Chapter One: Mrs. Teasdale’s Tea
Mrs. Teasdale had set her Afternoon Tea the way she always did: her favourite assortment of sandwiches (Coronation Chicken, Cucumber with butter, and Cheese and Pickle); Crumpets, with butter and honey on the side; Chopped Date Scones with Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream; and three tarts (Bakewell, Yorkshire Curd, and Egg Custard). As a final touch she placed a smattering of Fancies around the three plates. She snuck one and took a bite.She was in heaven. And she was expecting company.
The small round table was covered with her finest linen, topped off with her mother’s lace tablecloth. Mrs. Teasdale set out her favorite China and crystal glassware in their traditional placement. The salad plate, centered and surrounded by the linen napkin and fork to the left, the spreader and spoon to the right. Slightly above the spoon stood the water glass, while opposite it, on the same level, was her finest teacup. The small bowel was just off the napkin and fork, alone but never forgotten. The creamer, sugar bowl, serving dish, tea strainer, and at the last minute, the teapot, found their spots in the midpoint between the two settings.
All that was left was to write Ms. Letts name on the place card and set it in the middle of the salad plate, which she did. Now, she was waiting for 4:00 pm, the arrival time for Ms. Letts and the making of the tea. The fresh water was in the tea kettle, waiting to be brought to boiling to make a delightful pot of Earl Grey, as requested by Ms. Letts. Mrs. Teasdale preferred Broken Orange Pekoe but, sadly, that was not the tea she would be seeping today.
The harsh taps of the Wellington door knocker alerted Mrs. Teasdale that her guest had arrived. She scuffled to the front door, patting down her Peach dress, making sure that the white collar laid flat. Yes, all was in place.
Opening the door, Mrs. Teasdale took in Ms. Letts attire. She instantly approved of her understated black dress, draping her figure, the hem falling just below her knees. She noticed the black hosiery, patterned exquisitely. The shiny black pumps helped to make her legs taut and outstanding.
Realizing she was being rude, she lifted her eyes. Mrs. Teasdale took in the Babington shoulder bag, a stylish choice. Her eye-line lifted further, causing a sharp intake of breath. It rested in her throat as she focused on Ms. Letts face. Shoulder length black hair framed her exquisite porcelain skin. The face, oval-shaped, seemed sculpted. Beautiful brown eyes, arched eyebrows, smooth jawline, and a slim nose, left Mrs. Teasdale almost speechless. Her vanity flared fiercely but she caught herself in time before it showed. At least, she hoped so.
“Smile, you silly git,” she thought as she welcomed Ms. Letts into her abode. They exchanged pleasant greetings. Giving the grand tour of the first floor, they exchanged in small talk, accompanied by smiles both broad and slight. Mrs. Teasdale guided her guest to the sitting room where they would have their afternoon tea. Ms. Letts reached up to the Babington, placing it on the floor by the table. Mrs. Teasdale noticed, for the first time, that Ms. Letts wore dark kid gloves.
Slightly puzzled, as it was a fairly warm day, she bade Ms. Letts to relax while she prepared the tea. “Earl Grey, just as you requested. The shopkeeper assured me that the tea leaves were fresh, delivered just the other day.”
“Oh, Mrs. Teasdale: I almost forgot. Reaching into her large bag she brought out a pastry box that, when opened, sent shivers of joy running through Mrs. Teasdale.
Opening the lid, she exclaimed: “Ms. Letts. This is a stunning Battenberg cake.” She leaned in a little too close, getting a whispered “Tsk” out of Ms. Letts. “It smells heavenly. I will put this in the fridge while I light the oven and bring the water to boil. Please have a seat. It won’t be long.” She left Ms. Letts in the sitting room, entering the adjacent kitchen by its swinging door.
Instead of sitting, Ms. Letts took a stroll around the sitting room. The shelves that held the knick-knacks were well dusted. The Grandfather Clock: spotless. The area rug was wearing in the spots Mrs. Teasdale trod on her path through the room. She admitted it was still pretty, though. Parting the dusty curtains, Ms. Letts looked out the window that faced the park across the road. She noticed the bottom two rows of glass where expertly clear; the top row panes, not so much. She turned her attention and took her seat. Picking up the place card, she let out a slight laugh and put it back in its place.
