Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXVIII – Monique Rodriguez

Monique poked and prodded at Mr. Pickles, trying to bring some sense of his round shape back into his face. She succeeded very little, no matter how hard she tried.

Come on, Mr. Pickles. If you get too flat, someone might think you’re a rag instead of a bunny. They might throw you in the trash can.

Every now and then, she looked across at Miss Ginger, who sat opposite to Mr. Xavier. Watching her face made Monique frown. Miss Ginger had scared her with her shouts and threats, but even when she glared at Mr. Xavier, she didn’t scare Monique now.

Daddy used to say to look at people’s eyes, Mr. Pickles. I heard him tell Mommy that’s what he would do. Sometimes, even if they sound mean, you can see something different in their eyes.

Between attempts at fluffing, Monique watched the waitress’s eyes. She watched her hands when they could be seen above the table, ready to curl into fists. She watched how frequently Miss Ginger raised her chin in a quick, sharp movement, how her voice could go from soft to rough in the flash of a second.

You’re still very flat, Mr. Pickles. But we have to stay brave, even when we’re flat.

“He’s my brother.”

Monique looked up again. She frowned and tried to see past Mr. Xavier to the man lying on the ground. She couldn’t see much. Mostly just his shoes.

Mr. Xavier said he was hurt really bad, but he won’t say if he’ll be okay, Mr. Pickles.

She switched back to Ginger.

Her eyes are sad. She sounds unhappy, but Daddy would say that her eyes are sad. I’m sure of it, Mr. Pickles.

She poked the bunny again. He still didn’t fluff much at all. The three adults stopped talking and Mr. Xavier looked down at her with a half-smile.

“Are you doing all right, sweetheart?”

She nodded at him, frowned at Mr. Pickles, then looked up once more. “Do you think she loves her brother very much?”

Her whisper must have been too quiet, because Mr. Xavier blinked and looked lost.

“What was that, sweetheart?”

“Does she love her brother very much?”

Mr. Xavier glanced back to Miss Ginger, who raised her eyebrows in question.

“She wants to know if you love your brother very much.”

Miss Ginger looked surprised. “Why would she ask something like that?”

“I love my brother very much.” Monique didn’t know why she ventured to speak loud enough for Miss Ginger to hear. “I would be sad to see my brother get hurt.”

Miss Ginger didn’t say anything at first. Monique thought she might just stare at her forever.

Why is she staring at me, Mr. Pickles?

Monique pulled the bunny’s ear without looking down. “Are you sad to see your brother get hurt?”

Miss Ginger closed her eyes for a brief second with a droop of her head. She looked up at Monique again, her shoulders falling. “Yes. I am sad to see him get hurt. If I could have kept him from getting hurt, I would have.”

“I’d keep my brother from getting hurt too.”

And we have to, Mr. Pickles. We have to.

“How old is your bother, Monique?”

The child looked up at Mr. Xavier and blinked.

Was I supposed to talk about him? They didn’t say not to.

All three of the adults had turned toward her now. She looked down at Mr. Pickles.

Can I answer them, Mr. Pickles?

She knew he couldn’t tell her what to do. She wished that he could. She shook her head without raising it.

“Aaron is four-years-old. He’s my little brother.”

They didn’t say I couldn’t talk about him.

“Where is Aaron, Monique?” Mr. Adrian asked.

Monique barely glanced up at him, her voice growing softer. “At the other house.”

“The ‘other house?’” She could feel Mr. Xavier watching her.

She nodded, pulling on Mr. Pickles other ear.

“Do you see him very much?”

She shook her head, pulling both of the bunny’s ears at once.

But if we’re good and very brave, maybe we’ll see Aaron again soon, Mr. Pickles.

The others didn’t ask her anything else and she ventured to raise her eyes again. Miss Ginger lifted her chin.

“Can I go now?”

“I think so.” Mr. Xavier nodded toward his cousin. “Adrian?”

Mr. Adrian looked up from his notebook. “Yes. I don’t have anything else to ask.”

Miss Ginger stood. She started to go, but stopped and turned back. “I am sorry that I didn’t tell you everything up front. You have to understand that I did what I did to protect Eddie, but that my actions do not make him guilty. I was irrational.”

“So you said,” Mr. Xavier answered.

Miss Ginger grit her teeth, but didn’t move.

“We have not accused Eddie.” Mr. Adrian closed his notebook again.

