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  • Rhyan Aneev

The Mystery of the Recipe Book (A sequel to the story "In a Stew.")

Jack Lennon, the sous chef at the aptly named French Restaurant, the most distinguished restaurant serving French cuisine in the country, was in a market, looking for fresh produce when he ran into his old friend, Freddie Paul. They had been to the same university, the Cook Institute of Cooking, and they had been fast friends. They decided to take a walk together and talk about the latest developments in life.

“I don’t think you’ve heard, old fellow, but I’m getting married. We tie the knot next month.” said Lennon, smiling as brightly as the midday sun in summer.

“Congratulations.” Freddie said, with an expression that would not have been out of place in a funeral.

“Thanks.” Lennon was puzzled. The Freddie he had known would have been dancing around with glee on the news. What was wrong with him?

It did not take much probing to find out; Freddie was bursting to confide his tale of woe in someone. His uncle Neal Mark, the wealthy but parsimonious owner of a restaurant that was a rival to the French Restaurant, had kicked him out of his house and demanded that he get a job. All the restaurants he had applied to had rejected him, saying that he was too unorthodox. He was worried that he would have to live on the street.

“Why, join the French Restaurant, then,” said Lennon. “Mr Elton will take you if I vouch for you, and the pay is good.”

Freddie shook his head. “Jack, I know he’s going to be your father-in-law, but my uncle and he hate each other. He’s never going to agree to it.”

“That’s only if he knows who you’re related to…” Lennon said craftily.

Freddie was stunned by the simplicity of the solution. “Jack, you’re a lifesaver!”

The conversation went to other topics, with Freddie participating with a marked amount of enthusiasm. Lennon’s plan had been a balm to his soul, and he fully intended to implement it.

***

A week later, Mr John Elton was in his favourite armchair with a cup of coffee and a well-thumbed cookbook which he turned to for inspiration occasionally. Mr Elton was an excellent chef and affable if a rather scatterbrained old man. His wife, however, was a dominating woman with eyes of fire and a razor-sharp tongue, who ruled his household with an iron fist. Small wonder, when she bustled into the room, that he flinched and started wondering what he had done wrong. However, on this occasion, she was smiling.

“Well, John, I am glad to know that you are finally showing some sense.”

“Eh?”

“When you hired that boy, Frederick Paul, I was surprised – and pleased by your sense of judgment.”

“Who...” enquired Mr Elton amiably, “is Frederick Paul?”

The smile disappeared. “John, you have to stop being so absentminded. You know perfectly well that Frederick Paul is the new chef you hired.”

Mr Elton finally caught on. “Ah, yes, you mean Frederick Paul. Quite, quite, quite.” He took a sip of his coffee.

“As I was saying, I was pleased that you hired him. It will help mend the bad blood festering between you and Mr Neal Mark, him being Mr Mark’s nephew and – oh, John!”

Mr Elton had choked on his coffee, spilling it over his shirt. “What!” he cried in shock.

“John, stop being so messy!”

“That boy is Neal Mark’s nephew!”

“What of it?”

The two had very different opinions on Neal Mark. Mr Elton saw him as his arch-nemesis, and his feelings for him were considerably less friendly than those of Antonio towards Shylock. Mrs Elton, on the other hand, had been close to him in her youth, and still viewed him as a friend, making several unsuccessful attempts to eradicate the enmity between the two.

Mr Elton stood up, a sudden, horrifying thought occurring to him. He had a list of recipes of his own creation, which were the reason for the success of his restaurant. Mark had made several attempts to buy that recipe book from him. What if, being unable to buy it, he had planted his nephew there to steal it for him? He had not even kept it away securely; it was in a drawer in his office desk. He rushed to check, praying it was still there – and God help Frederick Paul if it wasn’t.

***

An hour later, Freddie Paul was summoned to Mr Elton’s office. Mr Elton was not of an impressive appearance: he was a balding, slightly potbellied old man with a thick moustache. But something gave him an aura of menace. “Mr Paul,” he said. “Your sins have found you out. Confess to them.”

“I’m not sure what you mean, Mr Elton.”

“Oh? So you will deny that you are the nephew of Neal Mark?”

Freddie positively reeled. The shock was a severe one. “I can explain –” he stammered.

Mr Elton exploded. “Oh, you can, can you? Explain this!” He ripped open a drawer on his desk, the drawer that contained the restaurant’s very own holy book, the notebook of Mr Elton’s recipes. It was empty.

“Gone! Vanished! Don’t bother denying it, you stole it! That looter Mark sent you. He couldn’t buy it from me, so he had you steal it! Where is it?! Tell me! Where is it?!”

The door to the office opened, and in came Cynthia, Mr Elton’s daughter and Lennon’s fiancée. “Daddy, what’s going on here?”

Mr Elton pointed a trembling finger at Freddie. “He’s an imposter and a thief!”

“Who, Freddie? Nonsense, Daddy. He’s Jack’s friend. By the way, here’s that recipe book of yours. I borrowed it a while back, but you can have it now.”

***

“So what happened, finally?” Lennon asked when the two met again.

“Mr Elton apologized a lot. Well, I don’t like being accused of theft but on the plus side, he gave me a pay raise to compensate.”

“What’s that thing Shakespeare used to say?”

“Why on earth would you expect me to know?”

Never mind, I’ve got it – all’s well that ends well. Well, all’s well that ends well, eh?”

The ever so famous recipe book

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