Bad Coleslaw – A Deviled Yeggs Mystery

I’m Detective Staff Sergeant Deviled Yeggs.  I work homicide in the big city of Tracy.  My partner is Jim Wednesday.  My nephew, Detective Poached Yeggs, is in the office with us, but the dispatcher called that Monday morning early, and the instructions were for Jim and I only on this case.  I was given an address that I knew quite well.  I was instructed to bring evidence bags but not to inform our crime scene techs.

As we drove down the street and away from the precinct, Jim broke the silence, “Okay, Deviled, why did the dispatch get the call and not us directly?  Where are we going?  And who died?  And does this sound like an investigation off the books to you?”

I replied, “I have no idea.  Captain Hart’s residence.  I have no idea.  And, yes, for the last one.”

Jim stared out the side window, “Glad we cleared that up.” And after a long pause, “Did Captain Hart kill his wife?”

I was shocked, “Don’t even think it!  He has been her nurse for years now, until he finally got a home nurse for the weekdays.  He has had years to perfect a means of killing her.  If he would, it would have already happened.  He loved her, Jim.”

“Sometimes, people that love someone who is in pain want to help them not have any more pain.  It was Captain Hart who went down as the principal detective on the Anna Filaxis case.  She killed a lot of people just because some loved one thought that was the best option.  Maybe that gave him the idea.”

I groaned.  We said nothing more until we pulled in front of his house.  The driveway had both the fire department’s EMT rescue squad and an ambulance.  People in uniform were moving in and out of the house.

When we got to the front door, Captain Hart’s day nurse was screaming at him and the captain was staring with the thousand mile stare.

I broke his stare by saying, “Captain, did you call?”

He blinked, “Thanks for getting here so fast.  Put this in a bag and seal it quickly.”  He handed me a grocery shopping bag with medicines inside.  I dropped it into a large evidence bag.

Now the nurse was screaming at me.  “Whenever a patient under a nurse’s care passes away of natural causes, the nurse must ensure that all the medications are flushed down the toilet.  Hand over that bag!!!!”

I replied, “Sorry, nurse, but once something has been placed and sealed in a criminal investigation evidence bag, we have to show chain of custody until the case goes to court and even through the trial.”

The nurse placed her arms akimbo.  “The bag is not sealed! Give me the bag!!”

I quickly sealed the bag.  “Ma’am, do you wish for me to repeat my last statement?”  She growled and stormed away, saying something about how her supervisor and someone from the state capitol would be calling me.

Jim asked, “Captain, does this mean that your wife has passed away?”

Captain Hart said, “I have some things in the fridge for you to take with you.  …  Oh, Jim, I am not myself right now.  Yes, she passed away about 3:00 this morning.  She was doing fine, making a slight progress over the past couple of weeks.  I think she was responding to our better weather we’ve been having.  But then, she got food poisoning on Friday.  With her compromised system, she went downhill fast.  Between Nurse Nasty who just stormed off and me, we haven’t gone to sleep all weekend.  The doctor came by a few times, but we were doing all we could here at home.  Then she was gone.”

I asked, “You had me seal her medications in an evidence bag, but if she died of the disease she was treated for, how can that be anything other than natural causes, and it was witnessed by a medical professional?”

The captain gave a sneer in my general direction, “Maybe I just have Anna Filaxis on my mind, but it just doesn’t seem fair.  She was improving and then what tipped the scales was food poisoning.  That’s the deal.  I have the food she ate on Friday in the fridge.  She hardly touched the barbequed meat, but there is practically nothing left of the coleslaw.  She loved coleslaw.  Bag up the food and the medication and take it to the lab.  See if anything was poisoned.  If so, we have a case.  If it was simple food poisoning, it would have to be the food on Friday.  We are signed up for these charity meals.  They come by Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to deliver a home cooked meal.  Otherwise, I cook and leave it for Nurse Nasty to warm up for both of them to eat on Tuesday and Thursday.  Nasty is not supposed to work over the weekend, but under the circumstances, she stayed, thinking this might be the result.”