“Mary Dill-”

“Mary Dill can believe as she likes, but we are still investigating and are not making accusations as of yet. We are doing exactly as you asked.”

Miss Ginger looked from one to the other a moment. Monique watched her face, wondering why she stared so intently. At last, she gave a slight nod and turned away.

Monique pulled Mr. Pickles ears again. “I think that she loves her brother very much, even if she doesn’t say so.” She whispered the words, but Mr. Adrian heard them, because he sighed.

“I think that she does, Monique. I wonder though if her brother knows it.”

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Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVII – Timothy Teller

Timothy watched Ginger as she walked toward the cousins. She looked back at him, before she sat down. She seemed like such a deflated version of the waitress that he usually tried to avoid. When facing the rest of the group, a flash of defiance showed on her face, but as soon as her gaze rested on Eddie or himself, the defiance faded. Instead, worry settled there quite plainly and the fear in her eyes couldn’t be missed.

Timothy felt sorry for her as she lowered her head and sat before the cousins. She didn’t look like she even started speaking, but what could he tell from more than halfway across the room?

“I don’t know what else she has to tell them.” Eddie made the effort to speak.

“You really need to follow her advice and try not to worry about it.” Timothy laid a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “You need rest.”

Eddie raised his eyebrows just barely. “Could you if you were me?”

Timothy sighed. “I’ll have to give you that.”

Anna, pushing her hair impatiently out of her eyes, knelt near Eddie. She still had signs of distress on her face as she looked toward Timothy and Renee. “How is he?”

Timothy glanced at Eddie’s still pale face. “Stable. He’s stable.”

“That’s good.” She looked back toward Mary for just a second, then turned back. “Whatever they say, whatever Mary says, you can not let them tie him up.”

“I have no intention of doing so.” Timothy checked Eddie’s pulse again. “Eddie is in absolutely no condition to be tied up.”

Anna’s frown did not lighten.

“Why are you so insistent?” Renee asked. “I don’t mean that you shouldn’t care – I think that we all should – but you seem to have experience or something.”

Anna pursed her lips a moment and her eyes narrowed. Before either could say anything, she dropped her shoulders. “I… I’ve seen it before.” She stared at Eddie for a very long moment. She sighed heavily. “Not this exact thing, but… my best friend. I’ve seen close enough before.”

Renee shuddered. “You don’t have to tell us. I shouldn’t have pushed you to.”

“No. No.” Anna shook her head. “You didn’t push and I really brought it up. I never talk about it and… people tell me that I should. Even if not, maybe it would help you not to judge Kimberly so harshly.”

Timothy didn’t say anything. It would be difficult to judge her differently than seeing her as heartless.

He watched Eddie a moment and wondered if he listened. Probably. He’s not catatonic; just trying to get through the pain.

Anna sighed. “Kimberly’s daughter has been my best friend since the family moved onto our street when we were kids. She was the kindest person I’ve ever met, but also one of the most reserved. Even with me sometimes. Anyway…” She pushed another strand of hair out of her eyes. “Last year…” She held onto her injured arm and started again. “We were roommates in a house not far from here, actually. I woke up in the middle of the night to breaking glass. I tried to investigate carefully – I even took my phone. The hall light was on, and when I could see the living room, I could see Eden fighting a dark figure as best as she could. I think she gave him more than he bargained for, because he started hitting her with his flashlight.” Her voice choked a bit and her eyes glistened, but the tears didn’t fall over. “I started to go help her, call 911, something, – I hardly knew what – but I felt a hit on my shoulder and something cracked. I dropped my phone just before I heard the person behind me shout at the other to stop hitting the girl, and then they struck me on the head and I blacked out.”

Timothy looked at Renee, who only stared back with wide eyes.

Anna played with her fingernails. “I woke up a few minutes later, tied up near Eden. She couldn’t breathe correctly. A man stood over us, demanding that she tell him where ‘it’ was, but she didn’t answer. She just coughed and moaned.” Anna closed her eyes.

Eddie lay watching her. He looked like he wanted to say something, but he couldn’t decide what he ought to say.

Timothy couldn’t think of anything himself and Renee had gone very still.

