A Mini Mystery from the Enchanted Oven Bakery
I’d stopped into my grandmother’s bakery for one of her world-famous breakfast croissants, filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon. I had a full day of inventory planned at the Enchanted Antique Shop, and I wanted to be fully charged with coffee and carbohydrates.
The Enchanted Oven bakery was a peaceful oasis in the early morning hours. Soft golden light filtered through the large front windows, casting a cozy glow over the neatly arranged tables. The air was filled with the heady aroma of cinnamon rolls and sugar cookies.
Outside, the world was still waking up; the quiet murmur of our small town barely permeated the bakery’s walls. Inside, the only sounds were the faint rustle of the newspaper as Fred Samson, an early riser, enjoyed his morning ritual of coffee and the daily news.
Doris McGovern, seated at her favorite table by the window, was reading a paperback romance about an alien warrior and his buxom blonde bride. The cover featured a scaly green extraterrestrial with horns and six-pack abs, along with a flying saucer in the background. “Aliens,” I thought. “That’s ridiculous.” Then I remembered that I’m a time-traveling witch who sees ghosts around every corner. I didn’t exactly have a lot of room to judge anyone else.
I sipped my coffee and watched as Gram moved quietly and efficiently through the bakery, arranging pastries in a display case and offering coffee refills.
Suddenly, her assistant Kate came rushing through the back door, her big blue eyes wide with shock. Her voice trembled, a mix of fear and disbelief hanging in the air. “We need to call the police! There’s a dead body by the dumpster.”
Fred’s cup paused halfway to his lips, while Doris nearly dropped her doughnut.
“Slow down, Kate,” Clara said, trying to maintain calm. “Take a deep breath and tell us what happened.” Her voice was calm and steady, a reassuring note in the face of panic and alarm.
Kate, trying to catch her breath, leaned against a wooden table. “I... I was taking out the trash and... there he was. I think it’s Cliff Jenkins. He’s... he’s not moving, and...,” her words trailed off as the gravity of the situation sunk in.
“Are you sure? Let me see.”
Gram bustled toward the back, and the rest of us followed in tow. From the open doorway, we could see a man lying face-down near the dumpster, dressed in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. He wasn’t breathing.
I could sense that Cliff’s life force was gone, but his spirit was nowhere to be seen. He must have crossed over immediately.
“No one go out there,” Clara instructed firmly, her voice low but authoritative. “We can’t disturb the scene.” With practiced efficiency, she dialed a number, her eyes not leaving the solemn view from the door.
“Jack, it’s Clara. We have a situation at the bakery.”
Fred Samson, a man of few words, frowned deeply, his thoughts unreadable. Doris McGovern was always talkative, but this unexpected event had sent her chattering into overdrive. “Is he dead? Maybe he’s just hurt. He looks dead, though. Do you think he fell? It rained last night. Maybe it was slippery out back. Then again, maybe he was murdered! Knowing that old drunk, he probably had it coming.”
Within moments, Jack Edgewood arrived. The vampire detective had been a member of Enchanted Springs’ police force for decades, ever since he’d been shot by a bootlegger during Prohibition. And while he may have lost his mortality, he hadn’t abandoned his morality.
Jack paused at the front door, took off his aviator sunglasses, and surveyed the scene. His nose crinkled, just a bit, and he stepped out into the cool morning air, his eyes immediately focusing on the lifeless form of Mr. Jenkins by the dumpster.
Soon, the alley was a flurry of activity as police and paramedics arrived, their procedures a well-rehearsed dance amidst the chaos of death. They cordoned off the area, their voices and movements a stark contrast to Jack’s quiet, methodical examination.
After consulting with his team, Jack came back into the bakery. He gestured to a quiet table in the corner. It was time to speak with the witnesses.
First, he sat down with Kate, who was nervously twisting a napkin in her hands. “Kate, can you tell me about your interactions with Mr. Jenkins?”
She sighed, “Honestly, I tried to avoid him. After he fixed the mixer last month, he... he made me uncomfortable.”
