4:00 AM: I am fast asleep in the master bedroom of a stately Georgetown mansion, dreaming of a romantic dinner with acting federal agent Mike Quinn. Gourmet chef Tad Hopkins approaches with our entrees—cold, salt-packed sardines stuffed with boiled okra. Aaaaah!
5:30 AM: My foodie nightmare is interrupted by a loud ringing. As birds chatter outside my window, I pick up the phone to the chirping of my octogenarian employer, coffeehouse owner Madame Dreyfus-Allegro-Dubois.
For years, I managed Madame’s shop in Greenwich Village. Now I’m in Washington, DC, opening the first new shop in one-hundred years, one with a charming, relaxed Jazz Space on the second floor.
“Is that young chef I hired delivering a unique and exciting menu?” she asks.
“Oh, yes,” I mumble into my pillow. “So exciting I dream about it.”
Madame expects the kitchen will do brisk business tonight since it’s Friday. Oh, yeah? I think. Not with dishes like cold sardines stuffed with boiled okra!
6:10 AM: I walk to work through the quiet, picturesque Georgetown neighborhood. At this hour, DC traffic is light. On busy days, it’s more like New York City traffic—with a few exceptions. In Manhattan, rush hour only seems to run in circles. Thanks to the roundabouts of Washington, it actually does.
6:20 AM: Just in time to accept the pastry delivery. My DC baker truly does justice to my recipes (pun intended), and I start my workday with a double espresso and one of my Chocolate Ricotta Muffins. Okay, I admit to pinching an Oatmeal Cookie Muffin, too. (Don’t tell the Metro PD.)
10:15 AM: Another call from New York. This time it’s Matt Allegro—Madame’s son and my ex-husband. Matt is also our shop’s uber-talented coffee hunter. He’s agreed to ground himself from his usual globetrotting to manage the shop in Greenwich Village. One problem, he’s too permissive with my staff. His new bright idea—a suggestion box.
“Someone wants to install a chocolate fountain,” he informs me. “What do you think?”
“I think the Village Blend is a community coffeehouse, not a dessert bar at a wedding reception. Put the chocolate in the mocha lattes and the suggestion box in the basement!”
11:45 AM: After accepting the okra delivery, I am cheered by the sight of Mike Quinn’s rugged self sitting at my coffee bar. I pour him a special cup of single-origin Kona, the only coffee grown in the USA. I fix myself an Americano and cut us two fat slices of Nutella Banana Split Bread.
12:30 PM: As the lunch crush begins, my young, Italian-born assistant manager Tito arrives for his shift. College girls flock to the counter like the birds outside my bedroom window—just as noisy, but much more profitable!
2:40 PM: My daughter Joy texts from New York, where she is working with her father. “New suggestion in the box!” she declares. (Obviously, my ex ignored my suggestion of what to do with that box.) “Tucker thinks our Greenwich Village second floor needs more pizazz. He wants to redecorate with an Island theme and add a Tiki bar. Dante thinks an English Pub theme with dart boards and billiards would be cooler.” I resist the urge to throw the phone across the room.
6:10 PM: I notice my night manager Gardner Evans arriving on the sidewalk outside. A big guy in a suit calls his name and they begin to argue. I don’t like this. When the big man makes a wide gesture, I see a gun on his belt!
6:20 PM: I ask Gardner about the confrontation, but he shakes me off and hurries upstairs to open the Jazz Space. Fifteen minutes later, the first set of the night begins with Gardner’s excellent house band, Four on the Floor. They kick off with the most amazing jazz version of “Tonight” from West Side Story. Life is good.
6:50 PM: Mike Quinn arrives looking troubled. He won’t talk, either, but I suspect the problem is his awful, new boss at the Justice Department. I also suspect things are going to get much worse before they bet better.
7:00 PM: I tell Mike what he needs is a good meal. He suggests we dine upstairs. I warn him about the young chef’s “gourmet” menu, now featuring “Japanese-Southern” fusion.
I smile tightly, describing the sushi rolls stuffed with eel and okra.
Mike winces and I make another suggestion. “Luther Bell, our assistant cook, made a fantastic dinner for the staff. How about I pack up the leftovers and we have a picnic on the Mall?”
7:30 PM: Bundled up on a park bench, a cozy blanket over our laps, we munch delicious Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Hard-Cider Green Beans, Cheddar-Corn Spoonbread, and Pecan Pie Bars. Then we warm up by strolling through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History before heading back to the mansion I’m housesitting in Georgetown.
9:30 PM: I press a pot of silky, smooth Sulawesi, Mike starts a fire in the bedroom hearth, and we get ready to enjoy. . .dessert.
11:59 PM: I am fast asleep, dreaming of Mike Quinn. . .
Dead to the Last Drop by Cleo Coyle is the 15th book in the “Coffeehouse” mystery series. Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime, December 2015
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About the author
CLEO COYLE is a pseudonym for Alice Alfonsi, writing in collaboration with her husband, Marc Cerasini. Both are New York Times bestselling authors of the Coffeehouse Mysteries, now celebrating over ten years in print.Alice has worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., and New York City, and has written popular fiction for adults and children. A former magazine editor, Marc has authored espionage thrillers and nonfiction for adults and children. Alice and Marc are also bestselling media tie-in writers who have penned properties for Lucasfilm, NBC, Fox, Disney, Imagine, and MGM. They live and work in New York City, where they write independently and together, including the national bestselling Haunted Bookshop Mysteries. Visit their website at www.coffeehousemystery.com.