The Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Series

BODY ON BAKER STREET: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery

Body on Baker Street - final

BY Vicki Delany

Crooked Lane Books, 2017

Chapter 1

“Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, Gemma speaking.”

“Hi. I…I…uh…May I speak to the person in charge of author events? Please?”

“I’d be happy to help you.” I put down my pen and opened the store calendar on the computer. Most of the best dates over the summer and into the fall were already booked. “Can you tell me something about yourself and your book?” As the name of my shop suggests, we focus on Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but I try to support local writers whenever I can, regardless of what they’ve written.

“Oh, sorry,” she replied. “Didn’t I say?”

“No, you didn’t.”

“It’s not me. I mean, I’m not going to be speaking or signing. I’m calling for my boss.”

“Let’s start with the title of your boss’s book, shall we?” While my attention was distracted, Moriarty the shop cat settled himself in the center of the publisher’s catalog I’d been browsing. I wiggled the edges of the paper. He hissed at me. I poked his side with a pencil. He hissed louder.

Desperate measures were called for. I feigned as if turning back to the computer and then swept in, picked him up, and put him on the floor. He managed to give my arm a light scratch.

Moriarty lived on the premises. Small and thin and pure black, he was a great shop cat. Everyone loved him. He could be counted on to be charming and friendly to shoppers and to treat their children according to their age. He seemed to be able to tell which people didn’t care for cats, and in those cases, he respectfully kept his distance.

Everyone loves Moriarty. Except me.

That is because Moriarty loves everyone. Except me.

This time he hadn’t drawn blood. I consider that a victory. He held his tail high and stalked across the room and out the door without as much as a backward glance of apology.

I returned my attention to my caller. “I’m sure we can arrange something. How about mid- to late August or early September? The Labor Day weekend is booked, I’m afraid, but…”

She cleared her throat. “I know it’s short notice, but she’s changed her mind, and, well…I was hoping”—she had a high-pitched voice and spoke as though she were not quite sure she was allowed to—“for Saturday.”

“Saturday? You mean the day after tomorrow? That won’t be possible.”

“I checked your events listing before calling, and I don’t see anything advertised.”

“We don’t have anything planned for that day, that’s true, but I have to order the books, advertise the event. You do want me to advertise it, don’t you? People need advance notice to put it on their calendars.”

“She only decided to go to Cape Cod last night and reluctantly agreed to do one signing this weekend. She won’t be pleased.”

“Sorry,” I said. I’ve found most writers to be extremely pleasant, lovely people, more than happy to do whatever they can to accommodate my bookshop and schedule. The odd one, however, seemed to think he or she was doing me an enormous favor by bothering to stop in and grace my bookshop with their presence.

“I understand. I do. This must be highly inconvenient for you. It’s possible you have some books in stock already. It’s called Hudson House.”

“Hudson House?” I stared, first at the phone in my hand, and then at the boxes of books piled on the floor of my office. I have a storage room, but overflow tends to find its way in here. “You don’t mean…”

“The author’s name is Renalta Van Markoff. That’s R-E-N—”

“I know. Thanks. What’s your name?”

“Oh, didn’t I say?”

“No, you didn’t. I’m Gemma Doyle. I’m the owner and manager of the store.” I am also the chief duster, the head bookkeeper, the buyer, the returner of unsold stock, the human resource manager (of the single employee), the cat feeder and litter box cleaner, and the head sales clerk. I didn’t bother to tell my caller all of that. The poor woman sounded like a bundle of nerves. I wondered if she was always so nervous or if her boss was standing over her, impatiently tapping a ruler into the palm of her hand.

“Linda Marke. Miss Van Markoff’s personal assistant.”

The boxes surrounding me were full of copies of Hudson House, the latest in the pastiche series by Renalta Van Markoff. The book had been released only two days ago and was already on its way to hitting number one on the New York Times bestseller list. It was also currently the bestseller in my shop. “Are you saying that Renalta Van Markoff wants to do a signing here, in West London?”

“Yes.”

