March’s short story is brought to you by a random idea I had one day that spiraled into something bigger.

(Yes, this is a sneak peek of “Vanilla Latte.”)

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

Vanilla Latte (Part Four)

The following morning, Elle had already left for work. Andrea laid in her bedroom, with the TV on, mindlessly flipping through the channels. Her only plans for today were to go to work, but now that she couldn’t go to work, she had no plans.

She was determined to make it a good day. She hadn’t had a day off in a while. So, despite the circumstances, she wanted to look at the bright side of things.

But she was bored.

Andrea’s channel flipping landed on the news. It was the traffic report and, while Andrea hated watching the news, she never minded watching the traffic. Watching the tiny cars from the helicopter camera was always funny to look at.
Unfortunately, it was the tail-end of the report, so she didn’t see much.

She was just about to flip channels again when the next anchor mentioned the cafe. Andrea sat up in her bed, trying to get a better view of her TV, as if that’d move the camera man showing the coffee shop.

“Yesterday morning, this cozy cafe was the scene of a gruesome murder. In a shocking turn of events, a barista at this coffee shop has been brought in for questioning by the police.”

Andrea scrunched her face in disgust.

Gruesome? The customer passed out, it wasn’t like the guy got stabbed or shot. He could have had a heart attack that no one noticed right away. It might not have been murder at all.

“When one of its patrons received his coffee, he took a sip, and never woke up. Police have brought in the man who made the customer the drink, Josh Hagger for questioning. The victim’s name has not yet been released to the public and no major suspects have been named a this time.”

The news reporter changed subjects immediately and Andrea turned off her TV. No matter where she looked, someone was talking about what happened at the coffee shop yesterday morning.

She sighed. Josh was brought in by police? Was that because they suspected him without calling him a suspect or were they making their rounds?

Was Andrea going to be next?

Rockin’ Robin played on the nightstand beside her. Andrea jumped at her ring tone. She reached out and groaned upon seeing Katrina’s name pop up. She didn’t want to ignore her boss, even though they weren’t working anymore. So, she picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“They’ve arrested Josh!” Katrina shouted.

Andrea winced. “Technically, he’s not arrested. I mean, they only brought him in for questioning. That doesn’t make him a suspect or anything like that.”

“They took all our statements yesterday. They should already know everything we know. Why would they want to question him again if they didn’t think he was a suspect? Besides, if they’re going to call Josh in, are they going to bring me in? You? They even put poor Josh’s picture on the news, but the name of the victim hasn’t been released? It makes no sense.”

Andrea nodded at her boss’s words, even though Katrina couldn’t see her. She had to admit, Katrina had a point. It was odd for them to release Josh’s name and picture when he wasn’t technically considered a suspect.

“What’s this going to do to Josh’s reputation? Even though it’s just an interrogation, people are going to assume he’s a suspect. Whether he did it not, this is how people are going to remember him.” Katrina continued rambling.

Andrea shrugged, picking at a thread on her woven blanket. “I don’t think people will get too caught up in the details like that. We’re a popular coffee shop, sure, but I don’t think anyone is going to hold this against us. Josh made the drink so the police are just being thorough, that’s all.”

Katrina sighed.

Did Josh do something? It was hard to say since Andrea didn’t know him all that well. Still, Josh made the drink but Andrea handed it to the customer. She could have easily done something to the poor man’s drink, not Josh.

She shuddered at the thought of the police suspecting her of murder.

“I’m just so shaken about the whole thing, that’s all. I mean, I always wanted to protect you kids from people trying to rob the the register or even if they were just being rude to you guys because their coffee was too hot or something. I never imagined ever that a man would die in the cafe and we’d get blamed for it.”

Andrea offered a small smile even though Katrina wasn’t in the room. “Again, I don’t think we’re getting blamed for anything. The police are doing their job and they’re trying to be through. They might call in the other customers who were at the cafe when it happened, too.”

“But why put Josh on the news?”

“Because he’s the guinea pig? He’s the first one to go in for interrogation and the media is having a field day with it. You know you can’t trust anything the news says. They’re always making things sound much worse than they really are.”

“You’re right, you’re right… I guess I shouldn’t get so worked up about it. But I feel responsible for Josh, you know?”

“Why? He’s an adult,” I replied.

“Josh’s parents moved out of state. They left him the house, but he’s alone now. He was really worried about being on his own, especially without his parents nearby. I think they moved like, three states over or something. They’re ten hours away or whatever,” Katrina explained.

Andrea nodded. She had no idea about any of this with Josh. Maybe she should have talked to her co-workers more often. “You really are a mama bear to us all, aren’t you?”

Katrina laughed on the other end. “I do my best! Although, I’m doing a bang-up job if my children are getting arrested, huh?”

Andrea chuckled though she didn’t respond. She knew it wasn’t Katrina’s fault that Josh got brought in by the police, but she also knew that no matter what she said, Katrina was still going to blame herself.

“What are you doing today?” Katrina asked, sounding like she was changing the subject.

