To Catch a Cereal Killer – A Stayache Tataland Murder Mystery

Rat fink was dead and buried. Hannikah the shrew was in the great barnyard in the sky, and everyone else was scared shitless. The Holstein police were busy trying to guess the killer’s name, they had spent the last two days watching reruns of “The Price is Right”, but they forgot to buy a clue. After two days, their list had more vowels than alphabet soup. They looked at the list up close, then afar and finally upside down, and eventually became more confused than before.

Moo York’s mayor Cock-A-Doodle was in a foul mood in fact he was madder than a feather duster at a vacuum cleaner conference. The public was becoming antsy; they wanted the killer caught. This cereal killer debacle was a public relations nightmare that was beginning to spin out of control. This was an election year and the bumbling of the police department was hurting his campaign. At that moment, he was in his office putting the spur to the police chief’s backside. Cock-A-Doodle was a seasoned political campaigner; rumor was, he was more slippery than the fox in the henhouse. It was even said, that the fox was his drinking buddy and if the rumor is to be believed; also on his payroll, as an enforcer for the numerous illicit henhouses owned by Cock-A-Doodle. He was one bad ass rooster and Chief Cremo knew it. The mayor was threatening to fire the entire department, if some headway wasn’t made soon and pronto. This was indeed a fowl affair. Chief Cremo walked out of the meeting shaking in his boots, he could kiss his pension good-bye, he could already feel his neck resting on the chopping block. The Holstein police needed to solve this case and they needed to solve it with the quickness.

 On the other side of the Atlantic; Lupo was in Spain lounging with his cousin Benecio Del Toro. Reggae music was taking the country by storm and all the hip young bulls were learning the latest reggae dance moves. So far Lupo had learned this new style called the “gully creeper and the “nuh linga.” He had taken to wearing his hair in dreadlocks and had dyed the tip of his tail red, green and gold in true dancehall style. It was a sight to see Benicio, Lupo and the crew flashing lighters and gully creeping to the latest Elephant man songs.  

Back in Stayache Tataland, the barnyard had become a ghost town after dark. The fear in the air was so thick; a duck choked on his Ritz crackers and was admitted to the emergency room at Barnyard Holy Deliverance hospital. The Channel Five news hound report stated that “fear and quackers roasts duck in his own bedroom.” Luckily for this peeking duck, a nosy neighbor called 911 after hearing loud banging noises coming from the apartment. Everyone thought the cereal killer had struck again. There was a collective sigh of relief in Stayache Tataland when the news report stated that although in intensive care, Mr. Afflack was recovering from his ordeal.

Something had to be done and the Jersey swishes called a meeting to take matters in hoof. Swantina said the shrew kids were the killers and suggested that the cows wack them and be done with it. This caused an uproar among the girls because Aaah Shrew and Feng Shrew were only teenagers. Diamond reminded the girls that Jersey gangsta cows did not kill kids. They might shake them and ruff them up a bit, but only the unruly ones. This was street law and she was not about to listen to Swantina’s mule headed suggestion. The meeting came to an abrupt end when Mercedes announced she was pregnant. This was big news! Lupo was a daddy, and the girls agreed to call him that very minute.

Now the shrew kids, Feng and Aaah were screwed. Mr. Afflack worked for the insurance company, and he was out of the hospital.The investigation into the death of their mother had begun in earnest. This was a duck hunt and if Afflack had his way, the kids would be in the pen before the month was out. As far as that duck was concerned, the kids were guilty; all he had to do was find the evidence. They definitely had the motive; they stood to lose half of their inheritance to a rat fink. They had lived in the lap of luxury all their lives. Sharing their inheritance would mean less bullsheets for everyone. He was sure they had committed the crime and it was up to him to make them do the time. Tomorrow, he was planning to hold a huge press conference in conjunction with chief Cremo and the Holstein police department, to announce his findings and answer questions about the ongoing investigations. But someone else had other plans, plans more sinister and evil than anything that Stayache Tataland had ever seen before.

The barnyard tabloid was already hyping this as “The Great Cereal Hunt” and was doing their best to point hoofs, claws, and beaks at every one but themselves. Matters took a turn for the worst when Mr. Afflack was found dead as a doornail in a cheap motel room in Moo York City. He had been drinking heavily with an unknown female companion, whom he had reportedly picked up at a nearby bar. The Holstein police refused to release the results of the autopsy, but word on the streets said D-con. The barnyard Tabloid headlines the next day read “Cereal Killer Bags a Duck”.