Anna took a deep breath. “I won’t tell you how bad she got. They ended up leaving us so she could think about it for awhile. Whatever ‘it’ was. I tried to get loose. I tried, but I couldn’t. My arm hurt so badly, it made me ill to move, but I tried…” A tear finally slipped down Anna’s cheek. “Eden couldn’t even speak. She tried, but was in too much pain, dizzy, sick… She got weaker and weaker. I yelled for help until, finally, the second man came in. Eden had fallen down by then. He ran over to check her…”

Timothy checked Eddie’s pulse again when she paused, if only to have something to do while she pulled herself together.

Anna cleared her throat. “The men panicked. She was dying and I don’t think they planned on murder. The one man said they could ‘talk to the other one’ and they booked it out. The one guy – the one who had checked her and yelled at the other to stop hitting her – cut Eden’s ties and then mine, before he ran. I called the paramedics, I tried to help her… It was too late. She died before we reached the hospital. Internal injuries and bleeding.”

Timothy felt nauseous, but still could think of nothing to say. Renee hadn’t moved and Eddie had closed his eyes.

Anna brushed away a second tear. “That is why Kimberly seems to have no heart. She had one – it’s just been ground to powder with grief and sorrow. Her husband died a little over a year before that.”

“Eden was her daughter?” Eddie asked without opening his eyes.

“Yes.” Anna sighed again, then looked up at Timothy. “It’s also why you cannot let Mary Dill convince anyone to tie up Eddie. You never know if it will make things worse. I’m sure it did for Eden.”

Renee shuddered, then tried to stand. She nearly stumbled, but using Timothy’s offered arm, pushed to her feet and moved away, her face terribly ashen. She almost tottered as she walked.

Anna watched her with lowering brows.

Timothy turned back. “I have no intention of alloying anyone to tie up Eddie. Neither does Ginger, I’m sure. Nor Adrian and Xavier for that matter. I think, he’s safe.”

She nodded barely.

“I’m really sorry about your friend though. That is beyond tragic.”

Eddie had opened his eyes again, but a wave of pain made him tense.

Anna picked at her nails some more. “Thanks. Like I said, I don’t talk about it much. Most people don’t want to hear it and I tend to prefer to keep it to myself anyway.”

“Ginger does that,” Eddie spoke very quietly. “She keeps the worst things to herself and won’t talk about it – even when she should. It doesn’t do anyone any good.”

“Perhaps not.” Anna rubbed her injured arm and looked toward the pregnant woman again. “I didn’t mean to upset Renee so much though. She still looks really pale.”

Timothy turned to see the woman, who sat alone now, in a seat a little distant. She really wasn’t far from anyone, but her detached expression as she stared at the table in front of her, really made her seem more alone than she truly was.

“Maybe she’s just processing. There’s been a lot going on.”

Anna shrugged, then winced. “Maybe. She didn’t even look that pale when she helped you with Eddie though, as far as I saw. But maybe. People are different.”

Timothy glanced around the café with a sigh of his own. They are. They are different indeed.

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Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVI – Adrian Terrence

Adrian watched Ginger sit down, noting the change in her manner. Earlier, she had been compliant, but confident. Almost arrogant. Now, she sat with her shoulders slightly bowed and her eyes lowered.

“You said that you wished to speak with us, Miss Thomas?” Xavier finally spoke, when the silence had lasted a full minute.

Ginger still sat silent for several seconds, before she raised her head. She seemed to notice Monique and nodded toward her with a questioning air. The child sat, trying to poke some life into the flattened face and ears of her stuffed bunny.

Xavier followed the look. “She stays with me.” Monique glanced up at Xavier, looked at Ginger, and went back to Mr. Pickles in silence. “She can’t be shielded from what’s happening. Just use discretion where you can.”

Ginger nodded, then continued to hesitate. Adrian began to expect her to up and walk away.

Instead, she pulled back her shoulders and raised her head, but the same defiance did not surface as before. “Listen, I have to start out by repeating that Eddie did not kill anyone.”

“But you’re afraid that he may have done so anyway?” Xavier asked.

“No! It’s…” She sent a look toward what could be seen of Eddie still lying on the floor. “I did – for just a minute – consider that he might have done it – but I panicked! I would have known better otherwise.”

“What made you panic, Ginger?” Adrian hadn’t opened his notebook and decided to push it aside for the moment.

Ginger spread her hands flat on the table, her eyes closed for just a second. She opened them with a sigh. “I know who Gary Bradshaw is from previous experience.”

“Before last week?” Adrian wanted clarification.

Ginger nodded. “From six years ago.”

Adrian looked directly at the woman. “When Eddie was questioned for shoplifting?”

