Chapter 3 -Evil Bun
I stared at the pile of lumber on the street. Aunt Coco and I might be fairly healthy for our age, but neither one of us was strong enough to drag all the pieces inside the tea shop.
Aunt Coco spoke into her smartwatch. “Hey smarty-pants, call Skywalker.”
I blinked. What was my aunt doing? Had she really gone senile? Or was this a nickname for someone on her contacts list?
As the ex-wife of a tech tycoon, I had a love-hate relationship with technology. Previously, I had spent my days pretending to be a budding novelist and planning parties and charity events. The only thing I needed was my cell phone and an internet signal for my laptop. My aunt, however, had always been up to speed on the latest technology. It probably had to do with Uncle Gabriel and the Avengers’ top-secret government work.
Aunt Coco finished her call, and I missed all of it while I gathered wool.
A vehicle pulled up, and a man got out with a lanyard name badge hanging around his neck. I couldn’t make out his name. Even with my contact lenses, I didn’t have 20/20 vision. He was in his early thirties, tall, dark, and handsome. These days, most young men were handsome in a nonsexual way. Actually, younger people in general made me miss my youth. I didn’t know if this was a byproduct of my divorce. Sometimes I felt like I had fallen asleep and woken up a middle-aged woman. I prayed that I’d snap out of this soon. It was exhausting to live with regrets.
The man opened the compartment in his clipboard and pulled out an official document, probably a citation notice. Code enforcement was here. Oh, joy. I wondered if the cops were also on their way.
“Hi, Duncan,” Aunt Coco said, waving at him like they were old friends. “Have you met my niece?” She gestured at me. “Cedar, this is Duncan Spencer.”
Duncan tipped his chin at me and glanced at the pile of lumber on the street. “Now look here, Coco. You know you can’t block the parking spots. I suggest you get someone to move this, or I will have to give you a citation.” His voice was deep and booming like an announcer at a ballgame with a bad microphone.
“I got someone coming over with a forklift,” Aunt Coco said. “We’ll put the lumber in the alley behind the shops.”
Duncan sighed and glanced at the coffee shop. He gave Aunt Coco a long-suffering look. “I’m tired of coming out here every day since you bought this place. Next time, you’ll definitely get a citation. Someone has to pay for my time.”
Aunt Coco bristled. “Then you should give a citation to your aunt for all these false alarms.”
My eyes widened. “Wait a minute. You’re related to Fiona? Isn’t this like nepotism or a conflict of interest?”
Duncan glanced at the overcast gray sky and sighed. He ignored my questions, probably because he knew there was a conflict of interest with his aunt asking him to harass her new business rival. “Coco, you and my aunt need to figure this out. This feud between the two of you is getting ridiculous. Even Everly was complaining about it.”
A police cruiser pulled up behind the code enforcement vehicle. A uniformed officer got out, and from the body shape, I could tell this person was a woman. I didn’t bother squinting at the name badge. It would take a miracle for me to make out the letters.
“Speak of the devil.” Duncan tucked the clipboard underneath an arm and stepped back like he was getting ready to watch a show. He didn’t even need a bowl of popcorn to make it obvious.
The officer stomped over with a scowl that twisted her heart-shaped face. She was about my age, but powerfully built. She probably trained daily like an athlete. Her uniform was crisp, clean and pressed, and the badge clipped to her belt glinted in the sunlight. Her dark brown hair was showing signs of gray at the temples and pulled back in a no-nonsense bun.
“Hi, Everly,” Aunt Coco said, smiling serenely like this was a routine visit. Maybe it was. “Do you remember Cedar?” She gestured at me. “The two of you were in elementary school together.”
“It’s Chief Blunt, ma’am,” the woman said.
I didn’t remember having a friend called Everly Blunt. The only person I knew who came close was Evil Bun, but she was the school bully. What was the bully’s real name? I squinted at the police chief. Who cared? It was a long time ago. And I didn’t believe Evil Bun had what it took to become a cop anyway. That girl was trouble and got suspended more times than I had fingers. She probably continued to travel down the wrong side of the law and stayed there.
Chief Blunt turned to look me in the eye, and I shifted my gaze to the faint line of a long-ago scar on her chin. Shifting my gaze probably made me look guilty, but cop eyes always felt like they could see into my soul. I peeked up, and the chief was still staring at me, unblinking. This was getting creepy.
I studied her chin, and something tingled in the back of my mind. That scar looked mighty familiar. I had seen it before. And it hit me. The scar was a keepsake from my charging head butt. My heart sank, and my grip on the column loosened. I tumbled off the boardwalk and fell onto the road. Luckily, it was only a twelve-inch drop. I stumbled and bumped into Duncan.
Oh no. Maybe Evil Bun didn’t remember me. After all, the fight had happened more than thirty-five years ago.
Duncan grabbed my arm and hauled me up. For a skinny guy, he had a lot of strength. “Are you okay?”
