A Fatal Groove by Olivia Blacke: Featured Excerpt
By Crime HQJuly 25, 2023
“If I don’t get some coffee ASAP, I’m gonna murder someone,” Mayor Bob declared.
Bob Bobbert, aka Mayor Bob, was currently serving his sixth-straight two-year term as mayor of my hometown of Cedar River, Texas. He’d run the last four times unopposed. Everyone voted for him, mostly because he did his absolute best to never voice an opinion about anything. He literally could do no wrong, mostly because other than patching the potholes on Main Street quickly and making sure the school playground got a new coat of paint every year, he never actually did anything.
I’d heard stories about a town that elected a goat as their mayor. Mayor Bob was our version of that goat— blatantly inoffensive, mostly harmless, and completely useless. Today, he wore his bright blue mayoral sash that only came out on special occasions, like high school graduations, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and of course, town festivals. Normally, he was affably pleasant, but he was grumpier than usual this morning. He must really need his caffeine fix.
“Don’t worry, Mayor Bob. Coffee’s almost ready,” I assured him. As a part owner of Sip & Spin Records, a vinyl records/coffee shop, I’d become something of an expert in crafting delicious caffeinated beverages. But even I couldn’t control how long it took to brew a carafe of coffee, especially when we were working with limited resources at a makeshift location in Cedar River Memorial Park. The fancy barista machine we had at Sip & Spin could foam, steam, froth, grind, and pressurize on demand. Our DJ booth at the festival only had room for an industrial-size coffee maker that didn’t have any bells and whistles, but made drip coffee just fine.
“That’s what I like to hear, Juni,” Mayor Bob said.
Like all the women in my family, I was named after a flower. Juniper flowers to be exact. My full name’s Juniper Jessup, but most folks around here call me Juni. I have two older sisters, Tansy, and Magnolia, who goes by Maggie. My mom’s Begonia. Her mother was Grandma Rose. We named our cat Daffodil. He’s a boy cat, but it seemed fitting to name him in the family tradition.
Most people thought that because of my name, my favorite flower must be juniper. They’d be wrong. I did have a tiny juniper flower tattoo on my hip, but don’t tell my mom that. Sure, I was twenty-eight years old, old enough to get a tattoo without worrying about what my mother thought, but still—moms and tattoos. Anyway, I digress. My favorite flower wasn’t juniper, it was bluebonnets.
A single bluebonnet wasn’t all that impressive on its own, but that’s the thing about bluebonnets. They’re never alone. They grew in vast numbers, blanketing entire fields and transforming the rugged Texas landscape into brilliant blue and white flowers as far as the eye can see.
When the bluebonnets bloom, Texans drive for hours to find the best locations to photograph their babies or puppies or themselves posing in fields of flowers. Small towns all over the state compete to see who can draw in the most tourists for their bluebonnet-themed celebration. Maybe I’m biased, but every year, Cedar River’s Bluebonnet Festival was the clear winner.
Our festival was tiny compared to some, but we had the best music in the state. This year, my sisters and I were in charge of the musical entertainment, since Sip & Spin Records was the new go-to place for music in our little town. On top of that, we were only a few miles from Austin, the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World.
Mayor Bob continued, clucking his tongue. “It’s a shame. I really expected better from our vendors.” As usual, it was hard to tell if he was teasing or not. It was a strategy that worked well for him by ensuring absolute neutrality.
“Then it’s a good thing we’re not vendors,” Tansy, my eldest sister, said, matching his tone. Standing behind the DJ booth, she pulled a Willie Nelson album off the record player and slid it into its sleeve.
Tansy was tall and slender. She had short, straight hair, flawless teeth, and perfect eyesight. My sister wore lots of pastel coordinating twinsets. Today was a baby blue top paired with dark blue slacks. “Somehow you talked us into sponsoring the festival, running the DJ booth, and providing the coffee.”
Compared to Tansy, I was a few inches shorter, a few pounds heavier, and seven years younger. My outfit, like the rest of my life, wasn’t quite as carefully put together as hers, but I was wearing my blue glasses and a blue vintage Jimi Hendrix T-shirt over blue jean shorts, so we sort of matched.
