Bulletproof Barista

Bulletproof Barista

by Cleo Coyle
Bulletproof Barista

Bulletproof Barista

by Cleo Coyle


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When a film crew’s location shoot delivers an actual shooting, Clare Cosi finds herself at the scene of a true crime in this showstopping entry in the beloved Coffeehouse Mysteries from New York Times bestselling author Cleo Coyle.

Only Murders in Gotham, the smash-hit streaming program, is famous for filming in authentic New York locations and using real New Yorkers as extras. For its second season, they’ve chosen to spotlight the century-old Village Blend and its quirky crew of baristas. Shop manager and master roaster Clare Cosi is beyond thrilled, especially when her superb bulletproof coffee lands her a craft services contract for the production.
Madame, the eccentric octogenarian owner of the landmark shop, reveals an old kinship with the star of the show, comedian Jerry Sullivan. Now a Hollywood legend, Jerry frequented the Blend during his early years performing in Greenwich Village comedy clubs. But the past may hold more than nostalgia for Jerry. Suspicious accidents begin plaguing his shoot. Then a real bullet is fired from a stage gun, and Clare becomes convinced something sinister is afoot.
While Jerry’s production moves to exciting new locations, Clare keeps the coffee flowing—and her investigation going—even as a murderer lurks in the wings. But can she root out the rotten player in this Big Apple production before the lights go out on her?
Includes a stellar menu of surefire recipes!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593197592
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/14/2023
Series: Coffeehouse Mystery Series , #20
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 21,164
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

About The Author
CLEO COYLE is the New York Times bestselling pseudonym for Alice Alfonsi, writing popular fiction in collaboration with her husband, Marc Cerasini. With more than one million books sold, Alice and Marc are the authors of two long-running, "relentlessly entertaining" (Criminal Element) mystery series: The Coffeehouse Mysteries and Haunted Bookshop Mysteries. Cleo Coyle has been awarded starred reviews by Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews and honored with Best of Year selections by multiple reviewers. In addition to their popular mysteries, Alice and Marc have written many works of fiction and nonfiction for adults and children. They are also accomplished tie-in writers who have created bestselling properties for Lucasfilm, NBC, Fox, Disney, Imagine, Toho, and MGM. Originally from Western Pennsylvania, Alice and Marc live in New York City, where they haunt coffeehouses, hunt ghosts, wrangle rescue cats, cook like crazy, and write independently and together.

Read an Excerpt


If it wasn't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever.

-David Letterman

Greenwich Village, New York

Present Day

After I tied and retied my ponytail, slipped into a fresh Village Blend apron and straightened it, I wondered if I might look more "managerial" without it, so I took it off. That's when I noticed the Appalachian Trail of wrinkles on my thin cotton sweater and put the apron back on.

Esther Best watched this anxious process with a critical eye. As I slicked back my ponytail (yet again), my most outspoken barista finally spoke.

"I hope you're finished fussing, Ms. Boss. It's distressing to see a manic Clare Cosi." With a twist of her zaftig hips, Esther punctuated her statement by sliding a wrought iron chair into place.

"But I'm not manic," I protested as I reapplied lip gloss while checking my reflection in the espresso tamper's chrome.

"Okay, I'll be blunt. You're acting bat guano crazy! You're behaving like a refugee from a 1950s sock hop who's about to meet Elvis."

"I'm about to meet Jerry Sullivan, Esther. Jerry is my Elvis. And he'll be right here, in our coffeehouse, any minute!"

"Oh, come on. It's not like he's a superstar recording artist or something. He's just a comedian."

"Jerry Sullivan is not just a comedian. When I was growing up, he . . . well, let's just say he means a lot to me . . ."

