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Never Trust a Caesar Salad
“What? He’s dead? But how…?” This was the beginning of a harrowing phone call that my dad got. I was at the bottom of the stairs eavesdropping on the call. He couldn’t be dead! I thought anxiously. He’d had a normal stomachache! Hadn’t he? My dad’s eyes were watery as he hung up the phone. It was then that I knew. I was wrong; it hadn’t been just a stomachache. Maybe it was a joke. Maybe nothing had happened. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I ran for the door.
“Chuckie!” Dad called.
But his voice was lost to the wind and I couldn’t hear him. I turned the corner onto Main Street, passing the stores and Mr. Bloom, the restaurant owner. He called out to me, but I didn’t answer. I reached the house a minute later. The door was open slightly, but when I looked there was no one inside. I walked all over the house, calling for him and looking around. I stopped in front of the stairs, tears streaming down my face. He’s gone, I thought. He’s really gone.
My name is Chuckie Rader. I’m not a normal kid in a normal town, like you might think. I live in a town called Gapierre City, which isn’t on any map you’d ever find. It has a population of 347, and everyone knows everyone. Unfortunately, there’s no way to make any money because there aren’t many places to work. So to get something besides my allowance I work as a reporter for TIME for Kids magazine. I’m the guy who solves people’s problems, and I sometimes make riddles for the games section of the magazine.
When I write for the problems column, I always wear my lucky denim jacket with the green pocket. I get my best inspiration while wearing denim and that jacket has never failed me. My outfits from day to day always include denim. You never know when you’ll need some inspiration!
I get teased a lot at school for wearing the same thing every day. People think I do it because I’m shy. What they don’t know is that jeans are the cheapest thing to buy. I have 8 pairs of jeans in my closet and my denim jacket and that’s good enough for me. It’s great for my budget, and my dad was just glad that he didn’t have to pay for it. We’re running short on money since my dad, Barry, lost his job. He kept forgetting to take his medication, and so got extremely tired and cranky all the time. Fortunately we’ve been getting $100 a week from my rich uncle, Jerry. He works for a computer firm as the president of the company and he makes tons of money, unlike my other uncle.
My uncle Larry is big on gambling and buying things he never intends to pay for. He’s bought a Lotus, a Lamborghini, and a Ferrari and he hasn’t given their dealers a single cent. He’s trying to trick Uncle Jerry into giving him his Aston Martin even though he can’t pay for it (It’s not working). He’s an okay guy, but he has problems. It was these problems that made him a suspect in the murder. “What murder?” is what you’re probably asking. It was the murder of Uncle Jerry.
On the day before Uncle Jerry died, he was taking me out to my favorite restaurant, McDonald’s. We were in Colorado Springs because Gapierre City doesn’t have a McDonald’s. I’d ordered a cheeseburger, and he’d ordered a Caesar Salad with ranch and croutons. Salads were unusual for him, and I was curious.
“For my diet,” he explained to me when I asked about his choice of lunch.
Uncle Jerry was what you could call “overweight” and was trying to go on a diet. What he really wanted was a large fry, but he would never admit it.
About an hour after we left, Jerry complained that he had a stomachache. He came to our house for the night, and left the next morning. That was Wednesday. On Thursday, Jerry died while in the bathtub. A plausible cause had been that he’d drowned, but further investigation was needed to actually determine the cause. My dad got that awful call an hour after Jerry’s death. That was what sparked me to see for myself. The house I ran to was Jerry’s house, and everyone had been at the coroner’s trying to find out what had happened.
Jerry had talked to my dad about the stomachache, and I’d listened in unnoticed on that conversation. I realized after the phone call that Jerry hadn’t had a normal stomachache. It had to do with his death. I needed to figure out what had killed him, and I needed to discover the killer. I added the stomachache to my list of clues in my notebook, and started looking for more.
Uncle Jerry’s funeral had been arranged for the second Tuesday of next month. No one knew what he’d died from, and wanted to give the professionals a chance to figure it out. No one knew how long the research would take, and they also needed time to make flower arrangements and other things like that.
My dad was considered a suspect in the murder, and was asked to come in for investigation. While he was gone, though, he missed a lot.
The coroner’s letter to Jerry’s relatives came that day. Jerry had apparently died from being poisoned. There was no hole that showed a physical murder, and his stomach acidity was higher than normal, which happens when poison is the cause of death. I read the letter 14 times, trying to memorize it and succeeding. This would be an important clue as to Uncle Jerry’s demise.
If poison was the cause, then there would have to be some on the Caesar salad. It was then that I remembered something that Jerry had said when the salad had been put on the tray. He’d been looking at the ranch dressing.
“The ranch looks kind of pink! How odd… There must be raspberry vinaigrette on my salad as well as the ranch dressing.”