I nodded. “Just feeling a little lightheaded.” Which was true. I didn’t think Evil Bun would frame me for anything, but she might detain me for amusement. I jerked my thumb towards the tea shop. “I should probably go inside and sit down for a bit.” And hopefully, Evil Bun would be gone by the time I “felt better.”
“I’ll come with,” Chief Blunt said. “I have some questions for you, Weird Wood.”
My answering smile wobbled. I didn’t know why I expected to blend into the background. In my childhood, folks in town adopted children from the same county. Whereas, I was the Chinese orphan from China, and I stuck out no matter how much I twisted myself into a pretzel to fit in. I cocked a hip and planted a hand on it. “It’s Cedar Woods. Come on. You’re a professional now, so act like one.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I wanted to kick myself. Aunt Coco’s grin grew even wider. Duncan’s jaw dropped, just like the kids in the playground did on that fateful day when I’d dared to stand up to the school bully. Sure, I had gotten beat up, but I didn’t make it easy for Evil Bun.
Chief Blunt gave me a tight-lipped smile. “Sorry, ma’am. That slipped out.” She rubbed the side of her chin where the scar was located.
The hair on the back of my neck stiffened. A fake polite Evil Bun meant she had learned to hide her evil ways. If I were to stay in town, there would be payback. Luckily, I wasn’t staying.
Chief Blunt continued to stare at me. “Duncan, can you get your aunt? I need to take her statement.” She rested her hand next to the holster on her hip, the fingers brushing the handle of her gun.
I shivered at the gesture. If this wasn’t a threat, I didn’t know what was.
“It’s a good thing we’re out in the middle of the street,” Aunt Coco said, crossing her arms. “If you plan to shoot us, I’m glad there will be witnesses.”
“The generosity of the annual budget gets me one box of bullets,” Chief Blunt said. “And you two are not bullet worthy.” She pulled out a notebook and flipped to a blank page. “Let’s hear your side of the story, Cedar. Why are you threatening Fiona with a hammer?”
I explained what had happened. “It’s a misunderstanding.”
Chief Blunt scribbled on her notepad. “So your aunt was having a yelling match with Fiona?” she read from her notes.
From what I had gathered so far, this sounded like a regular occurrence between my aunt and the coffee shop owner. Why was Evil Bun making it sound like I had the motivation to threaten Fiona? Was she trying to invent a reason to haul me into jail? That would be so unethical...so evil.
“Voices were raised, but I wouldn’t call this a yelling match,” I said, glancing at my aunt.
Aunt Coco came over and stood next to me, so now we were both flanking Chief Blunt. With both hands on her hips, my aunt said, “There was no yelling match. Fiona is looking for any excuse to make trouble for me. You’ve been called out here for one thing or another several times a week. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of this harassment. Can this be considered a hate crime?”
Chief Blunt paused, her pen poised over her notebook. “What do you mean?”
“I’m Chinese,” Aunt Coco said.
“Are you playing the race card?” Chief Blunt said.
“Will it work?” Aunt Coco said.
Chief Blunt rubbed her temple. “Since Fiona also harasses the other coffee shop owners in town, I don’t think she’s targeting you because you’re Chinese. This is an equal opportunity harassment.”
“Oh.” Aunt Coco looked crestfallen. “I was hoping to get to play the sympathy card in my next Survivors Club meeting.”
The Survivors Club was my aunt’s book club. The ladies discussed self-help books to help them overcome their grief. Apparently, it worked better than therapy.
Chief Blunt glanced at me, then at my aunt, and back to me again as if to say it was my responsibility to control my aunt.
I blinked back at Evil Bun and gave her a blank expression. Fat chance I would rein in my aunt. If I had to deal with my aunt’s circular logic, then everyone should have their share of the frustration too.
Someone screamed, and something crashed to the ground. The noise came from the coffee shop. Chief Blunt drew her gun, leaped up on the boardwalk, and dashed inside the shop.
I gaped in shock at the police chief’s rapid movements, and the shop door slamming shut behind her. The last time I had moved that fast was when I was in high school. Mental note to self—do not get into any kind of physical altercation with Evil Bun. She was definitely out of my weight class.
Aunt Coco was already at the coffee shop door when I finally stopped gathering wool. “Are you coming, girl, or are you planning to catch flies with your open mouth?”
I joined my aunt, and the two of us stepped inside. The coffee shop had wood-paneled walls and dim lighting with a bar up against one wall, giving it an old-fashioned saloon vibe, which felt strange for a coffee shop.
The scent of burned coffee—the scent you would find in the middle of the night at a diner off the highway—was overpowering. Fine coffee was more of a hope and prayer in this establishment. There were a number of tables and chairs, but the shop was empty. No customers. No wonder Fiona was afraid of competition.
We stepped through the double saloon doors to the kitchen. Both Chief Blunt and Duncan had their backs to us.
“Everything okay?” Aunt Coco called out.
My gaze dropped to the floor, and I gasped in horror, covering my mouth with my hands. Fiona was stretched out on the floor, her eyes closed. If it weren’t for the puddle of blood, I would think she was sleeping. Next to her motionless body was a bloody hammer.
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RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 1, 2023
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