Faerie Cake Dead by J.M. Griffin
Nine tables, dressed and ready for patrons, stood scattered about the room. Soft light behind Luna cast a pale glow across the darkness as she squinted through the doorway. The faerie cakes, all baked, frosted and ready to serve sat in the lower level of the building. As always, she’d managed it all in the span of a few wee morning hours.
Head bowed, the figure sat upright. Luna could see the outline of a man clothed in a dark suit. She reached for the switch next to the door and flicked on the overhead lights. Luna gasped, moving her hand to her throat. She stared at his thin gray hair lay scraped over his dome. He hadn’t moved or acknowledged her.
Questions slipped through Luna’s mind faster than the click of a camera shutter. What was he doing here? When did he arrive and from where? How did he come to be sitting in her teashop this early in the morning? How had he gotten in? Had she left a door unlocked yet again?
Luna crept closer. The elderly stranger’s wrinkled, parchment-like skin sagged under his chin. His pale hands rested on the table, a spoon clasped in one of them. A teapot huddled next to the empty cup and saucer before him.
She reached out and touched his shoulder. The stiff body slumped forward. With a gasp, Luna jumped back. Wiping her fingertips across the apron swathed around her, Luna backed toward the door. Nothing was out of place, other than the dead man sitting at a table set for tea.
Luna lifted the phone from the base and dialed nine-one-one.
“What’s your emergency?” the operator asked.
“T-there’s a d-dead man sitting in my d-dining room.”
“Ma’am, did you say you have a dead man in your dining room?”
“Yes,” she said. “My name is Luna Devere, owner of Faerie Cake Junction on the outskirts of Swanscott, Maine. The shop is number seven-one-one on Old Meadow Road.”
The calm voice asked, “Are you certain he’s dead?”
“He’s stiff and feels cold to the touch. He didn’t answer my questions, it’s just after four in the morning, and the shop doesn’t open until ten o’clock so yeah, I think he’s dead.” She swallowed hard, fighting back an overwhelming sense of panic. “Emergency services have been notified and are on their way.”
She hung up and paced back and forth in front of the sparkling glass pastry cases. What should she do next? Nervous, a soft melody thrummed in her head and then issued from her throat. Never understanding why she did so, Luna just understood she would every time her anxiety mounted. Instead of bravery, never Luna’s strength, optimism topped the list of her attributes.
Luna believed in and saw things other people couldn’t see even though she’d heard the town folk considered her eccentric. Her trust in faeries caused many to scoff, but Luna knew they existed since she’d been born with the Sight. She could see faeries, and on the rare occasion she experienced clairvoyant visions while in their midst. Faeries lived in the meadow and woods behind the shop. She spoke with them often. Their early tolerant relationship had turned into friendship over time. Rarely did she mention them to outsiders since it tended to make her look stranger than she was already perceived.
Walking onto the porch, she leaned against the handrail on the rear veranda of her building. Luna gulped deep drafts of fresh, crisp air. Nerves taut, she peered into the darkness. Tiny lights flickered on and off. People thought these mere fireflies, but Luna knew the colors meant the presence of faerie folk. Lights danced closer and closer until a small swarm gathered within the purple hydrangea bushes just off the veranda.
“What have you seen, Luna?” a tiny blue creature asked in a singsong voice. She swept closer to Luna, her translucent wings shimmering in the moonlight while she swayed in the faint breeze.
“I found a man in the tea room. He’s dead.”
Iridescent wings fluttering faster, the blue faerie jittered back and forth.
“We have seen movement of humans this night,” the faerie said and quivered toward the doorway.
Knowing the faerie would never enter the domain, Luna asked, “How many humans were there?”
“More than one, but no more than three.” The faerie darted away.
Luna’s gaze followed the light and she called, “Three? There were three humans? Were they walking or was one carried by the others?”
The tiny faerie flitted forward, fast like a hummingbird. A twitter of noise arose from the hydrangea bushes where other faeries watched the exchange.
“One carried another, one stayed behind. I must leave you now.” Her beautiful voice lilting, the faerie began to drift away. “Rest easy, the images will come.”
