Pumpkin Sliced Sacrifice

P.S.S: Chapter Two

Addy pulled her mom’s Civic into one of the free spaces behind the building in East Grandloc, waiting for her mom to zoom in. It was a quarter to four in the morning, two hours before the opening of The Sweet Rack. Her mother had worked every day of Addy’s existence to make her dream of owning a bakery come true.

When Addy was in her early teens, old enough to be self-sufficient and practically take care of herself, her mom finally opened The Sweet Rack. Since Maggie March was a teen mom herself, it took a good 12 years but it paid off in the end and Addison always looked at her mother with pride, no matter what the townfolk said about their station in life.

It struck Addy as odd that her perpetually punctual mom would be late to open her own store, especially on the one night a murder just happened to occur. After all, without the bakery at Miller Market to provide top shelf donuts, customers would be pouring into The Sweet Rack the second it opened. After another minute, she heard the squeal of tires and the green Jeep pulled into the spot next to her. Addy and Maggie got out at the same time, meeting at the door.

“What happened with work?” Maggie inquired to her daughter as she unlocked the back door.

“Dead body shut it down.” Addy replied simply.

“Details?” The pair entered the bakery and started flipping switches to the lights, the alarm system, and the massive oven.

“Food first.” Together they managed to whip up batters and doughs for all of her specialty items, from deep-fried cookies and seasonal eclairs, to sweet breads and donuts. As predicted, six o’clock rolled around and a line trailed out of the door and out of sight. Every seat in the lobby was filled, and the two tables in the front were taken, despite the biting cold.

While Maggie helped customers to her famous blended pumpkin lattes and classic bear claws, Addy worked in the kitchen to replenish the ever-disappearing pastries and mix batters for the midday treats, from peanut butter brownies to salted caramel and vanilla bean cupcakes.

Growing up, Addy enjoyed the perks of her mother’s menu creation. Even the flavors she didn’t care for like the tartness of lemon, she recognized as winners. Not that there weren’t a fair amount of flops in the years leading up to the bakery’s opening, and many months’ worth of tweaking single recipes, but that was the price of passion.

By the time Addy had refilled the almond and chocolate croissants, the third batch of cupcakes were in the oven and the line had shrunk to two customers peering through the glass at the scrumptious treats.

“Here, baby,” Maggie handed her daughter the largest cup filled with the blended pumpkin latte. Addy took a long sip before setting it down and heaving a sigh.

“It’s been a minute since I’ve felt that type of rush.” She admitted. Maggie smiled at her, draping an arm across her shoulders. The two looked more like sisters than mother and daughter, with their matching blue eyes and blonde hair, apple cheeks and pointed chins.

“Maggie, dear,” an older woman with more wrinkles than their winter specialty crinkle cookies pointed toward the glass before looking up at the two, “do you still have that butterflake- Oh, goodness, is that-?!” She gasped, moving toward the register faster than Addy would have suspected.

“Little Addison?” A rough voice barked from the opposite end of the case.

“It is, Bart, it is!” The man joined his wife at the register as they gawked at the two.

“For a small town there sure are a ton of people I have yet to run into.” Addy muttered to her mother.

“Why, I was just hearing about you! What was it, Gracie?” Bart Gilman wiggled his finger, his eyes moving upward as though struggling to remember.

“That’s right! It was you who walked in on that horrifying crime!” Gracie Gilman placed a hand over her heart and looked at Addison with pitying eyes.

“Crime? What crime?” Maggie asked sharply.

“You haven’t heard?!” Gracie gaped at her. “Poor thing was cut up, slaughtered over at the Miller’s Market.” Maggie’s jaw twitched, not exactly the reaction Addy was expecting of her own mother. To be fair, they hadn’t had time to discuss Addison’s macabre morning.

“I don’t know about that,” Addy said, remembering that she had kept her eyes averted from the body, for the most part. She turned to Maggie. “But let’s just say, business will be booming here for a while, Mom.” Maggie nodded, still emotionless. Before Addy could ask anything, the Gilman couple started bombarding her with questions.

“Did you see what happened?”

“Do they have any suspects?”

“Who was the poor dear you found? An out-of-stater?”

“Did you hear any gunshots?”

“Could it be a serial killer, oh my!”

Before they could ask a million more questions, the buzzer resounded, alarming Addy of her cupcakes. She made for the kitchen when her mother stopped her. “You finish your latte and watch the front, I’ll finish up in the back.” Without waiting for Addy’s protests, Maggie bolted for the cupcakes.

As the Gilmans continued questioning her and coming up with their own theories before she even had a chance to answer, the door opened and a frowning Kayla in full police gear walked in.

“G’morning, Kayla. Coffee?”

“By the potful.” She grumbled.

“Oh, Officer Kowalski! You must know something about the murder!” Gracie said the word as though it were a sin just to utter it.

“Mrs. Gilman, you know better!” Kayla frowned. “Just like the Wally World Bandit, I cannot give you details of an on-going investigation!”

“But everyone knew it was that Wetta boy.”

“Roger and Damian are identical twins so you could understand just how hard it would be to charge the right one.” Addy shook her head in confusion.