Secretly, I feared I'd be tongue-tied the moment I met him, but I hoped that someday I could tell the man how much his comedy meant to a girl brought up in a struggling corner of Western Pennsylvania. Despite the dreariness of mill town life, my mother's desertion of me and my father, and eating my feelings through a chunky monkey childhood, Jerry made me laugh, no matter how low or unattractive I felt. His humor reassured me that I wasn't crazy simply because I thought the whole world was.

"Look at her!" Esther threw up her arms. "Ms. Boss is actually gushing."

"Maybe I am. But in my view, Jerry Sullivan deserves a little gushing-and fussing. And, by the way, if you're so blasé about his visit, why did you and Nancy come in two hours early?"

Tucker Burton, my trusted assistant manager by day and off-off-Broadway's favorite thespian by night, leaned his lanky form against the coffee bar, flipped back his floppy brown mop, and drawled-

"You tell 'em, Clare. Show business runs on fandom like yours."

"And mine!" Nancy Kelly, our youngest (and most enthusiastic) barista, shook her wheat-colored braids. "I mean, okay, I don't know much about Jerry Sullivan's history, but I do know he's the star of Only Murders in Gotham and he's coming to our coffeehouse!"

And why not? I thought. Our century-old shop was a singular destination with its restored plank floors, cozy fireplaces, and romantic wall of French doors. But the Village Blend's atmosphere was only part of its charm. Our coffeehouse served some of the finest sourced beans in the world and boasted a colorful history with roots that ran directly through the bohemian life of Greenwich Village.

For decades, aspiring actors, writers, musicians, and artists sipped espressos at our marble-topped tables and crashed in our upstairs lounge when they couldn't make it home (or pay the rent). We had so many framed sketches, paintings, and napkin doodles from patrons who'd made it big that I'd become a curator as well as a master roaster, rotating the displays on our walls like the director of a pop art gallery.

On the other hand, as New Yorkers themselves could tell you, movie shoots were commonplace all over our five boroughs: from Times Square to Wall Street; the Brooklyn Bridge to Highbridge; a stoop in Woodside, Queens, to the steps of the Metropolitan Museum. It seemed inevitable that our Village Blend would one day become a shooting location. And I had to admit, the timing was fortuitous.

The rise of remote work had emptied many of the offices around us, and foot traffic was down. I knew that being featured on Jerry Sullivan's show would not only reraise our local profile, but would also make us a national, even international, fan-tourist destination.

"I cannot wait to meet him!" Nancy cried (interrupting my wishful retail thinking).

Esther rolled her Goth-lined eyes. "Forgive the exuberance of my starstruck roommate over a single streaming season of whodunit dramedy. Nancy is thrilled when that awful mime on Christopher Street pays us a visit."

"She has every reason to be thrilled," asserted Dante Silva, my artista barista. Born and raised in a little New England town, Dante was a fine arts painter who continually found outlets for his talent, including designing the mélange of tattoos on his arms, which he folded now in mild annoyance. "You might be blasé about meeting celebrities, Esther, but I'm excited, too. I've been a Jerry Sullivan fan since I saw Chucklehead in the fifth grade. My friends and I went to our quad cinema three times in one week just so we could see the movie again."

Esther smirked. "Not much to do in Rhode Island, eh? Well, now we know why the Michelangelo of Latte Art came in early."

"Just like you, Esther," Dante countered.

"It was Nancy's idea. I only came because I didn't want her riding the subway alone-"

"Um. We walked," Nancy said.

"Enough!" Tucker clapped his hands for silence. "Wanting to meet a celeb is perfectly understandable. And by the way, Dante, on that list of Jerry Sullivan movies, don't forget Fatherhood and Daddy Plans a Wedding. Even the sequel, Daddy Plans Another Wedding, has its moments."

Esther raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised at you, Mr. Off-Off Broadway. I thought you were a nonconforming bohemian thespian, but it sounds to me like you're a fan of Jerry Sullivan, too."

"Of course," Tuck replied with a finger snap. "He has impeccable comic timing. And you know I've done more than cabarets and experimental theater. I've scored series television and soap roles for years. Heck, I've even done reality TV and game shows."

