Vandal Eyes

You’ve seen them everywhere. Those little plastic googly eyes that turn everyday objects into adorable faces. Maybe you’ve seen them stuck to a poster, turning a regular photograph into an amusing parody of itself, but all this time, I bet you never suspected the sinister history of this simple folk art stable. Now the true story can be told. It’s a tale of friendship, crafting supplies…and murder.VandalEyesBkgrnd

Over My Dead Body

Vandal Eyes Cover 200Bonnie waved goodbye as the shopkeeper flipped the sign in the window from open to closed. She’d spent more time than she’d realized rummaging through the curiosity shop, looking for the perfect items to add to her collection. The sun had already slipped below the horizon, and a fog was rolling in, bringing with it a chill. She cinched her jacket close around herself to keep out the damp and started walking.

The streets of San Francisco were nearly abandoned with everyone already home for the evening. Bonnie lived only a few blocks away, so she decided to walk home despite her sore feet and the creepy sensation rising up the back of her neck. Looking over her shoulder, she had the feeling that she wasn’t alone, but she convinced herself that it was just the cold air and the empty sidewalks. Nevertheless, she quickened her pace.

Without warning, a blood-curdling scream tore through the darkness. Bonnie wanted to run, but there was something in the sound of the voice that gripped her and wouldn’t let her go. She crept cautiously to the entrance of the alleyway from where the shriek had come and peered around the corner. A black cat shot out of the mist, tipping over a garbage can with a loud crash. As it raced past Bonnie, she couldn’t help but say, “That’s not a good sign.”

“Hello?” A woman’s voice called out nervously from the alley. “Is someone there?”

“Are you all right?” asked Bonnie. “I heard a scream.” She could see the woman as a dimly outlined silhouette in the weak light that filtered in from the street. She appeared to be alone, so Bonnie moved into the alley to get a better look. The woman was about her age, but her hair was longer and lighter, and had turned frizzy from the humidity. She didn’t look up as Bonnie approached. Her eyes were focused on something on the ground, hidden in the mist.

Bonnie moved closer. Lying on his back at the woman’s feet was a dead man. He was small, well dressed and neat, but quite clearly recently deceased. Patches of skin were missing from his face, and for some inexplicable reason, there was a sock on his left hand. A pair of googly eyes had been stuck to the man’s closed eyelids, giving him a comical stare despite the gore. Bonnie stifled a laugh and asked, “Friend of yours?”

“I’ve never seen him before,” she answered. “I literally just tripped over him. It looks like his face has been chewn off.”

“That’s probably from the rats,” said Bonnie. “He looks like he’s been lying there awhile… wait, chewn?”

“Yes, it’s a perfectly acceptable word.”

“No,” said Bonnie, “I’m pretty sure you made it up.”

“I’m bringing it back,” the woman insisted.

“Back from where?” asked Bonnie. “It has to exist before you can bring it back.”

“Stop trying to confuse me with your logic,” she answered. “A woman can dream, can’t she?”

“I think we’re getting off topic,” said Bonnie. She pointed to the man on the ground. “Dead guy. Remember?”

Bonnie bent over to get a better look at the man. He was lying in a puddle of water despite the fact that it hadn’t rained in days. In addition to the bites, he seemed to have red marks like hickeys all over his face. A business card poked out of his jacket pocket, so Bonnie reached down to grab it by the edges.

“Eww, don’t touch him,” said the woman.

“I was a goth,” said Bonnie, “so I’m used to being around dead things. Hell, this guy wouldn’t even qualify for the worst date I’ve been on.”

Bright red and blue flashing lights filled the alley as a police car pulled up and stopped at the alley entrance. The two officers got out and started walking toward the women. On seeing the body, they both drew their guns. “Don’t move. Keep your hands where I can see them.”

Bonnie dropped the card and stood up. “It’s all right, officers,” said Bonnie. “We found him like this.” She stumbled slightly as her foot landed on something hard and brittle that snapped as she stepped on it.

The cop slapped a cuff on one wrist and pulled her other arm around roughly behind her back. “Save it for the judge, sister. All I know is I’ve got a dead body and two people standing over it. In my book that makes you the prime suspects.”

His partner had finished cuffing the other woman and put her in the back seat of the squad car beside Bonnie. “This is all a mistake,” she said. “We didn’t do anything. You’re going to be sorry when my husband hears about this.” The officers ignored her and went to talk to another officer who had just arrived, leaving Bonnie alone with the strange woman.

Curious, Bonnie asked, “Who’s your husband?”

“Sparks McGee.”

“Oh my god, I loved him on that show,” said Bonnie. “I must have watched every episode ten times. Do you think I could get his autograph?”

“Err… sure,” she said. “I’ll use my one phone call to ask him to send you a signed head shot.”

“Oh yeah, right. Sorry. Probably not the best time to ask.”

