“I'm delighted you didn't contribute to the ratings. Quite tasteless. However, he's gaining fame.”
“So Pierre aligned with him. Where is this guy?”
“Los Angeles, mostly. I think he dabbles in New York.”
“And he knows Pierre had ties to you?”
“Of course. Everyone does.” Sheldon puffed out his chest.
“Do you know Frederick?”
“We've met.” Sheldon's expression indicated he'd have found meeting Genghis Kahn more enjoyable.
“Could he have killed Pierre? Found out where you lived and lured him here?”
Sheldon sighed. “I have no idea. He doesn't seem like a very nice man, but that could all be an act. I still don't know how either would've known about the house, or even known about a house to look for.”
“Do you own it?”
“I do. Sort of.”
“Sort of? What does that mean?”
“I did buy it, but not under my name. I didn't want the publicity.”
“So who owns the house on paper?”
“My sister. Candace Kramer. She lives in Virginia.”
Stan tapped her nail lightly against the shift key on the computer. “Did you tell the police who owns the house?”
“Of course I did. I have nothing to hide.” Sheldon spread his hands wide. “They can also simply read the deed. It's not a secret.”
“Who else knows?”
“No one,” Sheldon said firmly.
“Would your sister tell anyone?”
“My sister doesn't give a hoot about what I do. All she cares about is making sure I pay the taxes.”
“You didn't have anyone from your business helping with the negotiations or anything? Or the decorating? You're telling me there's no one who knew about this place?”
“Nobody. I wanted to be completely out of the public eye. I hired everyone anonymously when I needed work done. I own other property in Providence that people know about. No one needs to know everything about me. Although now that's over. Once this gets out, it'll be headline news. I'll have to sell it, I'm sure.”
“Yet Pierre somehow figured out where this house was, showed up here, and got himself murdered.”
“I wouldn't put it past Pierre to have been concocting his own scheme all along,” Sheldon said. “Something must've happened, and it backfired. One thing you should know about Pierre.” Sheldon leaned forward, eyes steady on Stan's. “He always had a plan B. Always.”
After two more hours of crisis communication planning and settling on some alternate statements based on the direction the news took, Sheldon retired for a few hours and Stan headed back to her suite. It was four forty-five when she finally fell back into her bed. Until another pounding on the door woke her. This time, at least, she could see daylight through the curtains. When she flung the bedroom door open, Maria stood there, wrapped in a bathrobe. Her wet, and therefore flat, hair had shaved a few more inches off her and she had to look up at Stan. Whatever yesterday's silvery sheen had been, she'd washed it out, leaving her hair a mousy brown.
“Sheldon called. We're going to be meeting in the lobby at one o'clock to discuss our plans for the weekend.”
“What time is it now?”
“Oh. That probably could've waited, couldn't it?” she asked.
Maria glared at her. “I did what he asked and am notifying all of you. Where's Therese?”
“I have no idea. She went out last night. Did you check the bed in the living room?”
“No. Oh, there's my little man!” Maria's tone completely changed to a croon as she dropped to her knees to greet Nutty, who'd wandered over. She gathered him into her arms as he head butted her. “Are you hungry, little man? I'll take you downstairs for breakfast. Your mother apparently still wants to sleep.” Her tone indicated her disgust with that desire.
Since she couldn't tell Maria that she'd spent half the night trying to help Sheldon with potential damage control, nor did she feel the need to explain herself anyway, Stan ignored the comment. She waved to Nutty, smushed into Maria's neck staring desperately over her shoulder, and kicked the door halfway shut. He would find his way back.
She couldn't fall back asleep, though, as much as she wanted to. Sheldon's story about Pierre, their disagreement, and the elusive Frederick what's-his-name plagued her thoughts. The whole thing sounded compelling enoughâpower, control, fame, fortune. She couldn't help but wonder what else. As her gram used to say, every story had three sides: yours, mine, and the truth. Right now, both Pierre's side and the truth were missing.