"Oh, now I get it!" Esther stabbed the air with an accusing finger. "You're excited because Only Murders in Gotham gives speaking roles to real New Yorkers, and you're angling for a part."

Tuck stood tall. "An actor is always looking for a new challenge-and it never hurts to be cast in a hit show."

"Which he will be," I informed them all with a mama bear-proud grin.

"What? Really?!" Nancy clapped her hands. "Tucker, you didn't say a word! How did it happen?"

"Our bighearted boss sang my praises to the location scout and casting director. I sent over my demo reel and landed a speaking role-a very small one."

"Who cares how small it is!" Dante slapped him on the back. "You'll be in a hit streaming show, filmed at the Village Blend. That's fantastic!"

"Well, I'm less than impressed," Esther replied with a huff.

Nancy rolled her eyes. "That's because you never watched Only Murders in Gotham. And you should. It's so much fun! The show starts with a murder, but the story has lots of twists and turns that keep you guessing the whole time-and you never know which cast member is going to drop dead next."

"Yeah." Dante nodded. "And they shoot everything at real New York locations. The entire first season was filmed in and around the Dakota building on 72nd Street. It was cool to see the John Lennon tribute mural I painted. You can spot it in the background of the outdoor scenes. Last week the construction crew finished their restoration and tore down the temporary plywood walls. But thanks to Only Murders in Gotham, my mural will live forever in the digital realm."

"I binge-watched the first season," Nancy confessed, "but I couldn't figure out who the killer was. And I totally love Kylee Ferris in the show."

Esther turned to her roommate. "You're two for two, Nancy. An old comedian and a bubbleheaded teenage pop star."

"Kylee Ferris is not a teenager. Not anymore. She's the same age as me."

"Chronologically or emotionally?" Esther huffed.

Tuck shook a finger in Esther's face. "Now I'm surprised at you."

"Why is that?"

"You're a slam poet, aren't you? You should appreciate good wordsmithery. And the writing on Jerry's show is tight and clever. With all the daydreams his character experiences, the audience is always on the edge of their seats, trying to guess what's real and what's not-"

"Exactly!" Nancy clapped her hands. "You just have to keep watching and waiting for the giveaway, that moment when you realize it's all in Jerry's head. Or not."

"The first season's climax in Central Park's Strawberry Fields was inspired," Tucker said. "Jerry's ad-libs are great, too."

"So entertaining," I agreed. "And did you notice? Jerry cowrote every episode. He really is a genius. I even remember Jerry from before he made any movies. When he was on The Coffey Break-"

Nancy blinked. "He did a show about coffee?"

"Coffey with a y," I explained. "The Coffey Break was a sketch comedy hour hosted by an older comedian named Dan Coffey. Jerry Sullivan was the costar."

Esther shook her head. "Nope. Never heard of him."

"I've seen some sketches on YouTube," Tucker said. "That slapstick thing they called Lean on Louey was sidesplitting: Three Stooges with a Godfather twist."

"I thought the TV detective spoof Just One More Thing was funny, too," I said. "Especially if you ever watched Columbo."

"The only thing I didn't love were those sketches with the smarmy How's This for a Deal? character." Tucker mock shuddered. "They were just creepy."

"Well, it all sounds funny to me," Nancy said. "Why haven't I ever heard about this show?"

"It aired many years ago," I told her. "Before Jerry became a stand-up sensation, and before all the movies. There weren't many episodes, either. The show was canceled in the middle of the first season. One week it was on, and the next week gone. Low ratings, I guess."

"Well, Mr. Sullivan has a hit now," Nancy proclaimed. "And he's going to film an episode right here in our-OMIGOSH, LOOK, EVERYONE! HERE HE COMES!"

With all speed, Nancy straightened her blue Village Blend apron and swept back her braids. Dante joined her on the lookout at our line of French doors, where together they scanned the side street.

