. Half asleep now, I searched for the remote that had disappeared in between the covers, but hesitated before turning off the television. The show was familiar and that puzzled me. I hated food shows. Then I remembered Cecilia Vieira.

chapter thirteen

I
was the first to arrive at Walker's Way. Well not exactly the first. Kitty was waiting for me. I unlocked the door and got a good leg-rubbing in the process. Aw, she missed me.

I have shared many a problem with Kitty and even asleep she appears to hang off my every word. No doubt about it, I had a soft spot for her. So did Rick. He always left enough food and water for her in the basement. Regardless, we knew she could take care of herself. We had yet to discover her secret passageway. She never got locked in or out of the building, just came and went however she wished.

In return, I gave her a good scratching behind her bent ear and immediately washed my hands in one of the kitchen sinks. I hated to think where she's been. Rick arrived a few minutes later.

“Have you seen her latest trophy?” he asked, swiftly stepping aside so she wouldn't leave hair on his black pant legs.

“No, I haven't been downstairs yet. What did she bring home this time?”

“It looks like a coyote tail,” he replied.

“Where on earth would she find a coyote tail?”

“Probably on a coyote,” he quipped.

“Very funny.”

“No, I'm serious. I saw one about a month ago driving home along Lake Shore. It was late and no one was around. We connected.”

“You're weird.”

“You don't know the half of it.”

I smiled because that was probably true. “Kitty's tough, but I can't imagine her bringing down a coyote.”

“Go down to the basement and check out her box of tails. Tell me what you think it is.”

“I will later,” I remarked. “It's not actually on the top of to-do list.”

Rick chuckled. He had a theory about Kitty. He believed she was over-compensating for her own lost tail. When we first took her in, she had an oozing, bloody torn ear, and most of her tail was missing. Over the last two years she has collected a box full of assorted tails, mostly rats and squirrels, one raccoon, and now a mystery tail. We hoped someday she might find one to replace her own. In the meantime, I had to concentrate on the kitchen staff, who would be arriving any minute.

“I called Daniel and Michael to come in around nine this morning. They'll be here soon.”

“I am here,” said Daniel sweeping through the kitchen door, “and I can't wait to get started. Being cooped up with my sister was intense. Thanks for giving me another chance. I'll make it up to you both. You should see the special I have planned for today.”

Michael and the legendary Ceymore, whom I refused to let Rick fire for the soggy pasta episode, waltzed into the kitchen together followed by two of the prep boys, plus the dishwasher. Rick and I left them to it. The radio went on full blast as soon as we left the room, signifying that the men were eager to begin. A controlled frenzy of activity would rock the kitchen until every food station was prepped and ready for service. Now that was music to my ears.

Rick and I went upstairs, but even before we reached the end of the hall we both knew something was wrong. The office door was damaged. Two of the locks were smashed and hanging off to one side. Luckily, one of the locks still held. Inside, we did a quick look around just to be sure nothing was missing. Truthfully, there wasn't anything worth stealing; the computer was ancient and the office furniture was even older. Of course, the safe was up here, but it was empty. Any cash that was in there a few days ago had already been deposited into my wallet. A thief wouldn't know that, though.

If I were a thief, I'd steal the booze we don't lock up, and enjoy myself on the house. Assuming of course, I had the foresight to leave before dawn. The cleaners arrived early one morning to find a burglar passed out on the bar with a forty-ounce bottle of vodka still clutched in his hands. The stereo was on, and a half-eaten plate of smoked salmon rested on his belly. This was one man's solution to the high cost of dining out; a new slant on “dine and dash” without the “dash.”

Rick took stock of the damage and said he would pop down to the local hardware store to get a couple of new locks. While he was gone, I prepared a short speech for the staff. An hour later, I ambled back into the restaurant, ready for work. It was almost ten in the morning. A few of the front staff had arrived, half asleep and holding giant containers of take-out coffee. Waiters are not morning people.

