Grandma Bobbie’s unassuming old, wrinkled hands squeezed Amelia’s hand once, then twice to bring her back to reality.
Amelia’s attention turned back to the small woman across from her at the Café table. “Thanks for coming to see me at work, Grandma.” One of Amelia’s legs bobbed rapidly over her crossed legs.
An attractive old lady, short and thin, with pink cheeks and light brown eyes, Grandma Bobbie had an easy smile and a gentle manner.
“Oh I love to see you Amelia, no matter where it is! And I haven't had a chance to say happy birthday, you’re 17 now! But you said you needed to see me about a problem?” Sitting down in a pale white sweater, over a patterned brown skirt, she looked like a vanilla frosted chocolate cupcake. Grandma Bobbie smiled softly. “And you seem distracted-”
“I hope you like the tea, their coffee is rather terrible.” Amelia said, changing the subject. “And I got you a scone.”
“Isn’t this shop famous for its coffee?” Grandma Bobbie grabbed the blue paper cup, blowing on the hot tea, and looked at the scone. Beautiful on the white china plate, the triangular shape had berries bursting out of each side, and elegantly drizzled icing. “It looks delightful!” Grandma Bobbie carefully leaned over the table and took a bite. Immediately her mouth puckered, and her eyes squinted closed.
“It is a bit dry-,” Grandma Bobbie coughed, then reached for her tea to take a sip.
Amelia sighed. “All the pastries here look good, but are dry and hard.”
“Is that your problem,” Grandma Bobbie asked, “the scones are no good?” She pushed the disappointing scone far across the brightly colored table.
The coffee shop vibrated with light, spotlights shining on the large classically styled statues, on each brightly colored art deco table and chair set, and on the colorful tiles inset in elaborate patterns on the floor. Two teenage girls giggled loudly while posing for a selfie in front of the huge mural of graffiti letters exclaiming in three foot font, ‘Café Veritas’. One fell, and stayed down laughing hysterically.
“Are they OK?” Grandma nodded to the two women in front of the glaring mural.
Amelia looked over, her lips pursed. “We have been getting more and more customers who act strange, obsessed with the colors of the walls, and the mural. They might be on drugs.” Amelia whispered.
“But, Grandma, that is the whole point of the Café. People come here to take photos of the statues, the mural, even the bathroom; the women’s room has a fountain shipped over from Italy! It is all for looks, for photos to post on social media.” Amelia waved her hand around. “Last year the owner, Sarah, paid some ‘Influencers’ to promote the Café, and now it is a destination to come in to take pictures. Even for people who are on more than just caffeine”
Amelia shook her head. “I mean some people must like the coffee. Sarah sells a lot of coffee in large wholesale bags. But that is not why I need to talk to you.” Amelia leaned in close, her voice a hushed whisper.
“Sarah thinks I’m stealing!”
“Stealing money from the register?” Grandma Bobbie’s eyes were wide. “That is preposterous!”
“No, not money. No one pays with money anymore. People use their phones, or credit cards.”
Amelia rubbed her hands together, over and over.
“Someone is stealing credit card numbers, and then using them to buy new computers, and phones, and… I don’t even understand how it could happen.” Amelia’s hands stopped for a moment as she wiped her shirt sleeve across her damp eyes, and then began rubbing themselves again.
“But they think I’m at fault because all the card numbers were stolen during my shifts! Oh Grandma!” Amelia’s face glowed red with tears.
Grandma Bobbie opened her purse and pulled out a pack of tissue paper. “I am sorry dear, this sounds terrible.” Grandma Bobbie patted Amelia’s hand.
“Why do you think I could help?” Grandma Bobbie asked, her small blue purse clasped in both hands on her lap. “I use a checkbook myself, although Father O’Shea spoke about the dangers of credit cards just this week at mass-”
“Grandma, you’re good with puzzles, and this is one.” Amelia pleaded with wide eyes.
“I do love puzzles,” Grandma Bobbie began, “I just finished a 1000 piece puzzle this week, with three Persian cats, they all looked just like my Rosie. But all the same color! Those puzzle makers are just devilish. But how does that help you?”
“You know what I mean Grandma.” Amelia looked directly into her light brown eyes. “You were able to find the Mayor’s wife’s missing jewelry-”
“Ex-Mayor, now. Those necklaces were only moved to claim the insurance, and they did not even leave his house. It was a false bottom, see-” Grandma Bobbie noted, a finger raised.
“And solved the bank robbery-”
“Well, that was just luck.” Grandma Bobbie smiled, and leaned back. “The Bank Manager had brought his umbrella when it wasn’t supposed to rain, and so-”
“Grandma, you can see things others don’t.” Amelia leaned even closer. “Please, for me, just see if anything stands out.”
Grandma Bobbie pursed her lips. “Could anyone else be involved?”
