‘Good morning, what can I get started for you?’ Matt asked.
‘I’ll do a tall dark, no room.’
‘Anything for breakfast?’
‘No, thanks,’ she said with a slight smile. ‘Just the rocket fuel.’
Matt poured the coffee and then watched as she paid. She took her seat at one of the tables and turned her attention to her telephone, taking occasional sips of her coffee as she read her email.
After he was sure she wasn’t paying attention to him, Matt nodded slightly in her direction. Hugh took the hint and nodded back. It was just like he’d been told. Same shade of hair, same size, the whole thing. Matt had earned his fifty bucks for pointing her out (‘I’m trying to prank a friend’s girlfriend,’ he’d told Matt. ‘You know, soap in the coffee.’). Once he’d gotten the signal, Hugh looked back down at his own telephone. This wouldn’t be hard at all. He looked over at the woman for a moment, just to be sure. Then he went back to scrolling through the news headlines. No sense in anyone noticing him.
Hugh stopped in a few more times, to be certain. He had nothing against the woman, personally. But ten grand was ten grand. And Jeannie had been very persuasive. Easy as anything, she’d said. I’ll even give you the stuff, she’d said. All you have to do is take care of it. Once you do, Celia’s out of the way, I get the inheritance, and you get a chunk of change. He didn’t do this kind of thing as a rule, but there again, Jeannie was persuasive.
Hugh had known that about her from the first time she’d brought her car in for a tune-up. She’d talked him into giving her a discount and throwing a new air filter into the mix. She’d brought her car back a few weeks later, this time for brakes. Before he know it, he’d agreed to help her. They both knew it would be too obvious if he tampered with Celia’s car. There was a better way, Jeannie said. Her sister stopped for coffee a few times a week. That would be the way to get her.
After four visits, Hugh figured the time was right. And he didn’t want to wait much longer. No sense in any of the regulars getting used to him.
He picked a Wednesday morning to do it. Hopefully, she’d be there. If not, there’d be Thursday. At eight-fifteen, he walked in. He went up to the counter, placed his order, and then went around to the pickup station. He’d no sooner gotten his coffee and sat down when she came in. Good. He was close enough this time to listen when she placed her order.
‘What can I get started for you?’ the barista asked. It wasn’t Matt, but Hugh could see Matt at the next station, taking another customer’s order.
‘Tall skinny latte, please,’ she said.
‘Got it. Be just a minute.’
The woman nodded as she pulled out her wallet. She paid for her coffee and, when it was ready, took it to her usual table. Hugh watched her out of the corner of his eye. She sat down and took out her telephone. After about ten minutes, she got up and headed towards the ladies’ room. This was it, Hugh thought.
He waited a moment or two, and then got up himself, passing by her table as he went towards the men’s room. Matt saw him get up, and tried to get his attention. It didn’t work. Hugh put the stuff in her coffee, not even noticing Matt’s expression.
When she got back to her table, the woman sat down and took a long sip of her coffee. It wouldn’t be long now, Hugh thought. He’d better leave. He got up, put a single in the tip jar, and left. He’d just about reached his car when he heard an urgent voice behind him.
Hugh turned around. It was Matt.
‘What?’ he asked. This was annoying. He wanted to get out of there as fast as he could.
‘It’s just – that wasn’t her.’
‘What the hell do you mean it wasn’t her? Of course it was. Same build, same hair, same everything.’
‘No, it wasn’t her. She always gets a tall dark. Once, when I asked her, she said she can’t drink milk or cream. That lady – the one in there – got a latte. You can’t drink a latte if you’re allergic to milk. Sorry, you pranked the wrong lady.’
Matt’s voice seemed to come from farther and farther away as Hugh’s stomach knotted and his throat tightened. There went his money, and Jeannie would not be happy about this. Jeannie!!! Now he understood the mistake he’d made. He’d gotten Jeannie instead of her twin.
Celia smiled just a little as she scrolled through the local news headlines. There it was – a woman identified as Jeannie Sandmayer was found dead in her car about a block from a local Starbucks. Police were investigating. Well, they could investigate all they wanted. She’d been nowhere near the place. Too bad for Jeannie that Celia’d found out what she and that idiot Hugh Townshend were planning. The rest was just a matter of timing. Celia smiled a little more as she thought about the inheritance.