bzzzzzz … bzzzzzz … bzzzzSLAP!
Monty Fisk found it difficult to believe that it was 0600 already, but
the clock and the alarm agreed that it was. He'd been finding it harder
and harder to get up and go to work for the last year or two, and today,
his last day on the job, it seemed doubly so. Not least because of the
unwanted attention that would be foisted on him on the occasion of his
He forced himself out of bed. After a quick fifty Hindu Squats,
he felt better, as he knew he would, and performed his morning ablutions.
Fortified with green tea and broiled salmon, he took his gold shield and
service weapon from the drawer and began his habitual brisk walk the thirteen
blocks to the precinct, acknowledging the friendly greetings of the usual
habitués of the morning streets.
* * *
"It's six o'clock. Time to wake up, Mr. President." whispered an aide.
Eyelids snapped open, as they would have on their own in a few more minutes,
and Grant Folsom, President of the United States, was instantly awake.
"Thank you", he said, then took a deep breath and felt himself become the
most powerful person on Earth. His normal alertness was temporarily confounded
when he sprang out of bed and didn't recognize his surroundings, but then he
remembered he was a guest at the estate of Edmund Fitzwarren: old money,
industrial magnate, campaign donor extraordinaire, and thoroughly unknown to
Fitzwarren had offered the use of his home while Folsom attempted to
negotiate an end to the armed uprising in the young country of Costa Pacifica.
Fitzwarren had several factories in the country that had been adversely
affected by the unrest, and he wanted it to stop. Folsom wanted a feather in
his cap that would make a good addition to the legacy he was building. El
Presidente Cárdenas and Arturo Peres, the counterrevolutionary leader,
would be arriving today for informal talks, and Folsom was sure his proposal
would be acceptable to both. With a great deal of luck, they'd have an
agreement before they sat down to an intimate dinner this evening.
"Mr. President? The Secretary of State is on the phone;
he needs just a few
minutes of your time…" The thing about being POTUS, Folsom was reminded
once again, is that there's never
just one thing. It would be too much to hope
for that he could concentrate on Costa Pacifica the entire day. "Very well."
* * *
Monty bounded up the steps of the precinct three at a time.
The front door was locked. That was odd. He took out his never-needed
key and opened it. Inside, he found nobody seated at the front desk to
buzz him in. His thumb on the sensor opened the door, and his footsteps
echoed eerily down the empty hallway. He realized fairly quickly that
there was a joke in play, probably something to do with his reputation
as one of the best detectives around. So, there would be clues.
He turned down the corridor where the three prisoner interrogation
rooms were. He noticed the light switch in the middle one was in the
on position, but the light was off. Hmmm. Toward the back of
the building, there were four people in lockup, strangely silent. He
looked at them. One was sleeping. The other three looked back, standing
motionless but he could see one of them was barely succeeding in repressing
a smile. Looking out the back door, he could see one of the
squad cars was backed into its parking space.
The last piece of the puzzle fell into place in his mind.
He returned to the main entrance, and picked up the microphone, thumbing
the P.A. switch to address the briefing room. "Okay, I know you're all
in there. Do we really have to do this?" He turned the system off and
sauntered to the briefing room, where half of the officers were still
extricating themselves from their hiding places, looking disappointed.
"How'd you know, Monty?" "You think I got to be the star detective that
I am by telling all my secrets?"
He saw his partner in the corner, summoned
him over with a flip of his head. Gannon approached, unable to hide the
look of guilt on his face for having arranged the gag. Monty gave him
a friendly, wordless dressing down, then said "There's gonna be a cake
later too, isn't there?" "Monty, you're just going to have to get through
it like everybody else does on their last day."
* * *
"They're here, Mr. President."
"Okay." Folsom knew perfectly well that Sr. Peres had arrived at least
an hour before, and President Cárdenas had no doubt been here for
at least several minutes. The childishness of protocol dictated that he
could not meet one of them before the other; and even more so, that he
had to keep them cooling their heels for a few minutes before he came out
to greet them. Somehow, the machinations of centuries of
had decided that the one who could keep the others waiting was the most
His secretary opened the door ahead of him, and said, "Mr. President, may
I present President Cárdenas of Costa Pacifica, and Mr. Peres."
"Thank you, Ron. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I see you've met our host,
Mr. Fitzwarren. Would you like to talk out on the balcony? It has a
wonderful view of the lake, and last night
the sunset was beautiful from there."
As the three of them went off together
to speak of many things, the secretary
took Mr. Fitzwarren aside. "Please come with me, sir. The chefs are
waiting in the front library. I'd like to introduce them to you so you
can get them set up and started on dinner."