“The day after tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

I took a deep breath. Wow. Two years ago, when the first book in the Hudson and Holmes series, An Elementary Affair, began to generate notice (and huge sales), I tried to invite Renalta Van Markoff to the bookshop. I never managed to get past personal assistants, publicists, and other interfering busybodies. I’d been led to believe that my tiny shop wasn’t big enough, important enough, to host Miss Van Markoff.

Maybe none of her staff had bothered to ask the author what she thought of that.

I would do whatever I had to do to get her here on Saturday. “I have plenty of books in stock, and I should be able to get more in time. How about half one?”

“Half of what?”

“Sorry. I mean one thirty. Readers can have lunch, maybe enjoy some time at the beach, and then come to the store.”

“Thank you,” Linda said. The relief in her voice was obvious. “That would be wonderful.”

“Great. I’ll see you then. Do you have any special requirements? I’ll provide water for Ms. Van Markoff. Tea or coffee if she’d prefer. A signing table, pens. Anything else?”

“I’ll be there this afternoon. We can talk then.”

“You’re coming here? Today?”

“I need to see the layout of the store. Decide where Miss Van Markoff will stand to speak and where she will sit to sign. She’s very…particular. You do have a podium, of course.”

“Of course,” I said. Meaning no, but I could try to find one.

“How does one o’clock sound?”

“I’ll be here.”

“Thank you very much. This means a lot to me…I mean to Miss Van Markoff.”

She hung up.

I stared at the phone for about two seconds. Then I leapt to my feet. I bolted out of the office and dashed down the stairs. I made it about halfway before turning around and running back up to open one of the boxes and grab a handful of books. They were weighty tomes. I hadn’t even glanced inside one yet, but I estimated it to have 736 pages.

Back downstairs with my arms loaded with books, Moriarty tried to trip me on the bottom step, but I was ready for him, and I deftly dodged his outstretched paw.

“What’s got you in such a tizz?” Ashleigh, my new assistant clerk, asked.

I dropped the books on the counter. “I want a big display of these. Along with the earlier ones in the series.” Like most mystery novels, when a new book was released, the sales of the earlier in the series went up substantially.

“We already have a big display of those.” Ashleigh gestured to the center table, piled high with hardcover copies of Hudson House. The cover showed a street of three-story white row houses with black doors, pillared entranceways, and second-floor balconies with black iron railings. A woman, dressed in a brown-and-gold silk gown with a spray of feathers in her dark hair, was coming out of a house with “221” prominently displayed on one of the pillars. The street might have been one that I’d lived on in London, but if so, it was of another time. A hansom cab could be seen disappearing into the mist. It was night, and thick fog swirled around gas lamps.

“We need more,” I said.

“Why?” Ashleigh asked. She’d only been working here for a short time, and she was proving to be hardworking and reliable. She had a tendency to question everything I did. This can be good in an employee—keeps me on my toes. It can also be bad—I am the boss, after all.

“Someone from the publisher is dropping by this afternoon. I want it to look like we’re promoting this book hard.”

“Which we are,” Ashleigh said.

“Even harder, then,” I said.

At that moment, Ellen, one my my regular customers,  dropped a copy of Hudson House on the counter. “I’ve been so looking forward to this one. I wish Renalta Van Markoff would write faster.”

“You’ll have plenty of time to get into it,” I said. “I’m sorry your husband moved out of the house.”

She stared at me. “How do you know that?”

“Didn’t you mention it, Ellen?”

“I most certainly did not. Not to you or to anyone.”

“Just a guess.” I busied myself arranging the volumes. The covers of Renalta’s three books all showed the same street. A woman coming out of (or going into) number 221. Only the time of day, the weather, and the woman’s attire differed.

“That was quite the guess,” Ashleigh asked once Ellen, giving me more suspicious glances, had left.

“I never guess. Ellen comes in here once a month or so. She’s very fond of gaslight mysteries and buys her favorites in hardcover as soon as they come out. An excellent customer. She’s always dressed well and groomed to the nines. I once overheard her complaining to a friend that her husband was drinking more than she liked. Today, I noticed that her engagement ring is dirty, meaning she’s been fingering it a great deal lately and not taking the time to clean it. She’s wearing sandals, but the paint on her toenails is chipped, indicating a lack of interest in her appearance. As does the unraveling hem in her blouse and the stain on the front.”

