Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXXVI

Chapter XXXVI – Ginger Thomas

Ginger jumped as Mary hit the ground and Timothy bolted across the room. Eddie tugged on her arm.

“What happened?”

Ginger shook her head. “I don’t know.”

Timothy bent over the woman, looking for something. Probably the reason she collapsed. His frown deepened.

“I don’t see anything wrong with her, though her heart rate is elevated.” He looked up at Xavier. “If she’s been given insulin, she doesn’t have the same symptoms as Fabian and we have no way to reverse it, if that’s the case.”

Ginger swallowed so hard it hurt her. We might have less noise if she stays like that for awhile. I don’t think I’m quite cruel enough to hope that she will though.

With the sound of a shriek that could only have come from Mary Dill’s vocal chords, Ginger let any such thoughts die a swift death. She saw Fabian sag back against the table leg, while Anna closed her eyes in relief.

Mary sat up against Timothy’s protest, holding her head in her hand. He tried to speak to her, but Mary pointed a shaking finger in Renee’s direction.

“What… What did you do to me?”

Renee blinked in apparent shock or confusion.

“I couldn’t breathe.” Mary spoke with a shaking voice and held a hand to her throat. Her wide eyes locked onto Timothy. “My throat closed, I couldn’t breathe, and everything went black!” She dropped the hand from her head, grabbing onto Timothy’s shirt, prompting him to pull back. She didn’t release him. “What did she do to me?”

“We don’t know that she did anything to you.” Timothy looked vastly uncomfortable. “Even if someone did something to you, we don’t know that someone was Renee.”

“She admitted to having insulin with her! She knew I was onto her!”

Ginger saw Timothy openly roll his eyes and she almost laughed.

“Mary. Can you breathe now? With ease?”

She stared at him as if he had lost his mind. “What?” One hand still clung to her throat, the other held onto his shirt for dear life.

“Are you having any trouble breathing now?” He enunciated his words as if she might be hard of hearing.

“Wh-yes. Yes, my throat opened and I can breathe now. I’d be dead if it hadn’t!”

Ginger rolled her eyes this time.

Timothy pried the woman’s fingers from his shirt. “If you’ll excuse me then…”

Where are you going? She just tried to kill me!”

“And, if that’s true, she didn’t nearly succeed.” Timothy stood. “You, on the other hand, came much closer when you attempted to kill Eddie, so I’ll be returning to him, in case he needs me.”

He didn’t let her say whether she minded or not. He left her, staring after him in consternation. He sat next to Eddie again with a sigh.

“What do you think happened to her?” Ginger intentionally pulled her attention away from the now babbling woman.

Timothy shook his head, already frowning in Eddie’s direction. “I don’t know. I’m not an actual doctor. And she barely knows what happened apparently, much less how Renee could have caused it.”

“Renee hasn’t moved from her chair in a long time.” Ginger started to say more, but Timothy’s deepening frown distracted her. “What’s wrong.”

He didn’t answer. He barely even gave her a glance of acknowledgement.

Eddie lay with his eyes closed again. Perspiration stood out on his face, a face so devoid of color that he hardly could have looked whiter. Ginger’s heart pounded harder.

“You found the dead man’s picture in her purse! What more could you need?” Mary seemed to have recovered quite well in a short space of time.

Ginger looked up and Xavier visibly sighed.

“We don’t even know why she had the photograph.” Anna sounded more annoyed than she had yet. “She hasn’t even had a chance to explain. You just grab onto whatever circumstantial evidence occurs to you and run with it!”

Mary stared at her.

Seems to be the woman’s second most defining trait. Her first is screaming.

Xavier shook his head, picking up the photograph again from a table. “I would appreciate an explanation for this, Mrs. Allen. If you would be willing.”

Renee had said nothing since she gave permission for her purse to be searched. She seemed incapable of speech as she looked from one person to the other, but swallowing visibly, she finally shook her head.

“I can’t say. That is – I don’t know! I didn’t put it there.”

“Because that’s believable.” Mary answered first.

“Unless whoever took her insulin, put the picture in the purse at the same time.” Kimberly quirked an eyebrow.

“Would make sense, I suppose.” Anna nodded. “If the killer wanted to implicate Renee, it would be a good way to throw suspicion on her.”

“Or she could be lying.” Mary pulled herself to a standing position with difficulty, refusing Xavier’s offered help. “She could have used the insulin to try to kill Fabian and myself, then forgotten she had the picture in her purse.”

“No one gave you insulin, Miss Dill.” Xavier watched her. Even Ginger could see the slight amusement around his eyes.

“How do you know?” The woman planted both hands on her hips. “That’s what happened to Fabian!”

“We don’t know that either. It’s still conjecture at this point.” Xavier sighed again. “It’s a conjecture that seems to fit the facts, but we don’t know. You, on the other hand, show no signs of life-threatening low blood sugar. And you woke up on your own; we did nothing. As you know, Fabian wasn’t so easy.”

Mary didn’t look convinced.

