Barista Bob had gotten so used to people of Cape Misty calling him Barista Bob, he sometimes forgot he had any other names.
So, when Detective Peters asked him for his full legal name for the official statement regarding the discovery of the dead body in the coffee shop, Bob had to think a minute. He rubbed his hands on the freshly laundered, striped apron tied around his waist as if he needed to wipe off something sticky.
“Robert Jay Wellington III,” he finally said.
Detective Peters was on loan from the neighboring city of Woodrow’s police force to assist the Cape Misty Sheriff’s Department in solving the first murder in their tiny coastal hamlet in more than twenty-five years. That meant Sheriff Dixon himself, on the job for two decades, had no experience investigating a capital crime.
“Robert Jay Wellington III,” Peters repeated. He stretched up onto the balls of his feet and back down three times as he jotted the answer into a small leather-bound notebook. “That’s quite a mouthful.”
Bob didn’t think it was a question, so he didn’t say anything. He leaned back against the front counter for support, and surveyed the café he’d opened up nearly every morning. Fifteen hundred mornings or more.
The usual lingering aroma of freshly ground beans and baked goods was replaced with a damp, coppery smell that made his stomach roil. He’d thrown up once already. He swallowed, attempting to keep the foul from coming back up. The flashing red lights of the cruisers and ambulance whirled in from the parking lot, making him a little dizzy too.
The hand-scraped, round oak tables that would normally be packed with the weekly regulars enjoying lattes and muffins remained empty. A county deputy and a police officer in a uniform with the Woodrow breast patch strode in and out of the propped open glass door. They moved with purpose, clomping across the slate floor, but Bob couldn’t tell what they were doing.
Detective Peters coughed, but continued to scribble in his notebook. Dressed in a navy sports coat, white collared shirt, solid red tie and charcoal pants, he resembled every television detective Bob had seen in his favorite tv shows. His full head of dark hair, styled in a side-part crewcut, was going gray around the temples and sideburns. But Bob guessed him to be about the same age as himself, thirty-three or so. Wasn’t that young for a detective?
Bob tried to put himself in Peters’ shoes. What would his life have been like if he’d chosen a heroic profession instead of running a coffee shop?
Not that serving coffee wasn’t important. It could be the best part of someone’s day. And that’s what made it so fun for him. That, and he really liked coffee and chatting with folks.
Of course, the coffee shop had been a distant second choice, behind his boyhood dream of becoming a major-league pitcher.
Both choices were a huge disappointment to his father and grandfather, who had been attorneys, and later, judges.
“Tell me about discovering the body,” Peters said. “Go through it step by step. Don’t leave anything out, even if you think it means nothing.”
Bob had already told a faster, much more abbreviated versions of discovering the body earlier this morning. First, to the dispatcher at the Sheriff’s department shortly after five AM, and then to Sheriff Dixon himself when he finally arrived at the café at about six. Telling what happened over and over didn’t get any easier.
It was only ten AM and he was feeling wrung out. He hadn’t been allowed to touch anything in his own shop. That meant he couldn’t make or drink any coffee. As the barista, he was one his own best customers.
“I pulled into the parking lot out back at five AM, like always,” Bob said. “I had washed a bunch of aprons at home last night, so I grabbed those off the passenger seat, and headed for the back door. It was still dark out, but when I got within a couple of feet of the stoop, the motion light came on. That’s when I saw the back door was open, and the bottom corner glass pane was broken. So—”
“Were the lights in the café turned on?” Peter’s said, interrupting.
“It was dark. I had to switch on the kitchen light.”
Bob waited for another question, but none came. He licked his dry lips and went on.
“I was thinking some kids must have broken in to rob the register. But I take the receipts to the bank deposit box every night after I close, so it wouldn’t have done them any good. I looked around the kitchen, but nothing looked wrong. No drawers open or anything. So then, I came in here, switched on the lights, and checked the register. It looked just like you see it now. Closed, electronics switched off.”
Peters was writing furiously. He bounced on the balls of his feet again. Maybe his shoes pinched.
