The cupcake tin landed with a clangy thud on the countertop, jolting Mirabelle from her fixed stare on the clock.
4:30 it read.
She had now been awake for 24 hours and she could feel the weight of a sleepless night on her shoulders as she scooped a rich, chocolaty batter into the cups of the tin.
"So what kind of cupcake am I baking here?" Mirabelle asked with a raised eyebrow.
April turned from her spot at a giant steel mixer along the wall of the Queen Pin bakery and moved toward her friend.
"It's a twist on your chocolate-coconut cupcakes," she said, with a shy grin.
"Mmmhmmm," April said, tossing a fuchsia towel aside before resting her elbows on the counter across from Mirabelle.
"What kind of twist? You know I am the baker over here."
"Of course I do. It's just that … that I felt a bit inspired last night at the store and decided to clean out the Almond Joy stock," April replied. "I'm calling it the 'Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut' Cupcake."
Mirabelle picked up the towel and threw it at the redhead.
"Funny. Very funny."
April grabbed the towel and swung it over her gray T-shirt-covered shoulder.
"I guess that answers the question I've been trying not to ask you," she said. "Last night didn't go so well?"
Mirabelle finished scooping the last cupcake and pushed away the tin. She turned her head up so that her brown eyes met April's.
"If by 'didn't go well' you mean that I saw a website up on the computer at Waynedale Tavern," she started. "A very curious website."
"Curious," April said on her way to the oven. "Was it something nasty?"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that. More like tools – crow bars and the like."
The door to the oven slammed shut and April's eyes grew big.
"Yeah. That was my look," Mirabelle said.
"Maybe it was just …"
"Just Wade picking out more supplies for his antics."
"You know," April started, "I bet there are ton more people than the vandal who owns a crow bar. Lots of people own guns and look at gun websites but don't go out and shoot people."
The stainless steel prep table reverberated like a drum as Mirabelle threw her arms on the table.
"I am so sick of you and your … your … your chill attitude about all of this," Mirabelle screamed. "Everything is not going to be just OK. It's not a joke. My account books are not a joke. You know how much business I've lost in the past week. Fifty percent down in one week!
"I am not a nut, and I most certainly don't feel like a cupcake."
"I am sorry," April mumbled, her voice shaking. "I was just trying to … I just didn't want to ..."
"Whatever," Mirabelle said, her face red and brown eyes glassy with tears. Her hands shook as she took her ponytail and began to wind her hair into a simple braid. "I am going to go take out the trash."
She clumsily tied the black bag and jerked it up, knocking over the black can behind her.
"You know, sometimes I just need you to be my friend," she said, turning toward April before pushing open the back door.
The sky was still dark as Mirabelle stepped out into the alley, but she turned knowingly toward the Dumpster. The black plastic bag thumped against her leg as she took quick and angry steps down the cobblestone.
"Why can't anyone be on my side?" she muttered as she swung the bag and heaved it into the bin. "Why can't they just believe me?"
With a thud, the bag landed in the heap and Mirabelle turned to head back to the bakery.
And then froze.
Underneath the security light of a nearby business was a figure – a capped figure – walking toward her with his head down. Mirabelle watched as he tossed something from hand to hand, unaware that she was standing next to the Dumpster.
"Ohmygod, ohmygod," Mirabelle thought, backing up slowly on her tiptoes toward the bakery. With each step she took, she felt another hair on her arm rise and despite the hot July morning, chills went up her spine.
Mirabelle's sneaker made a sharp noise against the stone wet with dew and humidity. Mirabelle froze again and looked up.
The man was still ambling down the alley toward her, still tossing what looked like a bar between his hands. She waited a moment to make sure his gaze stayed down before continuing her backward prance toward the bakery.
Mirabelle felt behind her for the cracked open door and fell into the kitchen with a loud sigh.
"OHMYGOD," Mirabelle said.
"What?" April said.
"There … is … someone … in … the … alley," Mirabelle replied breathlessly.
"Like a homeless person?" April said, rushing to her friend who had collapsed on the counter.
"No," Mirabelle said shaking her head violently. "No. He's wearing the same hat as the guy outside the coffee shop – the one who damaged the cars that day.
"I think it's the vandal. I think it's Wade."
Mirabelle looked up at her friend, her wide brown eyes searching for snarky disapproval, but April looked stunned.
"What should we do?" the redhead finally asked after what seemed liked years of silence.
"I don't know … call the police?"
"No. They won't get here in time," April said. "We have to do something."
She moved from the counter and began searching the shelf underneath the table. Whisks and spatulas clanged on the stainless steel as her hands moved furiously through the tools.
"I got it," April said as she stood up victoriously.
"Are you serious?" Mirabelle gasped. "For once, I don't think I'm the crazy one."
"All those years of softball are about to come in handy, my friend."
April moved to the back of the bakery and peeked her head out the door.
"I see him," she whispered. "Hold on."
April kicked the door open and threw a wooden rolling pin with such force that the TinCaps would sure to be knocking down the Queen Pin door.
And then there was silence. Mirabelle covered her mouth to muffle the gasp and stared fearfully at the door.
April turned around.
"I think I got him."