“Nothing. You?”

“I was thinking about taking a ride to the police station. Do you want to come with me?”

“What? Why are you going there?”

“I want to make sure Josh is alright. He might need a ride home.”

“I assume the police would give him a ride home if he needed one. Or he can take the bus.”

“If you don’t want to come, all you have to do is say so. But I want to be in this together.” Katrina explained.

Andrea sighed. Weren’t they already in this together? They shared the same traumatic event.

“And Josh admires you, it might be nice if you were there for him.” Katrina added.

Andrea raised a brow. “He admires me?”

“Your work ethic.”

“Okay?”

“I mean, he likes working with you, is all.”

“I don’t even talk to him.”

Katrina snickered on the other end. “I think that’s why he likes working with you.”

Andrea sighed. Elle always wondered why Andrea could never get a date. Maybe it was because people preferred it if she didn’t interact with them at all.

“So, what do you say?” Katrina pressed.

“Do I really have a choice?”

Katrina hummed to herself. “Not really.”

Andrea couldn’t help but chuckle at that one. “Alright, give me twenty minutes.”

*

Katrina picked Andrea up from her apartment building roughly thirty minutes after their phone call. The police station was only 15 minutes away from Andrea’s apartment. However, with the city traffic, they knew it would be at least a good 30-minute ride.

“Do you really think the police are going to call in the other customers for questioning?” Katrina asked, continuing their phone conversation.

Andrea peeled her gaze from looking out the window to turning her attention to her boss. “Uh, I don’t know.” She really didn’t know. It was just something she had suggested over the phone to help put Katrina’s mind at ease.

Katrina shook her head, almost as if she were deep in thought with herself, not really hearing anything Andrea said. “I don’t think it would make much sense for the police to question any of the customers. Calvin was a regular, but the customers there yesterday weren’t. Well, except two people. But I never noticed them engage with Calvin or anything, so I double they’d want him dead.”

Andrea chuckled. “And that’s what they call speculation. All of your thoughts would end up in the trash.”

Katrina laughed. “I can’t help but think about the situation though, you know?”

Andrea sighed. “The situation is that a customer died in our coffee shop. It’s sad, of course, but it happened. People need to realize that the police are trying to figure out how he died and, for some reason, because the police are involved, everyone assumes that it was murder. But Calvin might have just… I don’t know. Had a heart attack or something? It might have been weird timing for the rest of us. And for him too, I guess.”

Katrina nodded, while inching forward in the traffic. “You bring up good points. I never really thought of it that way before. The news even said murder though, so that’s why I have it wrapped up in the head. That’s why I’m annoyed the media called Josh out like that. Even if it’s not murder, people are now going to brand Josh as a murderer.”

“Do people really have that must time on their hands?”

“Have you ever watched those true crime internet videos? The ones where regular people try to solve decade-old crimes?”

Andrea sighed, turning her head to face the window again. She should have stayed in bed.

“Although, speaking of the customers,” Katrina continued.

“We weren’t talking about the customers anymore,” Andrea stated.

“I wonder how they’re all doing? I have no way to get in touch with them, of course, and I don’t know any of them personally, but I do hope they’re all right,” Katrina said, beginning to ramble again. “I remember all their faces, so when the coffee shop is ready to be open again, and they all come in, remind me that their next coffee is on the house.”

Andrea cracked a small smile. “Sure, I’ll try to remember to remind you.”

“Thank you.”

Andrea gazed back out the window again. She wondered when the coffee shop was going to reopen, if it was ever going to reopen. Crime scenes took a long time to clear. When it did, Calvin’s death probably still wouldn’t be solved, so would people even want to come back to the cafe? Especially if they thought one of the drinks killed a man?

The coffee shop might be over and all they had to cling onto was hope.

“You know all the customers’ faces?” Andrea broke the silence again.

Katrina nodded. “I try to, at least. I may not remember all their names, but being a cafe, we get a lot of regulars. I try to remember so that we’re more personable, more friendly, more welcoming. You know, basic hosting shit.”

“Sure, sure,” Andrea agreed, although she never really tried to get to know any of the customers. She remembered some of them because they came in so often, but that was it. She never treated anyone differently.

“Anyway,” she continued, “do you remember how many customers there were in the cafe when Calvin?”

“Five,” Katrina replied with confidence. “Three women, two men. They were all shoved into the corner booth by the front door when Calvin keeled over, remember?”

Andrea nodded. “I do, but what about before Calvin… uh, keeled over?”

Katrina furrowed her brows, thinking. “I’m pretty sure it was still five. Well, six, if you include Calvin.”

“You don’t remember seeing another man?”

“Not that I can recall. Then again, I was in the back a lot taking inventory and restocking some things. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.”

Katrina scoffed, briefly glancing at Andrea. “Of course there’s a reason. Why else would you ask? What’s the reason? Was there someone else there?”

“I think so?”

“You think so.”

