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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

“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.”

Pete started choking and coughing to cover up a laugh. But Jupe was right. The gravy stain on his pants pocket was starting to spread and show.

They found their way out of the office complex and headed home. The Drippin’ Chicken went into the nearest trash can.

That evening cartons of Chinese food were stacked like the Great Wall of China in Jupe’s workshop. Pete, Jupe, and Bob were having a six-course conference about the case, filling Bob in on everything they’d seen and everyone they’d talked to at the Chicken Coop Corp. that afternoon.

“Well, it sounds like maybe we know the ‘what’ — the probable poisoning target is Drippin’ Chicken,” Bob said. “At least that’s our best guess up to now. But that still leaves four questions: who, where, when, and how? And there’s still the possibility that Michael Argenti is up to something weird.”

“We didn’t find Juliet’s briefcase, so we still don’t know what that has to do with anything,” Jupe said, rolling up and eating fat pancakes stuffed with moo shu pork and honeydew melon.

“No one even remembered seeing Juliet last Friday — except one old guy,” Pete said. “And he wasn’t too swift. I bet he was remembering a totally different day.”

“Where’d we get this food?” Bob asked suddenly.

“Usual place,” Pete said. “Sun Yee Chinese Deli. Why? What’s wrong?”

“I’m not crazy about their fortune cookies,” Bob said, staring hard at the small paper fortune in his hand. He passed it over to Pete and Jupe.

On the paper was a handwritten message that said:

The food you’ve just eaten could have been poisoned. Next time it will be!

Stay away from the Chicken King!


A Word from Our Sponsor

Jupe finished reading the threatening fortune cookie message and passed it back to Bob. No one said anything for a moment. They just sat there feeling watched. and very vulnerable.

Then Jupe grabbed the other two fortune cookies. The same message was inside all three.

Bob pushed his carton of shrimp fried rice to the far side of the table. “Nothing like a death threat to ruin your appetite,” he said.

Pete reached for the telephone. “Who are you calling?” Jupe asked.

“Sun Yee’s restaurant. To find out who did this.”

“Good idea,” Bob said.

“No, it isn’t,” Jupe countered. “Don’t bother, Pete.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m certain I know what happened,” Jupe answered slowly. But he didn’t go on.

“Well?” Pete said finally. “What’s your theory, Jupe?”

“Well,” Jupe said reluctantly, “I think a waiter at the restaurant probably stuffed that message in the cookie. And he probably did it because someone came into the restaurant and paid him five dollars to help out with a little practical joke.”

“How do you know?” Pete asked.

“I know, that’s all. Trust me,” Jupe said.

“Of course we trust you,” Bob said. “It’s just that — ”

“ — we know you too well,” Pete said, finishing Bob’s sentence. “So, like, we know when you’re hiding something.”

“Okay, okay,” Jupe said. “I know the setup with the fortune cookies because I’ve done it sometimes myself — for a joke, of course.”

“So that’s why your fortunes always say things like ‘You are brilliant, handsome, and a leader,’ while ours always say ‘Try harder to be like your intelligent friend’!” Bob said.

“Oh, brother!” Pete exclaimed, throwing his crumpled-up napkin at Jupe’s chest.

“It was just a joke!” Jupe insisted. “There’s no similarity between my occasional humorous pranks and this. this. death threat.” Jupe was quiet for a moment while those last words sank in. “The salient point,” he went on, “is that this message is the second warning we have received. It tells us that Pete’s cut brake line was not just an isolated incident — that it was probably related to our investigation into the Chicken King. Something sinister is going on. And we’d better be on our guard from now on, because someone is watching us.”

“I’ll bet the guy who did this wears army fatigues and drives a black Porsche convertible, right?” Pete asked.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Jupe said. “He certainly knows a lot about us.”

The phone rang just as Jupe finished his sentence. It startled all three of them.

“The Three Investigators. Jupiter Jones, founder, speaking.”

“Just the badger I want to talk to!” boomed the voice on the other end. “You have the honor of talking to Big Barney Coop!”

“It’s Big Barney,” Jupe said with his hand over the receiver.

“What’s he calling about? Does he know about the Chinese food?” Pete asked.

Jupe shook his head and motioned for Pete to be quiet.

