Man, did my head hurt. I remembered hearing footsteps creeping up behind me. Then, crash, bam, disco lights! I was out. Someone had bashed me in the head. As I came to, the computer screen in front of me flickered with the story I’d been reading when I first heard the ruckus.
Ater Detective Delicious cleared me, I came back to my office. A deadline is a deadline, after all. But I couldn’t get back to my story until I solved Grumpy’s murder. So I pulled out a legal pad and listed the suspects and evidence just like my favorite Belgian detective would have:
Merry Gooseberry, the Granny Berry heir, her fortune threatened by the tainted food scandal. Lawsuits, FDA investigations and plant closure would ruin her. She could have planted the shoe and the glitter to frame Claudia Fries. But why kill Grumpy?
Claudia Fries, Grumpy’s daughter. She had the glitter, and the ladies’ canvas shoe was her size. But what motive? She and her father got along, and he didn’t have anything to leave her, the poor old man.
Claudia’s brother, Elton, claimed he found his father dead, but did he? Or did he kill him? Grumpy was alive and well early this morning when I talked to him. Again, no known motive.
Aloysius Everslam, that here-today, gone-tomorrow slimeball with a violent streak. Alo had cans of applesauce. But was he stupid enough to keep the evidence?
Besides Grumpy would never have eaten apples because he knew he was allergic. No, he was poisoned some other way and after he died, the applesauce was poured on him to confuse the cops.
He must have smoked the poison. Anyone could have easily put something in his pipe tobacco.
What about the pipe smoke? Even though Grumpy was one-legged, he still got around. The remnants of pipe smoke were at Claudia’s and Alo’s so he must have gone to their places. But none of them mentioned a visit. Maybe they didn’t know he’d come around. Maybe Grumpy wasn’t looking for them. Maybe he was looking for someone else.
Duncan. Duncan, Claudia’s ex. Duncan, Alo’s ex. Grumpy would have gone to both those places looking for Duncan. Duncan, who no one’s seen since the Blue Parrot incident.
“Duncan,” I whispered as I fingered the warm, pulpy bump my skull.
“That’s right, Sugartoes.” I turned to find Duncan Meadows crouching beneath the window overlooking my backyard. He was skinny, dirty and bearded from living on the run. And he reeked of pipe tobacco. “I seen that cop prowling in your yard and I didn’t want him catching me. Not just yet. Not until I get my story told.”
“You trashed the Blue Parrot to get back at the Gooseberry family because they own it, right?”
“I knew you’d figured it out sooner or later. Merry set me up to take the fall for the tainted sauce. Right after you left, the old man started hacking and coughing and fell over dead. That’s when I split.”
“What about the applesauce and glitter?”
“I don’t know nothing about applesauce or glitter. I high-tailed it out back.”
“So if you didn’t call the cops, who did? Must have been the person who dumped the sauce and glitter all over Grumpy.”
“Merry,” we both said.
I grabbed my cell phone, saw I’d missed a call from Detective Divine and I thumbed call-back. He answered on the first ring.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“At the Blue Parrot.”
“Order me a Shirley Temple. I’m on my way.”
When Duncan and I arrived, the luscious cop, his sidekick and Claudia and Elton Fries were sitting at the bar. Upon seeing Duncan, Sterling reached for his cuffs. I held up a hand. “Wait until you hear what he has to say.”
Duncan saddled into an empty spot, slugged down my Shirley Temple and belched. “I was the plant manager at Granny’s. When the food went bad, Merry blamed me, can you believe that? It wasn’t me. It was her.”
“She poisoned her own factory?” Sterling asked.
“Sure, the property is worth way more than the company ever was. All she had to do was convince them to close the plant and sell the land. The IRS was about to audit the books and find out about the money she stole. She figured all her problems would go away if the plant shut down. She knew I knew so I had to hide out until my story got told.”
“But why kill Grumpy?” Sterling asked.
Duncan ate the Shirley Temple’s maraschino cherry. “He saw everything that happened on that street, sitting there day in and day out on his porch. She must’ve figured he’d seen something, like maybe her sneaking out in the middle of the night when the factory got poisoned. Not knowing he was allergic, she tried to make it look like he died of the same applesauce poisoning and set it up to look like Claudia had offed her own father so she could sue Granny Berry. Persy, did he tell you anything?”
“You talked to Grumpy!” Sterling was not wearing his happy look.
“This morning,” I said. “I went over to borrow some coffee.”
Just then, a white van sputtered down the road. It made a big bang, belched black smoke, and slowed to a stop.
“Damn,” Elton said. “I forgot to add oil. Meant to do that after I talked to my dad. But after I found him dead, I took off running and forgot all about it. Guess I left the keys in the ignition.”
We watched as Merry jumped out of the van and tried running in four-inch heels, a heavy tote bag slung across her shoulder. In less than a yard, she turned her ankle and fell.
“Must have gone back to get the proof she was ripping off the company,” Duncan said. By then, Merry was on her feet again, limping down the road.
“Must have,” Sterling said as he and the sidekick pulled themselves off their bar stools. Just as Detective Darling pulled open the door, he turned back, and said to me, “I’ll pick you up in a couple of hours.”
He gave me a wink. “Wear something sexy.”