I looked up the ingredients in a McDonald’s Caesar Salad. There hadn’t been any vinaigrette! He had also said that he hadn’t tasted any dressing besides ranch, and poison doesn’t have to have a taste. The pink must have been poison! He hadn’t eaten all of the salad, and the police had dug it out of the trash on the day of Jerry’s death to use as evidence. I needed to get that salad! But how would I do it? The police probably wouldn’t let a 14 year old like me touch the evidence… Unless I didn’t look like a fourteen year old!
I needed a good disguise, one good enough to fool the professionals. I could be dressed like Sherlock Holmes, or the Hardy boys! I could find a costume like that online, probably on eBay! Then common sense kicked in.
The police would be expecting that. I’m pretty sure they all know what the Hardy boys look like, and I’m absolutely sure that they’d know Sherlock Holmes. I needed to watch some mystery shows and get ideas. YouTube is a great place to watch TV, so I logged on to the site and typed “mystery” in the search box.
Right away, I got 145,000 results. I skipped through them, and found a Scooby Doo show about “tricking the police”. This was it! About three minutes into the video, the gang got into their disguises. They dressed up as police officers!
What I had to do was make it look like I belonged in the sheriff’s office. I would make it seem like I was a deputy from Colorado Springs, come to investigate the salad. It made sense, because the salad was from a Colorado Springs McDonalds. Then I could look at it, take samples, and leave with my own evidence. It was the perfect plan!
I am sorry to hear about your uncle’s death. I wish you only the best of luck in finding the culprit, and hope to help you in the search. I am an accomplished investigator for the Silverton Police Department. I suggest looking for fingerprints on the Caesar Salad. The McDonald’s employee who created the salad is the most plausible suspect. Hope you find your murderer.
-Chief Sam Puteré
I got this e-mail from the Silverton police chief. Apparently all of Colorado knows about Jerry. But Sam Puteré had a point. Fingerprints were probably on the salad, which was a good place to start. I had to find a costume, and I had to get it fast. The best place to go would be eBay, and then if nothing was good enough to trick the police I would check the clothing store on 59th Avenue and Main Street.
I logged on to ebay.com and looked up police wear. On the third page I found an actual Colorado Springs police uniform, and in my size! I placed a bid for $24.09 and waited. There were four minutes left, and 11 bidders. When four minutes was up, I had won! Now I needed a badge and a good story.
The next day, I walked to the clothing store to find a police badge. I looked on the sale tables, and then on clothes on the racks. I found police uniforms for little kids, but the badges were plastic. There was no way I would get by with a plastic badge! If I took a risk like that I would surely be found out. And then I spotted a tall, thin figure with greasy black hair and a leather jacket.
It was Uncle Larry! He’d help me! I walked up to him. He heard my shoes on the hard linoleum and turned around.
“Oh. Hello, Chuckie. How are you, son?”
“I’m good, Uncle Larry. I presume you’re here for Uncle Jerry’s funeral?” I asked cautiously. Larry could be here for any reason.
“Oh, um, yes. That is exactly why I’m in Gapierre. For Jerry’s funeral.”
He sounded like he was lying, or was surprised he was being asked that question. But thinking back on his past, it was probably a lie. I was about to ask him for the truth when armed police officers burst through the door of the store.
“Freeze!” they shouted in unison.
“That was probably practiced,” Larry mumbled.
“Put your hands where I can see them, Larry Rader!” yelled the Chief.
What did you do this time, Uncle Larry? I thought. I looked from his frightened face to the police, and then realized he was probably a suspect in the murder. Of course! Larry was in Gapierre because the police had called him here. He probably hadn’t done anything, but he was a suspect and I had to keep an eye on him.
Larry was handcuffed and hauled into a police car. I watched as the cars turned down Main Street and listened as their wailing sirens faded a small amount. That was when I remembered my mission. I scanned the clothing store again before deciding that I had to stop. Not give up, but stop. There was no suitable badge here.
My disguise came the next day. It was a very nice suit and looked as if it had never been worn. I tried it on, and with a fake moustache I would fit right in! My plan would definitely work, and I couldn’t wait to put it into action. As I pulled the jacket off, something fell out of the breast pocket. It was a police badge! I turned it over, and on the back it said REPLICA | MADE IN CANADA. The police would fall for it. It was too good of a fake.
Now I needed a moustache. I went into my dad’s room and dug through his sock drawer. He’d always wanted a moustache, but couldn’t grow facial hair. I had a feeling that he had a fake moustache. I’d seen pictures of him that were fairly recent where he had facial hair, even with his “condition,” as he called it. It has to be here somewhere! I thought frantically. Yes! It was under the seventeenth pair of Nike jogging socks. It was the exact shade of brown as my hair, and it looked very real.