“That’s not a bad idea though,” she said, “me calling my husband, I mean.”

“Do you really think he can help?” asked Bonnie.

“Well,” she said, “he is kind of a big deal. Unfortunately he’s in Europe this week or he’d fly up here himself.”

“I’m sure he’ll have some slick Hollywood lawyer down here to bail us out in no time,” said Bonnie.

“I’m sorry you got dragged into this,” said the woman. “Come to think of it, I’m sorry I got me dragged into this.”

“That’s all right,” said Bonnie. “You’d be surprised how often things like this happen to me. I’m Bonnie Burton, by the way.”

“I’m Anne,” she said. “Anne Wheaton.”

What’s in the bag?

“Let’s start at the beginning,” said the police detective. “What were the two of you doing in that alley?”

Anne rubbed her wrists from where the cuffs had chaffed her skin and took a sip of water from the bottle on the interrogation room table. “I was in town for a hairdresser’s convention,” she said. “You have to keep up with all the latest styles if you want to keep your clients. Anyway, they’re doing some fascinating new things with gel manicures…”

“Why don’t you skip ahead to the part where you’re walking down the alley?”

“You know,” said Anne, “even a hard-boiled, true-grit kind of man like yourself can benefit from a regular nail regimen.”

“The alley, Mrs. Wheaton.”

“Right. I was going to meet some of the girls from the convention for drinks, but I got lost. The street I was on was closed for construction, so I thought I’d cut through the alley and catch a cab on the other side. That’s when I found the body.”

”And I was on my way home from shopping when I heard a scream and went to investigate,” said Bonnie. ”That’s when I found her.”

The detective frowned. “So the two of you have never met before tonight?”

Anne and Bonnie looked at each other for a moment before they answered. “No,” said Anne.

“Nope,” said Bonnie. “Never.”

“And neither of you had ever met…” The detective checked the file in front of him. “Neither of you had ever met Mr. Gasparo Floyd before.”

Anne shook her head.

“I think I would have remembered,” said Bonnie. “Especially with a name like that. Who was he anyway?”

“He was a food critic for one of the local papers,” said the detective.

“Well, there you go,” said Anne. “He probably gave some hothead chef a bad review and paid the price for it. If there’s nothing else…”

She stood up to leave, but the detective motioned for her to sit back down. “Not so fast. We still have some more questions.”

Anne shrugged and sat down. “Look, Detective… uh, what was your name?”

“Detective Sergeant Grammar,” he answered.

“Okay, Detective Sergeant. This has been fun and all, but as soon as my lawyer gets here, we’re leaving.”

“Don’t think your famous husband’s going to get you out of this one, Mrs. Wheaton.”

“Actually he’s not that famous. He tried to charm his way out of a speeding ticket and almost got arrested for solicitation. It was all a misunderstanding. We don’t talk about it. He does have a very good lawyer though.” Anne mimed a pair of pistols and made a pew pew sound as she pretended to gun the detective down. He only scowled in reply.

“Please don’t point your finger pistols at the nice police detective,” said Bonnie.

“Oh, right,” said Anne, folding her hands in her lap. “Sorry.”

“In the meantime,” Grammar continued, “why don’t we talk about this.” The detective pulled Bonnie’s shopping bag from where it had sat out of sight under the table. He reached in and pulled out a small figurine which he slid across the table towards Anne. She flinched as it skidded to a stop in front of her, but Bonnie reached over and picked it up. It was a taxidermy mouse dressed as a pirate. She straightened the tiny tri-corner hat before setting him down on the table in front of her.

“It’s okay,” said Bonnie. “He’s dead.”

“How does it being dead make it okay?” asked Anne.

“Well… he doesn’t bite.”

“Great,” said Anne. “I’ll console myself that at least I didn’t get bitten by a mouse with an eye patch and peg leg when I’m dying from The Plague.”

“That almost never happens anymore,” said Bonnie. She turned the mouse so that it faced Anne. “I call him Pepper Jack Sparrow. Arrgh, matey! I don’t need a treasure map to find yer booty. Arrgh!

“Are you two trying to make a case for insanity?” asked Detective Grammar.

Just then, a thin man with a wrinkled suit burst into the room. “All right, this interrogation is over. Not another word, ladies. Now, unless you plan to charge my clients, we’ll be leaving.”

Detective Grammar stood up and tossed the bag across the table. “No charges for now, but they are still persons of interest in our investigations. We’ll have to insist that both of them remain in the city for the time being.”

Bonnie snatched up the bag and stuffed Pepper Jack Sparrow back inside before following Anne and the lawyer out of the interrogation room. After picking up their belongings, they walked in silence until they were standing alone in the elevator. “I’m going to assume neither of you is a cold-blooded killer,” said the lawyer as he handed each of them a business card. “My advice is to go home and get some sleep. Don’t talk to anybody. I’m sure the forensics people will have this all sorted out in a day or so. Mrs Wheaton, you should call your husband at your earliest convenience. He was quite insistent on that point.”