“Speaking of DJ duties, what album should we play next?” I asked. The turntable was hooked up to the parkwide sound system. Local bands would rotate on and off the main stage throughout the weekend. Between sets, we would play a wide variety of music over the speakers. I riffled through one of the crates of records we’d brought for the occasion and held up two. “I can’t decide between Bad Bunny and Ace of Base.”
“That’s our Juni,” Tansy said with a grin. “Decisive to a fault.” She held out a hand. “Bad Bunny, please.” I handed it to her, and she set it on the player.
“You’re supposed to supply the coffee. You should have set up one of those single-cup machines like I suggested,” Mayor Bob said, bringing the conversation back around to our earlier discussion.
“No way,” I said. At the same time, Tansy said, “Not on my watch.”
Neither of us were fans of single-cup coffee makers, and not just because our business depended on customers coming to us for their pick-me-ups instead of brewing it at home. Those plastic pods were a nightmare for the environment, for starters. They’re great for some situations, but we were expecting hundreds of people to stop by for a cup of our own blend of coffee today, and if we took the time to brew each cup individually, our line would circle the entire park.
“It’s just a suggestion,” Mayor Bob said, holding his hands up in surrender.
“Good thing we didn’t listen to you, because coffee’s ready.” Tansy gestured at the machine, which had stopped gurgling. The red light turned green, and we were officially open for business. “Juni, what kind of coffee is this again?”
“Today’s special is Bluebonnet French Roast Forever, a dark, full-bodied bean blended with a blueberry coffee. It’s deliciously sweet and strong at the same time, guaranteed to start your day off right,” I said.
“Blueberry?” Mayor Bob sounded unconvinced. He shook his head. “I prefer a nuttier coffee. Amaretto.Hazelnut. Even pecan will do in a pinch. How long before something like that’s ready?”
My sister and I exchanged glances. “We only have the one option today,” I said. “There’s barely enough juice for one machine.” Between running power for the sound system and the nearby music stage, we were already maxed out. “But I guarantee you’ll like this blend if you give it a chance.”
Tansy handed him a to-go cup and lid. Between working the till and providing the music, we were going to have our hands full this weekend. With our other sister, Maggie, busy with her festival committee duties, it would be a challenge to keep the booth staffed, so we’d opted for a self-serve model to speed things along.
Mayor Bob took the cup and filled it to the brim. He blew across the top before taking a sip. “It needs something.”
Tansy gestured at the basket filled with sweetener packets and individual creamer cups. To reduce waste—and cost—we tried to avoid single-use anything when possible. But since we were going to be out here in the open all day, we bit the bullet. The condiments cut into our profit and filled up the trash cans, but it beat serving spoiled milk or sugar with ants in it.
An alert on Bob’s phone chimed. He pulled the phone out of the holster he wore on his belt and checked the screen. “Never mind. I’m needed at the office.”
“Opening ceremonies are in a few minutes,” Tansy said. “You’re the emcee.”
“Don’t worry yourself none. I’ll be back.” Coffee in hand, he strode away from the booth, leaving us alone.
“I thought Town Hall was closed today,” I said. The annual Bluebonnet Festival was a big deal in Cedar River. We planned for it all year long, and when the festival finally came around, everything in town shut down so everyone could join in on the fun.
“It is,” Tansy agreed. “He probably set that alarm himself to get out of doing any work.”
Now that sounded like our beloved mayor. According to my mom, he’d made an entire career out of pretending to be busy while doing the absolute bare minimum needed to ensure his next reelection. “What can I do to help?” I asked.
“We’re pretty much good to go,” she said. “Have you seen the stickers?”
“For the shop? Maggie had a bunch of stickers made up with the Sip & Spin Records logo on them for us to hand out, but I can’t find them anywhere. They’re in a plain brown box.”
I grimaced. “About yay big?” I asked, pantomiming a box with my hands.
