The Bennett Files: The Case of the Dinner Party
Strai was absolutely ecstatic when Bennett received an emergency neomail requesting his services down at the Kelp restaurant in Maraqua. It was the land of his paint job, and going there felt much like sinking into a freshly-made bubble bath and never wanting to come out. However, even that feeling didn't prepare him for the scene that lay before him: a group of diners sprawled on the floor, clutching their stomachs in pain.
Several paramedics and the Chia police were already present, milling about the victims in a flurry of questions and terrifying syringes. Strai saw various half-eaten dishes and drinks strewn across the dinner table, and seated in the plush chairs were the two guests that were still conscious. Bennett was already there, questioning them. Strai carefully stepped over some of the fallen pets and joined him.
"I can't remember the last time I had food poisoning," a pink Poogle moaned. "But I do recall not being too keen on getting it again."
She was doubled over, one arm resting on the table, and another clutching her stomach. Seated next to her was a blue Poogle who looked quite fine, as if he were either immune to poison or had a dash of it in his tea every morning.
"I suppose you'll want to hear what happened," the blue Poogle, whose name was Maxwell, drawled when Strai and Bennett approached him.
"Yes, please, if that wouldn't be too much trouble," Strai said before Bennett could make some offhand remark.
Maxwell sighed. "We arrived at the restaurant at about seven o'clock, and were served by the Maraquan Uni named Lucy, who's sitting over there."
He pointed at the empty booth table next to him, where a Maraquan Uni was indeed seated, looking harrowed as she was interviewed by the Chia police. "I can't remember exactly what everyone ordered, but you could probably tell what they were from the remnants on the table here," Maxwell continued. "The drinks came a few minutes after Lucy took our orders, and the appetizers came out about five minutes later. Everything went great for about ten minutes. Then, almost all at once, everyone started getting nauseous, and most of them eventually passed out."
Strai surveyed the dinner table once again. There had been a total of eight guests, and two of the unconscious Defenders had already cleared their appetizer plates. The remaining six were half-eaten. The drinks were all half-full, except for the two Poogles' glasses, which were nearly empty. Strai glanced over at Bennett, who was poking at some of the food and the melting ice in the drink glasses. "How fast did you two drink your brews?" the woodland Uni asked.
"Maxwell is an absolute beverage fiend," the pink Poogle suddenly put in, almost growling because of her stomach pains. "He cleared his glass in five minutes flat. I was thirsty, too, but I had only barely finished my drink before the poison hit."
"I was waiting for a refill, in fact," Maxwell added.
Bennett nodded. "Well, I guess that answers some basic questions. Come, Strai, let us talk to the poor waitress that appears to be suspect number one at the moment."
The Maraquan Uni was distressed, to say the least. She was shaking, stuttering, and altogether looked like she would spontaneously crumble into a million Lucy pieces at any second. "Hello," Strai greeted amiably.
"Hi!" Lucy squeaked, "Is everyone over there okay? The police have been questioning me for forever, so I haven't been able to see how the guests were. I feel so terrible! I served them that wretched food, and ruined the restaurant's reputation. It's all my fault."
"It's alright, the Chia police and paramedics have got everything under control," Strai said soothingly, "but we'd like to ask you a few questions. Would you mind?"
"No, go ahead," Lucy replied quickly.
"May we see your order notebook?" Bennett asked.
Lucy was slightly taken aback by the Uni's bluntness. She glanced back and forth at the two detectives, as if she were wondering how the two of them could possibly work together. She produced a small book from her waist pocket, and Strai and Bennett huddled over it. As far as Strai could tell, it was fairly simple--the majority of the notebook were just copies of old orders, as the originals are given to the kitchen for food preparation. Each page consisted of a table number and a bulleted list of the food for each guest. There were no names noted, and the only thing that stood out to him was how many of the Defenders had a surprising aversion to onions.
"Thank you, that will be all for now," Bennett said after a quick flip-through of the notebook.
Strai was surprised, partially by the brevity of Bennett's investigation, but mostly by his sudden politeness. He normally wouldn't bother with such grace outside of the house, but he supposed that the fancy setting of Kelp had something to do with it. "So, I expect you have solved the case, and will be directing me to catch the perpetrator now," Strai joked as they walked away from the crime scene.
Bennett frowned. "Do not simplify matters, Strai," he said. "You know that we still have some probing to do."
Strai had no idea what Bennett was referring to. As far as he knew, someone had poisoned the food of a few Defenders, and they had no leads. Nevertheless, Strai knew it was wiser to quietly follow Bennett, who brought them to the kitchen. Inside, Strai was surprised to see a very familiar blue Flotsam swimming around, barking orders at all of the kitchen staff.
"Excuse me, Mr. Underwater Chef?" Strai asked.
The blue Flotsam whirled around so fast that he almost filleted Strai with his chopping knife. "Who are you?" the Underwater Chef demanded.
