Killer Chef


By James Patterson

With Jeffrey J. Keyes

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A detective working part time in a New Orleans food truck investigates a string of murders across the city.

Someone is poisoning diners in New Orleans’ best restaurants. Now it’s up to chef and homicide cop Caleb Rooney to catch a killer–who has an appetite for revenge.


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Chapter 1

It’s a whisper past 10:00 p.m. in New Orleans’ famous French Quarter, but it might as well be the middle of the day. The narrow streets are bustling with tipsy tourists and locals alike. Cars share their lanes with horse-drawn carriages. From every bar and club waft the sounds of clinking glasses and tinkling jazz, filling the hot night air.

A stone’s throw from the banks of the Mississippi, near leafy Jackson Square, sits a food truck emblazoned with a skull and crossbones. More accurately, a shrimp and crossbones. Killer Chef, as it’s called, is one of the most popular chuck wagons in the entire city, and for very good reason. Its po’ boys are to die for.

The line for Killer Chef is always around the block, and always a good time. Jugglers and fire-breathers pace up and down, entertaining the hungry masses for tips. Passing musicians often stop and play impromptu concerts, while Gypsy psychics set up tarot card tables on the sidewalk to tell fortunes. (“I see…an incredible meal in your future.”)

Tonight, the line is twice its normal length, thanks to the small army of gaffers, makeup artists, and camera operators standing in it. A film crew is in the neighborhood shooting a new romantic thriller starring one of Hollywood’s biggest celebrity power couples. The crowd is desperate for a glimpse of them walking from the set to their trailer. When they smile and wave, everyone goes nuts.

Everyone, that is, except for another perfect pair: the Killer Chef co-owners, working furiously inside the truck. They stay squarely focused on their food, cranking out their legendary sandwiches with gusto.

Caleb Rooney is six two, slender and sinewy, flashing a megawatt smile. His chiseled good looks rival those of the leading man down the block. Next to him is Marlene DePietra, soft and petite, her frizzy mane of black hair held in place with a hot-pink scrunchie. Her plump cheeks are rosy, but she’s not wearing a stitch of makeup. (She almost never does.) The heat inside the truck is just that intense.

“Order up!” Caleb shouts, sliding three Dark & Stormy sandwiches—a heavenly combo of garlic-ginger aioli drizzled atop Old New Orleans Rum-glazed pork belly—into a paper bag. He pauses for just a second to chomp down on a home-grown jalapeño from the bag in his pocket, then grabs two more loaves of French bread and slices them in half.

Looking over at Marlene, Caleb sees she’s rummaging through her purse. She pulls out a fistful of colorful vitamins and downs them without water.

“Come on, Mar,” Caleb chides her. “We’ve got a line from here to Tulane and you’re taking your pills now?

“Gotta stay healthy,” she replies. She passes the two sandwiches to a waiting customer with one hand, dumping a new batch of shrimp into the deep fryer with the other. “If I croak, no way in hell you could handle this truck on your own.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Caleb says, squirting a glob of horseradish mustard onto some peppered smoked ham. “But if Killer Chef got to cater your funeral? All of our friends and enemies would come. Woo boy, think of all that business!”

Marlene chuckles. That’s just how their relationship is, how it’s always been. Good-natured teasing, full of love—more like siblings than business partners running one of New Orleans’ hottest culinary attractions.

“What’s good here?” asks the next woman in line, a busty middle-aged tourist wearing a bright-yellow Mardi Gras T-shirt and crisp white capris. She reaches up to tap her turquoise acrylic nails on the counter. Even from a few feet away, the scent of booze on her breath is strong.

“Caleb, can you help this fine young lady out?” Marlene says with a wink.

They know the food is fabulous. But they also know that certain customers appreciate a little…“extra attention” from the hunky cook once in a while. That’s part of the truck’s appeal, after all. Caleb leans in close to the woman, stares deep into her eyes, and flexes his biceps so they pop against his tight shirt.

“Ma’am, how’d you like a little…hot beef?

The woman flushes and bats her eyelashes. “I think I’d just love some,” she says, handing over a twenty-dollar bill with a giggle. “Keep the change, Killer Chef.”

Caleb knows how to use his talents to his advantage.

Marlene rolls her eyes, immune to his antics after all their years together.

Caleb starts making the woman’s beef sandwich but suddenly stops and looks up, alert. A flashing blue police light illuminates the night sky, its siren barely audible over all the street noise. Then another police car speeds by. Then a third.

Caleb strains to look and listen, trying to work out where the cruisers are heading. He pulls another jalapeño from his pocket, rubs it between his fingers, then sinks his teeth into it. It’s a familiar ritual of his that Marlene immediately recognizes. And dreads.

“Pass me the chicken,” she says with a bit of an edge. “Yo. Caleb. Wake up.”

Caleb snaps out of his haze and obeys. He tries to refocus on the sandwich in front of him, dressing the juicy slab of beef with Creole spices and tangy mayonnaise, when he feels a vibration in his pocket and hears Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” blare.

He gives Marlene a sour look. “Did you seriously change my ringtone? Again? When did you get your little paws on my phone, woman?”

His partner cackles and shrugs. She’s the big sister he never knew he wanted, but he adores her.

“Duck po’ boy with a side of duck-fat fries,” comes the order from a cocky production assistant who has just elbowed his way up to the truck. The crowd groans and boos at him for cutting the line, but they quiet down when he adds: “This one’s for Angelina, so make it good.”

