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Authors: Laura Childs

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3

Detective Burt Tidwell
loomed in the doorway like an enormous incarnation of Tweedledee (or Tweedledum). To say the man was overweight would be polite. His jowls sloshed; the vest of his suit strained across the bulk of his weather balloon–sized belly. The pop of a single button could be lethal to anyone in its way. His suit was sloppy and his cop shoes lacked polish. Yet his dark eyes shone with intensity. Tidwell headed the Robbery-Homicide Division of the Charleston Police Department and had a reputation for being taciturn, brilliant, and fearless. The officers who worked for him were either cowed or enormously respectful. Truth be known, the ones who worked directly under him would probably trek across hot coals if he barked the order.

“Detective Tidwell,” said Theodosia. “Imagine seeing you here.” She thought it unusual that a departmental head would answer a routine call like this. Then again, maybe he was here because it was Saturday. Or because he’d been specifically requested. Or maybe because Tidwell had no life at all.

Tidwell stepped into the room, his keen eyes probing and absorbing the crime scene in about five seconds flat. Then he leaned down and peered thoughtfully at Dougan Granville, who lay stiffening on his gurney. “Wrongful death,” were Tidwell’s only muttered words.

“Well, we know that!” said Delaine, staring at him with anger and concern. “What I want to know is, what are you going to
do
about it?”

“Why don’t we begin by having everyone exit the room,” said Tidwell.

“Are you serious?” said Delaine. “But I’m . . . I’m the bride!”

“And I’m in charge,” said Tidwell. He made a shooing gesture. “Out. Everyone.” When one of the EMTs put his hand on the rail of the gurney to push that out, too, he said, “No, leave him. He’s fine just as he is.”

Everyone shuffled through the doorway, heads turned and glancing back, leaving Tidwell in their wake.

“There seems to be . . .” began Theodosia, who had hung in the doorway.

“Please,” said Tidwell.

“Cocaine,” finished Theodosia.

Tidwell swung about to face her. “You’ve had it analyzed in a laboratory?”

“Obviously not,” said Theodosia.

“Then kindly refrain from any comments or hasty conclusions,” said Tidwell.

Theodosia folded her arms. She wasn’t unfamiliar with how Tidwell operated. She’d encountered the man before in certain other cases. His modus operandi seemed to be to intimidate, anger, then analyze. Not exactly a warm, fuzzy way to operate. On the other hand, Theodosia had to admit that Tidwell was really quite brilliant. Most people who encountered him were initially fooled by his bulk and apparent buffoonery. But Tidwell was a former FBI agent who had single-handedly tracked down serial killers, forgery rings, and drug traffickers. Thus Theodosia had developed an enormous respect for him.

After Tidwell had sniffed and snooped for a few minutes, he turned toward Theodosia, who still hung in the doorway, and said, “You were saying when I first arrived? Something about a paperweight?”

This was Theodosia’s cue. “Because of the apparent head wound.”

“On the deceased,” said Tidwell.

“Yes,” said Theodosia. “And there seems to be a paperweight missing from the collection.”

Tidwell turned toward the shelf full of paperweights. “Possibly.” He studied the collection as rain continued to pound monotonously on the roof and the lights faltered and blinked again. Then he said, “There are guests downstairs.”

“Almost fifty,” said Theodosia.

“They must be detained,” said Tidwell. He made a small gesture and two uniformed officers darted toward him. “Please make a suitable announcement to the guests, then record their names, addresses, and phone numbers.”

“I do have a guest list,” said Delaine. She’d crept back to hang at the doorway, too.

“Like I said,” said Tidwell, nodding at his officers. Once the two uniformed officers had taken off, Tidwell stood in the doorway looking out into the hallway and addressed the rest of them. “Has anyone checked the nearby rooms?”

Frank Rattling stepped forward and cleared his throat. He was skinny with lank hair slicked back against a prominent skull. “Not yet. Do you think we should?”

“You’re the innkeeper?” asked Tidwell.

