Crust No One
A Bread Shop Mystery #2
by Winnie Archer
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Business is booming at Yeast of Eden. But with a deadly mystery taking over the seaside town of Santa Sofia, the Mexican bread shop can’t possibly leaven a killer’s appetite . . .
For once, Ivy Culpepper feels fulfilled. An apprenticeship at Yeast of Eden has opened her world to time-honored baking techniques under owner Olaya Solis’s guidance—as well as the freshest small-town gossip, courtesy of chatty regulars known as the Blackbird Ladies. Ivy even begins accepting that she and restaurateur Miguel Baptista may never again rekindle their romance—despite the undeniable tension between them . . .
But she’s tied to Miguel again when his trusted produce supplier goes missing. Old Hank Riviera’s financial troubles would make anyone consider running away forever. And with his relationship woes, there are plenty of people who might want to see Hank disappear. As Ivy, with the help of her octogenarian sidekick, turns to the loose-lipped Blackbird Ladies for leads, she soon finds herself caught in a web of lies stickier than a batch of Olaya’s popular pastries . . .
My mother left an indelible mark on me, as all mothers do on their children. I grew up loving walks
on the beach, collecting seashells, and reading mystery novels (Agatha, my sweet fawn pug, was named
after the grande dame of mystery, after all). She also gave me my love of photography by gifting me with
my first camera and sending me out for the afternoon.
I took pictures of everything I saw. That was that. My fate was sealed, for better or for worse.
The one thing she did not impart on me was her cooking ability. She had had finesse in the kitchen,
and she worked to the very end to get better and widen her skills, but I’d always been too busy to
spend much time baking and creating stews and casseroles and things in Dutch ovens. That all
changed after she died. The kitchen was the very place I found the most solace. I hadn’t known it
would be like that, but Olaya Solis, before I’d ever formally met her, had me all figured out. She’d
become a surrogate mother to me, but no one could replace the real thing. I saw my mother everywhere
and in everything. Most of all, at the ocean.
Now, as I parked my mom’s car—my car—in the Baptista’s parking lot, it was the beach that called to
me. I slung my camera bag over my shoulder and started toward the restaurant, but abruptly stopped
and redirected my footsteps toward the pier and the wooden steps that led down to the sand. The day was
cool, a brisk breeze blowing in from the water. A few people strolled along the shoreline, walking
their dogs or playing with children in the surf. I did none of those things. My feet seemed to direct themselves;
I ended up at a cluster of rocks and perched on the edge of the flat bolder that sat in front of the
formation. I tilted my head back against the cool breeze and let my eyes flutter closed. This spot on
the beach had been one of my mom’s favorite places in Santa Sofia. Maybe in the world. At this moment,
it almost felt as if she were here with me.
A mist of water kissed my cheeks and a shiver passed through me. The breeze seemed to call my
name. I smiled to myself. Maybe she actually was. I grabbed my camera from my bag, walked along the
shoreline, and took a few shots of the pier to capture the moment: the rocks off in the distance, the
breaking waves, the seaweed strewn on the waterpacked sand.
The light wind carried my name across the surf.
I turned toward the restaurant. It wasn’t the wind calling my name. It was Miguel. He stood on the pier
I took a deep breath before turning my back on the ocean, letting the loss of my mother fade to a warm memory. I trudged up the beach toward the pier.
Miguel watched me, leaning in to give me a kiss on my cheek when I finally reached him. A shiver of—something—went down my spine. Which is not what I wanted to feel. I wasn’t in high school anymore,
after all, but Miguel still seemed able to coax a schoolgirl quiver out of me.
I swallowed as I backed away, creating space between us. “Sorry it took me so long. The Winter
Wonderland Festival. It takes a lot of planning.”
He brushed away the apology. “Oh, yeah, I know. We have a booth. Soup. Tamales. Chips and salsa.”
He winked. “And queso.”
