In the latest mystery in the USA Today bestselling series, there’s a battle brewing between two eateries, and Jessica Fletcher will have to get cooking to find a killer...
A BEEF WITH LEBOEUF
Jessica loves the Fin & Claw restaurant, owned by young Cabot Cove couple Brad and Marcie. The eatery is the couple’s dream come true, but it’s quickly turning into a nightmare.
Famed chef Gérard Leboeuf has decided to open his brand of bistro right next to theirs. Given the competition, the charming chef’s manner soon turns sour. Tensions rise hot and fast until they boil over, leading to a nasty confrontation between Leboeuf and Brad.
So when one chef is found with a knife planted in his chest, the other becomes the prime suspect. But there’s a long list of those who had a motive to kill in this kitchen war, and it’s up to Jessica to uncover who really added murder to the menu.
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Jessica Fletcher is a bestselling mystery writer who has a knack for stumbling upon real-life mysteries in her various travels. Donald Bain, her longtime collaborator, is the writer of more than one hundred books, many of them bestsellers.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
OTHER BOOKS IN THE Murder, She Wrote SERIES
CABOT COVE INCIDENT REPORT
CABOT COVE SHERIFF’S OFFICE
TOWN OF CABOT COVE, STATE OF MAINE
On April 18 an officer from the Cabot Cove Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to the area of the new waterfront restaurant at 23 Old Wharf Road on a 911 assault complaint. Responding officer found a white male lying faceup, apparently dead of wounds from a kitchen knife protruding from his torso. A pool of blood was under the body’s left side. The victim was identified as the restaurant’s chef and owner. Officer notified Sheriff Metzger, who arrived on the scene at 3:24 a.m.
The medical examiner pronounced the death at 3:43 a.m. The knife was turned over to the state regional crime laboratory and a receipt taken for same. Crime-scene technicians observed a half-empty wine bottle on the counter and two glasses, one with red-colored residue. Four cigarette butts were collected from outside the rear entrance to the kitchen.
A statement was taken from the man who found the body and put in the call. Witness had been taking inventory in the basement after the staff had been dismissed for the night. He said he was not aware of any visitors at that late hour, did not hear any arguments. When he returned upstairs, he found the chef as described. He said the back door was propped open, but no one else was in the kitchen. He admitted that it was not unusual for the back door to the kitchen to be left open to facilitate airing out cooking smells. He said he did not know if the victim had been drinking prior to the incident. He said the victim was not a smoker. He said he could not recall any altercations that might have led to the incident. He provided a list (attached) of kitchen and waitstaff who had been dismissed earlier in the evening.
Deputies were dispatched to notify next of kin.
Sheriff Metzger interviewed the witness who made the 911 call, and released him. State investigators have been assigned to offer mutual aid.
Maureen Metzger, the wife of our sheriff, Mort Metzger, had hosted Thanksgiving dinner and invited a dozen people, including Isabel Fowler. Isabel was a widow who lived alone on the eastern fringe of Cabot Cove. I’d met her when she worked as a dispatcher in the sheriff’s office, and we became fast friends. A lifetime Cabot Cove resident, Isabel was a delightful person to be around, always with something good to say about others. She was a volunteer for numerous town charities, some of which I worked for as well, and had a reputation as a superb cook. Every potluck fund-raiser, every holiday celebration at the senior center, every pancake breakfast at the fire station, every annual PTA kickoff dinner, featured dishes provided by Isabel Fowler. And there wasn’t a hostess in town who hadn’t implored her to share a favorite recipe, requests to which she always complied.
“I was hoping to see Brad and Marcie here today,” I said as Isabel and I sat in a corner of the Metzger home, sipping coffee and wondering how many pounds we’d put on at Maureen’s dinner table.
Isabel’s only child, Bradley, was a handsome thirty-year-old fellow who had spent most of his post–high school years working on the many lobster boats that call the Cabot Cove port home. Lobstering is hard work, and only the hardy manage to make a go of it. I knew that Brad had taken a year off from working the boats to attend a community college with a curriculum designed to prepare students for jobs in the restaurant business, but he had gone back to hauling lobster traps from the deep after earning his certificate. His wife, Marcie, worked as a secretary in the Cabot Cove school superintendent’s office and also as a part-time waitress after school.
“They went off to spend the long weekend in Portland with their young friends,” Isabel said. “I was invited but didn’t want to be the only person at dinner on the wrong side of fifty. When Maureen called, I decided to enjoy this Thanksgiving right here in Cabot Cove with old friends—well, maybe not ‘old,’ but friends my age.”
“I’m delighted that you decided to stay, Isabel,” I said. “We haven’t had a chance to catch up since last summer’s Lobsterfest, when Brad supervised the Down East shore-dinner lobster bake. You know, I always wondered why he never did anything more with the culinary classes he took in college. He’s a very good cook. Of course, he had an excellent teacher at home.”