“Yup.” Tansy glanced under the table. She pushed aside a crate of records to look behind them. “Where are they?”
“I think I saw them back at the shop.” I’d noticed a brown box sitting on the counter when I was blending coffee for the day, and meant to ask Tansy about it, but I got distracted and forgot.
“Well, shoot,” Tansy said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll run back and grab them.” I glanced around the park. The festival didn’t officially start for another few minutes. Most of the people milling around were locals who had already set up their booths and were strolling the paths to get a sneak peek at the other wares. The weather report called for a perfect day—sunny and mild. The park would be packed soon.
“You sure you don’t mind?” Tansy asked.
“It’s not a problem. Maybe I’ll even whip up a custom drink and drop it by Town Hall for the mayor, so he’s in tip-top shape to emcee the festivities.”
“Generous offer, little sis,” Tansy teased. “You’re just afraid that if Mayor Bob’s mood doesn’t improve, you’ll end up on the wrong end of the microphone.”
The idea of announcing upcoming bands over the loudspeaker made my knees knock. Public speaking was my biggest nightmare. “You know me too well, Tansy.” I picked up my bag. I tried to recall the last time I’d served the mayor at Sip & Spin, and came up blank. “What’s his usual?” While most of our patrons were happy with the special of the day, some habitually ordered the same thing.]
“Tall sugar-free vanilla frap blended with unsweetened almond non-dairy creamer, two pumps of amaretto, and a dash of nutmeg. Fat-free whip,” she said without hesitation. Tansy had always been a genius when it came to music. She had a sixth sense when it came to suggesting something patrons would have never picked out themselves that they ended up loving. Apparently, she was pretty good at remembering coffee orders, too.
“And his favorite kind of music?” I asked, testing Tansy’s recall abilities.
“Mayor Bob absolutely adores Bobby McFerrin.”
“Really? I always thought of him as more of a Charlie Daniels Band kind of man.”
“Juni, if you’re going to recommend music to people, you have to stop judging people by their covers.”
“True,” I agreed. “I’ll be right back.”
I’d parked my ride—a lime green adult tricycle with a market basket mounted to the back—behind the booth. The paved paths were still empty enough to navigate my trike without much trouble. As I pedaled, I took time to look around and appreciate the expertly decorated vendor booths that transformed Cedar River Memorial Park into a festive fairground. I slowed when I saw a cart advertising cotton candy, but it wasn’t open yet. I made a mental note to return later. Maybe I’d even share with my sisters.
What could I say? Food was my love language.
I topped a small rise and surveyed the park sprawled out below me as I rode. While Texas was flat in places, it’s a big state and the landscape was as varied as the people. There were rivers, mountains, canyons, and the Gulf coastline. There were deserts, forests, and sandy beaches. Here in the hill country of Central Texas, it could range from long, low fields in the shadow of granite mounds perfect for grazing cattle to deep cave systems ideal for escaping the summer heat.
While I rode, I saw my sister Maggie and her husband J.T. heading in the other direction and rang my trike’s bell to get her attention. Maggie waved before continuing on her way. I caught a glimpse of our mom walking with a man I didn’t know, but they disappeared behind a booth before I could get a good look at him. I recognized several other locals—friends from childhood, neighbors, and fellow shopkeepers—and exchanged smiles with them all.
I’d left for Oregon right after college graduation, and had only recently moved back home to Cedar River. I hadn’t realized until just now how much I’d missed all this while I was away. I was happy to be back home where I could celebrate bluebonnet season with my family.
Copyright © 2023 by Olivia Blacke. All rights reserved.
About A Fatal Groove by Olivia Blacke:
A Fatal Groove is the second cozy mystery in Olivia Blacke’s The Record Shop series. It’s springtime in Cedar River, Texas, and all is going well for Juni Jessup and her sisters after the opening of their Sip & Spin Records shop. However, the Frappuccino hits the fan when their small-town mayor suddenly drops dead, poisoned by their delicious coffee. Can the Jessup sisters catch the killer without skipping a beat?