Mocha and Murder
Book 2 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series
Roxy becomes entangled in another murder as she puts her sleuthing skills to work in order to prove that Louise Carlton didn’t kill Fred Hill over a pet adoption gone wrong. After all, if Louise goes to jail, who is going to find all the animals at Pet Palace a home.
Mocha and Murder
Book 2 in the Killer Coffee Cozy Mystery Series
Mocha and Murder
“Good morning, Roxy,” Low-retta Bebe eyed the apple honey crisps. Really her name was Loretta, but with her deep southern accent she pronounced it Low-retta. She played with a piece of her short black hair, tilted her head to the left and to the right.
“Good morning,” I said with a plate of honey glazed donuts in one hand and a pot of coffee in the other.
The Bean Hive was booming for a Monday morning and I was never so thankful when I saw Bunny Bowowski coming through the door on my way over to the customers.
“Here are your donuts and hot coffee.” I set the plate down. I ran my hand down my apron. “Give me a holler if you need anything else.”
The customers nodded.
“It’s a busy morning. I told you I can come in early,” Bunny said as she grabbed an apron off the coat rack that stood next to the counter.
“I’m so grateful you are here, but I can’t be wearing out my best employee.” I winked.
“I’m your only employee and I think I get around good for an old broad.” She tucked a piece of her grey, chin-length hair behind her ear. She let out a puff of air, her bangs flew up in the air. “Now, what does Loretta want?”
I leaned into Bunny. “I’m not sure. She’s been eyeing the crisps for a while.” I straightened back up. “Do you mind going into the kitchen and grabbing some of the macaroons out of the freezer? It looks like we are having a macaroon kind of day.”
“Hey, Low-retta, been to the tanning bed lately?” Bunny snickered before she hurried back to the kitchen.
“Well, I never,” Loretta scoffed, though she couldn’t deny that the tan she had didn’t come from any sort of natural sun. The woman was brown all year around. She claimed she was Cherokee, which she might’ve been, but the lines in her neck when she lifted her chin showed an all-together different shade of skin that told me she was ninety percent tanning bed.
“Oh, you know Bunny.” I tried to cover up Bunny’s lack of self-discipline when it came to her mouth. Bunny was in her seventies and she didn’t have any sort of filter. It was as if there was an age where the filter of the mouth seems to disappear and that age seemed to be around the seventy marker. “She’s just jealous she can’t look as good as you.”
“Are you saying I’m an old bat like her?” Loretta’s eyes narrowed, her chin lifted and she looked down her nose at me.
“Absolutely not. I’m saying that not many people can look as nice as you.” Again, I had to grit my teeth to keep my eyes from rolling.
“Hmm.” Loretta ho-hummed and turned back to the glass counter to look at the apple honey crisps.
All the café tables were filled and the stools that butted up to the window counter at the front of the coffeehouse were also occupied. Most of them had totes that were overflowing with beach towels. The Bean Hive was located in the middle of the boardwalk and had the best view of the lake. The sun was out and the day looked like it was going to cooperate with all the boaters. The lake was calm and the boardwalk was full with people. It was going to be a great summer.
Before I headed back to the counter I checked the coffee and tea stations, both at opposite ends of the coffeehouse, to make sure the creamers were still fresh and the coffee pots were hot and steaming like my customers liked it. The coffee bar had six industrial thermoses that included different blends as well as decaffeinated. The tea bar had a nice selection of different loose-leaf teas for hot or cold drinks. Plus a wide variety of gourmet teas were there to choose from along with a choice of antique teapots I’d gotten from Wild and Whimsy Antiques which was located on the end of the boardwalk.
I’d opted to hang large chalkboards above the L-shaped glass countertop. The first chalkboard hung over the pies and cookies. It listed the weekly selections along with prices. The tortes and quiches were in the middle glass counter and the chalkboard hung overtop. The third chalkboard hung above the counter before the bend in the L and listed the weekly casseroles along with the specialty drinks. The chalkboard on the small side of the L-shaped counter had information about catering along with some lunch options that sometimes included soups.
Loretta looked as if she were reading every single word on each chalkboard.
Summers in Honey Springs, Kentucky always brought in a good amount of tourists but the renovation of the boardwalk and the arrival of summer really brought in the outsiders.
“How’s it going?” I asked Loretta on my way back to the counter.
“Well,” she let out a long sigh, “the Southern Women’s Club is having our last meeting for the summer vacation.” She pulled her hand up to the pearl necklace around her neck and ran the pad of her finger across them. “You know we convene for the summer.” She said it like they were the United States Congress.
