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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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Описание книги "Murder To Go"

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The taste of terror — in a feast of mystery

The telephone call was more of a surprise.

“Jupiter, it’s Juliet Coop. My briefcase!” she said excitedly.

Jupe was an expert at all kinds of codes, but this one had him totally confused.

“I woke up about an hour ago and started looking everywhere for my briefcase,” Juliet said after taking a deep breath. “Up until then, I’d forgotten I had a briefcase!”

Now Jupe was excited too. “Your memory is starting to come back,” he said.

“That’s one way to look at it,” Juliet said. “Or you could say I’m just starting to realize how much I’d forgotten. Anyway, the briefcase isn’t here at home. And I don’t even know why I want to find it so badly. But I think there’s something important in it. I feel like there is.”

“Pete and I are just on our way to your father’s office,” Jupe said. “We’ll keep our eyes open for it.”

“Maybe I left it in my office,” Juliet said. “Or in someone else’s office. I’d go looking for it but Dad doesn’t want me coming in for a few days. Do you think you could try to find out where I was last Friday before the accident?”

That’s exactly what I was already planning to do, Jupe thought to himself.

“We’ll ask around,” Jupe said to Juliet. “But do you have an appointment calendar? It might give us a head start if we knew what your schedule was.”

“Sure. It’s a beautiful blue morocco leather diary,” Juliet said wistfully. “And you’re welcome to look in it yourself — if you can find it. It’s always in my briefcase!”

Pete started playing his impatient symphony on the car horn again.

“I’ll check out every possibility and call you tonight,” Jupe said quickly.

“And I’ll call you if I remember anything else,” Juliet said before she hung up.

By the time Jupe got outside, Pete had the car hood raised and was peering inside the engine. He was like a compulsive dentist who couldn’t resist telling every patient he came across to open wide.

“Juliet just called. She can’t find her briefcase, which contains something important,” Jupe announced as a greeting.

“I’ll bet that’s what Mr. Sweetness was hunting for,” Pete said without looking up.

If Pete had looked up he would have seen Jupiter Jones with his jaw wide open. “Remarkable deduction!” Jupe exclaimed. “What did you have for breakfast?”

Then they climbed into the car and headed for Big Barney’s corporate office building in the San Fernando Valley. On the way they passed the lot where Pete’s car had gone off the road. It was still sitting there.

Pete pulled into a nearby gas station and hopped out to make a phone call. He was phoning Ty Cassey, Jupe’s older cousin, who usually hung around the junkyard and ran an informal car repair business whenever he was in town. Right now, however, Ty was sponging off a different distant relative — someone who had rented a beach house in Malibu for the summer.

“Ty?” Pete said into the pay phone. “It’s Pete. Remember how you said you needed some wheels for the next three weeks? Well, I’ll make you a deal. You can use my car if you’ll come haul it out of the field where it’s stuck.”

Once Pete had arranged with Ty to take care of his Scirocco, he revved the engine of his mom’s car again and they were off.

As they pulled into the parking lot at Big Barney’s Chicken Coop Corporation, Pete and Jupe had to laugh. In typical Big Barney style, the building was a cross between a modern six-story office complex and an amusement park. To drive through the locked visitors’ gate, Pete had to announce himself into an intercom system. But it was the same chicken-shaped intercom used at the Chicken Coop drive-thru restaurants. For a joke, Pete ordered two five-piece meals to go.

When the electronic gate swung open, Pete and Jupe drove toward the red and yellow building.

Big Barney had been at work for hours. He greeted them wearing a big smile and a red jogging suit. The first thing he said to Jupe was, “I’ve got one. What year did we put the carrots in the coleslaw?”

“1987,” Jupe said. “Smaller containers, too.”

“Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I tell you?” Big Barney bellowed to anyone who was listening inside a three-county radius. “You’re a nut, guy, but you’re my kind of nut. However, you two will have to wear identification tags at all times. We have tight security around here.” Big Barney slapped stickers on Pete’s and Jupe’s backs.

When they checked each other out, they discovered they were wearing kick me signs. Big Barney laughed so hard he almost turned as red as his jogging suit. Then he put Chicken Coop visors on both of them.

“What do you want to see first?” Big Barney asked. “My first dollar? I’ve got it framed and hanging over the fireplace in my office. How about my first wife? I have her hanging over the fireplace in my office too. Hahahahaha!”

“We’d like to see some of the offices, like Juliet’s new office,” Jupe said, trying to sound casual about it.

