What a week it was for our collaborative cozy mystery, A Brunch with Death! 🥐☠️
Initial voting ended in a tie for one of our questions and, after a deluge of back and forth tie-breaker voting yesterday, finally settled on a winning answer. It was still close, though! And, of course, as with all good culinary cozy mysteries, our spin-off is going to include recipes. The winning recipes look delicious and I cannot wait to include them in our story. I’ll also be baking them in upcoming episodes of my Torte Test Kitchen. 😋
I have some new pages ready for you, as well as your next assignment, so be sure to watch and then get to plotting. 📝
I’m having such a wonderful time developing this cozy mystery spin-off with everyone! Does it help fill the gap between book releases for you? I just might have to make this a regular thing and work it into my schedule when it comes to writing cozy mysteries. 😁
I kept a careful eye on Toni, who had returned to the table after being interrogated by the Professor. She bit the edge of her nails like she was nibbling an ear of corn. Richard was next up to have a tête-à-tête with the Professor so I seized the chance to talk to Toni alone.
“How are you?” I asked, offering her a glass of water.
She tried to take the drink, but her quivering hands got the best of her. “I can’t believe he’s dead. This is a disaster.”
“It’s quite distressing. To think someone would want to murder a chef—why? The food isn’t what I would call impressive, but it certainly wasn’t so bad it was worth killing for.”
“Murder?” Toni gasped. “You think so? You think it was murder?”
I found myself in an unusual position—I was at a loss for words. Mere minutes ago Toni had accused Brady of killing Peter. “I’m not sure I follow. Didn’t you just ask the Professor to arrest our young Petruchio?”
Toni clutched the glass so tight I thought it might crack in her hands. She chugged half the water and slammed the glass on the table. “I did. I’m confused. I’ve never seen someone die. I suppose I’m not thinking straight.”
“It’s to be expected.” I offered her a pat on the forearm.
She yanked her arm away.
“Did you know Peter well?” I asked, intentionally using the deceased’s name.
She took the bait. “Not well. We worked together previously, but I wouldn’t say we were close.”
This was good. She was talking. If I could keep her talking I might be able to get something out of her and I knew the perfect tactic. I scooted my chair closer. “Let me offer a bit of advice, as your Artistic Director.”
That perked her up. “Okay.”
“I’ve found at times like this—while extremely taxing—these intense emotions can be mined and used for the stage. Stored away in our artistic bank for later.”
She wiped her mouth with a napkin smearing her garish lipstick. “That’s probably true. I hadn’t thought of using this in my craft.”
“Exactly. Lean into the emotions. Feel everything. Tell me about Peter.”
“He was exasperating,” Toni muttered. She balled up the napkin she’d used to dab her face. It was stained with lipstick. “I told him this was going to happen. He rubbed people the wrong the way. I knew it was going to get him into trouble.”
“He made too many enemies.” She stared at the engagement ring on her finger.
“Was Richard one of them?” I pressed.
She twisted the ring and tossed the napkin on the table. “No. Richard was excited about hiring Peter.”
“But you weren’t as—hmmm—shall we say enthusiastic?” I recalled my initial meeting with Richard when Toni had railed on him for hiring the French (or not so French) chef. She wasn’t giving me the full story, that much was certain.
“Peter and I had a complicated relationship.” She hesitated.
I was ready to pounce, but the Professor escorted Richard to the table and motioned for me to join him. “We’ll continue this later.” I stood and followed the Professor to the other side of the dining room.
“Please, have a seat.” He pointed to the chair at a two-person table.
I sat and folded my hands together. “Do tell, Professor. What are your thoughts? Is there a killer amongst us?”
He frowned. Then he opened his moleskin notebook and turned to a blank page. “Indeed, Lance. I believe there is.”
“And, do you have a suspect?” I asked, wondering if this was going to be an open and shut case.
He tapped his pencil on the notebook. “Only theories and hearsay at this point. I would greatly appreciate your insight.”
“But, of course.” I launched into a mini dissertation on everything that had transpired. “I must say, I would be shocked, stunned actually, if Brady did it. He might be hiding something, but I can’t believe he has murder in him.”
“Nor can I,” the Professor concurred. “He revealed something most enlightening to me. Did know that his parents own a very popular steakhouse in Portland? Apparently, he grew up in a professional kitchen.”
“It sounds like he covered for Peter constantly. I think he was concerned that if the truth came out about his cooking skills that Peter would fire him.” The Professor flipped back a few pages in the notebook. “Yes, here it is. His exact words were, ‘I couldn’t make the food great, because Peter had no budget.’”
“No budget.” I pondered this for a moment. “Do you think that’s due to Richard’s Lord stingy nature?”
The Professor’s wise eyes gleamed with a knowing look. “It could be. However, according to Brady the invoices in the kitchen didn’t line up. He claims that Peter was never in the kitchen and left Brady and the other junior members of staff in charge of everything—including receiving daily deliveries. Brady insists that there are stacks of invoices for high quality produce, meats, and expensive cheeses that never were delivered. He had to work with grocery store items like what was served tonight.” He turned to a new page in the notebook. “I’ll have to take a closer look at the Merry Windsor’s financials, but if Brady is correct it sounds as if there are thousands of dollars unaccounted for.”
“Really?” Now this was an interesting development. “So, you suspect that Peter was skimming?”
“Perhaps.” He readied his pencil. “Is there anything else you can elaborate on?”
“I am curious about Hank, the front desk clerk.” I explained that I’d seen Hank and Peter arguing earlier. “Peter taunted him and said, ‘Are you going to poison my soup?’ And then he ends up poisoned. That seems like an unbelievable coincidence, don’t you think?”
The Professor nodded and made a note.
“Hank threatened him and told Peter to get out of town,” I continued. “There are two looming questions in my mind. What did Hank know about Peter? And, what was he doing in the kitchen?”
“Yes.” The Professor sighed. “I agree. My team is examining every square inch of the kitchen. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and find something. This is very helpful. I believe I’ll have a word with Hank next. His name has come up quite often. Anything else to add?”
“I do wonder about Toni. She’s a terrible actress. It’s obvious that she and Peter had something going on and I don’t think she has any interest in marrying Richard.”
“I, too, got that impression.”
“My theory is that she and Peter were in cahoots. I think it was all a ruse. Peter was embezzling the kitchen budget and Toni was trying to sink her teeth into Richard. Convince him to marry her and then clean him out? What do you think?”
A smile tugged at the Professor’s lips. “Lance, if you ever tire of the stage, come see me.”
Before I could expand on my theory, a police officer interrupted us. “Professor, come quick. We found something under the kitchen sink that I think you’re going to want to see.”