In The Great Cheese Heist, the finest cheddar cheese produced in England is stolen, and Scotland Yard sends Sergeant Rachel Warren and Inspector Stilton to investigate. The thief left no clues, and as Rachel soon discovers, the case has rather a bad smell about it.
About the Author
Jacqueline Seewald lives in New Jersey and is a Jersey girl at heart. She enjoys singing many kinds of music, but bluegrass is her favorite. She wrote her first fiction in grade school and always wanted to be a professional author.
Now Jacqueline is a multiple award-winning author with nineteen fiction books in publication. Her most recent novels are DEATH PROMISE and WITCH WISH. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in diverse publications and numerous anthologies.
Learn more about Jacqueline’s work at her Amazon author page or her website: jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com
The Great Cheese Heist by Jacqueline Seewald
Sergeant Rachel Warren took notes as Inspector Stilton questioned Mr. and Mrs. Lauden. Gerald Lauden was well-known for producing the best cheese in England, and this was turning into a high profile case. The queen herself had proclaimed a preference for Lauden cheddar.
The robbery puzzled the local constabulary, so Scotland Yard was called in to further investigate. Knowing the chief inspector’s wry sense of humor, Rachel wasn’t a bit surprised when he chose Conrad Stilton to investigate the cheese-related crime.
“It must be espionage,” Mrs. Lauden said, wringing her slim hands.
“Why would you think that?” Rachel asked.
Inspector Stilton gave her a sharp look. The moldy codger was known to view policewomen as either clerical staff or ornamentation. Rachel considered herself neither one.
“It would have to be espionage, wouldn’t it?” said Mrs. Lauden. “I mean our cheese has simply vanished from the face of the earth. Then again, it could be aliens.”
Stilton’s expression was easy to read: he considered Mrs. Lauden a dimwit. He turned to Mr. Lauden. “Perhaps you might fill us in, sir, on the particulars of the crime. The prior police report indicates that a large quantity of cheese was stolen from your farm.”
Mr. Lauden ran his callused hand through a short shock of steel gray hair. His expression was dour. “Someone stole five tons of our cheddar, not ordinary cheddar mind you. This was very special cheese. The mixture was from a batch that’s won the top prize in the Annual Cheese Awards five years running. The thieves knew exactly what they were about. They completely ignored our lesser cheddar.”
Inspector Stilton leaned in closer to the farmer. “This has rather a bad smell about it, Mr. Lauden. Did no one on the farm see or hear anything out of the ordinary?”
Lauden frowned, wrinkling his brow. “No, and the odd part is they had to cross a sizable field in a lorry to get to the storeroom, but no one saw or heard a thing.”
“It happened in the dead of night, you see,” Mrs. Lauden said. She worried her lower lip.
Holding his wife’s hand in a comforting gesture, Mr. Lauden said, “We phoned the local police, but by the time they arrived, it was raining, and the lorry tracks had all but washed away.”
“No fingerprints?” Stilton asked.
“Nothing out of the ordinary, only of those who work in the curing rooms.”
“And I suppose you gave a jingle to customers to see if any of your product has surfaced in the market?”
“I phoned all the pubs in Somerset and Dorset Counties.”
“No one’s offered your product for sale?” Rachel asked, braving a disapproving frown from Inspector Stilton.
“No peddlers are selling it if that’s what you mean. I’ve made inquiries all the way to America where we had scheduled some of our cheddar to be shipped. No one’s heard mum.”
“It’s a very distinctive cheese,” Mrs. Lauden said. “The recipe’s been in my husband’s family for more than ninety years.”
Rachel observed that Mrs. Lauden was a very attractive redhead easily twenty years her husband’s junior.
“I’m blessed with the support of a wonderful woman,” Mr. Lauden said. He took hold of his wife’s hand again and held it tightly.
“What about the rest of your family?” Rachel said. Now everyone was frowning at her.
“I’ve two grown sons,” Mr. Lauden said. “Good boys, both of them. John works for me as foreman. William has his own farm.”
“And William is also in the cheese business?” asked Rachel.
“Yes, it’s a dairy farm.” Lauden lifted his brow as if puzzled by her questions. “I’ve offered a five thousand pound reward for information leading to the safe return of my cheese and the arrest of those involved.”
“Heard anything?” Inspector Stilton asked.
“Not a bloody peep.”
“Well, rest assured, we’ll look into the matter thoroughly.”
The two men exchanged a nod of mutual understanding, and then Lauden took the Inspector out to see the storeroom.
Rachel turned to Mrs. Lauden. “Have you any children?”
The redhead smiled. “Our little Gerry was six last month. He’s a good lad.”
“How does your husband get on with his older sons?”
Mrs. Lauden shrugged. “Oh, well enough, I suppose. There was a nasty business at the time of the divorce, but that’s over and done with. They resented Gerald divorcing their mother and marrying me. But they’re grown men with their own lives now. John works for his father and learned the business from him. William borrowed money from his dad to get his own business started. They both owe their dad a great deal, and they know it.”