It took everything in my soul not to roll my eyes. When I moved to Honey Springs and opened The Bean Hive coffeehouse, I wanted to make sure I was part of the community, and joining Southern Women’s Club was on my list. Loretta quickly let me know that I’d not proven myself to be in such a prestigious club. Yes, she was one of those southern women.
“I’m not sure if these will do. I mean.” Her eyes drew up to mine when she realized she’d probably just insulted me.
“Here.” I grabbed a white milk glass plate from one of the open shelves and slid open the door of the glass display case. “Why don’t you try one and let me know what you think.”
I handed her the plate of crisps with the brown and crispy outside, gooey in the middle and knew that when she took her first bite, the cinnamon, apple, and pastry mixture would melt her heart.
“You know, I try to use ingredients that are local. The honey glaze on top is from one of the bee farms and the apples are from Hill’s Orchard.” I was proud that I could support and buy from local vendors.
As soon as she lifted the pastry to her lips and took a bite, her shoulders relaxed, her eyes closed and she chewed with a delightful glow on her tanned face.
“Oh my.” A sigh escaped Loretta’s lips. “These will do just fine,” she said. “Is there oatmeal in there?”
Did Loretta smile? The woman never smiled. The edges of her lips tipped up just enough that I was going to call it a smile.
“Yes, ma’am, there is.” My heart soared. This was exactly why I enjoyed having a coffeehouse so much more than being a lawyer. The joys of seeing someone enjoy a fresh cup of coffee or a simple pastry was a way better feeling than telling a client that they were probably going to jail for life.
“I’ll take three dozen by Thursday.” She put the plate on the counter and clasped her hands.
“Thursday?” I questioned as my mind flipped through the days. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I counted on my fingers and that included today.
“Is there a problem?” she asked snidely.
“Not at all.” I questioned exactly what I’d just agreed to. “I’m doing the apples in my head. A baking thing.” I lied knowing that Friday was the first day of the summer season and I still had to create something spectacular for the coffeehouse.
“I don’t really care about all that.” She waved her hand toward me. The sunlight dripping through the front windows of the shop caught the big diamond on her finger and made those little rainbow spots all over the coffeehouse. “As long as they are ready by Thursday.”
Pepper jumped up from his dog bed and bounced around the coffeehouse trying to grab the rainbow spots.
“That’s what you get when you get a pound dog.” Loretta’s brows arched. “Thursday.” She turned on her heels and walked out of the coffeehouse.
“You’re such a good boy,” I called to Pepper, my salt and pepper Schnauzer, as he bounded toward me.
I grabbed one of the homemade dog treats I’d made fresh yesterday from the animal treat jar and tossed it to him. Happily, he munched on it.
The rest of the morning, Bunny and I spent a lot of time grabbing more pastries from the freezer. Today I was very thankful that I was closed a half day on Sundays so I could bake and freeze for busy days like these. Once the coffeehouse only had a couple of customers, I took the opportunity to take Pepper out for a quick walk on the boardwalk.
Quick was probably not the right word, because everyone loved my salt and pepper four-legged friend. He was friendly to everyone. Loretta was right. I’d moved to Honey Springs and purchased a small cabin that was a seven-minute bike ride to the boardwalk. It was great exercise for me, not to mention it helped wake me up for my four-thirty a.m. start time. Pepper didn’t seem to mind riding in the bike basket.
The buzz of the boats coming in and out of the no-wake zone was a happy memory of the summers I’d spent in Honey Springs with my aunt Maxi. She was the reason my father would bring me here for summer vacations. He’d stay for a week and I’d stay for the summer.
The boardwalk didn’t have as many stores back then, especially not a coffeehouse, but Crooked Cat bookstore had been there forever.
“Hey there, Roxy.” Leslie Roarke, the owner of Crooked Cat, waved at me when she looked up after Pepper and I walked through the store’s door. Her long, copper, kinky hair stuck up all over the place. I knew her pain. My hair was also very curly, but hers was worse than mine. “Pepper, you want a treat?” she called from the counter.
Treat was all Pepper needed to hear before he darted out in her direction.
“I got a new collection of books over there.” She pointed to the new arrival shelf. “Anything in particular you’re looking for?”
“I’m thinking about buying a bridal book.” I lifted my hand in the air.
Recently I’d gotten engaged to my Honey Springs summer boyfriend, Patrick Cane. Of course we weren’t teenagers anymore and some of the residents of Honey Springs think we are rushing into things, but it’s not like I’m walking down the aisle tomorrow or even next month. In fact, Patrick and I hadn’t even discussed a date.