Ginger nodded again.

“Perhaps it would be wise to tell us how you know about him.” Xavier folded his arms onto the table. “As well as how Eddie knows about him.”

“That’s just it.” Ginger curled her hands into fists and then shoved them into her lap. “Eddie didn’t even meet him. Gary Bradshaw was one of the witnesses from the shoplifting case. Eddie was put into police lineup three different times. Gary Bradshaw was the only witness who identified Eddie as the thief.”

“And you know this how?” Adrian asked.

Ginger shrugged. “I went to the station to get Eddie. Someone slipped up or outright gave the guy too much information, including Eddie’s name. Gary Bradshaw was ticked that they wouldn’t arrest Eddie on his say-so and was loudly complaining to the lady with him. I didn’t even have to eavesdrop to hear him. Everyone heard him.”

“I see.”

Ginger glared at Xavier. “Eddie said that they wouldn’t tell him anything. The police wouldn’t, that is. I didn’t tell him either.”

“Why didn’t you tell your brother about the person who accused him of theft, Ginger?” Adrian finally pulled his notebook over, but he still didn’t open it.

“I thought… I thought that if he knew about it and they questioned him again, it might sound badly. He said that he didn’t do it and I didn’t want to make things worse for him.”

Xavier remained impassive. “And yet, you panicked, Miss Thomas, if only for a moment.”

“It wasn’t just Gary Bradshaw who made me panic.” Ginger shook her head emphatically. “It… It was the ice pick.”

The cousins exchanged glances. “The ice pick?”

Ginger nodded.

“You defended him when Eddie found the ice pick.” Adrian felt more than a little confused.

“No… I mean, yes, I did. But that’s not what I mean. I mean, when I found the ice pick.”

Even Monique looked up and Adrian dropped his pencil. Xavier cleared his throat. “You found the ice pick, Miss Thomas? Before your brother?”

Ginger nodded again.

Adrian tried to process and frowned. “When exactly did you find the ice pick and where did you find, Ginger?”

Ginger’s voice dropped very low. “In the neck of Gary Bradshaw.”

Adrian couldn’t help but stare at her.

Xavier continued to remain unfazed. “Please explain, Miss Thomas.”

Ginger clenched her hands even tighter. “It was a couple of minutes after the explosion. Eddie ran off to help people. I started to go talk to Timothy Teller and Anna Carpentier. I had to pass Gary Bradshaw as I was standing behind the counter, and… and when I did, I saw…” For a moment, her voice wavered. She stuck her chin up. “I saw Gary Bradshaw just sitting there. He was obviously gone and I recognized the ice pick. We keep it on the wall and I knew who the man was. I just panicked! I pulled the ice pick, threw it on a shelf under one of the counters, and hurried over to talk to Timothy and Anna. It might have taken me two minutes and everyone was too distracted to notice me. Even Eddie.”

“You thought that Eddie committed the murder, because you knew of the previous connection and you knew that he had access to the ice pick?” Xavier asked.

“And because we were both right there. Eddie could have walked over to Gary Bradshaw without my knowledge, while I talked to a customer.” She shook her head. “It was irrational, but not impossible. I know he didn’t do it though – because I know him.”

“Regardless, you decided to protect a murderer, Miss Thomas.”

Ginger glared. “He’s my brother.”

“That does not make it right.”

Ginger wavered. “Which is why I am talking to you now. But I didn’t care about right nor wrong. I didn’t really think at all – or I would have never panicked.”

Xavier only nodded.

“I’m telling you everything now.” Some petulance reentered Ginger’s tone. “Surely that counts for something.”

Adrian opened his notebook and began jotting down notes. “It would count for more if you saw someone else near Gary Bradshaw near the time of the murder, Ginger.”

“I didn’t.” Ginger sighed. “I wish I did. I’d certainly tell you about it. But I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t see anyone at all.”

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Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXV

Chapter XXV – Ginger Thomas

“You’re a little arrogant for someone who just admitted to being a liar.”

Ginger could feel her face flame at Kimberly’s words, but for Eddie’s sake alone, she didn’t raise her voice. She couldn’t help, however, but reply. “I did not admit to lying. I admitted to an omission of fact – and one that could have no bearing whatsoever on this case.”

“Maybe we should be the judges of that.” Kimberly glared down at Ginger over her crossed arms. “I still don’t fully believe that you are siblings, but if you are and you omitted one thing, who knows what else you decided not to tell us!”

