Detective Tony Mallette carefully placed the piece of cake in a small brown paper bag. “This goes to the lab to see if there was anything else besides walnuts in the cake.” A good portion of the cake still remained in the box on the table.
“A birthday party gone bad,” Cory Philips, his assistant, said. “Modesta Martin, the star of the “I Love Lucy” show, poisoned.”
“Not exactly poisoned. She went into an anaphylactic shock after eating the cake.” Modesta had fallen off the chair and was lying on the floor, cake crumbs around her. “We need to find out who knew she was allergic to walnuts.”
Mallette scrutinized the paper plates and cups on the long table in the room off to the back of theater where the cast and crew had collected to have cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to her. Mallette and Philips then continued their investigation of the City Center Theater where the performance was to have taken place.
“Has the notice of the cancellation of tonight’s performance been posted outside?” Mallette asked the police officer who stood guard near the front entrance to the theater.”
“Yes. No one’s allowed to leave, so you can start questioning them.”
The detective talked to the husband first. “Mr. Martin, do you know if your wife had any enemies?”
“Of course, she had. She was beautiful and talented. Even her friends were jealous of her.” His hair was dishevelled and his eyes were red, but he spoke in a calm voice.
“We assume you were at the birthday party when it happened.”
“Yes. She went into a convulsion. She has medication that helps prevent going into shock but it was at home.” He shook his head. “Don’t understand it. I ordered the cake and told them no walnuts.”
“Where did you order it from?” Mallette said, pen poised over a small notepad.
“Shaker’s Bakery downtown, not far from here.”
“Did you pick it up, too?”
“No. Lily Bonini picked it up. She’s the one who plays ‘Viv’.”
“What did your wife do before the birthday party?”
“She was in her dressing room talking on the phone. We had over an hour before the show was to start.”
“Did she eat anything else that might have had walnuts?”
“Nothing. She watched her diet. After the birthday party she was planning on staying in her room. She liked to do that to get into the character she’s playing.”
“Were you at the theater all day?”
“No. I have an art gallery downtown. I was there.”
Mallette went off to look at the dressing rooms. The biggest one was Modesta’s and was brightly lit by bulbs framing a large mirror by a dressing table lined with jars of face cream and make-up. Hair brushes and tubes of opened lipstick lay scattered as if Modesta had been trying on different shades.
They went in search of the producer of the show. Mick Wentworth was in his room. “Any leads yet?” he asked.
“Modesta was a trooper, if a little temperamental. She had great talent. I had signed her on for two more productions.”
“Did you go on the road a lot?”
“What about Mr. Martin. Did he come along?”
“When he could.”
“What will you do now?” Philips asked.
“Modesta’s understudy, Teresa Gurdin, will take over. We’ll go on with the show as soon as we decently can,” he said. “If there’s nothing more, I have some things to do.” He waited a second and then strode off toward the lighting controls.
Mallette found Peter Landers, the actor who played ‘Fred’, and Lily helping a stage hand with props. “How was Modesta to work with?”
“Difficult,” Peter said. “She said I was too old to be in the show, and wanted a replacement.”
“Mr.Wentworth thinks highly of her,” Mallette said.
“Sure. She had a crush on him. Only a matter of time before she dumped poor Ted.”
“Did you know she was allergic to walnuts?”
Peter looked surprised. “No.”
Lily said she picked up the cake two hours before the party and set it on the table since she had errands to do. “And yes, I knew she was allergic to walnuts.”
They found Teresa in her dressing room near the area where the table had been set up. She also knew Modesta was allergic to walnuts.
“What did you do all day?”
“I stayed in, read my lines.”
“Was Modesta in her room?
“Yes. I heard her talking on the phone.”
The detectives finally talked to Marv Dix, the actor who played “Ricky.” He’d missed the party as he had an out-of-town engagement, and had to have permission to be let back into the theater.
The detectives scouted the outside to determine the access to the theater. Out back they found a dumpster and a homeless man holding what looked like a cakebox. He shuffled toward them and said, “Who’d throw away a whole cake? I ain’t complainin’ though. Want some?”
“Mind if we take a look?”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
The cake was an exact replica of the one at the party, except it had no walnuts. When Mallette called Shaker’s Bakery, they told him that someone called Amy had ordered and picked up a cake with walnuts.
Mallette asked for a description of the person. His mouth set in a thin line at what he heard. “There’s only one person who fits that description.”
“Teresa,” Philips said. “She ordered a cake with walnuts, picked it up much earlier and hid it in her room, waiting for a chance to substitute it. Then when Modesta was on the phone, Teresa replaced the one without walnuts with the one she’d picked up from Shaker’s. She then threw the cake that Ted had ordered in the dumpster.”
“That’s when we discovered the tramp.”
“Motive?” Philips mused. “Teresa was tired of being the understudy, and it didn’t look as if she’d get anywhere as long as Modesta was still around.”