Inspired by “The Great British Bake-Off”, “Cake Wars”, “Sweet Genius”, “Cupcake Wars”, and the hilarious comedy, “Chef!”....
When former White House pastry chef Margaret Klein teams up with Charlie Watson, owner and pastry chef at Decadent Desserts, to host “The International Killer Chefs Competition”, the last thing they expect is for anyone to actually commit a murder...or two...or three.
Eight chefs are expected to participate in the first episode of the show...er, make that seven chefs and one imposter. When things go awry for the participants and judges, Mac Mckenna is called in to take on the case. Once a Secret Service agent assigned to the White House, now a private security expert with Pinnacle Enterprises, Mac has to go undercover to find the killer. That means the fake baker has to take a crash course in the art of fine pastries and fool the real bakers with the help of one very savvy assistant pastry chef.
But murder isn’t the only problem on the set of “The International Killer Chefs Competition”. Two of the three male chefs can’t seem to control their machismo as they vie for the attention of their female counterparts. Histrionics, bitter rivalries, and outrageous antics abound as things quickly spiral out of control. Let the mayhem and heartbreak begin!
An International Killer Chefs Competition Mystery #1
By Sara M. Barton
Copyright 2016 Sara M. Barton
Sara Barton Mysteries Blog
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
“Who the hell stole my immersion blender? When I find the bastard, I will hang him by his English walnuts and drown him in treacle!”
“It was in the cabinet under the counter,” said the mousy assistant nervously, standing at the demonstration counter in the television studio.
“Well, it’s not in the frigging cabinet now, is it?” hollered Nigel Fortescue, his face a dangerous shade of red. “How hard is it to keep track of my kitchen equipment, Rosamund? It’s not rocket science, is it?”
“No, sir. I...I...I will find it. Just give me a moment.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a bloody moment, do I? We go live in less than six minutes!”
“I’ll just look again,” she stammered, fumbling with the knob on drawer above the cabinet. “Maybe someone tried to tidy up and put it in the wrong place.”
“What the hell do I have to do around here to get some cooperation? What kind of idiot puts away my equipment when I’m supposed to be making watermelon soup for the next segment?”
“Okay, okay!” Peter Wormer stepped forward, his clipboard in hand. “Everyone, just take a deep breath and chill. Klingman, look for the blender. Jonesy, go and see if we have another one in the prop department, okay? Nigel, if you don’t have it, is there something you can use as a substitute?”
“I don’t want a substitute!” snarled the man in the perfectly pressed white jacket. “I want....”
“I don’t really give a fig what you want at the moment. I’m trying to save your segment. Now think, man! Can you use a hand mixer?”
“Ridiculous!” sniffed Nigel disdainfully. “Only a savage would ever contemplate making watermelon soup with a hand mixer. It’s just not done! The only acceptable substitute is a regular blender!”
“Great. Daphne, do we have a regular blender?”
“I have no idea. Let me find out, Pete.”
“Thanks. We’re live in just over four minutes, people. Look alive,” the director called out to the assembled cast and crew. “Melanie, can you please take your mark?”
“Fine, but Chef Bombastic better get a grip on himself,” said the star of Good Life, the popular London morning show. “The last time he lost it on the air, it was a disaster for us. If he’s going to be a royal pain in the....”
“I beg your pardon!” bellowed Nigel. “I will have you know that I wasn’t the one who made a mess of things last week!”
“Right,” snapped Melanie Arnott, the perfectly coiffed host, smoothing out a wrinkle on her pristine linen skirt. “I was the one who knocked over the double cream because I was so flustered, wasn’t I?”
“You never did like me, did you? You’re just jealous because the fans love me!” retorted the chef, taunting her.
“Oh, for God’s sake, get over yourself!” she told him emphatically. “I’m on the air here five days a week for two hours at a time. You’re here for ten minutes once a week, you cheeky twit!”
“Eat your heart out, Arnott! I was just invited to compete in The International Killer Chefs Competition in New York!
“Oh-la-dee-bloody-dah! England’s loss is America’s gain! I’ll be more than happy to drive you to Heathrow. What time shall I pick you up?”
“Found it!” Rosamund announced, holding the immersion blender in her hand. “Here you go, Chef Fortescue.”
“Three minutes, people!” came the warning from the stage manager.
“Miracle of miracles, just in the nick of time!” Nigel impatiently snatched it from his assistant’s grasp and placed it beside the cutting board and then made a quick inventory of the other items on the counter. A moment later, he grimaced again. “What the bloody hell is this?”
“Is something else wrong?” Rosamund leaned forward, worry etched on her face.
He reached down and picked up a blue silicone spatula with two fingers, holding the offending utensil at arm’s length. Staring closely, Nigel inspected the entire surface of the utensil. “Here!”
