“What is your full name and occupation?” Jack White the detective sat with me in the café. His sandy blonde hair buzzed severely short, made his green eyes seem incongruously innocent. He had a notebook out, and an uncapped pen at the ready. He looked to be about seventeen and had nicked his chin shaving.
“Madison Jefferson. I’m a Floor Ambassador here at Percival’s Books & Gifts. I’m also a Commissioned Officer.”
“I served four years myself. In which branch of the service were you?” The detective slurped his coffee and then grimaced.
“No, not in the service, here at Perky’s.”
He glared into the coffee and then pushed his mug away in disgust. “What is your date of birth?”
“June 17, 1980.”
“And so you’re on leave from the Navy and work here part-time?”
“No, I work here full-time. Well, thirty-nine hours, so it’s not considered full-time as far as benefits go. But I’m not in the Navy.”
“You just told me you are a commissioned officer. Are you rescinding that now?”
“I’m not rescinding anything.”
The young man reached to the coffee and tapped the mug with his pen. It made a clink sound. He repeated that clink clink clink and smiled. “Ms. Jefferson, what month were you born?”
“I was born in June. June 19, 1962.”
He blinked at me. I smiled.
“And when you’re not here at Perky’s, you work in the commissary.”
I took a deep breath, hoping against hope that my disability, which is sort of like stuttering, didn’t kick in. It does that when I’m nervous or annoyed. So I took another deep breath. “I’m a commissioned officer here at Perky’s. It’s less than a manager but more than a floor ambassador.”
“Like a Red Badge at Books-a-Million.”
“I guess so.”
“My mother was a Red Badge. But they don’t have those any more.”
“But we do.”
“Hmmm. When did you say you were born?” Jack wrote something on his little notepad and turned it face down on the table.
“May 17, 1931.”
He squinted at me.
“Would you like some more coffee, sir?”
“No, thank you.” He picked up the mug and peered at the viscous liquid. “This is really nasty.”
“The absolute worst coffee ever,” I agreed. Of course, I didn’t add that it was still coming from the last pot that the late Mrs. Abercrombie had brewed. (Mrs. A being the body found in aisle seventeen three days earlier.)
“How long did you know the deceased?”
“I didn’t know the deceased. You can’t get to know dead people. Something about a lack of communication. Well,” I stopped to correct myself and tell Jack White about Sam Wayne. Sam talks to dead people. Sam insists that the only reason the dead speak to him is that his name sounds like the Gaelic (aka Wiccan) name for Halloween. I had never figured out what other reasons there might be—like that made a difference. Jack’s eyes were squinting—I was taking too long to answer his question about how well I knew the deceased. I made a definite decision not to tell the detective about Sam Wayne. “I knew Mrs. Abercrombie for the five years I’ve worked here.”
“And what impression did you have of her?” He leaned forward, a mouse about to pounce on a rabid wolf.
“That she made the worst coffee I’ve ever had in my entire life. When were you born?” I asked calmly.
“August 29, 1989. Hey, I’m supposed to ask that!”
“OK, Detective White, for the third time, this is the way it happened. A customer asked me about a werewolf book and then made a comment about the inappropriateness of the werewolf display. I went to check on it and discovered the remains of a human body, which were later identified as belonging to our café manager, Mrs. Abercrombie. You police came and taped off the entire New Age section and took the names of everyone in the store. Then you shut us down for the entire day yesterday, and none of us got paid. And then you came back today. Your officers are blocking the doors, intimidating our customers and eating all the free samples.”
“They’re,” he interrupted, looking gray. “They’re not with me. Not with the police. They’re a different branch of law enforcement.”
“What do you mean—they’re not police. Look at them! They scream law-enforcement.”
“How?” he growled.
“Black suit and tie. Shades. Muscles that are making our teen-age customers drool.”
White snorted, adjusted his tie and smiled. “This is a Beall’s Outlet tie my mom bought because it had a lavender dot on it. My suit is from the Salvation Army. I have had these shoes since my confirmation in the ninth grade. They are not with the city’s police department.”
One of the previously described men stomped up to the table and laid a ream of paper in front of White. “Sir, background info on the last sixty-two customers to enter the store.” He saluted and marched back to his position by the front double doors.
White glanced up at me and clinked the mug a few more times. “You were saying, about the murder?”
Enjoying White’s embarrassment, I said, “I don’t know what Mrs. Abercrombie died of, nor when, nor why. All I know about the lady is that she made really bad coffee and that something ripped her to shreds.”
The young man licked his top lip with the tip of his tongue while he wrote rapidly in the notebook. “So you’ve worked here a long time. Why did you get a job here in the first place?”
“I came in to—because I needed information about—about something I’d discovered in a book.” I took a deep calming breath, hoping my nervousness wouldn’t set off my disability. I didn’t think the detective would react well if I sat babbling in front of him while he questioned me about a murder. “And I met Lilly. And the next thing I knew, I was strapping on an apron and I’ve been here ever since.”
“Do you like working here?”
I smiled. “It has its moments.”
Perky’s Books and Gifts
© Evelyn Rainey 2013