“I have never seen that picture before in my life.” Renee bit her lip, then shook her head. She rubbed her rounded stomach. “I don’t even have a printer.”

“Libraries do.” Kimberly raised both eyebrows at the looks sent her way. “I didn’t say that she did print it. But you really don’t have to own a printer.”

“I didn’t print it at a library either. I’ve never seen it before!”

Ginger looked at Timothy again. The man seemed to care little about what transpired in the café, focusing entirely on Eddie. The look on his face switched Ginger’s attention fully. As he pulled back the bloody bandage from her brother’s side, Ginger winced.

“What are you doing?”

He only spared her a half a second glance. “The wound started bleeding again at some point. I don’t know when; he must have moved more than I thought.”

Ginger felt her heart drop. “You can stop it again, right?”

“I’ll try.” He shook his head. “I need more towels. These are covered.”

Ginger looked at her brother’s drawn face again, squeezed his hand, then hurried on a search for towels. They didn’t keep that many around the café; paper towels generally seemed better. Paper towels did a lousy job at drying dishes though.

When she brought what she could find to Timothy, Ginger caught her breath at the sight of the wound in Eddie’s side. Without realizing it, she sank onto her knees. Timothy turned in alarm.

“Are you all right?”

She nodded, but couldn’t speak or move. She kept staring at what she could still see of the wound.

How can he survive that? I’m going to lose him altogether.

“Are you sure?” She barely registered Timothy’s question. “Ginger, look at me.”

She made herself obey, blinking to bring her eyesight into focus.

“Are you all right? Actually, all right?”

It took her several seconds and a deep breath to answer. “Yes. Of course, I’m fine. Yes.”

He watched her for another second, but had to turn back to Eddie. “Let’s hope you are.”

She caught the unspoken implication. He didn’t believe she would tell him even if she wasn’t all right.

Which might be true. I don’t need pity.

Eddie groaned, prompting Ginger to return to her former place beside him. Either her imagination caused her to see things or he’d gone even paler than before. She took his hand, but he didn’t respond in any way. The lump that she had banished from her throat earlier, came back now.

Timothy bandaged him up as well as he could, the frown still on his face. Ginger could read nothing though in his face, beyond his concern.

Eddie’s eyes finally opened, and Ginger struggled to appear unworried. His eyes, bright with fever and clouded by pain, startled her. They showed an agony that she hadn’t been prepared to face.

He didn’t try to say anything; he seemed to be in too much pain. He tried to breathe deeply, but Ginger could see that it hurt him.

“We have to get him out of here.” She didn’t recognize her own voice when she spoke to Timothy. He didn’t respond.

She hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation in the rest of the café until Mary insisted on drawing attention again. Ginger would have glared at the mere sound of her voice, if she had the energy to spare.

“If Gary Bradshaw isn’t your husband, Renee, then who is?”  

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Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXXV

Chapter XXXV – Monique Rodriguez

When Mr. Xavier left her to help the man Monique didn’t like, what little sense of security she had gained, vanished. She clung to Mr. Pickles, curled up on the edge of the booth, quite forgotten it seemed by the adults in the room.

After Mr. Xavier put the needle into the man’s arm, his cousin sat across from her in the booth again. It took what she thought was a minute before he noticed her. When he did, he tried to smile in her direction, but he didn’t really succeed. He mouthed the words, “It will be all right,” but Monique just held her bunny closer.

I don’t remember his name, Mr. Pickles. I lost it somehow. It’s Mr. Xavier’s cousin. Mr. Xavier said he trusted him though.

The child watched everyone in the room as if her life depended on it. She knew where everyone stood, sat, or lay in relation to herself, and wished that Mr. Xavier would come back. When he did eventually stand beside her again, she didn’t relax. She couldn’t explain what was wrong, but she knew that something in the room had switched the wrong direction.

She didn’t understand talk of syringes, insulin, or blood sugar, but she understood the mood and tension in the room. And it scared her.

Stay brave, Mr. Pickles. We must stay brave, whatever happens.

When Mary Dill started yelling and Miss Kimberly leapt to stop her, Monique started shaking. Mr. Xavier had already left her again, and not much scared the girl as much as Mary’s screams. She bit her lip, trying to keep herself good and brave. Mary Dill shrieked yet again.

Dropping from her side of the booth, Monique bolted to the other, jumping into the lap of Mr. Xavier’s cousin. She started to slip, but he caught her, and wrapping one arm around his neck, she buried her face into his shoulder.

Mr. Xavier said he trusted his cousin, so I’ll trust him, Mr. Pickles. I don’t want to be alone.

She couldn’t stop shaking, despite feeling safer, and listening to the others in the café made it worse.

We have to be brave, Mr. Pickles, but I’m scared.

She started when the man holding her made a suggestion, his voice loud to match everyone else. He didn’t sound angry though. Some of them did sound angry. He noticed her jump and made her sit back to look at him.

“Are you scared?” He spoke in a gentle, quiet voice, pushing back a strand of hair from her eyes.

She nodded, feeling her chin quiver.

I have to be brave. I already cried before.

