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, more down than up these days, was reflected in the weather. He stepped back from the passing cars as they drove too fast through puddles.
The pretty town of Spelling in North Hampshire was less attractive in the wet. He passed through holographic advertisements spanning the distance from shop front to the edge of the kerb. An all-too-familiar feeling rose from the pit of Jonathan’s stomach that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He resisted the urge to run and hide. He used his too-small umbrella to hide his face, peeking out at the passersby. They weren’t even looking at him. But his muscles were clenched so tight he’d need a hot bath to relax him.
Why did he sometimes feel like this, as if something bad was about to happen?
He waited for the feeling to pass. It usually did.
His black lacquered shoes slipped underfoot as he walked on. Jonathan wished he had broken with tradition and worn heavy, waterproof boots for his meeting.
‘Screw this rain, and screw this day...’ He watched the ground as his walk became a shuffle.
The rain continued to fall in defiance of his protests.
Looking up at the street signs sent water rolling off his umbrella and down the back of his neck. He tried to turn up the collar on his overcoat, but with a briefcase in one hand and an umbrella in the other, the task became impossible. More water dribbled down his neck. He seized up and squeezed his eyes shut. Another step forward. A heavy feeling. Something cold seeped into his shoe. He opened his eyes and pulled his foot free from the grey puddle of water.
Jonathan lifted his wet foot high and leaned against the nearest wall. He thought about taking his shoes and socks off and walking barefoot, but he decided against it. He put his foot back down again.
I need to get out of this rain. I’m already soaked to my skin.
An old-style tea shop across the road with a brightly coloured exterior beckoned to him. It was the loveliest of visions amid the murky, grey day. The black of the hand-painted sign that said ‘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 going out of fashion in places like Spelling, which prided itself on attracting holiday goers. The two shops either side had succumbed to the tackiness of hologram signs, bright and neon, just like other beauty spots in the country.
Jonathan ran for 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 stockinged foot.
‘Jesus!’ The shoe felt more unpleasant going on than it did coming off.
Thoughts of a hot shower and getting out of his wet clothes sent a wave of pleasure through him. But he had a meeting to get to first with Dr Fenway, a psychiatrist based in the area. Jonathan was an assistant to a London-based psychologist. He would mark this trip as his wettest field trip yet.
He cupped his hands against the glass and peered into the tea shop’s fogged-up window. It looked warm. That was all he cared about. 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 that made him forget about the rain outside. The small, bright tea shop was filled with colourful paintings on the walls that gave it an old-fashioned feel to match its exterior. Several round glass-topped tables and chairs filled the space. Several boxes of loose tea were stacked behind the counter—Ceylon, Earl Grey, Rooibos—available for purchase, or to drink on the premises. The shop was half-full with customers eating, drinking and reading their favourite books.
Jonathan slipped his coat off, shivering as the warm air met his cold skin. It was autumn in the United Kingdom and the weather was starting to turn. The rain was just the beginning. He spotted a free table and draped his coat over the back of one chair to claim the space. He dropped his bag and umbrella on the floor and sat down, facing towards the counter. Another shiver ran through him as his chilly exterior caught up to the warmth of the tea shop interior. He checked the menu card on the table and nodded to the man behind the counter.
A man in his sixties 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. I own this place. I know everyone around here. 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 looked around at the other customers. His eyes paused on an attractive dark-haired woman sitting to his right. With a book in one hand, he watched her pinch a lump off a piece of chocolate cake and drop it in her mouth.
‘That looks good,’ he said nodding at the cake.
She looked at him briefly. ‘It is.’ Then she carried on reading.
Jonathan thought about asking her if she’d like to join him, but most people sat alone for good reason. The owner interrupted his thoughts by placing a pot of tea, a mug and a cream puff pastry down on the table. Jonathan looked at the cake, almost able to 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.
The owner was still at his table. Jonathan looked up, ready thank him but the intense look in the man’s eyes caused him to recoil in his chair instead. His eyes were large, intimidating.
‘What are you doing here?’
Jonathan frowned. ‘I told you. I’m here on business.’
But the owner wasn’t asking a casual question. He was staring at Jonathan as if he’d seen him before. But he’d never been to Spelling, let alone set foot inside Eccles Tea Shop.
‘Why did you fucking do it? Why did you kill her?’
A flush of red stained Jonathan’s neck and face. He looked around the room. ‘Kill who?’ His thoughts flicked over to 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.’
It had to be Eddie. But the owner was confused. Eddie was no killer.
‘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. But their eyes and faces devoid of emotion caused him to draw in a deep breath. 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 not 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 owner screamed, tiny drops of spittle landing on Jonathan’s face. The other customers remained impassive, silently watching.
‘You don’t need to ask me twice!’
Jonathan swiped up his briefcase, umbrella and rain-soaked coat. He kept the owner in his sights as he backed out the door. The cold air outside was sharp and sobering. He kept backing up until his foot slipped on the edge of the kerb and he stumbled onto the road. A horn blasted and he jumped back on to the pavement.
An old woman lurched forward and grabbed his arm. ‘You okay, lad?’
‘Did you just see that? 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 frowned as she released his arm.
Jonathan shook his head. ‘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’re probably in shock. 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 staring and waved at him as if he was seeing him for the very first time.
Jonathan blinked. Was the man having a joke at his expense? The burns on his legs from scalding tea he could repair, but nobody accused Jonathan of murdering someone. He stalked away without waving back.
‘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 happy he was late.