Copyright © by Judy Dawn
Selma May descended back stairs to her grandmothers coffee and tea shop called Mood Spresso. She opened the blinds on a small window beside the stairs and continued on to the main floor.
Selma entered the building’s front shop and sat at the coffee bar. She gestured at the part-time employee, Jasha, behind the counter. He worked the other half of his day as a cashier at the hardware shop in their little town. Josha brought over a cup of flat white, knowing her routine.
“Thanks,” she mumbled. When the coffee hit her tongue, she closed her eyes and moaned.
“Long night at the party?”
Selma set the half-empty cup on the counter. “Grandma can really keep things swinging.”
“Fer sur.” Jasha nodded. “I didn’t go.”
“You didn’t want to celebrate her seventy-fifth birthday?”
“I did, but I had to study for school. We’ve got tests coming up tomorrow and I’m not ready?”
Selma drank the rest of her coffee. Her limbs tingled awake and the headache receded. She glanced around the shop at the regulars eating their snacks and drinking the house brew on grandma’s handmade doilies.
Grandma crocheted in her free time. She said ‘she kept the store open in order to use her doilies, otherwise, it was a waste of good thread.’
“Botany,” said Jasha. “Have you seen those flowers around here? They’re not normal. Something is tainting them that color. I think, it’s something in the water.”
The businesses framed town square around Schwartz Park. Selma smiled. She asked, “You think the tea drinkers are watering the flowers and giving them a tea stain?”
He ignored her humor by rolling his eyes and explained, “Maybe it’s the train!”
“The train?” She sat straighter on the stool at the bar. Jasha filled her cup again and she sipped it slower this time. “Why the train?”
“It’s an old engine. Leaks oil. See the dark cloud that it pumps into our environment every time it comes into town?”
“It’s all for show.” She waved a dismissive hand. “They don’t use coal anymore.”
“Oh.” He rubbed his thin chin with a massive hand. “But the oil…”
A delivery bell rang at the back of the building. She set the cup down and headed towards the storage area. She called over her shoulder, “We should continue this conversation later.”
She didn’t like him thinking bad about the train. The train brought life to Freakzone. It was a small town, if Jasha thought that about the train, so did a few others in town.
Selma greeted the delivery man with a wave. “What do we have today?”
“Apples,” said Timmy.
“I see an apple pie in my future,” said Selma. “How many do we get?”
“One bushel.” He set down a box and went out of the double door for another box from his delivery truck. He set a few more of the boxes down and Selma sorted through the apples in order to sign off on the delivery.
“This looks great.”
“Should get you fifteen pies!” he chuckled.
“Not if I make applesauce.” She said with a giggle. “Thanks Timmy, see you tomorrow.”
Timmy closed the door and Selma grabbed one of the boxes. She headed through the back hall to a closed kitchen. The kitchen doubled for them while they lived here and supported the large pastry batches her Grandmother made for the shop.
Baking was one of the reasons Grandma Lily wanted to have a tea and coffee shop. She didn’t have the energy to run a full bakery, but she made a niche’ satisfying her desires. Selma appreciated that about her Grandmother. Even in retirement, she continued working.
Selma kicked open the door, stepped inside the small commercial sized kitchen, and set the apple box on a center island. Grandma Lily came out of the floor to ceiling fridge with her cane in one hand.
“Grandma! What are you doing up so early? After that party, you should rest.”
“What I need to do is take advantage of all these apples and make some yummy treats.” She smiled, set down carton of eggs on the other side of the island.
“The doctor said that knee isn’t going to heal itself and it’ll take longer if you’re stubborn.”
“You going to bake these apples up?” Her gray eyebrows raised with the corners of her lips. Her wrinkles added character to her bright smile.
Selma shook her head. “You know me.”
“You don’t bake,” Grandma said. “I’ll have to show you some day.”
“You’ve shown me enough. I understand it.”
“You’ve made some really good pastries,” Grandma agreed, “I wish you would bake more.”
“Just not my thing,” Selma said, “but I help out in other ways.”
“Yes, you do, dear.”
Selma hurried outside of the kitchen and grabbed another box. Her phone vibrated in her back pocket, she ignored the shake until she got all of the apples into the kitchen.
Grandma May began cooking by placing an apple in her peeler-slicer device. Selma took over the chore. She cranked through an entire box that peeled the apples in one long strand and sliced them thinner than any human.
