Ralph was a simple guy. All he wanted was a life without stress, which is why he left a lucrative teaching position in the pressure cooker that was Stanford University to become a baker in his home town. Not even a master baker; no, Ralph punched his card as a simple apprentice breadmaker. He found the simplicity and order deeply satisfying.

But it wasn’t to last. One day, while hauling stale bread to the dumpsters in the staff parking lot behind his bakery, Ralph witnessed a violent murder. A long, low, black car drove up to an older pedestrian, dropped its windows, and blasted the latter with automatic gunfire.

Instinctively, Ralph ran in the other direction. He hadn’t gotten a good look at the man, and the assailant hadn’t been visible, but it was clear as Ralph’s car turned over that he had been spotted. Flooring the gas and scrambling to remember where the police station was, Ralph’s car fishtailed out of the baker’s back lot with the dark car in hot pursuit. It was faster, the driver was less panicked, and in short order Ralph found himself sideswiped into a sign, a mailbox, and a parked car. Worse, he’d tried to cut across a back alley; no one was watching.

The airbags deployed. Dazed, Ralph bumbled with his seatbelt and crawled from the wreckage of his car. Something hot was oozing from his thinning hairline; he figured it was blood. The other car was still running but the doors were open and it was empty. He limped toward it, hoping to escape through the alley on the other side.

There was a click behind him, the unmistakable sound of the hammer being drawn back on a firearm. Ralph’s shoulders sagged.

“You’re going to shoot me, aren’t you?”

“Well, wouldn’t you?” a very reasonable voice–a boy’s voice–replied. It was soft but strangely familiar. “Witnesses, especially witnesses that get into wrecks like that, are never a good thing.”

“I suppose, but…” Ralph’s thoughts flashed to the comfortable stress-free existence of the last few months. “Nevermind. Get it over with.”

“Dying men get last requests sometimes. What were you going to say?”

“Well, it’s just that…I’ve been living and working as a baker. It’s a life I’ve grown to love…I’d hate to lose it.”

“Oh, that’s awfully boring,” said the voice. “Pleading for your miserable life. You aren’t always that uninteresting, or I wouldn’t be here.”

“…thanks?” Ralph struggled to place the voice. Clearly it was someone he knew, or who knew him, but it just wasn’t clicking. “I could think of a more interesting last request if I knew who you were,” he said.

“You already know. You’ve always known. But you won’t be sure until your last breath is rattling in your throat.”

“Just get it over with.” Ralph’s throat was dry, but really, was this any different than the heart attack that would have felled him back at Stanford? So much for his dreams of working in a bakery. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the end.

Instead, he heard the whistle of a gun butt in the air, the crack of metal against bone, and knew nothing but darkness for some time.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Detective Montgomery, Vice, met Detective Hanson, Homicide, at the latter’s request. Monty appeared at the Costanzo Bros. Bakery, which was at least as well known for being a front to the local Cosa Nostra mobsters as for making the best jelly donuts in the city.

Hanson was leaned against the counter, which was empty; Monty slapped down a five and took a few choice selections off the fresh donut tray.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said Hanson drily.

“They can keep the change,” said Monty. “So what did you call me here for? You know the chief doesn’t like us buying donuts at Costanzo Bros., even if they are the best.”

“You remember a kid called Remo Aiolfi?” Hanson said. “Twenties, dropout, mellow to the point he probably took Ambien to wake up? Kid was baked, and baked hard.”

“Yeah, I remember him,” said Monty. “Kid was busted multiple times for pot, always was able to slip the charge or get it knocked down to community service. Don Colombera’s boys used him as a bagman, didn’t they?”

“My snitches have it on good authority that the kid was playing both sides, letting Don Anselmetti have a taste occasionally or selling him information,” Hanson said.

“Boy must have been toked to try something like that.” Monty took a meaty bite of a jelly donut, splattering filling all over the place. “God, this isn’t the Costanzos’ best batch, is it?”

Hanson shrugged. “That’s probably why Remo Aiolfi turned up dead,” he said. “Maybe the Colomberas did it, maybe the Anselmettis, maybe they both decided it would be better for business if he went away.”

“I’ll say,” Monty agreed through a faceful of donut. “How’d they off him?”

“Best as we can tell, they put him through a wood chipper and used him as a filler in the Costanzos’ latest batch.”

Monty stopped chewing, held out his donut at an arm’s length, and paled visibly.

“I told you the kid was baked, and baked hard,” Hanson said. “What did you think I meant?”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

So many goodies on display; Jared mused on the irony that he could now afford all the baked goods he’d coveted as a tot but couldn’t afford calories that his younger self would have burned through in an afternoon.

The person behind the bakery counter, who looked like they had been regularly tucking into their own stock for decades, sliced Jared’s rye bread and bagged it.

“There’s only one thing I want to ask you,” the baker said after the till rang up the amount.

“Oh?” Jared expected a question about his Døzer t-shirt (yes, they’re a real band), his out of town status (yes, he wasn’t from around here, at least not anymore), or the sunglasses on his brow (yes, they’re real Ray-Bans, a lucky thrift store find).

“How do you fit into those skinny jeans?” the baker asked instead. He smiled, as if expecting to hear some kind of secret about how to fit his own well-rounded frame into a pair of the same.

How best to handle such a query? The answer to that, as everything, was sarcasm. “Well, you see, I actually weigh 230 lbs but through a combination of lamaze and Satanism I’m able to fit into these,” Jared drawled. “Don’t touch them or even look too hard, as you might upset the delicate balance and be injured by high-speed denim shrapnel.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!