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 One)

“And then what happened?” the detective asked.

Andrea sighed, mustering all her energy to not zone out of this conversation. She sat at one of the tables in the middle of the cafe, a few regular customers were seated in a far corner.
Josh, the other barista on duty at the time was behind the counter with an officer, showing the uniformed man the two coffee makers they had. Their manager, Katrina, was in the stock room with another detective. Andrea didn’t know what they were doing in there. Looking at the ingredients?

“Ms. Coleman?” the detective pressed in a gentle tone.

Andrea snapped her attention back to the detective standing over her. “Huh? I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Damn, she was trying so hard not to zone out.

The detective exhaled a deep breath, sitting down across from her at the same table. He put his notepad and pen face-down on the surface, looking deeply at the young woman.

“I understand this is a traumatic time but I promise the sooner we get everyone’s statements, they sooner you can all go home,” He explained mildly.

Traumatic time. What exactly did that mean, anyway? Everyone had trauma. It was human nature to go through the wringer. It was part of life. She wasn’t traumatized. Not that this sort of thing happened to her every day, but she was fine. Really.

“Are you able to continue your statement or shall I move onto someone else and give you a break?” the detective prompted.

Statement? Oh, yeah. Andrea looked to her right. A customer sat in a booth, alone, slumped on the maroon vinyl.

“Don’t look at the body, look at me,” The detective coaxed.

Andrea groaned, turning her head back around to face the man sitting in front of her. “Why couldn’t we have just been robbed like a normal cafe…” she muttered.

“Excuse me?” the detective asked.

“Nothing,” Andrea sighed.

The man sat back in his seat, picking up his notepad. “Let me get you a glass of water.”

“No, I’m okay,” she politely declined. If she ate or drank anything, surely she’d throw it back up.

“Do you need a break, then?”

“No, I can keep talking. I’m sorry, I got a little distracted.”

“That’s alright,” the detective opened his notepad again, clicking his pen open. “I know this is hard, so just take your time. Do you remember where you left off in your statement?”

Andrea opened her mouth, but closed it, shaking her head. She knew she had spoken to him, knew that she had told him some things. But honestly, she couldn’t remember what. It was ten minutes ago and she could feel a headache forming.

“You told me,” he glanced at his notepad, “the deceased entered the cafe at approximately 8:15 this morning for his vanilla latte.”

Andrea nodded, it all coming back to her. “He comes in every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 8:15 for a vanilla latte. I started working here about a month ago so I’ve only known him for that long, but my manager and a few of the other baristas have said that he’s been coming at that time on those days for a couple of years now.”

The detective nodded, listening. Although, he didn’t write down anything Andrea said.

Nervous that she was repeating herself, Andrea tried clearing her dry throat. “Anyway, we knew he’d be coming in, so Josh prepped the vanilla latte at 8:12, like we normally do. That way Calvin can – uh, that’s the guy over there.” Andrea pointed to the deceased customer.

“Yes, thank you,” the detective stated calmly.

Andrea continued. “That way Calvin can skip the line and get his order right away. It’s easier for us too. One less customer to ring up so it keeps the line moving quicker, especially on Tuesday mornings. Tuesdays are the busiest for some reason.”

The detective wrote something down in his notepad, nodding as though he were a bobble head.

“Anyway,” Andrea proceeded, “Calvin walked in, sitting down int hat booth, his usual spot. Josh had made the vanilla latte already, but he was ringing up another customer, so I picked up the latte and brought it over to Calvin.”

“Did you and Calvin exchange words at all during this time?” the detective asked.

Andrea shook her head. “I said good morning to him and placed the latte down on the table. Calvin just gave me a tight grin before turning his attention back to his computer. He had ear buds in too, so I don’t even know if he heard me.

“Josh is the one who usually hands the drink to him. I know they’ve chatted before. I guess it just kind of depends on what mood Calvin is in, or how busy he is with whatever he’s working on… was working on.” Her head, like a mind of its own, slowly turned to look at the corpse again.

The detective scooted his chair around the table so he sat in between the victim’s booth and Andrea’s line of sight. “Don’t worry about that,” he said, “Is Josh always the one to make Calvin’s drink?”

Andrea nodded. “Josh and I work Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays mornings together always. The other two baristas don’t come in until ten.”

“Is Katrina always here with you guys, too?”

“Yeah, she is. But this morning she had a flat tire. She didn’t make it into work until a little after 8:30.”

He nodded again writing something down in his notepad. Andrea straightened in her seat, casually peering at his notes. However, the detective’s handwriting was so illegible, and take into account the notepad was upside down, Andrea couldn’t read a thing.

“So, let me recap for a brief moment,” the detective began, “Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are always the same. You, Josh, and Katrina open and the other baristas don’t start their shift until ten. Except, today, Katrina didn’t arrive until a little 8:30 am, so it was only you and Josh for a bit. Calvin has been a regular customer for a few years, much longer than you’ve been working here, but he only comes in the three days a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. And he always arrives at 8:15 am sharp. He sits in that corner booth on the far wall every time with his vanilla latte waiting for him approximately three minutes earlier. Josh always makes the drink and always hands it to him. Correct?”

Andrea nodded, trying to take in the detective’s words. She tried to remember, even though she was the one who gave him all of that information. “Sometimes I hand Calvin the drink, like I did today. And, of course, if Josh misses a shift then I’m the one to made and deliver the drink.”

“Katrina never does it?”

“Katrina is normally in the back or in the office doing managerly things. Unless it’s super busy, then she’ll come out and help us ring up customers or make drinks or whatever.”