“I want to see where the food is made and what kind of stuff goes into it, too,” Pete said.

“So you want to meet my mad scientists, do you?” Barney asked, rolling his eyes wildly. “Okay, I’ll have them taken out of their cages just for you. And then I want you” — he pulled the visor down over Jupe’s eyes — “to taste something special.” Big Barney started guiding, although it was more like pushing, Jupe and Pete down the hallways. “You’re not going to believe this new product. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe it and it’s my invention.”

They took an elevator and toured the offices. Whenever Pete and Jupe could get away from Big Barney for a minute, they asked people if Juliet had been there on the Friday of the accident. One accountant said he had seen her that day. But he didn’t remember anything about a briefcase. A few other people mentioned that they’d seen Juliet’s Mustang in the parking lot when they left work — but there were no other strong leads.

Finally Big Barney took Pete and Jupe down to the basement, to a large scientific laboratory behind locked glass doors. There were warning signs saying keep out all around the electronic checkpoint entrance.

When Big Barney pushed a plastic card into an electronic box, the glass doors began to slide open. “Repeat after me,” Big Barney said, looking down at Pete and Jupe. “I will tell no one about Drippin’ Chicken.”

“I will tell no one about Drippin’ Chicken,” Pete and Jupe said.

“Okay, let’s get down to business. Pandro!” Big Barney’s voice boomed and shook the glass walls of the laboratory.

Instantly a squat, burly, bald man with gold wire-rimmed glasses came marching over. He wore a long white lab jacket that had a row of Chicken Coop pins fastened above the pocket like military medals. And he actually saluted.

“Meet Pandro Mishkin,” Big Barney said, pounding the man on the back. It was like pounding a mailbox. “You’ll never guess where Pandro came to me from!”

I’ll bet it was Disneyland, Pete thought to himself. But he played it straight and asked, “Where?”

“The Pentagon,” Big Barney answered. “At least his laboratory in Washington was within five blocks of the Pentagon. Close enough.”

Actually, the Pentagon is across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, Jupe thought to himself. But he kept his mouth shut.

Big Barney pushed his paramilitary employee forward. Pandro Mishkin shook hands with the Investigators. His hands were clammy and cold.

“Pandro is a flavor specialist, and he’s my head of R&D,” Big Barney continued, using the abbreviation for Research and Development. “And if he does a really good job, I’ll teach him the other twenty-four letters, too. Haha! Pandro, the boys would like an order of Drippin’ Chicken.”

Pandro looked at Jupe and Pete suspiciously. “Civilians, sir?” he said.

“They’re okay, Pandro,” Big Barney said. “What year did we introduce wings on a string? It was right after I saw soap on a rope.”

“1985,” answered Pandro.

“June 22, 1985,” answered Jupe.

“The guy is a walking unauthorized biography. I love him,” Big Barney said. “Go get us some Drippin’ Chicken, Pandro.”

“Yes, sir,” Pandro said. He didn’t salute this time. But for a moment he did look like he wanted to click his heels together. Then he marched down the hall-way toward a laboratory kitchen, using a key to unlock the door.

“What is Drippin’ Chicken?” Pete asked after Pandro was gone.

“Picture this,” Big Barney said. “A Chicken Coop boneless white meat chicken patty, deep fried, in a golden baked biscuit.”

“I can picture it,” said Jupe, almost breathlessly.

“Now, what’s wrong with that picture?” asked Big Barney.

“Nothing,” said Jupe. “Nothing at all.”

“Where’s the gravy?” asked Big Barney, grinning like a very large child with a secret he couldn’t wait to tell.

“You’re introducing gravy in a pump?” Jupe guessed.

Big Barney just shook his head. “The gravy,” he said, savoring every word, “is in the chicken.”

Pete was getting hungry. Jupe was absolutely awestruck.

“You get a bucket of fantabulous gravy in every bite of Drippin’ Chicken,” pronounced Big Barney. “My brand-new top-secret recipe puts a whole ladleful of real down-home gravy right inside each boneless white meat chicken patty. The American people won’t know what hit them.”

Big Barney’s last words gave Jupe and Pete a sudden case of chills. They looked at each other. A moment ago they were salivating for Drippin’ Chicken. But now both of them were thinking the same thought. Why wouldn’t the American people know what hit them? Maybe it was because the Drippin’ Chicken was poisoned!