Andrea shrugged. “It’s hard to remember, honestly. Everything that happened yesterday morning is a bit of a blue and I’ve been trying to forget it.”

Katrina sighed. “Listen, Andrea, we all went through something strange yesterday. But we’re going to get through it together and you know how we’re going to do that? We’re going to talk about it and not forget it. It happened, it’s part of our story now. We were there to witness the end of Calvin’s life and, as tragic as it is, no matter what happened to him, we can’t simply forget it. We need to honor him by pushing through our own anxieties about it. Calvin deserves that.”

Andrea let a small groan escape her lips, as if she were being lectured by her mother. “We didn’t even know him. How can we honor him?” She had no idea what Calvin did or didn’t deserve.

Katrina frowned at Andrea. “Thousands of people die every day. You don’t hear about 95% of them but you do hear about someone from the news or some interview video. They’re strangers to you, yes, but does that make their life any less valuable?”

Andrea shook her head.

“No, exactly. Just because it doesn’t affect you personally, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t forget,” Katrina scolded. “Besides, Calvin might have died by weird circumstances or health reasons, but it happened in our coffee shop. We need to take a little responsibility for that even though we didn’t do anything except try to help him when he collapsed.”

“Okay, I understand,” Andrea said. She wanted Katrina to stop talking, but she did understand where her boss was coming from. It was selfish of Andrea to push the situation out of her mind completely. However, she still needed time to process and that wasn’t selfish at all.

“So, I ask again, was there someone else in the cafe?” Katrina asked.

Andrea inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. “Yes,” she said, picturing it in her mind. “A man sat at the table beside Calvin’s booth.” She opened her eyes. “He was the one who noticed Calvin slumped over, I’m sure of it.”

“Did you recognize him at all?”

“No, I don’t think he’s been to the cafe before. Or, if he has, it wasn’t during one of my shifts. At least, I don’t think.”

Katrina hummed to herself again. “What did he do when he shouted that Calvin needed help?”

Andrea shook her head. “I don’t know. I think he must have left because, when the police came, there were only five customers left in the coffee shop and he wasn’t one of them.”

Katrina sighed. “Well, maybe it spooked him and he just ran out of there as fast as he could. I guess you can’t blame him for that. It was a scary thing that happened. Still, he should have helped. Did you tell the detective about him?”

Andrea paused. “Harvey?”

“Who’s Harvey?” Katrina asked. Then she grinned. “Did you meet a man?”

Andrea groaned. “No, no. Detective Harvey Dayne, the guy who took my statement.”

Katrina couldn’t stop grinning. “First name basis, huh?”

Andrea threw her head back. “Ugh, no. It’s not like that. He’s dating my sister.”

“Wait, what?”

“I didn’t know they were dating at the time. I met her boyfriend last night at dinner and it turns out he was the detective who took my statement.”

Katrina scoffed, though she was still smirking. “Wow, talk about a small world.”

“Anyway,” Andrea said harshly, “No, I didn’t tell the detective about that other customer. I didn’t remember him until I was thinking more about situation last night. I completely forgot about him, to tell you the truth.”

“Well, you need to tell the detective about this other customer when we get to the station,” Katrina said matter-of-factly.

“Why?” Andrea questioned.

“Because this other customer might know things we don’t, duh. If he was the one who noticed Calvin keel over, then he might have witnessed the exact moment something happened to him. This customer might be the one who can tell the police whether or not Calvin actually took a sip of his vanilla latte before he died. If he didn’t take a sip at all, then that automatically makes us all in the clear.”

“We’re already in the clear. We’re not suspects,” Andrea replied.

Katrina remained silent.

Andrea rolled her eyes, even though she knew Katrina was right. They were most likely all suspects even though the police hadn’t said anything to them about it.

“I see your point, though,” Andrea said. “If I get a chance to speak to a detective, I can tell them about this other customer. But I don’t even remember what the guy looked like, so I don’t think it’s going to do us any good.”

Katrina cast an amused expression over at Andrea. “Well, it’s a good thing the coffee shop has cameras now, doesn’t it?”

“Wouldn’t the police have already looked at the footage?” Andrea asked.

Katrina nodded. “I’m sure they did, but they might have only looked at when the incident occurred. Maybe they didn’t look at the whole picture. It’s worth noting regardless.”

The conversation drifted to an end as Katrina pulled into the police station, parking in the visitor’s lot. She turned off the car, getting out as Andrea stared at the building. She had passed it by so many times before, but she had never been inside.

She hoped Josh was alright and almost done with his questioning.

She hoped she and Katrina wouldn’t get stuck there for too long.

She also hoped that talking about that other customer wouldn’t cause things to get worse than they already were.

Finally, Andrea hoped Harvey was off-duty today.

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Rachel Poli

Rachel Poli

Author

Rachel Poli is a multi-genre author with a soft spot for mystery.

She often experiments with short stories and flash fiction, however, she's currently working on the first book of her detective fiction series.

When she's not writing, she's usually cleaning, reading, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.

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