A mysterious death in a restaurant
The telephone always rings at the wrong time, muttered Bill Bradley just as he was watching an important football match on the telly: it was an FA Cup semi-final between United and City. But he had to answer the phone just to stop the dog barking.
‘Look there’s nothing wrong with my bloody computer. How many times must I tell you … oops, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise it was you doctor.’
‘Yes, it’s the clinic Mr Bradley. It’s about your wife Donna. Can you come over immediately?’
‘Unfortunately I’m in the middle of an important business meeting. I’ll come as soon as possible. Give me thirty minutes,’ said Bill, without even considering there could be extra time and even a penalty shoot-out. As soon as the penalty shoot-out decided the match, Bill shot over to the clinic.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ said Bill to the consultant, ‘but the meeting went on much longer than expected.’
‘I do understand. Now, Mr Bradley, do you want to hear the good news or the bad news first?’
‘The good news first, if you don’t mind.’
‘Mrs Bradley’s operation was a partial success. The good news is she looks at least thirty years younger, but the bad news is …’
Bill and Donna Bradley owned the Belladonna restaurant which was hidden behind a walled garden in the middle of town. It had a good reputation, despite the occasional fatality, of which there had been only one in the recent past: it was two months ago when wealthy widow Mrs Winterbottom collapsed and died after trying the ‘House Special’ which was only served on rare occasions to specially selected customers. Mrs Winterbottom’s doctor had warned her about the ‘House Special’ as some of his patients had fallen ill after one helping of the dish and some had gone so far as to die.
Mrs Winterbottom took no notice of his advice as she had just received a charming letter from the restaurant, written in a very tiny hand, and it read: ‘As you are an extra special customer we have decided to award you a free meal which we call ‘The House Special’ …’ Mrs Winterbottom was so excited she did not read the rest of the letter which continued: ‘… and we can assure you it’s to die for.’ If only she had read the letter to the very end. Mr Dodsworth, the waiter, could hardly be blamed for her sad demise as it wasn’t his decision to serve the House Special. However Donna did blame Dodsworth and he was demoted to the post of ‘salad chef.’
Mrs Winterbottom had been a regular diner at the Belladonna restaurant and always held court at the same table in the corner of the dining-room. She was sadly missed and as a tribute to her loyalty, the restaurant converted her table into a shrine. In the middle of the table they placed a large porcelain pepper pot, in which they placed Mrs Winterbottom’s ashes in accordance with her last wishes. The pepper pot was firmly bolted to the table to prevent novice diners inadvertently sprinkling Mrs Winterbottom onto their potatoes. And in the opinion of regular diners it was all so tastefully done.
One of the regular diners was Inspector Maurice Batchelor, and on this occasion he was mixing business with pleasure for he had come to investigate the mysterious death of Mrs Winterbottom. When he arrived, the restaurant was almost full. He studied the menu and opted for salmon in a whisky cream sauce, and decided to live almost dangerously for once: he chose one of Mr Dodsworth’s famous salads, instead of the vegetables. He did not have to wait too long for the waitress to bring his order. He had never seen such a variety of ingredients in a salad before. Some he recognised, such as rocket, tiny strawberries, cherry tomatoes and radishes. But others he hadn’t seen before, including the one that appeared to move, slowly at first, so he wasn’t too alarmed.
Whatever it was, it had a perfectly formed mouth and, disconcertingly, seemed to be wearing bright red lipstick. With a loud crunch it bit a lump out of the radish. It didn’t have good table manners, for it used its fingers instead of a knife and fork and, even worse, made a very loud chomping noise as it tucked into the radish. So loud in fact, the other diners looked accusingly in Inspector Batchelor’s direction.
‘It wasn’t me,’ protested the Inspector.
The noise got so bad that Councillor Mrs Silverdale, who was seated at the next table and happened to be a member of the Noise Abatement Society, came over to complain, until she noticed the little creature was making a beeline for the strawberries.
‘Oh isn’t he sweet,’ she said.
‘I don’t think it’s a he. Can’t you see the lipstick?’ said Inspector Batchelor bringing has world-famous observational skills into play.
‘Oh yes. So I can. How cute. But bright red is not a colour I would choose. Tell me. Did you buy it, I mean she, from a pet shop and is she house-trained?’
‘Don’t you dare talk about me in that patronising manner you old bag,’ squeaked the little creature as it sat munching a strawberry.
Councillor Silverdale was lost for words, which was unusual for her, but she regained her composure.
‘I’ve never been spoken to like that before, not even when I’ve been out canvassing on the doorstep.’
Other diners joined in the fun; buns were thrown, insults exchanged, but above the commotion voices could be heard coming from the kitchen.
‘Mr Dodsworth, have you seen Donna recently?’ asked Bill.
‘Last time I saw her, she was checking the salad I prepared for Inspector Batchelor not ten minutes ago.’
‘Oh no!’ exclaimed Bill as he rushed into the dining-room. He made a bee line for the Inspector’s table and peered into the salad.
‘So there you are Donna. I’ve told you before, you must not go around eating a customer’s salad, especially the radishes.’
‘Don’t you tell me what to do you old philanderer. A friend told me that radishes would help me grow back to my normal size.’
‘Normal size? What’s she talking about? What’s going on?’ said Inspector Batchelor.
‘Around six months ago,’ said Bill as he wiped the sweat from his face, ‘Mrs B went into the clinic to have a facelift, but it all went horribly wrong. She shrunk from five foot seven inches to just one inch. However, the facelift was a success, and she does look thirty years younger under a magnifying glass and though she’s perfectly formed, it’s in a petite sort of way. Unfortunate for me if you get my meaning.’
‘I certainly get your meaning, you lecher. And since then, you were having an affair with that wealthy widow Mrs Winterbottom. But no longer,’ snorted Donna as she made herself comfortable on a lettuce leaf.
‘I’ve heard enough,’ said the Inspector as he rose from the table. ‘I have all the evidence I need to solve the suspicious death of Mrs Winterbottom. Therefore I must ask all the suspects – Mr Dodsworth, Mr and Mrs Bradley and Councillor Mrs Silverdale to assemble in the lounge.’
The suspects took their places in plush armchairs, though Mrs Bradley had to be content with an upholstered lettuce leaf.
‘At this point,’ announced the inspector, ‘as in any self-respecting detective story, I should normally tie up the loose ends in the plot and deal with the red herrings, but I have neither the time nor patience. And I haven’t a clue as to whodunnit. But it doesn’t really matter as I’m using my famous Infra Red Draw method which involves drawing the shortest straw.’
Donna Bradley was the only one who thought this was a good idea, as she was too small to be given a straw and despite loud protests from the other suspects, there was little they could do for the process was perfectly legal. Lawyers’ fees had become so expensive, court procedures so time consuming and with the unpopularity of jury service, the whole legal process was scrapped in favour of the simpler and cheaper Infra Red Draw method of justice. Indeed the Old Bailey had been closed down and turned into a casino.
All the suspects took it in turn to pick a straw and it was left to Inspector Batchelor to make the official announcement.
‘And the person leaving us is … let me see now. Yes it is … it’s Councillor Mrs Silverdale. Congratulations! You are the guilty party. Justice is served, as you are a politician and you did get away with fiddling fifteen thousand pounds on your travel expenses.’
After a champagne celebration, Inspector Horace Batchelor led curvaceous Councillor Mrs Silverdale out of the restaurant, and into the sunset for a romantic evening for two.