Tom stopped coating hot apple fritters in that tantalizing mixture of cinnamon and sugar. He stared over the half wall separating Deputy Donut's kitchen from our dining area. "One of our regulars is missing."
Naturally, Tom noticed when folks didn't show up for their usual coffee break. Before his stint as Fallingbrook's police chief, he'd been a detective.
"Once a cop, always a cop," I teased.
"You got it, Emily. I might have retired from the force, but . . ." He pointed at his hat. "I'm still the chief and I've got the fuzz hat to prove it."
Tom's Deputy Donut hat was a pretend police cap with a fuzzy donut glued on where the badge would be. The rakish way the hat tilted on Tom's short gray hair echoed the tilt of the police hat on the cat silhouette printed on our dishes and embroidered on our aprons. "Not necessarily." I raised my eyes as if I could see the top of my head and my own Deputy Donut hat, identical to Tom's. "Here, we're both chief." In addition to our hats and aprons, we both wore black jeans and white shirts. "Who's missing?"
I stopped smiling. I liked Georgia. A lot.
. . . continues
The yelling began almost the second I started walking down the driveway between Deputy Donut, the café that my father-in-law and I owned, and Dressed to Kill, Jenn Zeeland’s cute clothing boutique.
The loud argument wasn’t going on inside Deputy Donut, where Tom was finishing the day’s tidying. It was going on inside Dressed to Kill, where I was heading. I couldn’t make out the words, but the women spewing them were obviously angry.
I almost turned around and went back to Deputy Donut.
However, it was nearly five. In ten minutes, Dressed to Kill would close for two weeks, and I needed the black jeans and white shirts that I’d ordered. Besides, what if Jenn was in danger?
I hurried to the front of Dressed to Kill.
I wasn’t about to barge inside without peeking in first. Jenn’s display windows were lovely, but I couldn’t see beyond her hand-knit sweaters, mittens, scarves, and hats, and the cords and down-filled vests that went with them. The clothes were draped over antique skis, sleds, skates, and snowshoes. In one window, an electric fireplace sent warm hues rippling over the entire scene. It could have been very welcoming if women inside the store hadn’t been screaming at each other only seconds before.
A red-faced woman burst out of Dressed to Kill. She muttered, “Don’t go in there,” budged past me, and raced south on Wisconsin Street.
My training kicked in. Get a description, Emily.
I guessed she was in her mid to late forties. She was tall and angular with straight brown, flyaway hair. Her mid-calf, flowing dress, a floral print in blue and white, hung several inches below an unbuttoned navy wool coat. She hadn’t zipped up the sides of her tan, knee-high leather boots. With their tops flapping and threatening to trip her with each step, she ran past the bookstore and the artisan’s co-op, and then she turned right and disappeared. For a few seconds, I heard the clap, clap, clap of those unzipped boots.
I had never seen her before.
I again considered returning to Deputy Donut. Before Tom and I opened our coffee and donut shop, he had been Fallingbrook’s police chief. Tom could handle whatever had gone on inside Dressed to Kill.
And so can you, Emily.
I pulled the door open. Tiny bells jingled.
Usually, unless Jenn was busy with a customer, she heard the bells, peeked around racks of clothing, and greeted me.
This time, she didn’t. I was getting twitchy.
That shouting I’d heard earlier . . .
And now, this breathless quiet . . .
. . . continues
Every morning, the aromas in the Deputy Donut kitchen were enticing, and the morning of July Fourth was no different. I smelled coffee, yeast dough, cinnamon, nutmeg, and the two types of jelly we’d just opened—raspberry and blueberry.
I was in the midst of an argument.
Well, sort of. Making a very stern face, I settled my Deputy Donut hat firmly on my rowdy curls. “It’s perfectly fair, Tom,” I informed my father-in-law. “I won the coin toss, and I’m driving our donut car in the parade this morning.” Unfortunately, the hat did not quite give me the authority of a real police hat, maybe because of the fuzzy white donut glued in front where the badge should be.
Tom was also trying to look serious, a difficult task considering that his dark brown eyes were twinkling and his Deputy Donut hat was jammed crookedly on his salt-and-pepper hair. “Emily,” he warned, “I’m the police chief.”
“Retired,” I reminded him. “And our donut car police cruiser is from 1950, way before you were a rookie cop.”
“All the more reason for me to drive it. You’re barely over thirty.”
“And a half. When you were my age, you drove real police cars with real sirens and real flashing lights. It’s only fair for me to drive our pretend cruiser this morning while you and Jocelyn keep making Fourth of July donuts.”
Tom grinned at our new assistant. “Never expect to win an argument with Emily.”
Jocelyn’s dazzling smile included both of us. “With either of you.”
The athletic nineteen-year-old was dressed like Tom and I were, in knee-length black shorts, white polo shirt, Deputy Donut apron, and donut-trimmed “police” hat. Like me, she had dark hair, but she pinned hers, which was long and straight, into a bun she wore low to accommodate the cap. Her eyes were almost black, not blue like mine.
Pasting on a fake glower, Tom shook his index finger at me. “Someday, I’m going to drive that car.”
I frowned and wagged my finger right back at him. “How about next Fourth of July?”
Off to my side, something whirred and clicked.
Jocelyn glanced past me. Her smile disappeared, leaving her face blank and unreadable. She twirled on one toe and glided out of the kitchen and into our storeroom, out of sight of Tom and of me. And also out of sight of everyone in our dining room.
I turned toward the sounds I’d heard.
A man on the other side of our serving counter lowered a camera from his face. Like nearly everyone else besides Jocelyn, he was taller than I was, maybe about five ten, but his slight stoop made him appear shorter. He seemed too thin for his faded jeans, khaki photographer’s vest, and formerly white T-shirt that must have been washed with the dark clothes. Everything about his face seemed droopy—skin, eyes, mouth. Wrinkles bracketed his mouth. He looked about forty but could have been thirty.
I asked him, “What would you like? In honor of the Fourth of July, our special coffee today is one of the few coffees grown in the U.S., Ka’u from Hawaii. Like all Hawaiian coffees, it’s mellow and flavorful.”
Still holding his camera near one shoulder, the man gave me a long, silent, and disapproving look. Without a word, he turned around and walked quickly but quietly out of the café.
That was odd.
Jocelyn’s abrupt departure a few moments before was even odder.
. . . continues
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