Trick or Thief is almost here! One more day to be exact. Here’s a look at the first chapter to whet your appetite
A ghost first appears
I walk into the kitchen of Callie’s Cakes and collapse on a chair in the corner. I am in no mood to be at the cupcake bakery, but I promised Anna and Callie, the co-owners and my close friends, I’d stop by today. If I didn’t show, the two would get worried. Trust me, no one wants the troublesome twosome worried.
I used to work as a barista at the bakery while I was in college. Since I graduated in July, I’ve been working full-time at my first love – the Youth Center. I used my inheritance to build the facility. It’s my dream to help troubled youth by offering them a safe place to learn, hang out, or simply relax. But things at the center just got weird. I’ve been up all night trying to figure it all out.
“You no look so good,” Anna says in the worst Spanish accent ever.
I don’t bother to open my eyes to answer her. “Who do you think you are? Ricky Ricardo?” I shouldn’t be surprised she’s channeling the character. After all, I often refer to her and Callie as Lucy and Ethel.
“Here.” She shoves a cupcake in my hand. “Have a cupcake.” Anna is the baker extraordinaire of Callie’s Cakes. She thinks cupcakes can solve any and every problem.
I open my eyes to examine the sweet treat. It’s a ghost cupcake. A chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting in the shape of a ghost to be exact. There are even dots of frosting for the eyes. Adorable. With Halloween around the corner, Anna’s been baking up a storm of Halloween-themed treats.
“Where’s my coffee?” I may love cupcakes, but coffee is my addiction. I can’t survive without it.
“Eat your cupcake,” Anna orders.
“You know, cupcakes are not the answer to every single situation.” Nevertheless, I take a bite and groan as the taste of vanilla buttercream and chocolate cake goodness hits my tongue. Yum.
“You’re obviously tired. Sugar will help. See? Cupcakes are the answer.”
I can’t argue with her reasoning. Whoa. I must be tired if I can’t argue with Anna’s reasoning. Callie walks out of her office and joins us. “What’s going on?”
Anna shrugs. “I don’t know yet. I’m still on the calm-her-down-with-a-cupcake part.”
“Cupcake?” Callie looks around. “What cupcake? You didn’t give me a cupcake.”
Anna rolls her eyes. “Maybe because someone – aka you! – told me to stop you from gorging yourself on cupcakes.”
“Eating one cupcake is not gorging.”
Anna crosses her arms over her chest. She’s barely five-foot-tall, but she has attitude for days. “You’ve set your wedding date now. I am not allowing you to cancel the wedding because you gained weight when the real problem is you still don’t believe Ben loves you.” She snorts. “As if.”
When Anna got married on July 4th this past summer, Callie was not a happy camper. Don’t get me wrong. She was happy for her friend, but she was also feeling awfully sorry for herself. I didn’t get what the big deal was. She’s been engaged since before Christmas last year. All she had to do was set the date. But she kept putting it off. Ben finally offered to elope. She lost her mind at his suggestion.
To everyone’s relief, Callie finally set a date – Valentine’s Day. How in the name of coffee she’s going to pull off a Valentine’s Day wedding in less than a year is beyond me. I’m going to sit back and watch the chaos erupt – as it always does with these two.
“I trust Ben loves me,” Callie insists.
“Hardy haha.” Anna slaps her thigh. “Good one. Tell me another.”
I sigh and relax back into my chair. I was wrong. The bakery is the perfect place to be to distract me from everything else going on in my life.
“Anyway.” Callie clears her throat. “We’re not here to talk about me. What’s going on, Kristie?”
Shootawhoota! I should have known I wouldn’t get away with not telling them my problems. Maybe if I give them a little hint, they’ll let it go. “Problems at the Youth Center.” Not a lie.
Callie grabs a chair and pulls it close. “What kind of problems?”
“Nothing big. Some issues with the stockroom is all.”
“Issues with the stockroom?” Anna asks. “Don’t tell me you have some type of rodent in there. I can tell you from experience, rodents are a pain to deal with.”
Callie turns her attention to Anna. “What are you talking about? Do we have rodents in our stockroom? Oh no, the health inspectors are going to jump for joy. You know they hate me.”
