The following excerpt was specially abridged
by Cleo Coyle, author of HOLIDAY BUZZ:
A Coffeehouse Mystery.
When a star falls, a soul goes up to God.
—Hans Christian Andersen, “The Little Match Girl”
“So how’s the weather outside?” I asked. “Frightful?”
“Far from it,” said Tucker Burton, pulling a woolen stocking cap off his floppy brown mop. “There’s not even a hint of snow . . .”
There was no hint of murder, either. Not then. I was still hours away from finding that poor girl’s bludgeoned body; and soon after, I, Clare Cosi, would be the one to find her cold-blooded killer. At this hour, however, standing behind my coffeehouse counter, I wasn’t thinking about murder weapons or contextual evidence. I didn’t plan on interrogating a reality show diva; hoodwinking a New York hockey player; or butting heads with a conniving Cajun cook. And I certainly wasn’t expecting to trump one of the biggest forensic freaks in the NYPD.
At three weeks to Christmas, my mind was on my customers. Festive shopping bags and gift-wrapped boxes had joined the smartphones and laptops at our marble tables. From morning to evening, exhausted shoppers packed the Village Blend in need of a warm cup of Joe and a moment of peace.
Our tree was duly decorated, its piney branches scenting the air. Jazzy renditions of holiday classics drifted from our sound system, and flickering red orange flames sent a glow of warmth from our exposed brick fireplace.
My customers appeared relaxed and happy. At last, the crazy-busy worlds had calmed down.
Ironically, my own work schedule was ramping up to full throttle. Tonight my baristas and I were in charge of the beverage service for the first of three exclusive parties in the Great New York Cookie Swap, an annual tradition that gave city bakers a showcase while raking in a Santa’s sleigh of cash for charity.
(Exclusive excerpt abridged to…)
The rest of that afternoon and evening, I stayed focused on the Cookie Swap, and for a few hours, I was actually free of worry. But now it was close to eleven o’clock, the party was over, the cleanup work done. My baristas were gone, rushing off with late-night plans. And Moirin had disappeared halfway through the party, much to the chagrin of her employer, Janelle, the pastry chef who supplied my shop’s baked goods.
At eight thirty, the pretty young assistant baker had taken a cigarette break and had never come back. I was flummoxed by this. Moirin Fagan had never ducked out on a shift, and leaving her boss alone was completely irresponsible. Concerned for Janelle, I sent a member of my staff to her display table where she helped out for the rest of the night. Now I was calling it a night. Grabbing my white parka, I wished the restaurant’s janitorial staff a happy holiday.
Then the glass doors closed behind me, the lock clicked into place, and I stood alone in the shadows of Bryant Park. As I began to cross the open space, a blast of arctic air swept through the city’s steel and glass canyons. The gust muted the roar of the nighttime streets and carried the sting of ice crystals, the first chilly breath of the approaching monster.
Shivering, I flipped up my hood, barely acknowledging the dazzling holiday wonderland around me. Thousands of tiny bulbs twinkled on the London plane trees. Beside the brightly lit ice rink, a lavish Christmas tree blazed with primary colors. Then, with no warning, the private park went suddenly dark.
I froze, midstride. Skyscrapers towered above me. Their windows shone like near-earth stars, but they were too far away to help me see. Good thing 40th Street paralleled the park. The trees diffused its streetlamps, but the ambient glow was strong enough to light my way. I began moving again and heard approaching footsteps. The sound might have alarmed me, but it came with girlish giggles and male laughter.
A well-dressed couple emerged out of the gloom ahead. The young man held a bottle of champagne. The young woman tottered on high-heeled boots. She tripped on a paving stone and nearly fell. Her companion caught her, and they both found this hysterical.
The two loudly moved toward the darkened carousel and walked through the unlocked gate. That’s when their laughter stopped. In appalled tones, they whispered back and forth then walked quickly away, passing me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
The boy pointed. “Some drunken woman is sleeping it off on that merry-go-round.”
“Yeah, nasty!” added the girl.
