A sleepy town in southern England is the setting for this ‘cozy’ murder short story.
“I suppose you expect to win the Christmas cake competition again this year?” asked Patty, the radio news reporter.
“I don’t like to brag, but, well, you know. I am the best baker in the village, so, I guess I’ll win… Again,” answered a grinning Gino.
The listeners did not notice the raised eyebrows of Patty and Steve, her sound engineer.
“It is well-known you always add something ‘extra’ to your recipes? Can you tell our listeners, what the secret is?”
“I could, but then it wouldn’t be a secret. Stupid girl,” said Gino, his grin turned to a sneer.
“We’ve heard Patricia Puffs Cake Shop fancy their chances,” said Patty.
“Interesting, is Patricia any relation of yours?”
“In the fairness of accurate reporting, I am proud to call the owner of Patricia Puffs, my auntie Pat.”
“Not surprising that you give her a free advert. I pay for adverts on this station weekly.”
“We’ll take a brief break with the Christmas number one, take it away Liverpool Lads.”
Patty clicked her mic off.
“No need for that, Gino. I’m trying to give a newsworthy report.”
“You may struggle to hold on to your job, but I am aiming at keeping my name as the top baker for miles.”
Patty pulled at her engineer’s sleeve, “Okay, get on with it.”
“We are standing outside Gino’s bakery shop, Gino is handing out leaflets to passers-by. Gino, excuse me, is there anything further you’d like to say?”
There was a lot he wanted to say. Steve, the engineer, waited for thirty-seconds before he turned on the adverts. Gino rattled on.
Patty and Steve then packed their equipment. Deciding they needed a coffee, they wandered into Patricia Puffs Coffee and Cake Shop.
“Patty, darling, come in and sit down. Hi Steve,” auntie Pat gushed. Brushing flour from her apron, she handed them menus.
“Two caffè Americanos please aunt,” said Patty.
A pretty six-year-old skipped in carrying two plates.
“Careful Jen, you will fall. Why no school today?” Patty asked.
“She’s been under the weather, and with the Christmas holidays next week, I thought it better if she stayed home. Plus, she is a great help to me.”
Gino was peering through the window, spotting Patty, he burst in.
“What was that all about?” screamed Gino.
“What do you mean?” asked Patty.
“You cut me off mid-interview. I’ve cancelled all my ads with your tin-pot radio,” he said as he stormed out.
“What a rude man,” said aunt Pat.
Steve chuckled behind a napkin.
“I don’t know why you are laughing, we could both lose our jobs,” said Patty.
“Well, what happened?” asked aunt Pat.
“I cut him short, I thought people would rather hear adverts than him waffle on about how great he is,” said Steve.
They all laughed as Patty’s mobile rang.
“The boss wants us in his office now,” Patty said.
Jen cleared away and cleaned the table.
Gino was busy in his kitchen, he checked the back door was locked, looked in his large walk-in cupboard to make sure no staff was malingering in there, the last check proved no one was watching before he pulled a large glass jar from the back of a shelf hidden by fridges and freezers. He then carefully placed it next to the ingredients of his extremely popular Xmas chocolate cake and rubbed his hands.
“Ding dong merrily on high…”
“Oh no, not bloody carol singers,” he cursed, slamming down a heavy spoon.
Pulling out his wallet, he thought again, then searched his pockets for change, deciding on some coins. He opened the front door.
“Here, now clear off, I’m busy.”
He slotted a few pound coins into their box.
Turning, he dropped his cash and swore in Italian as he heard glass shattering from the back.
“Mamma Mia!” he screamed.
Treading on the broken glass he fell wailing, “Where has it gone,” quickly looking under the table. “Where is it!” he screamed.
He collapsed to his knees, ignoring the pain of shards of window cutting through his trouser cloth.
“Police, and quickly, I’ve been viciously robbed, and yes, I’m bleeding,” he answered the telephonist.
Gino searched the kitchen for his prized jar as the police arrived.
“Come through,” he showed them the way.
“You reported a theft with violence, they injured you, you said you were bleeding?”
“Yes, look,” he lifted his trouser leg.