“Well, Sarah, and two other baristas also work here. But they weren’t here all the times the card numbers were stolen.”
Grandma Bobbie nodded. “Are those baristas here now?”
“John’s over there.” Amelia gestured to a broad shouldered, lanky boy with downcast eyes. He moved a broom across the floor, careful to get every speck of dust.
“And Bonnie.” Annie nodded to the woman behind the counter, a pale teenager, in an oversized t-shirt and bright blue hair.
“Bonnie’s one of my best friends, it just can’t be her! She’d never do anything like this, but then I can’t see John stealing, he gives us a tip for his free coffee.” Amelia threw her hands up and then dropped them back in her lap. “I thought it could be a computer thing, but Sarah said the thief is getting the numbers directly from the Cafe. It could be that…”
Amelia’s attention suddenly moved past her Grandma to focus on the door of the Café. Her eyes went soft, and her mouth gently opened.
Grandma Bobbie turned to see a handsome young man standing just inside the door. Long bangs obscured his eyes, emphasizing his square jaw. Short and compact, he had on a dress shirt with rolled- up sleeves exposing his muscular forearms. His jeans were torn, with several small holes, but his trainers shone bright in the light of the Café.
“Sprezzatura,” Grandma Bobbie muttered. “He bought those holes in his jeans, he did not earn them.” She was turning back around when he smiled, and began walking toward her. Even though the boy was more than 65 years younger, as he moved toward her a smile grew on her face, until she saw his eyes locked with Amelia. She turned to the table and tapped her lips with her napkin.
“Danny!” Amelia leapt up, her tears gone and replaced by a wide grin.
“Grandma- this is my boyfriend, Danny. Danny, this is Grandma Bobbie, who I told you about.”
“Hello ma’am,” Danny’s thousand watt smile somehow brightened the over-lit Café.
“Danny comes to visit every day I work!” Amelia held Danny’s arm tight. “Let me get you a coffee!” Amelia squeezed his hand and let go, walking behind the counter and waving Bonnie away to enter the order herself.
As Danny waited, he leaned over, his hands constantly moving, straightening the displays, touching everything. Grandma Bobbie could not hear him, but as Amelia turned bright red with a huge smile, his words were having the desired effect.
Danny leaned in even closer, and both teenagers broke into laughter.
The woman police officer walked into the Café and straight to the laughing couple at the counter. An older woman with thick hair pulled back tight into a low ponytail, the police officer’s dark eyes glowed with cold discernment. Amelia’s mouth dropped open at the sight of the uniform, and shining badge.
“This can’t be real, I didn’t steal anything.”
Amelia moved away from the counter, her damp hands twisting her uniform apron, until she backed into the huge coffee urns behind her. Danny stepped away, his face serious, his eyes focused on the police officer.
“I just have a few questions, no one is under arrest.” The police officer said.
“I’m here to follow up on some reports of credit card theft. I need to speak with, Amelia, Bonnie and a, John. Your name?”
“I am Amelia” She straightened her wrinkled apron.
“OK, do you have a few minutes?” The officer asked, her hand gesturing to an open Café table. “We can make this quick. I have bigger crimes to worry about, but I need to follow up and make a report.”
“I’ll see you later, and good luck.” Danny said, and left the Café.
The police officer and Amelia sat down at the table behind Grandma Bobbie. She pulled out her knitting needled and began worked on a half finished large brown and yellow scarf. She couldn’t see the interviews take place, but could hear some of the conversation.
“What bigger crimes? Amelia asked.
“There is a flood of illicit pills flooding our small town. MDMA, fentanyl, it’s a disaster. But don’t try to change the subject. I need to know your situation. Do you know anything about these credit card number thefts?”
“No.” Amelia said, biting her lip to stop it quivering.
“What do you know about the owner, Sarah? The officer asked.
“Sarah is a great boss!” Amelia said. “And the pay is really good, for a Café. Sarah always handles closing too, which is nice.
Who do I think it could be? I can’t believe anyone would do such a thing. John watches me all the time though…”
Several customers came in, there voices echoing through the Café, and Grandma Bobbie only heard a few phrases from each of the baristas.
“…This is the third coffee shop I have worked at. This Café gets the craziest customers, just coming in for the pictures. ” Bonnie said. “It’s funny, I've seen Danny at each one. He must really like coffee. Or cute, female baristas…”
“…I don't know who drinks all the Café Veritas coffee.” John had a deep baritone voice. “I think it’s terrible. I haven’t seen it at a restaurant, or a store, but we move a lot of coffee through the back room…”
After the interviews, Grandma Bobbie sat at her Café table, with Amelia. The police officer stood in front of the mural speaking with Sarah in hushed tones.
“The police didn't solve anything, they probably still think I’m responsible.” Amelia put her head down on the table. “What am I going to do?”