“Listen, guy,” Big Barney said into the phone. “I’ve got big news with a capital Big. Tomorrow yours ever so truly is taping the first Drippin’ Chicken TV commercials. I’m talking landmark Chicken History. I want you there, guy. Can’t do it without you.”

Jupe couldn’t believe his good luck. Big Barney was issuing an invitation to do exactly what Jupe wanted to do — hang around and see what Big Barney was up to.

“Where? And when?” Jupe asked.

“Maltin Mix Studios on Alta Vista Drive. One o’clock. I like my team on time.”

Then he was gone.

Late that night, after Pete and Bob had left, Jupe watched a video cassette he had made of Big Barney’s TV commercials. Barney always sat at a cluttered desk in what looked like a combination office, library, and game room. Sometimes he interviewed guests or read fan letters. But Jupe’s favorites were the more unpredictable commercials. Like the time during Big Barney’s “Hate a Hamburger Week,” when Big Barney threw a whipped cream pie in a cow’s face. Or the time Big Barney sat with his back to the camera during the entire commercial because he was angry at the audience for forgetting his birthday.

But Jupe’s absolute favorite was the commercial Big Barney made to promote his two new styles of chicken — Cracklin’ Crunchy and Burning Barbecue. Big Barney paid a Las Vegas minister to perform a quickie wedding ceremony for two chickens! The picture of one chicken dressed in a tuxedo and the other in a lace wedding dress, with Big Barney standing there as the best man, said just about everything there was to say about Big Barney.

After watching the tape Jupe went to bed, but he spent a restless night. He couldn’t stop wondering whether Big Barney was the person whom Juliet had been talking about in her sleep. And was the Drippin’ Chicken the product he planned to poison? Or was it something else? Was Big Barney really going to make a commercial to promote a product that could kill millions?

At one o’clock sharp the next afternoon, Bob and Jupe arrived at Maltin Mix Studios just outside of Beverly Hills. Two minutes later, Pete and Kelly pulled up in Kelly’s mother’s car.

“Look at that,” Bob said to Jupe. “You’ve been complaining all the way over here about not having your own car. But when Pete, of all people, doesn’t have a car, what can you expect?”

“Okay,” Jupe replied. “I’ll stop complaining until Pete gets his car fixed. Then I’ll start again.”

When they got inside, Juliet met them at the entrance to studio A, wearing a Chicken Coop visor over her curly black hair.

“Hi. Dad’s been asking about you,” she said to Jupe with a smile. “Have you found out anything new?”

“No,” Jupe said. “But according to a fortune cookie we got last night, we’re on the right track.”

“Good,” Juliet said. “I hope you find my briefcase soon. I still can’t remember what’s in it. But I want it! It’s becoming an obsession.”

Then she took Jupe, Bob, Pete, and Kelly into the glass production booth at one end of the studio, where they could watch the taping. Lots of people from Big Barney’s office were there, including Pandro Mishkin, the flavor specialist.

The desk on the set for Big Barney’s commercials was piled high today with letters, empty Styrofoam coffee cups, rubber chickens, crayon drawings of fried chicken sent in by a class of third graders, and a photo of Juliet as a child in a Halloween chicken costume.

Finally the director called over the PA microphone, “We’re ready. Could someone go get Big Barney out of makeup?”

A minute later Big Barney made his entrance, wearing a jogging suit with alternating red, white, and blue stripes. On his face he wore a rubber chicken beak which covered his nose and upper lip. He carried with him a large antique silver tray with a heavy, ornate silver lid. He squinted against the bright lights, trying to see into the booth.

“Is my guy here?” he called.

“He’s here, Mr. Coop,” the director said, looking back from his swivel chair at Jupe. The Investigator was wearing his official Big Barney 10 Year Anniversary T-shirt. It had a drawing of a chicken’s body with Barney’s head.

“Pandro said you went creamed corn over the Drippin’ Chicken sample,” Big Barney called out. “I’ve got plenty for everybody today.”

“Too bad you wore your good pants,” Pete whispered to Jupe.

Once Big Barney was seated comfortably with his feet on the desk, the studio settled down and the director announced, “Quiet please. Drippin’ Chicken. Take one!”

And Big Barney began to talk, looking into the camera as if he could see through it to the people watching TV.