“He must be freaking out,” said Anne. “I’ll call him right away.”

Once they had reached the lobby of the police station, the lawyer turned to face them. “Now, try not to get arrested again, I need my beauty sleep.” With a flourish, he disappeared out the front doors and into the fog.

“What an odd little man,” said Anne.

“I never was one for doing what I was told,” said Bonnie, “and I don’t trust the police to clear our names. I think we should investigate this case ourselves.”

“I don’t see how that could possibly go wrong,” said Anne. “I’m in. What should we do first?”

“Well, I need a drink,” said Bonnie, “and I know just the place. If we hurry, we can still make last call.”

“I like where this is headed,” said Anne. “Lead on, my new friend.”

Talk to the Hand

“Tell me again,” said Anne. “Why are we going to a craft store?” It had been a long night of fitful sleep, and now Bonnie had dragged her out of her hotel room before she could even have a cup of coffee.

EyesBkgrnd300We need to talk to owner,” she said. “Nobody knows more about googly eyes than Archie. He’s the biggest independent craft supplier in the Bay Area. If anyone knows who bought those eyes, it’ll be him. Besides I have to pick up a few things. You know, kill two birds with one stone.”

“Just so we’re clear,” said Anne. “There’s no actual dead birds in there, right?”

“No,” answered Bonnie, “That’s a different store.”

“All right.”

Bonnie was about to open the door, but suddenly stopped. “Wait, there’s one more thing. He’s incredibly shy, so he’ll only talk to people through a ventriloquist’s dummy. Okay let’s go…”

Anne hesitated. “Umm…”

“What?” asked Bonnie.

“Wait a minute. How do we know he’s not the killer? He’s got access to googly eyes and there’s the creepy dummy thing. He could be Norman Bates for all we know.” Anne stabbed at Bonnie with an imaginary knife. “Eek, eek, eek, eek.”

“Archie?” said Bonnie, incredulous. “No, he’s a sweetheart. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.” With that, she disappeared into the store. Anne shrugged and followed her in.

“Hey, look who it is.” Archie stood behind the counter. On one hand was a dummy’s as promised. The other hand held a portable vacuum which he switched off as the women approached. It was the dummy who spoke. “I haven’t seen you in ages. Come in, come in. Don’t mind the mess.”

“What happened?” asked Bonnie.

“Damn kids. Can’t keep their hands to themselves. One of them opened up a container full of glitter and then sneezed. Now we’ll never get it all cleaned up.”

“Well, glitter is the herpes of the craft world,” said Bonnie.

“You probably shouldn’t use that in the advertising copy,” said Anne. “I’d go with ‘It’s the gift that keeps on giving.’ or something like that.”

“Who’s your friend?” asked the dummy.

“Oh, sorry,” said Bonnie. “Anne, this is Archie and his friend Carlos. Guys, this is Anne. We’re being accused of murder together.”

“Wow, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve been accused of murder…” said Carlos. “Oh, wait. You’re serious.”

“Dead serious,” said Bonnie. “That’s why were here. When we found the body, the killer had placed two googly eyes on the victim’s eyelids. I’m hoping you can tell me who bought some googly eyes recently. They were the extra-large size.”

“That’s easy,” said Carlos. “There was only one person to buy the one-inch googly eyes in the past week. I’d never seen him in the store before, but I recognized him from his newspaper column. It was Gasparo Floyd, the food critic.”

“But that’s the victim!” cried Anne.

Archie stared up at the ceiling, an uncomfortable look on his face. Bonnie cupped a hand over her mouth and whispered to Anne, “You have to talk to the dummy.”

“But that’s the victim!” Anne repeated to Carlos with exactly the same enthusiasm.

“Sorry that I couldn’t be more help,” said Carlos.

That’s okay,“ said Bonnie. ”It’s not your fault. I guess I might as well get a few things while I’m here. Anne, why don’t you look around. I might be a while.“

Anne l browsed through the paint, faux fur, and bits of styrofoam with disinterest. The craft store had been a dead end, and they were no closer to catching the killer. But just when things were looking their worst, she found something that made her heart race and her eyes go wide.

I’ve Got Something in My Eye

VandalEyesChart200“Welcome to Cornea-Copia. How may I help you?” The disinterested receptionist eyed them wearily.

“We need to see the doctor,” said Bonnie. “As soon as possible.”

“We have a Dr. Wun, and a Dr. Too,” she said. “Which did you want to see?”

“Which is better, Wun or Too?” asked Anne.

“They’re about the same,” said the receptionist.

“It’s Dr. Wun we need to speak to,” said Bonnie.

“I see. Do you have an appointment?”

