Authors: Harper Lin
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Gourmet Sweet Shop - Paris
|Harper Lin - Patisserie 06 - Crème Brûlée Murder|
|Patisserie Mysteries |
|Harper Lin (2014)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Gourmet Sweet Shop - Paris|
Crème Brûlée Murder
A Patisserie Mystery
by Harper Lin
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Some street names and locations in Paris are real, and others are fictitious.
Copyright © 2014 Harper Lin. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the author.
The cake made its grand entrance from the kitchen. Twenty-nine lit blue candles stuck out from all angles of the edible Eiffel Tower, giving off the effect that it was sparkling, like the real one did every hour on the hour after sundown. The cake added a bit of kitsch to the party, something lacking in typical Parisian social events, while the full-scale inspiration could be seen from the window of the Damour
salon de thé
, where the party was held.
Clémence beamed as two members of her staff pushed the big cake on a cart toward her. The guests began singing “Joyeux Anniversaire.” Arthur, her boyfriend, squeezed her hand as she closed her eyes and made a wish before blowing the candles out. It was a challenge to do it in one breath, since the candles were all around the three-dimensional cake, and she laughed as she failed after multiple attempts. Arthur had to lift her up so she could blow out the candles at the top of the cake.
Her guests tittered in amusement, mock clapping, and Clémence never felt so connected to the close friends and family members who had shown up in response to her short-notice invitation. She hadn’t wanted to celebrate her birthday, at first—her twenty-ninth year on earth wasn’t a major milestone, and she was content to let it pass quietly as just another day—but she had finally been convinced by Arthur and her friends to do something. It made sense to throw something together at Damour, since the city’s best desserts were already readily available.
Damour was a patisserie and
salon de thé
started by Clémence’s parents, who were both bakers. Aside from the ones in Paris, they also had locations in Nice, Cannes, New York, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Her parents were in Asia right now, working on the new store in Singapore. Their packaged chocolates, candies, tea, and drink mixes were also sold in gourmet supermarkets around the world. The name “Damour” was synonymous with gourmet desserts and treats.
The flagship location was at 4 Place du Trocadero, located in the 16th arrondissement, where Clémence worked most of the time inventing new dessert flavors and overseeing the store’s operations. As the heiress of the family brand, she was technically in charge while her parents were away, although she relied on store managers, such as Caroline, to keep the three stores in Paris running smoothly.
Clémence’s job came with plenty of perks, although the perks could be too much of a good thing sometimes. In the few months since she’d returned to Paris, after traveling around the world for two years, she’d gained seven pounds. Her metabolism wasn’t what it used to be. But Clémence got to work with some of her favorite people everyday, her schedule was flexible, and she had privileges, such as closing the flagship store early on a Saturday night so that she could throw her private party.
All the chefs, bakers, apprentices, patisserie cashiers, and
salon de thé
servers from the Paris Damour locations were invited, but none were required to work, since Clémence had been considerate enough to hire a temp staff so they were free to enjoy the evening. It was as much of a celebration for the people in Clémence’s life as it was for growing a year older.
Her aunt and uncle, who lived in Montmartre, came, but unfortunately Clémence’s older brother, who lived in Deauville, had to go on a business trip to Scotland that weekend. Her sister, Marianne, who lived in the south of France, was on vacation in Italy with family but promised to visit or meet up somewhere with Clémence before summer was over.
After the guest had a nibble of the cake—which turned out to be white chocolate on the inside—Berenice Soulier, Clémence’s friend and a fellow baker at Damour, took over the DJ table and put on her dance playlist.
All the tables in the
salon de thé
had been cleared off to the side just for this occasion. Some of the guests, already plied and loosened with champagne, began to dance. The others needed more alcohol before they could make fools of themselves.
“There’s more champagne coming,” Clémence told them.
Her friend Ben Mason began busting out cheesy dance moves such as the running man, the robot, and the electric slide, setting the silly tone for limb flailing–phobics to join in.
Sebastien Soulier and his girlfriend, Maya, joined in. Then Celine, a hostess at Damour, and some of the waiters followed.
As the evening went on, the guests got drunker and grooved harder. Toward the end, all shame was abandoned, and everyone really let loose. Dinner jackets were set aside, heels were taken off, and the impromptu dance floor had all their energy.
Clémence threw her hands up in the air, and she jumped around, heel-less. Her head buzzed from the champagne—she couldn’t even recall how many glasses she’d drunk. She was stumbling into other guests—into Madeleine Seydoux and her boyfriend, Henri; Henri’s brother Charles; and Cesar, Uncle Nicolas, and Aunt Juliette. Some of the waitstaff were doing the limbo, started by Jennifer, who was an American expat working as a patisserie cashier at the Damour St. Germain location.