* * *
On the long drive back to London, Rachel was thoughtful. She and the inspector didn’t talk much. Stilton, with his upper-class education and accent, looked down on her because she came from a working-class background. But Rachel was confident; she knew she was good at her job, good at putting puzzling things together and understanding people and their motives.
In a mocking tone, the inspector said, “Well, Sergeant, what do you think? Has some crazed cheese fancier hoarded the Lauden’s cheddar in a crumbling castle somewhere?”
“Englishmen do fancy their cheese,” she said.
“Think you know who robbed the Laudens?”
“I might at that.”
Stilton laughed with an air of indulgent amusement. “If you can solve this case on the basis of what we’ve learned today, I’ll recommend you for a promotion.”
“Might I have that in writing?” she said sweetly.
“Certainly, but I think we best check out the cheese wholesalers in London before you decide to unmask the thief. I don’t believe the matter will grow over-ripe in the meantime.”
They divided the list of wholesalers between them, and as Rachel expected, there was little to be learned. She did, however, visit Andre Moreau, known as the “maestro of cheese.” Andre managed the posh Fromagerie in the West End, considered one of the finest restaurants in England. The wholesaler who put Rachel on to him said nothing went on in the cheese business to which Andre wasn’t privy.
Andre was a rapier slim Frenchman, short in stature, large in temperament. “You don’t mind if I work while we talk, do you?” He was sawing at a huge smelly wheel of cheese with a long sharp knife. They were in the cave where the cheeses were kept. “Cheeses are very fussy,” he said. “One must keep them at a temperature below 50 degrees and at a humidity of 85 percent. Blues stay in the coldest corners while goat milk cheeses must be kept out of drafts. Ah, this one is delightful. Here, have a taste.” He handed a slice of Gouda to Rachel for delectation. “Excellent, no?”
Rachel nodded, chewing vigorously.
“Because you are such a lovely woman, I will tell you the secret to presenting the best cheeses in Europe at the table. Cheese must be sniffed, touched, tasted, and tended. It is what they want.” Andre lovingly stroked and caressed the cheese before them. “It is what they expect and deserve. You must appreciate them with all of your senses. I listen to them, and they talk to me.” His mellifluous voice would have reduced the most recalcitrant cheese to butter.
“Are you familiar with Lauden cheddar, Andre?”
“But of course. Lauden cheddar is the most beloved of cheese. Naturally, I serve it here.”
She asked if he knew about the robbery and if anyone suspicious had offered to sell him cheddar recently. But Andre, like the others, knew nothing at all.
“You will ring us if you hear anything?” she said.
“Certainly, it would be my pleasure to make inquiries.”
Rachel extended her hand, but the fastidious little man withdrew his. “Non, I regret my hands are too cheesy to touch yours.”
When she left the restaurant, Rachel was more convinced than ever that she knew the identity of the thief.
* * *
A few days later, Rachel and Stilton joined England’s top cheese makers for the Annual Cheese Awards.
Gerald Lauden approached them and said with a sad face, “There’s a dark cloud hanging over the festivities as far as I’m concerned.” His face was ruddy, as if he’d imbibed a bit too much brew.
“I don’t see the purpose of our being here,” the inspector said to Rachel in a condescending tone.
Rachel kept silent.
When the officials presented the award for Mature Cheddar, none other than Gerald Lauden’s son William came to the podium to collect the gold medal. Rachel was not surprised.
She turned to the inspector. “I believe we’ve just discovered our thief.”
Stilton raised his graying eyebrows in surprise. “William Lauden? The son? What makes you think he’s the perpetrator?”
“Something Mrs. Lauden said about this being a case of espionage put me on to it.”
“That foolish remark?”
“It wasn’t really. To start with, this had to be an inside job, or at least somebody in the industry. Think about it: the thief knew just where to find the most valuable cheese, yet none of it’s been sold. He never offered it to wholesalers or restaurants. Why? Because he realized it was very distinctive and could not be passed off as any other kind of cheese. Clearly, selling the cheese was not the thief’s intention. Who would stand to benefit? Perhaps someone who was tired of watching his father win the gold medal at the Annual Cheese Awards year after year? Someone who wanted the honor for himself? Possibly someone who had a personal score to settle with Gerald Lauden, a grudge he’d held for many years? You’ve undoubtedly heard the saying ‘revenge is a dish best served cold.’ In this case, it’s a cheese, but the idea is the same.”
William Lauden smiled triumphantly on the stage. Why not let him have his moment of glory? It would be cheesy to do otherwise. His picture was taken beside the winning cheddar. Rachel sniffed and thought it just a tad over-ripe.
“We’ll take William Lauden in for questioning,” Stilton said grudgingly. “It appears you’ve solved the case, Sergeant. You have a discerning nose.”
There seemed no point in mentioning that she was lactose intolerant.
About the Story
The Great Cheese Heist was written by Jacqueline Seewald.
When the finest cheddar cheese produced in England is stolen, Scotland Yard sends Sergeant Rachel Warren and Inspector Stilton to investigate. This humorous story is a send-up of cozy British mysteries.
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