Jim asked, “Other than her quickly getting sick, why suspect the lunch on Friday, Captain?”

He replied, “She had a new delivery guy.  The couple, that usually delivers, they will sit and talk with her for a few minutes.  They’ll bless the food.  Wish her well, and then leave.  This was not the usual couple.  It was one guy.  My wife said that his name was Salvatore, and he had that swarthy, Mediterranean look.  She thought he was handsome.  Nurse Nasty said that he flirted a bit, prayed, and left.  Not the usual small talk.  It seemed he was in a hurry.”

I asked, “Does Nurse Nasty have a name?”

Captain looked at me confused, “That is her name.”  Then the thousand-mile stare returned.  He quickly snapped out of it. “No, no, her name is Natasha, but I have called her ‘Nasty’ since she was assigned to us.  I trust her, but if she flushed the medications, I would have forever wondered if they were tainted.”

Jim asked, “Do we keep the investigation off the books?”

Captain Hart asked, “Why would you think that?!”

Jim replied, “Captain, you called dispatch instead of our direct line.  Dispatch only gave us an address.  Sounds like you want a lid placed on it.”

Captain Hart waved a hand, “No, Jim, I want a file on this.  I want it done right.  Just like if we had a death that looked accidental, we would run the evidence until we had ruled out homicide.  Treat this the same way.  And if we can’t get anywhere, we can keep the file open in case a pattern develops.”

We retrieved the remnants of the Friday lunch meal and a sealed container that looked like it might have come from her vomit.  We bagged everything and went back to the precinct.  We had the lab people sign for everything once we had it registered and catalogued.  The captain had told us to tell the precinct that his wife had passed away and he would not be back to the office any time that week.

The first day was just getting organized, getting everything to the lab, putting it on rush, and then calling the charity.  No one at the charity knew anything about food poisoning.

The next day, as we went to the charity offices, Jim asked, “Deviled, is the captain exceeding his authority here?  He would be going crazy if we were investigating any other death by natural causes.”

I replied, “Jim, might I remind you that it was a similar request to investigate from an ordinary citizen that led to us knowing that Anna Filaxis even existed.  If there is nothing here, then we have wasted a lot of man-hours for us and the lab people.  But, it will give reassurance to the captain that it really was natural causes, in an unnatural way.  He will know that no stone was left unturned because the two of us are bulldogs and we never let anything go.  And we don’t have any cases pending at the present time.  It gives us something to do other than work old cold cases.  Poached is still working the aftermath of the Anna Filaxis case.  She confessed to far more cases in Tracy than we were aware of.  That involved a lot of families that did not know that their loved one had been murdered.  Of course, one, or one family, in each of those cases had paid for Anna Filaxis to do her thing.  That is going to keep Poached busy for a long time.  And who knows, Captain Hart’s paranoia may turn into another serial killer.”

Jim grimaced, “But I have my doubts.  If this is simply spreading food poisoning, that usually just makes people sick.  It doesn’t sound like a method of killing people.”

About that time, we pulled up to the charity office.  The director reluctantly showed us to her office.

I explained why we were dropping by, “Ma’am, we are following up after our telephone calls got a short answer of ‘we know nothing’ and then a disconnect.  I hope you realize that such obvious evasion from answering simple questions can lead us to make a personal visit.  This could have been handled yesterday over the phone.  We are here investigating the death of Captain Hart’s wife.  He is personally our captain, and we are trying to determine if this was anything other than accidental death, her weakened state and then food poisoning that became too much to deal with.”

The director looked at the floor.  “I apologize about the short phone calls.  I told everyone to give that answer, but I never imagined the police would be among the people asking.”

I asked, “First, we would like to speak to the person who delivered the food.  Is the man who introduced himself as Salvatore available?”