“Maybe she got the stain at breakfast and hasn’t been home to change.”

“It was at least two days old.”

“I hope you’re not able to tell my innermost secrets by the way I dress or if I washed my shirt since last time I wore it.”

“You,” I said, “are an enigma.”

“And proud of it,” she replied.

I’d not yet seen Ashleigh in the same outfit twice. Not just outfit but style. She came to the interview in proper business attire—hair scraped back in a stiff bun, gray skirt to the knees, neat gray jacket, ironed white shirt buttoned to the top, flat pumps. The first day of work she resembled a California girl heading for the beach with a surfboard on top of her Volkswagen Beetle convertible, in a swinging ponytail, short red-and-white skirt, pink T-shirt, and flip-flops. I didn’t mind, as long as the skirt wasn’t too short or the shirt too tight. We were a summer vacation town, after all. The following day, she appeared in a safari jacket, multipocketed khaki pants, hiking boots, and even a pith helmet. Today’s outfit was “ladies who lunch at the yacht club.”

The bells over the door tinkled, and Ashleigh called out, “Welcome! Let me know if you need anything.”

“Ooh, you have it,” The new arrivals squealed. They both scooped up copies of Hudson House. “I knew you would.”

“If you like that series, you might also like…” Ashleigh discreetly led the women to the gaslight fiction shelf.

I picked up a copy of the book and checked the last page. 720. Rats, I’d been off by sixteen pages.

Along with my great uncle Arthur, I own the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, located at 222 Baker Street, West London, Massachusetts. As can be assumed by the name, we stock Sherlock Holmes–related books and merchandise. Not only second and later editions (and the occasional first) of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books or the magazines in which the stories appeared, but modern pastiche novels, short story collections, and anthologies. As many of those as there are (and more every day), it’s not enough to keep a bookshop fully stocked, so we also sell nonfiction relating to the life and times of Doyle and his contemporaries and historical fiction we call gaslight—books set in the mid- to late Victorian or Edwardian periods. The “Emporium” part of the shop’s name refers to all the coloring books, games, puzzles, mugs, teacups, posters, DVDs, making-of books, and so on related to Holmes and Watson. I never fail to be astonished at what some fans will consider to be treasures.

I glanced around the shop. Ashleigh was busy with the two women, their arms now laden with books. “Personally,” she said, “I far prefer Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell to the Van Markoff books. But it’s a matter of individual taste.”

“I’ll give one of those a try then,” the shopper said, and The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was added to the pile.

A family browsed the children’s section, and a group of vacationing hipsters was studying the Sherlock paraphernalia, exclaiming everything to be “cool” and “ironic.” I feared that we’d soon be due for a fresh interpretation of the Great Detective with unkempt beard and man-bun.

“I’m popping into the tea room,” I called to Ashleigh.

She lifted one hand in reply.

My shop is attached to the building next door, number 220. A year ago, we’d knocked down part of the wall, put in a sliding glass door, and opened Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room. Uncle Arthur and I own half of that business. Jayne Wilson owns the other half and manages the tea room and serves as the head cook and baker. As well as my business partner, she’s also my best friend.

“Jayne in the back?” I called to Fiona, who was ringing up a takeout coffee and bran muffin.

“Where else would she be?” Fiona asked.

“Good point.” I went into the kitchen. It was eleven thirty and the kitchen was a flurry of activity as Jayne and her helper, Jocelyn, did lunch and tea prep. Mrs. Hudson’s wasn’t only a tea room; Jayne serves takeout coffee and baked goods all day, lunch from eleven until two, and afternoon tea from one until closing at four.

When we first began planning the tea room, I told her that one o’clock was ridiculously early for afternoon tea. She’d replied that the Orangery at Kensington Palace starts serving afternoon tea at noon. So there. I gave in, realizing that in the face of the modern tourist industry, some standards have to give.

“Busy?” I asked. The question was redundant, seeing as giant pots of soup simmered on the stove; Jocelyn was up to her elbows in sliced tomatoes, onions, and peppers for lunch sandwiches; a tray of raspberry muffins waited to be taken out front; and Jayne’s face was dotted with flour, her white apron had streaks of chocolate, and she was rolling out massive sheets of dough. But after my faux pas earlier regarding the state of Ellen’s marriage, I was attempting to act more “normal” when engaging in social discourse. Whatever that means.

