Tea & Sympathy
A Tea & Sympathy Mystery Book 1
by J. New
Genre: Cozy Mystery
FIRST IN THE TEA & SYMPATHY SERIES!
Lilly looked up just as the bell above the door rang and a familiar face walked in.
“Archie Brown!” she exclaimed, pleased to see him. “I wondered when I’d get a visit from you.”
“Sorry it’s been so long, Lilly.” He said, removing his Trilby hat and giving her a peck on the cheek. “It’s a busy life as a crime reporter, you know.”
“Have a seat and I’ll get you a drink. What do you fancy?”
“Anything to take the edge off and stop me wanting to throw things.”
Lilly raised an eyebrow. This was unlike the Archie she knew. She perused her tea selection then nodded, picking a passionflower blend noted for helping with stress. She chose Rooibos for herself and with both teas made she asked him how life at the newspaper had been since she’d left.
Archie sighed. “Awful, if I’m honest. Abigail Douglas, your replacement, is a complete nightmare. She’s ruined your column and unfortunately has discovered people are still writing to you. She knows about your letterbox outside and she’s on the war path, I’m afraid.”
“I realised there must be a problem when the column was missing from the paper, but it’s hardly my fault. I installed the letterbox because I was getting so many letters. I thought it would trickle off once they got used to Abigail. Looks like that’s not going to be the case though, doesn’t it?”
Archie scoffed. “Well, it’s hardly surprising considering she’s unintentionally ‘outed’ a couple of people in the column already. Infidelity and fraud, would you believe? Didn’t go as far as actually naming them, but gave enough clues so that they’d be recognised by their nearest and dearest. People won’t write in to her if she’s going to splash their problems all over the paper.”
“But she can’t do that, Archie! Doesn’t she realise this is a small town? You can’t walk six feet without bumping into someone you know.”
Lilly broke off for a moment to serve a couple of customers who had come in for their regular supplies.
“Try telling Abigail that,” Archie continued once Lilly had returned. “She’s from a bigger concern, remember. Dealing with large cities where people don’t know their neighbours and sensationalism sells papers. Her advice is dreadful. She’s peddling gossip rather than genuine advice. Between you and me, I think she wrote the last few herself. But don’t repeat that.”
“Of course I won’t. So, if the column is failing, what’s she doing?”
“She’s after my job.”
“What? I saw the article about the thefts at the University, but I thought she was just covering because you were so busy.”
“Oh no. She went behind my back. Unbelievable isn’t it. Apparently the agony aunt thing was just to get her foot in the door. She’s always wanted to be a crime reporter. Says she’s got unique skills and fully expects to win awards and have the nationals fighting to give her a job. She’s completely delusional if you ask me. She can’t get a decent quote anywhere because no one will talk to her, so she exaggerates.”
“I’m sorry, Archie. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“See, that’s why I’m here. For a bit of tea and sympathy.”
Lilly laughed. “You know, that would have been a great name for the shop.”
“And talking of the shop… you’ve done a superb job here, you know. I’m so pleased you were able to put the redundancy money to good use. I don’t know why I felt so worried for you. You’ve got a knack for bouncing back.”
“I’ve had a lot of support from the community though, Archie. The place wouldn’t have worked without them.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Lilly. There’s a reason you’ve got their support. You’re a good person and they like you. You give sound advice and never gossip. Plus, your tea is excellent.” He said, draining his cup.
“Do you want a re-fill?”
“Yes, but I’d better not. Look, there’s another reason I dropped in.”
“Oh?” Lilly questioned, raising an eyebrow. Archie’s expression had changed. She’d seen that look before when he was working on a serious article. “What’s happened?”
“It’s not common knowledge yet.” Archie leaned closer, his voice dropping to a whisper. “But there’s been a body found in the river.”
Lilly gasped. “A body?”
Archie nodded. “I’ve a contact at the police station, as you know. The body of a woman was found early this morning by a couple of joggers.”
Archie shrugged. “It could have been an accident, or maybe suicide. I don’t have much information at the moment. I expect the autopsy will be done over the next few days and we’ll know more then. But be prepared for a possible visit from the authorities. I wanted to be the one to tell you first.”
“Me? But why would they want to see me? Wait, was it someone I know?” A nervous knot had formed in her stomach and she suddenly shivered.
“I assume so. There was a letter from you found in her pocket.”
Although the demonstration was over, the ladies didn’t seem to want to leave. They stood on the terrace talking while Lilly cleared and packed everything away. Elizabeth had brought out glasses of champagne. Jane had slipped inside a few minutes before, but the rest continued to discuss their purchases and the surprising health benefits of tea while sipping an obviously favourite tipple.
Lilly packed up carefully, but efficiently and made several trips through the gate at the side of the house to load up her car. After she’d stowed away the last of her items she made her way back round to the terrace to say her final goodbye.
