The weather officials hadn’t forecast rain, but it was pouring from the sky like someone had left the garden hose running. Jonathan Farrell’s navy blue overcoat, much like his patience, was far too thin. He shivered hard as giant rain droplets rolled off the small black umbrella he was holding and down the inside of his coat.
‘I hate this fucking rain.’ He ground his teeth together.
Jonathan’s mood was more down than up these days and the weather reflected it. He trundled along, trying to avoid the backsplash from the passing cars as they drove too fast through puddles.
The town of Spelling in North Hampshire was less attractive in the wet. He passed through holographic advertisements suspended in the air across the pavement spanning the distance from shop front to the edge of the kerb. They each emitted a low hum. A familiar feeling rose from the pit of Jonathan’s stomach that caused him to stop walking. Cowering under his inappropriately sized umbrella, he resisted the urge to run and hide in the shadows. He glanced uneasily at the people who passed by, seeing nothing in their expressions for him to be concerned about. So why did he feel like this, as if something bad was about to happen?
The feeling passed and he walked on. The pavement beneath Jonathan’s black lacquered shoes felt as slippery as ice in parts and he wished he had broken with tradition and worn heavy, waterproof boots for his meeting.
‘Screw this rain, and screw this day…’ he muttered taking each step carefully.
The rain continued to fall in defiance of his protests.
He walked on, checking the street signs as he did. While holding his brown leather briefcase in one hand and his umbrella in the other, he tried to turn up the collar on his overcoat, but without success. A giant droplet entered the space between his coat and his neck. He seized up and squeezed his eyes shut. But only briefly. The next step caught him off guard when he felt something cold seep into his shoe. He pulled his foot free from the grey puddle of water.
Jonathan grasped at his shoe, aching to pull it off and squeeze the water out of his sock. He hopped on one foot, but put it back down again.
I need to get out of this rain. I’m already soaked to my skin.
Across from him was an old-style tea shop with a brightly coloured exterior. It beckoned him inside, a lovely vision amidst the murky, grey day. The black of the hand-painted sign saying ‘Eccles Tea Shop’ was offset by a primrose wall with green ivy climbers. A bright red awning stretched out below the sign. Hand-painted signs were a rare enough sight these days; even Spelling, which prided itself on attracting holiday goers, had succumbed to the tackiness of holograms, just like other beauty spots in the country. So it was for that reason that Jonathan couldn’t stop staring at the traditional-looking tea shop.
He darted underneath the awning and pulled his left shoe off. He tipped out the water from his shoe and squeezed whatever he could from his sock while it was still on his foot.
The shoe felt more unpleasant going on than it did coming off. A hot shower was suddenly all he could think of and that sharp stab of warm pleasure as the water hit his skin. But not yet, not until he had met with Dr Fenway, a psychiatrist based in the area. Jonathan’s role as assistant to a London-based psychologist involved many field trips, but none as wet as this one.
He turned around and peered into the tea shop’s fogged-up window, cupping his hands against the glass. The interior looked cosy and inviting but, more importantly, warm. He pushed against the door and a small bell rattled above his head.
The smell of cinnamon and spice hit him like a powerful aphrodisiac and he instantly forgot about the rain outside. The tea shop was small, bright and warm with colourful paintings on the walls, giving it an old-fashioned feel to match its exterior. Several round glass-topped tables with chairs clustered around them filled the space. Behind the counter were several boxes of loose tea—Ceylon, Earl Grey, Rooibos—available for purchase, or to drink on the premises. The shop was half-full with customers sipping on their favourite brews and reading their favourite books.
Jonathan shook the rain off his coat, then shivered as the chill from his wet clothes seeped into his bones. It was autumn and the weather was starting to turn. He spotted a free table and claimed it by draping his coat over the back of one chair. He dropped his bag and umbrella on the floor and sat down in the other, facing towards the counter. Another shiver ran through him as the warm air met his cold skin. His stiff body slowly began to relax. Around him, people were hugging steaming mugs of tea and coffee. He examined the menu and nodded to the man behind the counter.
A man in his sixties, presumably the owner, approached with a transparent digital notepad and a stylus pen. ‘Terrible weather we’re having. Just started this morning and hasn’t let up. What can I get you?’
‘A pot of Earl Grey tea and any of your cream-filled cakes. I don’t care which one.’ Jonathan shivered again.
The owner hit the notepad with the stylus and eyed him more closely. ‘Haven’t seen you around here before. Are you on holidays?’
