Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series (4 page)

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
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Moira got the all clear from Detective Jefferson on her drive back to Maple Creek, so the next morning she arrived at the deli even earlier than usual to clean up. She had been unable to get David’s words out of her head the entire night before, so she did a quick but thorough search of the kitchen to reassure herself that no one was hiding and ready to jump out at her.

To her relief, there was no sign that a dead man had been sitting in the chair a day before, though the floor was a mess from all of the salt and snow that had been tracked in and melted. It took her nearly two hours to clean up, but when she was done, the deli was sparkling.

Once the deli was back to normal, she breathed a sigh of relief and began pulling out the pots and pans that she would need to make the soups. She didn’t know how many customers she should be expecting today; last time someone’s death had been connected to the store, business had suffered terribly until she had cleared her name. Hopefully it wouldn’t be the same this time. She really needed the money to help Candice put down a deposit on a place for her candy shop and an apartment later in the year.

She began by melting a stick of butter in a large Dutch oven, then she added sliced leeks, celery, and carrots. While the vegetables softened in the butter on low heat, she got started on the minestrone. Soon enough, the scents of garlic browning in olive oil and sizzling butter filled the kitchen. Deciding to make the most of her early morning, she turned on the radio and soon found herself humming along as she worked. The deli was
hers
and she refused to be scared while she was there. The front door was locked, and she had checked every nook and cranny of the kitchen; there was nothing to worry about.

A blast of cold air made her spin around, and a jolt of adrenaline shot through her when she saw the side door that they used for deliveries open, and a tall man with a dark coat standing in its entrance, silhouetted against the bright sunlight outside. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the contrast, but when she recognized David’s blue eyes and amused expression, she let out a huge sigh and put down the spoon that she had been holding in front of her like a sword.

“You scared me half to death,” she said.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to.” He let himself the rest of the way in, and shut the door behind him. “I tried knocking at the front door, but you weren’t answering, so I thought I would try back here.”

“I was listening to music.” Embarrassed, Moira turned the radio down. “But how did you get in? That door is always locked. It locks automatically. I have to prop it open.”

“It wasn’t locked this time,” he said with a frown. He pulled the door partway open again and crouched down. She watched as he slowly peeled a piece of tape away from the latch. Their eyes met, and she felt a shiver go down her spine. Someone had kept the door from locking, and had had access to the deli for who knew how long without her having a clue.

“Oh my goodness,” she said, sitting down on one of the tall stools and staring at David. “Should I tell the police?”

“Definitely,” he said. “Do you have a sandwich bag?”

Confused, she stood up and got the container of plastic bags from the cupboard. She handed him one, and watched as he carefully put the piece of tape that had been holding the latch down inside of it.

“I don’t want to contaminate it, in case they can use it as evidence,” he told her. “They may be able to lift fingerprints from it.”

“Oh, that makes sense. Can you stir the soups? They’re simmering, I just don’t want them to burn.” She grabbed her cell phone. “I’m going to call Detective Jefferson and tell him what we found.”

When she came back into the kitchen, she was amused to find the private investigator carefully stirring the curried corn chowder. He was peering at the soup doubtfully, as if he wasn’t quite certain what it was supposed to be.

“What are you doing here, anyway?” she asked, taking the spoon from him and giving the soup a quick stir before moving on to check on the minestrone.

“Oh, I came over to help you install a couple of things that I picked up—if you want them, of course,” he said.

“Like what?” She raised her eyebrows, surprised by his thoughtfulness.

“There’s a motion detector and a wireless security camera that you can access from your phone,” he told her. “They’re yours if you want them. I figure that with everything that has been going on here, you’d appreciate a little added security.”

“I do appreciate it, but you didn’t have to do all of that for me. I was planning on getting something. Eventually.” She sighed, knowing that likely she would have kept putting it off. She was okay with technology, but she thought that choosing which security camera to go with and installing it would probably be beyond her.

“They’re nothing fancy,” he said quickly. “I just thought it might help.”