Elizabeth, Abigail and Isadora were the only ones left on the terrace when she returned. “Ladies, I just want to say thanks again for having me,” Lilly began, but before any of them could respond they heard a terrified scream from inside the house.
The scream had been ghastly and sent all four of them dashing inside in time to see a ghostly looking Lady Gresham running towards them from inside the house. She let out a second shriek, almost colliding with Elizabeth Davenport as she reached out to her, grasping her shoulders. “Elizabeth,” Meredith cried, tears streaking down her face. “It’s Jane. In the powder room.”
“Jane? What about Jane, Meredith?”
“She’s hurt. There’s blood. So much blood!”
“Call the police,” Lilly shouted as she ran to the cloakroom. She flung open the door to find Jane Nolan lying on the floor, eyes closed and head resting in a small pool of blood. “Jane!” Lilly exclaimed, getting down on her knees next to the prone woman. Her lips were pale and Lilly quickly located a deep cut near her throat. Jane’s hands were covered in blood, and Lilly imagined she’d tried to hold back the flow before passing out. She lifted a wrist and tried to locate a pulse. There wasn’t one. “Oh, Jane…” she said, getting up in shock and looking away.
Her eyes fell on the white sink where a small pool of water sat in the basin, stained a pale pink as though someone had just washed their hands. Surely Lady Gresham hadn’t paused to wash her hands before raising the alarm?
Lilly hurried out of the room where she was met with a sea of frightened faces. Isadora was on her mobile with the emergency services. “They want to know if she’s breathing?” she asked Lilly glancing behind her into the room, eyes widening in shock at the grotesque scene.
Lilly shook her head. “No, she’s not breathing. I felt for a pulse. I’m terribly sorry, but I’m afraid she’s dead.”
The fight between John and Morris and the older man’s sudden departure had left an uncomfortable tension in the air, not to mention grave concern for Morris’s safety. The festivities were well and truly over. After listening to several apologies from both Robert and Joanne, Lilly assured them she was fine and not to blame themselves, before retiring. The party broke up and everyone else decided to go to bed, too. Frankly, she was relieved to be alone in her room.
She felt as though she’d only been asleep for a few minutes when she was awakened by shouting. As she came out of her sleep induced haze, the shouting grew louder, accompanied by banging, and she wondered what on earth was happening. She hurriedly got out of bed, flung open the door and ran down the hall, where she found Sarah pounding on a door.
Lilly wasn’t the only one who’d been awakened by the racket Sarah was making. Robert, Joanne, Chloe, Walter, Fiona, Dominic and Edward were all standing in the hallway with torches, trying in vain to calm her down.
“What’s going on?” Lilly asked Chloe
“Aunt Sarah thinks John is in there with Natalie,” the girl whispered.
“Really? Oh, dear…”
“Sarah, for crying out loud, please stop, you’re going to wake dad up,” Robert pleaded. “Not to mention our only paying guest.”
“My husband is in there with our housekeeper, Robert! What do you expect me to do?” Sarah yelled. “This does it, John. I swear, you had better open this door, this minute.” She shouted, pounding on the door even harder. “I knew you were having an affair. I just knew it! Natalie Sampson, when I get my hands on you I’m going to ring your cheating neck. Do you hear me? Open this door, you cowards.”
“Sarah?” a voice said from the end of the hall.
Lilly turned and saw Natalie Sampson in her nightgown, walking towards them with a torch of her own. She looked as though she’d just woken up.
“What’s going on?” she asked, stifling a yawn.
Sarah’s face turned scarlet, and Lilly heard Joanne mutter, “Oh, Sarah,” under her breath.
“Wait a minute,” Natalie said, as the words Sarah had been shouting suddenly registered. “You thought I was in there? With your husband? I dropped off the towels hours ago, Sarah.”
Sarah shook her head. “I… I thought you were. If you’re not in there, why won’t John answer me?”
“You thought I was having an affair with your husband? How dare you? How could you think such a thing?”
“I’m sorry,” Sarah said tearfully. “Why won’t he answer? I know he’s in there.” She resumed the banging on the door, shouting for John.
Lilly glanced at the number four artfully painted on the door, recalling John had gone in there to clean up after Morris had thrown soup at him. Had he not returned to his wife all night?
“Do you think something has happened?” Lilly whispered to Joanne and Robert.
“I don’t know,” Robert said. “Let me get the master key from reception and we’ll find out.”
He was gone less than a minute. He unlocked the door, only to find the security chain was in place.
“John, let us in,” he shouted. When there was no reply, he rammed the door hard with his shoulder, breaking the chain and they all plunged inside.
The food in the evening would be a help yourself style buffet available for an hour between seven thirty and eight thirty, catering as it would to additional friends and distant relatives. But the formal sit down dinner for the main wedding guests was really a lunch time affair. Drinks orders were being placed with the waiting staff and Lilly was happily mixing the signature cocktails and teas behind a makeshift bar, alongside two other barmen who had been hired by Bethany.
