A Lime To Kill: A Key West Culinary Cozy - Book 1 (6 page)

BOOK: A Lime To Kill: A Key West Culinary Cozy - Book 1
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Chapter 11

 

Marilyn walked
back inside the police station. Before she went back to Bernard’s office,
Marilyn took a seat in the waiting area and pulled out an old envelope and a
pen from her purse.

 

Poison??
Natural cause of death??

What kind of
Poison?

Who called 911?
Susan?

Why not Joe
with phone and where was Joe when T. walking to B Room?

Tammy just
appeared at that moment??

Larry the
repair man?

Susan?

Drew?

Stranger?
Random act of violence? Something totally unknown?

 

She carried
her list and was going to go back to Detective Cort
land
’s
office when the officer at the reception desk stopped her, Ma’am, you’ll have
to wait in this area. You need permission and an escort to go any further.”

 

Marilyn had
clearly raised the desk sergeant’s ire by running back unannounced the first
time that she had come in that evening. She did as she was told and waited patiently
while he called Cortland. When Bernard instructed him to escort her back,
Marilyn tried to keep the triumph out of her polite smile.

 

“Do you know
what the poison is yet?” she blurted, when the sergeant closed Cortland’s door.

 

“What?” the
detective frowned,  confused.

 

“You said it was
a chemical compound. Fergus died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital,
and the doctors noticed something weird, and it must have been traceable in his
blood since that was the major tip off right?”

 

“That’s not
information that is divulged to interested parties,” Bernard said leaning back
into his chair. “You talk to Tammy?”

 

Marilyn nodded
her mind bouncing around in several directions. “She says she stayed until the
ambulance got there but I don’t think she did…and Joe didn’t call 911, it didn’t
even sound like he thought to call.”

 

“People react
strangely sometimes, you never know what they’re going to do in high stress
situations,” Cortland shrugged. “The uniforms are done at your house now, I
could drive you over there if you’d like,” he offered.

 

Marilyn caught
herself gazing into his eyes. He looked tired, but still focused and intense.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” she asked, too exhausted to pull any punches.

 

“No idea,” he
shrugged again. “Maybe I’d like to solve the case so Miami can stay out of our
business in the future.”

 

Marilyn nodded.
Whatever works.

 

Chapter 12

 

When Marilyn
came home, Tiara was sitting on the couch in sweat pants and a well-worn
college tee-shirt, her hair wet and smelling of shampoo. She sat down next to
her silent daughter, who refused to look at her. Picking up the remote, she put
the movie that seemed to have captured the young woman’s attention entirely, on
mute. Tiara looked over and Marilyn could tell that she’d been crying.

 

“Well, here we
are,” Marilyn regarded her daughter with concern. “The local detective, the
nice, good- looking one, says you probably need a lawyer, and I think he’s
right.”

 

Tiara pressed her
lips together, tears welling in her eyes and spilling over onto her cheeks.

 

“You need to
be honest with me, sweetie. The detective from Miami told me about the job that
you turned down,” she said gently, without judgment or accusation, despite her
bruised feelings. Tiara looked up, eyes wide. “He also showed me a paper you
wrote for your Women’s Studies class,” Marilyn looked at her daughter, who
deliberately avoided her gaze. “And while we’re bringing up potentially
important information, I’d really like to hear about the fight that landed you
in jail, something about a beer bottle and a guy named Samuel Freed?” she
finished, looking expectantly at the obviously uncomfortable young woman who
seemed to curl into herself on the couch.

 

Marilyn took a
breath and squeezed Tiara’s knee. “But first things first, we need to really
focus on what happened yesterday. Ok?” Swiping away a tear with the back of her
hand, Tiara nodded.

 

“What
happened, sweetie? Start at the beginning and please tell me if there’s
anything else I don’t know. They might try to surprise me with later if you
don’t,” she sighed, shaking her head.

 

Tiara still
sat silently, wiping away her tears one at a time, with the sleeves of her
tee-shirt. Her mother realized that it was going to take some prompting to get
her talking.

 

“Ok, just
start from when I left, I took the pies and the keys, held up my phone, and
walked out the door…then what happened?” she led, carefully.

 

“Ok,” Tiara
sighed deeply, tucking her feet up under her. “So the line of people was out
the door and onto the sidewalk,” She blinked a few times, her eyes focused on
her knees as if she were seeing the dramatic scenes playing out in front of
her. “I had been making those stuffed strawberries.”