“Ripped clothing does not count, sir,” said the younger officer.
“We can see they broke the door, what did they take?” said the other officer.
“I’ve lost something very important to me,” said Gino.
“What exactly?” asked the impatient young police officer.
“Uh,” answered Gino, deep in thought.
“Well? Have they taken anything? You called in an emergency and reported injuries and grand theft.”
“I admit, I caused the cuts, I was looking for something on the floor,” said Gino.
“Are you now telling us, that there was no violence and you don’t know if anything was stolen?”
“Err, yes, and no.”
“Christ man, get on with it.”
“I am Gino, a famous baker. Everyone wants the secret to my cakes,” started the chef.
One police officer had taken notes. He slammed the pad back into his pocket.
“We’ll be in touch,” said the senior officer as they strode to the front.
Gino boarded up the door as best he could, all the while talking to himself.
“It must be her. She is the only one jealous enough to brazenly break-in, I was only away for seconds.”
He crawled into bed muttering and planning.
After a sleepless night, he struggled downstairs. Picking up his trusty rolling-pin, he held an in-depth conversation with it.
“Do you want her dead?”
That required some thought.
“Push her under a train?”
“I do not know when she’ll need a train.”
“Push her in front of a car?”
“People will see.”
“Steal a car and run her over?”
“I’ve no idea how to pinch a vehicle.”
“Where will I get a gun?”
“Use my rat poison and lace a cake with it?”
“Would she accept a gift from me?”
“Err, no don’t fancy that.”
Ideas bounced around in his head all day.
In another part of town, a young girl quietly shut the door and put up the ‘closed’ sign.
“Thanks for working so hard in the shop today. But, we have not finished yet. We are going to make the best Christmas sponges. You wait in the kitchen, I’ll cash up. See you in a minute,” said her mother.
She stepped outside to move the sandwich board indoors. She bent, folding the wooden advert together.
From the shadows, an arm crashed a rolling pin into her head. She slumped dead to the pavement. A youthful scream shattered the silence.
Next door’s light went on, more lights illuminated the shops, people ran to their doors, within minutes a police car skidded to the scene.
They hurled questions at all onlookers.
“What happened?” a policewoman asked the young girl shaking in the doorway.
“Somebody hit my mum with a rolling pin,” Jen said through tears.
“Red or white?” Steve asked Patty as he noticed flashing blue lights flash past the window.
“Are we celebrating losing our jobs?” she answered. “We are the only ones unhappy. Wait a minute, why are you laughing?”
The wine bar was full of people enjoying a pre-Christmas drink, carols rang out above the laughter and jollities.
“How much do you think Gino will pay to keep his secret?”
“What do you mean?” asked Patty.
Steve pulled a plastic bag from his pocket.
“What is this?”
Patty spread the off-white contents of the bag onto her plate. Poking around with a fork, she smelt it, then tasted it. Her face lit up, trying to control her voice.
“It’s almost worthless as an ingredient. But priceless as a secret!” she burst into laughter.
“What is it?”
She controlled herself enough to say, “It’s… Oh wait a minute, my phone is ringing.”
She gathered her belonging and called for the bill.
“Come on, we must go. There has been trouble at my aunt’s.”
Several people surrounded the doorway.
“So sorry about your aunt,” said one neighbour.
The senior officer led her into the back room. Blanket-clad Jen was weeping.
“Your aunt struck on the head once it seems, and she died instantly. I’m sorry for your loss. Her takings are on the counter, so it was not a robbery,” she stated. “Something doesn’t add up. Young Jen said she witnessed a person using a rolling-pin. It seems an unlikely weapon?”
Steve and Patty called out, “Gino!”
Police radios crackled.
The sound engineer then admitted to the police what he had done earlier, and instantly handcuffs were clamped to his wrists.
“Sauerkraut, she stole my sauerkraut,” Gino called as they bundled him into the back of the police car.
Patty held Jen close. Between tears, Patty tried to explain what had happened, “Gino killed your mum because he worried she would tell everyone he used a war-time trick to add flavour and give body to cakes when ingredients were scarce,” she cried. “All because of cabbage and salt. What a sour way to go.”