The man glanced toward the others when Miss Renee said something about insulin in her purse. Monique shuddered again.

Insulin must be a bad thing, Mr. Pickles.

She watched the face of the man in front of her. He looked very tired, but still didn’t look angry, as he watched the people across the room.

“What do you do when you’re scared?”

He started at her question, looking back down at her. “What was that?”

“What do you do when you get scared?” She held tighter to her bunny as her voice dropped. “Or don’t you get scared?”

He blinked at her. “I pray. I ask the Lord to help me to trust Him.”

She pulled on Mr. Pickles ear. “Does it work?”


Her voice dropped even lower. “Always?”

“Every time.” He moved the hair out of her yes again. “Though sometimes, it might take awhile.”

The café grew quiet and Monique twisted her head to find out why. After a moment, Mr. Xavier looked up from the purse he had been searching and Monique frowned at the expression on his face.

“Mrs. Allen, there is no insulin or syringes in your purse. I have to ask you, however… Why do you have a photograph of Gary Bradshaw in your purse?”

The silence that followed hurt Monique’s ears. Miss Renee stared at Mr. Xavier and the photograph wordlessly with the rest.

“Mrs. Allen?”

“She did it…” Mary Dill didn’t shriek, but her voice still managed to be jarring. She actually began rather quiet, but her tone rose like a cascade. “I can see it in her face… Guilt poured all over her expression. She killed him!”

“Oh, for goodness sake. You probably killed him yourself!” Miss Kimberly did not give Miss Renee a chance to speak. “Maybe we should check your precious face for clues!”

“I-I only stabbed Eddie!”

“And an awful lot of good you did there.” Anna shook her head. “We have an injured man on our hands and no way to help him. If he dies, it’s your fault.”

“If everyone would attempt to remain calm…” Mr. Xavier didn’t get far.

“Maybe Renee paid Eddie to kill Gary Bradshaw for her. Maybe she’s really his wife and Eddie’s her henchman!”

“Of all the ridiculous, absurd ideas, Mary Dill, that one has to be near the top!” Miss Ginger glared from her place on the ground. “Still, I shouldn’t expect much better from a woman who thought it was a good idea to stab someone she foolishly suspected of murder.”

“I was-”

“We know. ‘Protecting us.’ Worst protection ever!”

Monique looked back up into Mr. Adrian’s face.

I remembered his name, Mr. Pickles. I remembered his name.

He looked tired. So tired.

“Aren’t you going to stop them?”

He looked down at her again. “They don’t listen to me, Monique. Not really.”

“They do for a little while.”

Mary Dill had begun to raise her voice, and Monique turned toward her again. “Someone in here is a killer! I don’t want to be the next target!”

“You should be the next target, so we can all have some peace!” Miss Ginger had risen on her knees. “I don’t trust Fabian Smith, but there’s no reason to kill him. You, on the other hand…”

“For all we know, Fabian did it to himself to avert suspicion.” Miss Anna gestured with her arm, but winced before pulling it back. “That would mean that no one actually tried to kill a second time!”

“What about Eddie?” Mr. Fabian laughed hoarsely from his seat on the floor. “Do you think I hired dear Miss Dill or am I exonerated from that crime?”

“I’m not saying you are guilty…”

“I’m just your top suspect.”

“Or maybe Eddie is guilty.” Miss Kimberly’s cold tones cut in again. “If he’s the killer, maybe Fabian’s an idiot, who is just afraid of being blamed!”

“With Renee’s insulin?” Miss Ginger raised an eyebrow.

Monique turned back to Mr. Adrian again. “I wish that I could go somewhere else.”

“I know.” He made another attempt at a smile. “God willing, we’ll get out of here before long and we can get you home.”

“If we could just calm down-” Mr. Xavier raised his voice to be heard.

Mary Dill cut him off. “You keep hushing people, but it’s getting us nowhere!”

Monique shuddered. “Do you and Mr. Xavier have a home?”

The man seemed surprised by the question. “Yes. Why?”

Monique stared at him for a long moment. She wasn’t sure she should talk or not, but she hadn’t been told not to.

They never said don’t talk, Mr. Pickles. Just… to be good.

She shrugged. “We don’t have a home anymore. Me and Aaron. Not a real home.”

Mr. Adrian stared at her. She thought he meant to ask her something else, but Mary Dill’s voice arrested his attention again.

“We need to get out of here! I need to get out of here!” She heaved heavy breaths, her face beginning to change shades. “I need… I can’t…”

Monique’s eyes widened as the woman clawed at her throat. Miss Anna took a step forward and Mr. Timothy half stood up, as if unsure whether he needed to do anything. Mary Dill looked at Miss Renee with a horrified expression.

“What… What did you do to me?”

Miss Renee only stared in shock.

“I can’t…” Mary clawed at her throat. “Breathe…”

If she had more she tried to say, it dissolved into a squeak as she collapsed to the ground.

With a sob, Monique buried her face into Mr. Adrian’s shoulder again.