“What do you want, Gemma?” Jayne asked.

Definitely busy. She didn’t usually snap at me. I try hard to stay out of her realm, which isn’t difficult. A kitchen, of any sort, is not my natural environment.

“Something came up that I thought you might be interested in. How’s the book going? Hudson House. Have you had time to read it?”

“Gosh, Gemma. It’s so good, I’ve scarcely gotten any sleep for days.” The store had received an advance review copy some months ago from the publisher. I’d begun the first in the series but had never finished it. Too overwrought and overwritten for my taste. I thought it read more like a historical romance than a Holmes pastiche. To my surprise, the moment Jayne spotted the copy of Hudson House on my desk, she pounced. She declared herself to be a huge fan of the series.

“My mom’s number one hundred and twenty-seven on the waiting list at the library,” Jocelyn said. “She’s close to breaking down and buying herself a copy.”

“They have a waiting list of one hundred and twenty-seven people?” I asked.

“It’s fabulous,” Jayne breathed. “Even better than Doctor Watson’s Mistake.”

“Tell your mom to come to the Emporium on Saturday,” I said to Jocelyn. “Around one.”

“Why?”

“That’s what I’ve come to tell you,” I said. “Renalta Van Markoff herself will be here to do a signing at one thirty.”

Jayne actually screamed. “Oh, my gosh. Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. I’ve just had a call from her PA. Saturday it is.”

“That’s not much notice,” Jocelyn said.

“We can manage,” I said. “Her PA’s coming to the store this afternoon at one to check things out.”

“Do you think she’ll want us to do a tea?” Jayne asked. “We can put on a tea party. That would be so exciting. I can use my special Sherlock Holmes tea set.”

“We’ll have trouble accommodating the expected crowds as it is. No way can we fit everyone into the tea room.”

Jayne pouted prettily. Jayne did everything prettily. She was tiny and blonde with sparkling blue eyes and a heart-shaped face.

“We’ll talk more at our regular partners’ meeting later,” I said. “But I thought you’d want to know.”

“She’s going to give a talk, I hope.”

“I expect so.”

“I’ll come in early on Saturday to get most of tea prep done ahead of time so I can come.”

“I’ll tell my mom,” Jocelyn said. “And she’ll tell about a hundred of her closest friends.”

 


 

Elementary, She Read

By Vicki Delany

Crooked Lane Books, 2017

Chapter 1

The Great Detective eyed me.

I eyed him back. “Don’t give me any of your cheek, you.” I gave him a swipe across his exceedingly prominent nose with the feather duster.

“Talking to him again, Gemma?” said a voice behind me. “You know what they say about conversing with inanimate objects.”

“He does give me the creeps, this one,” I said. “He always seems to be watching me. And not in an approving way.” The clay bust of Christopher Lee as Sherlock Holmes got another pass with the duster before I turned to greet the new arrival.

Jayne Wilson struggled to get through the shop door carrying a large box. With a grateful sigh, she dropped the box onto the table in the center of the room. “Scored! Big time.”

My sigh wasn’t so grateful. “Not more junk.”

“How many times do I have to tell you, Gemma, this is not junk. This is valuable memorabilia.”

I put down the feather duster and approached the table. Jayne carefully unfolded the cardboard flaps. Out of a mound of bubble wrap she extracted a teapot. She shoved aside a stack of books waiting to be shelved and put the pot down. Next came a matching cream pitcher and sugar bowl. She stepped back to admire the new purchases. “Isn’t it perfect?”

“Perfect.” I refrained from adding, “In its hideousness.”

The teapot and accessories were made of quality bone china and in excellent condition. Not so much as a crack or chip that I could see on a quick inspection. The decoration on the pot was of a hook-nosed man in a deerstalker hat peering through a magnifying glass, a pipe clenched firmly in his teeth. The accompanying cream pitcher and sugar bowl were adorned with smaller versions of the hat, pipe, and magnifying glass.

