It was a sunny fall day and a dark vehicle stopped in a sleepy town that was barely on the map. The driver noted the population: 2001.
“Make that a Venti…”
“Here you are,” the attractive barista said pleasantly.
“Hmm maybe I’ll stay awhile,” the traveler pondered.
“Oh pleez,” someone slapped down the newspaper. “The Times received a note made from magazine clippings and now the town is all up in arms? Who’s up for reelection or appointment or…”
“How cliché and zodiac killerish” another reader frowned.
The barista smiled. People didn’t realize how far their voices carried in “her” shop.
“No woman will be safe…” Another patron read.
“Well leave it to the media for taking the Pre-Halloween hype a little too far,” her companion chuckled, “What better way to get people “up” for the holiday than concoct a killer scenario?”
“This is way too sleepy a town to draw any attention for a psycho- killer. That’s why I moved here.” The older woman sighed. “Now the City’s another story.”
“The sidewalks roll up by ten not enough time for a proper killer.” Someone chuckled at the absurdity of the notion.
The barista loved the bustle of the coffee shop and was glad the cool weather was bringing people in. The news didn’t scare her. She smiled and kept serving coffee drinks.
“What a hoax,” she heard from the far end of the shop.
People were tittering like the birds getting ready for winter. But the coffee house always seemed a flutter about something.
The mood was a little more somber the next morning over the traditional latte. “How can this happen? We aren’t even on the grid,” his southern accent came out loud and clear.
“Darling we can’t expect psycho-paths to obey the rules. Now can we?” his silver- bangled, pretty wife simpered over her chai.
“It just doesn’t make sense” a wife said quietly to her husband hoping the children hadn’t seen or heard the news.
The baristas were busier than usual on this Sunday. Newspapers and coffees were selling like hotcakes. “Murder sure has a bustling effect on business,” the barista thought.
“Damn! The last death we had was when Mrs. Flanergy was run over by the milkman.” The chief was outraged with the news of three deaths the night before.
We have contacted all the female shop owners in town. They are closing down early. All female employees are advised to be off the streets early.”
“Should we do a radio broadcast, sir?”
“Let’s not sound too big an alarm. Not yet.” the chief squirmed,
“Please, go straight home” all the shop owners emphasized to their female employees. The town seemed barren and quiet as the sun receded. It seemed a little too Twilight Zone.
She looked around the dark, misty, parking lot. Her walk home was almost a run. She could almost hear screams echoing in the night air. The screams were always followed by death. The coffee barista had no desire to be out late.
The journalists had laughed at the first note
“Death will reign come Halloween Night.”
No one laughed, when the first reports got phoned in. All seemed to be the same cause, a lethal poison. All the victims were attractive women.
The Times got a new note:
“More Each Day Until Spooks Come Out…”
No one, at the paper, noticed the note was arranged differently. In the first, the letters were ripped out; this one the letters were cut out – neatly.
The paper’s headline read:
“… a pretty lady with silver bangles was found in her car this morning.”
Life kept buzzing in the coffee shop. The drama never ceased neither did the foreboding in the headlines each morning leading up to Halloween.
“Ten women total and the police have no clues.”
“I feel terrible for the families.” A young woman whispered to her boyfriend.
“Maybe you should go out-of-town for a few days,” he said with loving eyes.
The barista looked over at the two for a moment envying their closeness.
Later that day… a woman was obviously meeting a man for the first time.
The barista winked, “not sure about that one…”
The blonde winked back, “I’ve been on lots of dates. Ya never know…”
“These are scary times, “the barista added.
The blonde smiled, “I’m a big girl.”
A scream was heard in the back of the coffee shop. There was momentary mayhem as some people rushed for an exit while others rushed toward the scream.
“It’s ok folks it was just a mouse” the barista grinned knowing on most days the news of a mouse would empty the coffee shop; today it brought people closer together.
The next morning more deaths were reported. Among the deaths – a blond who thought she could handle life and a young woman whose boyfriend was grieved that she had not listened and gone out-of-town as he asked.
“Sir, some of the victims were strangled and others were poisoned.”
“Guy likes to mix it up, obviously.” the chief scowled.
“I’m not sure if you girls should be working especially since it seems several of the women were customers here the same day they died. Maybe he waits outside for the customers,” the manager’s face whitened. “Then we will be sure not to be customers here,” the barista tried to lighten the mood.