“Caleb,” Marlene sniffs, dropping some fresh fries into the sizzling fryer, “do you want to explain to this clueless young man that we make all of ’em good? Or should I?”

But she sees her partner isn’t paying attention. His iPhone is wedged between his shoulder and his ear. He’s wiping his hands on a dishrag and listening intently to the voice mail he’s just received.

The grin is gone from his face.

“I know that look,” says Marlene, her anger rising. “Don’t you dare, Caleb. Not now. Not when half the city’s standing in our line. You can’t leave me alone!”

“I’m sorry, darlin’,” Caleb says sheepishly, already heading for the door. “Really, really sorry. But it’s bad. I gotta boogie. You know the drill.”

And with that, he’s gone.

“Damn it, Caleb!” Marlene shouts inside the empty truck.

She does know the drill. But that doesn’t mean she likes it.

In a rage, she slams down her knife, and looks down at the unfinished beef sandwich on Caleb’s board. She hurls it across the truck. It sticks momentarily to the wall with a dull squelch, then slides slowly all the way down.

Marlene takes a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. Then she picks up a fresh roll and begins remaking the sandwich herself.

It’s going to be a long night. Her partner won’t be coming back anytime soon.

Chapter 2

Caleb has dashed all the way down the hustle and bustle of Decatur Street before he realizes he’s still wearing his stained apron. He rips it off and decides to take a shortcut he knows: a small path lined with street artists that runs behind the block’s shops and eateries, including the famous Café Du Monde.

But as Caleb nears the pathway, he spots a roving zydeco band performing for a gaggle of beignet-lovers, clogging the pathway’s entrance. Shit. He should’ve stuck to his typical route, but it’s too late now.

Cursing under his breath, Caleb discreetly hurries through the band and spectators, pretending to shake a maraca to get to the other side. Once clear, his jog turns into a run.

He finally reaches a small parking lot near the French Market, races up to his sleek black Dodge Charger, and pops the trunk.

Stripping off his grimy T-shirt and jeans right there in the open, he reaches for the garment bag inside. It contains a pair of brown slacks, a white button-down, and a dark striped tie. Caleb shimmies into the rumpled clothes, hops behind the wheel, and revs the engine.

Before pulling out, he removes a blue police beacon from the glove box and slaps it on his car’s roof. He takes out a crescent-shaped gold NEW ORLEANS POLICE badge and clips it to his belt.

Caleb Rooney isn’t just one of the city’s top chefs. He’s also one of its very best detectives.

Soon he’s speeding back the way he came, along Decatur Street. Then he hooks a right and heads up St. Louis Street.

Weaving through the heavy traffic, his siren blaring, Caleb toots his horn and gives a quick wave as he passes Johnny’s Po-Boy Restaurant. Johnny Jr. himself is out front smoking and returns the greeting with a knowing nod. Killer Chef has developed camaraderie with the owners of the city’s sit-down po’ boy places, especially once the word got out that he’s a cop. Caleb used to fantasize about opening a real restaurant of his own someday, but he’s gotten used to the speed and street cred that come only from running a hoppin’ food truck.

Not that keeping it running is easy. Hell, no. Especially on such a crazy night. Starting to feel guilty about leaving Marlene on her own, Caleb asks Siri to call her cell.

“You better be calling to say you’re on your way back!” Marlene yells into the phone without even saying hello. Her fury makes Caleb regret calling altogether.

“You know I would if I could,” he says. “And I will. If I can.”

“Yeah, yeah. Give it to me straight, doc.”

Caleb hesitates. He hates to add to Marlene’s stress. But he can’t lie to her, either. She knows him too well for that.

“It’s murder, honeypot. A double.”

Marlene groans on the other end. They both know what that means. There’s no way in hell he’ll be back to finish the rush and help her clean up and close.

“Someone got killed in the Quarter, huh? Do we know ’em?”

Caleb doesn’t respond.

“Come on. The least you can do is tell me where you’re going.”

Now Caleb really hesitates. In the background on the other end, he hears the sound of fries in duck oil sizzling and popping. “I’m on my way to Patsy’s,” he says.

“You gotta be kidding me!” Marlene exclaims.

“Take the fries out, Mar,” Caleb says, hearing the crackling noises getting even louder. “Sounds like they’re burning.”

He’s right. They are. Marlene angrily yanks out the fryer basket, dumps the burnt mess in the trash, and starts again. But first she steals a quick glance outside. She sees that, since her partner left, the line has grown even longer.

“Damnit, Caleb, you need to hurry up and get your big ass back here! I have things to do tonight. I have a life, too, you know.”

Caleb screeches a right onto Burgundy Street, nearing his destination. Unsure how else to get Marlene off the phone, he uses one of his trademark tricks: making a whooshing static sound with his tongue. Juvenile, sure, but it gets the job done.

“Are you making the noise on me again? Caleb? You are, aren’t you? Caleb?”

Caleb hangs up. Siri asks if he wants to call Marlene back. He doesn’t.

Soon he arrives at Patsy’s, a high-end restaurant in a beautiful historic building. Magnificent white Doric columns frame a tangerine-orange facade. With its elegant dining room and glorious kitchen, the place has been luring local and visiting celebrities for years. During any given dinner service, guests might encounter politicians, diplomats, athletes, and whichever movie stars are currently in town filming.

But tonight, this exceptional eatery is the scene of a horrific murder.

Two, to be exact.

And it’s up to Detective Caleb “Killer Chef” Rooney to solve them.


On Sale
Nov 1, 2016
Page Count
144 pages

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

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