Abby emerged from the warmth of her SUV and hustled across the sidewalk to the Sweet Shop bakery. The door was heavy and icy cold to the touch. Abby struggled to hang on to the handle against the fierce wind. Once inside the bakery her nose was met with the most intoxicating scents. Everything from sugary donuts to fresh baked breads. Each one smelt better than next. Abby stepped toward the glass display cases. The aroma was heavenly.
A tall slender girl appeared from the back room holding a long metal tray full of gigantic cookies. She wore a white apron over her clothes which appeared to have powered sugar and jelly tossed all over it. She had thin lips, a long pointy nose and dark wavy hair that was tied up off her neck in a messy bun. She noticed Abby at the counter and smiled at her.
"I just need to put these down. Ill be with you in a moment."
Abby returned the smile and waited for the young lady to fill the case with the sprinkle cookies. Abby glanced around as she waited. She noticed that things didn't appear as orderly as they usually were. The girl finished with the tray and wiped her hands on a cloth towel from the counter. Her eyes met Abby's.
"So what can I get for you today?" She asked.
"Nothing I'm not a customer. I'm detective Abby Ward someone reported a break-in at this location."
Abby held up her badge in front of her. The girl nodded.
"Oh you'll need to speak with my grandparents. They own the place and their the ones who called it in. Ill go get them."
Before Abby could reply the girl was off towards the back of the bakery. A moment or two later a tiny elderly couple appeared at the front of the counter. The woman looked distraught and the man appeared nervous.
"Hello I'm here about the break-in. I'm the detective assigned to your case. Maybe we could go and sit down and you can explain what happened." They turned to face each other before looking back at Abby.
"I don't understand. Aren't you here to help us? To find out why someone would do such a thing?' The man spoke quite loudly.
"Yes of course I'm here to help. Please could we just go over what you both saw upon arriving at work this morning."
The girl with the dark hair spoke to them.
"Poppa, Nanna go sit with her and tell her what you saw. I can run the counter its ok." She motioned toward a table near the far wall. Abby let them lead her and waited for each to have a seat. She sat directly across from the couple. She folded her hands together.
"Lets start over. My name is Abby Ward and I want you to know I think its just awful that anyone would do such a terrible thing to your lovely place." The man nodded in agreement.
"Yes just awful. People have no respect these days, the young ones do whatever they want." He spoke with both hands in the air and Abby thought he was quite adorable. He had bright blue eyes, silver hair that was in need of a haircut and the same long nose as his granddaughter. Abby reached in her jacket pocket for a notepad and a pen.
"I understand. I would like for you to start at the beginning and explain to me what you noticed as you walked in." Abby waited for one of them to speak. The man cleared his throat.
"Whenever your ready. Just take your time." She held the ballpoint pen over the notepad. She nodded for them to begin.
"I guess I can go first. We arrive early every single day. Five am so much to do in the bakery you know. I walked in here before him. The register was open. The chairs were all pulled out from the tables and the cases were unlocked." Abby wrote as the woman spoke.
"It was odd so very strange. I got scared because I didn't know if they were still in here. I yelled to Frank told him to come and see what happened."
Abby continued to write down every detail.
"Ok, you said the register was open you mean the cash drawer?"
The woman nodded her head.
"How much did they take? Was the register empty?" Frank looked at his wife. Abby couldn't help but notice he looked nervous again.
"Go on Milly just tell her." He made a gesture with his hand.
"No it was full. They didn't take any money." Abby looked up from her writing. She furrowed her brow.
"Excuse me did you say all the money was here in the register? They must've taken something. You checked the kitchen? Both of you? They must have taken silver or a commercial mixer maybe?"
Frank and Milly both shook their heads at the questions.
"I don't understand was anything taken at all?" Milly turned to Frank. Again he acted like he approved of her sharing with Abby.
She refused to speak. Frank turned to see if their granddaughter was still busy at the counter before he faced Abby.
"Nothing was stolen from the kitchen well no mixers or anything like that."
"Frank was there a break-in here at your bakery or wasn't there?"
He looked annoyed by her question.
"Yes there was. I don't call for no reason! I don't waste your time!"
"I never said you did. Please if you know of something missing just tell me what it was."
He made faces at his wife. She touched his hand.
"Only one thing was stolen .Only one..."
"Ok and what exactly was it?' Abby inquired.
"A secret ingredient that we have had to ourselves for almost twenty five years. That's how long we have been in business. And its been ours alone."
"So let me get this straight only this one special ingredient was taken? Was it written down maybe I could see it for myself?"
Milly got upset. "No I don't write it on paper. I have it in here." Milly pointed to the side of her head.
"I understand I'm sure you do. Frank, Milly I will need to look around and then I will be in touch with both of." Abby rose from the small table and walked toward the counter. She took more notes and a few photos with her cell phone. Ten minutes later she left the bakery.