“No, it’s a personal matter,” said Bonnie. “We just need a few minutes to ask him some questions.”

The receptionist scowled at her. “He’s very busy, but I’ll see what I can do.”

While they waited, Anne and Bonnie picked over the selection of frames. “So the card in the Gasparo’s pocket was for this optometrist?” asked Anne. “How do we know he didn’t just have an astigmatism or something?”

“I’ll admit it’s not much of a lead,” said Bonnie, “but it’s the only one we have left.”

After a few minutes, a sour-faced man with a white coat came out. “I was told you wanted to see me. What’s this about?”

“Hello, doctor,” said Anne. “Do you know a man named Gasparo Floyd?”

“Why yes, as a matter of fact I do. He was in here a couple of days ago to buy some new sunglasses.”

“But you haven’t seen him since then?”

“A group of us were supposed to meet him last night. He had promised something extra special for our monthly dinner, but he never showed up. Why do you ask?”

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you,” said Bonnie, “but he’s dead.”

“That’s terrible news,” said the doctor. “He had promised to get me into the new five-star restaurant that was opening up next week. It’s going to be the first time the great Ralph Florentine will be cooking in the States, and it’s right here in town. Now I’ll never get in!”

“Ah, I don’t mean to sound judgy,” said Anne, “but you don’t seem broken up about your friend dying.”

“He wasn’t much of a friend. In fact, he was quite annoying and quite possibly paranoid. But his job gave access to the most scrumptious eateries in town, and he would often let me tag along. Now with him gone, I’ll be lucky to get service at the local hot dog cart.” The doctor, who had been fighting back his tears, began to weep openly.

“It’s only food, doc,” said Bonnie. “There’s no need to make a spectacle of yourself.”

“Try to focus on what’s important,” Anne added.

“My life is ruined,” moaned Dr. Wun as he fell to his knees. “I’ll never know the joy of Chef Ralph’s Pacific Ocean black cod fillet, hand-glazed with a Japanese tamari and manuka honey reduction. Delicately balanced on a sumptuous organic pearl barley risotto. Hand in hand with a delightful English courgette flower beignet.”

The receptionist walked over and looked down at the doctor who was now curled up in a ball on the floor, weeping. “Oh my god. What did you say to him?”

“It seems his meal ticket expired,” said Bonnie. “Gasparo Floyd got himself killed last night.”

“Yeah, that would do it. The guy really loves his food.”

“Say, you wouldn’t know the name of the restaurant where they were supposed to meet, would you?” asked Bonnie.

“Sure, they always met at this seafood restaurant around the corner called ‘This Scampi Happening’. He wouldn’t shut up about it.”

“Oh, the teriyaki jus!” cried the doctor.

“Awkward. All right then,” said Anne. “We were just leaving.”

“Yeah, thanks for your help,” said Bonnie. They turned to leave, but before they could make it out the door, Bonnie grabbed Anne by the arm and pointed at a poster on the wall. The model in the ad had googly eyes stuck to the lenses of her glasses. “Wait, look there. I think this guy knows more than he’s letting on. C’mon, let’s go.”

“Where?” asked Anne.

“Lunch.”

Too Many Cooks

“Welcome to This Scampi Happening,” said the waiter. “May I suggest the calamari gumbo? It’s the chef’s specialty.”

”Can I have a few minutes to mullet over?” asked Anne.

“Let minnow when you’re ready,” he replied.

“I’m always up for tentacles,” said Bonnie. “Bring it on.”

“All right, make it two,” said Anne. “And wine. Lots of wine.”

“Two specials. Coming right up.”

When he was out of earshot, Anne turned back to Bonnie and asked,“So why are we here again?”

“This was where poor ol’ Floyd was headed when he got iced. Maybe someone here knows something. Also, I was hungry.” Bonnie waved at the waiter across the room. “Garçon, could we get some more bread here?”

The waiter returned swiftly with not only the bread, but a bottle of red wine which he deftly poured into two extra-large glasses. They waited patiently for him to finish, not wanting to be overheard.

“Just leave the bottle,” said Bonnie.

When he was gone, Anne said, “I’m not sure that we’ll find anything here. After all, he never made it to the restaurant. We should be trying to figure out who would want to kill him.”

“Well, he was a notoriously harsh food critic,” said Bonnie, “so my guess was every cook in the city wanted to kill him. We need to narrow down the list.”

“How do we do that?”

“Watch and learn.”

A few minutes later, the waiter brought their entrees. Bonnie took a sip from her bowl and loudly proclaimed, “This is simply the most divine meal I’ve ever tasted. I want to extend my compliments to the chef.”

“I’ll tell him you liked it,” said the waiter.

“No, I must tell him myself.” Bonnie stood up and started walking towards the back of the restaurant. “Is this the way is the kitchen?”

