Foolaini and the Meal Stealer

Published September 30, 2009 by Eli Stutz

P4280211Foolaini was exercising in his Paris apartment that afternoon when his phone rang.

Before he could pick up the phone, he had to undisguise himself.

Foolaini used to be the most cunning criminal in all of France. But now he was a reformed character. He used his devious talents to help people.

This afternoon he was disguised as a saxophone.

That is how Foolaini exercised – by disguising himself.

A saxophone is a very strenuous disguise. “Ooomph!” said Foolaini, as he reached for the real phone.

He picked it up just in time.

“Foolaini, is it you?” said the voice on the line.

“Yes,” panted Foolaini.

“It is I, Pierre, you’re old friend from Gascony. I need your help desperately.”

Good old Pierre, remembered Foolaini. They had grown up together in the same village. Pierre had gone off to a career in catering, and Foolaini had moved towards other things…

“How can I help you, old friend?” said Foolaini.

“Someone is planning to steal a meal,” said Pierre.

“Steal a meal?” asked Foolaini, “but what does that mean?”

“I had better explain to you in person,” said Pierre, “can you come down to my restaurant? – the Blue Linguini – I am in great need of your skills.”

“I will be there at once,” said Foolaini.

“What does ‘steal a meal’ mean?”, Foolaini asked himself, ask he drove his motorcycle through the streets of downtown Paris.

Foolaini’s motorcycle was a very special motorcycle. It had an excellent sense of smell.

“To the Blue Linguini,” said Foolaini to his motorcycle.

The motorcycle sniffed this way. The motorcycle sniffed that way. Then with a happy vroom, it carried Foolaini off to the Blue Linguini.

The Blue Linguini was one of the most popular restaurants in Paris. It boasted a unique selection of French and Italian foods.

“Foolaini!” bellowed Pierre, as Foolaini came through the door. Pierre rushed over to Foolaini and patted him on the back. “It’s so good to see you again,” he said.

“And I you,” said Foolaini, “but tell me what is this trouble about.”

“Of course,” said Pierre, leading Foolaini through the kitchen.

The kitchen was filled with the smells of French and Italian cuisine. Pierre’s team of chefs were working busily over a series of steaming pots and cutting boards.

Pierre brought Foolaini into his office.

He smiled. “I really am very happy to see you, Foolaini” he said. “Why it reminds me of old times, back in the village.”

Foolaini remembered his humble upbringings. “We had a simple childhood, didn’t we?” he said.

“Remember our good old school teacher, Madame Suzette?” asked Pierre.

“Who are you calling good?” said Foolaini, “she was the meanest teacher in all of Gascony.”

“I know that,” said Pierre, “but we really got the best of her, didn’t we? You can’t forget the time we kidnapped her pet poodle, or the time we colored her hair green before the school dance?”

Foolaini preferred to forget such adventures. “Enough about the old times, my friend,” he said, “what’s bothering you today?”

A worried look passed over Pierre’s face.

“Foolaini, I am the victim of restaurant robbery,” he said, “It started a week ago. Every evening a guest comes to my restaurant. He orders a very large meal, and then he leaves without paying!”

“That is not so unusual,” said Foolaini, “But why do you continue serve him on the following nights, after the first time he did it?”.

“That’s just it,” cried Pierre, “he is disguised as someone different each night. I have no way of telling who the meal stealer is. I can’t just turn down every guest. And if this keeps up for much longer, I’ll be ruined, ruined!” Pierre buried his face in his hands.

“Be calm, my friend,” said Foolaini. “How do you know that it is the same person, if he’s in a different disguise each time?”

Pierre looked up. “Because whoever he is, he always leaves his card on the table.” Pierre gave Foolaini three hand-written cards.

Foolaini looked at the first card. It read:

Lesson 1: Don’t take what isn’t yours.

The second card had similar writing. It read:

Lesson 2: Beauty is skin deep.

The third card read:

Lesson 3: Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself.

“How mysterious,” said Foolaini. “I feel as if I’ve seen this handwriting somewhere.”