“A woman?” I asked. “Are you sure?”
“Of course, we’re sure! She’s right there on the floor.” The girl rolled her eyes and tugged on her boyfriend’s thick overcoat. “Come on . . .”
The temperature was falling. The wind was getting stronger, the frigid flakes of snow biting my face. But Jack and Jill’s discovery troubled me. The sleeping woman might be drunk, or she might be homeless and in need of help. Either way, death from exposure was a real possibility on a night like this, so I strode to the carousel to speak with this stranger.
Right outside the carousel gate, I tripped. Just like Tipsy Girl, my heel caught on a loose paving stone—unusual for a private park like this one, a lawsuit waiting to happen. I nearly fell, but there was no boy to catch me, so I caught myself.
“Hello?” I called, my voice competing with the wind.
The carousel was shrouded in darkness, and the circular platform rocked slightly as I stepped aboard. I maneuvered around the masterfully carved horses, each one frozen mid-prance, eyes wide and staring.
Finally I spied the woman. She lay faceup, her limbs sprawled, as if she were making a snow angel on the wooden floor.
Under blunt-cut bangs, her eyes appeared glassy, like the frozen horses, but her gaze was fixed on the painted ceiling. A black shadow masked her features, so I stooped down for a closer look just as headlights from a bus on 40th flash lit the scene.
I finally saw her entire face—and the halo of blood around her head. Stifling a scream, I dropped to my knees beside her.
This woman wasn’t homeless or some nameless party guest. She was my part-time employee, poor, missing Moirin Fagan. And she wasn’t sleeping or passed out drunk. She was dead.
Here is the official book trailer for the Coffeehouse Mystery series:
** Thanks to the Cleo, I have one (1) signed copy of HOLIDAY BUZZ, her collector’s recipe card for Candy Cane Frosting, and a stainless steel NYPD travel mug from New York City’s Police Museum, which Cleo promises will keep your coffee safe and warm. Contest open to residents of the US only. Contest ends December 15. Leave a valid email-address with your comment. Book, card, and cup will be shipped directly from the author. **
Join Clare Cosi for a double-shot of danger in her latest Coffeehouse Mystery, HOLIDAY BUZZ, now a “holiday mystery pick” by B&N and a Mystery Guild Featured Alternate Selection. AudioGo (BBC America) has picked up the rights to produce the audiobook, which will be released next fall.
Click here for a special peek at the holiday recipes featured in Holiday Buzz, including Cleo’s New York Cheesecake Cookies (pictured). The live link opens an illustrated PDF file that you can print, save, or share.
And don’t miss Cleo’s previous bestselling Coffeehouse Mystery, A Brew To A Kill, a “must-read” mystery pick by B&N that was praised by Kirkus as “a foodie’s delight…and a satisfying rich mystery.” When a mysterious driver runs down an innocent friend and associate, Clare embarks on a New York odyssey, tracking down clues through the city’s diverse boroughs to stop a ruthless killer whose dark plan has only just begun. A Brew To A Kill celebrates the food trucks and street chefs of New York and includes more than 20 recipes. Get a sneak peek at many of them by clicking here.
Meet the Authors
Cleo Coyle is a pseudonym for Alice Alfonsi, who writes in collaboration with her husband, Marc Cerasini. Like their 12 Coffeehouse Mystery novels, their 5 Haunted Bookshop novels (written under the name Alice Kimberly), are national bestselling works of amateur sleuth fiction for Penguin. When not haunting coffeehouses or hunting ghosts, Alice and Marc are New York Times bestselling media tie-in writers who have penned properties for Lucasfilm, NBC, Fox, Disney, Imagine, and MGM. Alice is a former journalist and children’s book author; Marc an author of military nonfiction and thrillers. They live and work in New York City. To find out more, visit their online coffeehouse at www.coffeehousemystery.com.
Sign up for the free Coffeehouse Mystery newsletter, which always includes recipes, by sending an e-mail that says “sign me up” to this address: CoffeehouseMystery(at)gmail(dot)com.
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.