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Megan Stine - Murder To Go

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Megan Stine - Murder To Go
Murder To Go
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The taste of terror — in a feast of mystery

“Like I’ve gone ten rounds with a boxing champ,” Juliet said. “But nothing’s broken, no deep cuts, just bruises and scratches. I’m actually going home tomorrow.”

“That’s great,” Bob said.

Jupe impatiently pushed a chair from Kelly’s side of the room to Juliet’s bed.

“We’ve been very anxious to talk to you about your accident,” Jupe said.

“Kelly told me. But there’s something I’d better tell you first,” said Juliet slowly. “I have amnesia.”

“You can’t remember anything at all?” Jupe asked very precisely.

“The last thing I remember is feeding my cat two mornings ago before going to work at my dad’s office. Then I woke up here,” Juliet said. “The amnesia’s temporary. At least that’s what the doctor said. It’s pretty common after a big shock. My memory could come back any minute.”

“If it doesn’t, maybe we can help you track it down,” Bob volunteered.

“So you don’t remember anything from the day of the accident,” Jupe mused. “What do you do in your father’s office?”

“I just graduated from college with my business degree,” Juliet explained. “So now I’m trying to learn Dad’s business. I’ve been going from one department to another, doing a cost-efficiency analysis on the entire operation.”

“Do you remember what departments you were studying last Friday?” Jupe asked.

“I don’t,” Juliet said unhappily.

“Do you remember having some bad dreams, or talking in your sleep?” Jupe asked.

Juliet shook her head.

“Guys, let’s talk outside,” Jupe said, motioning for Pete and Bob to follow.

Once they were out in the hallway, Jupe said bluntly, “There’s no case.”

“Kelly thinks there is,” Pete said.

“Kelly’s been sitting there for a week with nothing to do but watch television,” Jupe said. “She qualifies as a certified hospital — bed potato.”

“And she’s obviously got a wild imagination. I mean, she’s going with you, isn’t she?” Bob said, giving Pete a friendly punch in the arm.

“Come on, you guys,” Pete said. “Kelly knows things. She always knows what kind of clothes or lipstick and stuff to wear months before anyone else is wearing them.”

“Great,” Jupe said. “If we ever change our name to The Three Fashion Designers, we’ll definitely make her an associate.”

Pete scowled at Jupe.

“Pete,” Jupe said, trying to be reasonable, “Juliet Coop had a bad accident and she had a bad dream. Now she has amnesia. I can’t put those together and come up with a crime, can you?”

But it was Bob who spoke up. “I have to give you a ‘maybe’ on that,” he said.

That caught Jupiter by surprise.

“I’ll tell you why,” Bob said. “I can see the crash wiping out her memory of the accident. But Juliet doesn’t remember anything the day of the accident. Why is the whole day erased? Maybe something else happened.”

The answer to that one was not on the tip of Jupe’s tongue. He was thinking about it when Nurse Lazar’s loud voice stole his attention. She was talking on the phone at the nurses’ station.

“You’re going to have my job?” she said with a laugh, obviously repeating what the person on the other end had threatened. “Pal, you can have my job and I hope you look good in the little white hat.” She stamped hospital forms with a red rubber stamp as she spoke. “I’m tired of you calling every half hour asking about Juliet Coop. I’ve got thirty other patients to care for. You want to know how she is? Come to the hospital.”

Nurse Lazar listened to the caller’s reply with an angry face. “You want to talk to a doctor? Hold on.” She dropped the phone loudly on the desk and walked away.

“Why would someone call so often to check on Juliet Coop?” Jupe asked.

“Because he’s worried about her,” Pete said.

“Right. But is he worried that she won’t make it — or that she will? Maybe it’s Mr. Sweetness,” Jupe said. He cleared his throat.

“Jupe, I know that sound,” Bob said. “You’re deciding what voice to use.”

Jupiter had a flare for acting, and he could speak in lots of different voices and styles.

“The man wants to speak to a doctor,” Jupe said, smiling slyly. He picked up the receiver.

“Hello, this is Dr. Jones speaking,” he said. His voice was suddenly older — exactly like a thirty-year-old’s — and full of know-everything confidence.

“Never heard of you,” said the voice on the other end. Smooth voice. An older man, at least middle-aged. A fast talker.

“I just joined the staff,” answered Jupe. “You were asking about Juliet Coop, Mr. ”

Jupiter was hoping the caller would fill in the blank with his name.

Instead the man asked, “How is she?”

“Well, I’m only supposed to give out that information to the immediate family,” Jupe said. “Are you a family member?”