The waiter rushed to get ahead of her and block her path. “Pierre does not like strangers in his kitchen. Please, have a seat, and I’ll get him for you.”

“What are you doing?” asked Anne. “The gumbo’s good, but not that good.”

“I just wanted to talk to the cook. It seemed like the easiest way.”

They enjoyed the gumbo for a minute or so before a large man carrying a meat cleaver made his way to their table. He was wearing an apron, a chef’s hat, and a crooked smile. “How do you do. I’m Pierre, head chef and owner of this establishment. I’m told you like the gumbo.”

“Yes, it’s the best I’ve ever had,” said Bonnie. “Even Gasparo Floyd would be proud.”

Pierre tore the hat from his head and clutched it to his chest as he waved the knife menacingly in the air. “Do not speak his name for it angers me so.”

Bonnie raised her butter knife and pointed it at Pierre. “Is that why you killed him?!”

“Kill him?” The tip of the knife dug into the tablecloth as he leaned forward and spoke in a hushed tone. “No, he was tough but fair. His critiques only made us work harder. We were the better for knowing him. But I still hate Gasparo Floyd.” He stabbed the table as he spoke the name, and the knife sunk into the wood.

“Really?” asked Anne. “I’d think that you’d be glad to see your harshest critic gone.”

“There will always be critics, but none had the passion for food the way he did. Besides, I couldn’t have killed him. I was here with his doctor friend, waiting for him. It was our the night of our monthly dinner, and he had promised to bring me something special. He would do that from time to time – surprise us with some exotic spice or rare ingredient.”

“Any idea what that could be?” asked Bonnie.

“No, he would never say,” said Pierre. “He loved his surprises almost as much as he loved rubbing our noses in them. I wouldn’t have put up with it, but the man knew cuisine like Mozart knew music. Say what is your interest in this anyway? Are you foodies as well?”

“Foodie?” asked Anne. “No, I’m more of a beerie.”

“I’ll drink to that,” said Bonnie. She raised her wineglass, and Anne tapped hers against it with a satisfying ping. “Actually, we’re the ones accused of killing him. We’re just trying to clear our names.”

“You? Why would you kill him?” Pierre gripped the knife handle and pried the blade loose from the table. He began waving it around again to accentuate his words. “If it was anyone, it was that witch, Harriet Farnsbottom. She was supposed to be here for the dinner as well, but she never showed.”

“Who’s she?” asked Bonnie.

“She’s been trying to steal his column space for years. I suppose now that he’s gone she’ll get her wish. Such a shame. She doesn’t know a soufflé from a shawarma.”

“Professional jealousy?” said Anne. “Sounds like a motive to me.”

“I can’t stand the woman, and I don’t want my restaurant to be her next victim. It would bring me no end of joy if she were locked away. If you could help with that, even in some small part, I would be eternally grateful. Please enjoy your lunch, it is on the house.”

“Woohoo,” cheered Anne, “free lunch. I guess you could say our time here wasn’t a turtle disaster.”

“Now if you ladies will excuse me, I have chicken to marinade.” Pierre stuck his hat on and headed back toward the kitchen.

“You may not like my puns,” Anne called out after him, “but that’s no reason to tuna me out.”

“I should have ordered the lobster,” said Bonnie.

“I thought the gumbo was the best you’d ever tasted,” said Anne.

“It is,” said Bonnie. “It’s also the only I’ve ever tasted, so technically it’s not a lie. But don’t tell the crazy man with the meat cleaver that.”

“It is good, but spicy,” said Anne. “We’re going to need more wine.”

As Anne emptied the bottle and set it down again, Bonnie nearly fell out of her seat. Over the picture of the cat on the label where two more googly eyes staring back at her. “Look!” she cried. “There they are again.”

Anne stared at the label, and then looked back at Bonnie. “Dun, dun, dun!” she exclaimed.

Bonnie smiled. “This must mean we’re getting close. C’mon, eat up. We’ve got a date with the fourth estate.”

Stop the Presses

“I’m sorry. Who were you again?”

“We’re with the Gasparo Floyd fan club,” said Bonnie. “We were wondering if you’d like to donate to a memorial dinner being held in his honor.”

“He’s dead?” asked Harriet Farnsbottom. “You’re sure?”

“He’s really, most sincerely dead,” said Anne.

“Whatever it is you plan to serve,” said Harriet, “it would never be good enough for that ghastly little man. He was never satisfied with anything.”

“That’s strange,” said Anne. “We’d heard that you were one of the regulars for his monthly extravaganzas.”

“He only invited those he wished to laud his expertise over. He could be so petty.”

“I suppose now that he’s gone, you’ll be taking over his job as food critic?” Bonnie pointed an accusing finger at her. “Is that why you killed him?!”

“You’re not part of any fan club,” said Harriet. “Who are you really?”

“Just a couple of gals in the big city being accused of a murder they didn’t commit,” said Anne.