Whether it was from paranoia or another manifestation of ego, each of the
principals had brought his own chef, even though any one of them
could easily prepare the dinner for three. It seemed a bit odd to the secretary
that Mr. Fitzwarren wouldn't have his own kitchen staff show them around and
get them what they needed, but he wanted to do it himself. The Secret Service
men were fine with that, since it meant fewer people they had to get clearances
for. Mr. Fitzwarren had even gone so far as to give his own chef and staff the
day off, to keep it simple.
The secretary left them to assume his post discreetly out of earshot of
the conferees, in case the President wanted anything, and the three chefs
followed Mr. Fitzwarren to the kitchen. He let them snoop around to find
where everything was, and if they would need anything. He then called his
personal driver to the kitchen and put him at their disposal for the rest
of the day. "I'll leave you to it, then. Omar knows how to find anything
you might need. And there's a farmer's market downtown today if you want
to go shopping." "Very good, sir, thank you."
Mr. Fitzwarren walked into the pantry. "Omar? I'll need you to pick up some
things for me, also. Let's see… I'll need two, no make it three pints
of heavy whipping cream. And caster sugar. Oh no, there's a whole bag there;
I thought it was flour. And go see Henrí and get half a pound of
Belgian chocolate, the seventy two percent. That'll do it; thanks, Omar."
With that, Mr. Fitzwarren returned to the main house.
The White House chef asked Omar what that was all about. "Oh, Mr. Fitzwarren
fancies himself something of a chef." Omar replied. "He's going to be making
the dessert. He's practiced it several
times in the last couple of weeks. Pretty good, actually."
* * *
"…whiiiiiiiich nobody can deny!" The whole room erupted into
applause. Monty let it go on for a few seconds, then raised his hands
and pantomimed a surrender. Mrs. Wilkinson from the SWAT team
started cutting the cake. A timid voice spoke softly from the back:
"Remember, I didn't receive a piece last time."
Monty accepted the first plate, but before he could even pick up the
fork, in walked two men impeccably dressed in
dark suits and white shirts.
Each one held a pair of impenetrable sunglasses
in his hand, and had a
small clear plastic tube running from behind his ear down under his
shirt collar. Monty's trained eye instantly recognized the small bulge
of a shoulder holster. He might have entertained the notion that this was
a joke being played by some prankster on the force, except that during the
singing he had seen through the window a black
Chevy Suburban pull into the parking lot and disgorge the
One of them stayed by the door and the other scanned the room for a second
and then walked straight toward Monty. Arriving, he stated flatly "Mr. Fisk.
I'm Special Agent William Wood, with the Secret Service. May I speak
with you in the corridor?" He turned on his heel without waiting for an
answer, obviously assuming that Monty would follow. Which he did. The other
agent closed the door after him and stayed in the briefing room, blocking
the door and presenting a deadpan face to the rest of the dumbfounded party.
Mr. Wood looked up and down the corridor before speaking. "Mr. Fisk, I
imagine you're aware that the President is in town. A situation has
come up, and we'd appreciate your help. We asked around and you come
very highly recommended. Would you come with us?"
Even though this isn't the kind of thing that happened to him every day,
Monty saw no need to put on a false show of modesty, so he just agreed.
"Yeah, sure, of course. Just let me tell the others that I'm okay."
"I'm sure it's not neccessary to tell you this, but … no details, right?"
Monty stuck his head in the door to let his friends know he wasn't being
shanghaied, then withdrew, followed by the agent in the non-speaking role.
Monty knew that President Folsom was staying at the estate of some rich tycoon.
It was up in the hills outside of town somewhere, but he wouldn't know really
how to get there, or probably even how to recognize it if he did. But the
G-Men into whose custody he had placed himself, who certainly weren't
from around here and probably didn't even have a real home, seemed to know
the way. Without making a scene, they wound their way through parts of town
he'd never seen before, not paying too much attention to the vehicle code;
he thought it ironic that they easily could have requested a police escort
at the same time that they had picked him up.
They turned into the driveway and stopped at the iron gate with the
unostenatious cursive "F" at the left edge. One of the two men that
Monty hadn't seen until now stepped from behind the hedge, machine gun
at the ready, and spoke to the anonymous agent driving the car. At his
request, which Monty knew was not a request at all, Monty got out of the
car and the other agent emerged from hiding on the other side of the
driveway. From a distance, he looked Monty over, head to toes quickly,
then a slower review back upward. Finally, he approached, and wordlessly
kicked Monty's right leg away forcing his right foot to plant itself two
feet from his left. Monty didn't have to be told to raise his arms
to shoulder level and extend them out to his sides. The agent checked him,
presumably for weapons, but the Beretta Cougar on Monty's hip
didn't seem to faze him. It looked more like it was an expected item on
a checklist in the agent's mind.