There were rumors, there were whispers, some believed the killer was not done. Business was suffering and the Jersey swishes needed to put a stop to this. They were gangsta cows which meant they were outside the law, above the law, and udderly mafia. Swantina decided the first course of action was for Lexus to put an ear to the streets and talk to the stool pigeons, hustlers, pimps, fat cats and snakes that made up the criminal underworld. Someone would talk and she would be there to squeeze every bit of information out of them. Champagne would call the Jersey mafia’s political connections and let them know Lupo and his cows were on the case. Cock –A-Doodle was top of the list. The mayor and Lupo went way back. Politicians and gangsters have a lot in common; they both steal for a living, except politicians don’t go to jail when caught. Unlike Cock-A-Doodle, it was common knowledge that Lupo was mafia; at least everyone knew he was crooked.

The shrew kids had disappeared. The cows suspected they were hiding out with the Indian beaver family who were close friends of Hannikah. Sapphire volunteered to pay the family a friendly visit and talk to the kids; hearing their side of the story might provide some perspective on this whole situation as well as provide clues. Paradise volunteered to go with her, and went looking for her blue D&G sunglasses to match the blue diamond studded Roca Wear sweat suit she had on. Even in desperate times a girl had to be color coordinated. On their way out, they gave Mercedes a huge hug and promised to bring back some Hershey chocolate kisses for her. The beaver family lived way out in the country on their own private estate called Dam Nation. For such a long trip only the Bentley Mulsanne would do, and with another round of good-bys and hugs they were gone. 

Lupo was well aware of the situation in Stayache Tataland, his girls sent daily updates by BB messenger. He had hoped the police would have been able to take care of this somehow. He wasn’t too keen about going home, for all he knew, he was still a suspect. It was early in the morning and Lupo let all these thoughts run through his mind as he lay by the pool sipping on a gin and tonic. It was so peaceful here, in Spain, no one knew his name, in the eyes of the public, he was just another rich young bull, with lots of bullsheets to spend. And then, there was Conchita his “mamacita”. In the middle of this reverie his phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number, but he decided to answer it anyway. It was Police chief Cremo. Lupo listened intently for thirty minutes then hung up the phone. As he got up and walked inside the villa, his movements seemed more purposeful, with each step up the stairway, the playboy persona was receding inwards. Lupo the Jersey cow mafia boss was back. Stayache Tataland needed a hero and he would arrive at 2am Sunday morning on the British Airways red eye from Spain.

No one dared say a word to Lupo as he walked through customs, picked up his bags and left the airport. Sitting in the back seat of the Rolls Royce Silver Phantom, his arrival and imminent departure was noticed by no one. That’s the way he liked it, and that’s the way it would be. All the girls were up. They were dressed in full black as he was and eager to complete their mission. The adrenaline in the paddock was palpable and Swantina released some of the tension by slowly honing her throwing knives back and forth till they all had a razors edge. It was 3am and the  ground was covered in mist, it hugged the ground and wrapped the Black Cadillac escalade in a shroud as if it knew what Lupo and his Jersey swishes were about to do.

They were heading into Moo York city to pay a visit to a killer. As the van flew by dead leaves fluttered in their wake then fell silent, shushed to stillness and silence by the mist and the grim intentions of the vans’ occupants. A stool pigeon had told Lexus the name of a bar where Mr. Affleck was a regular patron. It was to this address that Lupo and his gang were heading. In Lupo’s world of crime everyone had deep dark secrets to hide.  Lupo was one of the few privileged to be part of a small circle of confidants that knew Hannikah the shrew, beyond her public persona. Hannikah was a closet alcoholic. In fact, it was he who provided her with the name of a location, where she would be able to imbibe to her heart’s content, without fear of exposure. He had discreetly introduced Hannikah to the owner and as a result solidified a business relationship that would last a lifetime.