Clémence stumbled into Arthur’s arms. He was also buzzed by the high of the evening, and he actually danced even though he had two left feet, like most Frenchmen.
Arthur pulled her in for a slow dance, even though a manic electronic dance song was playing. She snuggled up to his shoulders, her nose touching his neck.
“This has been the best night,” she murmured. “Thanks for talking me into this.”
“It was worth it, seeing you do the moonwalk.” He laughed.
They stayed that way for a moment, just the two of them, swaying drunkenly to the music. The dessert table at the side, which at the start of the evening was plentiful with Damour signature goodies such as macarons, tarts, éclairs, and croissants, looked as if it was hit by a hurricane. There were hardly anything left. They had a chocolate fountain, and all the fruits were nearly gone, as well.
Later on, Clémence was continuing to drink champagne. She felt so open and happy that she went around the room, hugging people and telling them all the gushy ways she liked them. When she was about to hug her aunt, she heard a woman’s scream in the background.
Berenice cut the music.
The woman screamed again. All heads turned toward where it was coming from:
Maya came out of the door to the restrooms, her face as pale as meringue.
“What happened?” Sebastien rushed to her.
“D-dead,” she croaked. “He’s dead.”
“Who’s dead?” Clémence said.
Clémence tried to snap out of her drunken stupor. Another dead body? She pulled Arthur’s hand, and they both went into the restroom. They’d both seen enough dead bodies in the past few months to stomach this. Plus, since they were intoxicated, the event didn’t feel quite real.
Clémence pulled on the door that opened to two more doors, one for the men’s toilet and the other for the women’s.
“He’s in there.” Maya pointed to the door, on which hung a line drawing of gentleman in a top hat. “I went into the men’s room by accident.”
Clémence took a deep breath and pulled the door open. There he was, slumped on the floor, hands grazing the toilet bowl. Cesar Laberg, Henri’s brother and heir to the
None of the guests were allowed to leave. Inspector Cyril St. Clair and his team started interrogating everyone.
Cyril headed straight for Clémence, who was in a corner next to the empty dessert table. She was staring off into space, contemplating what could’ve possibly happened tonight that caused Cesar to end up dead.
“For once,” he said to her, “I would like to go a week without a Damour-related murder.”
“You and me both,” said Clémence.
Arthur came and wrapped his arm around Clémence’s shoulders for moral support. “
” he greeted the inspector stiffly.
“Dubois.” Inspector nodded at him before turning back to Clémence. “So what is it, this time? Ransom? Blackmail? Why is that man dead?”
“I don’t know,” Clémence said sharply. “But I demand you keep your voice down. The victim is the brother of two of my guests. Please be sensitive.”
“All right, fine.” He lowered his voice. “But I still want to know, who is this guy, and what exactly happened here?”
It wasn’t a total surprise that Cyril would question her first instead of the person who found the body, or the guests who knew Cesar better. Clémence had been inadvertently helping Cyril solve murder cases ever since she returned to Paris in the spring.
“His name is Cesar Laberg,” she told him. “He’s the heir of
. You heard of it?”
“The publishing company? Yes.”
“Well, Cesar’s the head of the magazine department now, and he was being primed to take over the whole empire.”
“How do you know him?” Cyril asked.
“His youngest brother, Henri, is going out with a friend of mine, Madeleine Seydoux. You remember her?”
“Yes, of course.” Cyril furrowed his brows in thought. “Hold on, I know these Laberg brothers. They’re always on Paris Social’s ‘Most Eligible Bachelors’ list.”
Clémence gave him an odd but amused look. “You read that gossip site?”
“For work,” Cyril quickly added. “For research purposes, of course. You socialites and rich people are always getting involved in scandals and murders. Of course it’s something I
to keep up with.”
Clémence snorted. “Sure. Well, I don’t know much about the Labergs. I suppose you can question Henri or Charles Laberg.”
They looked back at the brothers. Charles was on the phone, probably speaking with his parents, and Henri was being comforted by Madeleine in a tight embrace.
“Who found Cesar’s body?” Cyril asked.
“Maya Diallo,” she replied. “She’s the date of one of my bakers.”
Maya was on the opposite side of the room. Sebastien had his arms around her. She looked terrified. Clémence understood how shocking it could be to find a dead body. She’d stumbled across a few in the past few months.
“And what do you know about her?” Cyril asked. “This Maya Diallo?”
“Do you suspect her?” Clémence asked.
“I suspect everyone. Even you, too.”