I couldn’t help my smile, but deep down there was an ache in the pit of my stomach. I tried not to care, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to ask him why he’d left all those years ago. I wanted to know. Or did I? Did I really need to dredge up our history? Maybe he simply hadn’t loved me enough and couldn’t see a life with me. If that was the case, did I really need to know that? Better to leave well enough alone.
“So, you have some ideas for the brochure?” I said, getting down to business.
“I do,” he said. His green eyes, set against his olive skin, suddenly seemed . . . I don’t know—detached.
I couldn’t read his expression. It was as if the effort of being jovial had taken its toll and now he was
done. He gestured with his arm, sweeping it in a circle toward the ocean. “I want a new menu. And I want a brochure to put at some of the local hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts. Is that something you can do?”
“It depends. What do you want them to look like?”
“I want them to capture the setting. The ocean. The coast. Seafood. But all of it infused with Baptista’s
I gave a slow blink, my lips pressing together in contemplation. Or, if I was being honest, bafflement.
Nothing like some high expectations. I had no idea how to capture all of that.
“It’s a little vague,” he said.
I nodded in agreement. “A little.”
“I don’t have much direction, Ivy. I just know we need to freshen things up. Not all that much has
changed since my grandfather first opened the place, and that was in the fifties.”
I reached back into my memories. “Didn’t your parents remodel it when we were in high school?”
“The kitchen had an overhaul. They re-covered the old Naugahyde booths and got new tables, but my folks never did much more than that. We can afford to make some changes now. My dad . . . he had life insurance, so . . .” He trailed off, swallowing.
His father had died of a heart attack a few months before my mom had passed away. It was one thing we still had in common.
“So you want to remodel Baptista’s, but we’ll have to wait until the remodel is done to take pictures.”
He shook his head. “I’m going to do the renovations in sections. I can’t afford to have the place closed completely. But it’s time. I’m going to start with the dining room on the right, then work my way to the left. I’ll do the patio last. Too cold for that right now, anyway.”
The wind had picked up, whipping strands of my curls across my face. Miguel reached out, pulling a piece of my hair free from my eyelashes. “That . . . um . . . sounds like a good plan,” I said, just as someone called Miguel from the restaurant.
We both turned to see Mrs. Baptista, Miguel’s mother, standing at the end of the pier just outside the restaurant. She waved her arms over her head.
“Miguel! Ven aqui, mi’jo!”
“Todo esta bien?” he called.
I remembered enough Spanish to know she’d called for him to come to her and he’d asked if everything was okay. Her response was insistent.
“Ven, ven! Ahorita!”
Miguel and I locked eyes for a split second before we both hurried toward the restaurant. Miguel, with his long stride, beat me there, but I wasn’t far behind.
“Que, Mama? Que es la problema?”
They spoke in Spanish, and while I could pick out some of the words, I didn’t follow the thread of their conversation. Miguel translated for me a moment later. “Jason Rivera was here looking for his dad. He’s worried about him. They were supposed to have dinner last night, but Hank didn’t show. He missed a delivery and now Jason can’t get ahold of him.”
The name rang a bell. Rivera. Rivera? “Is his dad Hank? As in Mustache Hank?”
Miguel lowered his chin, but his eyebrows rose.
“You know him?”
“No, not at all. I mean, I just met him a few days ago.”
“Donde?” Mrs. Baptista asked at the same time
Miguel said, “Where?”
“He came into the bread shop.” Where else?
“He does love his bread,” Miguel said.
“Why is his son looking for him here.” I asked.
Mrs. Baptista frowned. “He say he no see him for days. I think he—he—” English was not her first language
and she paused to think about how to say what she wanted to say. “He worry. No se. Pero Hank, he no come here.”
She started to turn, but stopped and took my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Good to see you, mi’ja. Miguel, he say you are back to Santa Sofia. To stay?”
“Bought a house and everything,” I said with a smile.
“Your father, I know he is so happy you back with him.”