Grandma believed a good apple pie came from taking the time to slice the apples thin.
Jasha came into the kitchen. “Hey May, apples today?”
“What are you doing here Jasha? You have a final or something today, don’t you?” Grandma May wiped her hands on the apron she wore tied around her waist. The apron had a young woman wearing a two-piece swimming suit painted on it.
“I came to get Selma. She said she wanted to see the discolored flowers I’ve found in Schwartz Park, next to the train station.” He said. He grabbed a peeled apple and bit into it. “Timmy’s fruit is the best fruit I’ve ever tasted.”
“That’s why I order from him.” Grandma May smiled.
“Do you mind if I take a break and check out these flowers?” Selma asked, “I can come back in an hour. You should rest, anyway.”
“Don’t boss me around, young lady.” Grandma May pointed a finger at Selma, her eyes alight. “A break sounds fine. I’ll rest while you’re gone, but you’ve got to help me finish these pies later.”
“Sounds good.” Selma left with Jasha through the back, delivery door. They headed to the center of town. Schwartz Park had an entry sidewalk on each side of the walkway. A breeze tickled Selma’s skin while she hurried beside Jasha towards an unknown spot.
Selma spent the Summers with her grandmother in Freakzone. She also had extensive stays at random when her mother got into trouble. Through it all, Selma loved the town and embraced her grandmother’s business as her own. She liked supporting the only stable adult in her life.
Jasha headed South towards the hardware store. He looked at a flower bed under a massive blooming cherry tree. There were small flowers mixed with larger flowers in the bed. It all seemed right to her when Jasha swore.
“They’re gone!” He fished out his phone and showed her a picture of the colored flowers, muted by a brown wash.
“Someone picked them.” She shrugged.
“To keep anyone from asking questions,” he said. “These aren’t the only flowers. Come here.”
He hurried around the corner of the walk and pointed at another bed. “Those are still there.”
She squatted next to a yellow, black-eyed susan. Her fingers ran along the a petal. She studied the ends of the yellow spires. “This is strange. It’s a dark brown with some black inside. A mold or a fungus?”
Owning the May Farmland outside of town supplying the tea shop of their selection of unique teas, she understood flowers and herbs a little. Though, she admitted, Grandma knew more.
“What’s going on here?”
Selma glanced up at Earl Prescott, the Schwartz Park authority. “These flowers are diseased.”
“I’ll tell Candice about them,” Earl said. He wore his police uniform. His uniform didn’t look as official as Sheriff Montano, but he held the same authority.
Schwartz Park had award winning botanicals. Some of the visitors on the train came for the display. It was a town law; nobody could pick the flowers without a permit. The only one in town who had a permit was named Candice Brack.
When there was work done in the park, she needed to be there.
“Have you talked to Candice?” Selma asked Jasha.
“I have.” He frowned with the answer. “She didn’t see the problem.”
“There’s likely not a problem.” Selma said. “She would know.”
“I need you to come out of that flower bed, Selma.” Earl said. He placed his hands on his belt and lifted it. A show of authority, she knew from years of talking with the park ranger.
“Yeah, I was just sniffing,” she said.
“You can’t cross the bed lines.” He reminded her with a nod and a grump.
“I’m sorry, Earl, I know the rules.” Selma smiled. She eased out of the bed by following her footsteps without leaving a trail. She stood next to Earl, brushed off the lower parts of her jeans. “How’s Pearl?”
Earl’s high school sweetheart had married him short out of school. They remained in town for the love of Freakzone. Selma admired their dedication to the town. There were a handful left in residence from their graduating class.
Selma didn’t attend Freakzone High, she lived with her mother five hours away in a larger city. Selma’s mother couldn’t get out of the small town fast enough back then.
“How’s you’re mom?” Earl asked. His smile dropped. “She staying clean?”
Her mother struggled with substance abuse since her father’s death. “She’s doing okay.”
Selma kept her mother’s recent relapse to herself. Nobody here needed to know about her mother’s state of mind. She realized Earl diverted the question about Pearl. Selma let it slide.
Earl nodded. “Stay out of the beds. I’ve got to do rounds again. I’ll stop by the shop for some coffee later, we can catch up then.”
Selma nodded as Earl strolled to work. She faced Jasha.