“I don’t think I have any, but there is one I can order that I think you’d like.” Leslie had taken over Crooked Cat after her mother, Alexis, had been murdered. Not only was it a blow to her, but to the community. Alexis and Crooked Cat were staples in Honey Springs. I was just glad that Leslie had decided to stay.
“That’d be great.” I offered a smile. It wasn’t like Leslie and I were good friends. She actually didn’t like Pepper the first time I’d met her. “I’m so glad you stayed in Honey Springs.”
“Me too.” She ran her hand down the store’s cat that was curled up next to the register. “My mom would’ve loved this. It’s a shame that I didn’t take more time coming home.”
“I’m sure your mother knows exactly what you’re doing.” It was only words, but I hoped they offered her some comfort. “You’re keeping her hard work and memory alive.”
“Thank you, Roxy. I really appreciate that.” There was a tear in her eye. “I do love Honey Springs.”
“Me and Crissy are going to meet at the coffeehouse around six for a quick supper before I have to go to Pet Palace if you’d like to join us.” Crissy was going to kill me, but I thought Leslie needed friends.
“I’d love to.” She grabbed a piece of paper. “I’m going to get right on ordering your book for you. My treat as an engagement present.”
“That’s so nice.” I patted my leg. “Let’s go Pepper. We’ve got to get back to the shop before Bunny gets too busy.”
Bunny and Louise Carlton were standing over the stove in the kitchen of the coffeehouse looking into a pot.
“What are y’all doing?” I asked and tied the apron around my waist.
“Thank gawd, you’re back.” Louise held a small dog in her arms and put it on the ground.
Immediately, Pepper rushed over to the poor shaking fur ball to check it out. All of us stood there waiting to see if we needed to step in. Pepper wasn’t going to hurt the little dog, but we didn’t know how the introduction was going to work.
A sigh of relief escaped us when the little dog started to bounce around Pepper in a playful manner.
“I’m so glad she fits in.” Louise’s eyes dipped. Her jaw relaxed. “Now, can you make me a chai? Bunny and I can’t figure it out for nothing.”
Bunny walked back into the coffeehouse to take care of any customers while I made Louise’s custom chai tea.
“Tell me about the dog.” I turned the gas knob on the stove to high to bring the water to a boil.
“Tank came from a fraternity boy.” She rolled her eyes and eased herself down on one of the stools that were next to the kitchen island where I prepared most of the foods. “I don’t know why these college kids think they can take care of a dog when they can barely take care of or feed themselves.”
“I’m glad he brought Tank to you.” I retrieved the cardamom, cinnamon powder, star anise, fennel seed, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and peppercorn that I used to make her tea. “Without Pet Palace I’m not sure what the animals in Honey Springs would do.”
Pet Palace was Honey Springs’s take on a local SPCA. Not all small towns in Kentucky had an animal shelter and Pet Palace was solely run on volunteers and donated money. Louise never turned away an animal of any kind. Every Monday night I volunteered to clean cages and feed the animals.
“Without you, they’d never get the exposure they needed to find a good home.” She leaned in on the counter, propping her elbows up and resting her chin in her hands.
“I love having them here.” I stirred in the ingredients as the water boiled. “Unfortunately I can’t contribute with money, but I can offer my coffeehouse and time.”
The coffeehouse was a dream for me. I’d become a lawyer like my own mother had dreamed. Married another law student and we opened our own practice. After I’d caught him taking more than a monetary payment from one of our clients, we’d gotten divorced. Aunt Maxi had asked me to come visit like I did when I was a child. Then she told me about the plans to revitalize the boardwalk and subtly she planted the seed that I should move there and she’d let me put my own coffeehouse in one of the two buildings she owned on the boardwalk: Crooked Cat, which I’d never allow her to kick out, and the building where the coffeehouse sat today.
Without much thinking, I drained my bank account to open the coffeehouse and buy the cabin; I was now a part of the Honey Springs community. My way of giving back to such a wonderful cause as Pet Palace, I came up with the idea that one animal a week could be featured at the coffeehouse since we had a lot of traffic. They could live in the coffeehouse during the week. Luckily, there hadn’t been any backlash from the community and the local health department kept a close eye on me to make sure they didn’t enter the kitchen. Our success rate was one hundred percent and most of the time the animals were adopted within the first forty-eight hours of coming to the coffeehouse.
“I put all his paperwork and information in a red folder underneath your counter out there.” She pointed and grabbed an apple out of the basket. “You’ve already been to the Farmer’s Market today?”
