Monday, January 23, 2012

Beach Tale: The Case of the Cruller Shop Arsonist

          The aroma of fresh-from-the-deep-fryer donuts floated through the doorway.  In response, my mouth sent out enough saliva to rival Niagara Falls.  I vowed to get even with the diabolical police chief who had assigned me the case of the four torched Cappy’s Crullers donut shops along the boardwalk.  I’d been on the Atkins Diet for 23 days in preparation for my Valentine ’s Day wedding, and this stakeout was above and beyond the call of duty.  But it seemed a logical conclusion that the only CC storefront still standing in a 100-mile radius would be the next to go up in flames.  Somebody needed to keep an eye on things, and I was the only one available.  Sometimes I just get lucky that way.  Sigh.
          I know it’s a cliché that cops never met a donut they didn’t eat, but the truth is we frequent the establishments on account of the availability of fresh coffee 24 hours a day.  But we’re only human.  So after ordering my caffeine fix, I tacked on a casual request for one maple-glazed cruller and then settled in a back booth to watch and wait. 
          Thirteen-and-a-half crullers later, my patience was rewarded.
          “You the detective handling the fires?”
          I studied the woman who’d spoken.  She stood five feet tall, in three-inch heels.  Her purple head-to-toe ensemble (complete with hair and shoes dyed to match) and accessorized with more strands of Mardi Gras beads than I cared to count, gave her a presence which belied her stature.  If she was an arsonist, then I was Elle McPherson. 
          “I might be,” I responded.
          Without invitation, the woman in purple slipped into the seat across from me and signaled to the waitress for a mug of coffee.  “Do you know the carb count on one of those?”  She tipped her head in the direction of my half-eaten cruller.
          “No.”  And I didn’t want to. Carbs were the enemy to Atkins dieters.
          “Twenty-six grams.  And fourteen grams of fat.  They do more damage to your body than a pack of cigarettes.”
          Yikes.  I’d consumed three week’s worth of carbs in one sitting.  I dared not contemplate the fat exchanges for fear of my head exploding.
          “Here’s the thing,” the woman said.  “My husband is a Cappy’s Crullers addict.  He was diagnosed with diabetes a few months ago after suffering a mild heart attack.  High blood pressure and off-the-charts cholesterol complicate things.  He needs to lose weight or he’ll die.  But he can’t kick the Cappy’s habit.”
          Wondering where this was going, I nodded for her to continue.
          Her story was one of true love, filled with a half-century of romance, devotion, friendship, humor and loyalty.  On more than one occasion I found myself reaching for the napkin dispenser.  I had to snag additional supplies form the next table when she got to the part about recently burying their only daughter, her husband, four children and two loyal golden retrievers who’d all perished when a semi-truck crossed the center line.  Through tears, she explained that losing her husband too was more than she could bear.  “So I had to find a way for the Cappy’s Crullers habit to kick him,” she said.
          “You set all the fires?” I asked.
          “I had to.  Don’t you see?”
          I did.  All too clearly.  “You have the right to remain silent…”
          She held up her hand to stop me.  “Going to jail would defeat the purpose of me confessing to you.  My place is by my husband’s side, not separated by steel bars.  Yes, I set the fires, but I made sure nobody was hurt and property damage was limited.  I just needed them closed long enough to get Joe through his cold-turkey withdrawal.  Here.”  She slid a cashier’s check across the table to me.  “This should cover the damages.  Tell ‘em a donut lover wanted them to reopen quickly.”
           I glanced at the amount.  It would more than cover the costs of repairs—and remodels--along with the lost income and employee wages.
          “That maybe you can stamp the case unsolved.”  The woman in purple slid another check in my direction.  I stared at the amount—more than double my year’s salary as a sleepy beach borough detective.  Enough for a down payment on cottage by the sea.  I’d seen the For Sale sign at the perfect place yesterday…
          But I couldn’t.  That wouldn’t be ethical.  The woman had committed arson, a felony, and it was my job to make sure she was locked up and prevented from doing more harm to society.  I pushed the checks back across the table, but when I looked up, the woman was gone.
          I folded the checks in half and tucked them in my back pocket.  After ordering a dozen Cappy’s Crullers to go, I meandered back to my car and drove home, where I Googled the address of Cappy’s home office,  then dropped both cashier’s checks in the mail.   
          Top story the next morning showed the ashes of the last remaining Cappy’s Crullers store on
Ocean Drive
.  No one was injured, and the store would be closed for six months, minimum.
          I figured if anyone ever tried to tie me to the lack of arrest, I could plead the Temporary Insanity Due to Too Many Cappy’s Crullers defense.  If the judge had ever been on the Atkins Diet, the odds of acquittal tilted heavily in my favor.       

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