Welcome to The Great Chocolate Conspiracy! Chocolate Digestive biscuits have disappeared from the shelves right across the eastern seaboard of the USA, and now the shortage has spread to London. Detective Chief Inspector Sam Adamson and his international team of investigators from the Metropolitan Police’s Confectionery Crimes Unit (CCU) have been tasked to solve the mystery.
This is the fourth installment of this multi-part flash fiction story that originated during a chat between the authors on Twitter. You can read how it all began here (links to all the installments will be added to the author list as they are posted).
The next installment will appear on Friday, October 1 at Laura Eno’s A Shift In Dimensions. You can keep up with developments in the meantime by following the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter.
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The train rolled into the Foggy Bottom Station right on time. The Crumblies disembarked and made their way up to the street, where crowds of commuters hurried to work. Juniper and Motley spotted the coffee shop on the corner at the same moment.
“We have a few minutes,” Juniper said. “Let’s stop for an espresso to go, yes?”
“Yes,” Motley agreed. “I’d kill for another cup of coffee. It’ll make the briefing more bearable.”
“I could go for a cuppa, myself,” Adamson said.
Marier sighed. “I’d really love a cafe mocha. Guess I’ll have to find a new favorite beverage now the chocolate’s gone.”
They approached the coffee shop, their faces grim as they thought of the lack of chocolate.
People were crowding the coffee shop’s open doors, talking loudly. Special Agent La Paglia elbowed her way out of the coffee shop to the CCU. She spoke into a radio and motioned the Crumblies to a safe distance.
“What the bloody hell?” Adamson bellowed. La Paglia smoothed her hair and took a deep breath.
“I was called here about an hour ago,” she said. “I have a bomb squad in there. When they give the all-clear, you can go in to have your own look.”
“Bomb squad?” Marier said. She and Adamson exchanged a look.
La Paglia nodded. “When the shop opened, the manager found a box of chocolates on the counter. A red heart Valentine box, no less, with a bow and everything. At least he had the good sense to call 9-1-1 before he opened it. As you can see, the uniforms are keeping the customers out of the shop, but only just.”
“Have any other shops been hit?” Adamson said. La Paglia shook her head.
“Just this one, only blocks from the State Department where our briefing is scheduled. And it’s the shop closest to the Foggy Bottom Station, where you arrived for said briefing.”
She watched as understanding settled on each of their faces. They all began talking at once. She raised her hand to quiet them, and listened to a man’s voice speaking over her radio.
“Understood,” she answered, and said to the Crumblies, “They’ve neutralized the device. They’re ready for you now.”
They waded through the crowd, and police officers wrestled the shop doors closed behind them, muffling the angry shouts of people denied their morning coffee. A man in a suit handed them each a pair of latex gloves.
“Confectionary Crimes Unit, this is my partner, Special Agent Jim Bronyaur,” La Paglia said. “He can get you up to speed.”
Bronyaur nodded tersely and led them to the counter. The large red Valentine candy box lay open, and an explosives specialist was gingerly lifting bonbons out of it and placing them in a containment vessel.
“It’s a sophisticated device,” Bronyaur said. “It resembles the one that your headquarters received eight months ago. We’ll have it at our lab in a few minutes, and we’ll be able to tell you everything about the components, even down to the chemical makeup of the chocolate, in hours.”
“There’s something else you should see,” La Paglia said. She picked up a white gift card with a latex-gloved hand and passed it to Adamson. “This was on top of the box. It’s addressed to you. We’ve already dusted it for prints. It’s clean.”
Adamson frowned at the card a moment and handed it to Marier. She slid a glossy red Valentine out of the envelope and read it aloud.
With absence the heart grows fonder
You’ll search wherever I wander
But I’m always ahead
In circles the Crumblies I’ve led
Now you’ve no coffee to help you ponder
P.S. This is only the beginning, dear Crumblies. Hope your caffeine withdrawals aren’t too severe. Happy hunting, Cacao Nut
They looked at each other in growing horror. Juniper shook her head.
“Worst. Limerick. Ever,” she murmured. Motley took the card and examined it.
“Childish handwriting,” she said. “I’d like a photocopy so I can study it more thoroughly. We might learn something about the suspect’s psychology. This paper stock is mass-produced. It’ll be difficult to trace. Agents, I assume you’ll get someone on that right away?” She handed the card back to La Paglia, who nodded.
“Seriously, they can’t steal all the coffee, too,” Marier said. “Why chocolate AND coffee?”
“Because they go together so bleeding well,” Adamson said. “Each enhances the flavor of the other. Match made in heaven. If these fiends do away with both, why, civilization will fall apart.”
“Let’s not get dramatic,” Bronyaur said, smiling. But when he saw the stony looks of the CCU directed at him, he coughed.
“Exploding chocolate,” Adamson mused. “And now coffee’s at risk. We should assume they’ll process it to explode, too. Could they be weaponizing all our favorite things? Bastards!”
“But wait,” Marier said. “They knew we were in D.C. They knew our itinerary and every step we’ve taken so far. They even knew we’d want to stop at this particular coffee shop. They left us a note on the bomb, for the love of Mike.”
“Could they have a spy among us?” Juniper said. “ Or are they someone we know?”
“We should get to the State Department,” La Paglia said. “I rescheduled the briefing for 10 A.M. We can discuss everything there. It’ll be more secure, and we’ll have preliminary reports on what evidence we’ve got. I have a car waiting out back. Let’s go.”
They followed her out to a black S.U.V. The vehicle kept to side streets to reach the State Department.
“And after all this, we still have to sit through a bloody briefing,” Adamson grumbled to Marier.