Bob waited for him to catch up. He wondered why the detective didn’t use a recorder. Or have a secretary. But he knew from tv, cops had to do all their own paperwork.
Before Peters had stopped writing, a blue-uniformed state trooper with a distinctive Smokey the bear hat came in through the front door.
“Detective Peters?” the trooper said.
“That’s me,” Peters answered, extending a hand.
The two lawmen shook.
“Sergeant Brandt,” the trooper said, tipping his hat. “Wanted to let you know forensics is here. Can they get started?”
“Yes, sir. Let me know if you need anything from my men.”
“Should be good,” the trooper replied. “Let us know if there’s anything you want us to focus on more thoroughly.” Instead of waiting for Peters to answer, Brandt went to the front door and waved.
In short order, a whole parade of people came through. Most wore navy uniforms that looked janitorial. Some carried equipment cases. One had a reporter-style, fancy digital camera and immediately began flashing pictures.
If Bob weren’t so worried about what was going to happen to him and his café, he might have actually enjoyed watching the investigators do their work. But this wasn’t a tv show. And the dead body here was no actor sleeping on set. His place of business was the crime scene. For real.
“Let’s back to where we were,” Peters said. “Cash register closed.”
Bob tried to focus his attention on the detective. It was tough with all the activity going on around them.
“Right,” Bob said. “So, I looked around the room a bit, and that’s when I saw a person lying on the floor there, face down.” He pointed around the corner, to the area that lined the bay window. “It looked like a young person. You know, the body being so small. I was so scared, I nearly pissed myself.”
“What scared you?” Peters asked.
“Well, I thought I was alone. I just wasn’t expecting anyone to be here. Alive or…”
“What did you do next?”
“I went up close, to see if he was all right. That’s when I saw the pool of blood.” Bob had been okay relating the story so far, but he started to shake.
“Did you touch him?”
“No, I mean that much blood coming from his head. I figured he couldn’t still be alive. So much blood. That’s when I lost it.”
“You mean you threw up?” Peters said.
“Yes, sir. Sorry about the mess. I hope I didn’t spoil the investigation.”
“Did you recognize the victim?”
“Couldn’t see a face. So, no.”
“All right, Mr. Wellington,” Peters said. “I want you to go sit down in your office. Try not to touch anything. And no more phone calls. I’ll send an officer in when we need you again.” Peters turned and signaled to a uniformed officer. “Murdock, escort Mr. Wellington to the back office.”
Bob wondered why he needed an escort to his own office.
The uniformed officer placed a hand firmly on the small of Bob’s back and practically propelled him out of the room.
Bob concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to fall down.
Bob had no idea how long he’d been sitting there, when officer Murdock entered the office. He’d been staring at the photo on the wall opposite his desk. It was taken the day he’d opened the café five years ago.
His mother stood with her arm around him, beaming. She had told him she how proud she was of him. He’d saved up the money to buy the café from years of working minimum wage jobs, and hadn’t asked his father for a penny.
Of course, the place needed a ton of remodeling, but he was willing to do everything himself.
In the photo, his father and grandfather stood off to one side, both scowling, arms crossed.
“Come with me,” Murdock said. “Peters needs to see if you can ID the body.”
This time, Murdock allowed him to walk ahead on his own. But Bob wasn’t sure he could.
Even before he got close to the body, Bob could see that someone had turned the person over.
The round toes of the smallish brown hiking books now pointed toward the ceiling.
Bob stopped in his tracks. He didn’t want to get any closer. He didn’t want to know. What if it was one of the Miller boys, or some other young teenager he knew from town? He couldn’t bear to see a dead child.
He felt Murdock’s hand on his back, once again propelling him forward.
Peters stood next to the body.
A forensics investigator stood next to Peters, camera aimed toward Bob, instead of the person on the ground.
Finally, Bob was close enough to see the face.
Bob heard a high-pitched squeal. It had come from his own mouth.
A camera flash went off and burned light in Bob’s eyes, but still he saw the face.
The dead person wasn’t a teenager after all.
Or a boy.
She was a young, petite woman. Her hair had been cut short, like a boy’s.
But her hair had been long the last time he’d seen her, seventeen years ago. Down to her waist.