Now Hannikah was dead and Lupo was about to settle the score once and for all. He knew that Rat Fink’s death had been intentional. In grief Hannikah would turn to drink. She would never have suspected it was to be her last, poured by the hands of a friend, who watched dispassionately as the poison coursed through her body. What were her last thoughts as death took away her last breath? The streetlights were flashing by in an electric arc that blurred with Lupo’s tears as his grip on the steering wheel tightened. The insurance investigator Mr. Affleck must have been getting too close to the truth. On a hunch, he had gone to confirm a suspicion that had been dangling in the back of his mind, like a worm on a hook. If he had known what Lupo now knew, Mr. Affleck should have gone in with an entire FLY SWAT team, guns blazing. Maybe he would still be alive today.

The escalade slowed in speed a block away from their target. This was a black ops mission and all the lights were turned off. Slowly, Lupo drove the rest of the way covered in shadow, from the willow trees that lined the avenue. He slowed to a halt in the alley at the back of the building and waited in silence, to make sure everyone in the neighbourhood was asleep. Looking into the rear view mirror, he gave the all clear and the side door slid open. On the first floor of the building was a neighborhood bar, but they were not here for drinks.  Champagne used her sets of lock picks to jimmy the back door and quietly they entered the building. Like wraiths moving in shadow, they padded up the stairway to the entrance above, once again Champagne did her magic and the crew waited for Lupo to lead them in. In the darkness of the loft they activated their night vision goggles and the entire room was bathed in green phosphorescence. Treading silently, the goggles cast an eerie sheen on the furniture around them. Through the living room and small kitchen to the bedroom the cows went. Seven figures dressed in full black standing over a figure that lay supine and snoring softly on the bed. Hooves extended, they surrounded the bed and with one accord, seven deadly muzzle flashes of light spat flame and death. The deed was done and the gang left as silently as they had come, locking the door behind them.

An anonymous call to the Holstein Police the following morning, led to the discovery of a bullet riddled body. The police confirmed that the body of an unidentified female was found at 8 in the morning. They also found several pounds of D-Con hidden in the bar storeroom below the loft. A check on her credit card purchases revealed that the victim had bought several pounds of this dangerous poison consistently over a one month period. The press conference was set for tomorrow, but everyone already knew the Stayache Tataland Cereal Killer was no more. Business could continue as usual, already the days had already begun to look sunnier and brighter.Tomorrow the world would know that the cereal killer was the owner of the bar below her loft – Trix the Silly Rabbit. She had been secretly blackmailing Hannikah for years. Things began to unravel when Hannikah threatened to come clean and tell the police everything. This was the seed for a diabolical plot, that would see Trix, resorting to murder to keep herself out of jail. Not so silly after all. The plan would have worked perfectly, except that Hannikah had mafia connections, which meant Lupo. And no one crossed Lupo and lived to talk about it.

Could You Please Remove the Head!

“Yesterday, they were swimming their little hearts out on a fish farm in Northern Georgia, oblivious to their fateful end – a gourmand’s delight – well seasoned, crisp and seared, elegant and composed on a plate of bone white china.”

We have trout on the menu. On Tuesdays and Fridays, Andy “The Trout guy”, delivers twenty to thirty pounds of fresh, local, rainbow trout to the restaurant. The quality is exceptional; out of the water from the  trout farm to restaurant, in less than thirty hours. Rainbow trout, cleaned, gutted and dressed for the dinner table. 

 Under the blinding glare of fluorescent lights, we fuss over minute details

 Tweezers in hand, back bent low over the cutting board, removing pin bones thin as threads and trimming the fillets. This task is done quickly by cooks (from long practice), a forefinger along the flesh for bones, then-  pluck,

 pluck,

 pluck,

And finally with surgeon like precision and a sharp French knife, two swishes on each side of the fillet –    next trout.

  It’s a dirty job, best handled in latex gloves and a zombies’ mindset. In automatic mode, your hand reaches over to grab the next fish and it slips back into the pile. Rainbow trout are covered in slime, as if the fish has been coated in aspic and their own juices. When cleaning twenty pounds of trout, the repetitive, sccrrpp, sccrrpp, sound of the French knife, scraping this oozing jelly from the cutting board, is as necessary as sharpening the blade.

 Several species of trout are indigenous to the rivers and streams of North Georgia and the fish has become a staple on restaurant menus in metro Atlanta.