“Now what?” the director inquired through clenched teeth.
“Right here. See this spot?” the apoplectic chef demanded, pointing an accusatory finger at a tiny white smear near the top of the rubber blade. “This thing is filthy! Why wasn’t it washed after last week’s show? Do we really want the audience to think we are slovenly slobs?”
Pete glanced at it. “It looks okay. Just wipe the spot off. No one will notice.”
“My viewers will! They expect me to be at the top of my game!”
“This is neither the time nor place, Nigel, for any more drama. We have a show to do. Is that clear?”
For ten long seconds, the two men stood nose to nose, staring at one another. Finally the chef shrugged. “Fine. But we will talk about it later! Nigel Fortescue will not be trifled with, I tell you!”
“Oh, we’ll talk,” the director retorted hotly. “Believe me, we’ll talk. Now take your bloody mark!”
“What do you want me to do with this, boss?” asked the production assistant. Daphne lifted up the food processor in her hands. “I couldn’t find a blender.”
“Put it off to the side, Daph. Okay, Nigel. Are you ready to roll?”
“I am,” he agreed, slipping into his genial television persona. He repositioned a bowl of cubed watermelon, moving it here and then there, inch by inch, until he was satisfied it was within easy reach, and then he set the immersion blender down beside it. But suddenly his expression turned dark once more. “What’s going on here?”
“This is quickly becoming a nightmare!” The director heaved a heavy sigh and rubbed his forehead. “We’re on in two and a half minutes!”
“Look at this cord! It’s been cut! If I plugged this in and turned it on, I’d get a very nasty shock!”
“Surely that’s an exaggeration.”
“I’m sure it’s not!” He held out the cord for the director to see. “Look at it.”
“Okay, well....” Pete ran a hand through his mop of hair and then scratched his chin. “We’ll deal with this after the show. In the meantime, substitute the food processor, Daphne.”
“Okay.” She was about to do that when Nigel Fortescue leveled a stunning accusation at the crew of Good Life.
“You people are trying to kill me!” the horrified chef gasped, glaring at the crowd gathered. “Which one of you is the murderer?”
“What?” Melanie frowned. “Is this some kind of publicity stunt, you disgusting rodent? You’re trying to scare management into keeping you on?”
“The evidence speaks for itself!” he huffed.
“That’s preposterous!” Pete Wormer moved closer to the counter, glancing down at the long white power cord. As much as he hated to admit it, there was no ignoring the visible damage. Quickly trying to recover his equilibrium, he focused his attention on the disgruntled chef. “Why do you think anyone would want to kill you?”
“How the bloody hell should I know?”
“Two minutes until show time!” the production assistant cautioned the cast and crew.
“I must say I am beginning to understand the sentiment,” Melanie commented, standing on her mark twenty feet away. “God knows I’ve thought about strangling the bastard myself! Think of the ratings!”
One of the cameramen chuckled as he lined up the shot, moving in for a close-up of the host as she licked her lips and got ready to speak to the audience at home.
“We’re running out of time,” Daphne prompted her boss. “What do you want to do, Pete?”
He glanced at her and then back at the furious chef glowering on the kitchen set. He steeled himself by taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly. Then and only then did he speak.
“Are you or are you not going to do the segment, Fortescue? I need to know now, because I have to fill the air time!” Pete Wormer warned him. “Monteith, do we have some video we can substitute?”
“Yeah, boss. We have the news story about the hundred-year-old lady who just ran a marathon.”
“Go, Granny, Go? That’s perfect. Cue it up.”
“Give me the damn food processor!” Nigel replied hotly, slapping the surface of the counter. “Hurry up!”
Daphne, ever the consummate professional, set it down gently and plugged it in. She pressed the lever and listened as the motor whirred around a couple of times. “It seems to be working fine.”
“We are live in sixty seconds!” a voice from across the set reminded everyone. “Places!”
“Rosamund, redeem yourself” the chef demanded. “Get rid of this effing piece of crap!”
He gave the damaged mixer a swift shove and it bounced awkwardly across the granite surface of the kitchen counter in the direction of the cringing woman. She scurried forward, ready to grab it.
“Hold on, Rosamund. Daphne, remove the offensive item from Chef Fortescue’s work space and bring it to my office,” Pete instructed her. “I’ll get to the bottom of this after the show.”
“Sure.” The production assistant reached over and scooped up the damaged equipment, winding the cord around the long handle, and placed it on top of her clipboard before following her boss into the control booth.
The makeup artist did a final brush of Nigel Fortescue’s damp forehead, tamping down the shine from the perspiration that glistened under the strong stage lighting. When she was done, he ran his fingers through his thin, blond hair, fluffing it up, and then he patted it into place. He made a concerted effort to turn up the corners of his mouth in what was supposed to pass as a cheerful smile. As he glanced over at the host, waiting to make her entrance onto the kitchen set, she stuck her tongue out at him. He returned the favor.