The detective continued to nod as he wrote down more notes. After a brief moment, he snapped the notepad shut, casting a sympathetic smile to Andrea. “Thank you for your corporation, Ms. Coleman. I’ve got your contact information in case we need anything else from you, but I think that’ll be all for now.” He pointed behind the counter where Katrina and Josh stood together. “Why don’t you go over there and join your co-workers? I’m sure you won’t have to be here too much longer.”

Andrea returned the small smile, standing from her seat. She took another quick glance at the dead body before the detective stood, blocking her view again. She turned around, noticing the other detective and officer were now speaking to the other customers who were present when Calvin died.

She walked behind the counter, leaning against the sink, folding her arms. She stared at Josh and Katrina, though neither of them spoke a word to each other.

Was it suspicious that they weren’t talking to each other? Or would it be suspicious if they did start speaking to one another? Were they suspects? Was she and Josh the suspects? Katrina wasn’t there at the time of the incident. Or, she wasn’t there when Calvin got his drink.
Josh made the drink and Andrea had handed it to him. Either one of them could have tampered with the vanilla latte. Did Andrea look or sound guilty at all the detective when she spoke to him? Was did guilty even look like? Well, he was a detective, she was sure that he was able to tell.

What if Calvin died from other causes, though? The coffee might not have been the thing that killed him. At least, no one suggested that the latte was a cause of death out loud. So, what was Andrea worrying for? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

All she did that morning was arrive to work and do her job that same way she did it every day. Calvin’s death was a freak accident and it just so happened to occur shortly after he received his latte.

Sure, it looked bad for the coffee shop. It looked suspicious for her and Josh. But they didn’t do anything. Why would they?

Andrea looked at Josh. She didn’t do anything, at least, she knew that much for sure. But Josh? She couldn’t speak for him. But no, he didn’t do anything either. Did he? Would he?

Earlier she had always thought Josh would never hurt a fly. Hell, Andrea was the one who needed to kick the spiders out of the cafe. Josh wouldn’t go near them. But now she wasn’t so sure.

She didn’t know Josh very well. She didn’t know any of her co-workers very well. Despite sharing all of her shifts with Josh, they didn’t speak to each other too often. When they did, it was about work.

It was that moment that Andrea caught Katrina looking at her looking at Josh. Andrea immediately cast her gaze to the ground. Now if that didn’t look suspicious, she didn’t know what was. Regardless, Andrea felt it was in her best interest to remain silent. She’d talk to Josh and Katrina if one of them spoke first.

“Thank you all for your statements and for your time,” the other detective, who Andrea didn’t speak to, said loudly to the other customers in the cafe. They all got out of their seats in unison, exiting the coffee shop.

As they did, Andrea watched them all carefully. There was an older woman, who was at the cafe all the time. A young woman and a young man, who Andrea didn’t recognize. They must not have been regulars. Finally, there was another elderly woman with an elderly man. Andrea recognized them. They weren’t regulars, but they came into the coffee shop often enough that Andrea knew who they were. Although, she didn’t remember their names at all.

So, there were five other customers in the cafe at the time that Calvin keeled over. Were they all present at the time Calvin was handed his drink? Were there any other customers in the coffee shop beforehand? Did anyone sneak out shortly after Calvin got his drink?

Tuesday was the busiest morning and all the customers seemed like a blur to Andrea at times. It bothered her that she couldn’t remember, but what else could she do? She wasn’t the detective trying to solve the case.
And again, no one every said anything about Calvin’s coffee being the cause of death. It was obvious that Andrea was over thinking everything.

As soon as the customers were gone, the detective closed the door, turning his attention to the three workers. Andrea stiffened. They were in trouble, weren’t they?

The detective who had questioned Andrea stepped closer to the counter. “Thank you guys for your corporation in this unfortunate matter. Overall, you guys did the right thing and handled things very well.”

Katrina pressed her lips into a small smile. “Thank you,” she said, “I’m proud of my staff that they were able to deal with this sad event with level heads.”

Andrea and Josh both smiled at the praise from their boss. However, Andrea didn’t remember acting so well the moment it all happened. From what she could remember, she froze. She saw Calvin gasp and slump over.

She had watched him for a few moments, wondering what he was doing. It never occurred to her that he might have been choking or… well, died.

It wasn’t until one of the other customers jumped up and shouted that something was wrong. It goes Josh’s attention and he immediately raced over to Calvin, checking for a pulse. Katrina called the authorities and ordered everyone to stay back.

What did Andrea do? She absent-mindedly tried to finish someone’s order until Katrina asked her to herd the remaining customers away from the body and to close and lock the front door.

Was that something Andrea should have mentioned to the detective when he questioned her?

Actually, now that she thought more about it, what happened to the customer who discovered something was wrong with Calvin in the first place? They weren’t seated with the other five customers that the police questioned. Did they sound the alarm and then run? Did they have anything to do with Calvin’s death?

Wait, was that something Andrea should have mentioned to the detective?

She stepped forward, prepared to say something when she noticed the detective pointing to her. She immediately stopped.

“Is anyone able to take her home?” he asked.

Katrina nodded her head. “I can, sir.”

“Okay, see that she gets home safe. If any of you need counseling about what happened here today, I’ve left a card with your manager.”

After a few final words, Katrina, Josh, and Andrea were dismissed. The police and detectives were still in the cafe – it would be closed for a while as they investigated the crime scene. Forensics and the coroner were on the way.

Andrea had walked to work that morning, since spring was here. She liked walking in the warm weather, but Katrina opened her passenger door for her.

“Why me? Why does Josh get to drive himself home?” Andrea asked.

Katrina stared hard at her employee. “Because you looked like you were going to pass out or get sick that entire time. I’m sure the detective wanted to make sure that someone was around to keep an eye on you just in case.” She motioned for Andrea to get into the car and it wasn’t a request.

Well, that was embarrassing. Andrea bit her lower lip, reluctantly getting into her bosses car.

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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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