Mrs. Teasdale lit up the burner full blast. A proper tea is made only with boiling water, her late mother told her time and again. Even after her passing, Mrs. Teasdale followed that rule every time she assembled her afternoon tea.
She turned to the counter on the opposite side of the oven. On the shelf rested the Triple- Tier plate rack, already full of the assortment of sweets. She quickly went to the fridge and brought out the Battenberg, slicing it gently, then placing it artistically around all three of the levels. She finished just as the tea kettle began its screaming.
Mrs. Teasdale moved back towards the kettle and teapot. She did not hear the kitchen door swing open.
Ascertaining that the water was at a perfect boil, Mrs. Teasdale poured some of the hot water into the China teapot. She put down the kettle over the flame and swirled the water around, heating the insides just so. This water was expelled into the adjoining sink.
The tea kettle quickly found its steam, the screeching whistle alerting her it was time. She filled the teapot with the boiled water, quickly adding three hefty teaspoons of the Earl Grey tea leaves. The smell of the tea was intoxicating. She slightly resisted putting the knob on the teapot, but trapping the heat was essential.
As she was doing so, her lower back, on the right side, was in agony, the pain blazing, causing her to shudder. She shrieked as another stinging, shooting pain tore through her, just under the left shoulder blade. Her legs began wobbling, sinking to her knees as she took two more short sharp shocks. Now unconscious, Mrs. Teasdale’s upper body smashed into the oven door which hit her face an awful blow.
A violent spasm, from another two blows, sent her to meet the splattered tile floor, face down. She died before she hit. Another set of death jabs created a pattern in Mrs. Teasdale’s back that wouldn’t be noticed while she was covered in her own blood. One more plunge entered at the base of her skull, severing the spinal cord.
While she acknowledged this was overkill, Ms. Letts was compulsive in these matters. Flipping the body onto its back, she cleaned the gore of her Jagdkommondo Tri-Dagger on the Peach obscenity of a dress. She placed it on the counter behind her.
Self-cleansing was next. Standing at the kitchen sink, she mixed the hot and cold waters to give her the warm setting she needed. She quickly found the dish soap, dabbing it lightly on her gloves. Under the running water, she massaged all surfaces of the gloves until the last of Mrs. Teasdale’s blood swirled away.
Patting the kid leather to a damp state with a kitchen towel was followed by scrubbing the sink with the same towel. Once she was satisfied, she poured a liter of bleach down the drain, finding it in a cubby under the sink with other cleaning sprays and material.
When she first entered the kitchen she brought, from her purse, two seal-able plastic bags. Taking one from the food counter, the kitchen towel was shoved inside. Taking another cloth, she took off and wiped down her pumps top and bottom. She had stood to the side when the first stab dug in but the spray was stronger than she anticipated.
Next into the bag went her hose, ruined to hell with the viscous that spurted. She cleaned her legs off with the towel and hand soap and put her heels back on. Giving herself a last once-over, she decided to reclean her shoes. The top was as clean as it would be, for now. With one last kitchen towel and soap, Ms. Letts scrubbed down the outsole, shank, heel, and heel tip. The linen joined the others in the plastic bag. It would find its way into her shoulder purse, joined by its unused mate, when she vacated the kitchen.
Picking up her dagger, and then her skirt, she sheathed her weapon of choice. It attached to her outer thigh, comfortable and hidden. Ms. Letts let her dress fall, making sure that there was no outward sign of the death she always carried.
The bakery box she had brought in was off to the side of the counter. She looked over the sweets laid out but didn’t take any. “Willpower. Must not.” Repeating her mantra a few times, Ms. Letts picked up the empty bakery box, disposal bags, and then the teapot. Stepping over the drying blood, she went into the sitting room.
Sitting at her assigned seat, she picked up the strainer, laying it on top of the teacup. Lifting the teapot and tilting it, the tea flowed, the strainer capturing the leaves of Earl Grey. The smell was enticing, and her first sip was bliss. It was strong, hot, and delicious as it was. No need for sugar nor cream. When the last drop in the china cup was exhausted, into the bag it went, along with the place card. She laughed again, this time a little bit shriller. The false name was delicately inscribed.