“Enough, please.” Adrian cut off the reply on the tip of Ginger’s tongue. “This conversation is going to lead us nowhere and arguing will not do anyone any good.”

“If she’s hiding something-” Kimberly began.

“If she’s hiding something, then my cousin and I will talk to her. That is what you asked us to do.”

Kimberly huffed, marched over to a chair, and sat down with crossed arms.

Ginger just caught her glare, before redirecting her gaze. She looked down to find Eddie watching her. He looked confused and it worried her that it might have something to do with his loss of blood.

“What do you know, Ginger?”

“Never mind.” She squeezed his hand, despite the somewhat rough tone she used. “Don’t worry about it.”

“You only say that,” the words came quiet and strained, “when there’s something to actually worry about.”

Ginger could feel him tense, then he closed his eyes again.

“I don’t know how he’s bearing the pain so well.” Renee pushed her hair out of her eyes. “It must be terrible.”

Ginger had a ready retort about the understatement of such a comment, but at a warning look from Timothy, she bit her tongue instead.

Mary crept closer again and Ginger tensed. “He’s still a-alive. I didn’t kill him. I keep expecting him to slip away.”

“Yes, he’s still alive.” Timothy didn’t look up.

The woman stepped even closer.

Fabian beckoned her back. “No, you didn’t kill him. No, you may not try again.”

Mary opened her mouth to wail or argue, Ginger didn’t know which, but a look at Fabian and another at Adrian clamped it shut again.

With a sigh, Adrian turned to rejoin his cousin. Ginger watched him go, then looked across Eddie at Timothy.

“You’re sure that he’s stable?”

“For now, at least.” Timothy gave her a hint of a smile. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep him there.”

She nodded, then gently squeezed the hand she held. “Eddie?”

He opened his eyes, but didn’t bother answering.

She tried to speak gently. “Will  you be okay if I go talk to the cousins for a minute? It’s probably better if I volunteer, before they call me.”

He stared at her for a long moment. “You’re sure everything’s okay, Ginger?”

She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. Will you be all right?”

He nodded faintly and Ginger hesitated.

“I’ll call you if he needs you.” Timothy kept his voice lowered, as she had done.

Ginger looked up at him a moment, then nodded. Squeezing Eddie’s hand again, she tried to push to her feet. Fabian noticed her and offered a hand of assistance.

She nodded at Fabian, looked down at Eddie, and tried not to sigh. “I’ll be right back.”

She made herself ignore Mary Dill’s stare as she passed her, heading straight for the cousins. Mary, however, didn’t care to be ignored.

“You know that he killed Gary Bradshaw.”

Ginger stopped in her tracks, but didn’t turn toward Mary.

“You know it. We all know it! Just… let yourself admit it.”

Ginger slowly turned to face the woman, whose wide-eyed expression had changed into a serious, almost crafty stare.

“Just let yourself admit it.” She spoke in a low, wheedling tone. “It would help all of us.”

Ginger grit her teeth. “Eddie didn’t kill anyone, so there is nothing for me to admit. You are the psychopath who thought ending a person’s life was a good idea. Which reminds me; where is the weapon? How do we know that you won’t try again?”

“I…”

“We took the knife.” Fabian gestured across the room. “The lawyer has it. I don’t know where she got it from though.”

Mary looked between the two rapidly. “I – I saw it over the counter as I passed. I just grabbed it while I walked. I was trying to protect us!” She started to raise her voice.

“Oh, save it.” Ginger turned away. “The only person who believes such a stupid reason for stabbing someone, especially Eddie, is you.”

Mary stopped her escalation toward a wail. “And the only person who thinks Eddie McIntyre did not kill Gary Bradshaw is you!”

Ginger paused again.

“Mary…” Adrian rose from his seat.

“She is! Why are we placating one angry woman! We need to do something!”

“What would you suggest?” Anna’s eyes flashed. “The man is lying on the floor with a knife wound in his side! Would you like to tie him up?”

“It – it would be a start!”

“Even is he is the killer, do you really think he looks able to hurt anyone right now?” Anna pointed to where Eddie lay. “He’s barely moving!”

“Mary does have a point, Anna.” Kimberly sat forward in her chair. “We don’t want another incident.”

Ginger looked back at Timothy, who hadn’t left Eddie’s side. He didn’t contribute much, but he didn’t seem to be missing anything either.

