Castles, Kidnappings, and Really Bad Gourmet Food: Part Two
I stood up, nearly knocking my chair to the floor. The first place I looked was towards a set of three ornately carved wooden doors I had seen on my way in.
Picking my way between tables, I managed to make it to the doors, which I knew instinctively would be bathrooms. I pressed against the edge of the one on the far left, pushing it open slightly. A wave of steam rushed out at me, along with a thousand aromas that left my stomach growling and my knees wobbly. Okay, so that was the kitchen. That’d be the next place to investigate. I grinned and rubbed my stomach.
I pushed open the next door, even more wary. I knew it was 50-50 that it’d be the ladies’ room. Poking my head inside, I was relieved to see that it wasn’t. The men’s room was shining and sparkly, with actual towels hanging from towel racks, rather than a paper towel dispenser. I touched a soft, dark blue towel, and wished I had a blanket made with this material. This certainly beat the bathrooms at places like Pizzaroo!
I only took a quick peek in the ladies’ bathroom, calling my mom’s name and peeking beneath the stalls to see shoes. I saw a pair of pink pumps, but Mom had been wearing high tops. And this bathroom made the guys’ look like a hovel. There were soft, plush white couches; little glass bowls full of rose petals; tiny candles on shelves that glowed brightly from their little holders. The roses and the candles, okay, ambience maybe. But I’ve never understood the couches. Are they there in case the girls take one look in the mirror and faint from loveliness or something?
Luckily, no one saw me peeking in the girls’ room. I could only imagine being thrown out of the restaurant for that.
But the point was, my mom had vanished, and she wasn’t in the logical place. So where was she?
I saw a waiter making his rounds, so I stealthily slipped back to my table and took a look at the menu. My jaw dropped in disbelief. Holy kau, these prices were insane! It made Kelp look positively dirt-cheap in comparison. However, Mom was paying. Assuming I could find her, that is.
The waiter took my order for the wild mushroom broth and bowed out. I looked around anxiously, hoping Mom would pop out from beneath a table and say, “Surprise! I was hiding! And you really stink at this game.” Then we would laugh and spend scads of money on food that was only marginally better than the stuff we made at home.
However, even after my soup came and I had finished it, not even noting the taste, I was getting too worried to think of anything else. I headed for the three doors again. The kitchen was first.
The room was filled with steam, but not so much that I couldn’t see the movements of about eight different people. Pots crashed against each other, the whoosh of an open flame punctuated the clatter, and shouts kept ringing out. “More dill in that sauce!” “Chop that celery thinner! We don’t want them chewing their soup!” “Has anyone seen the platter for table four?” “Keep stirring the fettuccine!”
“Um... excuse me?” The person closest to me, a Peophin clad in an apron and white cap, glared at me. “You shouldn’t be here. We’re trying to work and we can’t have any outsiders. Who knows what you’ve touched already?”
“I haven’t touched anything,” I stammered. “Really, I’m only here ‘cause I’m looking for someone. Have you seen a tall girl, wearing a long blue dress and high top sneakers? She’s kinda hard to miss.”
“No, I haven’t, and I don’t care! Out, now!” The Peophin wound up a white towel into a sort of braid and snapped it in my direction. The tip caught my backside with a loud crack and a stinging sensation swept through my... um, rump.
“Ouch! Okay, I’m going already! Sheesh,” I muttered, rubbing the sore spot as I escaped the kitchen. Who knew chefs were so grouchy?
As the door closed behind me, the shadows to the right caught my eye. Was that another room? I stepped closer.
But it was so dark I couldn’t see anything. I pulled my flashlight out of my jacket pocket and flicked it on. Dust motes danced in the air as the beam of light illuminated a small alcove, with candle sconces that didn’t have anything in them. To avoid detection, maybe? If I hadn’t been leaving the kitchen, I wouldn’t have seen the opening. And no one except the staff was supposed to be there anyways...