A long hot shower and some clean clothes helped her state of mind. When she emerged from the bathroom, Nutty hadn't returned and there was still no sign of Therese. She went downstairs, following the scent of coffee. Maria and Nutty sat together at the table. Nutty actually sat on the table, a person-sized plate of fish and meat in front of him.
“What?” Maria asked defensively at Stan's raised eyebrow. “It's surf and turf.”
“That's great,” Stan said. “Is there coffee?”
Maria pointed at the counter. “I just filled up the French press.”
Whoever had dropped off the ginormous dinner last night had returned with breakfast. Stan made a grateful beeline for the java. Once she'd had a few sips, her head cleared the rest of the way. She perused the silver-topped serving plates and selected some eggs. “Did you eat?” she asked Maria.
“I did. Sausage, eggs, and coffee cake. I could hardly eat anything after yesterday.”
Stan sat at the table, too. Maria studiously avoided her eyes. Stan sighed inwardly. They were stuck with each other for a few days. May as well be friends. “Listen, Maria,” she said. “I'm really sorry I didn't recognize you when we met yesterday. I'm not up on my famous chefs these days. Too much to do with my new business. I'm sure you understand.” She flashed her best dazzling, apologetic smile. “Can we start over?”
Maria regarded her suspiciously for a moment, then broke into a big smile. “You are forgiven,
,” she said. “And I take back the
“Thank you,” Stan said.
They drank coffee in companionable silence while Nutty nibbled on his food. Stan noticed a pile of folders on the table. “What are those?”
“The packets that Sheldon had prepared for us. About the restaurant and the investors.”
Stan vaguely remembered someone mentioning that yesterday before everything went downhill. She'd have to take a look later. “I take it Therese isn't here?”
“No. And Sheldon is not going to be happy about it. These kids. Sheldy thinks that he's cutting-edge, hiring the little ones. They know the technology, he says.” She threw her hands up in despair. “But they don't care about anything. No respect for their elders, either.”
Stan bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. But then she thought of poor Tyler and Sheldon's comment about the young ones having no sensitivity. She wondered how Tyler had fared this morning. If he'd been roused from sleep to get back to work. “Hey, have you heard anything on the news? Was Pierre's family notified about his . . . death?”
Maria sobered. “I have no idea. Let's look.” She turned on the small TV on the counter and changed the channel to the local news.
They watched a weather report and a story about a car crash on I-95 before the anchor said soberly, “A murder last night in Newport has residents on edge. A man was found dead at a home on Sunset Avenue. His identity has not yet been released. Tammy Lynch is reporting from police headquarters. Tammy, what's new with this case?”
Tammy Lynch gave a fluffy report about the murder (still unidentified man who did not live in the house), the neighborhood (affluent and quiet), and local crime (on the rise since the beginning of the year) before they switched to an update on two teenagers on an alleged crime spree spanning New England. Maria switched the TV off with a sigh of relief.
“Well,” she said. “At least they're not camped out in front of the house.”
“Maybe the police didn't find Pierre's family yet. Do you know them?” Stan asked.
Maria shook her head. “Pierre didn't talk about his family much. I think they embarrassed him. I heard he's from a very small town in Michigan or something.”
“Interesting. Is Pierre his real name?”
Maria snorted. “Ha. I would bet my mother's special sauce that he hasn't thought of his real name in many years.”
“Do you know it?”
“No. It's likely a highly guarded secret. Everything is about image in our world, you know?”
Stan shrugged. “Not really, but I figured as much.”
Maria studied her. “You have no interest in the TV shows, do you?”
“Nope,” Stan said.
“Yet you're here.”
“I'm interested in working with Sheldon,” Stan said. “And once I've committed to something, I usually see it through. Unless things get too out of hand.”
“Well, they're already plenty out of hand,” Maria said. “You'd better get used to it.”