"Strai. I work at a detective agency, and the Chia police called upon me and my partner to assist in the food poisoning case-"
"There was food poisoning? In this establishment?" the Underwater Chef parroted in surprise.
"Er, yes. The guests that were poisoned have been kind of unconscious for almost an hour-"
"Of course that would happen on the one day Kelp called me in to help!" the Underwater Chef groaned, dicing a tomato dramatically. "Alright, which one of you rotten excuses of a chef did it?"
The staff all looked at each other, muttering in surprise. None of them looked particularly guilty. "Sir, I bet it was Billy," one of them called. "He's been mad jealous of my mincing skills since day one."
"Oh, that's riotous, Timmy," a pet that Strai assumed was Billy snorted, "considering you can't even frost a cake to save your life. Besides, why would I take it out on the dinner guests if I were mad at you? I would've switched out your tea with a Moehog Transmogrification Potion as soon as you turned your back!"
"You take that back, Billy!" Timmy wailed. "I frost cakes with love and dedication--something your cold, black heart wouldn't be able to understand!"
"You want to fight me, Timmy? Come at me, bro! We can finally settle this, spatula to spatula!"
"Quiet, you incompetent Slorg-heads!" the Underwater Chef roared, exuding enough ferocity to instantly shear a pile of carrots and turnips into perfect strips. "Billy, Timmy, you guys are on chopping duty until the handles of your knives fall off. You, detective Gelert! Anymore useless questions?"
Strai suddenly became very afraid of getting chewed out by an irate Flotsam wielding several sharp objects. Fortunately, his partner swooped in to save the day. "That won't be necessary," Bennett said, fast-walking over to Strai. "I've solved the case."
"You did?" Strai asked as Bennett dragged him over to a table where all of the finished dishes lay, ready to be served.
"Yes," Bennett said, pointing at one of the orders hanging over the table. "Look here. This is the order that Lucy took for the Defenders. What does it say?"
"'Table twelve. Blue Poogle. Lemwart Fizz, Kelp Gazpacho, Ocean Platter-'"
"Yes, I know that," Bennett hissed impatiently. "That's not what I meant, though."
"You told me to read the order," Strai said.
"I know what I said!" Bennett said exasperatedly. "Look, do you notice any particular names on the order?"
Strai quickly perused the paper. "Aside from the dish names, no."
"And what does that mean?"
"I don't know, Bennett. Clearly you're the only one with a normal, functioning brain around here, so would you care to enlighten me?"
"Again, with the sarcasm! My, my, Strai, what have I done to incur your wrath?" Bennett sighed. "What this paper shows is that the kitchen staff doesn't even know what the names of the guests are, since they're never listed in the orders. If that's the case, how can they know which table has the Defenders? Besides, you heard them speak just now. They didn't even know that there's been an incident in the dining area."
The wheels in Strai's head slowly started to turn. He gulped. "Oh, Fyora, that means…"
Bennett nodded. "Lucy is the only one who could've done it."
"But how?" Strai asked, "She'd have to conceal the poison in all that food in a very small amount of time."
"It wasn't in the food," Bennett said. "It was in the ice. All of them had eaten their food to some degree, but Maxwell was fine, which meant that the food wasn't poisoned. But, ice cubes take approximately fifteen minutes to melt, and Maxwell was the only one who had finished his drink in five, so that's why he wasn't sick. Lucy must've dropped a cube or two in everyone's drinks before serving them."
"Right. We must inform the police immediately," Strai said.
They ran out of the kitchen, just in time to see the Chia police release Lucy so she could go home. "Stop her!" Bennett shouted.
At his call, Lucy bolted for the door. Strai raced after her, intercepting her path and knocking her to the ground with a quick lash of his tail. Lucy fell, and cried out in frustration as she wrestled Strai with her hooves. However, Strai had previously been a field agent for the Defenders himself, and he had her pinned down in no time. The police rushed over and took it from there, handcuffing Lucy as she yelled for them to let her go.
"You blasted detectives and Defenders will rue the day that you took my brother into custody!" Lucy hissed at them as she was led away, "Charlie was innocent, I tell you!"
"Oh, so that's what it was about," Maxwell mused, coming up behind the two detectives. "We took Charlie in last week because he had been stealing from the Health Food store. Her loss, though. When we interrogated him, Charlie was screaming about how ridiculous it was that organic items cost twice as much as normal produce, even though they look and taste pretty much identical."
Strai shook his head in distaste. Some of the criminals nowadays weren't even crazy or dangerous; they were just plain weird. "Anyway, since we're here, would you like to join us for a complementary dinner, graciously provided by the Kelp management?" Maxwell asked.
It wasn't that much of an apology, considering that the three of them were the only guests who could stomach more food. Even so, Strai couldn't turn down a free meal, so he, Bennett, and Maxwell spent the rest of the evening enjoying a wonderfully poison-free dinner at Kelp.