Mr. Pickles… Mr. Pickles, I’m so scared… Who’s going to fall down next?

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Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXXIV

Chapter XXXIV – Timothy Teller

Chaos erupted in the form of Mary Dill’s panic. Instinct kicked in much faster than it had the last time and Timothy bolted from Eddie to Fabian, where Adrian already began turning the man over.

Fabian showed no sign of consciousness. Blood trickled from where his nose had roughly been introduced to the floor. Timothy reached to find a pulse.

Adrian watched him anxiously and Timothy only nodded once he felt the steady thrum of a heartbeat. He started undoing Fabian’s tie and collar. He tried to speak, but his voice got buried in Mary’s noise.

Adrian leapt to his feet, but Xavier beat him to speaking.

“Miss Dill. I need you to control yourself. It may be difficult to help the man if we cannot not hear each other to communicate!”

Mary dropped her voice to a whimper. Timothy could not see her face to know the rest of her reaction, as he looked Fabian over for injury and made sure the man could breath.

“There’s no sign of harm on him.” Timothy glanced up as Adrian bent down again. “I don’t think anyone stabbed or attacked him.”

“He seemed fine one moment, then he just keeled over the next.” Kimberly shook her head. “No one touched him. We would have seen it.”

“I think…” Anna paused when everyone turned toward her. “I think that I overheard him mention to someone about problems with his blood sugar once.”

Timothy barely saw Ginger nod, before he began searching Fabian’s pockets. The man did not wear a medical bracelet.

“He did mention that once.” Ginger’s voice sounded oddly quiet for her. “As a joke.”

One side of Fabian’s coat had a sheaf of papers. Timothy only glanced at enough to realize it certainly had nothing to do with a medical condition. He pushed them back, checking the other pocket. Pulling out a narrow red box, he grimaced. Glucagon.

“What is that for?” Kimberly probably asked the question for several of them.

“We need to use it to give him an injection just as quickly as we can.” Xavier reached over Adrian’s shoulder for the box. Timothy relinquished it and Adrian stood out of his cousin’s way.

“Do you know how?”

Xavier already had the box open. “Yes.” He nodded toward Fabian. “Get his coat off and his sleeve rolled all the way up. Or cut if off if you have to.”

Timothy and Adrian worked together with some assistance from Kimberly to do as he said. Fabian’s dead weight made it difficult, but not impossible. By the time they had his sleeve rolled all the way up, Xavier had finished preparing.

Timothy watched the injection being administered, then helped Xavier roll Fabian onto his side. Xavier checked his watch and the room collectively held their breath. Timothy watched for a sign of returning consciousness in Fabian’s face, but could see none.

Lord, please let the injection work. Don’t let there be another one gone. He pushed away the mental picture of failing, once again, to save a life. Please, Lord.

Hours seemed to tick by, but it could really have been a very few minutes. At last, with a choke and coughing sound, Fabian spluttered to life, and Timothy sagged in relief with the rest of the room.

When he seemed able, Xavier and Timothy helped him to a sitting position, leaning against one of the tables. The man looked pale and didn’t try to speak, but he seemed coherent.

“His blood sugar could drop again and fast.” Xavier glanced toward the café counter. “As soon as he thinks he can swallow it, he needs food.”

Timothy nodded, while Kimberly and Anna both went for the counter. Xavier gave them an idea of what to get the man to eat, then looked back at Timothy with a sigh.

“How did you know what to do with the injection? You didn’t even read the directions.”

Xavier sighed again with a shake of his head. “My wife’s youngest sister has diabetes. She wanted all of us to know how to administer it, if needed.” He glanced toward Fabian. “And I’ve done it before.”

Anna brought the food over and Fabian attempted to eat. Slow at first, he began to regain color and movement. He did look worn out, however, and Timothy planned to keep an eye on him.

“You need to keep a better watch on your blood sugar while we’re in here. We can’t get you outside help if it happens again, you know.”

Fabian nodded, leaning his head back against the table. “It shouldn’t have dropped so fast. I keep the Glucagon for emergencies, but there shouldn’t have been an emergency. My dietary changes have been working.”

Timothy shook his head as he stood up. “These things don’t go as we expect sometimes.”

Fabian didn’t argue, but took another bite of his food instead.

Timothy moved back toward Eddie, feeling very tired and very imprisoned. Ginger looked up at him, her eyes wide with concern.

“Should he have such a high fever?”

Timothy reached to gauge Eddie’s temperature without speaking. He bit back a sigh. He is getting hot. He switched to checking the man’s pulse.

Ginger didn’t ask again, but watched his face as if she could read it like a book.

Creepy thought, if she could.

Eddie didn’t open his eyes or move. Timothy couldn’t imagine how the poor man would survive without proper treatment and he shuddered at the thought of the alternative.

I can’t stitch him up or give him more blood, if he needs it. I can barely tell how far his injury goes.

The silence in the room had grown tense. It made Timothy feel almost claustrophobic. It seemed everyone could feel it.