I wonder if he would let them tie up Eddie…

“Mary does not have a point.” Anna shook her head. “You do not tie up a badly injured person. You of all people should know that!”

“You will not throw that into my face.” Kimberly’s cold voice took on an angry edge. “Disrespecting me by bringing up the past…”

“It’s not only your past.” Anna’s eyes glistened. “You weren’t even there. I was.

“It doesn’t matter. I-”

“It does matter, Kimberly. If the past can’t give you compassion for others, that’s up to you. Even if Eddie is guilty, we have no way of knowing that yet and there is no way that he ought to be restrained. And…” She glanced at Ginger and tried to smile just barely. “I don’t believe that he’s guilty either. Ginger isn’t the only one.”

“I can’t say that I believe it either.” Fabian pushed his hands into his pockets. “It hardly seems likely.”

Ginger did all that she could not to sigh in relief.

“But, he did do it! You can see it in his face! In her face too!” Mary raised an accusatory finger in Ginger’s direction.

“That is hardly evidence, as we might have mentioned before.” Fabian almost seemed to smile.

“It’s true though!”

“It’s not!” Ginger glared. “You can’t see something in a person’s face, if it’s not actually true.”

Mary wrung her hands. “It is true!”

Ginger grit her teeth until they hurt to prevent a reply escaping her tongue. She wanted to throw herself at the woman, but held back.

Eddie. Eddie doesn’t need me acting on my temper right now. Everyone doesn’t even believe her. Stay calm for Eddie.

Fabian shook his head. “Maybe we should let our ‘detectives’ do their jobs and stop trying to ‘help.’”

“They aren’t doing their jobs!” Mary wailed. She fled across the café, much more swiftly than Ginger expected. She shook the door wildly, her hair sticking out even more than before. “We’re still locked in! With a murderer! They haven’t proven who is guilty. They haven’t done anything!”

“They were trying, until you stopped everything by stabbing a man,” Fabian answered mildly.

Mary blinked.

“You need to give them time.” This time Renee spoke in a very soft voice.

“Time!” Mary recovered from Fabian’s remark. “We’ll all die one by one!”

“One person has died.” Xavier made everyone turn toward him. “We will do everything we can to find out why and by whose hand. Panicking will not help anything.”

“I just want out!” Mary shook the door again, but nothing happened. “I can’t be stuck in here any longer!”

She grabbed a chair with rather astonishing strength and threw it into the fogged glass window. She screamed when both she and the chair met an impassible barrier. It must have hurt, but the glass remained unbroken.

Ginger coughed to keep back her laugh. “You won’t break it. It’s bullet proof. I’m pretty sure that makes it chair proof too.”

“Why on earth does the café have bullet proof glass?” Anna raised an eyebrow as she stared.

“How should I know? I don’t own the place. I just work here.”

“Curiouser and curiouser.” Fabian could barely be heard.

Mary’s hands shook. “We can’t get out! We can’t get out!”

No one answered her. Ginger expected that someone would, but they didn’t.

Fabian finally shrugged, turning away from Mary Dill. “What should we do now? I hardly think that we can return to Agatha Christie.”

“If we’re so certain that those two should be left to investigate, perhaps they should go back to investigating.” Kimberly bit out the words savagely.

Ginger recalled why she no longer knelt beside Eddie and glanced toward the cousins.

I should still talk to them. Before they make me.

“We’ll need to confer for a moment, but then we can continue our investigation. We’ll probably continue the interviews, as well.” Adrian looked incredibly weary.

Ginger swallowed. “Can I talk to you for a moment first?”

Adrian glanced toward Xavier and then nodded. “Certainly, Miss Thomas.”

“It’s about time,” Kimberly muttered. “Keeping secrets at a time like this…”

Ginger ignored the added glare and marched toward the booth.

You and Mary Dill are the reason why I’m not letting most of these people know what I have to say. You can not be trusted.

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Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXIV – Timothy Teller

When Timothy first caught sight of Eddie lying on the floor with a stab wound to his chest, time seemed to freeze and he with it. It could only have been seconds before Ginger screamed and Adrian stated the rather obvious need for medical attention, but it felt like an hour. Memories raced through Timothy’s mind, all but blinding him. Then, he heard Adrian, the images vanished, and he could work.

He heard everyone around him, while he cleared and checked the wound, kept watch over Eddie’s vitals as best he could, and applied pressure with the towels that Adrian and Anna had found. He only spoke when he had to, and kept the majority of his attention on Eddie and stopping the blood flow. He needed to stop it before it grew critical.

