“Stop it! Stop right now!”
Officer Ben Sherman held his hands up in a show of surrender—definitely not innocence—and did his best to stop laughing. It didn’t work.
“Are you gonna pull your gun on me, Officer?” he teased. “Or maybe handcuff me, oooh.”
He got a fistful of flour in his face for his troubles, but it was worth it to see Officer Chickie Brown standing in the middle of her kitchen, coated in flour with chocolate streaked down her cheek and sugar granules stuck to her skin from her hands to her elbows.
“So help me, I will kick your ass out of this kitchen so fast...” She couldn’t keep a straight face either, though, and Ben rubbed at his face, trying to get rid of the flour. “Stop,” Chickie said again, laughing this time. “You’re making it worse.” She ruffled his hair, and a white cloud rose around him—like fairy dust. Or that Pigpen kid from the Peanuts comics.
The door opened and closed, and Ben jumped as he turned, suddenly terrified he was going to see John Cooper standing there with his cell phone out, snapping pictures for the Rogues Gallery. Instead, he saw a blond boy, the spitting image of Chickie, wearing a backpack and lugging a laptop under his arm.
“Uh, hi,” Ben said, trying for a friendly wave. The kid just raised his eyebrow and kept going, shaking his head.
As he disappeared somewhere inside the house—probably going to his room, the sacred haven of all teenagers everywhere—his voice drifted back to them. “It’s not my turn to clean the kitchen tonight, Mom.”
“I know,” Chickie called back, rolling her eyes. “Ben’s going to clean it up.”
She gave Ben her sweetest smile, and Ben groaned, choosing to change the subject.
“I didn’t know you had a son.” She shrugged, and Ben knew enough not to pursue that line of questioning. “He’s not gonna think we... that I... you and I, I mean...”
She laughed. “It’s not a problem.” She turned back to the disaster that was spread across the kitchen counter and dragged her finger through the flour and the cocoa powder that was covering everything. “I don’t really date, so...” She shrugged again, and Ben awkwardly tried to brush the flour off his arms. Chickie started putting away ingredients, and when she said, “Hey, Ben...” in a voice like a little lost kitten, he couldn’t help looking up, words of comfort and concern already forming on his lips.
They faded the instant he heard the click of her phone camera, and he made a grab for it as she held it out of his reach, laughing.
“Give me that!” he insisted, trying hard to get it back without actually pushing her around or accidentally hurting her.
She held him off with a hand to the center of his chest, and he could see that she was pressing buttons with her other thumb.
“What are you doing?” Even as he asked the question, he had a sinking feeling that he knew.
“I’m sure John will like his birthday cake,” she cooed, her tone the most sugary flavor of evil imaginable, “but knowing what you went through to make it for him will just make it even sweeter.”