Renee laughed nervously, possibly trying to break the tension. “Who could have expected that low blood sugar would be such a relief? I was afraid he’d been targeted by the killer!”

“Who says that he wasn’t?” Kimberly handed Fabian a glass of water, as he grimaced at his food. She returned to her chair.

“You don’t force a man to have low blood sugar, Kimberly.” Anna frowned deeply from where she stood near Renee.

“My brother used to, when he wanted to get out of trouble.” Kimberly crossed her arms with a shrug. “He’d give himself enough insulin to drop his blood sugar to where he’d get sick, so people would get so busy taking care of him that they’d forget what he did to get into trouble.”

“That’s dangerous.” Timothy could only imagine the long-term ramifications of such stupidity.

Kimberly looked at him. “It killed him. My point is though, it can be done.”

“That doesn’t mean that it was done.” Anna put force into her words.

Kimberly shrugged, dropping her hands to her lap. “Someone has been using a syringe.”

Timothy wished he could read guilt or lack thereof in the exchanged looks of everyone in the room.

“What makes you think that someone has been using a syringe?” Xavier stood near the booth where the little girl and his cousin sat.

“Because it’s on the floor a few feet behind Timothy like someone threw it there.”

All eyes turned in that direction as if on cue. Timothy saw nothing at first, but after several seconds, he noticed the syringe lying in the shadow of the dark counter. Xavier crossed to retrieve it, picking up the syringe with a paper napkin. He held it up to the gray light of the window with an unreadable expression.

“Fabian would have noticed a needle stuck into his arm.”

“Not necessarily.” Fabian’s voice sounded stronger than before. “I rarely feel a needle. I never have.”

Xavier only looked at him.

The tension of before only seemed to deepen.

“Surely you’d feel something or notice someone that close to you.” Anna’s voice faltered, despite her emphasis.

“I’ve stood beside just about everyone in this room several times today. I wasn’t expecting a needle in my arm. As to feeling something…” He nodded barely. “Sure. An itch similar to a mosquito bite about ten minutes later.”

The unasked question flitted through the room.

Fabian fumbled with his other sleeve to show a red mark on his arm. “Which I did have.”

No one spoke or even seemed to breath for a full minute. Then, Timothy jumped violently as Mary’s scream rent the air. Kimberly vaulted from her chair and slapped the woman across the face.

Stunned, Mary stumbled backward toward the counter, eyes wide and mouth open. Kimberly would have none of it.

“Close your mouth and be quiet, woman! We’ve had enough of your noise and don’t care one iota about your histrionics!”

Anna had stepped forward and Xavier pulled Kimberly back. No one else moved.

Even from his vantage point, Timothy could see Mary’s chin quiver. “Someone tried to kill him! It could be any of you!” Kimberly made as if to go at her again, but Mary flinched. “Don’t touch me!” Her words ended in a wail.

“Do you have diabetes?” Kimberly rolled her eyes at Mary’s head shake. “Then you have nothing to worry about!”

“That’s not how that works…” Timothy regretted the words as soon as he spoke them.

Mary’s wild eyes turned toward him. “What do you mean?”

“He means that insulin will drop your blood sugar, whether you’re a diabetic or not.” Xavier’s face still could not be read.

“But someone without diabetes isn’t likely to be carrying around the magic injection to fix it.” Kimberly shrugged. “Could be a problem.”

“You mean that someone tried to kill him – and might succeed next time?” Mary’s shriek should have shattered the windows. Unfortunately, it didn’t even crack them.

“He could have done it to himself.” Anna narrowed her eyes in Fabian’s direction. “Knowing we could save him.”

“He could hardly bank on us knowing what to do!” Ginger turned from Eddie for a moment. “Don’t be silly. None of us know him well enough and what would be the point?”

“To divert suspicion!” Mary shrieked the last word again. If Xavier hadn’t remained nearby, Kimberly might have slapped her again. Or throttled her.

“He didn’t have insulin on him.” Adrian raised his voice above the growing noise.

“He might have taken it from anyone who did. Or brought along a single dose for this very purpose.”

Timothy didn’t know which woman made the suggestion, but her voice shook. He’d looked down at Eddie again, who lay still with his eyes closed, though Timothy noted a fleeting expression that seemed to suggest he heard everything that went on around him.

“Does anyone have insulin with them for any reason?” Xavier still stood near Mary and Kimberly.

Timothy looked up in time to see Renee shudder. “I have insulin in my purse. The doctor prescribed it for my gestational diabetes.”

“Where is your purse, Mrs. Allen?” Xavier preempted Mary’s obvious question.

She nodded toward the floor. “It’s under the table.”

Xavier retrieved the purse, before turning back toward Renee. “May I?”

She nodded.

Timothy watched the search of the purse, Xavier’s brow furrowing ever deeper. At last, he shook his head, raising his eyes toward Renee again. He watched her in silence for a moment and the woman shifted in her seat. No one else spoke.

“Mrs. Allen, there is no insulin or syringes in your purse.”

Her eyebrows shot up, but he clearly hadn’t finished. He held up a piece of paper. “I have to ask you, however… Why do you have a photograph of Gary Bradshaw in your purse?”