After a pause, the man said, “I’m a friend of the family.”

“A close friend?” asked Jupe.

Question and answer. Thrust and parry. Cat and mouse. The mouse ducked into another hole.

“Look, all I want to know is, is she going to be all right?” said the man.

“She has regained consciousness,” Jupe said, listening carefully for the reaction on the other end of the line. “She’s out of danger,” he added.

“Yeah,” said the voice. But it didn’t sound like a happy yeah, or a relieved yeah, or even a questioning yeah. It sounded very much to Jupiter Jones like a that’s-what-you-think yeah.

It gave Jupe a bad feeling. “I’ll be happy to tell her you called,” Jupe said, trying once more to get a name from the caller.

“That’s okay, Doc,” said the voice. “I’ll be interfacing with her.” The man hung up.

“What happened? What’s wrong?” asked Pete, impatient with Jupe’s silence.

“He stopped interfacing with me,” Jupe said, putting the phone back on the desk just as Nurse Lazar returned with a young intern.

“The guy’s a real pain,” she said to the intern as she picked up the receiver. But the line was dead. “I don’t believe it. He hung up!” she said in disgust.

“He’s more than a pain,” Jupe said softly to his friends. “He’s a mystery. Something is going on and I don’t understand it.”

“Translation: You’re not quitting after all, right?” Bob said.

“I never said I was quitting,” Jupe replied. “I don’t know what and she can’t remember why, but I think Juliet Coop is in some kind of danger. And we’re the only ones who know it. We’ve got to stay close to her.”

But for the time being, they couldn’t stay close to Juliet because they each had pressing things to do. Pete, who often did auto repairs for a few bucks, had to finish adjusting the ignition timing on his neighbor’s Corvette.

Bob was due again at the talent agency, where he worked part-time. One of its rock bands needed help setting up for a club date.

And Jupe had promised to check in with Mrs. Teitelbaum, the neighbor who had given him the melon diet in the first place. Mrs. Teitelbaum considered herself to be Jupe’s personal one-woman diet support group.

So it was the next morning when two of the Three Investigators got together again. Jupe and Pete met at the hospital because both Kelly and Juliet were checking out.

Kelly was ecstatic to be leaving. Juliet’s spirits had improved, too, but her memory still hadn’t returned. She sat on her bed, waiting for Big Barney to come and take her home.

“Knowing Big Barney,” Juliet said, “he’ll probably show up in a gorilla suit, or bring a mariachi band to the hospital. My dad loves jokes, you know.”

Ten minutes later Big Barney stuck his head in the door. “Hey! Remember me?” He was wearing a brown jogging suit and he had a fake arrow through his head.

“Dad, I’ve only forgotten twenty hours, not twenty years,” Juliet said. “Of course I remember you. The question is: Did you remember to bring the stuff I asked for?”

Big Barney produced a small suitcase and Juliet opened it. She pulled out a pair of blue silk pajamas and held them up.

“What are these?” she asked.

“Blue silk pants and blouse,” Big Barney said cheerfully. “Just like you asked for.”

“Wrong closet, Dad.” Juliet laughed. “These are pajamas. I can’t go outside in pajamas!”

Big Barney pushed his sunglasses onto his forehead and held out the pajamas at arm’s length. “Pajamas?. Okay, no problem,” he said, the gears in his head already clicking full speed. “We just tell people you’re late for a pajama party. Hahaha!” His laugh boomed through the hospital.

“No way,” Juliet said, shaking her head. “If Mom were still alive, she’d punch you for even suggesting that!”

“Okay, no problem,” Big Barney said. He looked Kelly over as she stood by her bed, packing to leave. “How about her? She looks about a hundred and fifteen pounds.”

Kelly was amazed. “One fifteen exactly,” she said. “How did you know?”

“I know how much a chicken weighs from thirty yards,” said Big Barney. “Similar bone structure. I’d say your clothes would fit my Julie.”

“Come on, Dad,” Juliet said, embarrassed. “I can’t do that. Sorry, Kelly. Sometimes he forgets that the whole world doesn’t jump when he pushes an intercom button.”

“Hey, it’s a great idea,” Kelly said. “You’re welcome to borrow some clothes.”

“You’re a lifesaver!” Juliet said gratefully. She closed up the suitcase Big Barney had brought. “Maybe I could borrow some makeup, too? No makeup bag, Dad,” Juliet scolded. She hopped out of bed, gave her father a hug, and said teasingly, “Which one of us lost our memory, I wonder?”