"Where is he? I don't see him!"

"There! That big limo." Nancy pointed. "That's got to be him."

It was too late to fuss any further with my apron and hair. All I could do now was dab on fresh lip gloss and approach our front door.

"Which limo?" Dante asked.

"I'm pretty sure Nancy meant the one that just rolled completely past our shop," Esther cracked.

Nancy's shoulders sagged. "Esther's right. Maybe we closed the coffeehouse for nothing and Jerry isn't coming after all."

Just then, a blazing red e-bike braked in the bicycle lane outside our Hudson Street entrance. The rider, tall and trim in denims and a black leather jacket, had his face shielded by a scarlet helmet with a tinted visor. As I watched, he rolled his ride onto the sidewalk. When the man pulled off his helmet, I immediately recognized the strong jaw, piercing gray eyes, wry grin, and signature silver hair of my idol.

Jolted, I had to bite my cheek to keep from screaming like some sock hop fan meeting Elvis. (Okay, so Esther was right.)

My heart began pounding and my mouth suddenly went dry as Jerry Sullivan placed his helmet under his arm and approached our front door. For a moment, I completely froze. It was Tucker, veteran of stage and small screen, who pulled us together with the clap of his hands-

"Showtime, folks!"


Should we act nonchalant?" Dante whispered.

Swallowing my nerves, I said, "Just be yourselves," hoping to take my own advice as I unlocked the front door.

With my staff flanking me, I greeted Jerry Sullivan as he walked in. I was glad my voice didn't quaver when I calmly said-

"Welcome to the Village Blend, Mr. Sullivan. I'm Clare Cosi."

Extending my hand in greeting, I was equally happy to see it wasn't shaking like a leaf in a nor'easter.

Jerry beamed, flashing that same crooked smile featured on the famous poster for Chucklehead. His gray eyes were bright with warmth as they gazed into mine, and my breath caught when he gripped my hand.

I couldn't help it.

On the screen, Jerry Sullivan displayed undeniable charisma. In the flesh, his presence was almost overwhelming. The man radiated dynamic energy. I could feel it. And though he was two decades my senior, I found him magnetically attractive. Old Hollywood had two words for what I was experiencing: Star Quality.

"How's this for a deal?" Jerry said-and my smile widened at the reference to that old sketch. "You can call me Jerry if I can call you Clare. Is it a deal, Clare?"

"Deal, Jerry."

Relieved I'd managed to greet this comedy icon without making a fangirl fool of myself, I moved to introduce my baristas-and backed into a wrought iron chair. Legs tangled, I landed on my posterior with a horrified "Whoof!" followed by my reflexive "Son of a bunny!" Both of which were drowned out by the earsplitting clang of the metal chair hitting the floor.

A pair of arms quickly reached down to untangle me from the chair. I was sure my face was cherry red when I realized it was Jerry himself who was helping me to my feet.

"I'm okay, I'm okay."

Though he tried to put on a concerned face, Jerry couldn't stop himself from laughing. "That was some pratfall, Clare. You may be a natural comedian. Would you consider repeating that stunt for my show? It's a great opportunity. You'll be getting laughs from Seattle to Singapore."

"I'll stick with roasting coffee, if you don't mind. It's the business I know." Rubbing my rump, I felt the heat on my cheeks (the ones on my face) and declared-

"Wow, that was embarrassing."

"And with that, my dear Clare, you just summed up what life is like in my business."

The comedian's gaze swept past me and my baristas, to scan the Village Blend's interior. His smile deepened, though his sharp gaze seemed to cloud a little with sadness or maybe regret? I couldn't tell which.

"This place looks shinier than I remember. But it hasn't changed." Then that wry grin returned. "It's kind of like visiting your old elementary school. Everything's the same, yet different somehow . . . smaller."

"Then you've been here before?"

Jerry nodded as he continued to look around. "Many years ago . . ."

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