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Authors: Michael Mallory

Tags: #mystery, #movies, #detective, #gumshoe, #private eye

Eats to Die For!

BOOK: Eats to Die For!
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COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

Copyright © 2016 by Michael Mallory

Published by Wildside Press LLC.

www.wildsidebooks.com

PROLOGUE

There are times when I wonder if becoming a private investigator wasn't the worst possible career choice for me.

My name is Dave Beauchamp and I live and work in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. I'm a huge old movie buff and I became a P.I. simply because it seemed like the logical thing to do after getting dropped through the trap door of my former law firm. Why am I telling you all this? Because my life may end at any second and I'd like it if
somebody
remembered I was here.

At the moment I'm trapped underground in a place I never knew existed, a place, in fact, that I doubt most people know exist, and staring at a person who is holding a gun on me. I don't mind telling you that when I saw that gun appear, I nearly wet myself. It was not simply the sight of a gun being pointed at my chest, but also the identity of the shooter. Add to that the fact that, even before the gun came out, I really had to pee.

Looking down the barrel of the revolver was all I needed to assure me that the person I had pegged for the murders that had occurred over the past week was innocent.

Some detective I am.

A voice sounded in my head, one with which I was all-too-familiar. It was Humphrey Bogart, one of the chorus of old Hollywood film stars who have left Forest Lawn and taken up residence inside my skull. Bogie's voice often appears to comment on the situations in which I find myself, and sometimes he even offers good advice.

Don't bother asking me why this happens, because I have no idea, and yes, I do realize that in all the clinics in all the towns in all the world, I would be diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia. But I prefer to believe it is simply my subconscious speaking to me in the voices of old movie stars. Perhaps that's two ways of saying the same thing.

If I live past tonight, I'll try to get myself booked on
Dr. Phil
and find out
.

At this moment, however, I didn't have time to worry about it. All I could do was agree with what Bogie had just told me whole-heartedly:
Kid
,
you're really screwed
.

Somebody, somewhere once decided that your entire life passes before your eyes when you're about to die, but all I got was a montage recap of the past week and how I had gotten myself into this fine mess, which started when the tomato walked into my office.…

CHAPTER ONE

“Are you Mr. Beauchamp?” the tomato asked, mispronouncing my name the way everyone does at first. It's
BEACH-um
, not
Bow-Champ
, though I find myself having to correct people so frequently that I've considered spelling it phonetically on the sign outside my office.

How about just Chump, Private Eye
? a deep, sardonic voice said in my head. It belonged to Robert Mitchum, whom I knew from experience had very little faith in my abilities as a detective. Since my last case could be considered a success I had hoped that maybe Mitchum would give me a break. But here he was.

Maybe he was here to see the tomato.

She was about five-foot-seven, by my estimation, and had dark hair pinned up under a green cap that looked like a stem. Her long legs were encased in sheer green tights, which contrasted with the wide, round redness of her body. You see, she really was a tomato; at least she was dressed like one. Her tomato costume was so large that I wondered how she managed to get it into the elevator and up here to the second floor of the building.

“Are you certain you're a detective?” she asked. “You don't look old enough.”

I sighed. I'm thirty-two years old but most people seem to think that I'm still in college.

“All detectives have personas,” I said, trying to sound like Jack Webb, and failing. “Mine's that of a callow youth.”

“It's very effective,” she replied. “Well, I'll have to trust you that you're real. My name is Luisa Sandoval, and you're probably wondering why I'm dressed like this.”

“It had crossed my mind.”

She explained that she was done up like a simple fruit because she had been hired to promote the grand opening of a new Burger Heaven fast food restaurant just down the street. She was there along with other people dressed like hamburger buns, a patty, and onion and pickle slices, who were hired by the day to wave to the motorists fighting their way down Ventura Boulevard, the primary artery (or maybe
autory
) through the Valley, and hand out fliers to those hardy souls on foot, while chanting the chain's motto:
There's no hunger in Heaven
.

I, for one, was glad that Burger Heaven had decided to open up shop here in the Sherman Oaks stretch of the Valley where my office is located, since I had developed a real passion for their double burgers. Up until now I had indulged my habit mostly in the evenings or on the weekends, since there was a BH not far from my apartment in Studio City. Now with the grand opening, I could add lunch into the mix whenever I wanted.

“This isn't really what I do, though.”

That seemed obvious. Given her looks, I assumed she must be an actress waiting for her big break, but in that I was surprised. Luisa Sandoval told me she was actually an investigative reporter with the
L.A. Independent Journal
, one of those freebie papers you find outside restaurants and bars all over the city.

“I've been working undercover investigating the Burger Heaven chain, but I'm afraid they're on to me,” she said. “I think I'm going to need professional help. I came here because you're close enough to the Burger Heaven that I could safely sneak away and get back while on my break. By the way, do you know that you've been flamed on Yelp by someone who claims you turned her cat into a Democrat?”

“Mrs. Druxman,” I sighed.

It had been a missing pet case. I found the cat in another yard and had photographed it for identification purposes, but included in the photo, next to the cat, was a lawn sign reading
Hillary 2016
.

“You can't win them all. But you haven't told me exactly why you are investigating Burger Heaven, Ms. Sandoval.”

“You can call me Louie,” she said, flashing a perfect, dimpled smile. “Everyone does.”

Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship
, Bogie said inside my head, and I hoped he was right.

“Very well, Louie. But as to Burger Heaven?”

“Right. Mr. Beauchamp—”

“Dave, please.”

“Dave, you wouldn't believe what they're putting into their beef.”

Putting into their beef? Burger Heaven? My favorite fast food chain?

“Soy?” I offered.

“All chains use additives. No, this is something else.”

“What, then?”