Stan went upstairs to her room and did a Google search for Candace Kramer. She found two in Burke, Virginia, both with public phone numbers. She called the first one and got a ninety-something woman who couldn't hear. She finally had to hang up. The other number dumped her into a voice mail with a woman's voice. She sounded normal. Stan left a cryptic message that she knew Sheldon and needed to speak to Candace immediately. She had no idea if the woman would call back, but it was worth a shot.
At noon, Therese showed up, still wearing her outfit from last night. Stan had returned to the kitchen for more coffee. Maria had never left it. Therese grunted at Maria and Stan and headed upstairs. She returned at ten to one, showered and looking like a typical twenty-something with beige capris and a white T-shirt. Her long brown hair had a wave to it from her shower, and she wasn't wearing the extreme makeup from last night. Her face still had the look of someone sucking a lemon.
At precisely one o'clock the three of them trooped to the lobby. The atmosphere reminded her of those days in corporate America when something had gone wrong and heads were about to roll. She'd escaped from that . . . hadn't she?
Marcin darted over to Maria and whispered something in her ear. She looked at him with alarm, then pulled him into the corner. They whispered furiously back and forth for a bit, then Maria came over to Stan.
“Have you seen Kyle?”
Stan shook her head. “I haven't seen anyone but you and Therese.”
“He never came back to their room last night. No one can reach him on his cell phone.”
Stan frowned. “Is that normal for him?”
Maria thought about that. “I have no idea.”
Stan didn't say anything, but little alarm bells were going off in her head. One dead chef, and another conspicuously absent and not answering his phone. Of course, Kyle was an adult and could've gone out to party last night. He could be passed out at someone's house with no sense of time. Those things probably happened regularly in his world. She thought of him and Lucy Keyes, whispering in the lobby when they'd first arrived.
“Hey,” she said, as another thought dawned on her. “Where was Therese all night? You think they were together?”
Maria's big eyes bulged. “Dear Lord, I hope not,” she said. “I would've thought such a good-looking boy would have better taste than that stick figure.”
Sheldon, Joaquin, and Tyler joined the crowd. Joaquin looked alert, rested, and ready to face the day, if not somber. Sheldon looked subdued. Tyler looked a little better than the last time Stan had seen him. Like maybe he'd gotten some sleep after she stepped in. He yawned and rubbed the discs stretching his ears. Those things gave Stan the heebie-jeebies. She looked away. Sheldon met her eyes across the room and motioned for her to join him. She did, with some reluctance.
“How are you feeling?”
“Sad, but surviving.” Sheldon observed their group. “Where's Kyle?” he asked.
Stan looked around, feigning surprise. “I have no idea. I'm sure he's on his way down. Did you see the news?”
“I did. I think we're in good shape for now. We should probably regroup tonight. Tyler and I made up.”
“That's good,” Stan said. “Is he taking it from here?”
“With your help,” Sheldon said. “If you don't mind.” His tone indicated she had no choice. “I have Joaquin working on a replacement for Pierre. If all goes well, I should have that person here tonight. We're going to cook up a storm! Have to make up for lost time. Now. Where is my vegan chef? Leonardo! What did you do with Kyle?” he called, moving away from Stan.
Stan looked around for Therese to ask her if she'd seen Kyle last night, but Therese was deep in conversation with Tyler. She'd catch her later.
Lucy Keyes arrived minutes later, wearing another killer suit and leopard print heels. Stan had wondered if Kyle would show up right behind her, but he did not. Maybe he'd just been asking her where the bathroom was yesterday, and Stan had interpreted it as a cozy conversation. Lucy led them to a corner of the lobby near a fake fireplace where platters of sandwiches and bowls of salads had been set out.