I had an hour before the police station closed. It would take me five minutes to walk there, and about twenty minutes for evidence collection if I wasn’t caught. I put the uniform back on, practicing my story. I placed the moustache on my lip, and headed out the door. Of course, I’d forgotten what to put my evidence in! I ran back to the kitchen, grabbing plastic baggies and rubber gloves. At the last second, I dove for a pair of tweezers. I had to be careful not to taint the evidence.
As I walked through town, no one recognized me. Mr. Bloom didn’t even say “hi”. Wow, I thought. I’m so lucky I found a good disguise! When the station was in view, I adopted a walk that I thought a police officer would have: proud, but humble. I tried to look like I owned these streets, but respected the people around me. No one glared, so I was pretty sure I was doing a great job!
Jerry’s funeral was in 10 days, and so I had to get my evidence together to meet my personal deadline. I walked into the station, and was surprised to find that the administrative official working behind the front desk said nothing. She looked up for a brief moment and went back to typing on her computer. I kept going, following the signs to the “Investigative Offices.”
I turned the last corner and came upon a heavy-looking wood door. It was unlocked, and no one was inside. I looked around, thankful that there were no cameras. I was safe. The salad was in a clear cylindrical container on a table against the back wall. A file was lying next to it, but I refrained from opening it until I had gathered my evidence.
From what I had learned, McDonald’s employees had touched at least the bowl while they were creating the salad. I had to find a fingerprint to use with my evidence. Examining the bowl under a magnifying glass hanging on the wall, I noticed a fingerprint on its left side. Finally! I dusted the print with some fingerprint powder that I found in the cabinet above me and pressed it onto a piece of paper. I now had a copy of the print for my collection of evidence. I took a sample of the “vinaigrette” on the ranch and put that in a baggie, too. Then I moved on to the manila file folder. There might be more evidence in there.
Inside, I found a Xerox copy of Jerry’s will, and an assortment of his identifications. I looked at his fingerprint on the paper, and then the one on the bowl. Although they were vaguely similar, the print on the bowl wasn’t Jerry’s.
Even though I needed this folder, the police needed it too. I dug around and found another folder, an exact copy of the one I’d opened. I took the one lying on the table, replacing it with the new folder. I tucked the file under my shirt with the rest of the evidence. As I was turning around, the door to the office opened!
I grabbed the magnifying glass and busied my self “looking” at the salad. The person’s shoes clicked on the tile of the office, and then they were next to me. I tried not to look suspicious.
“You must be Chuckie Rader,” a female voice said.
I turned to find a woman standing behind me. I was certain it was going to be a male officer. That was when I noticed her badge. It read “SILVERTON POLICE DEPARTMENT”! This must be Sam Puteré!
“How’d you guess?” I replied. “I thought my disguise was pretty good!”
Sam laughed at that before answering me.
“Your moustache is falling off. And I don’t know why the officers at this department would be searching the salad again!”
Oops. I’m lucky no one else was here before her! I would have gotten caught!
“You’re Sam Puteré, right?” I asked her.
“Yes I am,” she replied cheerfully.
I must have had an odd look on my face. She explained that Sam was short for Samantha, and that Puteré was her French maiden name that she’d taken after she was divorced. I was surprised yet again. Divorced? But she was so nice!
We talked for a time about Jerry and my evidence when she suggested we look at his will. I took the folder out from under my shirt and we read Jerry’s last words. The most intriguing part was that he left 87% of his riches to “his favorite brother, Larry”! This was confusing because Dad had always been nicest to Jerry, in my opinion. Why would he leave so much money to Larry?
Sam said that the best thing to do was investigate the workers at McDonald’s. She and her department would help me with the search for the owner of the thumbprint and I would be allowed to interrogate him. This will be so cool!
The Silverton Police Department found a match to the thumbprint 3 days after my talk with Sam. I interrogated him with Sam’s help and found that he was not our guy. The manager searched his employee locker and found no evidence against him. He was just the guy who made the salad, nothing else.
That left my dad and Larry as the suspects. My list of clues was too short to call accuse. I had 6 days to find the rest of my evidence. But what if my dad was, in fact, guilty? Could I accuse him of murder? I didn’t know the answer, but I might have to.
No, I told myself. Don’t think about that! My dad couldn’t be guilty. I knew him too well to think that he committed the crime. But he was still a suspect.
Sam’s department was going to investigate both Larry and Dad, and then she and I would create evidence folders that showed any information about them. She said that the motive for killing Jerry was probably money, but that didn’t help because both Larry and Dad needed money. Larry had to pay off cars and gambling debts, but my dad had to pay taxes, mortgage, electricity, water, heat, et cetera!