 

“Did you see
anyone else touch them?” Marilyn interrupted, leaning forward.

 

“No, I didn’t
see anyone go near them…but things were chaotic, you know?” she shrugged, still
not looking at her mother.

 

Marilyn nodded.

 

“Anyway, Susan
asked me if I wanted her to finish them but I said no…I asked her to put the
newly made pies into the walk-in and start prepping more for when the ovens
were fixed. I knew she couldn’t handle the cash register as quickly as I could,
so it didn’t make sense to have her do anything else,” Tiara explained,
impatient at having to re-tell the story yet again.

 

She finally
looked at her mother, who nodded, encouraging her to continue.

 

“So then a
woman ordered two slices…and I put two of the stuffed strawberries on top of
hers too, that’s what’s so strange…that woman ate them in the store. I saw her
and she was fine,” Tiara shook her head, seemingly genuinely confused. “Then
Drew came in to talk,” she looked miserably at her mom. “He sat at a table by
the front windows to wait for me while I dealt with customers, then I went over
to the table to talk with him.”

 

“Theoretically,
I guess someone could have reached over from the customer side to tamper with
the filled strawberries…” Marilyn mused, frowning.

 

“I guess it’s
possible,” Tiara shrugged. “But who would do that?”

 

“Well, that’s
the question isn’t it?” Marilyn said, sighing.

 

“So I talked
to Drew for a while then the repair guys came in, Larry and Joe, and went back
to check on the ovens. The blonde woman who had to use the bathroom came in
right behind them. I asked Susan to take over the front, because the blonde
woman who came in was the only customer in the shop at that point. I was
talking to Drew and I knew that it would only take a minute,” she added
hastily, justifying her decision to talk with the handsome yoga instructor
rather than run the register.

 

“Okay,”
Marilyn nodded, wanting to keep her daughter focused on actual events rather
than her guilt over acting in a decidedly unprofessional manner.

 

“The blonde
lady asked to go to the bathroom and Susan didn’t know if that was allowed, so
she checked with me, and I sent her back, telling her to watch out for the
repair guy’s tools that might be on the floor. That’s when Fergus came in,”
Tiara dropped her eyes back to her lap.

 

Marilyn tried
to mentally recreate the scene, just as it had happened. She closed her eyes as
her daughter talked.

 

“He said I was
a genius…he loved the cream puffs, which makes sense, they are really good, but
that hardly makes me a genius,” she said softly, sadly. Shaking her head as
though to clear it, she continued. “I put together another full pie, four cream
puffs on the sides, and four stuffed strawberries on top of the pie.”

 

Marilyn opened
her eyes. “Okay, which strawberries did you choose? The ones closest to you?
Did you take them all in order?” her brow furrowed.

 

“Yes, I took
them in order. They were the strawberries in the row right behind the ones that
I put on the two slices earlier,” Tiara nodded, looking her mother right in the
eye.

 

“And you’re
sure they were from the same batch that you’d prepared?”

 

“I’m absolutely
sure, it had been there the whole time, I would have noticed if an entire tray
had been moved.”

 

 “Alright,”
Marilyn sighed trying to pull the vision back into focus. “You put four
strawberries on top.”

 

“Fergus took
one and ate it. He seemed to enjoy it…it obviously didn’t taste bad or weird. I
put another in his box to replace the one that he had eaten, and rang him up.”

 

Tiara looked
up to make sure her mother was still following. “Then I went back to Drew and
the blonde woman screamed.”

 

“What did she
say when she screamed?” Marilyn asked.

 

Tiara shook
her head, frustrated. “I don’t really remember. I just remember the sound of
her voice and the look on her face.”

 

“What do you
mean?” her mother probed.

 

The young
woman took a breath, letting it out in a sigh. “Her voice was…hysterical. Her
face was completely white and honestly, I thought something worse would be
there when I turned around.”

 

“So he didn’t
look that bad?” Marilyn tilted her head to the side.

 

“Oh no, he
definitely did,” Tiara said. “It’s just…I mean he was obviously having some
kind of an attack, but he was still alive…I didn’t just assume that he was
about to die. But, then I’ve never seen anyone die,” her voice trailed off.