And then, she didn’t have a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. Or blood caked on her face.
But he would know her anywhere.
He felt the bile rising at the back of his throat.
“Do you know this woman?” Peters said.
“She’s my wife,” Bob said, then threw up for the second time that morning.
Accompanied by Murdock, Peters had allowed Bob to go into the restroom to clean himself up. He washed his mouth out with water and rinsed a few times. He splashed his face with cold water, then wiped himself off with his apron. This was a nightmare. It couldn’t really be happening.
Peters was seated at the café table closest to the cash register.
“Sit down, son.” The detective was hardly old enough to be his father, but Bob appreciated his kindly manner. “You said the deceased is your wife? What is her name?”
“Sally Jenkins. She was my wife,” Bob said. “Married less than four days. We were sixteen, ran off to Vegas on a Greyhound, eloped in one of those Elvis chapels. But my dad tracked us down with a PI who hauled us back here. To Woodrow, I mean. And my grandpa, he was a judge at the time, pulled some strings and got the marriage annulled right away.”
“Now, I know where I heard that Wellington name,” Peters said. “Your grandfather was judge Wellington. The famous hanging judge. And then your father followed in his footsteps. You didn’t like the family business, huh?”
Bob shrugged his shoulders. Now Peters really did sound like his father.
“So she wasn’t your wife at the time she died.”
“Not technically. But I never quit loving her.” Bob felt tears drop from the corners of his eyes. “Our families separated us after Vegas. I’m pretty sure my dad paid to make her family move away. I never heard from Sally again. That was probably part of the deal. Dad didn’t think she was good enough for me. Her father was a fisherman. Her mother, a Polish immigrant, didn’t speak English. I got sent off to military school for the rest of high school.”
“So when was the last time you saw Ms. Jenkins?” Peters said.
“The day the PI brought us back from Las Vegas. That was over seventeen years ago. She hasn’t changed though. I mean except for the bullet…” Bob choked up and couldn’t finish. He hung his head as the tears came faster.
Murdock patted him on the back, then handed him a paper cup of water.
Bob wiped his eyes with his palm, and took a sip.
“You say you attended military school, Robert. So, you know how to use firearms, don’t you?”
Peters couldn’t think he had anything to do with her death, could he?
“They trained us on pellet rifles at Clarkson Academy. But I haven’t fired a weapon since graduation.”
“And do you own any weapons, son?”
Bob didn’t like where this was going. “Yeah. I bought a twenty-two for protection for the café.”
“And where is that weapon now?” Peters said.
“In the drawer under the register.”
Peters pointed at Murdock. “Someone give him some gloves,” he shouted.
In a few seconds, Murdock called from behind the counter. “No gun here, sir.”
“Do you keep the drawer secured?” Peters asked.
“Drawer doesn’t even have a lock,” Bob said. “This is Cape Misty.”
“When did you last see the weapon?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Bob felt a caffeine deprivation headache coming on.
“Who else knew about the gun?” Peters said.
“I mean it wasn’t a secret. Ginny and Dave probably knew. Those are my employees.”
“But you never told them about the weapon?”
“I don’t think so,” Bob said.
“Murdock,” Peters said, “see if the team outside has found a twenty-two.”
“Yes sir,” Murdock said.
“The bullet wound in your ex-wife’s forehead appears to be small caliber. Probably a twenty-two.” Peters stood. “Robert, I’m going to have one of the uniforms escort you to the Sheriff’s station. Merely a formality. We’re not charging you with anything yet.”
“Sir,” Murdock said, coming in from outside. They found a twenty-two-caliber weapon in Wellington’s car. In the glove box. Recently fired.”
Bob stood, his knees wobbly. “I didn’t kill her,” he said. “You’ve got to believe me.” But that’s what all the killers on tv said. And the innocent ones too, who got sent up.
Outside the café, the air smelled like rain. The smoky gray sky threatened, but withheld. It was typical Cape Misty weather. Somehow, it seemed more like the end of the world, to Bob.