Sam had her information from the suspects, and we started to put together the folders. There were surprising things about my dad and some things about Larry.
“Hey, look at this, Chuckie!” Sam exclaimed.
I peered over her shoulder, trying to see what was so interesting. All I saw was a picture of Larry.
“So? It’s Larry,” I said.
“I know, but look at his clothes,” she said.
I looked closer and saw that he was wearing a McDonald’s uniform. Larry worked at McDonald’s! I’d had no idea! He was so deep in debt that I’d assumed he was unemployed. This was more evidence!
There was a picture of his nametag in the folder as well. He was the manager of a Denver franchise and visited the other Colorado restaurants frequently. The phone number of his employer was listed, but I decided to look around some more before jumping to conclusions.
To help me think, I pulled out my notebook to write my most recent clues.
Jerry had a stomachache
Jerry was poisoned
There was a McDonald’s employee’s fingerprint on the salad bowl
Larry was Jerry’s favorite brother
Jerry left money to both Larry and Dad
Both Larry and Dad need money
Larry works at McDonald’s
I looked through my dad’s folder and found some similarities between him and Larry. Both of them were 48 years old, but my dad was three months younger than Larry. Dad and Larry also had depression issues. Larry took the same medication as my dad to deal with his depression. I told this to Sam.
“What kind of medication?” she asked.
I looked through the sheet again to find the right name.
“It’s an antidepressant called Duloxetine, by Cymbalta.”
We looked at each other, and then raced for the computer. I reached it first and logged on to Google.com, typed in “duloxetine”, and pressed the Enter key. When the results came up I clicked on the second link. Apparently Duloxetine looks pink when you mix it into water, and causes a stomachache when you get an overdose of it. After testing my “vinaigrette” sample, we found that the poison really had been Duloxetine. Jerry was poisoned by a Duloxetine overdose! But that still didn’t clear anything up.
Sam said that we would have to interrogate the suspects again. But then I remembered the phone number. Dad had been watching football with his buddies, so I would call George, our neighbor who was watching the game with him, to see if Dad had left. But now I had to call the Denver McDonald’s and find out where Larry was when the salad was made.
I dialed 303-964-0757 into the phone and waited for someone to pick up. After the fourth ring, a gruff male voice answered my call.
“Hallo?” The man on the other side asked.
“Hi, my name is Chuckie Rader. I’m looking for clues as to the death of Jerry Rader, my uncle. I was wondering if I could speak to the assistant manager.”
“Ah, so you’re that Rader kid. Sorry to hear ‘bout Jerry’s death.”
I was right. All of Colorado knew about Jerry.
“I appreciate your concern. But I really have to talk to the—“
“You’re talkin’ to him,” the man interrupted.
“You’re the assistant manager?” I asked.
“Yep. So what do you wanna know?”
After my talk with the assistant manager of the Denver McDonald’s, I had found out that Larry had left to check on the other restaurants at 10:30 am. The Caesar salad had been pre-made 15 minutes before it was given to Jerry at 12:16. That means that Larry would have had plenty of time to put the poison in Jerry’s salad!
But before I accused anyone, I had to call George. He said that Dad hadn’t left at all. I remembered that when Jerry and I had come home, Dad and the guys were still watching football. If Dad hadn’t left, Larry was the culprit! I had to tell Sam! Running out the door of the office, I found Sam in the Investigative office.
“Whoa, Chuckie! Are you okay?” she asked.
I started talking too fast for her to understand me, and I had to start over three times. When I finally got the story out, we knew we’d found our culprit. We went to the El Paso County jail to get Larry. While we were there, I called my dad and told him what happened too. Larry was put into an interrogation room and Sam started talking to him. Pretty soon, he confessed.
Sam motioned for me to come in. Larry glared at me as I came over to Sam.
“So you poisoned Uncle Jerry. Your own brother,” I said to him.
“Of course I did. He always was the rich one. I had to have that money!”
He’d created the poison the night before we went to Colorado Springs. He had known we’d be there.
“Barry had told me to go with you,” Larry said. “And I did.”
The workers at the McDonald’s had known Larry and allowed him to put a “special dressing” on the salad for his brother. The employees had unknowingly murdered their customer! Just then an officer from Denver strode into the room.
“My department and I went through Larry Rader’s employee locker. We found the poison bottle,” he said.
Larry was sentenced to life in prison. All of the money went to my dad and me. We moved into a nice house in Silverton, and Dad is the happiest man on earth. I am now a junior detective for the Silverton Police, and Sam helps me with each case. We all went to Jerry’s funeral, and it was broadcast over a public TV station so that the people of Colorado could be there too. His funeral was perfect, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the life he lived.
I’ll miss Jerry, but he’d want me to be happy. And I am happy.