I grabbed a teacup off the rack and carefully poured Louise’s tea. I set it in front of her and moseyed over to the refrigerator to get her creamer.
“No, in fact I’ve got to get over there and call Patrick to take me.” I dragged my phone out and quickly texted him. “Loretta Bebe came in and actually asked me to make some apple honey crisps for the last meeting of the year for the Southern Women’s Club. Can you believe it?”
“Low-retta is a pushover. She just acts like she’s mightier than thou. Plus, you and all your goodies are the talk of Honey Springs. She knows that she needs to hire you before you get too busy. She’ll brag on how she discovered you.” Louise rolled her eyes so big it was enough for the both of us. “Do you mind putting this into a to-go cup? I’ve got a full day.”
“Sure.” I didn’t hesitate. I had a full day too and getting to the Farmer’s Market to get the best apples Mr. Hill had was my number one priority.
“You didn’t have to take off work to bring me to the Farmer’s Market.” I said to Patrick, though I was so glad he did because the market was already packed. “But I really appreciate it. I could’ve biked, but with all the apples I need or if I’d planned better, I could’ve driven my car today to the coffeehouse.”
“What’s the benefit of running a company if I can’t take off a few hours? Besides, Steve has got it under control.” He referred to Steve Arpel, one of his employees.
I looked over at Patrick. His chiseled jaw tensed. His hand twisted around his dog’s leash, pulling Sassy closer to him. Pepper and Tank followed her as if I too had tugged on their leashes, though I hadn’t.
Sassy was a black standard poodle that Patrick had adopted and she certainly lived up to her name. She was a sassy dog that barely gave anyone but him and Pepper the time of day.
When I looked at Patrick, I saw past the few wrinkles that’d made a home around his eyes and the touches of grey that dotted his brown crew cut and saw the tender smile and loving brown eyes that I’d fallen head over heels in love with as a teenage girl. He might’ve aged on the outside like me, but his heart and depths of his eyes told me his true soul.
The first day he walked into The Bean Hive, he walked right back into my heart.
Whoever passed us took a moment to pet the dogs. How could they not when Pepper rubbed up against any human leg that walked past him. Tank wasn’t a bit timid when it came to being pet. Whoever pet him, I handed a Pet Palace card and gave a brief story on how to adopt Tank.
“Steve’s a quick learner.” It was nice how Steve was able to just pick up where Patrick needed him. It was hard to find an employee like that. “That must feel good.”
The Farmer’s Market was every Monday downtown in Central Park. It was a five-minute drive from the boardwalk but I liked to bike there. Especially since the weather had really turned. Just a week ago the morning still held the crisp cool air that was left over from winter that required a jacket or cozy sweatshirt. Today the temperature started out in the mid-sixties and was only going up from there.
“Very good. It sure is a nice day to be playing hooky.” Patrick winked and held my hand as we walked across the street to Central Park. The dogs trailing next to us. “And playing it with you.”
Sassy nudged between us. Tank yipped at her. We laughed.
“You too, girl.” He let go of my hand and patted her curly hair. “We are going to find you a perfect home.” He picked up Tank. His head darted around as Tank tried to lick all over his face.
The park was smack dab in the middle of town with a sidewalk around the perimeter. There was a gazebo in the middle and on any given warm summer day, many people sat there and read or even enjoyed their lunch.
The summertime Honey Springs flags with a scene of the lake and boardwalk flapped in the light breeze as they hung from the dowel rods on the carriage lights that dotted the downtown sidewalks. The wildflowers made a colorful landscape around the park with the vibrant purple, pink, yellow, white, and blue colors. This was just the beginning of the beauty Mother Nature drew in our cozy town.
The courthouse, medical building, the library along with a few specialty shops were located in the middle of Main Street across from the park.
“So what is going on with you?” Patrick stopped right in front of Honey Bee Company’s booth at the Farmer’s Market. He hooked the handle of Sassy’s leash around his wrist. He set Tank back on the ground.
I took Tank’s leash and attached it to my wrist to free up my hand.
Honey Bee Company had the best tasting honey that went perfectly with most of my specialty teas. They also kept the comb in the honey jar, which was best for baking.
“I don’t know.” I shrugged and picked up a jar so I didn’t have to look at Patrick.
He reached down and took the jar from my hands, forcing me to look up at him.
“You can tell me.” There was a deep concern in his eyes. “I can tell there’s something on your mind.”
I handed the sales lady a five-dollar bill and put the jar of honey in the grocery bag I’d brought with me. The cotton bag swung back and forth as we walked to Hill’s Orchard fruit stand, owned by Fred Hill. He had the perfect apples for my apple tart. This time of the year was hard to find that perfect apple that had the sweet and tart, but somehow Fred never disappointed.