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Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXXIII

Chapter XXXIII – Ginger Thomas

The café hadn’t been so quiet in what felt like hours. Ginger didn’t even know the time or how long had passed since the explosions or the discovery of Gary Bradshaw’s body. How long since Mary stabbed Eddie. Ginger had no concept of time anymore at all.

Eddie seemed to have gained some color in his face. He no longer resembled a breathing corpse. At least, not so much as he did before. Timothy still remained by his side, but he frowned less than before. Ginger hoped that would be a good sign. Still, it had been a long while since Eddie had opened his eyes, even though he also lay rather more still.

Anna stood from her interview with the cousins. She skirted Kimberly, eventually kneeling near Ginger in silence. Ginger could see evidence of tears, but wouldn’t go so far as to ask why. Timothy gave Anna a look but seemed to come to the same conclusion.

Anna looked as if she wanted to ask something, but the general silence seemed to hold her back. Even Mary Dill leaned back in a chair with a sleepy bearing.

Ginger saw Timothy start and look around the place with a deepening frown. He obviously didn’t like the silence much.

Fabian cleared his throat. He caught Ginger’s eye with a shrug. “We seem to have boiled down to a nice low simmer, haven’t we?”

No one answered him. Ginger didn’t think he much wanted one anyhow.

Mary Dill sat up when Fabian spoke, then sat watching him. The irrational desire to punch the woman’s nose in swept over Ginger. Just her face looks whiny.

Mary turned her staring toward Ginger and the waitress swiftly looked away. It took a few minutes before the woman’s pathetic voice punctured the quiet room.

“You told them why, didn’t you?”

Ginger ignored her, hoping the woman did not mean the question for her. No such luck.

“I know that you heard me. You told them why you disowned Eddie, didn’t you?”

Ginger grit her teeth, but still didn’t look up. “It hardly matters, I think.”

“Just tell her if you did.” Timothy kept his voice quiet but gave her a pleading look. “Perhaps she’ll let it go, if you do.”

Ginger sighed. She had little hope Timothy would be proven correct, but she would try. “Fine. No. It didn’t come up.”

She could have counted down from ten to Mary opening her mouth again. “I think you should tell us why you disowned him then.”

Ginger ground her teeth. “I told you before, Mary Dill, that is none of your business.”

“I don’t trust you.”

The waitress finally looked up. “The feeling is mutual.”

Mary crossed her arms, her lip in a pout. “Then you understand why I want more information!”

“Not really.” Ginger shrugged. “I can’t say that I want to know anything more about you than I already do.”

Mary tapped her foot and Ginger wished anyone else would engage with the woman. “I still think it’s because of his criminal record.”

“Eddie doesn’t have a criminal record! I keep telling you!” Ginger nearly yanked at her ponytail in frustration. “You do not give up, do you!”

“Why should I?” The unmistakable whine just added to Ginger’s fury. “If his own sister wanted to disown him, then-”

Ginger whirled, raising herself up on her knees. “Sometimes, people force you to make decisions that you don’t want to make!” Ginger raised her voice and, frankly, didn’t care at the moment. “They make you choose between them and another person – and the person who gets cut off doesn’t always deserver it!”

She saw Adrian had stood up and Eddie tugged on her arm. Mary though, shook her head. “No one could make you choose to disown your brother, Ginger. Not unless he deserved it somehow.”

“My father did.”

“Ginger… Ginger, stop.”

She ignored Eddie’s remonstrance. “Eddie’s sole crime was surviving his birth. That’s it. So why don’t you leave him alone and mind your own business.

Ginger felt a hand on her shoulder, before she could say anything else. She jumped, before she looked at Timothy.

He dropped his arm. “Back down and leave her be.” His voice almost inaudible, she found it a wonder that she knew what he said.

With a last glance toward Mary Dill, Ginger obeyed. She could feel her hands shaking, along with everything else. Pulling her arm from her brother, she pulled her knees up to her chin, wrapping her arms tightly around them. Dropping her face onto her arms, she shut her eyes. Anna, still beside her but silent, put a tentative hand on her shoulder. Ginger didn’t move.

People should learn to be quiet and mind their own business. The woman had no right to keep nagging about something that affects her in no way, shape or form!

She vaguely heard Adrian talking to Mary. The woman’s voice grew louder. “She’s the one shouting. I asked a question!”

“I think the group, collectively, would enjoy less of your questions.” Fabian’s voice came next.

Ginger raised her head, choking back the sudden desire to cry. I will absolutely not do any such thing. She grit her teeth yet again.

“Ginger, come on.” She did not want to look at her brother. “You have to let it go.”

She finally turned her head in his direction, taking a deep breath. He looked worried.

I shouldn’t be worrying him. Not right now.

“Just let it go. It’s fine – I don’t really care that much.”

“You should! And I care.”

“Ginger.” Here his voice lowered. “I’m lying on the floor of the café with a knife wound in my side. I have no certain hope of a hospital in my future. My chances of seeing tomorrow are slim. What do I care if a melodramatic woman wants to keep accusing me of things I didn’t do?”