She shook her head, “Mr. Minella is one of our board members.  He was only here because the usual driver for that route was ill. … Not food poisoning, sinus issues, I think.  His partner does not drive, so Salvatore filled in.”

I asked for clarification, “Salvatore Minella?  Does he shorten that at all?”

She scrunched her nose.  “Don’t be distasteful, detective.  Salvatore has lived with the name for a long time, and he prefers to be called Salvatore.  He never shortens it to Sal.”

Jim and I looked at each other in shock.  We had just locked away Anna Filaxis and here our next “suspect” is Sal Minella.

Jim asked, “And what about the food?  Were any other cases of food poisoning reported to you on Friday?”

She paused, maybe a bit too long, “Yes, we had five cases on Mr. Minella’s route.  We retraced the care given for the food.  A barbeque restaurant had volunteered meals for Friday: pulled pork, baked beans, and coleslaw.  We have used them before.  Their truck arrived with the food early that morning in bulk packages, except for little cups of barbeque sauce.  I think they prepackage those for their restaurant.  Our volunteers dished equal portions into Styrofoam containers before it was sent on the various routes.  What I was not aware of, they kept the food in warmers on the truck and a refrigerator for the coleslaw.  But when the truck arrived, one tub of the coleslaw was not in the fridge.  The driver said that he had run over the curb turning into our driveway and the tub must have fallen out then.  On hindsight, someone at the restaurant on the far side of town must have failed to place the tub in refrigeration.  Our policy is to throw it out.  We could have used smaller spoonfuls and no one would have noticed.”

We thanked her for her time.  Jim and I followed up with Sal Minella later in the week.  We did a background check on the director and her board member, Sal.  I should say Salvatore, but I won’t.

The funeral on Wednesday was well attended.  The lab results, what we expected, arrived on Thursday.  Since the captain still had his children visiting, we decided to present him with the final report on Monday morning.

As usual that Monday, the captain and Gisele were in his office and no one else was there as I walked in.

He bellowed, “Give me a report, Yeggs!  Don’t wait for Jim.”

I said, “Conclusion is death by natural causes.  Weakened state with the addition of Salmonella in the coleslaw.  The supplier to the charity mishandled only one tub of coleslaw.  Five people who were served that coleslaw got sick.  In checking the others, they either nibbled a little or avoided it.  Not everybody likes coleslaw.  The charity’s people were trained to spot such an error by the supplier and throw out the food, but they took the risk that the food had not gone bad.  They are in retraining this week.  As for the delivery guy, Salvatore, never touched the food, only the Styrofoam containers that were wrapped in plastic wrap.  He is a member of the charity’s board with a clean record, not even a parking ticket.  He fills in when a delivery person is sick.  It is protocol to strike up a conversation, but since he never gets a chance to establish a relationship, he keeps it short.  No sinister reason for the rush.”

“You got a last name, Yeggs?”

“I was afraid you’d ask, captain.  His name is Salvatore Minella.”

The captain moaned.  “My wife was fed Salmonella by Sal Minella.  Who names their kid Minella?”

I shouldn’t have, but I replied, “I suppose Ma and Pa Minella.”

Captain Hart growled, “Cut the wise!  You know what I meant!”

I replied, “He said his mother could not resist.  When he heard that my name was Deviled Yeggs, he felt better about his name.  When I said my brother was Scrambled Yeggs, he said, ‘Even better!’  I guess misery loves company.”

Then the captain nodded, and his face got considerably softer.  He said, “Deviled.”  He never called me Deviled.  If any name was repeatable in polite company, it was Yeggs.  “It’s going to take me a while to get over this.  I have known for years that she would not get better.  I thought I was prepared, but the kids all scattered to their homes on Friday, taking all the grandchildren with them.  The house is empty for the first time in years.  I can hear the echo of my heartbeat in the hallway.  My only companion is a couple of spiders, and the shadows try to talk, but they are mute.  Deviled, I am undone.  When you and Gisele leave, can you close the door, but turn the light off on your way out?”