One last look around the sad, little room and she was up. Stowing the plastic bag into her Babington, Ms. Letts placed it on her shoulder after fastening the clasp. Picking up the empty bakery box, she headed to the front door, carefully retracing the worn pathway that Mrs. Teasdale had set. She stopped just before grasping the doorknob and sighed.
Turning, she hurried back to the kitchen and swung the door open. Mad for crumpets, like the others in their club, she took the four on the tiered display and placed them in the bakery box, closing the lid.
Once done, she focused on Mrs. Teasdale one last time. The pool of blood that spread under the body was starting to congeal. It had spread to an almost perfect circle, the exsanguinated reposed figure cutting the ratio into fragments.
Finally, she turned her attention to the flaccid face. The facial muscles were giving up the ghost sure but steady. Mrs. Teasdale’s weak chin and pouting lips were folding into the double jowls of her neck. Her broad nose was wider, the damage caused by her face slamming into the oven door. Her jumpy brown eyes were open, staring at nothing. “I thought so,” she muttered, noticing the hairpiece Mrs. Teasdale wore was in disarray, showing off the thinned out scalp that glittered from the overhead lights.
“Thank you for inviting me to tea. It was lovely.”
The lump of dead flesh didn’t answer back.
Ms. Letts left the house after she made sure no one was out for a walk. Unlocking her car with a “Beep!” she quickly entered it, locking the doors and starting up the engine. Pushing the button under the console, the back and side windows tinted a shade darker. Placing her shoulder bag in the passenger seat, she removed the empty plastic bag. She backed up, turned left once on the road, and headed to the secluded spot that framed the park.
Once settled she opened the bag. She stripped off her gloves and tossed them in. The wig was next, setting her long red hair free. This was followed by the contacts, the brown irises replaced with her natural green. Kicking off her heels, she replaced them with the Constellation trainers that were in her Babington. The difference in comfort was astounding.
Digging deep into her shoulder bag she located her burner cell phone and turned it on. While it was warming up and finding satellite coverage, Wendy aka Ms. Letts, opened her bag for one more item: the package of moist towelettes. She wiped her face and neck, the ivory makeup a bit stubborn but the towelettes worked. Taking another one, she gave her legs another go. It was a good thing as there was a light shade of blood that transferred off her skin and onto the towelette.
By the time she added the used wipes to the disposable bag, the burner had cycled through all of its gymnastics. She placed a call. It went straight to the club’s voice mail.
“Ladies, Wen here. My afternoon tea was perfect. I hope all of yours were just as splendid. I’m looking forward to tonight’s round of sharing. Ta for now.”
She turned the phone off, took out the battery, and tossed it into the disposal bag, sealing it tight.
Starting the car and revving it a few times, Wendy laughed as she put it in gear and hit the road home.
As she sped along, she opened up the bakery box that she had placed on the passenger seat. Reaching in, she took out a crumpet. No jam. No clotted cream. Just a bite and she was in heaven.
It had been a splendid tea.
I get a kick out of prompts. Right now, creatively, I need these jumping off points. That’s what you’re seeing here on Tale Spinning. I have a few projects of my own I’m procrastinating with that I hope I’ll finish and try to do something with them. We’ll see.
The above pic is one of them, created by Author Richard Kadrey. He has been posting, on Twitter, reworked/photo-shopped covers of old pulp(ish) novels, changing them to show off his brand of humor. I just thought it’d be fun to write a few things from Mr. Kadrey’s posting: so, yes, this is my writing, not Mr. Kadrey’s.
Richard Kadrey is a writer, photographer, comic book writer, and an all-around interesting guy. His fiction straddles the Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Cyberpunk worlds, and he’s pretty darn good with it all. I fell in love with his writing starting with his first Sandman Slim novels. Gritty, sometimes violent, often full of whimsy, worth reading. He’s not just another pretty face.
You can check out more fun covers by following him on Twitter @Richard_Kadrey.
To get into his body of work, visit him at his website: Richard Kadrey