Three hours ago, with much too much to do, I decided to write this story. I don’t know…it just showed up in my head. And, for the record, I didn’t drink any wine until after the first draft.
The Blue Plate Special of Death
A somewhat short story by D.J. Lutz, copyright January 2011
Detective Jake Curtis normally investigated the violent crime scenes, the bizarre, unsolvable ones. Here he was flummoxed. The seasoned detective was trying to figure out why he had been called in to a case of heart failure, but then he saw the opened envelope on the table. Using a plastic swizzle stick to pull the letter out of the envelope, Jake started to read. “Here’s your tip, baby! See you in hell…” typed on the plain white page. This most certainly alluded to something more sinister.
The medical examiner mentioned that it looked like a potential poisoning, but none of the ingestibles at the table tested positive with his field kit. He would know something more conclusive when the lab tests were completed at the morgue, but whatever killed the victim, it did not come from the dinner. There were no entry or exit wounds, not much blood to speak of, just a small red stain caused by the victim’s nose, broken as his head hit the table. The pool of blood would have been bigger had his heart kept beating, but this had not been the case.
There were other red stains on the table, but those were from the spaghetti sauce spilled from his entrée. “Damn waste of a dessert,” Jake thought to himself. No sign of struggle, just a man lying face down, his head on the nice white linen table cloth, just to the side of the uneaten slice of cheesecake.
“Hmmm. Male, Late 40s. Non smoker by the looks of his finger tips, but…ah…the tell tale tan line.”
The ME looked up from his clipboard. “Excuse me?”
“Tan line. On his ring finger. Ring’s not quite positioned right on his finger. Looks like it had been taken off, then put back in a hurry. You know, I think this guy was planning on something more than the blue plate special. I’ll bet my shoes this is a murder and it will turn out to be his wife or his girl’s husband..or both.
“My bet is simple heart failure,” said the doctor. “Perhaps he was with his girlfriend and he saw his wife walk in. The shock could have caused cardiac arrest.”
“Doesn’t explain the letter, though. He must have really pissed someone off, somewhere.”
“ Any witnesses? How about the staff or that piano player? Anyone notice anything unusual?”
The detective had earlier spoken with a uniformed officer outside of the fine dining establishment. There were witnesses, and they all mentioned that he was a regular. The victim had, indeed, been there yesterday, dining with a woman. Everyone assumed it was his wife by the way they argued, but they did leave together, happily. Today, however, he was alone.
“Witnesses, yes, but none of any value. He had plans, though. You don’t get this dressed up, dine at a white tablecloth restaurant, suck down an entire bottle of wine, a vintage cab I might add, without some kind of a plan for the evening. Business party, maybe? I don’t know, yet, but the offset ring tells more than any witness. He’s got a girl somewhere.”
Jake opened up his cell phone and started punching numbers. It was time to call in the team.
“Yeah, Bob. I’ve got the pictures and the report here on my phone; I’ll send it to you now. Go to the guy’s house. His wife is probably there; she’ll have to come down to the morgue. Yeah, expect some drama. She’s my prime suspect; I just need to figure out how it happened.”
The forensics team had finished their job. Photos had been taken, prints dusted, food samples quarantined. Jake folded his notes neatly into his jacket pocket. “This one’s a puzzler,” he thought.
As Jake was leaving the restaurant, he stopped by the maitre’d’ stand. Too much coffee meant he needed to snag a few mints on the way out. Looking down at the candy dish, Jake stopped in his tracks.
Seeing the young woman standing behind the counter, he asked “Excuse me, but what is that next to the mints?”
Handing him a cellophane wrapped tablet, she said “These are antacids. People ask for these on the way in and then get a mint on the way out. Reflux, you know.”
Jake pondered for a second. “You alright?”
“I guess so. It’s just…well, I’ve never seen a dead body before.”
“Let’s hope this one is the last.” Jake noticed that she had been crying and was still slightly shaken by the whole ordeal. She was a pretty girl, twenty something, probably put up front as window dressing so that dirty old men could leer at her when their wives were in the powder room. A lot to take in at such a young age.
Taking his cell phone out of his pocket, he pressed re-dial.
“Yeah, Bob, I think I’ve figured it out. Check the guy’s medicine cabinet for any type of antacid.”
“Yeah, you know, something you would take before you had a spicy spaghetti dinner?”
“Great. Take the whole bottle to the lab. My guess is that it’s been tainted.”
“No, I don’t think the guy was a meth head. I think someone laced his stomach pills with speed, knowing he would drink damn near a whole bottle of wine.”
“Exactly. Heart starts beating faster and faster until he slugs down the wine. It was only a matter of time before the old ticker just plain stopped.”
(three hours later, at the police station)
“Hey Jake, the lab report says the antacids were clean, but the guy’s blood did test positive for massive amounts of amphetamine. He was speeding, alright.”
“How about his wife. How’d she take it?”
“She seemed genuinely upset. She mentioned that they had been through a rough patch recently, but he announced at church this week that they were going to renew their vows.”
“Jilted mistress, my man! That’s what we have here.”
“Finding her may take some time. Maybe we could put the word out about a reward, might get some tips at least…”
Jake looked at Bob. “You, sir, are a genius.”
“Well, yes, but…”
“We need to get back to the restaurant before the shift changes. The killer is still there.”
(two blown red lights and a disregarded yield sign later…)
Finding the manager, Jake asked him about the maitre’d. “Julie? She’s just a waitress, and a poor one at that. Spent more time flirting than working. Good riddance, I say.”
“What do you mean?” Jake was starting to get worried.
“She quit about twenty minutes ago. Took off with our blind piano player of all people…”