The meal was hard work for the staff, but in the end it was deemed to be a resounding success by everyone. A few hours later everyone dispersed to rest, freshen up or change outfits before the evening party, and Lilly, Stacey, Bethany and the rest of the staff made short work of clearing everything away and setting up the ballroom for the evening, before having their own lunch and well-earned break.
At seven o’clock Lilly was once again behind the bar, this time with Stacey at her side, as the first of the evening reception guests began to arrive, and by nine, after everyone had availed themselves of the food and the catering staff were starting the clear up, the ballroom was in full swing, with the live band, having played a slow number for the bride and groom’s first dance, now belting out tunes from the thirties and forties.
“They look so happy together, Lilly. I’m so glad you were able to talk Yasemin round earlier. It could have been a disaster.”
“I can’t take the credit, Stacey. That was all Edmund. But look at her face. She is blissfully happy. I think she would have regretted it forever if she’d run away.”
“Can I have a pink gin fizz, darling?” an elderly man, ironically dressed like a Prohibition era gangster, asked her. Even more apt considering she also happened to be serving alcohol in teacups.
“Of course,” she replied with a smile, reaching for the cocktail shaker.
Just at that minute, the ballroom was plunged into darkness. After a few faltering notes, the band stopped playing altogether and Bruce made an announcement. “Apologies everyone. If you all remain where you are for a moment, I’ll go and see what the problem is. Don’t worry, I’ll have the lights back on in no time.”
“I bet a power cut wasn’t in Bethany’s meticulous plans,” Lilly said to Stacey. “She’ll go mad when she gets back to the kitchen as everything works on electricity.”
“Hopefully Bruce will get the power back on soon.”
A few minutes ticked by and just when Lilly thought the party would have to end, the lights came back on. A split second later, there was a ghastly scream.
Several of the other vendors, shocked and saddened at what had happened to Laura’s beautiful inventory, also came forward to help, murmuring commiserations.
Anywhere there were larger pieces of glass, Laura sifted through to see if anything could be saved and repaired. Sadly, there was very little that could be fixed. As she worked, Lilly spotted among the debris on the table the little grey cat she’d been coming originally to purchase, and picked it up. One of the ears had snapped in half, but this made Lilly grin. She took it over to Laura.
“I’d like to buy this, Laura.”
“But it’s broken.”
“I know, but so is my cat. I already thought it resembled him, but now it couldn’t be more perfect. Earl Grey has part of his ear missing, too. Courtesy of street fight when he was a stray, probably. Do you think you could touch up around the sharp bit so I don’t cut myself?”
“Yes, of course I can, but, Lilly, you aren’t buying a broken ornament because you feel sorry for me, are you?”
“Absolutely not. I was going to buy it anyway and now, for me at least, it’s better than it was originally. I’m so sorry this had to happen to you, Laura. I know how much money and time you’ve invested. I’m really heartbroken for you.”
“Me too. It takes hours just to make one of these little animals. But on the bright side, I am insured. It just means I don’t have much to sell again this year. But now we’ve tidied up, I’ll display what’s left and see how it goes. Thanks so much for helping me clean up.”
It had taken over an hour to get Laura’s stall back up and running, then Lilly left her to go back to her tea shop. She needed to see if Stacey and James needed any help.
As she navigated her way through the vendors and back out onto the row where the shop was, she heard sirens, and by the time she got there, she found an ambulance parked outside. She hurried over and, to her relief, found Stacey and James standing outside the door.
“I was helping a customer out to her car with a purchase when I saw a man had passed out on the pavement over there,” Stacey said, pointing to the back of the row of vendors. “So I called an ambulance.”
“Who is it?” she asked, approaching the paramedics, who were lifting a loaded stretcher.
Her heart thumped as she briefly looked at the man they were carrying before one of them pulled up the blanket to cover his head.
“I’m sorry,” one of the paramedics said to her, obviously recognising her distress. “I’m afraid he’s dead. Did you know him?”
Lilly nodded. “Yes.”
J. New is the author of The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mysteries, traditional English whodunits with a twist, set in the 1930’s. Known for their clever humour as well as the interesting slant on the traditional whodunit, they have all achieved Bestseller status on Amazon. J. New also writes the Finch and Fischer contemporary cozy crime series and (coming in 2021) the Will Sharpe Mysteries set in her hometown during the 1960’s. Her books have sold over one hundred-thousand copies worldwide.
Jacquie was born in West Yorkshire, England. She studied art and design and after qualifying began work as an interior designer, moving onto fine art restoration and animal portraiture before making the decision to pursue her lifelong ambition to write. She now writes full time and lives with her partner of twenty-one years, two dogs and five cats, all of whom she rescued.
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