“Well…I don't know, exactly,” she hedged. “But I suspect it's something that shouldn't be there.”

“Like what?”

“Mind if I take this thing off?”

I didn't mind at all, so she slithered out of the tomato costume to reveal underneath a red leotard that, when combined with her green tights, made her look more like an elf working at the North Pole Victoria's Secret outlet.

Not bad
, Bogie said in my head, as ever, the master of understatement. Today, of course, one can't say things like that out loud.

“That's better,” Louie said, sinking down into my guest chair. “I really hate this outfit, but it was the best way to get close to the organization. They don't seem to like reporters very much.”

“You were talking about the meat at Burger Heaven,” I prompted.

“Yeah. I don't know if you're familiar with the chain, but their hamburgers are widely regarded as being addictive. Some think that might not be a simple metaphor.”

“You mean you think they're genuinely, literally addictive?”

She nodded. “When I started this investigation, I was operating under the assumption it was nicotine.”

“Nicotine? In the hamburgers? That can't be.”

“Why can't it be?”

“Well, because…”

Because I liked them too much to want to believe it.

“Why would they risk doing that?” I asked her.

“Doesn't it seem obvious? Sales. I've heard people say they simply can't get through the day without a Burger Heaven burger.”

“Look, Louie, I don't want to sound like a paid spokesman for Burger Heaven, but their food is better than that of the other chains. Couldn't that be the reason for this so-called addiction?”

She leaned forward, her eyes locked on mine. “Okay, then what about the fact that they don't have a drive-thru like everyone else does?”

“I'm not following.”

“There is no take-out. You can't remove their food off the premises, even if you want to.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Yeah. If you try, you're stopped.”

“You'll have to excuse me, but that sounds a little…out there.”

“Have
you
ever taken one of their burgers home?”

“No, I eat them there, but I think I read somewhere that their goal is to make the hottest, freshest food around, and they seem to feel that quality is compromised if you don't eat it right away.”

“And you believe that?”

“Well, sure. Why not?”

She looked at me as though I was a third-grader who had just told her the dog had dined on his homework and started to laugh.

“Are you really that naïve or do you just think I am?”

“Um, really, I'm not trying to appear insincere.”

“You're positive you're really a detective and not just answering the phone for your dad?”

As Robert Mitchum hooted in my head, I pointed out my framed license hanging precariously on the wall behind me, and tried like hell not to blush.

“Ms. Sandoval, how can I convince you that I have been around the block a time or two. Maybe I haven't walked the mean streets, but I've been on a few that were disagreeable. I've had people take shots at me and on my last case I barely escaped being murdered. I've even managed to feed myself on my own for the last ten years.”

“Yeah, by going to Burger Heaven,” she said, getting up and starting to wriggle back into the wire-and-fabric tomato outfit. “I guess I've wasted my time and yours. I'm sorry.”

“Louie, please don't run off. Look, maybe if you actually told me what it is you want me to do for you, I'd have an easier time considering your case. But right now I'm a little confused.”

She sighed. “My editor's always ragging on me, too, for not explaining the background of my stories thoroughly enough. Okay, here it is in plain language. I think there's something put in the meat at Burger Heaven that makes them addictive, but I can't prove it without a sample, and so far it's been impossible to get a sample. I took this stupid job with them to try and infiltrate the company, but I think they're starting to suspect I'm up to something. So I came here to ask for your help in getting a sample of Burger Heaven's beef so we could take it to a lab and have it analyzed, and finally find out what's really in it.”

“That's all you want me to do?”

“That will be enough. I'll hire you at whatever your daily rate is.”

“I charge fifty dollars an hour, but I almost feel bad about charging you money simply for going and getting a hamburger.”

She smiled, showing me her dimples again. “Going and getting a hamburger and getting out with it.”

“Still—”

“If you think I'm being silly or paranoid, Dave, go try it. Try to hide an uneaten Burger Heaven burger somewhere on you and leave the store. If you manage to do it, I'll pay you whatever you want.”

She stepped to the edge of my desk and leaned over it as far as her tomato suit would allow. “And I mean whatever. Let me give you my number.” She rattled off a phone number in the 323 area code. “If I don't hear from you in two days, I'll try another private dick.”

I stood up, and thrust my hand out, which she took.

“All right, Louie, you've finally picked my dick. No, I mean pricked my interest! I meant
piqued
!”

“You're funny,” she said through a wicked, dimpled smile. “Call me.”

Then she squeezed her ripe, tomatoey hotness through the door, calling “Adios,” before going down the hall.

Well, kid, that was smooth
, Bogart reprimanded inside my head,
like stucco on a wet afternoon
.

He really puts the “shame” into “shamus
,

Mitchum seconded.

“Oh, shut up, both of you,” I said to the empty office. “I'm still alive and you're not, so nyeah.”

Yesss, but for how looooong
, John Huston added.

My friends; my good friends.

I sat back down behind my desk and tried to think. I'd been directly challenged to take on a case that probably wasn't even a case by a gorgeous Latina who wasn't really a tomato, which might potentially prove damaging to my favorite fast food chain. I had nothing to go on except the challenge, since there was not much in the way of information.

What would a real detective do in this instance? And by “real,” I mean one from the movies.

By gad, sir, that woman wants you to investigate an eatery
, the psoriatic voice of Sydney Greenstreet said inside my head.
So go to lunch
!

“Great idea,” I said to the now-empty office, and headed out.

CHAPTER TWO

Since the day was warm but not hot, my trusty Corolla, which had only recently become a teenager (a milestone I celebrated by buying it a full tank of gas and a professional wash) had not been turned into an Easy Bake oven. It started right up without an argument and in seconds I was off to Burger Heaven.

BOOK: Eats to Die For!
13.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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