Jonathan could see everything he was writing. ‘Nope. Business.’
The man nodded. ‘Yeah. Didn’t think you were a local. It’s much nicer here when it’s sunny. You should come back then. Really see the place in its full glory.’
‘I’ll think about it.’ Jonathan blew into his hands. ‘I don’t mean to be rude but if I could get that tea?’
The owner laughed. ‘Sorry, I tend to ramble a bit. Sit tight. Your tea won’t be long.’ He scurried away.
Jonathan sat back in his chair and noticed an attractive dark-haired woman sitting to his right. She had a book in one hand and was pinching a lump off a piece of chocolate cake with her fingers and dropping it in her mouth.
‘That looks good,’ he said nodding at the cake.
She turned her head and smiled briefly. ‘It is.’ She looked away, continuing to read.
Jonathan thought about asking her if she’d like to join him, but most people sat alone for good reason. The owner reappeared, carrying a small tray with a pot of tea and a cream puff and placed the tea, a mug and the pastry in front of him. He could almost smell the calories in the thick, creamy topping alone. At twenty-five, he hadn’t yet developed that Buddha belly that seemed to define most men of a certain age, including the tea-shop owner.
Jonathan was about to thank him when he looked up and saw the owner staring at him with a sudden intensity that made his skin prickle. His eyes were large, intimidating, as if Jonathan had offended him in some way.
‘What are you doing here?’ The glimmer of recognition in the owner’s eyes confused Jonathan. He’d never been to Spelling, let alone set foot inside Eccles Tea Shop.
‘I’m sorry, have we met before?’
‘Why did you fucking do it? Why did you kill her?’
A flush of red crept up Jonathan’s neck staining his face. His gaze flickered around the room. ‘Kill who?’ He thought of his identical twin brother, just out of prison. But Eddie wasn’t a murderer—not that he knew of. Drugs, yes. But a killer?
The owner jabbed a finger at him. ‘You’re some piece of work. Why scum like you are allowed to walk free is beyond me.’
‘I… I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Jonathan looked to the others in the tea shop for help. Their heads were turned towards the argument, their eyes and faces devoid of emotion.
Jonathan stiffened with fear. Nothing about this felt right.
The owner grabbed the pot of tea from the table and emptied it out into Jonathan’s lap. Jonathan slammed his chair back but wasn’t fast enough. The scalding tea splashed all over his legs.
‘Shit!’ He shot up, pulling the hot fabric of his trousers away from his legs. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’
‘Get out of my shop, you piece of filth!’ The man was screaming at him now, tiny drops of spittle landing on Jonathan’s face. The other customers remained impassive, silently watching.
‘With pleasure!’ Jonathan swiped up his rain-soaked coat. He watched the owner as he pushed the door open, letting a blast of cold air in. He stumbled onto the road, barely hearing the car before he saw it. A horn broke his concentration and he jumped back on to the pavement.
An old woman walking by slowed and grabbed his arm. ‘You okay, lad?’
‘Did you just see that? He… he just went crazy!’ Jonathan tugged at a clump of his damp blond hair, then released it.
‘Well, I don’t think he expected you to walk in front of him like that.’ The woman seemed confused as she released his arm.
Jonathan frowned. ‘No, I wasn’t talking about the driver.’
‘The man in there!’ He pointed towards the tea shop. There were many pitfalls to being an identical twin, but being confused for Eddie was the worst he could think of right now.
‘Frank, the owner? He’s a pussycat.’ She looked at Jonathan warily. ‘You must be in shock, or something. Best you get back to wherever you’re staying.’
The woman walked on and Jonathan glanced back inside the tea shop. What he saw gave him pause.
The owner was on his hands and knees, pushing a cloth through the spill caused by his own rage. He seemed calm, confused even, as to how the spill had happened. He stood up and scratched his head. Then saw Jonathan looking and waved at him as if he was seeing him for the very first time.
Jonathan blinked twice. Had he really forgotten what he’d just done? The scalding tea he could live with, but Jonathan wasn’t about to forget about being accused of murder any time soon. He walked away without acknowledging the owner.
‘This place is fucking nuts.’ He didn’t know what Dr. Blake was thinking sending him here. His left foot squelched in his shoe. The receding adrenaline tied his stomach up in knots.
He pressed on, keen to find Dr Fenway’s psychiatric practice and get the hell out of Spelling. After twenty minutes of aimlessly walking around, he found it on the next street. Dr Fenway wasn’t too happy he was late.