Meriel walked into the café and looked around. She spotted Agent Richards in a back booth and headed towards him. “Hey, Agent Richards.” She greeted him, sliding into the other side of the booth. He looked good in a suit, but even better in casual attire.
“Hey.” He responded. “It’s just Sam, okay? I’m off duty.”
Meriel raised an eye brow. “Off duty, huh? I thought you invited me here to talk about the case? Did they find the animal yet?”
“No, it’s still out there. And yes. I did want to talk to you. How long had you known Melina?”
Right to business then, Mer thought. The waitress came by and Meriel ordered Coke while the Agent requested a beer. After she walked away, Meriel addressed the question. “A few months. I only opened my bakery in April. I interviewed her March.”
“And it’s now June. You’ve been in town for six months, is that correct?”
Meriel nodded, smiling politely as the waitress set down their drinks and took their food order. The both requested salad. “About yeah. I moved here in January.”
Sam took a drink of his beer. “Why did you move here?”
Meriel glanced away. She didn’t want to lie, but she had no choice. “I, ah, was looking to own my own business. Here seemed as good of place as any.”
Sam noticed her nervous gestures but didn’t call her out on it. She was hiding something. “You’re doing good for yourself.”
Meriel blushed. “I’m trying my best. It hasn’t been easy, but then nothing really is. Melina was a great manager. She really knew her stuff. She’s irreplaceable. And Lynn kept me afloat with the finances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m devastated by their loss but from a business standpoint I’m not sure what I’m going to do.” She frowned, looking down at her clasped hands on the table.
Sam reached over and placed a hand on hers. “Meriel. is there any chance someone could be targeting you? You seem the most affected by these tragedies.”
Meriel didn’t look up from their hands. His hand was warm and comforting but something seemed to be missing. There were no emotions behind the action. She thought she’d get used to the emptiness being around him, but it bothered her. “It’s just a coincidence. It has to be.” She glanced up at him with sad eyes.
Sam squeezed her hands with his before drawing back. The waitress had come with their food and set plates down between them. Meriel picked up a fork. “How long have you worked for the FBI?” She asked, changing the subject.
Sam unwrapped his silverware and picked up his fork. “Awhile. Feels like forever.”
Meriel did the same, except the for when she touched the fork it burned. She quickly dropped it to the floor. The waitress came and picked it up.” I’ll get you a clean one.”
Meriel thanked the waitress and looked at Sam.” I can be such a klutz sometimes. You should see me in the kitchen.”
Sam bit the inside of his cheek. “From what I here, you make magic. People rave about your baked goods.”
Meriel blushed as the waitress replaced her fork. This one didn’t burn. It was odd that the first one would be silver. “You’ve been asking around about me?”
“I talked to a few people around the café before you came and read the online reviews. Heavenly Confections is the place to go.”
“I hope I can keep it that way. My friend Kristy is going to help until I can get things back together. I’d really be lost without her.”
Sam frowned. “So, she’s another person you depend on a lot?”
“More than you know.”
Sam paused for a moment. “You mean, you two are?”
“You know. A couple.”
“What? No. Not like that. I’m into guys. Not that there would be anything wrong if I wasn’t, but I am…into guys.” Into you. Meriel added to herself. She realized she had started to babble. “What I meant is that she’s been there for me since I moved here. She understands my…flaws. She’s the best friend I ever had.” Meriel looks away again. Growing up she hadn’t had many friends. Being empathic at a young age was hard. Being around others was nearly impossible until she learned control. Even then, her parents had home schooled her.
Sam nodded as he put down his fork and took out his wallet. “I’m sorry to cut this short, but I’ve got to go.” He placed money on the table. “Please finish your meal. I’ll be in touch.”
Meriel was thrown off by the sudden change in demeanor. She was even a little hurt and disappointed. Did she say something to scare him away? “Umm, okay.” Was all she could manage before he slid out of the booth and hurried off.
Though watching him leave wasn’t entirely bad. It was a good view, but Meriel had the feeling she had just blown it.
* * *
Sam rushed out of the café and got into his truck. He called the head officer and asked for Kristy Larson’s address. He rushed to the apartment building where the details chive met him. Sam couldn’t explain it, but he had a bad feeling that Kristy would be the next victim. Since being soulless, he learned not to question his instincts. They were usually right.
On the other hand, he couldn’t get Meriel off his mind. He could care less if he hurt her feelings by ditching her, so he told himself. The look on her face haunted him though. Someone would die tonight, and he had two targets. He couldn’t protect them both. He had to choose one. “Damn it.” He muttered as he got out of the truck to meet with the detective. He instructed for somebody to be posted outside Kristy’s door and to call the moment they heard anything strange. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he was more interested in keeping Meriel safe.