 

Marilyn was
quiet, leaning over to kiss her daughter’s still-damp hair. She’d been through
a lot the last couple of days, it was clearly time to let the stressed out
young woman rest. Tucking her into bed for a much needed nap, she sat at
Tiara’s bedside, stroking her hair until her breathing became slow and even,
indicating that sleep had claimed her at last. Gazing down at her like this, it
was impossible to believe that this young innocent face had instigated a murder.
She knew in her heart that her daughter would never do such a thing, now she
had to prove it.

 

Marilyn went
back out to the living room, noting that everything was vaguely out of place. The
police hadn’t created a mess like she’d imagined - everything had been put
back, but nothing was quite as it should be. Sighing, she poured herself a
glass of wine, and sat down on the sofa with her notes.

 

Grabbing her
laptop, she started by seeking out information on every person who had been
present when Fergus was poisoned. Everyone has a least somewhat of an internet
footprint – addresses, previous addresses, work accomplishments, marriage
licenses, etc...  Living in an age of easy-access information made it much less
difficult to look into the details of people’s lives.

 

She searched
the names methodically, and finally happened upon something that made her heart
pound and her hands shake. She tried to call Bernard Cortland, with whom she
had begun to feel an inexplicable kinship, as if they were in this mess
together, but was sent straight to voicemail. Undoubtedly, the hardworking
detective was asleep after having gone two days without rest. Marilyn left a
message then headed for her shop.

 

She felt so
much adrenaline flowing through her veins that she broke into a light jog for
the entire first mile, but ultimately ran out of steam, much to her
consternation, and resorted to a fast walk. Adrenaline might enable some folks
to lift heavy trucks off of others who were in distress, but it apparently
didn’t give her enough stamina to run all the way to her shop.  She chastised
herself for not taking full advantage of her gym membership.

 

Reaching her
street she slowed abruptly. The crime scene tape was still up and there was a
bored-looking officer stationed out front. Marilyn retraced her steps before
the uniformed policeman could see her, then slipped into the alley behind her
shop. Not seeing anyone, she crept slowly against the brightly painted back
wall, all the way to a delivery door that she rarely used.

 

Cursing to
herself, Marilyn saw the lock on the closure that required the user to line up
a series of letters and numbers in order to release it. She’d put it on so long
ago that she couldn’t remember which series of numbers and letters she might
have used. She quickly began a mental review of her list of usual passwords to
see if anything like one of them might fit.

 

Remembering
her state of mind at the time that she’d purchased the lock, she took a chance
and set the numbers and letters to “
2 smart 4 U,”
pulling down firmly on
the hasp.
 The lock clicked open with an audible metallic
clonk
,
and she glanced furtively about, making sure that no one had heard. Marilyn
quietly crept into her own store like a thief in the night, thankful that she
knew how to navigate the space in the dark. She made her way to the walk-in
freezer, opened it just far enough to accommodate her slim frame, but hopefully
not far enough that the light from it would catch the attention of the officer
outside, and slipped in. A blast of frigid air chilled her to the bone. The
inside light clicked off when she pulled the door almost closed behind her,
leaving it open just a crack so that she didn’t get locked inside. The
flashlight app on her phone illuminated the inside of the freezer just enough,
showing shelves that were neatly stacked with the ingredients necessary for
making her mouthwatering treats.

 

Marilyn looked
around, taking a quick inventory. She fixed her gaze on the strawberries, for a
moment, brow furrowed. She removed several boxes, peering into them intently,
then put them back. She then turned to the shelves which held her large
containers of condensed milk, sour cream, and butter. She perused the
containers thoughtfully, her fingers trailing along them as she puzzled and
pondered, shivering in the cold. She picked up the most recently used container
of sour cream and lifted the lid. It took just one sniff for Marilyn to determine
that this carton contained key lime filling, not sour cream…and she would bet
anything that that filling was poisoned.

 

She nearly
jumped out of her skin when the door to the walk-in opened, and a strange sense
of foreboding shook her when she saw her newest employee step toward her.

 

“Hi Marilyn,”
Susan said quietly, with a strange look on her face. “I’m sorry about this, I
really am.”

 

“Sorry about
what?” Marilyn’s heart was beating so fast she thought it might burst. The cold
was seeping into her bones and she felt the tiny interior of the freezer
closing in around her like an icy cave.

 Somehow
knowing that her life depended upon how she handled the next few minutes of
this interaction, she smiled sadly and spoke in a low, comforting voice, trying
hard to keep her body from giving in to fits of uncontrollable shivering.

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