“Thank you.” She gave him a quick smile. “Oh, Detective Jefferson and Detective Fitzgerald are going to stop by. They said they want to pick up the tape, and also talk to me. You can stay though, if you want,” she added quickly.

“All right, I’ll get started on installing the camera and motion detector if you want. Just tell me where to put them.”

CHAPTER SEVEN

The detectives arrived only a few minutes after David began to install the security camera. Moira had opted to put it up front by the register, as she had seen many stores do. She figured that if the deli were ever robbed or there were any problems with a customer, it would all be on film. She thought it was neat that she would be able to check in through her phone even when she wasn’t there, though she hoped that her employees wouldn’t feel like she was spying on them. She trusted them completely, she just needed to do what was necessary to feel safe. The motion detector she decided to put in the kitchen, where she hoped it would pick up the movement of anyone coming in the door. It would send an alert to her phone if it detected motion during the hours that the deli was closed.

“Hello, Ms. Darling. Thanks for calling us,” said Detective Jefferson when she unlocked the front door for him. The deli was supposed to open in less than an hour, and she sincerely hoped that the police business would be finished by then. He gave David a nod in greeting, and then turned his attention back to her.

“Here’s the tape we found.” She handed him the bag. “I don’t know how long it was on there. I hate to say it, but I never really checked to see if the door was locked. I just assumed it was, and we only use it for deliveries, so it could have gone unnoticed for a long time.”

“If you don’t mind, Detective Fitzgerald would like to take a look around. While he does that, do you mind if I ask you some questions?” he asked. She nodded and followed the detective over to one of the small tables while his partner slipped into the kitchen.

“We’ve been looking into the murder victim’s past, to see who might have a motive,” he told her. “And we found his review of your deli. It was pretty bad.”

“Yeah.” Moira grimaced. “It was totally unfair. He was rude the entire time, and ended up throwing out most of his meal. I know Darling’s DELIcious Delights isn’t a five-star, award-winning sort of place, but we do have good food, good employees, and a nice atmosphere. All of which he basically said were terrible.”

“So is it safe to say that you disliked Jason Platte?” he asked.

“Well…” She frowned, trying to choose her words carefully so that they would be honest, but wouldn’t sound like she was still unduly upset with the man. He had died in the deli, after all. She must at least be a person of interest in the case. “I don’t like the way he treated me or my employees, and I don’t like that he barely even gave my food a chance,” she began. “But I didn’t know him personally. For all I know, he might have just had a really bad day. His review didn’t really effect the deli much, anyway. My regulars are smart enough not to listen to him, and most of the tourists just kind of stop in when they’re driving through; they don’t bother to look up reviews.” The detective nodded and leaned back in his chair.

“Do you have any idea who put the tape on your door so it wouldn’t lock shut?” he asked.

“I don’t have a clue,” she told him honestly. “The employees all have keys, and we don’t allow customers in the back. Someone could have snuck back there and done it, I guess. Or maybe one of the delivery guys did it, but I really don’t see why they would.”

“Has anything gone missing lately? Even things too small for you to bother reporting, like food, or small appliances.”

“Nothing that I can think of,” she said. “Why? Do you think someone has been stealing from us?”

“Possibly. If an unknown person had access to you store, they could have been doing anything,” he pointed out.

“It’s bad enough that someone was killed here; the fact that some creepy killer has had a way into my store for who knows how long makes it even worse.” She shuddered. “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel completely comfortable here again.”

“Actually…” Jefferson darted his gaze towards the back to make sure that David wasn’t listening in, and then he leaned towards Moira and lowered his voice. “The victim wasn’t killed here; he was killed elsewhere and then moved here. I don’t know if that makes you feel any better, but at least your restaurant wasn’t the scene of a murder.”

“Thanks for telling me,” she said. “Last night, I kept imagining what must have happened. It was terrible. I barely slept.”