Milly put her hand on her mouth and started to cry. Frank tried to comfort her. He rubbed the back of her arm. Milly took off toward the kitchen.
Frank noticed the girl was watching him. "I cant believe that's it. I thought she would have done more."
"Poppa its ok. You told her what happened its out of your hands..."
"No I want to catch them! They cant get away with this! You saw her Laura its breaking her heart."
Laura came to stand at Franks side.
"I'm so sorry Poppa. Maybe I can help you find them."
He shook his head at her. "No your not to get involved. Your a good girl Laura but I need to do this myself. I must find them and get it back." Laura is very concerned.
"But how can you Poppa? You don't even know who took it or what they'll do." Laura looked worried.
"I will find a way I just have to for our bakery and for my Milly."
Ten days pass by and Abby hasn't returned to the Sweet Shop. Laura arrives on a blistery winter morning. She calls out to her grandparents as she enters the bakery. Laura pulls her red scarf off her neck and shimmies out of her long winter coat. Milly appears beside her with trays of muffins.
"Good morning Nanna. How are you?" Milly still looks miserable.
"Your late Laura. I said nine its well after nine."
"I know I'm sorry. The roads were a disaster and traffic was brutal. It wont happen again." Milly filled the cases that are in front of her. Laura grabbed a clean apron on the hook near the wall. Milly smiled at her.
"You want a cup of tea sweetie? The water is still hot." Laura shakes her head.
"No I'm good. I have to get to work. Where's Poppa?"
Milly leaves without saying a word. Laura quickly follows her to the back storage room.
"Nanna did he not come in today? Please tell me where he is?'
"I don't know. He just got up very early and told me to come to work and not to worry." Laura touches her hand.
"But you are worried I can tell. Think Nanna where would he go? There must be someplace you would know." Milly shook her head.
The bell chimed over the front door.
"A customer Laura." Laura needed time to think.
"You take this one for me. I need to use the restroom."
As soon as Milly left Laura alone she went to the small office. She opened the top drawer of the desk. It contained two notebooks, a box of pens, plain white envelopes, rubber bands and paperclips. Laura reached for one of the notebooks and lifted it in front of her. Then she glanced through it. Several of her Nannas recipes for pies, cakes and jelly donuts. Laura wasn't sure what she was looking for. She closed the notebook. She could hear the bell chime again. She noticed the light on the answering machine was blinking. She took a deep breath and pressed play. The first message was from Laura's mom.
Hi I didn't mean what I said. I just got upset. You know I lose my temper sometimes. Can you call me?
Laura wondered what her mom was talking about. She played the rest of the messages. A bill collector, three hang ups and two more from her mom.
Hi its me again I wish you would return my call. Your my parents. Things can be different if you would just talk to me. I am sorry ok?
Mom, Dad now your both acting like children. You know I was upset. I apologized for it. Why wont you call me? You don't even deserve that bakery! I came up with the name I worked there most of my life and for what? You'll be sorry both of you will be sorry!"
Laura feels sick. She faces the door and Milly is standing there.
The SUV pulled up to the curb. Abby turns off the ignition and faces Laura. "Are you sure about this?"
Laura stares out the window at the Tudor style home.
"No but what she did was wrong. Lets just get this over with."
Abby rings the doorbell. A moment later the door is pulled open.
A woman with the same dark hair as Laura is standing there.
"Laura what a surprise. What's going on?"
"May we come in?" She steps aside and lets them enter.
"Mom I need to ask you something. Did you break-in the Sweet Shop? I have to know." Her mother becomes angry.
"No why would you ask me such a thing?"
"Because you hate them. You always have and you knew how much it would hurt them. To take away Nannas secret ingredient that's low even for you."
"I did no such thing. I want you and your friend to go .Get out of my house!"
"I will go after you admit what you've done. I heard your messages.
I know who you are."
"Their not perfect! I worked in that hot stinking bakery for years and they never cared. You only see them now but they were awful to me. They would never share that ingredient with me. I had to have it. I just had to know!" Abby pulls out her badge.
"Natalie Messina, your under arrest."
"What the hell for?" Natalie screamed.
"For breaking into your parents bakery. Now turn around and let me put on these handcuffs. Don't make this harder than it has to be." Laura has started to cry. Natalie makes a move for the front door. Abby is close beyond. Just outside the door Frank and Milly wait on the porch.
"So what so I did it! You had it coming!"
"All we ever did was love you. This is how you repay us. Take her away." Abby takes Natalie by the arm. Milly hugs Frank. Abby leads Natalie to the street. They watch as the SUV drives away.
"Nanna, will you tell me what your secret is?" Milly smiles at Laura.
"Of course I will. Its rum. Everything I bake has some rum."
Laura hugs Milly. Frank looks confused and Milly winks at him over her granddaughters shoulder.