A tarnished glow immortalized David’s slack-jaw as he stared at the screen. Was this for real? he asked himself as he came back from his three second mental vacation.
“What, dude?” Randy snooped at the screen. “Whoa, who’s the hot babe?”
“That’s Bunny Sandborn. She’s Ted Winslow’s executive assistant at Treasure Trader’s, the app where people meet up and trade art.”
“Cool. Why is she friend requesting you?” Randy said with a wicked smile on his face and disdain in his voice.
David whirled around in his chair and attempted a fake kidney punch. Randy jumped away laughing. Red in the face but half smiling, David said confidently, “Because, Bunny knows I’m not a deviant… Casanova wannabe, Randy!”
“Whatever, dude.” Randy jumped to rustle David’s thick black hair as he left the room, but David was too fast and got a quick jab into Randy’s side as he bolted to the right diagonally.
“Yeah… maybe you should brush up on those krav maga moves you claim to know.”
“Chirp!” David heard Twitter summon him from the doorway where he still lingered in thought about his kooky roommate. Bunny just posted. He had set it so that he would be notified on all her tweets. A lightning bolt of glee jolted through his body as he pulled up her latest tweet.
Bunny Sandborn @BeachBunny420 – 9s
Yo peeps, what’s happening tonight? Da Bunny is so bored. #Bored #SaturdayNight #Seattle #SeattleNightlife #TheBunnyGoesBump
Instantly, she acquired a mass of lewd and angry replies. As angry as it made him, he knew better than to respond to these accounts since probably 70% to 80% of them were trolls or bots. He shook off the pathetic troll tripe and bot blather and instead, posted his best Davidness.
David @JustCallMeDave_JustDave – 6s
Reply to @BeachBunny420
I heard there are some nice folk bands playing at Lizzy’s Café tonight if you’re interested.
Bunny Sandborn @BeachBunny420 – 3s
Reply to @JustCallMeDave_JustDave
Oooo! Sounds tantalizing! Where is that?!?
David @JustCallMeDave_JustDave – 1s
Reply to @BeachBunny420
I’d be happy to show you if you’d like. I live close by. I go there all the time. Btw, shouldn’t it be #TheBunnyGoesThump instead of #TheBunnyGoesBump??
Five seconds. No reply. David felt the clamminess of sudden disappointment followed by a lead weight in his stomach. He rolled back in his chair and stared down at his laced hands as he leaned onto his knees. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
David released a lingering sigh as he rose and lumbered toward the door. It was as if that breath encompassed his dreams, and his dreams would disappear into the ether if he let it go.
Wide-eyed, he turned and sat down again. It was a DM! From Bunny!! David’s face seemed to rise from the dead.
“Hi Dave! I’d love to meet you at Lizzy’s, but I have a few questions.”
David eagerly complied. “Sure, Bunny! What did you want to know?”
“First of all, it’s so nice to meet you! It will be nice to talk in person. Ok, first question: What color is Teddy’s favorite car?”
Teddy? Oh, she probably means Ted Winslow, who, consequently, has several cars. He’s a car fanatic! He has cars from all over the world, sports cars, luxury cars. How am I supposed to know his favorite car? Whatever. It doesn’t matter. For Bunny, I’ll make my best guess.
“Ok… What kind of blue?”
Shit. I don’t know! David broke into a cold sweat, exasperated by the pre-love interrogation.
“It’s like a fine-grained, silky metallic cadet blue.”
“Well, that’s a nice description of it. I’ll take it. Ok, question 2: What is Rachel’s favorite flower?”
Rachel? Who’s Rache… Oh! Winslow’s wife! Why is she asking these weird questions? I guess she’s troll-testing me. Ok, I’ll roll with it.
“Ok… what type?”
Type? If she wanted a specific color, she would have asked for a color, but she asked for ‘type’. So… what types of roses are there?
David grunted and rolled his eyes as he typed “Tea roses, especially red ones.”
“Excellent! Now this question is THE MOST IMPORTANT question: Is the song ‘My Funny Valentine’ available?”
“Well… I guess so.”
“Would you make sure for me? This is critical.”
Perplexed, David stammered, “I… uh… sure. I can do that.”
“Nice! Two more questions. What about costumes?”
“You know, costumes to go along with the songs for Valentine’s Day?”
“Oh! Certainly! Plenty!”
David wasn’t sure why she was asking about the costumes of the folk bands, but since it was Valentine’s Day, he knew they’d be themed accordingly as always.
“Super! Last one. What time?”
David was ecstatic! He was finally going to meet her in person! Since he first saw her a year ago, he had been eagerly awaiting this day. He had discovered the Treasure Trader’s app when he first became interested in Art Crime as part of his studies in pre-law. Since then, he learned everything he could learn about the company, its cofounders Ted and Rachel Winslow, and each member of its dynamic team. He wanted to include it in a law review paper on the topic of legal issues at the crossroads of art crime and technology. The subject fascinated him.