A moment later, Fitzgerald came back out of the kitchen and nodded to David, who was standing on a step stool, marking where the screws for the security camera would go. He turned to where his partner sat with Moira.

“You all set?” he asked.

“For now.” The younger detective rose and extended a hand to Moira, which she shook. “Thank you for your time, and please let us know if you find anything else that may be evidence.”

“Of course,” she said. “Thanks for responding so quickly. I hope you catch the killer soon.”

To her surprise, people began lining up outside the deli before they even opened. Candice was supposed to come in and start her shift in another hour, but Moira was beginning to wish that she had asked her to open with her today. Luckily, David was there, and once he had finished installing the camera and motion detector, he helped out by bringing bowls of soup out of the kitchen for her. Towards the end of the lunch rush, a familiar face appeared in the crowd.

“Hi, Steven, wasn’t it?” she asked. The man nodded. “How can I help you today?”

“I’ll, um, have a bowl of the curried corn chowder,” he said. “And I just wanted to say, the invitation is still open… you know, for the dance.”

“Thank you,” she said, “but I don’t think I’ll change my mind about going. Dances aren’t really my thing.” She accepted the crumbled bills that he gave her and told David, who had just appeared from the kitchen, what the new order was. After handing Steven his change, she wondered what else she could say. He set her on edge and she couldn’t decide why. It might just have been that he was the first man to ask her out in months.

“Soup’s up,” David said, coming back out of the kitchen and handing her the to-go bowl of soup, which she deftly put in a paper bag and then handed to the man. Or, she attempted to. He was staring at David with an odd, tense look on his face.

“Here’s your order,” she said, clearing her throat. He blinked and reached out for it, then left without another word.

Once the lunch rush was over, Moira ladled some soup into bowls for her and David, and sat down with him in the corner. She was thankful for the business, but the morning had been stressful. Most customers had been more interested in ogling the corner where the food critic had been found, and asking her about what had happened, than they were in what they were buying. Though she had been polite and friendly, she was glad that the rush was over—for now. The last thing she wanted was to spend the entire day talking about finding a dead man in her store.

“Thanks for helping out so much,” she told him. “You didn’t need to.”

“It was my pleasure. I never realized how much work it was to manage this place.”

“Well, it’s usually not this bad. And I’ve got backup coming in soon,” she said. “So, can you show me how to use the security camera and the motion detector? Candice is the one that’s good at this stuff, not me.”

“Sure. Give me your phone.”

As David installed the app that went with the security camera, Moira began cleaning up their dishes and tidying the shelves, which always seemed to get messy faster than she thought possible. The front door opened, and she looked around, ready to jump behind the counter again for another customer. Instead, she saw her daughter with a platter of cookies balanced with one hand and a newspaper rolled up in the other.

“Hey, Mom,” she said. “Can you take this? There’s another plate in the car.”

“Sure. Those look delicious; I might have to try one or two before we sell any.”

Once the cookies were in and set safely on the counter, Candice greeted David, and then pulled a third chair up to the small table.

“Did you guys see this?” she asked, unrolling the newspaper and turning it so both he and Moira could see it. The two of them peered at the article for a moment, reading it silently while Candice tapped her foot impatiently.

“Interesting,” David said when he had finished. He leaned back in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table.

“And we did see him there the night before he died, remember, Mom?” Candice asked eagerly.

“That’s true…” Moira frowned at the paper. The article was a special edition restaurant review, written by Jason Platte the night before he had been found dead in the deli. The review was for the Redwood Grill, and it was almost as bad as the review that he had submitted about Darling’s DELIcious Delights last year. “But you don’t really think that someone from that restaurant could have killed him, do you?” she asked, looking at her daughter.

“Well, maybe. If your friend Denise knew he was writing such a bad review on her restaurant’s opening night, who knows what she could have done,” she pointed out.

“But why would she take his body here?” The deli owner frowned, not willing to be convinced that Denise had anything to do with the murder. After all,
she
had gotten a bad review, and she hadn’t killed anyone.

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
2.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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