“I am,” Rattling nodded, while his wife, Sarah, stood nervously by. “We have only one other room occupied in this particular wing. The guest is a fellow by the name of Chapin.”

“Which room was Mr. Chapin in?” Theodosia asked. She knew she was insinuating herself into the investigation but didn’t much care. She’d discovered Granville, after all. So in her mind that made her an integral part of all this.

“The room next to this one,” said Rattling. “Room three-fourteen.”

“Has anyone checked that room?” asked Tidwell.

“No one’s checked anything,” said Theodosia.
Or even thought to check adjoining rooms.

Frank Rattling marched a few steps down the hall, managing to look both flustered and officious. He rapped his knuckles against the door of 314. “Hello?” he called out loudly. “Anybody in there?”

“Open the door,” said Tidwell.

“We don’t like to intrude upon our guests,” said Sarah. She was a pale woman with watery eyes who wore her dark hair pulled back in a low bun.

“Open it now,” Tidwell ordered.

Rattling pulled an old-fashioned ring of keys out of his jacket pocket, searched through them, and finally found the one he wanted. He knocked again, then inserted the key in the lock and turned it. The door slowly swung open with a loud creak as several pairs of eyes followed its progress.

When no one called out from the bed or bathroom, Rattling took one tentative step into the room. “Hello? Mr. Chapin?”

“He’s not there,” said Theodosia. For some reason, she knew he wouldn’t be.

“No luggage,” said Frank Rattling, looking around. “No personal items, either.”

“But his room is rented for two more days,” said Sarah Rattling, looking puzzled.

“I’d say this Chapin fellow has checked out,” said Tidwell.

“Unofficially, anyway,” added Theodosia.

*   *   *

While the officers
worked the crowd downstairs, Tidwell set about questioning all the people who were congregated on the third floor. By the time he questioned Theodosia, Bill Glass, the stepson Charles Horton, and several bridesmaids, and finally got to Delaine, she was overwrought, angry, and frustrated.

“This was to be your wedding day?” Tidwell asked. He leaned against a dresser, jotting notes in a black spiral notebook. Delaine was scrunched on the bed surrounded by crumpled tissues. Because of her jangled and overwrought nerves, Theodosia had been allowed to remain with her.


Excuse
me?” said a tearful Delaine. “Do you think I sit around in an eight-thousand-dollar ball gown just for the sheer joy of it?”

“Just answer the question,” said Tidwell.

“Please,” Theodosia said to Delaine. “Just try to cooperate.”

“I
am
cooperating,” Delaine muttered through clenched teeth.

“And when was the last time you spoke with Mr. Granville?” asked Tidwell.

“I don’t know,” said Delaine. She glanced at Theodosia. “Maybe an hour and a half before you found him?”

“I think that’s about right,” said Theodosia.

Tidwell jotted another note. “And that was when the two of you were heard arguing?”

Delaine frowned. “Not really arguing. More of a . . . disagreement.”

“Not to put too fine a point on it, Miss Dish,” said Tidwell, “but those are generally one and the same.”

“Let me rephrase my answer, then,” said Delaine. “Dougan and I were having a discussion.”

Tidwell’s furry eyebrows rose in twin arcs. “Concerning?”

“About . . . our honeymoon,” said Delaine. “Dougan wanted to, um, alter the timetable slightly.”

“How so?” asked Tidwell.

Delaine frowned. “Um . . .”

“He wanted to cut it short?” said Tidwell.

Delaine shrugged. “We discussed that possibility, yes.”

Tidwell snapped his notebook closed. “Is it not true, Miss Dish, that the two of you were engaged in a shouting match? A rather heated conversation that was overheard by any number of people?”

Delaine’s hand fluttered to her chest as she fought to project an air of supreme innocence. “I don’t believe that’s true at all.”

“Several witnesses reported hearing a terrible argument,” said Tidwell.

“Who said that?” Delaine snarled. “Was it Horton, his stepson?”

“Excuse me,” said Theodosia, interrupting. “I think I see the direction this conversation is headed, and it’s really quite unnecessary. I was with Delaine pretty much the entire morning.”