Jayne beamed. “Marg McKenzie found it when she was on vacation in Halifax, and got it for us. I paid her back, of course, because I’d asked her to be on the lookout for this sort of thing. It’s for the tea room, not for sale, so hands off, Gemma.”

“How much did it cost?” I ventured to ask.

“Price is no object.”

“Price is always an object,” I replied. “And an excessively large one.”

She didn’t bother to answer the question. Thus confirming my suspicions. “My customers adore using this sort of thing. If I can get a few more of them, I’m thinking of putting specialized cream teas on the menu. The Sherlock Special. Irene Adler’s Tea Party. That sort of thing.”

“Holmes never had a cream tea,” I said.

“A minor point. If he wasn’t so busy dashing around London or heading off to the ‘smiling and beautiful countryside’, he would have. I bet Watson’s wife made him a proper afternoon tea all the time. When he wasn’t helping Sherlock, that is.” She began repacking the items. “Haven’t you got dusting to do, or something?”

“I always have dusting to do. I never seem to stop dusting.”

“Cheerio!” she said, heading for the door connecting my shop to the tea room next door. I watched her go with a smile. The word that best describes my friend is petite. The second word would be pretty. She had shiny blond hair, bright blue eyes, a wide mouth containing perfect teeth, a pointed chin, and a heart-shaped face. She was short and fine-boned, and worked hard at keeping herself in good shape. She came up to my shoulder. I am not small, blond, or delicate, and I always felt like an awkward lump standing next to Jayne. I loved her dearly.

Jayne also likes to pretend she’s English. I am English, but after more than five years in Massachusetts, even I don’t say things like Cheerio! anymore. Not that I ever did.

I went back to my dusting. There’s always a lot of dusting in a shop like this one. I am the half-owner, manager, head shop clerk, and chief duster of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in the Cape Cod town of West London, Massachusetts. As well as reprints of the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books, we carry new books representing anything and everything in the pastiche, or vaguely derived from the Holmes legend. From Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell (aka Mrs. Holmes) mystery series to the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime to Holmes for the Holidays, and all the myriad short story collections inspired by the canon. At the moment, I have a first edition of The Sign of the Four for sale, but it’s not worth much because of its condition. I suspect that at one time a mouse attempted to use some of the pages for her nest. I bought it for a pittance, carefully wrapped it in plastic wrap and stuck on a tag showing a minimal price as well as one explaining its condition. Someday, someone will buy it. I can still be surprised at what a dedicated follower of Sherlock will consider a treasure. Once in a while my uncle Arthur will locate original books in reasonable condition, as well as copies of the Strand Magazine in which many of the stories first appeared, but we don’t deal in rare and valuable editions. That’s not our business.

Because not everyone (certainly not me!) wants to read about Holmes all the time, one wall of shelves is labeled  “gaslight”, and features novels or anthologies, mysteries mostly, set in the late Victorian or early Edwardian period. Another shelf is for non-fiction, including biographies of writers of the age, anyone and everyone Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have bumped into in his travels, as well as the histories of the times in which Sir Arthur lived.

Books are my first (and I sometimes think, my only) love, and my intention when I came to America to take over Great Uncle Arthur’s business, was to continue to run this place as a bookstore featuring Conan Doyle, his contemporaries, and modern books influenced by them. But I quickly came to realize that these days, as everyone knows, Sherlock Holmes is far more than books, so we branched out into all forms of Sherlockania. I have tried to keep our stock dignified, but what I call “junk” and Jayne calls “memorabilia” began creeping onto the shelves as of Day One.

The shop now sells movie posters, DVDs of the movies, collectables such as the aforementioned bust of Christopher Lee, and even mugs, towels, and dishcloths. First thing this morning, only a few minutes before I started dusting, I unloaded–I mean sold–a life-sized, stand-up, cut-out of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock along with a full-color, illustrated book on the making of the contemporary BBC series.

As well as the Bookshop and Emporium, Uncle Arthur and I are half-owners of the business next door. Jayne owns the other half and runs the place. We call it Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room.

The bell over the door tinkled and I glanced toward it. Then I glanced again.

