Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Finding Strength

I’m never going to be able to get used to that smell.

The usual smell of a Krispy Kreme storefront is sugary and tempting enough to begin with, but now… now there’s that caramelized quality to the air. And there’s a boiled-over vat of chocolate sauce visible through the shattered windows, the smoke-dark shards of glass framing the image as beams of light dance and bob and weave through the store, courtesy of the evidence collectors waving their Maglites around…

“Jones! Detective Jones!”

I rip my gaze from the blackened remains of the donut conveyor belts and turn to see Lisa Pelham -- better known to the Maryland cops as Lisey -- waving her arm at me. I nod, and the uniforms let her under the yellow tape to come over to me.

“So,” she says. “Second one this week?”

“And eight altogether,” I say. “The whole northeast is getting hit; one in New York, plus the D.C. store, and two each in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The Rockland location’s the only one left in the state, and it’s under guard now.”

“Still no casualties?”

“No. All the jobs done at night after closing.” I don’t mention that there’s a 24-hour Krispy Kreme in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m worried about them.

“Any suspects?”

“We are currently pursuing a number of leads and feel confident that the perpetrators will be brought to justice swiftly.”

“Aw, come on, Natalie.” Lisey’s shoulders slump. “Don’t give me the party line. Off the record, okay? What the hell is going on? Competitors? Those no-trans-fat nutjobs from New York?” She gives the store a glance over my shoulder, simultaneously pained and disbelieving. “I mean, come on,” she says again. “Who would do something like this?”

I resist the urge to look back. I’m sure the evidence guys are taking the photos and collecting the samples we need. I’ve already walked through once. That’s enough. I’ll come back again when the place is cold… if I have to.

I look Lisey in the eyes.

“I don’t know. The people who run the Cinnabons and the Dunkin Donuts… they’re scared. Maybe there’s someone else we haven’t talked to, but the ones we’ve met are being straight with us. There’s no way they’re behind it. And the trans-fat types you’re talking about clearly prefer legislation to…” I pause, and I get the smell in my nose again. Smoke. Char. Burnt paper and sugar and dough. “Well, to this.”

I catch that pained expression from Lisey again, and I know that it’s only years of police training -- and years of poker playing -- that are keeping the same expression from crossing my own face.

It’s heartbreak.

I touch Lisey on the shoulder. “I’ll let you know the second I get something. You. And we can talk about what gets reported afterwards.”

Lisey nods, and walks back towards the yellow tape.

A still-smoldering bale of napkins gets shoved outside the store’s front door.

Fucking job.

Fucking diet. You’d think losing the stores would make it easier, but now, knowing that I can’t just go get one, even if I wanted it…

The glazed at Dunkin don’t even come close.

I wonder how long a drive it is to Alexandria.

I wonder if there are any Weight Watchers meetings this late at night.

Inspired by a Writer's Digest writing prompt: a police detective is assigned to a case involving arson at several Krispy Kreme doughnut shops.

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