“I’ve been thinking.” I grabbed his hand to stop in front of the apples at Mr. Hill’s stand. “I know the teenage Patrick really well. I’ve only been back to Honey Springs for six months fulltime. I want to date you.” I scanned the table lined with orchard baskets filled with all sorts of freshly picked apples. The stems and leaves were still on them.
“We have a lifetime of dating ahead of us.” He brought my hand up to my own eyes to get a glimpse of my ring. “Or did you forget about this?” He kissed my ring before he dropped our hands back down.
“Of course I didn’t forget that.” I smiled. He did tug my heartstrings. I pulled my hand away and grabbed a few apples and put them in my bag.
There were a few more apples I wanted, so I’d get them and tally them up and pay when I was finished. Besides, Fred and his wife Jean were busy helping other customers. We’d made eye contact so he knew I was there for my weekly fruit.
“Are you saying you don’t want to marry me?” Patrick’s voice cracked.
“No, no.” I shook my head. “It’s been the best couple of months of my life.” I put my hand on my heart. “You are amazing. I don’t want to get another divorce and I worry about how well we know each other.”
“We love each other, isn’t that enough?” he asked.
“Patrick.” My head tilted to the side. The sun grazed my shoulder and gave a spotlight on his face. There was a hurt in his eyes that made my heart break. “Do you even know my favorite movie? My favorite food? Color?”
“No. But I know what’s in there.” He pointed to my heart.
“Yes you do. There’s no harm in taking the time to go on a few dates, get to really know each other.” It made perfect sense to me and sounded like a good plan. “We aren’t going anywhere. It isn’t like we have a date to get married, just taking some time to really get to know each other.”
He dragged his hand up and scratched his head.
“If that’s what you want.” He blinked a few times. There was a thin smile on his lips as he spoke. “I’ll do whatever needs to be done. I love you.”
“I love you too.” I curled up on my toes and gave him a kiss. “It’ll be fun,” my voice escalated in an excited tone. Now I felt like a heel. I probably should’ve just made dates and not told him my underlying meaning. “You love to fish. So take me fishing. Let me love it.”
“I don’t expect you to love my hobbies. Just like I don’t love to bake or love coffee like you.” He had a point.
My body slumped. I looked at him and let out a long sigh. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see and hear Louise Carlton having a heated conversation with Fred. She leaned way over an apple basket shaking a finger at him. Both of them fussing at the same time. Who knew how they could hear each other.
“Fine.” He curled me into his big arms and kissed the top of my head. I could almost feel his thoughts. He was worried, but he’d see that there was no reason to be and my suggestion would make us stronger. “We will only grow stronger.”
I wanted to believe his words, but the look on his face was as if I’d taken out his heart and stomped my cowboy boots on it over and over again until it was as thin as a cake of soap.
“That’s right.” I looked up, and with a soft sigh, he gently kissed me.
The loud bickering made me pull away.
“What’s going on with Louise? She looks mad,” Patrick said.
“I don’t know.” I tugged on Pepper’s leash for him to stop sniffing and to follow me over to her. Patrick and Sassy followed me.
“That was not what we agreed to and I’m afraid I’m going to have to take Bertie back,” Louise tried to modulate her voice as she fought to maintain control.
“That’s not going to happen. I need Bertie to continue to lay the eggs that I need to keep my booth here at the Farmer’s Market. If you dare step a foot on my property. . .” He curled his lips together.
“You’ll what? Egg my car?” Louise’s nostrils flared.
It was a side of Louise I’d never seen. She was always so kind and even-keeled.
“It’s not a good day, Louise. I suggest you step away. I adopted Bertie fair and square.” He shook his finger back at her. It was a finger shake off. “Don’t make me call the police on you because you heard what Officer Shepard said last time I did.”
“I don’t care if they take away my license. I have to save Bertie,” she spat through her gritted teeth. “I don’t care what Spencer said either.”
“Excuse me,” I stepped in and smiled at both of them. “Pepper and Tank wanted to say hello.”
Fred and Louise became silent but stared at each other. Pepper scurried over to get a good scratch.
“I’ve got to go.” Louise jerked around. “Roxy, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Sure.” I shrugged and looked at Fred. He didn’t say anything. He went back to his produce.
“That was very odd.” Patrick arched a sly brow.
“Very.” I inhaled deeply and watched Louise run across the road, nearly missing getting hit by a car before she got into hers. “Very.” I exhaled with a thankful sigh that she didn’t get flattened.