“Don’t try to change the subject,” said Bonnie. “Isn’t it true you always wanted his job?”

“Me, no. I don’t want the job. And I certainly didn’t kill Gasparo.”

Anne put her hands on her hips and pouted. “But we thought…”

“You thought what?” Harriet interrupted. “That I killed the man so I could take over a crummy little column at a second-rate newspaper that’s teetering on the brink of bankruptcy?”

“Ah, yeah,” said Anne. “That about sums it up.”

“Well, let me tell you a little secret, just between us girls.” Harriet looked around the office to see if anyone was close enough to overhear, then leaned in and whispered, “As an advice columnist, I spend about five minutes a day doing actual work. The rest of the time I’m writing romance novels.”

“Really?!” shouted Bonnie, loud enough that every head in the office turned toward them.

“Yes, but keep your voice down,” said Harriet. “This is just my day job. Have you ever heard of Charlotte Wise?”

“Of course,” said Bonnie. “I’ve read the whole Highlander on a Horse series. Oh my god, are you saying that you’re actually Charlotte Wise?”

“No, of course not,” said Harriet. “Charlotte Wise lives in a mansion in Beverly Hills and has half-a-dozen oiled-up bodybuilders to cater to her every whim. Do you think that I’d be working in a dump like this if I had twenty best-selling novels under my belt? What I’m saying is that I’m going to be the next Charlotte Wise, so I don’t need or want the hassle of a new job, especially if it means having to deal with all those temperamental cooks. I’m perfectly happy where I am for the moment.”

“There goes that theory,” said Anne.

“So where were you last night?” asked Bonnie.

“Meeting with my agent.” Harriet held her thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart. “I’m this close to signing a deal for my new book, A Werewolf Is a Woman’s Best Friend.”

As Harriet held up a book with a half-naked man with a wolf’s head on the cover, Anne’s eyes opened wide. “Hmm. Looks…interesting.”

“Hubba, hubba,” said Bonnie. “Nice abs. I’d adopt him from the shelter.”

“So you see ladies, I had no reason to kill Gasparo, nor did I have the opportunity. I’m afraid you’ll have to look somewhere else.”

“I guess we’re back to square one,” said Anne.

“Maybe not,” said Bonnie. “Who else was a member of this club of yours?”

“Besides Gasparo and myself, there was only Dr. Wun, Pierre the chef from the restaurant where we met, and Mississippi Joe.”

“Mississippi Joe?” asked Anne. “Who’s that?”

“I’ve heard of him,” said Bonnie. “He’s one of the richest people in California, but he’s a recluse. No one even knows what he looks like.”

“I do,” said Harriet. “Despite some of his unusual habits, he has one of the keenest palates on the west coast. He is…or rather, was Gasparo’s arch-rival. I wouldn’t put it past Joe if he finally got fed up and did something drastic.”

“That sounds like someone we should talk to,” said Anne. “Where can we find him?”

“He usually spends his afternoons playing saxophone down by Pier 39, entertaining the tourists. He says it helps him keep in touch with the common people, whatever that means.”

“Thanks for your help,” said Bonnie. “And good luck with the novel.”

“And sorry about the whole accusing you of murder thing,” Anne added.

They were on their way to the elevator when Bonnie spotted a fire extinguisher with googly eyes stuck on top so that the hose hung down like an elephant’s trunk. “Look, another clue. Our killer has been here too. We must be on the right track. Let’s head down to the docks and reel in a big fish.”

Fish Out of Water

Shark300As Anne and Bonnie walked along The Embarcadero, the sounds of a saxophone could be heard above the traffic and the conversations of passers-by. They found him, a tall black man with a magnificent mustache and wearing  a top hat, under the shade of a big elm tree. His playing was full of squeaks and missed notes, but was nonetheless enthusiastic.

“There he is,” said Bonnie, “but we have to figure out the best way to approach him. If he runs off, we’ll never find him again.”

“I have just the thing,” said Anne. She rummaged in her purse for a moment, and then with a triumphant yelp, produced a kazoo from the bag.

“Where did you get that?” asked Bonnie.

“The craft store,” said Anne. “I figured it might come in handy.”

As the sax player belted out refrains from Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe, Anne gleefully joined in. After sharing a chorus and a long drawn out coda, he said, “Say, you’re pretty good with that thing. Do you take requests?”

“Sure,” said Anne.

“Please stop. This is a solo act.”

Anne pouted. “Everyone’s a critic.”

“Actually, it’s about a critic that we want to talk to you,” said Bonnie. “Are you Mississippi Joe?”

“I might be. Who’s asking?”

“I’m Bonnie, and this is my friend Anne. Harriet Farnsbottom said we could find you here. We wanted to ask you about Gasparo Floyd.”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” asked Joe.