“Here,” Kelly said, carrying her own suitcase over to Juliet’s side of the room. “Take what you want.”

“Thanks,” Juliet said. “I’ll get them back to you.’

“No rush,” said Kelly.

“Hey, you know what?” Juliet said. “Dad’s giving me a welcome-home party in a couple of days. Why don’t you all come? It’ll be a great party and you can pick up your clothes then, Kelly.”

“Sounds great!” Kelly exclaimed.

Jupe also smiled, but he kept it to himself. A party at the Chicken King’s house? A chance to observe Big Barney up close and personal? What could be better?


The Party Animal

Jupiter Jones sat on the corner of his bed and pulled on his socks. It was the day of the party at Big Barney Coop’s mansion and Jupe was nervous. This was going to be a tough assignment. Not because of the investigation — he was looking forward to that. But what was he going to say to people, more specifically, to girls at the party?

He stood up and tucked a bright polo shirt into his chinos. He faced his mirror. Not bad for a slightly overweight, medium height guy with unruly black hair. Wait a minute. Did the shirt look better tucked in or left out? It was stretching rather tightly over his stomach.

Then be began to have an imaginary conversation in his head. He was talking to a girl, the girl he’d like to meet at the party. She was petite and dainty, with short, curly hair.

“You probably haven’t noticed me, but I’ve been staring at you uncontrollably for half an hour,” said the imaginary girl with a smile.

“I notice everything,” Jupe answered confidently.

“Want some chicken?” she asked, temptingly holding out a plate of Big Barney’s best.

“No, thanks,” Jupe said, looking into the mirror in his room. “I’m trying to lose a few.”

“Gee, I really admire guys who have will power,” replied the girl in Jupe’s daydream.

She likes me, Jupe thought.

“Are you a friend of Big Barney’s?”

“Actually I’m here to see if he’s poisoning his chickens,” Jupe said bluntly.

The girl’s eyes opened wide. “You mean,” she said excitedly, “you’re a real detective?”

But by the time Jupe had tried on a more flattering T-shirt, his imaginary date was asking him a really tough question. “Why would someone who’s made millions selling fried chicken suddenly decide to poison his own food?” she asked.

“That’s a very astute question,” said Jupe. “And I’m not sure of the answer. Maybe he’s trying to scare ol’ Michael Argenti. Maybe he’s poisoning just a small sample of his own birds, so that when Argenti takes a sample, he’ll find contamination. Or maybe he’s poisoning Argenti’s Roast Roost chickens as a counter attack. There are a lot of possibilities.”

“You’re so smart and logical,” said the girl in the daydream.

“And I know judo, too,” Jupe added.

“You’ve probably already got a girlfriend,” the girl said.

“Well. ” Jupe said.

“Hey, Jupe. Are you ready?” asked a voice from behind.

Jupe snapped out of his daydream and saw Bob standing in the doorway. He was wearing a navy-blue and red striped polo shirt and white casual pants.

“Who were you talking to?” Bob asked as they walked to his car.

“Just going over the facts of the case,” Jupe answered, his face flushing.

When they arrived at Big Barney’s enormous mansion in Bel Air, Pete and Kelly were waiting for them.

“Hope you brought a lot of change,” Pete said. “You need bus fare to get from the front door to the pool.”

The mansion was a stately forty-room, three-story stucco building with ivy growing on the walls. But that’s where any semblance of elegance stopped. Everywhere there were reminders of how the Chicken King had made his millions. Instead of lawn jockeys there were chickens in jockey uniforms. The windsock on top of the flagpole was a rubber chicken. And many of the fat, round shrubs were trimmed into topiary versions of chickens wearing crowns.

The party was being held poolside, behind the mansion. There, two hundred people, young and old, were gathered around a chicken-shaped swimming pool, eating fried chicken, dancing, and having a great time.

“Remember, we’re not here just to have fun,” Jupe said. “Especially you, Kelly. Be sure to ‘forget’ to pick up your clothes from Juliet. That way you’ll have an excuse to see her again.”

“I know, I know,” Kelly said impatiently. “Come on, Pete, let’s go find Juliet. And if I catch you having any fun, I’ll tell Jupe on you.” Kelly laughed as they walked away.

“Why does she take everything I say so seriously?” Jupe asked Bob.

Bob shook his head. “No — why do you take everything she says so seriously? C’mon, let’s look around.”

They squeezed their way through the crowd. It seemed to Jupe that everyone had a juicy drumstick or — a chicken wing in their hand. They were pointing with them, waving them, even dueling with them. But most of all, they were chewing on them.

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