After comparing the wound between the index and
middle fingers of his left hand (his
best friend and mountain climbing buddy in college had accidentally driven
a piton through it after drinking a bit too much) to a picture that he took
from his pocket, he nodded to Agent Wood, who motioned Monty back into the car.
slid smoothly away to the right
, and they drove through.
After about a hundred yards, they emerged from the woods and crossed
through a large, immaculately tended lawn and finally arrived at the main
house. Marine One could be partially seen at the corner of the house,
its drooping rotor blades being easily
anthropomorphized as a mournful countenance.
The head of the president's security detail met me at the front door.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Fisk. I can tell you what's going on now.
President Folsom, and President Cárdenas of Costa Pacifica are
dead. Mr. Arturo Peres, also from
Costa Pacifica and here for peace talks with President Cárdenas,
is an obvious suspect, but we can't just come right out and accuse him,
for diplomatic reasons. We also have no actual evidence against him, or
anyone else, at this point. The three were dining together when the two
presidents just keeled over.
"If you'll follow me, please, we'll go to the dining room. Ah, here is
Captain Rixey, the White House physician. Captain Rixey, this is Montgomery
Fisk, a local detective we've brought in to help with the investigation."
Captain Rixey looked to be in his fifties; clearly unmorrised
in his perfectly fitting United States Navy dress uniform, neither did he give
the impression that he'd spent much
of his life at sea. Monty could only assume that he was an excellent
doctor, tending to the President, but was also aware of the possibility
that political connections may have played a part in his appointment.
Monty extended his hand, and the doctor shook it. "Glad to meet you,
Mr. Fisk. Here's what I know so far." Jumping right into the facts,
Rixey put out of Monty's mind his musings about the doctor's qualifications,
which had been baseless anyway. "The deceased both succumbed within minutes
of the start of the meal. I suspect poisoning, and have asked for an
expedited blood test to determine that. Nicotine is my guess, possibly
curare if the assassin figured a way to deliver it to the bloodstream."
Monty interrupted him. "Can a person be immune to those? I'm thinking of
Mr. Peres." "No, but —"
"According to the waiter, when he brought out the salads, Mr. Peres declined
and asked to have his soup first. The two presidents had salad, and never made
it to the next course."
"I see. Has the salad been examined?"
"It's in the kitchen where the waiter left it. We've postponed evidence
collection until you see the scene, and Captain Rixey said that if it is
poisoned, we can wait to test for it. Or, if it was such that we couldn't
have waited, then it was too late anyway."
"Uh huh. I presume the waiter is being held?"
"Yes. He's on Mr. Fitzwarren's staff and was cleared by the Secret Service,
but he's certainly a potential suspect. Speaking of which —"
They'd almost reached the dining room. Walking down the hallway, Monty
had seen several men standing at the doorway, and one occupying a luxurious
settee outside. The sitter was speaking on a phone. Monty surmised he
might be Mr. Fitzwarren. He'd always regretted the fact that expensive
women's clothing was immediately apparent, but that the homogeneity of
men's suits could make something from Saville Row indistinguishable from a
Fred's on the corner, at least until you're right up close. Monty liked
to scope out a person as much as he could before meeting him. But his years
on the force had given him a little edge on that subject and he could
tell that the man wasn't going to be an agent, or probably
even a mogul's man.
By the time we reached the door, the man was off the phone and stood to
meet us. "Mr. Fitzwarren, this is Mr. Montgomery Fisk, the detective. Mr.
Fisk, this is Mr. Edmund Fitzwarren, the host for the conference."
The two shook hands. Slippery character, thought Monty. Fitzwarren joined
the party; as they entered the dining room, Monty held back so he was last,
allowing him to surreptitiously sniff his hand under the guise of brushing
the hair from his face; yes, he thought he'd detected a hint of some kind
of perfume from Fitzwarren. Not his kind of guy, he thought. Not that he
was in any danger of being invited over for brandy and
The dining room contained four guards, and the table still set for dinner.
Monty came close to inspect the remains, without touching anything. The
two salad plates, with their salad remnants, were in disarray, their former
contents spread around the settings and chairs of the two unfortunate diners,
and even spilled onto the floor. The one place with a soup bowl was not
in such disarray. The dark brown soup appeared to have been about half
consumed. Monty looked around and saw three men wearing aprons, and a man
sitting in the corner, wearing
a white jacket and black bow tie, looking totally out of his element.
