My ears tingle as the bells above the door peal for the final time as my bakery shuts down for the day, the scent of my last customer perfuming the air. With a click of the deadbolt, dimming the lights, I survey the remainders in the display cabinets. A few Chelsea buns, some sugar cookies, two loaves of bread sit forlornly, soon shared with the local homeless shelter.
With the donations boxed, the surfaces clean, I extinguish all light walking under the arch into my beloved kitchen. My eyes scan this space, where all of my equipment awaits my creativity tomorrow morning, early like the rooster, when I make, bake, create.
One final task remains, to lock away the top-secret ingredient for my signature chocolate cookie in its airtight container in the safe with the day's earnings.
Wearily I slip my feet from my clogs into winter boots, slap a hat on my head, and a scarf about my throat, coat over my body, there I stand shivering in the wicked wind setting the alarm code before turning to wade to my snow ladened SUV.
The headlights beam a solitary light onto the darkened roadway, making me feel alone in the world. Noises of voices and cheer welcome me to the shelter where I distribute the baked treats. Over a piping hot mug of coffee, I saturate myself in the stories of the men and women seated across from me. As the bottom of the cup emerges, I bade a farewell and bundled, trundle to my vehicle to go home.
The house is lit cheerfully, light spilling out of the windows glistening on the freshly fallen snow. Marc's car lies in the drive, dusted with icing sugar snow. I hope that he's been home long enough to start supper.
Stepping inside our foyer, my tummy grumbles, smelling something savoury. Carols fill the air. Although I am beyond tired, I feel a rebound in energy being in the bosom of my family.
As my stew settles in my stomach, I buss my daughter and Marc before swaying up the stairs, eager for my nightly shower then my bed.
BRNNG BRNNG BRNNG BRNNG BRNNG
Through the fog of sleep, I catch smidges of Marc's side of a telephone conversation. His words float up the staircase, where he stands holding the receiver from our landline -- in the foyer, in the middle of the night. Fatigue flees from my mind leaving me to ponder the who and why urging me further into my rabbit hole of worrying.
Marc's face communicates without the need of his words.
"Ingrid, that was the police. There has been a break in at your bakery. The silent alarm was tripped alerting the authorities."
"What? Why?" I shake my head with confusion.
"They'd like you to go down now, or as soon as possible, to confirm what has been stolen."
I sound like a leaking balloon as a sorrowful sigh escapes through my lips. I relax in the warmth and safety of Marc's arms, my head resting on his chest, the regular thumping of his heart a mantra returning me to a stare of calm.
Hastily stuffing myself into clothes, I run fingers through my hair, blearily eying my reflection in the bathroom mirror. With a blessing of cold water, a gargle of mouthwash, I am ready to face whatever has occurred in my bakeshop.
The parking lot is ablaze with blue and red flashing lights, my business awash in brilliance.
"Hi, you must be Ingrid."
"I'm Constable Crispin, I'll take you in to meet DCI Frick."
Globs of melted snow puddles blemish my once pristine black and white checked floors, charcoal-like dust distressing my formerly white trim. Ahead, standing and staring at the safe, stands DCI Frick. We stop behind his back.
When he turns around, my eyes eat up DCI Frick, who evokes George Clooney, while his British accent only accentuates his overall appeal.
"Hi, Ingrid. Sorry to be meeting you under this situation. Thanks so much for being able to help us so quickly. From what we've been able to gather, this," his hand gestures to my now open safe, "is the only thing affected. No vandalism, nothing appears to have been moved. Just this."
I step around him to gaze into my safe, smiling to see all of the money still bundled but frowning when I notice that two glass containers no longer sit on the top shelf.
"Is there anything missing?"
"I'd have to count the money first, but at first glance, there used to be two sealed glass containers on this top-shelf."
"Ingrid, I need to know what was stored in those now missing containers?"
"My top-secret ingredient for my signature chocolate cookies.'
"A herb, that's all."
"And you lock it up with your daily money in your safe?"
"Do you have any idea who would want to steal this herb?"
"Who knew small town baking was so clandestine."
"I've been in negotiations with a bigger bakery organization about expanding my signature cookie to more venues across our country and eventually internationally."
"Would you like to try one of these cookies?"
"May I?" I point across my kitchen towards lidded earthenware canisters. "They're in the left container on the top shelf."
He scrutinizes the biscuit, smelling it then taking a tiny nibble, chewing this morsel with intention.
"So I've been told." I smile at the satisfaction of making another convert to this taste sensation. "Will I be able to open up today?"
"That won't be possible; however, tomorrow for sure."
"Bummer. Can I use my work computer to send out a social media notice?"
So immersed in composing a message for my clients, I am startled by Constable Crispin tapping my shoulder.
"When you're finished, I need to take your prints for elimination purposes."
Expecting my fingertips covered with ink, I am intrigued by the high-tech electronic print collection.
It is with mixed emotions that I leave my shop in the care of the forensic investigators.
Seated in my vehicle, I hear the distinctive cadence of an incoming text from a client of my super-special cookies.
Just a brief pause