The entire mass gathered together, winging away into the night. Luna watched them disappear within a thick stand of wood as the sound of emergency vehicles arriving caught her attention. She returned through the back door, entering the shop. Lights flashed from the roof of the emergency vehicle rolling to a stop out front. Three paramedics strode up the steps. Luna rushed to unlock the double doors and flung them wide open. The sheriff parked his car alongside the rescue.
“Hi, Gus,” Luna greeted the first EMT, a wiry middle aged man with a dry sense of gallows humor. She pointed to the corpse. “He’s over there.”
“Hey, Luna,” Gus said with a nod, and strode forward, followed by his team. “He’s dressed up for a tea party, huh?” he murmured.
Luna contemplated him as she considered his distasteful remark before turning toward the dead man. Luna noticed his black suit was worn and his shirt cuffs frayed, but they were as clean and crisp as his jaunty red bowtie. The team checked the body while she waited for them to pronounce the stranger dead.
Heavy treads sounded behind her. Luna turned toward Sheriff Henry Tiddler while he clomped up the three steps of the oversized bungalow housing Faerie Cake Junction. “Luna.” His gritty voice accompanied the dip of his hat when he nodded toward her.
“Sheriff,” Luna responded.
“Want to explain what happened?”
His clipped words left her feeling he was unhappy about the early morning call. She watched as he withdrew a small spiral bound notebook from a pocket and clicked the pen, awaiting her answer. A shiver ran through her as she pondered finding a corpse in the shop. It certainly wasn’t the way she’d ever choose to start her day.
With a deep breath, Luna said, “I’m not sure. I made the usual early-morning cupcakes and was about to return to bed for a few hours.”
“What time was that?”
“When I made the cupcakes, or when I was going to bed?”
“Both,” he replied with a light sigh and a raised brow.
“I got up at two and finished around four.” Luna’s head tipped toward the body. “I found him a little after four.”
“Who is he, do you know?” His voice cool, Sheriff Tiddler’s questions were short and to the point. His suspicious eyes squinted as he regarded her.
“Never laid eyes on him before, Sheriff.” She moved her hand toward her throat as the EMS team searched the body.
Sheriff Tiddler turned to them while he scribbled in his notebook.
“He’s a goner, Sheriff,” Gus said. “Call the medical examiner so he can take charge of the scene.”
“Any idea what he died from?” the sheriff asked after he radioed headquarters.
“There are no signs of injury. The ME will tell you more.” Gus glanced at Luna and then at the sheriff.
The sheriff pulled his attention from Gus and the dead and turned his dark eyes toward Luna.
Within minutes the dispatcher reported the medical examiner was on his way. Sheriff Tiddler’s shoulder radio crackled a second and went silent.
A portly man, Henry Tiddler stood around five-foot-eight, had pudgy hands and short legs. His bald pate held a fringe of light brown hair speckled with grey. Dentures ground in his mouth while he chewed on his words before speaking them. Sheriff Tiddler’s laugh always seemed a mocking one. Divorced early in his career, he now dated Dilly Perkins, a member of Luna’s wait staff. A former Boston cop, Henry Tiddler had retired from the force at age fifty. In an effort to get away from big city life and heinous crimes he had applied for the sheriff’s position in the seacoast village of Swanscott, where life remained quiet most of the time.
Until this morning. Luna stared into his wide face showing signs of oncoming flabby jowls. She noted the way his wide nostrils flared as though his large nose had picked up a nasty scent.
“How did the victim end up here, Luna?”
A sense of trepidation cloaked her. Luna didn’t answer right away, but wondered instead how this could have happened.
“I have no idea.”
“Were all the doors locked?”
Luna had a reputation among the locals for her inability to keep all the doors locked and stay in possession of her keys.
“I think so,” she said. “At least the front doors were ’cause I just undid them to let everyone in.” Luna recollected the unlocked rear door, but decided Tiddler didn’t need another reason to think her nuts or suspicious.
The sheriff’s bushy eyebrows rose while he watched her. Nervously she chewed on her lower lip. “Let’s check the remaining doors then.”
Sheriff Tiddler motioned Luna to walk before him to the doors in question.
The bungalow held a gift shop and a tearoom on the first floor. A galley-style kitchen with an opening lay off the tearoom. The gift shop held a reading area surrounded with gifts, books, wind chimes, and faerie-related goodies. Luna lived upstairs in a large, open-spaced loft. Baking took place in the basement.