The fighting between Ginger and Mary alarmed him, but he decided that he could only do one thing at a time, so he didn’t even turn to watch them. Eddie’s distress worried him, but he could scarcely assuage that either. When the injured man asked for Ginger, Timothy couldn’t be certain that calling her over would be a good idea, but Eddie seemed to calm somewhat while she remained quiet beside him.

When Kimberly began her interrogation of Ginger, Timothy became annoyed.

I’m trying to save a man’s life. Who argues that someone cares about a possibly dying man? Insanity.

He grit his teeth and held his tongue, though he wanted to tell the older woman to be quiet. Eddie appeared to ignore them all and Timothy wished he could do the same.

“Well?” Kimberly’s voice grated on Timothy’s nerves every time she spoke. “Why do you care so much?”

He glanced at Ginger. She looked exhausted as she watched Eddie. “Because…” She barely looked at Timothy when she raised her head. She saw something and her eyes hardened. “Because, Eddie is my younger brother.”

Eddie’s eyes flew open and he stared at Ginger. Timothy blinked and tried to process this new bit of information.

“I knew it!” Fabian sounded exultant. “I just knew it!”

“I don’t believe it!” Kimberly snapped.

Ginger tilted her chin up. “You don’t have to believe it. He is. Your belief of a thing does not determine its truth.”

“If he’s your brother, then why on earth have neither of you said anything before?” Kimberly seemed determined. “Did she say anything to you and your cousin?”

“No.” Adrian’s voice came from somewhere behind Timothy. “No, neither of them did.”

“Then, if it’s true, then why haven’t you said anything?”

Eddie cried out in pain as Timothy shifted the pressure on the towel, and Ginger sighed.

“Because…” She watched Eddie, who squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. Timothy just saw her grimace. “Because, we parted ways four years ago.”

“Parted ways?” Fabian sounded amused. “Sister, you two are co-workers – and didn’t one of you mention earlier that you have been co-workers for years? That’s not parting ways.”

“I disowned him.” Ginger’s annoyance flared again. “Just trust me, I did.”

“Must have been fun working together then.”

Timothy wished that Fabian would be quiet.

“What did he do?” Kimberly asked.

“Do?”

“You disowned him, so what did he do to make you disown him?”

“He has a criminal record and she didn’t want to be associated with it!” Mary’s voice made Timothy jump. “I can see it in her face! He’s been in trouble with the law before!”

Ginger practically snarled. “You don’t get to make any assumptions, Mary Dill! In trouble with the law? You are going to be in trouble with the law whenever we get out of here!”

“I-I-I was protecting us!”

Ginger glared, but Timothy caught her eye.

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” She spoke through grit teeth.

“Don’t keep the argument going.” Timothy glanced down at Eddie’s drawn face. “If this is your brother and you want to help him, do not engage.”

“She’s a liar!”

“And you’re going to change her mind?”

Ginger frowned.

“Just tell us what he actually did.” Renee still knelt nearby, ready to offer assistance if needed. “Truth is the best contradiction for falsehood.”

“He didn’t do anything!” Ginger raised her voice somewhat and Kimberly heard her.

“If he did nothing, then why did you want to get rid of him?”

“I didn’t say I wanted to get rid of him!”

“You disowned him!” Kimberly almost seemed to laugh. “Of course, you wanted to get rid of him.”

Pressure applied to Eddie’s wound seemed to be doing its job at last. Timothy didn’t dare to stop just yet, but he began to feel a bit hopeful.

“Well?” Kimberly didn’t give up.

Eddie opened his eyes. “Just let it go, Ginger.”

She didn’t respond, but sat still, watching him. Timothy couldn’t be sure if she actually saw him or just her thoughts.

“Failure to respond is admission to accusations.”

“Kimberly, please,” Anna said. “You don’t know that.”

“We don’t know much of anything,” Fabian added.

“Mary’s probably right. He was a criminal and Ginger just doesn’t want to say.”

Ginger shook her head. “I told you. He didn’t do anything. I had to… Sometimes you have to choose between two people because they aren’t compatible with each other. When I chose, Eddie got cut off in favor of… someone else.”

“You’re saying that he’s never been implicated in any criminal activity whatsoever?” Kimberly asked.

Ginger glared at the woman as her only response.