The man standing there was definitely worth a second look. He was tall and lean, with deep brown eyes, a strong jaw showing a hint of stubble, chiseled cheekbones, and a mass of brown hair curling around his ears in the damp sea air. He wore Italian loafers, khaki Dockers, and a blue-checked shirt with the top two buttons undone. His clothes were clean, but not new and the trousers could have done with the touch of an iron. He gave me a smile that practically lit up the room.

“Hi,” I croaked. “I mean, welcome. If I can help you with anything, let me know.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Nice cat.”

The creature to which he was referring was Moriarty, the shop cat. Moriarty had roused himself from his morning nap and was happily rubbing himself against the man’s legs.

“Uh,” I said.

The man gave Moriarty a pat on the head and then straightened up again. The cat meowed for more attention. “Quite the place you have here.”

“We’re all Sherlock, all the time.”

“You’re from England, right?”

I nodded.

“The heart of London, I detect.”

“You have a good ear.” Most Americans can’t distinguish an accent from one part of England from another. Never mind Scottish from Irish or Welsh from English.

“I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the UK,” he said. I smiled, but I didn’t reply that I could tell. I also have what he called a “good ear.” His accent told me he was from Boston, educated at a private school or a very good public one and his education had been completed in England. He wandered around the shop, followed closely by Moriarty. When the man stopped to examine the shelf containing games and puzzles, the cat jumped up. He almost smiled. I didn’t know Moriarty could do that. The man scratched behind the feline’s ear. Moriarty purred. He was small and thin, despite the prodigious quantities of kibble he consumed, and pure black except for his amber eyes, “Friendly little guy. What’s his name?”

“Moriarty.”

He laughed. That is, the man laughed, not the cat.

“Let me know if I can help you with anything.” I returned to my dusting. The man spent a couple of minutes idly looking at the Holmes and Watson chamber pot (which I suggest using as a planter), leafing through the movie posters, and examining the DVD collection. It was obvious by the way he barely looked at the objects he was pretending to be interested in that tasteless chamber pots and movie memorabilia were not the reason for his visit. His eyes wandered constantly to the bookshelves. The Holmes shelves, not the gaslight or non-fiction.

Eventually he oh-so-casually drifted over.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?” I asked.

“Nope. Just browsing.” He picked up the first edition The Sign of the Four. “Too bad this is damaged.”

“It’s a tragedy. But I get new stock in all the time. Occasionally, I have some second edition books in moderately good condition.”

“Is that so,” he said, moving on to the bound collections of the Strand Magazine.

“I can take your name if you like. Keep you posted if I hear of anything.”

He turned to face me. That smile again. “Good idea.”

“I do a mail order business, too.” I said. I wasn’t digging to find out where he lived. Really, I wasn’t. I didn’t know anything about him other than he was a native New Englander, had enjoyed a comfortable childhood, was educated at an Ivy League College, had spent several years in the UK, probably around Oxford (as either a post-graduate student or junior professor) and he was not here as a casual tourist. He was not wealthy, but not struggling either. And unlikely to be married.

“I’ve recently moved to West London,” he said.

“Welcome,” I said. It was a mild spring day, and earlier a strong breeze had been blowing in from the ocean. But the temperature in the shop was climbing rapidly.

“What came first?” he asked. “The store or the address.”

“They do to go together, don’t they? This was formerly a hardware store, but my great uncle bought it for the address. 222 Baker Street, West London, New England.”

He smiled. I felt myself smiling back. I momentarily forgot myself and extended my hand to stroke Moriarty.

In return the cat hissed and scratched my left arm. It hurt.

Uncle Arthur had found the starving, abandoned kitten in the alley behind the shop two years ago, and lured him in with a dish of cream and sweet words. Moriarty’s lived here ever since. He’s a great shop cat. Everyone loves him and he loves everyone in return.

Everyone except me. I try not to take it personally. Other animals seem to like me just fine. Maybe he misses Uncle Arthur and blames me for taking his place. Still, I keep trying to make nice.

“I’m Grant, by the way. Grant Thompson.” He held out his hand.

I took it in mine and we shook. “Gemma Doyle.”

“Doyle?”

“A distant relation, or so my family says.”

“There’s a story there,” he said with a grin. “And I’m going to hear it one day. But now, here’s my card.” He handed me a small square of stiff cream paper. “Is the place next door strictly a tea room? I haven’t had lunch yet, but I’m not much of a tea person.”

