Read Eggsecutive Orders Online

Authors: Julie Hyzy

Eggsecutive Orders (17 page)

“You’re not thinking Cooper killed Minkus just to get his job?” Bucky scowled. “People don’t usually do that. At least not in the real world.”
Almost word for word, Bucky had just echoed Tom’s sentiment.
“What about China?” I asked. “Didn’t they just have that double-assassination in Beijing? The one that’s been in all the headlines.”
Stopping mid-stride on the way to his stainless steel double refrigerator, Bucky cocked his head. “Yeah. Wasn’t that the day after Minkus died?”
“Do you think it’s related?”
“Like . . . some Chinese official sneaked poison into Minkus’s food? Yeah. Sure.”
“Think about it. According to rumors, the Chinese had insider spies in the United States. Maybe Minkus discovered who that spy was who was selling our secrets. Maybe a Chinese operative got to Minkus before dinner.”
“An operative.” Bucky snorted. “You sound so official. Like a character in a movie, figuring out a global conspiracy.”
Put like that, it sounded ridiculous. I felt stupid for seeing patterns where there were none. For suspecting people like Phil Cooper when I had no reason to do so. I closed the file and placed both hands on top of it. “You’re right,” I finally said.
Wiping his hands after putting the food away, Bucky shrugged. “If someone did get to Minkus before dinner, then I guess we just have to be patient. Let the medical examiner figure out what killed him. God, I hope that’s it. I’m not saying I’m glad he’s dead, you understand. But now I care less about that, than about how it happened. I just hope they find out what—or who—killed him. Until then, no matter what we say or do, we’ll always be known as the killer kitchen.”
Oh God
, I thought. The killer kitchen.
 