He asked the security chief, "Is that the waiter?". "Yes." "Please call
"You're the waiter? What's your name?" Monty asked him.
The man managed to stammer out "Uhhh, Larry Brin."
"Okay, Larry, don't be nervous. My name's Monty, I'm a police detective.
I just want you to help me understand some things here, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure."
"Okay. Now, this is Mr. Peres' soup, I assume. What kind is it?"
"It's mushroom soup."
"And you brought it out to him?"
"Yes. I took his salad back and dished up his soup. When I placed it before
Mr. Peres, all three began eating together."
"The other two were waiting for him?"
"Did Mr. Peres say anything about why he didn't want the salad?"
"He just said that he doesn't like salad very much and apologized for not
telling me that before I brought them out."
"Okay, Larry. Thank you."
Monty walked slowly around the table. He noticed a salt shaker
near President Folsom's salad. He salted his salad?
"Larry? Did you notice whether President Folsom used this salt?"
"Detective?" Monty turned toward the voice. It was one of the three chefs. "Yes? Who are you?"
"My name's Sean McPhee, I'm the President's chef. Let me tell ya, he salted
Doctor Rixey spoke up. "Yes, that's right, Detective. For years I've
tried to get him to stop, but he just loved salt."
"Okay, thank you. Let's get the salt in that shaker tested, also. Mr. Peres,
did you notice President Folsom put salt on his salad? What about President
"Yes, I saw him. Only him; el Presidente did not."
"Hmmm." Monty continued his inspection of the death scene. "Let's move on
to the kitchen." He assumed a bewildered expression and waited for someone
to lead on.
"This way" said Mr. Fitzwarren. He walked into a recess in the wall, which
turned out to be one end of a [-shaped corridor with a swinging door at
the other end, which opened into the kitchen.
Monty was relieved to see that all of the food here was where it was
supposed to be, rather than on the floor. He noticed a low
flame under the soup kettle; he looked around and saw various burners
still ignited. "I don't think we need to waste any more gas." A guard
moved to extinguish the flames.
Monty looked around. In the sink was a motley assortment of used kitchen
implements, waiting to be washed.
He sniffed the soap dispenser: not the
lemon-fresh brand. Coming to the cooking area, he saw the various courses
of the meal waiting for the time when they would be presented; waiting in
vain now, he thought. There was a platter with several slices of roast beef,
each exactly the same thickness and nearly the same size, even though most
looked to be medium rare and some was definitely well done. There were
asparagus spears all cut
to exactly the same length, fifteen in all. The three most perfect dinner
rolls had been selected from the dozen on the cookie sheet and set aside.
On the sideboard was Mr. Peres' undeflowered salad, and cruets of virgin
olive oil and vinegar. Around the rim of the plate stood an unbroken barrier
of identical cherry tomato halves. One third of the way up the symmetrical
mound of greens was a ring of dried cranberries. Scattered almost at random
were diced onions; in contrast with the exactitude of the rest of the meal,
they took Monty aback. He was almost sure that the only perfection he might
find among them would be that no two of them were alike.
He had the three chefs brought in. "I just wanted to tell you, this is very
impressive. I've never seen food prepared so well before. Tell me, who carved
this roast?" The presidential chef from Costa Pacifica timidly stepped forward
and admitted to having done so. "Well done! Congratulations!" Monty put forth
his hand and shook that of the chef, and was satisfied.
"And these vegetables? Wow!" The White
House Chef grinned and said "Thank you, detective." They shook hands, and
Monty turned to the personal chef that had come with Mr. Peres. "I guess that
means you're the salad man, right?" The last chef had a frightened look on
his face, but managed to raise his hand and shake Monty's. "Good job!" said
Monty, and the chef relaxed a bit.
Monty opened the right side of the massive stainless steel refrigerator and
stood leaning against the door, like a man on a mission during a break in
the midnight movie on television. Looking
at two opened cartons of whipping cream, he said "Mr. Fitzwarren, you made
the dessert, is that right?" "Why, yes. Thank you."
Monty looked at the secret service uniformed officer. "Officer, please place
Mr. Fitzwarren under arrest. Take a fingernail paring from him right now, and
have it analyzed; you'll find traces of onion. If he consents, test one from
Mr. Peres' chef, also. Don't worry, sir, it's just to establish your innocence.
Doctor, whatever the poison was, you'll find it in one of these." He handed
over the cartons of cream to Dr. Fixey. "That's the means. He obviously had
opportunity. I'll leave the motive to you."
In the shocked silence emanating from all present, who knew such dramatic
pronouncements were only made in the movies, Monty went on. "Now who'll drive
me back into town? I've got to see if there's any cake left. And pick up my
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