Murdock cuffed him, hands behind his back, and pushed him forward to Sheriff Dixon’s cruiser. Then, the officer frisked him up and down, in his crotch. Murdock’s taps were harder than they looked on tv.
“I can take it from here, officer,” Dixon said, in his slow, methodical way. He never usually wore the Smokey hat that went with the beige uniform, but right then, he had it on.
Bob had always liked the sheriff. They exchanged pleasantries about goings on in the town whenever Dixon came in for coffee—tall, black, extra sugar.
“Bob’s not gonna give me any trouble.” Dixon said.
Bob wasn’t sure who the Sheriff was talking to. Murdock had gone back inside the café. Maybe Dixon was giving him some kind of sideways warning.
The Sheriff opened the back door to the cruiser and took Bob by the elbow, gently guiding him forward. Dixon’s ample pot belly brushed his backside as he bent his knees to get in.
Attempting to enter the backseat of a car with hands cuffed behind your back was awkward. Bob couldn’t gage exactly where his butt was, and thought he might end up on the floor instead of the seat. Somehow, he managed.
The Sheriff’s car smelled like tuna fish and cinnamon spice pipe tobacco, though he’d never seen Dixon with a pipe. Or eating tuna fish, for that matter.
Bob couldn’t get comfortable in the seat. It felt too stiff. Maybe that was the point. His wrists were okay. But his shoulders were starting to ache from the unnatural position of his arms, not to mention the ghost of the labrum injury he suffered in high school that had never been right again.
The Sheriff started the car and “Hey Jude” started. Dixon hummed along. The Sheriff’s Department was about a two-minute drive from the café. They wouldn’t even get to hear the end of the song.
Bob didn’t think police were allowed to listen to music in their cars. And he’d never figured Dixon for a Beatles fan. But then again, The Beatles were probably just coming into their own when the Sheriff was a young man.
The lyrics flowed over Bob, and his tears started up again. Poor Sally. Where had she been all these years? Had she married? Did she have kids of her own?
Bob had been to the Cape Misty Sheriff’s Department building once, a while back, to see about getting a clamming license. He hadn’t gone clamming for a couple of years, though.
The front room of the Department was mainly a waiting area with a counter, though there was a big bulletin board with lots of town information and a few flyers showing wanted criminals. Like most offices, it was over-lit with too-bright fluorescents.
The light hurt Bob’s teary eyes as Dixon led him through the front room to the security door next to the counter, and into a private office with a metal table with wood-look Formica top in the middle, and a few metal folding chairs scattered all round it. A dented gray waste basket sat in the far corner.
The Sheriff helped him into one of the chairs.
“We’re gonna fingerprint you, Bob, in a bit. Just routine. First, I got to go do a little paperwork. You wait here a minute, okay?”
Dixon left and shut the door behind him.
The bare white walls of the square room were marred with black marks and odd-shaped yellow stains. A typed sheet, with print too small to read from where he sat, was tacked up near the wastebasket. The room had no windows, Bob realized.
His shoulders hurt, his head ached, his eyes burned, and his stomach felt jumpy. All he wanted was to blot everything out. All feeling. All thoughts. He closed his eyes. Bob tried not to see Sally’s dead face in his head, but it was no use.
After what felt like a long time, the door opened and Sheriff Dixon returned. He had a clipboard in his hand. “Bob, Detective Peters is going to need contact information for Ginny and Dave. Just needs to dot all the I’s. and cross all the T’s. I figured you got all that in your office in the café.”
“I have a folder on the computer labeled ‘Personnel.’ Everything’s in there. But he needs a password to log on. Password is good beans, one word, all caps.”
“Thanks, son. We’ll get that to the detective right away.”
Bob was everybody’s son today. He didn’t think that was such a good thing. But it reminded him. “Can I make a phone call?”
“Who do you want to call?” Dixon asked.
There was no other choice. “My father,” Bob said.
“Judge Wellington’s gonna want to hear about this. Of course. His own son. Professional courtesy and all, I’m gonna call him myself. How’s that?”
That was just fine with Bob. The less he had to say to the man himself, the better.
After he’d been fingerprinted by pimply-faced Deputy Barnes, the youngest officer in the department, he’d been put in a cell.