“There’s something wrong with those flowers. I bet, they’ll be replaced like the others. Just keep your eye on them. I will too.” He glanced at his phone. “I’ve got to report to Jenny.”
Jenny Wick owned the hardware store a block away. She carried a variety of home improvement products, engine parts, and farming equipment.
Knowing her grandmother, Selma suspected the woman was slaving away in the kitchen on her bad knee. Selma headed back to the shop and the train whistled in the distance.
Another set of people were headed into town.
This wasn’t the final destination for all the riders. After a three hour stop in Freakzone some of the riders continued on the track to a remote destination in the Boggie Forest called Blackstone Retreat, North of here.
Selma’s phone buzzed in her pocket again, this time she fished it out and glanced at the message. She speed dialed their truck driver. “Hey Cactus, I just got your message. What do you mean there’s no beans for today? We’ve got enough beans until next harvest. Just check storage.”
“Let me correct you, we had enough beans until next harvest but the blonde roast is contaminated.”
“Contaminated?” Tension in her shoulders tightened. “How?
“There was something off about the coloring of this last batch in storage. Q.C. tested and found a foreign agent within the mix.”
Q.C. did weekly quality testing on their outgoing beans for the Food and Health Administration. Selma asked, “Foreign agent?”
“We’re not sure if the agent was within the recipe, or Q.C.’s current thought, it’s in the sack.”
“What’s the scope of damage?”
“We separated the storage bags when we discovered the contaminant, tested what was in the same storage building and only found the blonde beans infected. We salvaged enough of the rest to keep our shop open and meet our current online market obligations, but we can’t take any more orders.”
Online sales were Selma’s department. She supervised the distribution on the train, coordinated with the post office, negotiated with larger companies in the city to use their small town brand, and reported the finances to Grandma each month. Her contribution kept the store open when the town couldn’t due to heavy winters or closed tracks.
“Did you bring some for Ms. May?”
“Yeah, she wouldn’t let me live it down if I didn’t bring a sample of the tainted product.”
“I’ll head to the train now.” She swore as she disconnected the call.
Grandmother could wait. Selma hurried to the train station to intercept the delivery into town. She got into the terminal, waved at the local markets within the building, and continued into their distribution storage center.
The door said; employees of Mood Spresso only.
Inside the rooms fresh beans and grounds permeated the air. She inhaled deeply. She loved coffee. In the back rooms, the tea stockroom, dried flowers and herbs completed Mood Spresso’s magnificent perfume.
Selma headed to the docking bay. She folded her arms against the cold winds and glanced into the distance where the trucks appeared along the train station’s fenced perimeter. It didn’t take long for them to back up at the loading docks.
Cactus climbed out of the drivers side of the truck and approached with a smile on his face. “Hey, good to see you. It’s been a few months.”
“Yeah,” she said. She gave him a hug.
The entire business was family oriented. When they did company gatherings, all family members were welcomed like extended cousins. Grandma May wouldn’t have it any other way. Cactus said, “How long are you in town?”
“Till Grandma gets back on her two feet.” Selma stepped back and considered the older man’s crows feet. He seemed a little weather worn, but maintained a farmer’s appeal.
“Should only be a few weeks.” He shook his head. “I remember when it took months to recover from a surgery like that, so different with technology today.”
“Not if she keeps on it,” Selma said. “So, where’s the contaminated bags?”
“I’ve got a few in the cab.” He started towards the front.
Some workers came from inside the building onto the dock and opened the truck’s roller door for access to the larger bags of beans in the back. They carried them into the storage center. The center transferred their crates onto the train going back into Selma’s home city.
There were two trains on the track, one for passengers and another for supplies. Sometimes the two mixed, but riding on a bare bones supply train wasn’t the first choice.
Cactus handed them to her a box of small bags. She thanked him noticing a note. Arms full, she asked, “What’s the letter about?”
“That’s from Q.C. to May. It explains the situation, the findings, all that stuff.” Cactus waved a hand. “I’ve got to get back to unloading the coffee beans for shipment. It was good to see you.”
“I understand,” She said and continued back through the storage rooms. She inhaled her last hit of their business bouquet then stepped into the train station where other aroma’s permeated.