“Hey, guy,” he said. “This is your friend and mine, Big Bamey Coop. You know that I don’t make commercials unless I’ve come up with some new way for you to make me rich. Well, this time I’ve got to tell you that I’ve outdone even myself. Okay, I wasn’t there when they invented the wheel. And I wasn’t there when they invented penicillin. And I wasn’t there when they invented the paper clip. History didn’t call me at those momentous moments. Or if it did, I didn’t get the message, which is why I’m firing my secretary. Hahahaha! But today you and I are not only going to make history, we’re going to eat it.”

At that point, Big Barney uncovered the silver tray to reveal a mountain of steaming-hot Drippin’ Chicken biscuit-sandwiches. Even the crowd in the production booth began to ooh and aah hungrily.

Big Barney picked up one of the sandwiches and brought it close to his mouth. The camera moved in for a tight shot. The Three Investigators gulped. Was he really going to eat one?

“I have done what people have been trying to do since the dawn of civilization — or maybe the sunset of civilization. I have created Drippin’ Chicken, the chicken with a bucket of unbelievable, irresistible gravy in every bite. And get this — the gravy is inside the sandwich! That’s right. Now there’s nothing to get in the way of your having major gravy stains down the front of your shirt. I told my guys, this time let’s give people something they never expected in their sandwich. Well, we’ve done it, and I can’t wait for you to gobble it down. Like this!”

Then he did it. Big Barney took a big bite out of the Drippin’ Chicken sandwich he was holding. And with gravy dripping down his chin, he gave the camera a big smile.

“Cut,” yelled the director. “Great!”Some of the bright lights in the studio dimmed and people in the booth relaxed.

Kelly leaned over and said to the Investigators. “That was hysterical!”

But Jupe, Pete, and Bob were still watching Big Barney through the studio glass. And they saw him spit out the bite of Drippin’ Chicken without even chewing it!

It was as if Big Barney were confessing that Drippin’ Chicken was poisonous — too poisonous to be eaten by any human being!


Fowl Play

Jupe knew enough about the television business to know that the taping session for Drippin’ Chicken wasn’t over yet. But he didn’t expect it to go on for another five hours. Big Barney did the commercial twenty times more. And at the end of each take Big Barney took a big, squishy bite of Drippin’ Chicken, which he promptly spit out when the director yelled “Cut.”

When it was all over, Big Barney yelled, “Let’s party!” and invited everyone in the studio to dig in and enjoy the Drippin’ Chicken samples. There was a microwave off to one side so the samples could be heated up. The camera crew, floor crew, and production people in the booth all rushed up to pig out on the hot biscuits filled with chicken and gravy.

Jupe watched carefully.

No one was dropping dead. No one was writhing with stomach cramps or chills or any of the other symptoms of poisoning. The only moans Jupe heard were the sounds of ecstatically happy people raving about the delicious taste.

Slowly Jupe walked over to the desk where the Drippin’ Chicken sat invitingly on the silver tray. There were only two sandwiches left. Just as he reached for one of them Bob poked him on the shoulder. “Notice who’s not eating the samples?” he asked.

Jupe looked around.

“Big Barney and Mishkin,” Bob said. “Why is it the two people who know the most about Drippin’ Chicken are the two people who aren’t eating it?”

Jupe hesitated — and lost his chance.

“Excuse me,” said a young woman. She reached in front of Jupe and grabbed both sandwiches. “I was going to take one to my boyfriend, but they’re too irresistible.” She gobbled up both of them right in front of Jupe’s face.

Jupe gave Bob a look of pure frustration, but he maintained a calm and rational voice. “Oh, well. If it turns out that they’re not harmful, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to try them fresh from the Chicken Coop.”

When the party started to wind down, the Three Investigators ducked out for some fresh air. They leaned against their cars, waiting for Kelly and Juliet and deciding what to do next.

Finally Kelly and Juliet came out of the studio and into the parking lot. Kelly was brushing her long brown hair as they walked. “I’m going with Juliet to pick up the clothes I left at her house,” Kelly said.

Jupe didn’t like that. He still wanted Kelly to have a reason to keep in touch with Juliet. When he thought Juliet wasn’t looking, he shook his head at Kelly. She must have gotten the message because she gave him a small wink and a nod before she got into Juliet’s car.

“There goes the Chicken mobile,” Pete said. He pointed to a specially built yellow and orange Cadillac convertible with a giant three-dimensional Chicken Coop emblem on the hood. Big Barney beeped the horn as he drove off. It played a cock-a-doodle-do.

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