“But, you are responsible dear.” Grandma Bobbie tilted her head at an angle.
“What, I didn't steal anything!” Amelia’s mouth hung open.
Grandma Bobbie shook her head, “No, you didn't steal anything, and I would say your only crime is blindness, blindness to the dark side of human nature. But you are young, and that is to be expected.”
Grandma Bobbie leaned over to Amelia. “Call the rest of them over, and I will explain.”
Sarah, Bonnie, John and the police officer pulled up chairs around Grandma Bobbie.
“You see this is just what happened to my friend's niece, Anne-Marie and her boyfriend, William in Alameda.” Grandma Bobbie's eyes shone bright, unusually so considering her age.
“It is such a small town, Alameda, especially out on Bay Farm Island. So we all knew of course.”
“Knew what?” Amelia said.
“William was very handsome, with nice hair, and broad shoulders, such shoulders…”
Grandma Bobbie stopped to look off into the distance.
Amelia huffed. “Grandma?”
“William said he was in real estate,’ Grandma Bobbie continued, “but really he didn’t work at all. He took care of Anne-Marie and that was enough for her, she liked the attention. Except he was using Anne Marie’s home as a crime den to rob all her surrounding neighbors."
“What does that have to do with the credit card thefts?” Sarah asked
“Someone is stealing the account information, but we do not know how.”
Grandma Bobbie continued. “Amelia was the one who has been here at each occurrence. But,”
Grandma Bobbie held up a wrinkled finger, “she is not the only one who has been here each one of those days. And there are other interesting things happening here at Café Veritas. Now Sarah-”
“What, I wasn’t here those shifts, and who are you to accuse me?” Sarah’s face turned red.
“I know dear. But do you want to tell the officer about the real business of Café Veritas?”
Sarah leaned back and folded her arms.
“Let us take stock. This is a Café, but with bad coffee.” Grandma Bobbie said, looking around to the group. “The pastries look nice, but taste like cardboard. People come in to take pictures, but then leave. How do you stay in business?”
“People do like our coffee- we sell it wholesale-” Sarah’s eyes narrowed at the small old woman.
“-Do you sell coffee in bulk… or pills?”
The officer sat up straighter, her eyes moving back and forth between the two women.
“Coffee masks the smell of the drugs you are shipping in from out of the country. Officer, I am sure you will find the bags of coffee in the back contain more than just coffee.”
“Now, regarding these stolen card numbers. Amelia, your friend Danny visits you every day. Such a good boyfriend, and handsome, although rather full of himself. But Bonnie, at another coffee shop, used to see him regularly visiting a girl there.” Grandma Bobbie said.
Amelia stared daggers at Bonnie, who shifted and crossed her arms twisting away on her chair.
“Danny, as he was here each day, had access to the credit card reader on the counter. Father O’Shea told us about these devices, and what to look for, and if I’m not mistaken, Danny is adding a credit card skimmer on the credit card reader in the morning, and then takes it when he leaves so it won’t be noticed. Danny left in a hurry today, so it might still be there. John, could you please take a look?”
John stood up to walk over to the counter.
“Father O’Shea said you can buy one off the dark web easy enough. I believe Danny was doing this at a couple Cafes. He had lady friends who would get him access without knowing it, and- “
“Grandma!” Amelia called out, her voice sharp. “You just don’t like Danny!”
“I don’t know what I am looking for.” John said, looking at the credit card reader. “Maybe this-” John pulled on a protruding section of the reader, and then held up a thin, black device.
“Amelia’s Grandmother is right! This is how the card numbers were stolen. You are pretty smart.” John’s whole face brightened as he smiled at the old woman.
The officer took Sarah into custody after finding pills in the bags of coffee, and asked Amelia to text Danny to come into the store.
Amelia and Grandma Bobbie were left alone at the table.
“I’m sorry about Danny, Amelia.” Grandma Bobbie offered a tissue. “It makes one think about what is real. Is it just the appearance, what is framed in a picture? I have a photograph on my desk of my father and mother, she is wearing a beautiful dress, both with huge smiles. Is that the reality, or the next day when my father went off to war in Europe and never came back? My mother lived through the war, rationing to keep my brother and I safe, and fed in hard times. No picture can show that. I believe reality is what is inside you.”
Grandma Bobbie’s hand reached out to squeeze Amelia’s.
“Are you satisfied with the choices you are making? For me the best part of my life are the times where I can help someone else have a little bit better day. That is happiness to me. What is happiness to you?”
Grandma Bobbie gave Amelia a soft smile. “Reality, although it seems easy to understand, is relative. You make it. So choose your own reality. And by the way, you should talk to that boy John, he has great shoulders, just like your grandfather.” Grandma Bobbie’s eyes twinkled as she smiled.