Ralph Yollam hadn't seen private eye L. Sage in weeks.
Whenever he was downtown, he would visit her building, but she never seemed to be in at the same times he visited.
She would leave him the occasional note taped to the door though, in envelopes labeled “Red,” her apparent nickname for him.
These messages were brief.
For instance: “I'm feeling boring today, Red. Go out and be exciting for me.”
He never did encounter her, though. He even staked out her building while covering a parade for his newspaper, and didn't see her once.
She had, for all intents and purposes, disappeared as if she'd been abducted by aliens, assuming that their previous mystery was any indication.
Or maybe it was her own mystery to begin with. He sort of felt like he'd been a guest star on that one.
In any event, after about two months, he gave up trying to find her, and went back to his daily life.
One morning, Ralph stopped off for a warm (and hopefully caffeinated) beverage at his usual breakfast bistro.
“Medium vanilla chai tea,” he croaked as he handed the barista his credit card. Coffee was gross enough; maybe the sugar in the tea would boost his mood.
“You know,” said a sultry voice from behind. “'Chai' actually means 'tea.' Saying 'chai tea' is redundant.”
Ralph's eyes grew wide; he was wide awake now. He spun around.
“You've stopped coming for my notes, Red,” she said. “I was starting to get worried.”
Ralph felt a flash of indignation, but he brushed it off. “I thought you had been abducted by aliens.”
Sage laughed. “I have not been cavorting with our friend Waldo Sweeney, but I have been busy.”
She beckoned for him to sit down. He got his credit card from the barista and pulled up a chair.
“We really need to better coordinate,” said Sage. “I've got a case for you that may tickle your fancy.”
Ralph leaned in. “I'm all ears.”
She grinned. “What do you know about koalas?”
He must have made a face, because she grinned wider at his expression.
“They're...furry? And Australian,” he said.
“Did you know that it's illegal to eat koala meat?” asked Sage.
“Who eats koalas?” asked Ralph.
“Dingoes and bad people,” said Sage. “Ever hear of the Melbourne Bay Grill?”
Ralph leaned back and thought. “Is it the new place that opened up on 19th Street?”
“The very same,” Sage beamed. “It was popular in a couple of cities throughout the state, before landing here in our lovely town.”
She took a breath.
“They have a unique blend of ingredients that they use in a particular Tex-Mex dish, one that the owner has won awards for. It's called the Koala Enchilada.”
Ralph cocked his head. “Surely they don't use--”
“I already checked,” Sage laughed. “I can say for a fact that they do NOT use koala meat.”
Ralph figured he must have looked relieved, because Sage giggled again.
“Who wants to butcher a cuddly koala?” she asked. “No, they don't use any cuddly creatures at all – just veggies and sauces and herbs – and attach a cuddly marketing nickname to the product to tie into that Australian theme.”
“But that's not the interesting thing, Red. The interesting thing is that the recipe has gone missing, and I think I know who took it.”
Ralph leaned forward again. “Who?”
Sage grinned. “They just called your drink, Red. Better go get it, and come with me – we've got work to do.”
Ralph hoped she would say that.