Disclaimer:I don't own them and I don't make any money off of them.
Warnings: Male/male sex, graphic, language, violence
The coffee shop was small, but had an air of a metropolitan café; red, black, and chrome décor with a clientele that was more business types than casually dressed people taking a break from shopping. The smell of grinding coffee and fresh baked desserts made Duo feel like ordering a second breakfast as he entered the establishment with Heero close behind him.
“You didn’t mention combat boots earlier,” Heero pointed out irritably.
“There was crushed clover too,” Duo snapped back, “and a dead fly to the left of the—”
“It’s an important detail.”
“I’ll give you the file later and you can—”
“Text it to me now.”
Duo glared at him. “I don’t have it on my phone.”
Duo’s stare turned withering. “No.”
Heero looked frustrated.
“I’ll give you the file to read later.” Duo promised and then turned his back on him. He wasn’t going to admit that he was technology challenged in front of everyone or admit to himself that telling Heero would embarrass him the most. It was unusual for him to care what anyone thought.
Duo stood in line at the counter and waited until it was his turn. Pulling out his cell phone, he showed her the photo he had taken of Carla’s file photo. He didn’t engage in small talk as he abruptly asked the gum chewing blond girl behind the counter, “Have you seen this woman before?”
She grinned excitedly. “This is just like a cop show. Are you a detective? Was there a murder?” she looked around the shop with wide eyes, as if a corpse might suddenly appear slumped over a cappuccino.
Duo waved his phone at her to get her attention again.
Another barista leaned in to look closer at the photo. He was a handsome, in shape, African American man with an expensive fade haircut and a well-trimmed beard.
“Do you recognize this woman?” Duo asked him.
The barista nodded. “Yes, I do. We get a lot of customers, but she was acting kind of odd, so she stood out.”
“What was she doing?” Heero asked suddenly dropping his silent bad cop attitude.
“We were questioned already and shown this photo by some other detectives a while ago,” the man said. “That woman was very nervous, stuttering, dropping things, and looking around like she was scared.”
“Was she with anyone?” Duo asked.
That followed the report, Duo thought, his story hadn’t changed.
“They didn’t explain then, what this woman did. Why are you looking for her?” the male barista asked.
Duo pocketed his phone, thinking sadly that Carla’s murder had been a blip on the news and these people hadn’t even seen the public report. Carla was definitely owed some justice.
Duo looked the male barista up and down intently. He ignored the question and said, “You look like you’re in good shape.”
Barista suddenly became annoyed and flippant. “Sorry, I’m gay, but I’m married.” He flashed a gold ring on his finger.
“I was making an observation, not a pass, sir. It’s relevant to the case. Do you jog?”
The barista suddenly became nervous. “Should I call a lawyer?”
“Is this, ‘blame the black man’?”
The other barista became incensed. “It better not be!” she exclaimed angrily, stabbing a finger at Duo, “Or you’ll be the one going to jail, you racist!”
It was hard for Duo to suppress his frustration and annoyance. “I’m not accusing anyone. I’m trying to establish if there is a preferred place where people in this neighborhood jog.”
Both barista’s outrage deflated.
“Yes,” the male barista replied. “Eastside Park. It has a great jogging path through the woods. It’s safe, too. There’s a security guard who patrols the park in the evening. Did this woman commit a crime?”
“Sorry, I can’t discuss the case,” Duo replied. “Thank you for your cooperation.”
“Sure,” the male barista replied and then asked in a more professional manner, “Did you want to order coffee?”
Duo suddenly noticed the display case full of cakes, cookies, and muffins. His stomach suddenly wanted one of each.
“Coffee and a danish, Heero?” Duo asked.
Heero grunted sourly, “No.”
“Your loss.” Duo ordered, “I’ll have a large coffee. Add caramel and a shot of whipped cream. I want two raspberry cream danish as well.”
Heero said more strongly, “I said I didn’t want any.”
Duo made a dismissive gesture with one hand and then pulled out his wallet to pay. “I heard you. They’re both for me.”
A short time later they walked back to Carla’s apartment building. Duo was holding his coffee and bag of danish in one hand. Heero was leading the way, looking thoughtful.
Heero stopped and said abruptly, “Carla was a stalker.”
Duo looks at Heero. The man was staring up at Carla’s building and frowning darkly, his messy chocolate hair in his eyes. He looked brooding and handsome.
“Why do you think that?” Duo wondered.
“According to you she was a creature of habit,” Heero replied, “with no friends or even close associates. That means her shyness was debilitating. Going into the coffee shop was not part of her routine. Neither was going to the park.”
Duo thought it through as he watched foot traffic pass by them. His hand reached into his pocket and he gently stroked the head of the sleeping kitten. “So you think she saw the Barista back there, looking buff behind the counter-maybe through the front window as she passed by each day- and fell in love with him? She followed him and found out he jogs? She put on running shoes and went to the park to ‘accidentally’ run into him?”
Heero looked as if he were deliberating each word of Duo’s conclusion before he said, “No.”
Duo growled irritably, “No?”
Heero said “She was too shy. She was stalking him. She was jogging so she could see him, not meet him. She didn’t have stamina, though, and she fell behind. She stopped jogging when she became exhausted. She didn’t try to follow him at a slower pace. Instead, she stepped off the jogging path.”
Heero paused and looked thoughtful.
Duo waited and then said prompted impatiently, “And?”
Heero continued, “I don’t know. Something made her go deeper into the trees. She met the killer there.”
Duo’s braid swung in an arc as he confronted Heero with a raised eyebrow. “Where does the dog come into all of this? What was the killer and the dog doing in the park that Carla might have witnessed?”
Heero stared at him and then down at Duo’s pocket.
Duo’s hand, stroking the small head of the kitten, froze.
Heero said, “The kitten made noises. I went into the trees looking for it. Maybe Carla did too.”
Duo shook his head, “Not this kitten. He’s too young. It had to be another kitten.”
They both thought of the tufts of fur they had collected.
Duo said, “Forensics found dog and cat hair on Carla’s body. The cat hair was discounted because she did own a cat. The report didn’t say what kind of cat.”
Duo headed for the door of the apartment building with purpose. “I’ll need you to speak Chinese to the landlord,” he told Heero. “The report said he was being difficult and spoke little English. He didn’t care about poor Carla, he just wanted authorization to sell her things if there was no one to claim them.”
Heero, following close behind said, “I don’t speak Chinese.”
Duo felt embarrassed. “Sorry, I just assumed since you could.”
“I’m part Japanese, not Chinese.” Heero added, “I don’t speak Japanese either. I can speak Spanish.”
Duo stopped in frustration. “I’ll need an interpreter if I want decent info out of the landlord. Let’s go back to the station until we get someone. We need to make phone calls and do some research, anyway. Investigators were looking for a stray dog, or someone’s unleashed pet, but I’m sure they weren’t looking for the trained attack dog of a killer. We can also drop the kitten off at forensics. We’ll pick up lunch on the way.”
Heero looked down at Duo’s hand holding the coffee and danish. Duo scowled back at him. “What?” Duo challenged, “I have a high metabolism.”