At least he didn’t have to wear the cuffs any longer.
Seated on the thin mattress of the bottom bunk, he rotated and rubbed his shoulders, trying to work out the kinks. His fingers still smelled of ink and alcohol, but the cell itself reeked of bleach. At least that meant it had been cleaned recently.
He took advantage of the lidless, stainless steel toilet to relieve himself. He hadn’t realized how badly he needed to go.
Once back on the bunk, he studied the walls. The peeling, greenish-gray paint had been scratched, kicked, bitten, and graffitied by previous occupants. Nothing very clever or original was written there. Mostly negative sentiments about police, women, or parts of women’s bodies. There were a few unrealistic drawings of penises too. Why did men like to draw penises, anyway? What was the point? Maybe it was like a peeing dog marking its territory. And where had those he came before him gotten pens, anyhow? Everything in his pockets had been taken away before the fingerprinting. It hadn’t been much—his wallet, his phone, a comb. But nothing to write with.
Deputy Barnes came by with a paper cup of water and handed it though a slightly wider opening in the bars.
“Any way I could get a cup of coffee instead?” Bob said.
“You wouldn’t want it,” Barnes said. “There’s a reason we all come to your place for joe. I don’t think the pot here’s been washed in the history of the department.”
“Still, if it isn’t too much trouble,” Bob said. “I could use the caffeine.”
“I sure hope you’re not guilty, Bob. Be a shame for Three Rivers to shut down. Truth is, I don’t think half the town would function without your coffee.”
Even if Bob managed to convince the police of his innocence, he realized he might never be able to go back to his old life. The woman he loved had been killed in the café he loved. One trumped the other, didn’t it?
Bob startled awake to the sound of his father’s voice. It took him a minute to figure out where he was. He hadn’t remembered dozing off.
“You know better than to talk to anyone without a lawyer,” his dad said, speech preachy and booming as always.
But the retired Honorable Judge Wellington Jr. didn’t have to open his mouth to intimidate anyone. His father wore a precisely-tailored, black pin-striped suit—a designer label that cost more than Bob earned in several months. And looked every penny of it. The man stood half a foot taller than Bob, who was just shy of six feet. He had a strong jaw and a long, straight nose that made it easy to look down on folks.
“I’m glad you’re here, Dad,” If it was a friendly face Bob had hoped for, his father’s was not it. He couldn’t remember seeing anything but a scowl when he was in his dad’s presence. Even before his mother died three years ago.
“They didn’t get any prints off the gun found in your glove box. It will take at least seventy-two hours for ballistics to come back. So Detective Peters is willing to have the Sheriff’s department release you into my custody.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Bob said. He wondered if he’d be better off just waiting in the cell. At least he wouldn’t have to be lectured at and continually reminded what a disappointment he was.
Bob’s parents’ house was in the finest section of Woodrow. Though not a gated community, it still had all the trappings of the upper crust—double acre home sites, long driveways, lit-up fountains.
He still thought of the house there as his mom’s too. Her cheerful presence remained everywhere in the way the home was decorated, from the tasteful botanical curtains, to the comfortable sofas, to the pretty lead crystal spheres she collected, to the bright landscape paintings on the walls.
He missed his mother even more when he came home. He sat in the spot on the couch she had always favored. Bob imagined he could still smell her lavender perfume.
His Mom’s face beamed up at him from the framed photo on the end table. It had been taken on Mother’s Day, the year before she’d been diagnosed with cancer.
“It is in our best interest,” his dad said, settling into the oversized wing chair where he still presided over the living room like a judge his courtroom, “to set you up with Ralph Higgins. I’ve already left him an urgent message.”
Higgins, Bob knew, was a golfing buddy of his dad’s who specialized in criminal law. “I haven’t been charged with anything yet,” Bob said. “Isn’t it premature?”
“That’s you to a tee, boy. A day late and a thousand dollars short,” He chuckled, likely entertained by his new twist on the cliché. “When your dream of becoming a baseball player didn’t pan out, did you have any sort of a back-up plan? Nope, not my son.”
