Zebra, Genre: Suspense
ISBN-10: 1420142917 ISBN-13: 978-1420142914
Read an Excerpt
Jean-Luc gazed around the kitchen, his heart pounding crazily as it had ever since he’d taken this job. The place was impossible! The oven was ancient. The grill erratic. The counters so badly scarred that Jean-Luc had sprayed them down with disinfectant himself. The Crissmans might think their Denim and Diamonds affair was the height of societal fun, but Jean-Luc was the one who had to pull his staff together and create hors d’oeuvres that were spectacular.
He’d taken the job because the Crissman family was well-known, well-respected, and well-heeled, or so he’d thought. He’d been stunned at the dismal state of the lodge, downright appalled at the kitchen, and when it was explained that the lodge’s “rustic” appearance was in keeping with its 1930's architecture, he’d pasted on a smile and tried to hide his full body shiver. It was after he’d agreed to take the job that he learned that there were parameters. He was supposed to make something outstanding on a limited budget.
Still, he’d done the impossible. He’d put his own twist on some regulars: dates and bacon, tuna tartare, a rustic cheese plate, platters of crudites with his own Roquefort dressing, and those lovely trays of melons, grapes, pineapple and papaya. There were breads and desserts, a particularly lovely pear tarte, and oh, his amuse bouche! The bite size morsel was packed with flavor; his rendition of capers and goat cheese and salmon that Donovan, his sous chef, had mostly mastered to correctly put together.
But these people. . . All dressed in their finery, the women in smooth heels, shimmering gowns and diamonds – or maybe zircons, one never really knew – OR, and this was the “fun” party, in jeans and casual shirts. One woman had even worn cowboy boots. Jean-Luc had peeked out at them as they’d arrived, wondering dourly why he even tried. It was all a joke to them.
Well, wait till they tasted his food. They would swoon, no matter how gauche they were.
The event was all for charity. Everybody said so. In fact, they said it over and over again as if they couldn’t believe it themselves. He snorted. Maybe they couldn’t.
He glanced down at the rows of champagne glasses on serving trays, sparkling in the drab, green kitchen. Soong-Li was watching over them, making sure everyone just got one. They could buy drinks from the open bar, but they were allowed only one glass of free champagne . . . or rather sparkling wine, as there was nothing remotely French about the California varietal they were serving. Jean-Luc sniffed, then glared at the kitchen worker, not one of his regulars, who was trying not to dry out the prawns.
“Watch those!” Jean-Luc told the man who didn’t even bother acknowledging him.
Imbeciles! Jean-Luc flared his nostrils as he drew in air, shaking his head. He glanced at the “champagne”. Where was Soong-Li?! As he watched several guests snatched glasses from the serving station, and he could see that a full tray was missing. No, no! They weren’t serving it yet! They hadn’t made the final count. Hurriedly, he placed himself in front of the glasses and had to block a rather tense looking woman in a beaded blue gown with grasping hands.
“Not quite ready,” he said with a forced smile.
“Well, I saw a tray go out,” she declared agressively.
“Yes, soon, madame. I will look you up personally and bring you a glass.”
She shot him a baleful glare and left. As soon as she was gone, Jean-Luc hissed, “Soong-Li! SOONG-LI!”
She rushed back in from the serving room. “Mr. Crissman took the tray. I couldn’t stop him. I’m so sorry.”
Mr. Crissman. “The raspberries?” Jean-Luc snapped.
“All of the glasses had raspberries in the bottom. They’re okay. It’s okay.”
“Should I take out another tray of champagne?”
His ears almost hurt at her words. “No. Serve the cheese tray. It’s been forgotten and looks forlorn. I will watch the wine.”
She hurried off and Jean-Luc fumed at being required to attend to such a menial task. There was much to do. Why was he relegated to this?
He suddenly smelled the scent of burning seafood. “The prawns!” he shrieked, but his words were drowned out by a shout from the main room, a rising chorus of wailing, screaming voices.
Jean-Luc put a hand to his heart. What?
Soong-Li returned, wild-eyed. “A guest has collapsed. Stomach pains. He’s . . . vomiting!”
Food poisoning. Jean-Luc’s face went slack. He saw his own ruin in a series of newspaper headlines . . . Famed chef poisons guest . . . Health Department called to famed chef’s restaurant to check for violations . . . Famed chef blamed for employee’s negligence . . .
“I . . . I . . . think he might be dead,” Soong-Li declared, tears of horror standing in her eyes.
With a soft cry of submission, the “famed chef” fell to the ground, hand still on his heart.