For the itinerant foodie, exploring the food pathways of the United States, it is easy to identify specific cuisines by the proliferation of unique ingredients, dishes, flavor profiles or style of cooking in that region (jambalaya in Louisiana, crab cakes in Maryland, clam chowder in New England, deep dish pizza in Chicago, key lime pie in The Florida Keys and pulled pork in North Carolina).

On our menu, rainbow trout is a constant, but the sides change with the seasons and the whim of the chef. These five preparations in particular, stand out in my mind as a line cook:

Trout, Apple Walnut Chutney, Frisee salad, beurre blanc sauce, because the dish was delicious, simple and easy to plate and serve.

Trout, quenelle of chanterelle puree, tempura cauliflower, frisee salad, port reduction, the flavor profile was off and the combination of ingredients over powered the delicate flavor of the fish.

Trout, preserved Meyer lemon chow chow, oyster mushroom fricassee, the prep was tedious and time consuming, I was happy when this was taken off the menu.

Trout, tomato fennel fondue, ancho chili clam jus, very bold, rich and assertive in flavor.

 Trout wrapped in prosciutto, mushroom strudel, creamed corn

This has been our first trout preparation served with the head and tail on. On several occasions, servers have returned to the kitchen, dish in hand and sheepishly asked for the head and sometimes the tail, to be removed. Generally dumb requests from guests are met with laughter, followed by derisive comments like “it’s a fish; this is what they look like, @@##$$%^^&&!!!! Where do these people come from?” At which point whoever is closest to the offending dish, grabs the plate, rips the head off and sends the server on their way. The straw that broke the camels’ back was the guest who complained “that the trout looked too much like fish” and asked if we could remove the head and tail. We did, violently tugging at the head until it came off like a discarded rag doll, then the head was tossed triumphantly, basketball style into the garbage and the dish went back out.

What’s the problem? Its fish and these are parts of the fish, and yes, there’s lots of gooey goodness to be sucked out of the head, or just push it to the side of the plate and let it be.  Have we become so estranged from our food sources that seeing them cooked and served without embellishment or camouflage makes us queasy? What is even worse, it happens in the kitchen. One of the pastry cooks shared the same sentiment about fish, in exactly the same words.  Cooks should be the most adventurous gourmands of all.  I’m disappointed.  If passion brought you into cooking, then eat, taste, and ask questions about EVERYTHING. Not everything will appeal to your taste buds, you may spit it out, but for gods’ sake at least try it. Cooks may one day grow to become chefs in their own kitchen. But that growth, takes years of learning about our craft, ingredients, technique and food lore. Also, just as important, sharing knowledge as well as augmenting our intuitive taste and flavor profiles through eating and actively engaging our palettes. That immersion in all things culinary sustains us and keeps us progressing from restaurant to restaurant, until we are chefs in our own kitchens.

We have a new chef de cuisine; good thing is, despite the occasional outcry, we still serve trout with the head and tail on. Let them complain. At least, he has boldly decided to continue featuring rainbow trout. Respect the fish. Subliminally, he’s saying “this is your education on a plate; this is what your food looks like. Now shut up and eat it!”

Enough is Enough!?

Cooking  without Love and Passion not good

One year without promotion

Living paycheck to paycheck

Unemployed for three months

Not learning

And growing

In your work environment

Rent eats an entire paycheck

ENOUGH!!!!!!

 

Your kitchen serves soup from a plastic bag

Vegetables from a No.10 can

Blackened fish, chicken, shrimp

Your chef is an addict

No call, no show, not good

Thinking a culinary education is

Working two jobs?

The first time you wake up and hate yourself for going to work

ENOUGH!!!!!!

 An invitation, opportunity, chance to stage in Europe

$10 an hour at the restaurant of a talented chef

14 hour days learning in that kitchen

Is hard work, perseverance and a little luck?

Is prayer and faith?

Is having a name stenciled on your jacket?

Is reading this poem?

Enough.

 

 

Taste of Atlanta

Double take, my jaw drops; I rub my eyes, and look again. Yes, I’m seeing clearly! Incredible! Could I be that lucky? This coming Saturday, I’m off.

Pause for a moment…………………………………………………………………………………………I’m smiling. PM Cooks rarely get time off on the weekend. Fridays and Saturdays are usually the busiest days in a restaurant.  But this Saturday, I don’t care, I won’t be there.