Her English, while broken, was better than I remembered it being. “I think so. I hope so. It’s been . . . rough.”
She nodded, her own sorrow evident. “I know that. It does not get better fast.”
“I was so sorry to hear about your husband,” I said. Mrs. Baptista knew exactly what my father had been through losing his wife, because she’d been through her own loss.
“After what happ—” She stopped, searching for the words. “After Laura saw—”
“Mom.” Miguel’s tense voice cut her off.
“Laura?” I asked.
But Mrs. Baptista clamped her mouth shut, looked at Miguel, at me, and then shook her head.
“Muy triste,” she said. I recognized the word: Sad.
Was she talking about our breakup so many years ago, or my mom? Either way, I nodded.
Mrs. Baptista gave my hand another squeeze before letting it go and turning to go back to the restaurant.
There was a moment of awkward silence between Miguel and me as she walked away. “Is Laura still in Santa Sofia?” I asked.
He looked at me, puzzled. “We took over the restaurant together,” he said. “I thought you knew that.”
“No, I don’t think you mentioned it.” Neither had Emmaline, but then why would either of them? Laura was three years younger than me. When she was in middle school, I’d been her brother’s girlfriend, nothing more. I remembered her prank calling my house and hanging up, sticking childish warnings she’d written about me dating her brother into my backpack, hiding anything of mine when I’d been over at the Baptista house. I’d dismissed it as the antics of a jealous sister. We’d never been friends, but we were adults now and that was all in
the past. “Is she here? I’d like to say hello.”
He started walking up the pier toward the restaurant.
I fell into step next to him. “She’s out today,” he said.
“Oh, well, another time.”
He spoke, but kept his gaze straight ahead, his pace quickening. “I need to call Jason.”
“You’re worried about Hank,” I said, feeling silly for stating the obvious. “Maybe he’s just sick, or something.”
But Miguel shook his head. “I don’t think so. Jason told my mom that he’s missed his stops for the last few days.”
“Since Monday,” I said.
“How did you know—”
“High school Spanish,” I said with a little smile.
“She said lunes.” Before he could comment on my rudimentary Spanish, I forged on. “Where else was he supposed to deliver to?”
Miguel stopped and turned to gaze toward the ocean. Something in his attitude had changed. He was tense. Almost coarse in his tone. He rattled off a few local eateries, and then paused. “Something doesn’t feel right,” he said after a minute, but he was just talking aloud more than he was speaking directly to me.
“What do you mean?”
He looked back to me. “In all the years I’ve known him, Hank has never missed a delivery.”
“Never?” That was some crazy work ethic.
“Is there a Mrs. Mustache Hank?” I asked, not meaning the question to sound as silly as it did.
“There’s an ex–Mrs. Mustache Hank.”
“Ah, divorced.” That explained the fawning Blackbird Ladies. Hank was an eligible bachelor, although in a May-December romance, the Blackbird Ladies were December to Hank’s May.
“He always said they both went into their marriage with the intent of going the distance.”
“I had the same intent. Divorce wasn’t an option.”
I shrugged with resignation. “It happened anyway.”
He looked me in the eyes, his gaze intense. “I’m sure that was tough,” he said, but I didn’t sense any
sympathy. In fact, it sounded slightly smug. Or had I imagined that?
I cleared my throat and got back on track. “So Mustache Hank was divorced.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty new,” he said. “He actually stayed in the office at the restaurant for a few days when it happened.”
“Then he found a place to live.”
I turned toward the parking lot, ready to head up the pier. “So let’s go check it out.”
Miguel shook his head. “We can’t.”
I was curious, and I knew myself. If I didn’t find out where Mustache Hank was, I’d mull it over and over in my head and end up calling Miguel to get updates. It was better to just figure it out right now.
“Of course we can. And we should.”
“But we can’t.”
“Why can’t we?” I asked, but then realization dawned. “Ohhh. You don’t know where his new place is.”