“That’s strange. I have the same feeling,” said Pierre.

“How does did this thief get away without being noticed?” asked Foolaini.

Pierre frowned. “Each time he uses some other trick. On Monday he told the waiter that his coffee was too hot. When the waiter came back from the kitchen, he was gone. Yesterday he asked to compliment the chef on a certain dish. When the chef came to his table, he had already made his getaway.”

“How many exits are there to your restaurant?” asked Foolaini.

Pierre counted on his fingers. “Three,” he said, “the front door, the back door in the kitchen, and the fire escape near the bathrooms.”

“Is there anybody you suspect?” asked Foolaini.

“Well, there is Jacque La Mer, the owner of the Green Poisson, a fish restaurant, just down the street. His business has gone sour  lately. Perhaps he is jealous of me. He is tall and thin. You can recognize him by his flaming red hair.”

“Anybody else?” asked Foolaini.

Pierre thought. “I suppose it could be Gustavo, one of my best chefs. Unfortunately, he was fond of playing pranks. I had to fire him last week because he put a live toad in someone’s pasta. Maybe the prank is on me now. Gustavo is short and overweight. He has a tattoo of a pirate ship on his right arm.”

“So you want me to help you find this villain.” said Foolaini.

“Well, you are a master of disguise,” said Pierre, “I thought you might be able to sniff this scoundrel out.”

Foolaini rose. “I will find this restaurant robber,” he declared. “and I will make him pay for the meals he has stolen”.

“Thank you, thank you, my friend,” Pierre shook his hand vigorously. “Is there anything I can do to assist you?”

“There is,” said Foolaini. “Tonight, will you allow me to join your restaurant staff?”

Pierre stood up. “What do you mean?” he said.

Later that evening, a new waiter could be seen serving tables at the Blue Linguini. The waiter moved between tables, taking orders from the diners. He had quick hands, and an even quicker eye. He was carefully watching each guest. But being so cunningly devious, nobody noticed his glances. He was of course, our friend Foolaini in disguise!

Foolaini was especially interested in three particular guests – the one’s who were ordering the most food.

The first guest was a very large woman. She had ordered the gateau embroillier du chocolat – the flaming chocolate cake. After she finished that, she ordered fifteen balls of crème glacee au caramel – ice cream balls with caramel. That too, was not enough for her. Her latest order was for fondue du grenouille – a bizarre choice that I prefer not to translate. Foolaini eyed her suspiciously. Perhaps she was more than meets they eye! She certainly was more, that was for sure.

The second guest was a young red-headed girl with lots of freckles, who looked to be not much older than 8 or 9 years old. She had been ordering large plates of plain spaghetti for the past hour. It seemed that her appetite was bottomless. No sooner had she polished off one plate, that she had already started on the next. Foolaini wondered if she was for real.

The third guest was an older man with a vast white beard. Other than the beard, his he was completely bald. He had been allowed to enter the restaurant with his pet – a hairy little terrier. The two of them were ordering almost everything on the menu. It was remarkable how much they tucked in, without showing it – they were both pencil thin. Now they were wolfing down meatballs in peanut butter sauce. Foolaini shook his head – he too loved peanut butter – but on meatballs?

Foolaini thought hard as he moved deftly between each guest. Which one was the meal stealer? He must find a way to narrow down the options. Suddenly he had an idea – he would figure out which of the guest was in disguise!

He casually walked over to the large woman. Without warning, it seemed that he had tripped over something. The woman gasped. Foolaini grabbed for her long curly hair to stop his fall.

“Get your hands off me, you nincompoop!” she shrieked.

“I’m terribly sorry, Madam,” he apologized.

Zounds! thought Foolaini, it is her real hair – not a wig.

Foolaini pretended to slip again. This time, he clutched for one of the lady’s flabby arms on the way down.

“You clumsy idiot!” she yelled, “leave me alone!”

“Oh, I’m am so, so sorry, Madame” Foolaini mumbled. He shuffled away from her, embarrassed. Indeed, her plumpness was no disguise.