“With her every second?” said Tidwell. One side of his mouth ticked upward.

Theodosia squinted as she recalled her morning. “Well, I did run down to check on the guests. Then I had to grab a couple pots of tea from the kitchen. Oh, and then the flowers were delivered to the back door.”

“So not every second,” said Tidwell.

“I suppose . . . no,” said Theodosia.

“What else were you arguing about?” Tidwell asked. “And please answer honestly, because I assure you I’ve amassed quite a bit of information in questioning other witnesses.”

Now Delaine looked embarrassed. “Just teensy little things.”

“Such as an old girlfriend?”

“Well . . . that might have come up,” said Delaine.

“I was told you became extremely agitated when you learned Mr. Granville’s former girlfriend was a guest downstairs.”

“Simone Asher!” Delaine blurted out. “He invited her without even consulting me! Can you imagine such a thing?”

“I’m sure it was quite upsetting,” said Tidwell.

“It certainly was,” said Delaine, fidgeting with the edge of her veil.

“Enough that you wanted to call off the wedding?” asked Tidwell.

Delaine stared at him with increasing hostility.

“Were you so upset that you wanted to do bodily harm to Mr. Granville?”

“No, of course not!” cried Delaine. “I wouldn’t hurt Dougan; I loved him!”

Tidwell rose to his feet. “Please do remain in your room, Miss Dish, while I send up our crime-scene technicians.”

“Why on earth!” sputtered Delaine.

“Fingerprints?” asked Theodosia.

Tidwell nodded.

“I am not a criminal!” Delaine shouted.

But Tidwell just nodded politely.

*   *   *

Theodosia stood outside
the door of room 313, watching a uniformed officer string black-and-yellow crime-scene tape.
POLICE LINE
, it screamed.
DO NOT CROSS!
How could a day that was supposed to be filled with prayers and flowers and celebration end in such a fiasco? she wondered. It seemed unimaginable.

And now Tidwell was making motions that seemed to suggest Delaine was a prime suspect. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Delaine might have railed at Granville this morning, might have screamed like a banshee over their honeymoon plans, but she certainly hadn’t murdered him. Theodosia knew that the one thing that Delaine desired above all else, the one thing she couldn’t magically conjure or buy for any amount of money, was to put the title
Mrs.
in front of her name.

And now her chance at that had been shattered. Yes, Granville’s death was tragic, simply tragic.

Theodosia hunched her shoulders and turned to leave. Time to go home, she decided. Time to take off this silly bridesmaid’s dress. To go downstairs and confab with Drayton and Haley, her tea shop cohorts. Get a hug and a kiss from her boyfriend, Max. Try to salvage something good out of this day.

Only someone had suddenly loomed in her way. “What?” she said, raising a hand, feeling a little threatened. Then she saw it was Bill Glass. He stood in the hallway, cameras still slung around his neck, looking disheveled and a little on edge.

“What are you doing here?” Theodosia asked. “Still angling to get that million-dollar shot?”

Glass shook his head. Like her, he’d lingered long after the body had been wheeled out, seemingly pondering the crime scene. “No, but this pretty much confirms what I’ve heard all along.”

Theodosia turned toward him. “Confirms what? What are you talking about?”

“That this place is unlucky,” said Glass. He flapped a hand. “Get a load of Granville’s room number.”

Theodosia glanced at the door. “Three-thirteen,” she said tiredly. “So what?”

“You don’t know?” said Glass.

“Know what?” Really, Glass could be awfully tedious.

Glass’s brows pinched together and he looked suddenly somber. “You didn’t know this place is supposed to be haunted?”

4

“It hardly feels
like we’ve had any weekend at all,” sighed Drayton. It was Monday morning and the Indigo Tea Shop wasn’t yet open for business. He and Theodosia were seated at a small table next to the stone fireplace. Haley, their youthful chef and baker extraordinaire, had just ferried out a plate of scones, fresh from the oven. Though the atmosphere was cheery, the three of them were not.