A sly smile crossed Isabel’s lips. “Promise to keep a secret?” she asked in almost a whisper.
“I’ll do my best,” I said, “but I promise nothing.”
She held her index finger and thumb an inch from each other and continued to speak in the same conspiratorial tone. “Brad and Marcie are this close to getting the funding to open their own restaurant.”
“That is exciting news,” I said. “I didn’t know they had those plans.”
“It’s always been Brad’s dream, but it seemed beyond their ability to come up with enough money to turn it into reality. They’re such hard workers and live frugally, saving every penny they can. Marcie has always worked a second job, and Brad is constantly taking on extra shifts with the lobster boats. Still, what they managed to put away wasn’t enough to open a place, so I decided to help. I’ve refinanced my house, and Steven Wagner at the Savings-and-Loan has granted them a sizable loan. They now have enough to go forward.”
“That’s wonderful,” I said, keeping another thought unsaid. It was admirable that Isabel would risk her home—the mortgage for which, I was certain, must have been paid off years ago—to help her son and daughter-in-law. I wasn’t sure it was the most prudent of decisions. I knew from my previous research that owning and operating a restaurant was not only an all-consuming, challenging job, but the failure rate was high.
I had to assume they knew the risks. Certainly, it wasn’t my place to throw a wet towel on the idea. Isabel glowed with pride at what Brad was about to undertake. Her being able to help him and his wife go forward with their plan was obviously satisfying to her. I was happy for her.
“Have they decided where their restaurant will be located?” I asked.
“The old Wharf Seafood Shop, on the dock,” Isabel replied. “It’s an ideal location, with all the summer tourists we attract. Of course, it will take a lot of construction to turn it into the sort of fine-dining spot Brad and Marcie envision, but a lot of restaurant equipment, like ranges and refrigerators, tables and chairs, even napkins and silverware, can be gotten on credit from suppliers.”
“That should be helpful,” I said.
“Brad is going to feature some of my favorite recipes,” Isabel said proudly, “and name them after me on the menu.”
Her pleasure was palpable and contagious, and I squeezed her hand and laughed along with her. “I can’t wait to be one of their first customers,” I said.
We were joined by Seth Hazlitt, the town’s beloved physician and my treasured friend.
“Hope I’m not interrupting something important,” he said as he lowered himself into a chair next to Isabel. “Has she been filling your ears about the restaurant her son and daughter-in-law are about to open?”
So much for keeping a secret. I looked at Isabel in surprise.
“I guess I have told a few people,” she said sheepishly.
“Because you’re proud,” I said.
“As well you should be,” Seth said, “although they’re facin’ themselves a daunting challenge.”
Isabel’s face turned serious.
Seth raised a finger to forestall her response. “Don’t get me wrong. I love a good restaurant. But with this bein’ a seasonal town and all, they’ll have to come up with ways to keep the locals comin’ when there’s six feet of snow. Not an easy task.”
“Now, Seth, let’s keep a positive outlook. We have other restaurants in town that manage to survive the winter.”
“That’s all right, Jessica. The kids have been talking about that very thing,” Isabel said. “Brad has a lot of good ideas, and Marcie has a wonderful sense of advertising and promotion.”
“Then I imagine they’ll do just fine.” Seth craned his neck to steal a look into the kitchen. “I wonder if Maureen has any more of that pecan pie left. It’s one of her better creations.”
“Let’s go find out,” I said. “Would you like a piece, too?” I asked Isabel.
She waved a hand. “I actually have a pecan pie in my refrigerator at home that I made for the kids for when they get back. You two go on. I’m going to talk with Mary-Jane Koser. Her husband, Richard, promised to take photos of the restaurant for our website.”
I accompanied Seth to the kitchen, where Maureen and Mort were cleaning up.
“Did I see right that there was a little slice of that pecan pie left?” Seth asked.
“Help yourself, Doc,” Mort said, handing him the fork he’d just finished drying. “Save me those extra calories. Maureen really hit a home run with that one, didn’t she?”
“Ayuh, it’s very good,” Seth said as he sat at a small table in a corner of the kitchen and dug into his second dessert.
“I can’t take all the credit,” Maureen said. “It’s Isabel’s recipe, practically foolproof. I didn’t change a thing. Don’t tell her, but I have a few ideas to tweak it a bit the next time I make it.”
Maureen had put together an excellent Thanksgiving dinner, including pecan, apple, and cherry pies. She’d stuck to the basics, which wasn’t always the case. Her gastronomic creations, especially those that involved “tweaking,” too often left something to be desired—I won’t use the harsh language that has occasionally spilled from the mouths of Seth and others when evaluating her dishes. Maureen is a dear person and I would never insult her efforts, but considering what a major meal such as Thanksgiving entails, it was nice to see that she’d kept it plain and simple.