“Give me strength, oh Lord!” Pete mumbled, observing the antics from behind the soundproof glass window of the control booth.
“Perhaps you should hire a nanny for the pair,” Daphne suggested, giving him a playful poke in the ribs. “Or set up a time-out room.”
“Don’t tempt me!”
The set went silent as Melanie Arnott introduced the next segment to the viewers. “And now we have a special treat. Today’s recipe is the perfect starter for an elegant dinner party. Let’s join our chef extraordinaire, Nigel Fortescue, in the kitchen. He is making a killer watermelon soup!”
There was a quick intake of air as Nigel gasped. Blindsided by her unexpected jab at his close call with the immersion blender, he stumbled momentarily, completely losing his composure. Gone was the bright smile and good-natured demeanor. In its place was a furious countenance.
“If looks could kill,” Daphne remarked, “she’d be dead by now!”
Pete immediately cued the camera operator to cut to the bowl of watermelon on the counter. “Put the list of ingredients up on the screen. Give it fifteen seconds while she talks about the segment.”
Satisfied that she wounded the belligerent food expert, the host smiled slyly and waited for her next opportunity to land another blow. It came soon enough. As the red light of the camera trained on her came back on, she winked and said, “Perhaps we should have 999 standing by, just in case! We wouldn’t want anyone to get away with murder, would we?”
Nigel Fortescue wasn’t going to take that lying down. No, he was going to make sure that evil wench paid for her wicked pleasure.
“Believe me when I say this soup is so good, it’s worth dying for, Melanie! We can only hope you survive the experience. Otherwise, Good Life will need to find a new host!”
Fifteen minutes after the show wrapped up for the day, Pete Wormer and Daphne Smythe sat in his office, staring at the chef’s damaged immersion blender as it lay on top of the paper-strewn desk. The nearly severed cord was set out in a straight line and there was no mistaking the deep cut in it.
“I can see the wires, Pete. They’re exposed,” Daphne remarked. “You don’t really think this was deliberate, do you? I mean, I know Melanie can’t stand the guy. She’s asked the network executives to replace him next season. But I can’t see her doing anything this crazy. Nigel could have died on live television!”
“True,” agreed the director thoughtfully, leaning forward in his chair. “In fact, if he had grabbed onto her when he was being shocked, she probably would have fried too. No, Melanie didn’t do this. She’s too focused on moving her career forward. But somebody definitely sabotaged Fortescue’s immersion blender. The question is who would benefit from such an act?”
“Most everyone in the Western world,” quipped the production assistant. “The man is impossible!”
“Come on. Be serious, Daph.”
“For starters, how about Nigel? Maybe he wanted to draw attention to himself. He is the one who found the problem, isn’t he?”
“I don’t think he was acting when he insisted someone was trying to kill him. Try again.”
“I don’t know that I could eliminate anyone right off the bat. He has a knack for getting under everyone’s skin. I’ve wanted to smack him myself once or twice.” She studied her boss with an intense gaze that missed nothing, noting the tension in his posture, the narrowed eyes, and the downturn of his mouth. This show was his baby. The last thing he needed was bad publicity for Good Life. “You really do think someone actually tried to kill him?”
“What else can I conclude? This cord was sliced right through to the wires.”
“It couldn’t have been an accident? Maybe when he was waving his butcher knife around, he nicked it.”
“I don’t buy it,” Pete told her, shaking his head. “I’m afraid we’ll have to call in the Metropolitan Police.”
“Crap,” Daphne sighed. “We can’t afford another scandal, not after Roger White had that little tussle with his bimbo in the elevator and Horatio McDonnell took a slug at the pugnacious audience member.”
“What choice do we have? This is pretty serious, Daph.”
“I know. I was just hoping we’d be nominated for a TV Times award. I guess we can kiss that honor goodbye for yet another year,” his production assistant said with resignation. He ignored her disappointment, still stuck on the current problem.
“This was definitely a premeditated act. What would the motive for killing Nigel be? Is this revenge?”
“Rumor has it that he’s been sleeping with the wife of an MP,” she acknowledged. “That’s a good reason to frost his cookies.”
Pete shook his head, unconvinced. “If this is politically connected, there are easier ways of getting rid of the guy. Run him down in the street. Mug him on the sidewalk. Push him into the path of a train. Whoever did this has access to our set, Daphne. You can’t just walk in off the street and go poking around our props.”
“No, if this really was an attempt on Nigel Fortescue’s life, it’s got to be connected to his cooking, not his amorous peccadilloes.”