“If you hadn’t tried to tell them how to do their jobs, it would not have been a problem.”
Callie frowns. “It’s not my fault they were referring to the wrong health code.”
Here’s the thing about Callie, she’s a major nerd. Major. Her oversized brain is full of trivial information. Information she can’t help but spout at the most inappropriate times.
“We don’t have rodents,” Anna says. “No need to worry about those nasty health inspectors.” She raises an eyebrow at me. “Do you have rodents?”
“No, gross.” Why did she jump straight to the worst possible problem there could be in a stockroom? “There are some problems with the inventory.”
“Oh no. Are you running out of funds? I can ask Ben if he’ll help me set up some police fundraiser. Those usually work.”
Callie’s future husband is a detective with the city police department. I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t be excited to help put together a fundraiser for the Youth Center. Don’t get me wrong. The guy is super nice. And way patient. He asked Callie out for over a year before she finally said yes. He’s also a big supporter of the Youth Center. But fundraising is not in his wheelhouse.
“Logan will help as well.”
Logan is Anna’s husband. I’m positive he wouldn’t be any help at all. Nope. The man has looking intimidating down to an art. I call him Mr. Scares the Pants Off of Me. He has this I’m-Scary-And-I-Know-It look intended to make suspects pee their pants. Not the man I want to help raise funds.
Luckily, I don’t need to raise funds – yet. I put the money left over from my inheritance into a fund for the Youth Center. It covers most of the annual running costs. I do rely on the city for additional funds, though. Between the meals we feed the kids, the classes we teach, and the security, the place is not cheap to run.
“No need to gather the troops. I’m not running out of food or anything.” I sigh. Unless I want to listen to them take even more outrageous guesses, I’m going to have to explain the issue to them. “But food is going missing.”
“What do you mean going missing? Like oops! Where did it go?” Anna asks.
Anna claps her hands. “Oh my cupcake. You’ve got a ghost. How exciting!”
I’m glad my problems can entertain someone.
Callie clears her throat. “She doesn’t have a ghost. She has a thief.”
Which is exactly what I’m worried about. If I have to file a police report, it will lead to extra scrutiny of my center. There’s nothing wrong with how I run the place. I always cross my t’s and dot my i’s. But extra scrutiny costs time. Something I do not have.
“I know you have the best security money can buy in the place. What do the security tapes show? Did alarms go off? What did the security team say?”
The best security money can buy? Snort. If I had the best security, then I would know who’s been sticking their fingers in my pantry. “The security guards aren’t on the premises twenty-four seven. And the security tapes are blank.”
“Told you! She has a ghost.”
“You do know ghosts don’t exist, right?” I have to ask. She looks totally serious.
“Oh come on, you’re not one of those people who only believes in things you can see, are you?”
I’m not answering her question. I am not getting into a discussion about whether ghosts exist or not. “Anyway, not a whole lot of food has been stolen. But it’s worrying. I need to have my entire security system evaluated because if someone can steal a bit of food when the security cameras are down, then there’s a chance worse things could happen.”
This is the reason I’ve been up all night. I don’t care about someone stealing a loaf of bread and some peanut butter. I do care about my security system failing. A wide array of teenagers come into the Center. Most are good kids looking for a safe place to hang around while their parents work. But there are also a bunch of troublemakers.
“I’ve got an idea.”
Those words coming out of Anna’s mouth scare the daylights out of me. Anna thinks she is a super amateur sleuth. In fact, she would probably leave out the word amateur and call herself a super sleuth. She’s convinced she solved a bunch of murders. Not exactly. Mostly she stirred up enough trouble the culprits were eventually caught.
“Let’s hear it.”
At Callie’s words, I groan. Callie is usually the voice of reason. Unless her bakery or her job as a college professor are threatened, she’s pretty chill. But when her best friend Anna gets excited about some mystery, Callie jumps all in. Thus, my referring to the two friends as Lucy and Ethel.
“Fine. What is your idea?” I’m not going to get out of hearing whatever crazy plan she’s concocted now. I might as well act as if I’m interested in what she has to say.