“It’s exciting about Brad and Marcie Fowler, isn’t it?” Maureen said from where she scrubbed a pan.
“Opening a restaurant?” Seth said between mouthfuls.
“Yes. Isabel told me all about it,” Maureen said over her shoulder. “Oops! I wasn’t supposed to say anything, was I? Don’t let on I told you. It’s supposed to be a secret.”
Seth and I looked at each other and smiled.
“Wonderful pie,” Seth said, patting his mouth with a napkin. “Maybe Brad and Marcie Fowler will buy pies from you and sell them at their restaurant.”
“Ooh, I like that idea,” Maureen said. “There can be a separate page in the menu for ‘Pies by Maureen.’ What do you think, hon?” She looked at her husband, who’d substituted an apron for his usual sheriff’s uniform.
“If you’re a big hit, I can retire early,” he said.
She playfully slapped him with a dish towel.
“Thanks for a great dinner,” Seth said, bringing his plate to the sink. “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow, so Mrs. Fletcher and I will be toddling along if she still wants to hitch a ride from me.”
He drove me home but declined my offer of a nightcap. “Got a full slate of patients tomorrow, including Isabel Fowler,” he said.
“Anything serious?” I asked.
“No. Just getting older. I hope her son and his wife know what they’re doing. Restaurants are a tough business.”
“They’ll find out soon enough,” I said.
“I suppose they’ll name the place ‘Brad and Marcie’s,’” he said. “People like to see their own names on the sign out front.”
“Maybe they will,” I said, “but I’m sure they have a long list of other names in mind. The way news travels in Cabot Cove, everyone will be talking about it tomorrow—and throwing out their own suggestions. There’s something wonderful about young people chasing a dream, no matter what the risks. I hope they make a success of it.”
At home I made myself a cup of tea and sat at my desk. It had been a lovely Thanksgiving, full of good food and good conversation with dear friends. What could be better? I thought of the restaurant that Brad and Marcie Fowler would be opening, smiled, and said aloud, “Go for it!”
To want something badly and never take the chance to make it a reality can eat away at people for the rest of their lives. A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, preaches “Any action is better than no action.” They were young and could bounce back should their dream not succeed. I thought of myself and my decision to write my first murder mystery. It was something I’d aspired to for a very long time and finally had decided that if I didn’t try, I’d regret it to my dying day. Fortunately, it had worked out for me, but if it hadn’t, I could have taken comfort in having given it my best effort.
A new restaurant opening, I thought. Cabot Cove was certainly expanding, and I was pleased to see its growth. What would Brad and Marcie call their restaurant? The minute they decided, it would be the topic of conversation all over town. Keeping a secret in Cabot Cove was like trying to slam a revolving door.
I slept later than usual the morning following Thanksgiving dinner at the Metzgers—they say that turkey can have that effect on you—and took my time getting ready for the day. Since I planned to spend the afternoon doing some final editing on the mystery I’d recently completed, I decided to treat myself to a leisurely start to the day, including breakfast at Mara’s Luncheonette on the town dock. A big dinner always seems to make me especially hungry the next morning, and a short stack of Mara’s signature blueberry pancakes was appealing.
A November chill had settled in, which made me debate riding my bicycle into town. Then, too, this was the day after Thanksgiving, when all the shops launch their holiday sales. Traffic would be especially heavy, and I didn’t fancy competing with four wheels while I was on only two. I called the local taxi service, where I had a charge account.
“It’s Black Friday, Mrs. Fletcher. Big shopping day. All our cars are out,” the dispatcher told me.
“Well, do the best you can,” I replied, trying to ignore the rumbling in my stomach.
An hour later, I walked into Mara’s, where an assortment of familiar faces greeted me, including Mayor Jim Shevlin, who was having an early lunch with an aide. He motioned for me to join them, which I happily did.
“Good Thanksgiving, Jessica?” the mayor asked.
“Couldn’t have been better, although I wish this infernal cold snap would end. I could do without an early winter.”
“Issue a decree banning it,” I said playfully. “After all, you are the mayor.”
“I just may do that,” he said through a laugh. “By the way, have you heard the news?”
“That you’ve banned an early winter?”
“That we’re about to have a new restaurant in town.”
“You mean Brad and Marcie Fowlers’. Yes. It was a topic of conversation at the Metzgers’ house last night. Brad’s mother was at dinner with us. She told me about the restaurant and swore me to secrecy, but it seemed that everyone there had also been sworn to keep that same secret.”
“Boy, I’d love to bottle Cabot Cove’s rumor mill,” Jim’s aide said. “Make a fortune.”
“It is active,” Jim agreed. “As I understand it, the Fowlers are taking over the old Wharf Seafood Shop. It’ll be nice to see it ...
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