It wasn’t only the longest speech Eddie had given since being injured; it might have been the longest she had heard from him in five years. Despite her determination, Ginger could barely see her brother through the tears that threatened to fall down her cheeks.

“I can’t think like that.” She shook her head. “I refuse to think like that. Eddie, you have to be okay, because… You have to. It wasn’t my plan.”

“It rarely is.” He closed his eyes wearily.

Ginger just sat, watching him.

“Are you all right?”

She looked up at Timothy slowly, before raising her chin as his words sank in. “I’m always all right.”

He clearly did not believe her. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” She raised her eyebrows.

“No father should force such a decision on his daughter. Or his son.”

“He shouldn’t, but he did. He was sick. Eddie was young.” She looked up at Timothy, her heart sinking. “I chose because I didn’t want my father to die alone. He hasn’t died at all.” Ginger didn’t finish the half-formed thought in her head, and neither did anyone else.

Adrian Terrence joined them, bending down near Timothy with a sigh. “How is he doing?”

“Eddie is about the same. Maybe a shade stronger.” Timothy shook his head. “He’s doing as well as we could hope.”

Adrian nodded. “I’m still praying we can get him more help soon.”

Ginger watched him narrowly, before deciding to speak again. “I told the truth about why I disowned him. You have to believe me.”

“I didn’t ask.”

“But you will.” Ginger heard Eddie sigh, but she kept on. “So, you have my answer now, instead of later.”

Adrian watched her thoughtfully, until she wanted to slap him into looking elsewhere. He finally decided to speak. “I didn’t quite understand the reason for your father’s enmity. Because Eddie survived his birth – what did that mean?”

“Does it matter?”

“My mother died the week I was born.” Eddie’s voice, rather slow and quiet but determined, started Ginger. “He blamed me. Always did. He put with me until I could legally move out. That’s the long and short of it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s… just how it is.”

What Adrian or anyone else might have answered or asked next, Ginger never knew because at that moment, Mary Dill shrieked. Literally no one knew why, but they all turned.

In the two seconds that followed, Renee screamed and Fabian Smith crashed to the ground.

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Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXII – Adrian Terrence

Adrian watched the group in silence. He heard the end of the conversation regarding Renee, but didn’t intervene. He felt weary. So weary.

It’s akin to being cooped up with a bunch of children. He glanced toward Monique. Except, the actual child among us is better behaved.

He ran a hand over his face, wishing that he could escape to his violin. Or, at the least, the outdoors. A gust of rain rushed against the windows. Xavier kicked him and Adrian turned.

“Lost in your own world, by the looks of it. Are you all right over there?”

Adrian shrugged. “What should we do next, do you think?”

Xavier’s eyes narrowed in his direction at the unanswered question, but he didn’t address it. “Continue investigating before Mary Dill fancies herself judge, jury, and executioner again, I imagine.”

Adrian nodded a bit vaguely. His thoughts seemed nearly as vague. He heard Xavier say something, but only comprehended the second try. He straightened in his seat with a sigh. “I’m here.”

“I know that you’re technically here, but mentally, you’re somewhere else.”

“Mentally, I am trying to escape far away.” He muttered the words mostly to himself. He had no idea if Xavier heard them.

“What do you think we should do next?”

Adrian sighed again. “I don’t know, Cousin. I don’t think that we have enough information to do anything.”

“So, we keep gathering information. We can continue interviews. It might not help us figure out if the explosions are connected, but then again, it might.”

Adrian nodded, trying not to sigh again. “Who should we do next?” He glanced over the room. “We have Anna Carpentier, Renee Allen, Kimberly Liath, and Timothy Teller remaining. I don’t think that Timothy should leave Eddie though.”

“Agreed.” Xavier glanced around the room likewise. “That just leaves the three women.”

“Miss Renee looks too sad to talk right now.” Monique hadn’t spoken in awhile, but even Adrian could hear her this time.

Xavier gave her a small smile. “You’re right, sweetheart. She may have to talk to us at some point, but she doesn’t have to right now.” He looked back at Adrian with a questioning look.

“I don’t think I can…” Adrian let the sentence hang. I could, of course, I simply do not want to.

Xavier’s eyes narrowed once more and Adrian tried again.

“I’d rather not interview Kimberly Liath at the moment.” He glanced toward the woman who sat glaring in her chair. “She is rather hostile, right now.”

Something, I don’t really want to fight with.

Xavier nodded. “That leaves Anna Carpentier.”

Adrian stood. “I’ll ask her over here.”

Anna came willingly enough. She folded her hands into her lap and waited for questions in complete silence. She didn’t seem nervous or angry, she simply seemed to care very little whether they asked her questions or not.

Adrian wrote her name in his notebook, but his motivation to keep asking questions had dropped very low. He wanted to wash his hands of the entire operation.

Xavier cleared his throat. “Miss Carpentier, you stated that you neither knew nor had seen the deceased at any point before today.”

