“So how’d Mattie like the duck?” Mark took a beer from the fridge and plopped into a chair at the kitchen table.
The judge looked up from his notes. “Hey, get me one, too, willya?”
Mark grinned at him. “What? You think I’m your waiter or something?” He snickered as he rose and opened the fridge again.
“She said the duck was okay. I had a taste and it was kinda dry and the sauce wasn’t a big deal. My steaks were all right, but kinda small and a little tough. Bernard was right. The place has had a ‘downhill run’ since the new owner took over. Thanks,” as he accepted the can of beer.
“Well, I found out a coupla things tonight. Besides what a Supreme de Volailles is.” McCormick sipped at his beer and raised his eyebrows. “Somebody’s fooling around with the accounts. I think it has to be the head chef, Couteux, and I heard him yelling at the owner, who was yelling right back.” He shook his head. “Wish I spoke French.”
Hardcastle looked at him inquiringly.
“Mon femme.” Mark sipped more beer. “I heard that a couple of times from Couteux and that means ‘my wife’. But I couldn’t get anything else out of it.”
“Howja know that much?” asked a surprised judge. “You never took French.”
McCormick smiled in a superior fashion. “We serve Capon Bonne Femme at our restaurant, Judge. Bonne femme means ‘good wife’ and means it’s cooked with mushrooms.”
“Huh.” Hardcastle thought for a moment. “But you couldn’t make out anything else?”
“Just that they sounded mad enough to start throwing yew berries at each other.” He drank a little more beer, slowly. “Then Couteux’s wife showed up.” He cradled the beer can between his hands for a moment, then added, “And she was wearing four grand worth of emerald earrings.”
The judge cocked his head. “When did you get to be a jewelry appraiser?”
“I saw the invoice in Couteux’s office. And the check that he’d written for them that bounced. The weird thing, though, is that it was a restaurant check. I mean, it was drawn on the restaurant account, and that can’t be right.”
Hardcastle shook his head. “It’s grounds for the owner to yell at him. But he was yelling right back at Mon D’Or about his wife, huh? I think we’ll talk to Frank about all this and see what he’s come up with.” He pushed back from the table, beer can in hand. “Hey, you hungry? We got some leftover ham for sandwiches.”
Mark held up a palm. “I’m full of lobster quenelles and shad roe au Creole.”
“Well,” muttered Hardcastle, “I always knew you were full of something.”
McCormick surreptitiously stretched his back and shifted his feet to try to ease the pain in them. He quickly scanned his three tables and saw that he could take a moment to relax behind one of the potted palms before any of his diners started looking around for him.
Joe Fingers sidled up next to him and whispered out of the corner of his mouth. “Watch yourself. Couteux’s on the warpath again.”
Mark rolled his eyes and sighed. “What was it this time? A sauce that curdled or the wrong kind of kumquats?”
“I heard it was something that came out in the paper today.” Fingers rocked from foot to foot, nervously tightening his tie. “Maybe a restaurant review? Hey–” he broke off and stared intently at one of the tables. “Look at Henri.”
McCormick focused on the maitre d’ at one of the tables. “He’s just asking them how things are going, right? He does that with every table at some point.”
“Yeah, but you remember you asked me how hard it would be to swap those yew berries onto somebody’s plate while they were eating?” Fingers jerked his chin toward Henri. “Watch him at the next table. When he asks them how everything is, they look up at him and he waves his right hand toward one of the plates. Check it out.”
Mark did. And Fingers was right. The customers uniformly would look up at the maitre d’, away from their plates. Henri would gesture widely toward their food and it would have been simple for him to drop a few extra garnishes onto a bread plate or even the entree itself.
“Joe,” murmured McCormick, “we need to have a little talk with Henri. But first, let me check with Hardcastle and see if the cops have found out anything about anybody.” He noticed one of his patrons lifting a finger, and quickly added, “Thanks. Keep your eyes open.
Meanwhile, the kitchen staff cowered in silence as the chef du cuisine raged. Fortunately for them, most of the comments were in French, but the noise of pans being flung against a wall and the shattering of glass condiment dishes more than made up for their linguistic lack.
In the midst of the tirade, owner Pierre Mon D’Or appeared at the door leading from the kitchen to the offices and a sudden silence fell.
Couteux stared at Mon D’Or, then walked slowly toward him, hands spasmodically clenching and unclenching.
The owner spoke to him in an undertone, then waved at the staff to continue their work, as he pulled Couteux into the hallway behind him and closed the door to the kitchen.
“Frank says they’ve checked into just about everybody who was there the night Farkas got poisoned, and this is all they’ve come up with.” The judge dropped a thin manila folder onto his desk. “Henri might’ve been able to do it physically, and he could’ve gotten the berries, but that’s just opportunity and means. There’s no motive for him. In fact, there’s no discernable motive for anybody who worked there except for Couteux and, just possibly, Mon D’or and neither of them were anywhere near Farkas when the berries were put on the plate.” He shook his head disgustedly. “We hafta be missing something.”
McCormick sighed and relaxed even further into his wing chair at the end of the desk. “I dunno what it is, but I do know I’m about done with the restaurant biz. Do you have any idea how much my feet hurt?” He closed his eyes and a silence fell on the den.
“Wait a minute,” said Mark, sitting up straight suddenly. “You remember when we were talking about that TV show, ‘Team Improbable’, and how you were crabbing that their investigations never took accomplices into account?”
Hardcastle rubbed his chin, brow wrinkled. “Umm, I think so. That the one where they always get the guy with a fast car chase at the end when they coulda just had him quietly arrested instead?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Mark patted the air excitedly. “You went on for a long time about real detection and how cops and private investigators always looked for links to people in a crime. Well, how about Henri? What if he was working with one of the others, somebody who had a grudge of some kind against Farkas?”
The judge was already thumbing through the file and pulled out a pair of sheets that had been paper-clipped together. “Yeah, yeah! You look at motive and there’s lots of people it coulda been. Couteux’s wife was photographed with Farkas at a charity dinner somewhere and there’s been a rumor going around for a while that they were more than just ‘good friends’, if ya know what I mean.” Hardcastle lifted his eyebrows in an exaggerated leer. “And there were two produce suppliers for Chez Pierre that had run-ins with Farkas when he insulted the quality of their food. And there was a sous-chef–” he broke off. “What’s a sous-chef do? Is he in charge of ‘sous’?”
“I’ll tell ya later,” Mark said, pointing at the file. “What about him?”
“He was fired a few weeks ago, when Farkas complained that there was a hair in his vichysoisse. The guy took it personally, came out into the dining room and yelled at Farkas who yelled right back. According to this, it got real ugly, with threats flying and the guy was fired the next day by Mon D’Or, who’d just taken over the place.” Hardcastle looked up from the papers. “I think we oughtta have Frank get into Henri’s connection with some of these people.”
McCormick nodded, pulling gently at his lower lip. “But you realize that the most obvious connection is at the restaurant right now, Couteax. And he’s got some real problems these days. In fact,” he frowned unhappily, “I can’t see Henri doing him any favors. Couteux threatened to fire him yesterday in one his daily fits. In fact, he threatened to fire just about everybody, so who’d want to help him out with his wandering wife?”
Hardcastle blew out a puff of air. “That’s what Frank is for. We let him nose around and see what dirt he can dig up, then we think some more. And it wouldn’t hurt for you to have a little chat with Henri tomorrow. See what you can find out that maybe he wouldn’t’ve told the cops.”
“Okay,” yawned Mark. “But we better get this case finished up soon. I’ve gained three pounds!”