Outside the door, Gisele whispered, “I am moving in with him tonight, both Lilith and I.”

I spluttered, “You can’t do that!  People will talk.”

Gisele shrugged, “His wife told me to keep an eye on him.  Nursing her has been his only diversion from work in years.  He has no hobbies, no interests, nothing.  I talked to someone who knows a bit about Psychology, and she said to give him three weeks.  Lilith and I will stay in the kid’s rooms.  After a week, I am to ask if he still needs me, every other day.  After two weeks, the question becomes daily.  That way when we move out after three weeks, he had fair warning.  Maybe I can get him interested in something.”

“But you don’t care what people will say?”

“Deviled, Tracy is a big city, but it is like a small town.  My husband died right after Lilith was born.  I was working in this precinct two years before that.  I will have 20 years right here later on this year.  With my body shape, people were talking about how I could ensnare anyone.  Your wife is unbelievable.  She is beautiful, smart, athletic, and really loving.  I am built like a porn star.  With these curves, everyone thought I would have a different man come by every day.  When I stayed a widow and enjoying being alone, they started the rumors, every kind of rumor you could imagine.  At least now, they will have a juicy detail to add to the gossip.

“Good luck.  Do you think you need any help if he gets amorous?”

Gisele laughed, “When Glyce took her martial arts training, I was her sparring partner.  Did she ever admit who gave her that black eye?  And besides, the captain loved his wife, and it is going to take a long time before he starts looking again.”

Credits

First, my father passed away three weeks after my brother, almost to the hour over ten years ago.  When I went to my brother’s funeral, my Dad was on oxygen.  He had been rather spry only a month before when I was passing by on my way to a contract teaching job at a nearby steel mill.  When I asked why he was on oxygen, the truth came out.  He had congestive heart failure for a long time, but he could function with no problem.  He simply got tired easily.  I knew that he had the habit of daily driving his 40-year-old pickup truck to the mailbox to get the mail and the newspaper.  He would be too winded if he walked the 50 yards along level ground.  But two weeks before my brother’s death, my father had gone to the family’s favorite restaurant.  Only he and my brother-in-law had the coleslaw.  They both had food poisoning as a result.  My brother-in-law, who was near 70 years old at the time, quickly recovered, but my Dad required oxygen and hardly ever walked at all after that illness.  I helped get him ready for my brother’s funeral, and my brother-in-law and I manhandled my Dad in the wheelchair and the oxygen bottles for him to be at the service.  Three weeks later, I returned to Mississippi for his funeral.

As for the coleslaw, coleslaw has a very short shelf life, especially if not stored properly and it shows little signs of contamination until it is really badly spoiled.

I know people who have run charity meal programs and they are meticulous when it comes to food safety.  As a result, I did not name a charity, even for a fictional story.

The flushing of the medications was done after my mother-in-law passed away and is a common practice when the death is by natural causes.

I have heard of two people, known one, whose name was close to Sal Minella.

English naturalist and botanist John Ray is credited with two well-known quotes.  “Misery loves company.”  And “Blood is thicker than water.”

During the COVID lockdown, my wife was trapped in Tennessee, babysitting grandchildren, who were locked down along with our son and his wife.  Alone, I heard noised that I had never heard before in the house.  At first, I was spooked, and then they kept me company.  With my wife so ill, I constantly ask if I am prepared for her to go to be with Jesus.  I do not think that I will be undone, as the captain said, but I do not think any of us can be prepared for those hypothetical things that we know will happen, unless we go first.

8 Comments

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  1. atimetoshare.me May 2, 2022 — 11:06 am

    I love the name Salvatore Minella. Made me LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. atimetoshare.me May 2, 2022 — 11:07 am

    You might consider, “Rotten Yeggs,” for a future character.

    Liked by 1 person

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