“He was!” Mary squealed. “Maybe he’s murdered before this!”

“You people are incorrigible!” Ginger glanced at Timothy and then softened her voice. “Fine. Yes. Once, several years ago, the police took Eddie in for questioning regarding a shoplifting case. But they never charged him and that has nothing to do with why I disowned him.”

“Sure it doesn’t. No charges filed also doesn’t mean that he didn’t do it.” Kimberly tapped her foot.

“He says that he didn’t do it!”

“You think that Eddie killed Gary Bradshaw.” Fabian spoke in a measured tone. Timothy imagined him with his arms crossed and watching Ginger, but he didn’t turn around to see.

“What? No, I don’t!”

“That’s why you keep protecting him so adamantly.”

“Fabian, please don’t…” Adrian tried to intervene.

Fabian pressed on. “It’s not just that he’s your brother, you think – or you’re afraid – that he’s guilty and you’re desperate to protect him.”

“That’s not true!”

“Don’t get me wrong; if my little brother had a murder charge hanging over him, I’d probably get pretty desperate too.”

“I told you that he did it!” Mary’s wail pierced the room. Again. “I told you!”

“He didn’t! Eddie wouldn’t kill anyone!”

Possibly the only one in the room doing so, Timothy watched Eddie. He’d opened his eyes, but too weak to defend himself, in a world of pain, and in obvious distress over Ginger, his face was a study in various emotions.

Adrian left the others, kneeling near Timothy. He nodded toward Eddie, speaking in a quiet voice aside from the rest of the group. “How is he doing?”

“He’s stabilizing. He still needs a hospital, of course, but he’s stabilizing for now.”

“Thank the Lord. Can I ask him a few questions?”

“You can try. He doesn’t seem able to speak very well though.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Adrian smiled a bit and bent over Eddie. “Can I ask you a few things? You can nod or shake your head.”

Eddie nodded carefully. Ginger watched Adrian, but didn’t try to intervene.

“Is Ginger your sister?”

Eddie glanced at Timothy and then nodded.

“Did she disown you?”

Eddie nodded again, this time more slowly.

“Did the police questioning you regarding a case of shoplifting have any bearing on her disowning you?”

This time Eddie shook his head.

Adrian sighed. “Were you charged with a crime in regard to the shoplifting?”

Another shake of the head.

“Were you guilty?”

Eddie shook his head again.

Adrian paused for a long moment. “Eddie, if the truth, as you know it, contradicted anything Ginger had already told us – would you tell me the truth right now, despite that?”

Eddie took his time responding, but finally nodded just before a wave of pain took over. He squeezed his eyes shut and Adrian sighed.

Timothy looked over at him.

“I wanted to hear it from him, not only Ginger.”

Mary, possibly emboldened by Kimberly’s doubts, stepped closer to Eddie. Ginger stiffened, apparently ready to spring at a moment’s notice. Adrian stood and Fabian came forward.

“You did it! Just confess!” Mary wrung her hands. “It would be better for all of us and then everyone would understand why I had to stab you! Just confess!”

“Why don’t you back up…” Fabian took another step forward.

Eddie didn’t say anything and even Ginger held her tongue.

Timothy had turned to keep an eye on the woman and saw her point a shaking finger toward Eddie. “I know that I’m right! I saw it in your face!”

“Maybe he knew Gary Bradshaw.” Kimberly still had her arms crossed. “Just because he’s not a regular here, doesn’t mean that Eddie doesn’t know him from anywhere else.”

Mary jumped and pointed at Ginger. Fabian put a hand on the excited woman’s arm. “He knew him! I see it! I see it in your face!”

“For goodness sake, stop claiming to see everything in someone’s face!” Renee probably voiced what everyone thought.

Timothy looked at Ginger, who had gone nearly white, but she neither said anything nor moved from Eddie’s side.

“Confess!” Mary resisted Fabian’s attempts to make her step back.

Eddie watched Ginger, the furrow on his brow showing utter confusion. Ginger didn’t look at him.

“Confess!”

“No!” Ginger took a deep breath, and then sighed. When she spoke again, she used a normal tone. “If I know anything, and I’m not saying that I do, I’m certainly not telling you.”

Mary tried to speak again, but Ginger had no intention of allowing it.

“I’ll speak with the people who we asked to investigate. Not to a lunatic woman who thinks that stabbing an innocent man is the best way to solve a murder.”

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