“Well, he took forever to leave, and he made a lot of remarks about my ‘fresh-baked buns’ and getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Then he tried to corner me, asking for ‘free samples.’ He was just a pest.”
Clara shook her head sadly. “I’m so sorry, Kate! If I had known, I would have kicked him out immediately.”
“No worries,” Kate replied. “I handled it. Told him that the only ‘free samples’ we had were day-old bread and burnt coffee. He wasn’t too pleased, but he backed off after that.”
Next, Jack approached Grandma Clara. “Clara, how would you describe your recent dealings with Jenkins?”
She frowned slightly, “Frustrating, to put it mildly. His work was often subpar. Just last week, he botched the window repair, and I had to use a bit of... creativity to fix it myself.” She wiggled her fingers to let Jack know, quietly, that her creativity included a few magic words.
Jack turned to Doris, who seemed eager to share. “Miss McGovern, what can you tell me about Jenkins?”
She huffed, “That man was a piece of work. Promised to fix my front door and then left it hanging off its hinges! And my poor little cat Mittens ran off because of it. Caused me a whole heap of trouble, not to mention distress, until I finally found her safe and sound at the pound.”
As she spoke, Jack’s nose twitched almost imperceptibly, picking up a faint but distinct scent. He turned to Fred, who nervously adjusted his bow tie. “Mr. Samson, did you have any recent interactions with Jenkins?”
Fred looked away briefly before answering, “Not really. Saw him around, but we never had much to talk about. Just the usual morning nods, nothing more.” His voice was steady, but a hint of unease flickered in his eyes.
Jack nodded and took a deep breath. He turned toward my grandmother and her assistant. “Clara, Kate, are you baking sourdough bread this morning?”
Kate shook her head. “No, we don’t make our sourdough until later in the day. The starter needs more time.”
Jack nodded slowly, his brows furrowed. After a moment that stretched like hours, he turned to Mr. Samson, whose face had paled, his usual quiet composure crumbling under the weight of the situation.
“Mr. Samson,” Jack began, his voice steady but not unkind, “You did meet Mr. Jenkins in the alley this morning, didn’t you?”
Fred’s eyes dropped to the floor, and he nodded slowly. “Yes, I did. I... I asked him about some money he owed me from a poker game. He was drunk, barely able to stand straight.”
“And then what happened?” Jack prompted gently.
Samson swallowed hard, his voice barely above a whisper. “He laughed at me, said something rude. I... I just wanted my money. I pushed him, not hard, but... he was so drunk. He staggered, fell, and hit his head.” His voice cracked with the burden of his confession. “I didn’t mean for him to get hurt.”
Fred looked up at the detective, his watery blue eyes now rimmed with red. “How did you know?”
Jack reached for a pair of handcuffs as he motioned for Fred to stand. “When I first spoke with you, I detected a faint scent of yeast. Initially, I thought it was coming from here in the bakery, but as I delved deeper, I realized it was something else. It was the telltale odor of yeasty beer.”
We looked at him, waiting for an explanation.
“It wasn’t just any beer, but the Bargain Brewster’s Lager that Cliff Jenkins usually drank. I had noticed the same scent in the alley, but in here, with all the other baked goods, it took me a few minutes to put two and two together. Once I figured it out, I realized that you’d been in close contact with Mr. Jenkins this morning.”
Fred nodded sadly. “Yeah. We scuffled, but only for a moment.”
“Well, what’s done is done. Let’s get you down to the station.”
As Jack escorted Fred out of the shop, we could hear Jack’s voice, patiently reading a Miranda warning from a wallet-sized card. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will....”
The door closed behind them, leaving behind the echo of Jack’s recitation.
Clara paused for a moment, her gaze sweeping across the familiar interior of the Enchanted Oven. She then moved decisively to the kitchen, still open to the alley where police officers were documenting the scene. With a firm hand, she shut the door.
“We’ll close for the day,” she said. “Out of respect, and to give the police space to finish their work.
She turned toward me, kind but resolute.
“Marley, would you like some help with your inventory this morning?”