“That’s right. At least, not to my knowledge.”

“How about today? When did you first notice him?”

The woman swallowed visibly, seeming to watch Xavier’s face while she steadied herself for a reply.

“When Mary pointed toward him.”

Adrian frowned, noting what he could see of Anna’s face. He shook his head, moving his pencil around in his hand. “Are you sure you want to stick to that story?”

She turned her bright green eyes on him, concern splashed across her face. “I… I’d rather not be detained for questioning later. I didn’t see anything.”

“Except… that you did?”

Anna dropped her eyes to her hands.

“If you don’t tell the truth, Miss Carpentier, then the police will be likely to find out. And it could thwart the course of justice, regardless.”

Anna didn’t look up as Xavier spoke. Adrian thought it best not to add anything. After a moment or two, Anna finally raised her head.

“I… I didn’t really see anything.”

Really see anything?” Adrian raised an eyebrow.

“Well… I mean…” Anna put her hands on the table. “I just saw him. Before the explosion. He was waiting for his food, I guess, standing by the counter.”

“That’s all? He was waiting?” Xavier clearly knew there had to be more.

“Well… and talking to… someone.”

Adrian put his pencil down altogether. “Talking to whom?”

Anna’s brow creased and she grimaced. “I… I don’t know.”

“Male? Female?” Xavier tapped the table.

“Male. Dark hair. Average height, I suppose. Wearing a t-shirt and jeans. He had a jagged scar on his left arm. No one here.”

Adrian started to respond, but happened to see Monique’s face instead. A look of pure horror had taken over her face. Mr. Pickles slipped, but she grabbed him with a sudden jump.

Xavier noticed just in time to see the child follow up with a shudder. He seemed to consider speaking to her, but put an arm around her instead and turned back to Anna. “Have you ever seen the man before? Do you have any clue whatsoever as to his identity?”

Anna shook her head. “Neither. I didn’t even see his face.”

“Did neither employee behind the counter seem to notice the two men? You said that they stood beside the counter, didn’t you?” Adrian wrote in his notebook while Xavier spoke.

No one. Literally no one else seems to have noticed Gary Bradshaw talking to anyone up until this point. Why did no one else notice?

Anna had actually laughed, though quietly. “Eddie, notice? Eddie was running back and forth, yanking on his hair, trying to keep up with everything on his own. Ginger hadn’t come in yet, because I saw her come in a few minutes later. Eddie was too distracted to notice anything that he didn’t have to notice.”

“You seem to recognize Eddie’s habits well.” Xavier glanced in the direction of the injured man.

“I’m in here every week. I see Ginger and Eddie every week. It’s easy to become familiar with something that’s repeated so frequently. Eddie always gets like that if he’s on his own. Like a chicken with its head cut off – just more productive. Surely you might have noticed that.” Anna looked at Adrian. “You’re in here, at least, once a week as well.”

Adrian shrugged. “Ginger is usually here, by the time I get to the café. And, admittedly, I’m often distracted when I come in here, so I’m not always paying that much attention.”

“If you see so much of them, I might ask, Miss Carpentier…” Xavier paused a few seconds, making sure that no one else – probably Mary – could be in hearing range. “Were you surprised to hear that Ginger and Eddie are related?”

Anna cocked her head. “I don’t know. I suppose, yes. I’d never considered it before. But, it makes sense in the end. Once you know it, you can see it – Eddie just behaved like her younger brother, deferring to her, even though, I know he was employed at the café first and should have had seniority. Ginger was obviously the one in charge, regardless, and he acted like it was her right or something.”

Xavier watched her while she spoke, but looked off toward the group again for a long moment after she fell silent. Adrian flipped through his pages of notes for Ginger and Eddie.

“Do you always come with Mrs. Liath?” Xavier turned back to Anna.

Adrian tried to recall if he always saw them together, and couldn’t decide.

Anna cocked her head again. “Yes and… no.”

Neither cousin had to voice their next question. Anna hurried to answer it.

“She asked me to come every Tuesday, but we don’t always sit together. It’s a memorial of sorts, and sometimes she just wants to be left alone.”

“A memorial?” Adrian looked from Xavier to Anna.

Anna fidgeted a bit. “A memorial for my best friend, Kimberly’s daughter. The café was Eden’s favorite. She came every Tuesday, because that was the only day she was free. She’d come and work on her drawings, because she said it relaxed her. I came with her every now and then. Since she died…” She faltered, but continued. “Since then, Kimberly wants us to come every Tuesday morning in remembrance.” Anna’s voice had dropped very low. All of them grew still when she finished.

When Xavier spoke again, he spoke very gently. “I’m sorry, Miss Carpentier. I assume that your friend is recently deceased?”

Anna nodded, a tear splashing onto her lap. “She’s not been gone a year. And it was in the worst way possible. Which is why, it’s just so difficult for either Kimberly or myself to get over her death. Murder, premeditated or not, is ugly and evil. And it leaves a scar on those left behind, that I think no one will every properly be able to explain.” 

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