“Sheldon and I are pleased to let you know that you'll be staying here for the weekend to plan for your event,” she announced, flashing a professional smile at each of them in turn. “You'll remain in your current suites. As for kitchen space, we have a kitchen behind our largest function room that we use for weddings and the like. Since we don't have any functions this weekend, the kitchen is yours. I know you were all looking for community cooking time. We've put out a light lunch for you as you get settled today, and of course my staff is here to serve you anytime. Please see me with any problems.” She clasped her hands and looked at Sheldon. “Anything else?”
Sheldon joined her. He took her hand and brought it to his lips. “What a lovely lady. Thank you for your flexibility and accommodating nature. We are indebted to you.”
Lucy smiled and extracted her hand. “Anytime. Enjoy, folks.” And she clicked away down the hall.
“What a gem.” Sheldon turned to the group. “We are very fortunate, aren't we?”
No one seemed to feel fortunate at the moment. But that didn't deter Sheldon.
“I want us to spend tonight together. Make some food. Laugh. Cry. Get our game plan in place for our big day. I need everyone to get together and
be a team
. We're behind schedule, but I realize yesterday was . . . difficult for all of us. I thank you all for sticking it out.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Joaquin is going to go out and gather some items for us that will make our evening enjoyable.”
Joaquin flashed them a thumbs-up. Today he wore jeans that were way too tight for his round frame, a tweed jacket that gave him a “hip professor” look, and loafers with no socks. He'd gelled his bright red hair into straight-up spikes. “What shall we have? Any cooking volunteers?”
“Italian,” Maria said immediately. “I want to make my mother's marinara sauce. She always used to make it when we were sad.” She dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve. “And I want garlic and cheese sausage.”
Stan wrinkled her nose involuntarily. Years of meat-free eating made even the sound of sausage sickening. “I can make us a big salad. With grilled shrimp and avocado.”
“And I would like to make something special for dessert in Pierre's honor,” Joaquin announced. “I'll let that be a surprise and take full responsibility. What would we like to drink?”
“Red wine with Mama's marinara!” Maria thumped a fist onto the bar. “Anything else would make her roll in her grave. And it has to be a hearty red wine, too. None of that boring old merlot business. Get me Shiraz!”
Joaquin noted that in his phone. “Got it. What else, team?”
He wrote down a few other requests and bowed. “I will go to the farmers' market posthaste! Therese?” He waited expectantly for her to put her phone down and join him. “Therese will accompany me,” he announced. “Text me if you think of anything else. My number is in your packets we handed out yesterday.” He took Therese's arm and they headed out the door.
“That's all I wanted to say right now,” Sheldon said. He glanced at his watch. “Please, take the afternoon off. Recharge. Get your heads back together. Let's begin our festivities at eight, shall we?”
“Sounds lovely,” Maria said. “I'm going to go find some cannoli!”
Everyone else chimed in with their agreement. Just as they were about to disperse, Detective Owens walked through the door. The light mood faltered again. Stan felt her stomach clench in anticipation. Now what?
Owens smiled. “None of you look happy to see me. Sorry to interrupt,” he said to Sheldon. “I'd like one more quick session with each of you. I also have car keys to return. Thanks to all for your cooperation.”
Stan held her breath, waiting to hear if anyone's vehicle was being impounded and handcuffs were coming out, but Owens said nothing else.
Sheldon's jaw set, but he nodded curtly. “Of course, Detective. Whatever you need. Folks, please give Detective Owens your full attention. Two people just left on an errand,” he said.
Owens scanned the group. “I'll catch them when they return. Everyone else here? Where's your golden boy?”
“Kyle? He'll be joining us later,” Sheldon said, casual as ever.
“Good. Hopefully before I leave,” Owens said. “And, Sheldon,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Do you have contact information for Pierre's family? We aren't having any luck tracking anyone down to notify.”
Sheldon looked blank. “I actually don't think I do,” he said. “I'll have to ask my assistant, Joaquin. He's keeper of all the records. He's out at the moment.”
Owens nodded, then looked over the group. “Who wants to talk first? We can meet right in your suites. I heard you have some nice accommodations.”