‘Le Buerre, Le Creme, L’Oeuf’, (pronounced loo-bear, lay-krem, loof) was my current fave resty and I had just finished a divine flamiche, a pie made of brioche dough filled with leeks, bacon, cream and Gruyere, a recipe Chef Demerick had collected from a pair of Picard gourmands during a backpacking trip across the continent several years back. I had just spied the dessert tray and a delightful looking croissant business that simply oozed what I assumed was a blackberry compotey goodness and was beginning to rise and start a silent arm-waving, gesturing to my waiter, bidding war as the woman two tables over had obviously seen it as well, when my phone rang. My waistline would live to fight my wardrobe another day, this call was important, a fave foodie friend who was also a detective was deep in the middle of something, something like murder.
On the outside it looked like a house fire. Flammable bedding caught fire from an as yet unidentified cause, the fire then spreading to window treatments likewise inflammable, etc., etc. All very run of the mill, very explainable, until we look under the hood. You’ll have to excuse that last bit, you see I am a major mystery buff, from reading pulp police procedurals to tightly woven detective fiction to the flood of TV detectives of whom Columbo was my all time fave. You see, Peter Falk proved to us rabid fans week in and week out that all one needed to solve the most complicated crimes was an old Peuguot, a dirty raincoat and half a cigar. And one more question. Worked every time.
The story so far was that Mrs. Rose, wife of Dr. Rose, wasn’t feeling well, had been asleep in the master bedroom upstairs when the fire started, was overcome by smoke inhalation and succumbed before first responders arrived and put out the blaze. A tragedy, pure and simple, how could it be anything else? Indeed.
According to my fave friend and detective buddy, the doctor was in his office when they called him to tell him about the fire. No red flags there. I even recognized the address, I had been in that neighborhood before, pretty swanky too if I remember, the kind of place that doesn’t have lawnmowers in the garage, they show up with large trailers full of grass grooming goodies and several helpers once a week, so the place looks nice for parties. I asked my friend if the doctor and his wife had any children at home and he said that they lived alone, except for a cat. Sounds legit. I told him to meet for some coffee at a local caffeinery that we liked and we could talk some more, he agreed.
One does not simply dive headfirst into convo when at a coffeeshop. One must respect the brew, to become one with the vibe of the place, the ‘roma. We were halfway through our first DV before we dared to speak(OK, you waited, good for you, Double Venti, there, feel better?)
‘Something is not right here. It gives me a funny feeling, you know?’ he started.
I did know, cut and dried was the fave expression. I didn’t like it either. ‘So who reported the fire?”
‘Gardeners across the street were finishing up when they were loading up the trailer, called it in. What are your thoughts?’
‘Nothing yet, first responders have anything to add?’
‘Nothing to hang my hat on, they pulled up, door was locked, cat was out front, you know the rest.’
Hmmm, I hmmmed. ‘Got any pictures?’, I asked. He did. He was enjoying this, I could tell.
Looking through the collection of photos on his phone the scene was pretty straight forward. The smoke blackened master bedroom windows were directly above the front door which was flanked on both sides by immaculately trimmed japanese holly. Inside, the scene in the bedroom was less distinct. What had been very thick, plush carpetting was burned down to the flooring in places, various bric-a-brac and assorted accoutrements were strewn about, ostensibly while removing the remains of Mrs. Dr. Rose, thank you whoever thought to leave that one out of the pile. One interesting thing about the master bedroom, it had it’s own fireplace. Working too, from the tongs and such littering the floor.
‘Can you get me an inventory of everything that was found in the floor?’ I asked.
‘Sure. You think there is something to that feeling I am having?’
Thinking back to the interruption earlier that day, ‘Yes, I do. And it will cost you dessert.’
After he stood up and took a step towards the exit I enquired, ‘Ask the good doctor if his wife was on any kind of medication, will you?’
After running a few errands I drove down to the station to meet up with my fave detective and see if I could get a ride to check out the scene with him. Upon walking up to the front of the house I noticed that the blackening of the window directly over the door was darker than the other side, that had not shown up in the photos, curiouser and curiouser. While my friend busied himself opening the front door and removing some of the police tape around it I noticed something else. I was kneeling down next to one of the holly bushes when he admonished me,’Whatever you are are about to touch, don’t! What are you about to touch, anyway?’
‘Looks like a cat toy. With some sort of thread or string tangled up in it, stuck in the holly bush here.’
‘Let me see that.’ He jostled me out of the way and began snapping pictures with his phone.
We went upstairs and looked at the mess that was once the master bedroom, comparing phone photos of the scene with the actual locations. At one point I asked,’Did you get that inventory?’
Yep. Nothing much there, fireplace tongs, brush, poker, oh and the deceased’s cell phone. Almost missed it too, it was melted into the carpet next to the bed.’
‘Let me guess. Between the bed and the fireplace?’
‘Yes.’ He looked at me kind of stragely, ‘Give!!’ he demanded.
‘Gonna cost you,’ I reminded him. Reluctantly, he shook his head.
OK. Here is what happened, but you will never be able to prove it. The cat did it. Earlier in the day, the good doctor came home to look in on the ailing wife, and make sure she had enough of something to keep her still when the fire started. Removing the back of the phone’s plastic case, he placed it on the floor next to some handy, flammable bedding. Next he arranged the fireplace poker so that it would fall onto the unprotected back of the phone, he tied a thread to the top of it and ran it out of the slightly open window and next to the holly bush by the front door. Then he tied a cat toy, the one I saw earlier, to the end of the string and put the cat outside to complete his cunning plan.’
‘You’ve lost me,’ he admitted.
‘By the numbers, then: 1. Wife is asleep in bed. 2. Cat plays with cat toy, pulling on string. 3. String pulls fireplace poker down onto cell phone. 4. Pointy part of fireplace poker pierces lithium battery in cell phone. 5. This is where it gets all Mr. Wizard-ey, when lithium battery guts are exposed to air they burst into flames..’ He stopped me there.
As he rushed out of the house, I reminded him, ‘Lou Bears, tonight, blackberry thingy, 8 o’clock!’
‘Where did that even come from?’ he wondered aloud.
‘Rube Goldberg’, I answered.
‘Doctors don’t always start out to be doctors. I’ll bet the esteemed Dr. Rose began college as an engineering student.’ I injected. You might just ask him that as you are walking out the door.’
‘Yep,’ I said. ‘Works every time.’
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