This Saturday: 

a) I get to spend time with my friends

b) We all get to enjoy the sights, sounds and Taste of Atlanta

Elton and I Decide to Celebrate My Good Fortune at a Sports Bar

 On Friday, Tracy, Kamla, Elton and I decide to ditch the car on Saturday and ride the MARTA subway system to The Taste of Atlanta. What a fiasco!

11:30pm Friday night – I get off work and decide to celebrate by consuming copious amounts of cheap liquor at a local sports bar.  I’m off tomorrow, I’ll be fine, why worry.

10am Saturday morning – I’m dreaming (there’s a gigantic slush machine filled with ice, cranberry, vodka, and a couple bottles of Heineken is slowly spinning in my head). I’m drowning in this cosmic soup, when my phone rings like a lifeline. Doggedly, one hand in front of the other, I crawl in the direction of the voice at the end of the line. Sweet krispy crème donuts, my savior; it’s Tracy. She’s excited and speaking quickly. Her words buzz like a busy bumblebee; while the one-sided conversation floats in one ear like flotsam, gets sucked into my cosmic slush machine, blends in the noxious sludge, then out the other. I was able to decipher bits and pieces, which sounded like ………Tracy, had the day all planned out………………… She was on her way to the hairdresser……………………..She would pick up Kamla and meet us at the train station. “This was fine”, I mumbled, yawning, “I’m about to get up and have breakfast, see you soon,” I hang up, fluff my pillow and fall asleep.

11am – The sound of Elton moving around in the apartment becomes so annoying, I finally wake up. Yawning, I stumble into the bathroom and try to wash last night off my face. I’m ravenous and head to the kitchen, Elton is making breakfast (I don’t care what it is, in my condition, a plate of scrambled nails would be a feast).  The whirring in my head is slowing down and I sit on the floor in the living room to wait it out.

12am – Ha! Breakfast in the middle of the day, what a guilty pleasure. My appetite somewhat sated, time to shower, get dressed and head to the train station. But first, a quick cigarette break.

1pm – Hmm what to wear? Tracy calls, she’s on her way to Arts Center. I tell her “we’re about to leave the apartment” and hang up…………………… Hmmm what to wear?

2pm – Tracy keeps calling. “We’re about to board the train” I tell her. But first, another quick cigarette break. We leave the apartment; I need a memory card for my camera.  20 minute detour to CVS pharmacy. Tracy has given up on me and starts calling Elton, “where are you guys,” she exclaims,” We’ve been at the train station since 1:15pm.” She sounds extremely annoyed and states, “Its 2:30 pm, we’re going ahead of you guys to Atlantic station, call us when you get here.” Okay, fine by me.

3pm – We arrive at Doraville station, Elton buys his ticket and we head up the escalator to board the subway. Elton’s phone vibrates – its Tracy, she’s upset and Elton listens meekly for a minute, and then hands the phone to me.  Trying to sound meek myself, “Yessss.” “Jomo we took the shuttle from Arts Center to Atlantic Station but nobody’s here, what the hell is going on? “Are you kidding me,” I reply. “We’re back at Arts Center, we just found out that The Taste of Atlanta is at the Georgia Tech Center, Jomo you’re an idiot,” she hangs up. Tracy is fuming, and mentally I begin to prepare for a tongue lashing when we meet up.

3:30 pm – We arrive at Arts Center. The subway door opens and Tracy and Kamla leap onto the train. She hugs Elton, gives him a peck on the cheek. The gang is all here, it’s time to bash Jomo.  Elton, who I thought was my wingman, is the first to throw me under the bus when he reveals – I had lied about being on the train, we were still at the pharmacy.

3:45pm – We get off at the wrong station and have to walk four blocks back to the Georgia Tech center.

4:15pm – We finally arrive at the Taste of Atlanta. Elton, Kamla and Tracy swear, there’s no way they are going to spend $30 to get in (it finishes at 6 pm). We find out, it’s free to enter and walk around. However, without a wristband and tickets; we can’t sample food from the booths. Did she say free?  My friends had already bolted through the entrance and were pulling away fast. I thought about following them.  Alone, I turn back and pay the $30 entrance fee. Unfortunately, I can only share today in words and pictures, we ate all the food. In retrospect, the event was fun and we had a blast! Enjoy

[slideshow gallery_id=”8″]