“Surely at Oxford you got accustomed to tea?” I said. Was I flirting? Why, I think I might have been.

“How did you know I went to Oxford?”

I waved my hand in the air. “You picked up a trace of an accent.”  That, plus an educated guess on my part: he might have gone to Cambridge.

“You’re very observant, Gemma Doyle.”

“Am I? I don’t think so.”

“I did my PhD at Oxford, yes. Never did care for tea, but I learned to love a good British pub.”

“Mrs. Hudson’s specializes in cream teas and afternoon teas,” I said. “But we do sandwiches and salads for lunch, and good-old American muffins and bagels in the morning. Coffee, lattes, and cappuccinos too.”

“I might give it a try then. Catch you later, Gemma.”

Moriarty jumped off the counter. Tail high, he followed Grant to the door that led to the tea room. He was, of course, forbidden from going where food was served, and so he sat by the door gazing in wistfully. He was small in size, but gigantic in personality.

I wiped a drop of blood off the cat-scratch on my arm. Then I flipped the card over. “Grant Thompson. Rare book collector.” No street address, just an email and phone number.

A hiss caught my attention. Jayne, dressed in a long white apron over black T-shirt and denim capris, stood in the doorway. She pointed behind her to the restaurant, opened her eyes and mouth wide, and waved her hand as though it were on fire. Trust Jayne to notice every handsome man that came into her tea room.

Business was brisk for most of the day. It was the beginning of the tourist season on Cape Cod and we’d placed ads in the visitors’ brochures. Many of the mugs and toys moved, mostly the cheap stuff that appealed to laughing groups of college kids or parents with small children. In season, I always keep a good stock of paperbacks for beach and pool reading and, as the forecast for tomorrow said it would rain, the DVDs sold well too.

I kept half an eye on the tea room, and although Grant Thompson didn’t appear again, I was pleased to see a steady stream of customers coming in for lunch and later to enjoy afternoon tea.

At twenty-two minutes to four every day I go to Mrs. Hudson’s for a much needed tea break. Today, as I was alone in the shop, I hung a “back in 15 minutes” sign on the front door. The phone underneath the sales counter began to ring, but I didn’t go back for it: voice mail would pick it up.

The tea room closes at four, and by this time it’s normally almost empty. Jayne had done a great job decorating the place. The walls were papered in soft shades of sage green and peach, with white wainscoting. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was prominently hung on the back wall, amongst paintings of castles and thatched-roof cottages nestled in verdant pastoral landscapes. The wall adjoining the Emporium consisted of open shelves displaying rows upon rows of bone china tea cups and teapots, and a multitude of jars of loose teas and locally-made jams and preserves filled the space next to the swinging half-door leading into the kitchen area.

I settled myself at my favorite table, a small one tucked into the window alcove. A bench seat was under the window, padded in soft fabric that matched the color of the walls, with two white-painted chairs opposite.  A tiny white vase, containing a sprig of greenery and a single fresh flower sat in the middle of the table. Fiona, dressed in the tea room’s waitress uniform of knee-length black dress, black stockings, and white apron with the Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room logo of a steaming tea cup next to a pipe, brought my drink in the new Sherlock Holmes pot. As someone who owns the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, you’d think I’d be a Sherlock fanatic. I am not. I leave that to Jayne and Great Uncle Arthur. I might not admire the decoration on the pot, but it was a proper china tea service and so would suffice. I let the tea steep for a few minutes, and then poured it carefully. The rich full scent of Darjeeling rose up to caress my nose. I breathed it in and then added a splash of milk to the golden liquid. Perhaps the hardest part of my entire job has been to teach Americans to make a proper cup of tea. I take great pride in the fact that I have succeeded, here at least.

I was enjoying my first welcome sip, when Jayne dropped a plate in front of me and sat on the window bench. I selected a warm scone, sliced it open and spread butter, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. “Good day?”

“Excellent.” She took a cucumber sandwich for herself. At twenty to four every day, we have our afternoon tea (consisting of whatever’s left over) and discuss the day’s business.

“I see Fiona had another fight with her husband,” I said.