Didn’t his father ever tire of the same arguments? “Dad, that’s not fair,” Bob said. “I had great prospects until my injury. Some of the hottest college pitching scouts came to my games and chatted me up. And I still might have had a career in the minors if I’d healed better after the surgeries.”
His father sat up straighter. “The law is a career. Baseball is a pastime.”
Bob couldn’t listen to any more. “Dad, it’s been a grueling day. I’m going to go lay down.”
“Sure, go sleep away your troubles. And don’t forget, it’s that same trailer-trash girl we saved you from in high school who got you into this mess.”
Bob sprang up from the sofa, adrenalin surging, fists balled. He shook with anger.
His father must have been taken aback by his son’s sudden energy. He clamped on to the arms of the wingchair as if he were on a plane about to crash. Not only that, he shut his mouth.
It took every ounce of self-control in his body for Bob not to haul off and pummel his father. He’d never wanted to hurt anyone as much as he did in that moment.
A girl he loved once had been senselessly murdered. Even if his father cared nothing about his emotions, Sally was a person. A human being. She had a life. How could his father be so heartless?
But violence was never the answer. Even though he was not raised with any sort of strict religious upbringing, his mother had been a Quaker before she married his dad. She lived her life as a vessel of peace and light and love. Bob had taken in all that positivity and reverence from her.
If he did hit his dad, his mother would have been disappointed in him. And he’d only be angry at himself. Bob forced himself to walk away.
Bob woke in the dark in his old bedroom to the sound of an alarm.
At first, he thought it must be the smoke detector.
He rushed out of bed, turned on lights, and ran through the hallway of the bedroom wing of the house, expecting to encounter smoke. There was none.
He called out for his dad but there was no answer. So he kept searching until he found him in the living room.
His father was not alone.
“Stay right where you are,” the intruder ordered, waving a gun at him. The man’s other arm was clenched around his father’s throat. Not as tall as his dad, but with the physique of a bodybuilder, the man certainly had his father out-muscled.
“Take whatever you want, and go. That burglar alarm alerts the police. They’ll be here any minute,” Bob said.
“They’re gonna find the son went on a killing spree,” the man said. “First, he did in his ex-wife, then murdered his own father, the asshole judge who sent me up twenty-five years ago.” The man took his eyes off Bob for a second to look at his dad’s face. “Your son’s gonna get two life sentences. How do you like that, judge?”
Bob was aware that to the right, on the console table behind him, on a tall, hand-carved stand, sat his mother’s prized one-hundred-percent lead crystal sphere. It was just about the size of a baseball.
Bob leaned back, grabbed the crystal, wound up, took aim, and let it fly. He didn’t even feel the pain of his rotator cuff tearing until much later.
There were two thuds—the glass sphere hitting the man right between the eyes and the man’s body hitting the floor, unconscious. Down for the count.
Bob, though healed from the surgery, still had weeks of physical therapy ahead of him, when his doctor finally cleared him to go back to work at Three Rivers Café.
Ginny and Dave had re-opened the place for him a few weeks back, as soon as the crime scene clean-up team had finished.
His wonderful employees had even already programmed the register so that ten percent of every sale was automatically set aside for the non-profit college scholarship program that Bob had founded with the help of his dad’s expert legal advice—The Sally Jenkins Memorial College Fund for Girls.
Bob arrived at work late morning, after his doctor’s appointment, to the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. He stood in the kitchen a long while and breathed in the scent like pure oxygen.
He entered the front of the café to find it filled with his loyal Cape Misty customers. His doctor, Sheriff Dixon, and Deputy Barnes stood among them.
A cheer rose from the crowd. “Welcome back, Barista Bob,” they chanted, over and over.
Barista Bob was certain there was no job in the world that could top his, not even pitching for the major leagues.
Lana Ayers has shepherded over eighty poetry collections into the world in her role as managing editor at three small presses. She holds MFAs in Poetry and Popular Fiction, and has authored nine poetry collections of her own, as well as a time travel novel. She lives on the Oregon coast where she enjoys the near constant plink of rain on the roof and the sea’s steady whoosh.