Bunny fascinated him too.
“Awesome. See you then. Oh! How will I know you?”
“I’ll find you.”
The café was cool and chill, as always. Lizzy’s was known for its famous coffee cocktails with trendy names. Lizzy’s Woke Grasshopper was coffee, coffee liqueur, and mint cream liqueur with whipped cream. Vincent’s Vat of Virility included coffee, coffee liqueur, liqueurs of hazelnut, almond, walnut and macadamia, no whip. You could also create your own. But for Valentine’s Day, they had a special one. Lana’s Box of Lively Love included coffee, coffee liqueur, almond, cherry, and chocolate cream liqueurs. It was topped off with chocolate whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, and two hot candy hearts.
As he walked into Lizzy’s Café, his olfactory senses were ravished by the powerful aromas of bitter coffees and sweet artisan chocolates. He took in a deep breath and looked around. There she was. The place was crowded, but she had found a small table in the back next to the hallway to the bathrooms. They were next to a big window where they could view the well-manicured park. It was still cold out, so many of the flowers were not in bloom yet, but honestly, that was not the least of his worries, because there she was.
Bunny sat gazing at the people walking in the park which included a beautiful fountain on top of a gentle grassy knoll.
David walked up and said, “Bunny?”
She turned and looked a little surprised.
“Oh! You must be David!”
“That’s me. You can call me Dave.”
“Oh! Sure thing, Dave!” She giggled and looked at him slyly as she played with her straw in her drink. “Well, Dave, take a seat! You have to have one of these coffee cocktails. They are just outstanding!”
“Sure. What’s that one? It looks amazing.”
Shyly, she huffed and tried to look at everything except David as she squirmed in her chair. “It’s called Lana’s Box or something.”
David couldn’t hide his bright blush. It was something he had never learned to suppress. He let out a nervous laugh as he sat down.
Luckily, Vincent, one of the main baristas, rushed up to take his order.
“Oh, you want Lana’s Box of Lively Love! Fantastic choice! I’ll get that right out, Dave.”
Vincent gave him a knowing look, glanced at Bunny and then back at David before he left.
They chatted for thirty minutes about the uniqueness of the café, the mellow folk music, the lovely park. The main band was setting up at 6:30pm as the crowd continued to get louder. It was getting stuffy inside as more people came in congregating at the standing bars next to the stage. The traffic to and from the restrooms was distracting. The last straw was when a drunk woman didn’t quite make it to the bathroom in time. No amount of coffee and artisan chocolate could mask that smell.
“Hey! Why don’t we go back to my apartment for a nightcap? I need to get up a little early tomorrow, so I need to go to bed by 9pm.”
David froze. He wasn’t sure what to do. They hadn’t really talked too much, but he did want to make sure she got home ok. The stench, the noisiness and the uncomfortable atmosphere made it easy to decide to leave.
The Candy Gram Kerfuffle
As they entered the apartment, Bunny seemed to change. Immediately, she turned and said, “Sorry I’ve been so cutesy. Teddy said Rachel is very clever and she has always been able to guess when he tries to surprise her. That’s why he wanted me to post the stupid hashtag #TheBunnyGoesBump. He swears she watches my page, as if he’s cheating on her with me. But he said he often contacts you like that, so I guess you’re used to this… mode of communication. Are… are you ok? You look a little pale. Too much coffee and liqueur? I get it. Those things were pretty strong… and sweet.”
David was flummoxed. What was going on? She sounded totally different. Why was she talking about Ted and Rachel? Why does she keep calling him Teddy?? A million questions made a demolition derby out of his mind while his face was making a pitstop. What… was going on? Whatever was going on, Bunny was also going on.
Bunny kept giving him instructions as she walked towards the kitchen table where there stood an elegant vase full of tea roses along with a heart-shaped box of chocolates that was half open. “Here are the gifts to be delivered. The card was in the box of chocolates, but I didn’t want the chocolates to melt onto the card, so I took it out for now.”
“Gram?” David faintly verbalized as he began to come back to reality.
Bunny seemed strangely unaware as she walked up to the table. She stopped abruptly and gasped. “Oh my god… why are there three dead mice on my table?”
David walked up and looked closer. “It looks like they ate some of the chocolates. Who did you say these chocolates were for?”
“For Rachel. Teddy said you’d know that. He said he talked to you about this.”
“Bunny, I’ve never met Ted or Rachel Winslow.” David turned to face away from her for a moment and shook his head as he turned back quickly and continued, “And I don’t understand what you’ve been talking about since we walked in. What do you mean by gram?”
Now, Bunny was the one dumbfounded. “Oh my god. You’re not the guy.” She looked down to the side as if partly scared and partly confused about what to do next.
“I… I thought you were the candy gram guy. Teddy said he uses you a lot for all his… girls.”