 
Sufficiently full from my healthy helping of quiche, I nonetheless headed to the studio where Suzie and Steve filmed their
SizzleMasters
television shows. I hoped for two things: that whatever they served would be light, and that the newshounds who had been staking out their home had given up. After my day of interruptions, the last thing I needed was to deal with the media.
The directions they’d provided were perfect and I pulled up to the studio five minutes early. From the outside it looked like a typical industrial building, but once inside, I felt as though I’d just stepped into someone’s home.
“Ollie, thank goodness,” Suzie said, giving me a quick hug hello. Hugging her was like being enveloped by a favorite aunt, all soft and smooshy, and smelling like White Linen cologne.
“How are you doing?” I asked. “Were you able to lose the reporters?”
Suzie was the type who didn’t understand the principle of “personal space.” She held my hand as we meandered through a waiting area that felt more like a cozy living room: two softly glowing lamps, red walls, jewel-toned accents. “Thank you so much for helping us out,” she said, her face close to mine. “I thought Steve was going to lose it.”
“Lose what?” he boomed from behind a thick wall. The side door was open to the filming portion of the studio and I stepped in and then up onto the raised portion, blinking into the high illumination.
This room was peculiarly lit. While the stage area was hyper-bright, the audience section was dark. I could make out rows of seats, rising toward the back of the studio, guaranteeing everyone a good view. From the looks of it, there were six rows in two sections. Maybe a dozen seats per row. Things sure looked bigger on TV.
“We’re keeping the lights off in the outer portion so that no one knows we’re here,” Suzie said as though I’d asked the question. She squeezed my hand. “I’m so glad you were able to come.”
Her voice held a strange quality. Not relief. Not a shared understanding of what we were all going through.
“Is there something else going on I should know about?” I asked
They exchanged a look. Suzie let go of my hand. “Like what?”
I gave an exaggerated shrug. “Nothing. Anything. I’m just trying to make sure you haven’t been bothered any more.”
“No,” Suzie said, leaving my side to tend to a pot on the stove. She kept her back to me. “Everything has been really quiet since we got here.”
“So your filming went well?”
“Very,” Suzie said.
Steve nodded. He stood in front of the central countertop, which faced the cameras. A large overhead camera pointed down, the better to show the folks at home precisely how items should be prepared. Before him was a heaping mound of grilled vegetables—peppers, onions, zucchini, mushrooms. I wondered how many people they were planning to serve.
The two of them worked at their stations with their backs to one another. Very straight, very tense backs. The pressure in the room was so thick I could swim in it.
“So why here?” I asked.
Steve lifted his head, but his eyes didn’t focus. “Hmm?”
“Here? You mean at the studio?” Suzie spoke over her shoulder. “Oh, we just thought you’d like to see it.”
“Come on, guys,” I said to their backs. “Something doesn’t smell right and I can tell you it isn’t the grilled portabella.”
Suzie said, “How about we eat first, discuss business later?”
“Business?”
“Suze,” Steve said, finally turning to face her. “There is no business to discuss. Remember?”
Now my curiosity was piqued.
Suzie turned. Her smile showed too much teeth. “I thought we decided—”
“Yes.” His smile was an almost perfect mimic of hers. “We decided to have a nice dinner and then give Ollie a copy of the DVD.”
Surprised, I asked, “You have a copy?”
“Of course,” Steve said. “We’re co-producers.”
As if that explained it to non-TV-savvy me. But that didn’t matter. “Where is it? Can I see it?”
He flung a derisive look over his shoulder and said, in a too-casual voice, “Sure. That’s the whole reason we wanted to have you for dinner tonight. But let’s eat first.”
We made our way to the table. “I’m very glad to hear about the DVD.” I carried a basket of fresh-baked sesame rolls, which warmed my hands. “I had asked our chief usher about getting a copy, but he didn’t know if we could.”
They exchanged another look.
The dining area was beyond a half wall—sliced vertically—that made it seem as though we were in an entirely separate room. Open to the cameras yet again, this part of the stage was decorated with homespun accessories, giving the area the feel of a middle-class American home.
Suzie gave me a funny look as she gestured me into a chair. “Why do they want a copy of the DVD?”
Steve speared a perfectly grilled ribeye and placed it on my plate. “Medium-rare okay with you?”
“Perfect.” I turned to Suzie. “I was hoping to use the DVD to prove that nobody in the kitchen could have added anything to Minkus’s plate before it went out. Your crew was still filming right up to the end, remember?”
She nodded, but stared down at her own steak. She looked ready to cry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I should have served the soup first.”
“I make the finest grilled vegetables in North America,” Steve said, leaning over to spoon a helping onto my plate. “Say when.”
But I was looking at Suzie. Her downcast expression was not soup-related. Of that I was certain.
I reached over to touch her hand. “Suze?”
Vaguely aware of a steamy scent wafting upward, I heard Steve say, “Should I keep going?”
I glanced at my plate, alarmed at the pile of vegetables he’d mounded there. “When—when!” I said, jerking my hands up. The quiche in my stomach shifted. “I’ll never be able to eat all that.”
“Sure you will,” Steve said with over-the-top ebullience. “I’m telling you, you’ve never tasted better.”
I twisted my head from side to side, to keep an eye on both of them. “What’s really going on here?”
Suzie sniffed.