“He’s not saying much these days,” said Bonnie. “He went and got himself killed last night.”

“Killed? That’s a shame. I’m sure gonna miss his little surprises. Of course, now with him gone, I’ll be the one people look to for culinary delights.”

“Is that why you killed him?!” accused Bonnie.

“Me. Kill him? No, you got it all wrong. My greatest pleasure in life was trying to outdo Gasparo in the kitchen. I can’t very well do that if he’s dead, now can I?”

“It would make it harder,” said Anne.

“Besides, I wasn’t even here,” said Joe. “I was 30,000 feet in the air on my way back from New York when he was killed.”

“That’s an awfully convent alibi,” said Bonnie.

“There was a new molecular gastronomy restaurant opening in SoHo that I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t even know Gasparo was dead until you told me just now.”

Bonnie threw her hands up. “Well, that’s it then. We’ve run out of leads. I guess we’re going down for murder.”

“I don’t know if it means anything,” said Joe, “but if it’s leads you’re looking for, you should check out the aquarium down the street. Gasparo had been spending a lot of time there recently.”

“You were following him?” asked Anne.

“No, this is my spot, and he knew that. At first I thought he was checking up on me, but he seemed more interested in the fish. He was trying to be sneaky about it, but I saw him skulking around.”

“What was he doing in there?” asked Bonnie.

“I went in a couple of days ago, but I couldn’t figure out what he was up to. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did.”

“Thanks for your help,” said Bonnie as she started to walk away.

Joe cleared his throat loudly and tilted his head towards the open saxophone case. Bonnie dug in her pocket but only found a couple of quarters and a five-dollar bill. She was about to toss the coins in when she stopped. “Wait. Aren’t you like super rich? I need these more than you do.”

“It’s the principle of the thing,” said Joe. “Besides, I have to keep up appearances. I give all the money I earn to the Humane Society and match it tenfold.”

Bonnie shrugged and tossed the money in the case. As she looked down, however, she saw that one of the bills in the case was different from the others. There were googly eyes on George Washington’s portrait. “Look our killer has been here too. We’re close to the answer. I can feel it!”

They raced down the street to the aquarium, bought a pair of tickets, and went inside. Anne had never been there before, and looked around in wonder. “This is amazing. Look at all the sharks!”

“Come over this way,” said Bonnie. “There’s a tunnel you can walk through and get a better look.”

“Wow. It’s like you’re swimming underwater with them. Or like you’re in the middle of a giant waterspout that came down and scooped you up with the sharks only to drop them on clueless bystanders miles from the ocean. It would be like a tornado, but full of sharks. What would you call something like that?”

“Ridiculous,” said Bonnie. “What are the chances of that happening?”

“You might be surprised,” said Anne. “What are we looking for anyway?”

“Something out of the ordinary,” said Bonnie. “Something out of place.”

“You mean besides us?”

“Yes. Something more like that!” Bonnie pointed to a tank that seemed to be empty. They both made their way toward it.

“What’s that?”

“It’s supposed to be an octopus from Australia,” said Bonnie. “Most of the tanks here are species native to the Bay Area, but this is a special exhibit on loan from Down Under. It seems to be closed though.”

“I don’t see anything but seaweed,” said Anne. She leaned in close, but Bonnie pulled her back and pointed to the information plaque.

“Of course! Why didn’t I think of it before. Anne, call that detective and tell him to meet us in the alley. We’ve solved the case!”

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

“Thank you all for coming. I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today. The truth is we’ve discovered the identity of Gasparo Floyd’s killer.”

There were gasps of astonishment from the remaining members of the dinner club, but it was Detective Sergeant Grammar who spoke. “I swear miss Burton, if this is some kind of a joke, I will have you arrested for wasting my time.”

“This is no joke I assure you,” said Bonnie. “It all began with the foodies’s potluck dinners. After years of trying to outdo each other, each of you was being driven to make better, more exotic dishes.”

“But you and the police have already questioned all of us,” insisted Harriet Farnsbottom. “None of us could have killed him.”

“And yet each of you is responsible in a small part for his death.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Pierre. “We were his friends.”

“With friends like you,” said Anne, “who needs anemones.”

Bonnie continued, unabated. “It all began when the aquarium opened a new exhibit containing the rare and endangered Queensland Facehugger. This octopus from Australia is renowned for two things. The first is for being irresistibly delicious, probably the main reason it’s endangered. The second reason is its method of attack. It literally attaches itself to the face of its victims, wrapping its tentacles around their bodies and smothering them. That was why he needed the sunglasses from you, Doctor Wun.”

“I don’t understand,” said the doctor.

“Oh, I know!” said Anne. “To hide his eyes!”

“Right you are, Anne,” said Bonnie. “That’s where our friends Archie and Carlos come in. Gasparo figured that if he could hide his own eyes and then use the googly eyes on a sock puppet, the octopus would wrap itself around his hand instead of his face, and he could safely make off with it.”