“Wait, what happened with the Wettas? They’ve always just been a couple of beer chugging country boys. Did they get into trouble?” Kayla waved her hand dismissively as she took a hefty swig of the sweetened coffee Addy handed her.

“Roger and Ellie are going through a nasty divorce that neither can afford. Damian knocked up his girlfriend from up north and lord knows he doesn’t have the money for a kid.”

“Wait. I have so many questions.” Roger and Damian went to primary and high school with her, and the only Ellie she knew of was Elspeth Travers, who was at least 8 years younger than them.

“See what happens when you leave the little town? You miss all the drama.”

“Clearly.”

“Reunion later, what can you tell us about the…” Bart looked around the shop. A few patrons were clearly listening but pretended not to, and the remaining were too engrossed in their laptops and phones to care. “Murder.”

Kayla’s jaw tightened before a grave look washed over her face and she turned to the Gilman couple. “You didn’t hear it from me.” The couple exchanged glances before nodding in agreement. Kayla whispered just loud enough for Addy and the couple to hear. “A witness claims they saw two people leaving at the time of the murder. Short, white hair, with these horrible knitted sweaters.”

Bart nodded and seemed to consider what she was saying but Gracie looked at Kayla with contempt and clicked her tongue. “Fine. I’ll have you know, we citizens have a right to know when such a heinous crime takes place in our town. Come on, Bart, we’re going to the Sheriff’s office to file an FOIA.”

Kayla rolled her eyes as the couple in matching knit sweaters left without a single purchase. Ordinarily Addy would wear her best customer service smile, having worked at her mom’s bakery after school and in summers enough times to know a customer appeased could mean the difference between closing shop or bringing in five new customers. Word of mouth in a small town kept businesses afloat.

In this case, Addy wasn’t too worried. Now that Miller’s bakery was essentially quarantined, her mother’s was the only one open besides the Tim Hortons which had an entirely different specialty of breakfast foods. She knew the Gilmans, loyal customers since the opening, would be back the next day.

“Ok, but on the real, what the hell?” Addy whispered, leaning forward when the door had closed completely.

“This is the most heinous thing to happen since they got rid of pop machines.” Kayla rubbed her temples and waved upon seeing Addy’s stunned expression. “I know, I know. I’m never any fun during these on call shifts.”

“Have they found out who it was? Small town murder, you’d think half of Grandloc would know by now.” She asked in a low whisper.

“And the other half are still sleeping.” Kayla replied with envy. “Some health inspector from Alpena.” While still considered a small town, Alpena had a population ten times larger than Grandloc.

“Poor thing, she must’ve had family out here.” Grandloc wasn’t exactly a well-known town after all. Anyone who visited knew someone who lived there. According to Ronnie, a lot of the out-of-towners who visited were there for her donuts at Miller Market.

“Actually,” Kayla’s eyebrows quirked upward before she hesitated, “Nah, I can’t say.” Addy frowned at her childhood bestie.

“Well, you know the rules. You have to tell me now.” Growing up, if one of them started to spill a secret and stopped themselves in the middle of the secret, no matter how big it was, they had to tell the rest.

Kayla seemed to consider this and leaned against the white counter. “Ok, but only if you can snag me one of those deep-fried chocolate peanut butter cookies.” Addy grinned.

“That can be arranged.” She grabbed a wax tissue and selected the best chocolate drizzled, deep-fried cookie. They could afford it after the busiest day the shop had just experienced in years. Especially if it meant getting inside details about a murder investigation.

After handing the tissue wrapped cookie to Kayla, she waited patiently. Kayla took a delicate bite into the exterior and closed her eyes as she chewed, savoring the complementary flavors.

“Your mom is a genius.” She sputtered through another bite. Addy opened her mouth to correct her, as the cookie was one of her creations, but it wasn’t worth mentioning. The murder was her priority at the moment. After a swallow of cookie and sip of coffee, Kayla continued, “Rumor around Miller’s is that they failed their inspection two weeks ago. Bill – the manager – has been goin’ around rustlin’ everybody to clean until it’s spotless. A failed inspection would tank at least a hundred jobs. No one would here could afford that.”

Addy nodded, knowing full well just how important Miller’s was to Grandloc’s economy. “Tara Altschul was her name; she drove in for a follow-up inspection to make sure all of the points were handled.” Kayla stuffed the last bite of the cookie in her mouth, groaning as her eyes rolled upward dramatically. “I’m waiting for the Health Department to send the documents from the initial inspection. If I can pinpoint which area needed the most work, we could find our killer.”

Even as the words left Kayla’s mouth, they didn’t sit well with Addy. It didn’t make sense to her for someone to have brutally slaughtered a health inspector well after hours. Addy worked in enough New York City restaurants to know the inspections always happened during the day.

“I just hope it’s not the meat department.”

“The whole town would be up in arms over that one. These folks and their brisket.” Addy chuckled to herself as the memory of Fourth of July BBQ cook-offs every year surfaced. The competition was, without fail, fierce.

“Not just that. Alex is the meat packager. I’d hate to bring family into the investigation.” Alex was Kayla’s younger brother by a year and a half. Addy remembered him as the flirty and bold little boy who always followed his sister around. That was, until high school, and at that point, Addy was too consumed with her studies and helping her mom out at the bakery to hang out much.