Soon everyone was seated. I gave a heart-warming talk about how happy I was to see them again and sorry for the disruption in their schedule and how I was grateful that they hadn't decided to leave us for a restaurant that didn't employ murderers. Daniel looked stricken. A few of the staff giggled politely to cover the awkward moment. Perhaps it was too soon to joke.

I moved on. I had to remind Marlene that ours was a family restaurant and therefore when dressing for work to look like a waiter and not a stripper. I reminded all the girls that there should be no exposure of their bare midriff, especially those with pierced belly buttons. Skirts should be long enough for them to bend over a table without forcing mothers to cover their twelve-year-old son's eyes and that tops should
not
be see-through. Fairly straightforward, one would think. Unfortunately with no uniform code such as black pants and white shirts, the need for such restriction was necessary. This was still Queen Street West and I encouraged individual dress style that kept Walker's Way funky, not sleazy.

Standard rules applied. No blue jeans, no running shoes, and definitely no shorts or sandals. The male waiters naturally had less of a choice for apparel. I preferred casual shirts or golf shirts, not T-shirts. I reminded the boys to make sure they ironed their shirt or at least take it off before they slept over night at their girlfriend's place. It was a sad state of affairs when they returned the next day, wrinkles and all, without exchanging it for a new one.

Other points were sanitary ones, like washing hands regularly, no smoking on the premises, and no leaving half-eaten food behind the counter that might attract vermin. I was on a roll. Afraid I would turn on them in any minute, the kitchen staff started fidgeting. I was about to launch into what a fabulous job they were doing and release them mercifully from the meeting when the front door opened. Two uniformed police walked in, followed by Detective Winn.

“I'm sorry to interrupt this meeting, Ms. Walker, but we are here on official police business.” He turned his back to me. “Daniel Chapin, you are under the arrest for the murder of Anthony Vieira. You have the right …”

Winn read him his rights while one of the policemen handcuffed Daniel's hands behind his back. Daniel looked at me with pleading eyes. I was too stunned to say a word in his defence. All I could manage was, “Not now, Detective, we're going to open in a couple of hours! Please, we need Daniel.”

The policeman cuffing Daniel looked over at his commander. “I would appreciate your co-operation, Ms. Walker. Please allow us to do our job.” He nodded at the officer, intimating that the restraints should be applied.

I followed Daniel and the police out the front door. Rick hurriedly instructed the staff to begin setting up for lunch. The sous-chef Michael practically ran into the kitchen. Catching up with Winn at the curb, I tugged at his arm. He turned and whispered to me, “Liz, I know this is a bad time for you, but it can't be helped. We have new evidence that implicates both Daniel and his sister. How would it look if I didn't take him in? I'm still not sure that it was Daniel who murdered Tony, but I think it could have been Meriel. We found her prints on one the glass refrigeration units in the store. We had to eliminate a hundred prints until we identified hers.”

“That's not possible; she was on the east coast when Andy called her.”

“No she wasn't. That's what we thought, too. After the crime geeks identified the print, I checked the flight Daniel was on to see what time he left. A ticket was issued in the name of ‘D. Chapin' and someone did fly out on the morning after Tony's murder, only it wasn't Daniel. The description we got from the airline check-in was of his sister. Meriel's middle name is Danielle and using the same initial as her brother threw us off. She was still in Toronto when he called her and he swears she was at home. Daniel didn't fly out until later on that afternoon. It seems both of them are lying. We are holding Meriel at the police station, too. Sorry, it doesn't look good for either one of them.”

I couldn't allow myself to think about the scene in the parking lot last night. I locked eyes with him and begged, “Can you tell me more?”

“I'll call you later. I promise.”

So, all along Daniel had been holding something back. Meriel must be one hell of an actor because I still believed she knew nothing about the murder. At her house in Portsmith, she gave me the impression that he was genuinely sickened by the details of the crime.

I suddenly remembered my earlier fear that Cecilia was in serious danger. I had been too preoccupied with reopening the restaurant to mention it to Winn. One good thing, if Meriel killed Tony and she was in police custody, then Mrs. Vieira was safe.

