Who: Heidi MacDonald, Sally-Anne Perks, and eavesdropping customers
Where: Higher Grounds
When: 12 May 2001, morning
Heidi had been stewing over Sylvie Fawcett’s comments all week. Dealing with Orpington’s rejection had been humiliating enough, but having someone like Fawcett rub it in her face was a hundred times worse. Heidi had considered hauling her in for questioning — it would serve her right for sleeping with Orpington — but reluctantly ruled this out. After all, she wasn’t even assigned to the case. Dragging in someone because of a personal vendetta probably wouldn’t go down too well with her boss.
Still, that didn’t matter. Heidi had other, less professional, ways of getting her own back.
So here she was, on a Sunday morning, weaving her way between the crowded tables at Higher Grounds with purpose. “Skinny latte, please!” she trilled out, smiling at the blonde barista as she reached the counter.
Sally-Anne didn’t really mind working on Sundays. For the most part, people weren’t grabbing a coffee and rushing off to work, so things at Higher Grounds were more on the relaxed side. This morning, though, a few people looked a little worse for wear after what she suspected was a little too much drinking following the Helga’s Heroes loss yesterday.
“Good morning!” Sally-Anne smiled at Heidi. “Is that to stay in or take away?” she asked the latest customer.
“Stay in, please,” Heidi replied, fishing around in her purse for the correct change. “I just need some time to sit and de-stress, you know? Things have been so hectic at work, what with all that’s going on.”
She leaned forward, as if to confide a secret, but didn’t lower her voice. “It’s awful to think that people we know are suspects in a murder case.”
“That sounds like a lovely way to spend a Sunday,” Sally-Anne said warmly, reaching for one of the tall glass mugs that she served lattes in. “Can I tempt you with a piece of cake?”
As Heidi leant towards her, Sally-Anne paused instead of taking the milk out of the cabinet. “Are there new suspects?” she asked with wide eyes, all too aware how the body of Mr Orpington had been found so very close to the coffee shop.
“Well,” Heidi began, glancing around to check who was listening, “I can’t really say too much, but we’ve been looking at who might have had a motive. And it turns out there’s someone who made several very public threats against Mr Orpington’s life.”
Satisfied that she now also had the attention of the occupants sitting at the table closest to the counter, Heidi allowed herself to be briefly diverted by the cakes on offer. “Is that chocolate and hazelnut?” she exclaimed.
“Oh, goodness.” Sally-Anne immediately busied herself making Heidi’s coffee, relieved that there seemed to be a strong suspect, but quietly terrified that she might know that person. “It’s so horrible to think that I might have served a murderer, you know? It’s bad enough thinking that someone so nasty lives among us.”
Before she could start to steam the milk, she nodded. “Yes. New recipe.”
“You probably have served her,” Heidi agreed, gleefully letting slip the gender of this so-called suspect. “But personally I feel sorry for her roommate. Can you imagine living with a murderer and never knowing?”
Heidi opened her purse again, very pleased with the way the conversation was heading. “I think I will have a slice of cake, please.”
A hiss of steam escaped and Sally-Anne jolted in surprise, even though she knew it was going to happen. “That would be awful,” she agreed readily, any niggling doubt that Heidi might somehow be suspecting her expelled; Sally-Anne lived with her parents and no-one would describe them as roommates. “I don’t think I’d ever sleep again. I mean, if I knew.” She frowned, some form of logic wiggling its way into order. “Which, obviously, I wouldn’t.”
Sally-Anne added espresso to the steamed milk. “Of course. One slice of cake coming right up,” she said, putting the latte on a tray.
“I don’t know how Eloise sleeps at night,” Heidi said, shaking her head seriously. “She’s obviously a much braver person than I am.” Heidi waited for a moment, then widened her eyes and clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh!” she exclaimed, playing her part to perfection. “I didn’t mean to — I shouldn’t have said —”
Casting an anguished glance around her, she flattened her palms against the counter and leant forward. “I shouldn’t have let that slip,” she told Sally-Anne urgently. “Syl— I mean, the suspect is still under investigation right now.”