Steve sat. “Eat,” he said. It was more an order than invitation.
I tried to manage my impatience by slicing off a small piece of ribeye. Steve had, in fact, grilled it to medium-rare perfection. Popping it in my mouth, I savored its tenderness. “This is wonderful.”
“Don’t forget your veggies.”
I couldn’t possibly forget—not with him constantly reminding me. I speared a green pepper. The vegetable’s skin, shiny with marinade, was cross-sected with grill lines and topped with an ingredient I assumed was chopped garlic. Waves of heat tickled my lips as I took my first bite.
I froze, mid-chew.
It was all I could do to keep from violently spitting the pepper out onto my plate. It tasted like nail polish remover. Or at least what I imagined nail polish remover might taste like. My eyes widened—I didn’t have any idea how to remove this vile thing from my mouth with Steve watching me. Waiting for me to proclaim his creation fabulous.
“Mmm,” I said, grabbing desperately for the napkin on my lap. Damn. Cloth. I needed paper.
“What do you think, Ollie?” Steve asked, his eyes glittering. “Bet you’ve never tasted anything like it.”
I stood.
All of a sudden, it hit me. What if Suzie and Steve
had
poisoned Minkus? Were they now trying to get rid of me? I raced out of the stage area, ducking into the washroom, where I yanked the wastebasket to my face and spit the offensive vegetable out.
Was my light-headedness was because I’d jumped up so quickly—or was I about to die just as Minkus had? I gripped the countertop and looked into the mirror. The lights were still off, so I couldn’t see much. My lips tingled. My tongue was numb.
Just like Minkus.
I had to get out of here.
“Ollie, what’s wrong?” Suzie asked, following me into the room. Blocking my exit.
Suzie’s careworn face had paled. Steve stood behind her, looking grim. Why? Because their plan had failed?
“Sick,” I said, my tongue sluggish and swollen. “I better go.”
Steve shook his head. “I’ll drive you home.”
“No!” I shouted. “My car is here. I’ll be okay.”
Now it was Suzie shaking her head. “I won’t feel comfortable with you driving alone. Is there someone we can call? Maybe I’ll drive with you and Steve can follow us.”
She reached over and felt my forehead. “You’re clammy.”
No kidding.
“Come on,” she said, taking my arm. “Let’s sit for a few minutes.”
I tugged away. “Gotta go.”
“But what about the DVD?” Suzie asked. “You really wanted to see it.”
Not at the expense of my life,
I thought.
She pressed. “Come on back to the table. I’ll get the DVD and then we’ll figure out how to get you home safely.”
Working my way to the door, I tried to still the thudding of my heart. Was its extra-speedy beat from that single bite of green pepper? Was I about to go into cardiac arrest?
Ready to run, I looked at Suzie and Steve. Really looked at them. These two had been my friends for several years. Why was I suspecting them of murder?
Because they’d been acting like weirdos leading up to dinner. That’s why.
“My purse,” I said, hurrying back to the table. I chanced a look at Suzie’s and Steve’s plates. Neither had taken the grilled vegetables.
My stomach churned and I put a hand over my mouth.
Suzie beat me to the table and picked up my purse but didn’t hand it over. Steve told me to wait while he got the DVD.
Would he come back with a meat cleaver?
“I told my mom and nana that I was coming here tonight,” I said.
Suzie looked distracted. “Will they be able to come get you?”
“No—they don’t have a car.” I held out my hand for my purse.
She stepped back, out of my reach. “I don’t know if you’re safe to drive.” Worry wrinkled her forehead. “You seemed fine until you started eating.”
“No . . . I’ve not been feeling well.”
The platter of vegetables sat directly in front of Suzie’s plate. She eyed them, then looked at me. “It’s too bad,” she said. “Steve was so excited to have you try this new marinade.”
I’ll bet.
Eyeing the veggies again, she leaned forward and picked up a piece of grilled portabella. If she tried to force-feed me, I was going to run for the door.
She surprised me by taking a big bite. “Oh my God,” she said, around the mouthful. She looked around wildly, but didn’t run away, as I had. Instead she grabbed the cloth napkin off the table and spit into it. “My God,” she said again. “That’s horrible.”
“Found it!” Steve said, emerging from the back area. No meat cleaver. No gun. He held a DVD in a jewel case near his head. He waved it triumphantly.
“Steve,” Suzie said, pointing at the vegetable platter. “What did you do to those?”
He looked from his wife, to me, to the platter, and then back again. “What’s wrong with them?”
“They’re disgusting. What’s in that new recipe you used? This is the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. I swear, if I didn’t know better, you were trying to poison us.”
Suzie’s hand flew to her mouth as she realized what she’d said. Then: “My tongue is numb.”
Steve’s smile dissolved. Anger and disbelief took over, as he leaned over the table to grab one of the grilled veggies. He threw two peppers into his mouth and began to chew vigorously. But not for long. Within seconds he was gagging.
Steve spit out the veggies, just as Suzie and I had. “What the hell?” he asked.
“Should we get to a hospital?” I asked. “All of us?”
Frantically wiping at his tongue with his napkin—a truly unappetizing sight if there ever was one—Steve shook his head. “I can’t imagine . . .”
He slammed the DVD onto the table and ran out of the dining room back into the stage-kitchen. We followed.
Digging out an olive oil container, he smelled the top of it. “Seems fine,” he said. Then, with a look of dawning realization, he pulled a plastic bowl from the refrigerator and removed the top. He stuck his face close to its contents. He then tipped a finger into the mix and touched it to his lips, grimacing at the taste. “Dear Lord,” he said.

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