Can you solve this mini-mystery?


By Richard Ciciarelli

January 21, 2013, was a bad day with a nor’easter knocking out power to several parts of the city. But the next day was even worse for Sam Walker, who died after taking two bites of an omelet he had made for himself.

“Doc says he died of anaphylactic shock,” Sergeant Joe Conway said. “He was allergic to peanuts and cooked his omelet in peanut oil.”

“Pretty stupid mistake,” Detective Anne Forbes said.

“The Captain eats here a lot. He knew Walker. Doesn’t think he’d make a mistake like that. That’s why we’re here. He thinks someone substituted peanut oil for Walker’s regular oil yesterday when the diner was closed because of the power outage.”

“Murder?” Forbes asked. “Any suspects?”

“Four. First is Harvey Blake. It’s no secret Blake has been trying to buy this diner for a year now. Walker said he’d die before he sold it.”

“Looks like he was right,” Forbes said. “Who are the other three?”

“The waitresses who work here. Seems Walker was pretty free with his hands. The ladies didn’t like all the pinching, squeezing and touching. And they all had keys to the place.”

“Where are they?”

“There’s a back room for private parties. They’re in there.”

In the back room, three ladies in their thirties paced the floor. Name tags on their blouses read TINA, EVIE, and MARCIE.

“You all know what happened,” Forbes said.

“Impossible,” Tina shook her head. “Sam would never use peanut oil. He was deathly allergic to peanuts.”

“We couldn’t even sell peanut butter cookies or put peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the kids’ menu,” Evie added.

“Then someone put that oil there,” Forbes said. “Probably yesterday when the diner was closed. Where were you all then?”

Marcie spoke first. “Sam called and said not to come in; there was no power here. My brother and sister-in-law have an anniversary soon, and my nephew has a birthday next month, so I went to the mall to get gifts. There was power at the mall, so I spent the whole day there.”

“I stayed home until the mail came,” Evie said. “I got a few overdue bills and decided to pay them, but I didn’t have any stamps. I went to the post office and got some and mailed them out. After that I went to the motor vehicle building to renew my driver’s license. It expires next month and I had to take a vision test. Then I had lunch at a restaurant. It was nice to be waited on for a change.”

 “My apartment had power,” Tina said, “so I did things I usually do after work. I did two loads of laundry, vacuumed, dusted, and cleaned out two closets. I took some old clothes to the charity center where they’ll be given to needy people.”

“Mr. Walker constantly harassed you three. Why didn’t you leave?”

“We couldn’t,” Marcie said. “There are only three diners in town, and the other two are fully staffed. They’re not hiring.”

“Besides,” Evie said, “Sam paid us more than we’d get at them. And our customers are good tippers. We’d lose money going anywhere else.”

“Do you know Harvey Blake?”

Tina nodded. “He came in often. He argued with Sam a lot. He even asked us to talk to Sam about selling him the diner.”

“Did you?”

“No. Sam would have fired us on the spot if we did.”

“Which of you came in first today?”

“I did,” Tina said, “But Sam was already here. He told me to put napkins and silverware on the tables.”

“I was next,” Marcie said. “I started making coffee while Sam made his usual omelet for breakfast.”

“I was last,” Tina said. “I brought pastries from the bakery and was putting them in the display case when Sam collapsed.”

Forbes left the women and joined Sergeant Conway.

“The Captain is right. Someone came in yesterday when the diner was closed and replaced Walker’s oil with peanut oil. And I think I know who it was.


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