A raw food mystery novelette
Recipes in italics
Missed part 2? You can see it here.
See part 1 here.
As the stranger from Mrs. Marchetti’s apartment entered, I had a queasy feeling that he was going to give me some bad news about her. It turns out I was wrong.
“I know you’re wondering who I am,” he began. I nodded. “My father owns this apartment building. I’m Joe Stratton.”
“Oh, okay. Yeah, I know your father. What’s going on?”
“First, let me apologize for treating you like a potential criminal. After you left, I found a photo of you on Mrs. Marchetti’s mantel, so I realized that you were really a friend and just trying to be neighborly. I’m sorry I was rude. Under the circumstances, though, I wasn’t sure about trusting you.”
“What circumstances are we talking about?”
“Your neighbor Mrs. Marchetti was expected in Buffalo yesterday morning at the home of a friend, but she never arrived. Her friend has had some trouble recently, and Mrs. Marchetti was planning to visit to offer her some help and support.” He paused for a moment, obviously expecting me to supply the missing details that would explain her whereabouts.
“I’m sorry, but I have no idea what happened to her,” I responded. “I was hoping YOU could tell ME.”
He shook his head slightly and looked down at the floor for a moment. “We don’t know where she is. What we do know is that she never arrived at Buffalo station. The police have been here and have gone through her apartment looking for clues, but so far they have come up with nothing. Now they’re looking for people that know her who might have an idea where she is.”
“And your part in this?” I asked.
“I don’t really have a part in it except that my father wants me to keep an eye on her apartment and her dog for her until she is found. Ordinarily, we don’t do this sort of thing, but Mrs. Marchetti is a long-time tenant here, and we want to make sure that her dog is taken care of until she gets back. We’re hoping she’s all right and that she’ll be back soon.”
“That’s very considerate of you,” I said, surprised to find this kind of humanity—especially in New York City, where pedestrians routinely walk around dead bodies in the street with hardly a thought.
“Actually, I wanted to do it. When Dad told me what had happened, I volunteered, because Mrs. Marchetti has been really good to me. When my mother died, she invited me over for dinner several nights a week for months. Even though we usually didn’t talk about my loss much, it really helped, having a caring soul there to talk to. I’ll never forget it.”
If there was one thing that was true about Mrs. Marchetti it was that she was always extending herself for others. She enjoyed brightening up people’s lives, not only with cupcakes but also with her warmth and caring. I could understand why Joe appreciated her so much.
I noticed him eyeing Charlie’s empty banana yogurt pudding bowl in the sink, which I hadn’t washed yet. “Are you hungry? I could fix you something.”
“Yeah,” he admitted gratefully. “I’ve been up since 4 a.m. and haven’t had a chance to eat anything yet.”
I was beginning to see that whatever else I got done that day would have to come after feeding all the hungry people in my path. “How about a smoothie?”
“Yeah, that sounds great. Thanks!”
Joe looked absolutely famished, so I made him my Satisfying Chocolate Smoothie, which could fill up even the hungriest law enforcement officer. It starts with ¾ bottle of water and 8 ounces of 2% milk, but it has a secret ingredient—an organic avocado—that adds the fill-me-up effect. I threw in 3 tablespoons of cacao powder, 8 ounces of plain Fage 2% yogurt, a tablespoon of kefir, 3 tablespoons of raw blue agave nectar, and a heaping teaspoon of vanilla protein powder before adding ½ C. frozen strawberries and whirring it up in the Vitamix to thicken it.
While Joe was drinking the smoothie, I filled him in on my last talk with Mrs. Marchetti. “She told me she was going to the Magnolia Bakery today and that she would be bringing me a cupcake. She asked if I wanted chocolate, and I did. Basically, that’s all she said. She didn’t tell me where she was going; I found that out later from Charlie the newspaper boy. I definitely expected her back sometime today, because today was the day she was bringing the cupcake. She promised Charlie a cupcake too, and she told him more than she told me—that she was going to visit her childhood friend Mrs. Ankeney in Buffalo and that Mrs. Ankeney had asked to see her because she was in some kind of trouble.”
Joe had drunk half of the thick chocolate smoothie and was still working on the other half. “Yeah, the police asked me about Mrs. Ankeney, and I remembered Mrs. Marchetti talking about her a few times.” He tilted the glass back and sucked the last drop of smoothie from the bottom. Thanks for the smoothie. Delicious!”
On his way out, Joe gave Chippy a pat on the head and said, “Let me know if you want to walk the dogs together later.”
I smiled. Then I cleaned up the dishes and realized that I was hungry again too. I was in the mood for something crunchy that I could make quickly. “I know what I want,” I said aloud, to no one in particular. “Fennel Apple Pecan Salad.” I hadn’t made that in awhile, and it was calling to me.
I chopped up a bulb of organic fennel, an organic red delicious apple (washed but not peeled), and a ¼ C. dried organic cherries, and then I added a cup of chopped organic raw pecans. Sometimes I add a little plain yogurt and stevia to this, but I wanted it simple this time. Taking a bite, I savored the licorice taste of the fennel and the sweetness of the apple. Chewy cherries and crunchy pecans made it perfect. So easy, yet so good.
I ate half the salad just standing in the kitchen before I noticed the time and realized I had to get back to work to meet a deadline. Carrying the dish into the study with me, I settled down with the laptop and gazed out over Central Park for a moment before launching back into the fictional world of my characters.
Within a couple of hours, I had finished the chapter I’d been working on and started on the next. I decided to take a break and visit the corner newsstand for a paper to see if there was any mention of Mrs. Marchetti’s disappearance in the local news. As I rounded the corner, though, I came face to face with Joe.
“Hey!” he exclaimed. “I was just looking for you. We’ve found Mrs. Marchetti.”
“Really?” I asked. “Is she okay?”
“Yes, she’s fine.”
“Was she in Buffalo after all?”
“No, actually, she simply took the wrong bus to Grand Central Terminal. She intended to take the train to Buffalo for the day, but she ended up on a bus clear out in Yonkers. Then when she tried to get back on the bus to go to Grand Central, she found out that the bus was not going back that way until the next day.”
“So where is she now?”
“Turn around and you’ll see.”
As I turned, Mrs. Marchetti came walking toward me, Magnolia Bakery box in hand, waving excitedly. “Hello dear! I have a chocolate cupcake for you!”
I turned back around for a moment and addressed Joe. “I thought you said she didn’t get to Grand Central.”
Joe grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, I drove her over there to get the cupcakes. She didn’t want to disappoint you, and after all she’d been through I was so glad to see her I offered to take her myself.”
I threw my arms wide open and embraced Mrs. Marchetti in an affectionate hug. “I’m so glad to see you!” I exclaimed. “Let’s go up to my place and have a bite to eat. I have some fresh romaine that I can toss with that dressing I use on the spiced sesame green beans.”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful, dear! And afterwards we can enjoy our cupcakes.”
“Actually, Mrs. Marchetti,” I winked, smiling, “I think I’ll have my cupcake right now.”