He grimaced. “I wish I did.”
“He must be sick. That’s the only explanation, right?”
Miguel seemed to consider, and then nodded. “Maybe.” He took his cell phone from his back pocket, used his thumb to scroll, and held out the phone between us. He’d put it on speaker. A few seconds later, a man answered. “Jason? Hey. It’s Miguel. Baptista. I heard you came by.”
“Yeah,” a voice said. “I’m looking for my dad.” He repeated what he’d already told Miguel’s mother,
but there was something else. Something he wasn’t saying.
Miguel picked up on it, too. “Is there more?” Miguel asked.
On the other end of the line, Jason sighed. “He owes my mom money.”
Miguel’s eyes looked toward the sky. I could tell he didn’t want to get involved in an alimony dispute between his produce supplier and the guy’s ex-wife.
“I haven’t seen him, Jason.”
I didn’t blame Miguel for not wanting to stick his nose into someone else’s business, but I wasn’t sure I felt the same. Something about Mustache Hank had elicited my sympathies. He’d seemed melancholy. He’d put on a smile for the Blackbird Ladies, but there was something . . . a kind of sadness that permeated his being.
I looked at Miguel. He took my meaning, nodded, and said, “Jason, I have a friend here with me. She saw your dad.”
“Hi, Jason,” I said. “My name’s Iv—”
Jason’s voice shot out like a bullet through the speaker, cutting me off. “You’ve seen him?”
“Where?” he demanded. “Where’d you see him?”
I caught Miguel’s gaze, raising my eyebrows. Jason was worked up. “I work at the bread shop in town.
Yeast of Eden.”
“He was there? At the bakery? When? What day?”
“It was Monday. He didn’t stay long.”
“So he’s okay?” Jason asked, his voice calmer.
“I’d never met him before,” I said, “but I think he seemed fine. Maybe a little sad, but like I said, I
don’t know him.”
“And you’re sure it was him?” Jason asked.
“According to the Blackbi—” I broke off, rephrasing my answer. “According to some of the women who were in the shop. They called him Mustache Hank.”
“And you said that was Monday?”
Instead of answering, Miguel said, “Jason, what’s going on?”
Jason hesitated. “Look,” he said after a few seconds. “I’m going to be straight with you. My dad hasn’t been right since the divorce. And . . . I’m worried about him.”
Miguel scrubbed his fingers through his hair.
“What do you mean, Jason? What’s going on?”
“He’s just . . . he’s not the same.”
“Do you think he’s depressed?” I asked. I’d gone through an array of emotions after my divorce, including
depression. The marriage had been a bad decision on my part. I’d been lied to and cheated on, but despite all of that, I’d still felt as if I’d failed. Jason sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe?” He thought for a second. “Yeah. Yeah, I think he might be. He still loves my mom. The whole thing tore him up.”
“Where’s he staying?” Miguel asked.
He exhaled. “I don’t know.”
“He didn’t tell you?” Miguel asked.
Jason scoffed. “He didn’t tell me anything. He thought I sided with my mom with the divorce. Who knows, maybe I did. I don’t know.” His voice wavered. “But I wanted to see him. That’s why we were going to have dinner last night. When he didn’t show, I thought maybe he was still pissed at me, but then I heard that he missed a bunch of deliveries. Miguel, I’m worried about him and I don’t know how to find him.”
Neither of us had any answers for him. Miguel told him he’d keep an eye out, Jason thanked him, and then the line went dead.
The indefatigable Winnie Archer is a middle school teacher by day and a writer by night. Born in a beach town in California, she now lives in an inspiring century-old house in North Texas and loves being surrounded by real-life history. She fantasizes about spending summers writing in quaint, cozy locales, has a love/hate relationship with both yoga and chocolate, adores pumpkin spice lattes, is devoted to her five kids and husband, and can’t believe she’s lucky enough to be living the life of her dreams.
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