Next, Foolaini approached the young girl.

“Good evening, mademoiselle,” he said, smiling.

“May I please have some more spaghetti?” said the girl, between mouthfuls.

“Before I bring you some more spaghetti, there’s something I’d like to know,” said Foolaini with a friendly air.

The girl stopped eating and looked up.

“You look like a very smart girl. What is 4 times 6?” he asked.

“That’s easy,” said the girl, “it’s 24.”

“And what is the capital of England?” he queried.

“London, of course.” said the girl.

Foolaini narrowed his eyes sneakily. “And which atoms make up a water molecule?” he said.

The girl furrowed her brow. “A molo-what?” she asked, puzzled.

“Never mind, I will bring you more spaghetti in a minute,” said Foolaini, moving off.

It seemed that the girl new just enough for her age, but not too much. “I suppose she is just a very hungry girl,” said Foolaini to himself.

Foolaini walked over to the older man’s table. His first instinct was to pull the man’s enormous white beard. But then he remembered the large lady’s reaction, and he restrained himself. He had a better idea.

“Bon soir, Monsieur,” he said to the man. “Is everything ok?”.

“Eh, what’s that?” said the man, “I’m a bit hard of hearing. Can you speak up?”

“I SAID IS EVERYTHING OK?”

“Yes, yes, of course it is,” said the man. “and Pushka my little friend here is enjoying himself too. Aren’t you, Pushka.” Pushka barked happily in agreement.

“Do use your napkin!” said the man to his terrier. Pushka looked embarrassed. Foolaini couldn’t help but notice the man’s high-pitched voice. There was something vaguely familiar about it.

“Monsieur, I hate to bother you, but there is a question I’d like to ask you.”

“What’s that, I can’t hear very well?” said the man.

“I WANT TO KNOW WHO LED THE FRENCH REVOLUTION”.

The man looked at Foolaini more closely. “Oh that. It was Robespierre, of course. I remember it like it was yesterday. He used to wear a green cloak to fool the royalty.”

Foolaini frowned. Indeed only an older man could know his history so well.

“Thank you, I mean, THANK YOU, MESIEURE. ENJOY YOUR MEAL.”

“Indeed,” said the man, “Come on Pushka, finish your soup!”

Pushka put his nose into the Minestrone and started to make slurping noses.

Foolaini made himself scarce. He was not a big fan of terriers, especially soup-slurping ones.

Just then Pierre came out of the kitchen and pulled Foolaini over to the side.

“Do you know who the thief is?” he asked, excitedly.

Foolaini shook his head. “I’m not sure yet,” he said.

“Well, what are we going to do?” asked Pierre.

“Do not worry, my friend,” said Foolaini, “everything is under my control.”

Pierre went back to his office looking quite nervous. He was having his doubts.

Foolaini brought his attention back to the three suspicious guests.

Lo and behold – the large lady was going off in the direction of the bathroom.

The young girl had gotten up out of her chair and was perusing the dessert platter, near the front door.

The elderly man was at the door of the kitchen, speaking to one of the other waiters.

“Could you please get us some more peanut butter, sir?” has was asking. “Pushka can’t eat meatballs without peanut butter.”

The waiter went into the kitchen to search for some peanut butter. The man and his terrier waited by the kitchen door.

“What must I do?” Foolaini asked himself, worried. “Should I watch the fire escape by the bathroom, the front door near the dessert platter, or the back door of the kitchen?” It really was a difficult dilemma. Foolaini’s mind raced. That woman really was ordering too many desserts. Foolaini made his decision. He quickly skirted over to guard the fire escape, with his eye on the bathroom door.

A flushing noise could be heard. The large lady came out of the bathroom and assessed Foolaini.

“Stop looking at me like that, you imbecile.” she said. With a humph, she returned to her seat.

Foolaini followed close behind.

The lady sat down, and resumed her fondue du grenouille.

Foolaini’s eyes raced over the room.

The young girl was still looking at the dessert platter.

But the old man and his dog were gone!!

