Late Lattes – Part II – A Julie Smithland Story

     “Josh came in a few minutes early for his six o’clock shift.  I finished counting the register then passed it off to him.”  

     I blink, half-listening to Carl Sphagen as I run through what I know of Joshua Banister.  Age seventeen, if I remember correctly.  A relatively new resident of Brownsborough, the barista started working at Late Lattes about two months ago.  I didn’t have a lot of contact with him – he usually worked the sunrise shift, and the only way I’m likely to be up for early morning coffee is if I pull an all-nighter the evening before.  He seemed to be a nice kid though.

     I wonder who’s going to draw the short straw and have to notify his parents.

     “Were there any customers here when you left?”  Detective Bill Johnson’s question pulls my attention back to the conversation at hand.  

     “No.  No one.”  Carl punctuates his sentence with a wave of his hand.  The man seems rattled, and I don’t blame him.  Having your shop robbed and an employee murdered while you’re upstairs in your bed will do that to a person.

     “And you didn’t hear anything?”

     “No,” he says again.  “Everything was quiet until you officers started pounding on my door.”

     Which had been only a few minutes after I found Josh and called the police.   That left a two-and-a-half hour window for the murder and robbery to have occurred.  

     I look around, doubtful that Carl has security cameras in here.  Why would he?  He’s probably not too concerned about the possibility of someone swiping a doughnut.  

    No, our best bet will be to check the outside footage from the city council’s office across the street – and that will only help if the culprit used the front door.  If he came in the back…my eyes flick that direction as I visualize the nearby buildings.  I can’t think of any that would be likely to have cameras with line of sight to the area near the back entrance.  Great.

     “How much was in the register?”  I ask.

    All three men turn to stare at me.  I resist rolling my eyes.  They obviously forgot I was here.

     “You said you closed the register before you left,” I prod when my question goes unanswered.  “How much was in it?”  

     “Julie, you aren’t on this case,” Alex, the patrol officer and first-on-scene, states pointedly.  He’s not a big fan of female participation in what he considers a man’s field.  I try to avoid him whenever possible.

     Right now, it’s not possible.  I give him what I hope comes across as a sweet smile.  “No, actually I’m in-between cases right now, and -” I shrug, “I happen to be here.”

     “That can be remedied.”

     “Forget it, Alex.”  Bill comes to my rescue.  “She’s not going to be in the way.”  He gives me a quick wink.  

     “She better not be.”

     I’m unable to keep the corners of my mouth from tipping up in a rueful expression.  How can I be in the way when no one ever notices I’m here in the first place?  Thankfully, Alex doesn’t seem to notice, and Bill, who I’ve consulted with on several previous cases, just grins.  

     “Her question is a good one.”  Bill turns back to Carl, all levity gone.  “We’ll need to know how much cash you think is missing.”

     “My log is in a drawer behind the counter.”  Carl’s eyes shift to the other side of the room where Joshua’s body still waits for the Medical Examiner to arrive and okay its removal.

     “We’ll have to get that later then.  Do you have a ballpark figure at least?”

     Carl pauses to think.  “Somewhere around two hundred.”

     “What about a safe?  Do you keep one here?” I ask, ignoring Alex’s irritated grunt.

     “It’s upstairs in my bedroom.  No one came up there; I would have heard that.”

     “So what was in the register is likely all he got,” I murmur, more to myself than to the others.  My stomach turns in disgust.  Two hundred dollars.  Pennies in comparison to the loss of that young man’s life.

     A commotion at the door signals the ME’s arrival, and I move toward a corner table.  I’ll stay back here while he does his thing, but I’m sticking around.  There hasn’t been a homicide in Brownsborough for three years.  Bill may want an extra set of eyes on this one.

To Be Continued…

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Tea Review: Tonight I’m going with Winter Chai by Tea Forte.

Winter Chai is a spiced rooibos with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger.  Some chais are too heavy on the spices, but this one is just right.  And since it is after midnight here, caffeine-free rooibos is the perfect option for us lightweights that can’t have caffeine and sleep too!

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