I tentatively entered the alcove. Shining my flashlight into all the nooks and crannies, I could see that it was maybe five feet by five feet, and roughly circular in shape. And the stone... it was different than the stone everywhere else in the restaurant. The dining room’s stone was a light grey, and the stones were somewhat rectangular. However, here in the alcove, the stones were all different shapes and sizes, and the color was sort of pinkish-greyish-brown. It looked... older, somehow. More real, and far less creepy, too. But despite all that, it was empty.
Well, although I was no longer afraid of the shadowy niche in the wall, I still wasn’t any closer to finding Mom.
Which meant I would have to search for clues. Which meant scouring every square inch of a giant, creepy castle.
* * * *
I started with the front door. Examining the glass, I could see two handprints where someone had pushed against it, not bothering to use the bar six inches lower. Evidently, that someone had been in a hurry.
However, only someone who was completely uncultured would touch the glass when there was another, more obvious means of getting into the dining room.
Taking a close look at the other panes of glass (I believe I mentioned it was a revolving door – aren’t those fun?), I could see no other prints. But there were numerous fingerprints all over the bars that you were supposed to push.
So more or less, the handprints had to be Mom’s. No one else would have made those. Hoping no one would contaminate the prints while I was gone, I darted to the kitchen. No one noticed me, because funnily enough, the kitchen was empty.
In a restaurant? The kitchen is never empty. I opened a few cupboards and located a container of flour. I stuck some in a little jar that was just sitting on the counter and took it with me. Looking around, I realized that, unlike our kitchen, there wouldn’t be a drawer with all kinds of things in it, such as pens, pencils, scraps of paper, tape, fridge magnets, playing cards, and such. This kitchen was business only, which meant I had to find an office.
A door was only a couple of feet away, at the back of the kitchen. Opening it, I hit pay dirt. An office! I rummaged through all the drawers and found a roll of clear tape.
I practically galloped back to the front doors. None of the other diners noticed me – too busy being sophisticated, I presumed.
I took a small bit of flour and threw it at the handprints. Most of it stuck to the door, but a whole bunch just fell and landed on the plush carpet. I blew softly on the door-flour, and the excess wafted off to reveal two dusty handprints. I didn’t care about the palms; I just put some tape over each print and placed them on the back of a menu. Luckily, the back was a dark grey-black, so the prints showed against it easily enough.
I grabbed my supplies and kept moving. If I was Mom, where would I have gone next?
Well, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Back to the girls’ room. I walked in this time, and took a good look around. Something didn’t seem quite right here, aside from all the pink and the candles and rose petals and such.
Okay. Think, man, think. Whenever I was stuck waiting while Mom was in the bathroom at home, I usually rushed in the moment she got out. Then I would do my business, wash my hands, pick up the towel off the floor, dry my hands and put it back on the rack.
My eyes widened as another piece of the puzzle fell into place. The towel was lying in a crumpled heap underneath the silver towel bar. Again, something sophisticated women wouldn’t do. This proved that Mom had been here.
But why hadn’t she made it back to the table? And wouldn’t I have seen her as she came out?
Ooh. Wait, maybe not. I had been looking at my menu, and I had been completely preoccupied by the maitre’d!
But I was still getting ahead of myself. I had to have actual proof, not just a habit that had shown itself.
The taps for the sink were round affairs, and silver, too. Made my job a bit easier. I spread some flour, and sure enough, some fingerprints showed up. When I taped them and compared them to the ones on the menu, I knew I had a match.
I grinned in satisfaction, but it was immediately followed by a grimace of distaste. I had seen a lady’s pumps in here a little while ago, and since her prints weren’t on the taps, I could only assume she hadn’t washed her hands. Ewwwww.
I rubbed a hoof against my sweaty forehead and kept going. I left the bathroom and looked around. Where would I have gone after the bathroom, if not back to the table?
Really, there were only these three doors and the tiny little room outside the kitchen. She wouldn’t have gone in the men’s room, and the kitchen was unlikely. I would have seen her, menu or no menu, after she entered the dining room. I mean, it wasn’t a massive room or anything, and like I told the chef, Mom was really hard to miss.
Which meant she hadn’t gotten into the dining room at all, but had been waylaid here.
But by whom? And why?
To be continued...