David rubbed his chin as he looked up at the ceiling thinking of the events of the evening. After a minute, he let out a wry chuckle and said, “Oh my god, you thought I was a mule.”
“No! I thought you were a candy gram guy. You were supposed to dress up, sing ‘My Funny Valentine’ to Rachel, and deliver these gifts tonight by 8pm.”
“Bunny, I’m not sure about the nature of your relationship with Ted, but from what I know about him, you’d better be careful. I’ll just say that. And this relates 100% to the dead mice next to those half-gnawed chocolates meant for his wife, or, as you noted, ‘one of his girls’.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look, I’m not going to say anymore. Just… don’t deliver those chocolates. Say you lost them or something.”
“He’ll kill me!”
“No job is worth this, Bunny. Why don’t you just say you lost them… and… then tell him you have to quit because… you have to take care of your grandma in… North Carolina.”
“He’ll know it’s a lie. He always does.”
“That right there makes me even more confident that you should do whatever you have to in order to get away from this guy. How would he know it’s a lie? How well does he know you?”
Bunny fidgeted with her hair as she looked down to the side nervously and swayed slightly.
“I’m gathering you might have been closer than an employee to him.”
“Don’t be so judgy, asshole! You don’t understand.”
“What don’t I understand?”
“If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to have a job in this town. My previous employer totally ruined me. Without him, I wouldn’t have a paycheck. I wouldn’t be able to pay rent.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. But there is always a way forward, Bunny. You can start fresh. I see so much potential in you. Maybe you just need to find out who you really are and what you want to do, what has meaning to you. It can be hard, but you can do it. My mom had a similar problem. She re-made herself at least 3 times while I was growing up. You can do this! I believe in you!”
Bunny fell into his arms, a seemingly endless puddle of tears. He hugged her and stroked her hair as she sobbed. He was glad to be there for her, especially in this chocolate covered pickle she was in.
After she had settled, he said, “I’d like to take those partially chewed chocolate bits and the mice to a friend of mine at the university. He’ll be able to tell us if the mice died from the chocolate or something else.”
In the cab over to the university, David continued to grill Bunny for information.
“He told me another reason he wanted to do it this way was because the vase was priceless, and I think he said illegal. The chocolates were just extra.”
“Of course, he did… As funny as it sounds, I study art crime and let me tell you, that is no priceless vase. In fact, I saw the same one in a department store window on the way over to the café.”
“Oh, wow. I know nothing about art. Rachel and her family are the real art experts. Teddy…”
David cringed slightly at the mention of ‘Teddy’.
“… uh… Ted mostly runs the business. He’s just a face everyone knows, really.”
“Isn’t that the truth.” David had read numerous unsavory articles and reports about Ted Winslow. He was also privy to some conjecture about art crimes and other crimes in which he may have been involved. “He probably wanted you to believe the vase was priceless so that you wouldn’t question the chocolates.”
“Why would he do that?”
David shrugged, “Lot’s of reasons: Hubris, paranoia, or because he lies so much, he doesn’t know how to tell the truth anymore.”
“Has he had you do this with his other ‘girls’?”
“No. He usually just calls the candy gram guy, I guess.”
“Something tells me the ‘candy gram guy’ is not a fan of singing ‘My Funny Valentine’… How did you get the candy? Did Ted give them to you?”
“No, he had me contact some other guy with a hashtag similar to the one I used with you. It was #TheBunnyGoesHoot, and the guy was supposed to reply with #TheBunnyGoesMeow.”
“Wow. This guy is not very inventive, is he?”
At the lab, David’s friend, Bart, verified that the mice died from cyanide poisoning and that there were trace amounts throughout their digestive systems. He also verified that the chocolates contained the same exact variety of cyanide. He estimated that each chocolate probably contained about 50mg of potassium cyanide. He conjectured that the chocolates were not simply injected with the poison, but that they were made with the poison mixed in with the salted caramel before it solidified. This was a sophisticated, specialty job. Only a few suspected shops produced these kinds of ‘goods’.
“Bunny, you may hate me for this, but this needs to be reported to the authorities. This man is dangerous. It needs to be addressed by the professionals. Trust me. You’ll be fine.”
Bunny’s forehead furrowed into a trench of worry and fear. She started pacing and crying. “I don’t have anywhere to go. He’ll find me.”
“You can stay with me for a few days until we can determine a better plan. My roommate acts like a hound dog in heat but he’s generally a good guy. I’ll keep you safe.”
“I don’t know why, David, but I trust you. Something about you just tells me I can trust you. I feel it somehow.”
David walked up, ran his hand through her hair and held her face in his hand. With tears in his eyes, he professed, “Bunny, I have loved you since I first set eyes on you. I knew you were the one for me. I will do everything in my power to protect you. We’ll make this work if you want it to and if I want it to. And I guarantee you, I want it to work. You are precious and irreplaceable to me.”
Tears came to Bunny’s eyes as he held her. “I want it to work, too, my chocolate covered gummy bear!”