Fiction Crime

   The first sign telling Maria she was in trouble was the swept path in the early morning dusting of snow. “It’s Tuesday,” she said as she approached the back door of the bakery/coffee shop. “Sally knows I open during the week.” She put her mittened hand on the doorknob and turned. Locked. Looking in the back window while she dragged her keys out of her pocket, Maria noticed the lights were still off.

    Opening the door, she called, “It’s just me. Why didn’t you turn the lights on, Sally?” Maria flicked the light switch up and caught the smell of coffee from the automatic coffee maker as she walked through the kitchen toward the front of the shop. No other sounds or footsteps sounded. The door to the storage area stood open like a black cave.

    OK, why was the back walk swept if Sally isn’t here? she thought. The six o’clock open time was a little early considering most of their business came from people on their way to work. And we always shut the storage room because the coat hooks are on the back side of it.

    Operating a bakery/coffee shop in a town with no chain businesses meant someone needed to provide a fast option in the morning. The Wake-Up Stop could not boast a drive thru but it provided hot liquid caffeine and yummy carbohydrates. Efficiently.

    There were even some protein and keto options in the glass display cases.

    Right now, however, Maria needed some support. Fortunately, one of her early morning regulars was Tom, Woodstock’s police chief. Dialing her cell phone, Maria walked through the front of the shop and flipped the bank of switches for the rest of the lights.

    The light flared on exposing the sunny décor palette of deep yellow and orange walls. Pops of brick red and turquoise jumped out from the artwork, frame moldings and doors. The Southwest motif was out of place in the quintessential New England town of Woodstock, Vermont. However, like a spice which can enhance the appetite, the Wake-Up Stop was a welcome addition to the landscape.

    As she listened to the intermittent buzz of the phone ringing, she returned to the kitchen and looked through the open doorway into the storage area and coolers. Tom finally picked up his cell.

    “What’s up Maria? Are you worried because I wasn’t waiting for you today?” His hearty voice came reassuringly over the airwaves. “Barn burner of a football game last night. Couldn’t leave it early.”

    “No Tom, I’m actually hoping you can stop in and tell me I am being paranoid.” Maria paused as she looked around the space. Nothing appeared disturbed, though she did notice some wet marks on the floor.

    “What do you mean?” Tom asked with a laugh. Maria could hear the powerful motor of his SUV through the phone as he drove.

    “I found something funny when I opened up the shop this morning.” As she started to explain, she opened the walk-in cooler and looked toward the shelf with the brightly colored container which held the key ingredient for the special holiday dessert she was scheduled to make. It was gone. “Tom, I think I’ve been robbed.”

    “I’ll be right there.”


    Colby Larson, Maria’s husband arrived as the afternoon rush was winding down. Maria walked over to him. Colby opened his arms and gave her a hug, his fair head bent down to rest on her glossy black waves. With his arms wrapped around her, she finally broke down. “All of that work,” she said. “Picking and preparing the nopales…and then making the syrup.” She sighed and sniffed tears back as she wiped a hand across her face.

    “What did the chief say?” Colby asked.

    “Maybe there was a break-in,” she said. “But there was no forced entry, the missing item has a value of less than two hundred dollars and the only reason it seems like a robbery is because someone swept my back entrance in the middle of the night, it doesn’t rate too high on the crime investigation scale.”

    “What about the money you would make from selling the dessert?” Colby smoothed her hair back from her face as she thought.

    Maria shook her head. “The profit would not be much either. The bigger part was the media attention around selling a truly traditional Mexican dessert here in Vermont.” Fresh tears welled in her eyes. “All that time wasted.”

     “At least you got to visit your mother and family back in New Mexico,” Colby said. “And they helped on your project.”

    She sighed and leaned her head back into her husband again. “I got more bad news after lunch. Rebecca’s decided to go with someone else for their holiday dessert selection and for the next quarter.”

    “After using your goodies all fall?” Colby blasted out with a roar. Maria winced as she glanced around the now empty shop.

    “Something about more reliable and professional,” Maria said. “To be honest, I stopped listening after the manager said no contract extension.”

    “That’s crazy. You received rave reviews for everything delivered all fall and over Thanksgiving.” Colby stepped back and held her shoulders while looking into Maria’s face. “Look at all of the new customers you have attracted for the lunch and weekend hours. Did they say who they were going to use?” His voice hardened as he moved into what she called his ‘lawyer mode’.

    “I don’t think so.” Maria turned and flipped over the door sign to ‘closed’. “I figured I would ask when I stopped by with my bill for the account.”

    “Colby stared at her, the wheels turning in his head. “I think you should mention this to Tom. It provides additional motive for the break-in since the contract with the Woodstock Inn restaurant is far more valuable than two hundred dollars.”


    Tom stopped in for a rare midday caffeine jolt. His uniform and pistol holster out of place in the crowd of retired women chatting at the round tables in the sunny front window area of the shop.

    “I thought you’d like to hear it from me, Maria,” Tom said.

    “Hear what?” she asked as she poured his cup of coffee and added the requisite cream and fake sweetner.

    “Caught your robber.”

    “Really?” Maria’s eye sparkled as she handed the coffee over the counter. “Who was it?”

    “Colby was right. The contract with Rebecca’s was the missing link.” Tom took a cautious sip from the cup before setting it on the counter and putting a lid on it. “Daphne at the Public House in Queechee was the go-to person for specialty desserts before you opened your coffee shop five years ago.”

    “I remember,” Maria said. “Colby and I had dinner out a number of times after we moved here as he connected with other law firms and various committees. That was how I got the idea to add wholesale dessert baking to my business plan. Everything was so terribly bland.”

    “Apparently, your products basically killed her business profit as her big customers moved to buying from you.”

    “But I didn’t chase most of those accounts,” Maria said. “They called me.”

    “Doesn’t matter. Daphne was mad and blamed you. When she heard about your upcoming special event, she decided to take action.”

    “How did she get in?”

    “One of her current employees used to work here and mentioned the key you have outside for emergencies.” Tom said, “I don’t think she was trying to cause trouble. She mentioned it to Daphne as an example of a good idea to copy. Unfortunately, Daphne used the info for a different purpose.”

    Maria shook her head. “I can’t understand why she thought all of this was necessary. If she was a better pastry chef, there is more than enough business for both of us in the valley.”

    “Sometimes, it is about other issues.” Tom said as he opened the door for one of his officers to bring in the three-gallon container of pink liquid and cactus pieces. “But we did manage to find this.”

    Maria clapped her hands in joy as the young man set it on a table. “Thank you.”

December 12, 2020 00:47

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