The day was not starting out the way I had intended. My chef was gone again and the health inspector turned out to be a real stickler. He was not only late, but dilly-dallied with his inspection, sticking thermometers in everything from hamburger to humus and getting in the second cook's way. There was no apology for closing us down and he had a huge chip on his shoulder for the hospital's error; a tick in his flawless record of closures. When he saw the cat's food bowl in the basement, he brightened. He told me in no uncertain terms to get rid of the cat.

I said, “What cat?”

“You are not allowed to have pets on the premises, Ms. Walker. I could give you a citation and another red if you're not careful.”

“Listen to me you miserable … hey!” Rick poked me hard in the back with the tip of his finger.

Between pressed lips of a forced smile he rasped in my ear, “Keep your eye on the prize, Liz!” He then stepped in front of me, blocking my line of sight. He began to dazzle the inspector with a heart-felt dissertation concerning the difficulties that an inspector's job entailed. I left him to it.

As for Kitty, it's not like we sprinkle catnip in the hamburger and let her run loose. Everything is put away at night and she's never around during the day. If she is, she's either fast asleep from a long night of tail-hunting or with me in the office pretending to listen as I drone on. She keeps the restaurant rodent-free without using tons of toxic poison. Mice and rats develop a stomach for poison eventually and what doesn't kill them makes them fat. When they do die in between the walls or under the floorboards, they stink for days, a smell reminiscent of stale popcorn or dirty socks, not very appetizing.

It wasn't easy but we opened for lunch without Daniel. Rick obtained the green pass and placed it in the window. The kitchen was fully prepped with enough salmon specials for fourteen covers and twenty pastas du jour. That would normally be enough to get through a regular lunch, but it turned out to be as busy as a Saturday on a teacher's convention weekend. Evidently the old adage is true: bad press is better than no press.

The kitchen was plating orders as fast as humanly possible. Michael was earning his stripes; Daniel had trained him well. Still, with one man short at the stoves, a lot of tables had to wait longer than was acceptable. At one point I had to jump in to save Marlene from a table of impatient office workers ready to walk out. I comped a few drinks and engaged them in witty banter to take the edge off their hunger. That's about the only time I play the owner card. Normally, I never let on. When unexpectedly confronted, I have been known to point to the person standing closest to me and claim they're the owner. The older employees, having been left in this awkward position one too many times, have learned to conveniently disappear, leaving the inexperienced behind to cope.

Imagine the cleaning lady's surprise when I introduced her to the agent from Niagara Estate Wines as the owner and then fled like the caped crusader out the back door. I saw her leave a few hours later, dragging a shopping bag full of free samples.

We got through lunch, but dinner was going to be a much larger problem without Daniel. He had planned on working a double. I called in an old debt from an ex-chef buddy of mine who had lectured with me at one of the graduating chef schools. Bless his heart, he promised to come in with his own team for a few hours since his restaurant was closed for a television special makeover. My team would be exhausted by then, only too grateful to step aside.

I felt like hosting and greeted the faithful lunch regulars and guests with gusto. There's nothing like working your tail off to mellow you out. I was having fun listening to Rick joke about my hosting technique, a fine balance of obsequious hand-wringing and feigned subservience. Relaxed in the back booth, I was enjoying a tumbler of Scotch.

Then Winn walked in.

He had deep fatigue lines around his mouth and his eyes were dull. He managed a smile for me, momentarily lifting the gloomy aura he had brought in with him.

“Bad day at the office?” I asked.

“I've had worse, but I can't remember when. How about your grand opening?” he asked sincerely.

“Busy,” I told him.

“Well that's good. Looks like you're putting your feet up. Mind if I join you?”

“If I said yes, would it matter?” I was still hurt after seeing him drive off with the attractive young dancer from the club.

He slid into the booth's seat opposite me. “I want to explain about last night, but there are private police issues I'm not allowed to discuss with you.”

I'm such a pushover, maybe it was only a police matter, after all. I wanted to believe him.

“Why don't you have a drink? I just finished one and I don't mind having another.”

BOOK: Spoiled Rotten
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