Maybe figuring out why the blonde roast were off color would make Grandma May sit down while she healed from knee surgery. Rain fell from the dark clouds and pattered on the cement walkway back to Mood Spresso. Selma glanced at the sky with her eyes squinting in the weather. A cool breeze tickled along her exposed skin, her arms. Her lips parted in a smile when she glanced at the Hardware Store.
They were having a sale on outdoor grills which meant the Wednesday market would open soon. She enjoyed the market. It was one of the most active times in Schwartz Park.
A mound of dark hair bobbed among the bushes on the east side of the square. Instantly, Selma knew it was the goofy ponytail of Candice Brack. Selma headed in her direction. They met on the corner.
Selma hoisted the moderately heavy box of coffee, getting more of a grip for standing. “Hey Candice!”
“Hi Selma, what you got there?” Her dark brown eyes scanned the box. She lifted one of the bean bags with concern. “The blonde roast? Yuck. I don’t even know why you make that? Not coffee if you ask me.”
“You do like your coffee dark.” Selma confirmed. “I’ve got to ask you something about the flowers.”
“Flowers? Are you talking about Jasha’s report on those Heliotropes?” She waved a hand. “That boy can’t keep his nose out of my business.”
“To be fair, nobody can keep a nose out of your business. That’s what flowers are for!”
“Ha ha,” Candice mocked. “Very funny.”
“Is there something wrong with those flowers?” Selma asked.
“I’m just experimenting with nanotechnology in the flowers. Heliotropes usually face the sun when they bloom, I was trying to give them more of a world to bloom in by altering where they get their photosynthesis elements.”
“Okay.” Selma blinked. “What does the discoloring have to do with that process? Is it toxic?”
“No, it’s not toxic and it’s going to win the Chelsea Flower Show!” she smiled.
“So it can’t spread to other places in the air?”
“The nanobots can get confused and jump to the flowers beside their home flower, but they don’t fly.” Candice said. “Why are you asking?”
“This bean is tainted and I thought it might have something to do with what’s happening in the flowerbeds of Schwartz Park.” Selma admitted while she glanced down at the bags in her arms. “But I guess not.”
“Not at all. How is Lily doing with her new knee?” Candice asked.
“She won’t sit,” Selma admitted, “I’m headed there now.”
“See ya around,” Candice said. She crossed the street while Selma headed to the coffee house.
If it wasn’t Candice, Selma didn’t understand what happened to the secured beans. She thought about people that might want her Grandma’s business to fail. Their blonde roast brought in more money when it came to domestic sales.
With her mind puzzling, Selma entered the back of the shop with her box of coffee beans and headed to the kitchen where all the apples from this morning were put away. She set the box on the island. Grandma May stood over a dozen pies, finishing a top crust on the last one, a smile stretched on her lips.
“You took so long, the apples were going rotten!”
“What am I going to do with you May!” Selma kissed Grandma May on the cheek and giggled. “I knew you couldn’t help yourself.”
“I like baking,” Grandma May said by way of explanation.
“How about you take a look at this box of blonde roast from the farm.” Selma said as she worked her way to the pies. “I’ll get these in the ovens.”
“Thanks, dear. Are these the tainted beans?” Grandma May asked while she fingered the bean bags.
“Yes,” Selma said. She continued with the work of placing the pies in the oven until they were all cooking. Grandma May sat on a stool beside the island. Selma continued, “Q.C. wrote a report.”
“Yeah, I see that,” Grandma adjusted into the seat. “I already know what made the blonde roast go bad.”
“What?” Selma asked while she wiped her hands on a towel Grandma May left behind on the island.
“Smart technology.” Grandma May said.
“Nanotechnology,” Grandma May explained. She dropped her consideration of the beans and untied her hair from a bun she wore while she baked. “It was Nate. He suggested we try and make different flavors by planting the beans with nanotechnology. That’s where everything is going these days for farming.”
Her step-brother was in charge of growing the company’s reputation with appearances and free distribution. He suggested new flavors, did crowd testing after the beans were harvested, and marketed the new roast. Selma appreciated his involvement in Grandma’s future but there was a time for invention.
“I’ll have a talk with Nate. Our beans are already spoken for this season,” Selma said with a frown. She didn’t like Nate trying to change the plots when they were making enough profit to run the store for Grandma from what was currently in the ground. “He should run his own crop if he wants to experiment at odd times of the year.”
Grandma didn’t argue.
Read Selma’s episodic sleuthing on Amazon Vella!
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