“Ok, but if either of you feel you need to go then you can have the rest of the week off.”
“Nothing ever happens in this sleepy little town,” the police chief pounded his fist on an oak desk. He hated contacting the metro police but needed help in solving this crime asap.
That afternoon a detective went to the coffee shop to talk to several of the staff. “Anything unusual the past few days?” No one could recall.
“Well there was this one weird, middle-aged guy who has met two different women for coffee.” the barista remembered.
“Yeah, he seemed really full of himself, acting like a big shot. He bought his date a Venti. I call that a big spender.”
“Have you ever seen him before?”
“No. Never,” all the baristas agreed.
“Ok give me a description and if you see him again get his name off his credit card and try to delay him.” The detective was writing in his notebook.
A pretty young woman ran in late toward the end of the shift. The guy at the cash register asked ” what is a beautiful lady like you doing out so late?”
“I lost my wallet today and I just got off work at the spa. I hope I left it here.”
“Well pretty lady” he smiled “Let me look in our lock box. Can you describe it?”
“Yes, it’s brown leather with a gold clasp.”
“Looks like you’re in luck” the cashier said valiantly as he handed the wallet to her.
“How ’bout one for the road,” the barista smiled “Coffee’s getting dumped. This one’s on me.”
“I could use something a bit stronger” the woman giggled with a strain in her voice gratefully taking the coffee and leaving a tip.
“Liquor store’s around the corner.”
Neither the barrista nor the gal with the wallet noticed a guy preening himself in a dark Camero.
“We won’t have any women in our town soon” the police chief yelled as he “lost it” the next morning.
“This guy isn’t consistent. He strangles some and poisons others.”
“Maybe we have a tag along murderer.” The homicide detective conjectured.
“Maybe this is two murderers not one.”
“We can’t handle two murderers! This town is too small.”
“Maybe we should evacuate all females from the town.”
The homicide detective thought “these guys are so small town…”
The flirty guy went into the coffee shop and started making time with the barista. “Come out with me tonight baby.”
“Sorry, I don’t think my football player, boyfriend would approve.” The barista smiled coldly.
“Then don’t tell him.”
She turned and walked away without giving him his order, but she did get his name and phoned the police. They were too late but they had a name.
“I’ll take you home tonight, I saw how that creep looked at you today.”
“That’s so sweet of you but…”
“Well, ok.” The barista had to admit she liked the attention.
“All the victims reported this morning were strangled,sir.” The detective from metro scratched his head in confusion.
The barista giggled as she looked her co-worker in the eye at work.
It seemed like a seesaw or a competition to the police force. The tally was: ten poisoned and twelve strangled. The next day: fifteen were poisoned fifteen were strangled. The police could never pin anything on the guy who liked to take women out.
“Coffee’s probably the safest thing on Halloween,” the sultry lady said to her date.
“Yeh baby, let’s put something in that coffee.” The barista rolled her eyes as she noticed the guy’s over- powering cologne.
The coffee shop was open late; even with the threat, it seemed people wanted to drink coffee rather than go home.
The barista left before closing; her manager insisted.
She made dinner for herself and her friend.
“The final tally after Halloween is 20 poisoned ladies and 30 strangulations.”
“No women were poisoned on Halloween” the police chief smirked. “Why?”
“Maybe the person was caught, sick, or busy.” the homicide detective chimed up.
He came in the next morning. Mr I can have any woman I want.
The barista leaned over. “Hey baby, you want a date?”
” Yeh baby, sure any time. “
“Well I tell ya what lemme make up a special brew for you and we can talk about it hmmm tomorrow.” The barista made a Venti with a little bit of “everything” in it.
Later that afternoon, the police found the man. They knew it was him by positive identification of the vehicle. He was dead. Had he committed suicide? The autopsy report showed the same poison that the women had been killed with.
The barista stopped to say “goodbye” to her manager and her workers. “Yeh I think I’ll feel safer back in the big city.”
“But the papers say they caught the guy.”
“I’d hate to find out that they only caught one of them” the barista said with a wink to no one in particular.
A pretty woman waved to the man painting a new city limits sign. She noted the population: 1951.
Happy Halloween to all of you hopefully you have a safe eve. Remember to have a latte – on me!
Photograph “Coffee’s on me” by L. Moon copyright 10/2012