They checked the entry door in the gift shop before entering the teashop through the wide-arched doorway. A side entry door in the tearoom opened onto a wide wrap-around porch. The lock remained securely bolted. Luna led the way along a wide corridor toward the rear door. Lights flicked on as she flipped switches.
She stopped to wait until the sheriff caught up to her. The sheriff gaped at the neat, compact, efficient galley kitchen where Dilly worked. Clearing her throat, Luna caught his attention.
Unlocked, the rear door stood ajar. It moved back and forth slightly on silent hinges, the way Luna had left it.
“Here’s your answer to how he got in. I must have left the door unlocked when I went to bed.” Luna turned toward the sheriff as he slowed and stopped beside her. “I could have sworn I double-checked all the entries.”
Unwilling to admit she’d gone out to speak with the faeries; Luna let the sheriff reach his own conclusions. After all, the door had been unlocked, if not ajar. “Hmm, it doesn’t appear tampered with, so I guess you didn’t lock it after all.” Sheriff Tiddler checked the bolt and then scrutinized Luna.
Uncomfortable with his inquisitive stare, she shrugged and agreed with a nod of her head. She could have sworn she’d checked the doors. Maybe the sheriff wanted to wrap things up in a neat package in an effort to eliminate an investigation of a breaking and entering on top of the death of the old gentleman.
“We could dust for fingerprints, though I’m sure it won’t do much good,” the sheriff said.
He acted as if it was a waste of time, but Luna wasn’t so sure. She knew the doors had been locked.
Sheriff Tiddler returned to the tearoom with questions about the space upstairs. Appearing to be satisfied after Luna explained it was her living space, he simply nodded.
“Where do you bake the cakes?” he asked while his keen eyes viewed the neat dining room.
“Downstairs in the basement. I had a room outfitted when I first bought this place so I could cook there. It’s cool and away from the shop area.”
“Can I get a look?”
With a nod, Luna led the way toward the room where magnificent cupcakes were baked, frosted and beautifully decorated. Confections were created in the wee morning hours for customers who swarmed to Faerie Cake Junction from far and wide. From morning to night tea and cupcakes were served to people flowing in and out of the shop like the tide. The dining room remained busy all day, every day and the gift shop did very well. During the holiday season, Luna got no rest. Now in her mid-thirties, she often wondered if she’d lost her mind by starting a non-stop, year-round business.
As they neared the confectionery room, she watched the sheriff inspect each nook and cranny with great interest, seeming to note every single foot of the area.
Her thoughts wandered as the sheriff took stock of the faerie cakes and cupcakes. At the start of a cupcake day, she slid baking pans into enormous ovens along the back wall of the brick basement. She baked dozens upon dozens of cupcakes, frosted them and added embellishments to each batch. She did the job by rote, she knew it so well.
Every morning Luna mixed ingredients bought specifically for each flavor of cupcake. They baked, cooled and stood in line like soldiers, waiting for frosting. Ambling back and forth, she’d added a touch of something special here and there to make each confection a delight to the eyes and taste buds of her customers. Luna offered at least ten varieties of faerie cakes to patrons.
Faerie cakes, the British equivalent of the American cupcake, adorned with flavored glaze and silver nonpareils, were held in high-esteem by customers. Vanilla-bean cupcake batter mixed with melted chocolate created light chocolate-colored cupcakes covered with vanilla-buttercream chocolate-ganache topping. This morning, she had baked a batch of chocolate cupcakes with chunks of chocolate and cherry pieces mixed in. She’d then topped them with chocolate-cherry buttercream frosting and pure chocolate sprinkles. She stared at the trays of delights waiting to be brought upstairs and placed in the cases. Her glance strayed to the sheriff, who licked his lips and stared at the rows and rows of pastry.
“Do you think the shop can open today?” she asked.
“It’s a crime scene, but if the ME offers details on the victim’s death, then you might be able to.” Sheriff Tiddler licked his lips again.
“Would you care for a cupcake and a cup of tea, Sheriff?”
“If it wouldn’t be any trouble,” he said and walked toward the countertop.
Opening a cabinet, Luna pulled a plate from within and handed it to him.
“Choose what you’d like and meet me upstairs. I’ll make some tea.” She left him to choose his fare and hustled toward the upstairs galley kitchen.
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