“But he couldn’t do it while I was hanging around the wharf,” said Joe. “He was worried that I might spot him and turn him in out of spite.”

“When you announced that you were going to New York to attend the gala opening of a new restaurant, Gasparo was insanely jealous, and it pushed him over the edge. He saw your absence as an opportunity to get the octopus and stick it to you at the same time.”

“He was right,” said Joe. “I would have given up a hundred premieres for one bite of a Queensland, and he knew it.”

Bonnie pointed toward an empty bucket lying on its side against a nearby wall. “Gasparo put the octopus in a bucket of salt water to keep him fresh until he was ready to cook him.” With the toe of her shoe, she tapped a piece of dark glass. “I think that I stepped on them when the police arrested us last night, but if I’m not mistaken, they found his broken sunglasses beside the body.”

“We did recover a pair of sunglasses from the scene,” said the detective.

“He must have been on his way to the restaurant when it started to get dark and the fog rolled in. Maybe he tripped, or maybe he was startled by the stray cat like I was, but something made him drop the bucket. Not thinking and desperate to get his prize back, he pulled off the sunglasses to see better. That was all it took.”

“Oh my,” said Harriet. “What a horrible way to die.”

“It seems the food critic got his just desserts,” said Anne, smugly. “Ooh, speaking of desserts, now that the case is solved, I could go for some ice cream.”

“Actually, the phrase is just deserts with one ‘s’ in the middle and another at the end,” insisted the detective. “It’s a colloquial remnant of a now obsolete definition of desert as something that was deserved. Desserts like you’d have at the end of a meal doesn’t even make sense. It’s like saying that you’ve been bad, so you deserve some cake.”

Anne sighed. “Jeez, I can’t make a simple joke without being harassed by the Grammar Police.”

“Well, I want cake with ice cream and some wine to wash it down,” said Bonnie.

“Your theory has one flaw,” said Joe. “There’s still the matter of the missing octopus.”

“That puzzled me as well,” said Bonnie, “until I realized that this alley runs behind Pierre’s restaurant. He must have come out here to take out the garbage after the others left and found the two of them lying there. Realizing what it was, he couldn’t let it go to waste.”

“He was already dead when I found him,” insisted Pierre. “I swear.”

Anne’s turned pale. “But that means…”

“Yup. Our killer was in the gumbo.”

Anne clasped her hand over her mouth. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“How did you figure it out?” asked Harriet.

“Pierre was the only one of you who wasn’t surprised to learn that Gasparo was dead, so he must have already known.”

Detective Grammar locked up Pierre’s wrists in handcuffs and led him away. “All right, mister. I’m taking you in for obstruction, destroying evidence, and whatever else I can think of on the way to the station.”

“And I would have gotten away with it too,” said Pierre, “if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

“I’m glad that mystery is finally solved,” said Harriet, “but you said we all were responsible for his death. What did I do?”

“In a way, you were the most guilty of all,” said Bonnie. “You were the one he was really trying to impress. You see, miss Farnsbottom, he was in love with you.”

“With me? What makes you say that?”

“I couldn’t see them yesterday with the fog and the dead body and all, but Gasparo dropped something else.” Near where the bucket had fallen was a bouquet of flowers, still in their protective paper wrapping. Bonnie picked them up and handed them to Harriet.

She opened them up and read the card. “To my darling, Harriet. You are the sweetest dish of all.”

“Ah, how sweet,” said Anne. “In a creepy kind of way.”

“Oh, you crazy fool. I’ll make you the hero in my next book.”

“A fine job, ladies,” said Joe. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and see if there’s any gumbo left. C’mon Harriet, let’s take the doctor inside and make sure Gasparo didn’t die for nothing.”

“There is one thing I don’t understand though,” said Bonnie. “I can’t figure out how the googly eyes got from the sock puppet to Gasparo’s face, and why they kept showing up at all the other places we went to today.”

“Oh, that was me,” said Anne. “Sorry, did I forget to mention that?”

“Ah, yeah.”

SanFranciscoTrolley200“When I saw the dead body,” said Anne, “I guess I kinda freaked out. With the googly eyes on his face, he almost looked alive again, and I felt better. After that, I picked up some more at the craft store and just kept going. They say we all deal with death in our own way, and I guess that was mine.”

“Bonnie, you’re a regular Sherlock Holmes,” said Carlos. “I think this calls for a celebration. Why don’t we buy you both dinner.”

“All right, but no seafood,” said Anne. “I’ve haddock enough to last a lifetime.”

“I know a place that makes a great bacon burrito,” said Bonnie. “If we leave now, we can make happy hour.”

“You had me at bacon,” said Anne. “Let’s get out of here.”

And they all walked off into the sunset together, and got very drunk.

THE END

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