It made perfect sense. Big Barney was bringing out a new product and Juliet was having nightmares. It could be a coincidence. but Jupe’s radar told him that Big Barney’s super-secret Drippin’ Chicken was the subject of Juliet’s fears. Her words echoed in their ears: “He’s poisoning the chicken. Millions will die.”

“They’re nice and hot!” Pandro called from the laboratory kitchen.

“Come on, guys. I want you to be my guinea pigs,” said Big Barney. “I want you to be the first to try Drippin’ Chicken!”


Choose Your Poison

Big Barney looked at Pete and Jupe expectantly. Did they realize what an honor they’d been given?

Pete looked at his watch. “It’s not lunchtime,” he said.

“My diet says no fried foods,” Jupe said.

“No excuses!” Big Barney bellowed. “The Drippin’ Chicken is hot. You guys got to learn to grab your chances — ’cause you never know when your timer is going to start beeping, telling you you’re cooked!”

There was no way they could get out of tasting the Drippin’ Chicken without seeming very suspicious. So Jupe and Pete started slowly walking down the hallway. Holding a tray, Pandro left the lab kitchen and steered them into his office across the hall. Fortunately Big Barney didn’t follow them into the room. Instead, he called Pandro back out into the hallway for a quick huddle.

Inside Pandro’s office, on his modern glass and steel desk, sat two steaming Drippin’ Chicken biscuit-sandwiches.

“They look superb,” Jupe said.

“Are you nuts? They could be poison. We’ve got to lose them. Put ’em in your pockets,” Pete said.

Jupe looked down at his blue jeans, which were already a little on the tight side. “Are you kidding?”

“Well, we can’t use the wastebasket,” Pete mumbled. “They’d find them. And I’m wearing jogging pants without pockets.”

“The couch?” Jupe said.

Pete shook his head. “They’d smell them and then they’d find them. Your pockets — quick!”

Pete pointed and Jupe obeyed. The gravy oozed out and started running down his leg. “I’ll watch the door for Pandro,” Pete said. “See what you can find.”

Jupe looked around the office for Juliet’s briefcase. It wasn’t behind or under the desk or in any of the drawers. And the file cabinets were locked. So Jupe switched gears and began looking for anything else of interest.

“Hey, look at this,” Jupe said. “Pandro’s desk calendar has a page torn off. Six days ago.”

“That’s Friday, the day Juliet can’t remember,” Pete said. “And the night of her accident.”

“We’ve got to find out if there’s a connection,” Jupe said. Just then he heard footsteps approaching. “Be sure to argue with me about the calendar,” Jupe whispered to Pete.

Pete nodded. A split second later Pandro strode back into the room. “At ease, men. Good gravy, you two demolished those fast,” Pandro said. “You must have really loved our Drippin’ Chicken.”

“I can honestly say I’ve never eaten anything like it,” Jupe said.

“The General is going to be happy to hear that,” Pandro said, referring to Big Barney. “He sends his apologies. Had to go take care of business.”

“Did you invent Drippin’ Chicken?” Jupe asked.

“No.” Pandro shook his head. He sat down behind his desk. “The General went out of house for this one. I told him not to, at first. I said we could handle it right here. But he pulled rank on me and went right to the top. He got Don Dellasandro of Miracle Tastes to develop Drippin’ Chicken. I like to say it was the Chicken King and the Flavor King working on the same team.”

“So you don’t know what’s in it?” Pete asked.

“Of course I do,” Pandro said. “It was my job to analyze the secret gravy recipe and make certain it contained just exactly what Mr. Dellasandro said it did. Then I gave my personal go-ahead to the General. That’s how I got my tenth bird.” One of Pandro’s stubby fingers pointed to the last silver chicken pin on his lab coat. “But of course it’s all classified material. I can’t tell you anything else.”

“We wouldn’t want you to,” Jupe said. “Just coming here is exciting enough. After all — we didn’t even know Big Barney until eight days ago, did we, Pete?”

Pete looked at Jupe blankly. Then he saw that Jupe’s eyes were on the desk calendar. “You mean six days ago, don’t you, Jupe?” he asked with a smile.

“Eight days,” Jupe said, shaking his head.

“You’re wrong,” Pete said, walking over to Pandro Mishkin’s desk and flipping the pages of the desk calendar. “It was six days ago. Last Friday. I’m sure of it — hey, the page is missing.”

“I know,” Pandro said. His voice was automatic, as though he already knew what he was going to say. “I always write my grocery lists on the calendar and take them with me.”

“Well, we won’t take up your time any longer,” Jupe said. “We’ve got to get home and change our clothes.”

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