“Good mornin’, officer. I trust my newest employee offered you our bottomless coffee special. Exclusive to law enforcement.” Maggie cleared her throat when a gangly young man jumped to his feet, his empty cup in hand. He settled back down into his seat and grumbled, clacking away at his laptop.

“Hey, mama Mags.” Kayla swung her arm around the older woman for a quick side hug. She was probably the only person on the planet who could get away with nicknaming Addy’s mother.

“How’s the family? Haven’t seen your parents around in awhile.” Maggie asked, looking concerned.

“Dad’s been working on a rig up north. Mom’s taken over the ranch with Alex.” They nodded sympathetically.

Before anyone could utter another word, a muffled song started ringing from Kayla’s pocket. As she answered, a group of older ladies with purple hats and yellow feathers burst through the door. Even though Addy only heard part of the conversation, she immediately knew what it was about.

“I heard she was cut up like ceviche!” One woman with bulging eyes exclaimed.

“We’re going to the beach today?” A confused woman with an obvious brunette wig nearly shouted.

“Dot, change your hearing aid’s battery.” The clear leader of the group barked over her shoulder, pointing to her own ear. The confused woman looked between the other ladies, ever the more baffled.

“It’s that Burlap fool’s fault.” A fourth woman chimed in, her nose in the air as the group moved toward the pastries. “He’d do anything to save a buck.”

“Ellen, don’t say such a thing!” The bug-eyed woman gasped, clapping her hand over her chest. “You don’t know that he was even there.”

“Does he have anything better to do?” Ellen retorted. The leader and hearing-impaired woman were too ensconced with the glazed blueberry scones to pay much heed to the other two. “Everyone knows Miller’s is as good as out of business.”

Addy shot her mother a glance, but her face was stone set. She made a mental note to make inquiries about her mother’s behavior later. Maggie stepped forward to help the rowdy women just as Kayla shoved her phone back into her pocket.

“Unbelievable. You know they have me going to Alpena because our fax machine isn’t working and their reports are too classified to send over email.” Kayla rolled her eyes as Addy refilled her coffee. “And I have to pick up Alex for his shift at noon.”

They both looked at the powder blue clock beneath The Sweet Rack’s western style sign. It was already past nine, and a trip from Grandloc to Alpena with the slick roads meant a three hour ride.

“I’ll do it.” Addy volunteered before she could stop herself. She could see out of the corner of her eye, her mother’s head snapped in her direction.

“You got a police badge?” Kayla quirked an eyebrow at her.

“No, I mean, I can drive Alex to work.” She clarified, walking to grab a raspberry cream cheese danish.

“You’d do that?” Kayla asked. She knew she shouldn’t have been hurt by the tone of surprise. After all, she had left for nearly a decade and barely saw anyone but her mom when she visited. Yet it still stung a little.

“Of course.” She handed Kayla the bag with the danish and smiled. “For the road.” Kayla nodded, jotted down Alex’s cell phone and gave Addy one last look of appreciation before bolting for her car. A minute later, her own phone vibrated with a text and address, “just in case you forgot”.

Another hour passed before things started to slow down enough for her to leave. “Mom, I’m headed to the house to shower. You gonna be ok here?” She asked, walking into the back office to see her mother pouring over documents on a clipboard.

As her mother looked up, her eyes were pleading. “I hate to ask-”

“Stop, mom. Just tell me what you need and I’ll do it.” Addy smirked. Her mother inhaled deeply, looking back at her clipboard.

“I’ve had an unexpected influx of special orders come through my OLO system.” The what system? Addy thought as Maggie spoke. “I definitely don’t have enough supplies, so I need you to run to Jet’s Freshest. Whatever isn’t available, I’ll call some of the farms and see if we can come up with some temporary compensation.”

Addy smiled at her mother’s thoroughness in a time of unexpected business abundance. Maggie was not one to crack under pressure, no matter what was thrown her way. It’s one of the many traits she wished she had inherited.

“You got it, mom.” Maggie pulled out her wallet and handed her one of Addy’s favorite vices: plastic.

“Here’s the business credit card. Practice frugality at all costs, but don’t-”

“Don’t sacrifice quality, I got it.” Addy finished her mom’s favorite mantra. She used it for all things, from clothes, groceries, furniture, second-hand college books. Her mother put her hands on her hips, pursing her lips at Addy.

“When did you get so smart?” She teased. That was another common saying from Maggie, started ever since Addy was two years old, pretending she was baking quality butter biscuits.

“It’s what that expensive college education paid for.” Addy quipped, though they both knew full well that she had left on a scholarship, and even though she didn’t need to work, she had never been without a job.

“Take the keys to the Jeep. You’ll need it.” Maggie called as Addy took off the apron and tossed it into the laundry basket. As she pushed the door open with her hip, Maggie yelled out after her, “And thank you!”

“That’s why I’m your favorite daughter.” She flashed a bright smile at her mom before letting the door close behind her.

Her first real working day since being back was going a lot differently than she thought it would.

Next Chapter!

 

 

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