“She didn’t tell me that. How do you know?”

“Wedding ring’s off again.”

Jayne leaned out and peered into the room. Fiona was sweeping the floor. “So it is,” Jayne said. She turned back to me with a smile. “That big group’s coming tomorrow.”

What big group?” I asked.

“I told you about them. Twenty-four ladies on a bridge group holiday, plus their guide.”

I vaguely remembered something about it. I vaguely remembered promising something…

“You’re helping in the kitchen.”

Oh, right. That was it. “Why am I doing that?”

“Because they’re coming at four, our usual closing time, and Fiona had committed to picking up her sister’s kids at play group at four fifteen. I’m taking Jocelyn out of the kitchen and having her serve, with my help.”

“Can’t you prepare the food ahead of time?”

“Gemma! We discussed this. I will do all the prep I can, but I have a restaurant and tea room to run the rest of the day, remember?”

“Why don’t I wait tables? That way you’ll be able to stay in the kitchen.”

“Because you’ll drop one of the three-tiered glass trays, scattering my precious baking all over the floor, or you’ll spill tea down an elderly lady’s new silk shirt. The one she bought specifically for this holiday.”

“That only happened once.”

“Twice.”

“Once each.”

She rolled her eyes. Okay, so I’m not a very good waitress. I’m not much of a cook either, but I can slap a couple of pieces of bread together to make a sandwich. Provided, that is, Jayne tells me what to put in the middle.

I popped the last piece of scone into my mouth. Then I stuck my finger in the small pot of clotted cream, scooped out the remains, and sucked cream off my finger while Jayne rolled her eyes again. “Business meeting over?” I asked.

“Not yet. I’m about to run into a problem with one of my suppliers.”

“What sort of problem?”

“Ellie McNamara’s handing her farm over to her daughter, and I’m worried about that. I get most of my berries from them. I need to find a new supplier, and fast. You know I try to source everything as locally as possible.”

“Leave it to me. I heard something the other day about a new operation out near Sandwich.”

“Thanks. Before you go, you did ask Ruby to work tomorrow afternoon didn’t you?”

“I did.” I think.

Then we’re all set.” Jayne leaned back in her chair, signaling that we were now moving from business partners into friends’ mode. “Did you notice that dream of a guy who came in around noon?”

“No,” I said.

“Liar. What was he looking for?”

“Books. First edition, good condition. And very interested too, although he pretended not to be.”

“You don’t stock books like that.”

“No, but Uncle Arthur does sometimes come across something rare. I took his card and said I’d let him know if I found something.”

“You have contact info. Good work, Gemma.”

“It’s a business transaction.”

“That can change.”

Time to change the subject. “Do you have plans for tonight?”

“I’m going to hit the gym when I finish up here, and later Robbie and I are going to McGillivray’s Pub to hear some live music.”

I tried not to let my disapproval show. Fortunately, Jayne was finishing the last of her tea and not looking at me. Jayne was my best friend as well as my business partner, but she had the world’s worst taste in men. Every time she found a new boyfriend, I figured it couldn’t get any worse. And every time it did. Not that her boyfriends were violent or of the criminal element. Nothing like that. But they seemed to have problems finding – and keeping — regular employment. In a thriving tourist town in season, that was a difficult thing to accomplish. Robbie was an artist, as Jayne’s boyfriends usually were. The sensitive, creative sort. The sort, Jayne always patiently explained to me, who couldn’t be lumbered with the tedious monotony of a regular job as they had to be ready to leap into the act of creating art whenever the muse happened to strike. I might have mentioned once that Picasso was said to have remarked that inspiration comes when you are working. Jayne reminded me that Picasso hadn’t always been famous.

“What about you?” she said. “Want to come with us? We’re going to have dinner before the show.”

I got to my feet. “No thanks. I have a wild night planned in the company of Violet and a good book.” Violet was Uncle Arthur’s dog. “I better get back at it. See you tomorrow.”

“Be here at three o’clock. I need you in the kitchen, Gemma. Don’t forget.”

“As if I ever forget.”

“Did you call Ruby to remind her of the extra shift?”

“Why? Oh right.”

Jayne dug in the pocket of her apron. “Never mind. I’ll do it.”