Pierre appeared. He saw the empty table. “The restaurant robber! He has fooled us again! I am ruined!” He sat down on the floor and began to cry.

Foolaini picked him up.

“That is what you think! All is not lost yet. I will be back, my friend. And when I return, I will have your thief!”

Foolaini raced out of the door leaving the restaurant owner dumbfounded.

Foolaini’s jumped on his motorcycle. “Brrr…” the motorcycle rumbled. It was happy to see him.

“Follow this smell!” whispered Foolaini, sprinkling a little red powder near the engine.

The motorcycle sniffed this way. The motorcycle sniffed that way. Then they sped off, through the lamp-lit streets of Paris.

They came to an abrupt halt by the shore of the Seine river. The motorcycle seemed unsure. “So this is where the trail ends, is it?” said Foolaini. His quick eyes noted a dim light further downstream. “Wait here,” he said to his motorcycle. Diving into the cold water. Foolaini swam as silently as a river rat towards a retreating boat .

But the boat’s occupant was on guard. Before Foolaini could reach it, his quarry had begun throwing small brown balls at him. One of the balls hit Foolaini square in the mouth. “Yechh!” he said, “meatballs in peanut butter sauce!”

Struggling under a steady volley of peanut butter meatballs, Foolaini dove deep under water. He was an excellent swimmer. He swam under the boat and came up on the other side.

“No! Don’t tip it!” shrieked the old man. It was too late. Foolaini had tipped the boat over and now, the man, his dog, and Foolaini were bobbing up and down together. But the man’s white beard had come off in the water. The terrier’s hairy coat of fur had also floated away. “As I suspected – I see you are not a man at all, Madame,” said Foolaini. “And this is your poodle, not a terrier!”

“I can’t swim! Save me!” shrieked the woman. Foolaini held her arms and pulled her towards the shore. The poodle did her best to help. When they got to the shore, everyone was panting.

The woman tried to get up and run off, but the sounds of sirens and the appearance of several police cars cut off her escape.

Pierre got out of one of the cars.

“I called the police and we followed you here,” he said to Foolaini. “It seems you have caught the meal stealer. But who is this thief?”

Foolaini turned to the woman. “Do you not recognize her, my friend? It is our old teacher…”

“Madame Suzette!” said the woman.”Yes, it is I. How ironic to be caught by my own pupils.”

“But this woman is bald,” said Pierre. “Madame Suzette was not bald.”

“She became bald after you colored her hair green,” said Madame Suzette. “That’s why I wanted to get back at you. For ruining my looks. I was once a great beauty – the envy of Gascon women.”

“So you decided to teach me a lesson and ruin my business in return,” said Pierre.

“It is true,” sighed Madame Suzzette, dropping her gaze. She looked beaten.

“But indeed, I am sorry for what we did,” said Pierre, with regret. “We were only youths, but it was wrong. And look at what it has done to you.” Pierre scratched his head. “I’ll tell you what – I know a great wig-master who owes me a favor –

I will buy you a fabulous-looking new head of hair.”
“You would do that for me?” said Madame Suzette, looking up.

“We will both do it,” said Foolaini, standing beside his friend.

Madame Suzette took out her wallet. “In that case I believe I owe you money for some excellent meals.” She produced several wet bills.

“No, no, consider the meals on the house.” said Pierre heartily. “A gift to an old teacher, one who still has a few lessons to teach -and to learn!”

Madame Suzette smiled. So did Foolaini and Pierre. The threesome shook hands. The police left.

“But how did you find me after I escaped, Foolaini?” she asked.

Foolaini produced a bag of red powder from his pocket. “This is hot paprika powder.” I sprinkled a little bit in everyone’s meal. My trusty motorcycle here did the rest. The motorcycle gave out a happy “Vroom.” Foolaini jumped on to it. Madame Suzette and Pierre looked puzzled, but happy.

“Goodbye, my friends.” said Foolaini as he sped off into the Paris night.

“Goodbye Foolaini,” they shouted back.

Pushka licked Pierre’s leg. It seemed that the little poodle had found a new friend too.

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