“We’ve barely had any downtime,” Theodosia agreed. “Between the wedding fiasco on Saturday and being debriefed by various investigators yesterday, our real lives were completely obliterated.”

“But just think how Delaine feels,” said Haley. She rarely had a soft spot in her heart for Delaine, but today she’d done a complete about-face and was really quite sympathetic.

“She feels awful,” said Theodosia.

“Seriously now,” said Drayton. “Do you think Delaine ever really loved Granville?” He plucked a scone from Haley’s serving plate and placed it on his own smaller plate. “She always struck me as being pretty much of a serial dater.”

“She loved him,” said Theodosia. “As much as Delaine could love anyone.”

“Except for her cats,” said Haley, pushing stick-straight blond hair behind her ears. “Dominic and Domino. Her two Siamese. I think she loves them more.”

“You’re probably right,” said Theodosia. Delaine was a pain and a gossip and a little bit crazy, but when it came to small animals she was an absolute saint. She took in strays, bottle-fed abandoned raccoons, and braked for turtles, snappers as well as painted. Delaine had even spearheaded a major fund drive last year to finance a special cat and kitten wing at the Loving Paws Animal Shelter.

“Delaine was awfully desperate to get married,” Drayton said as he split his scone in half and dropped on a frothy dollop of Devonshire cream.

“Desperate to find love,” added Haley.

“Since their engagement,” said Drayton, “poor Dougan Granville struck me as someone who’d suddenly awoken to find himself caught in a leg trap.”

Theodosia considered their words. Yes, Delaine’s rush to the altar had been like watching a NASCAR race: lots of torque, muscle, and speed. And, yes, maybe she had been a little desperate to find true love. But who doesn’t want love? To experience the thrill and heart-thumping happiness that it brings? Wanting to love someone, to be in love, was certainly nothing she could hold against Delaine.

“Now what’s Delaine going to do?” Haley wondered.

“She’ll be in mourning for a decorous period of time,” said Drayton. “And then she’ll find herself another boyfriend.” He popped a bite of scone into his mouth and peered at Theodosia. “Don’t you think?”

“Probably,” said Theodosia. But what else was Delaine supposed to do? Shuffle around in an ankle-length black hopsack dress and light candles under the moonlight? Mourn her lost fiancé until the end of time? Hardly. Life goes on. Albeit at a somewhat slower pace when one resided in Charleston.

“Have you spoken to Delaine?” asked Haley.

Drayton raised his eyebrows at Theodosia. “I’m pretty sure that question was directed at you.”

“Yes,” said Theodosia. “She called me last night.”

“How was she holding up?” asked Drayton. He really did have a spot of sympathy for Delaine. But he was the stiff-upper-lip type who prided himself on displaying the minimum allowable amount of emotion.

“She’s miserable and angry and sad,” said Theodosia. “And absolutely furious at Tidwell.”

“Is Delaine really a suspect?” asked Haley.

“I think we’re all suspects,” said Drayton.

“Anyway,” said Theodosia, “if there’s a very weak bright spot in all of this, it’s that Delaine has finally accepted Granville’s death.”

“She’s dealing with the harsh reality,” said Drayton. “Processing it.”

“Poor Delaine,” Haley said again. “I really do feel sorry for her.”

“My sympathy also lies with Detective Tidwell,” said Drayton. “Even though he questioned a number of people, there isn’t much to go on. If Granville’s death was, in fact, a murder.”

Haley looked puzzled. “I thought you guys said somebody conked him on the head with one of those fat glass paperweights.”

“Could have been an accident,” said Drayton. “He could have been, um, imbibing in his drug of choice and the paperweight rolled off and hit him.”

Could it really? Theodosia wondered. Did heavy glass paperweights just levitate off the shelf of their own accord? And then strike someone’s cranium with such brute force that his brain was mortally compromised? No, she thought not. It had to be murder. The big question was, who was the mysterious killer who had insinuated his way into Granville’s room?

Could it have been the mysterious guest in room 314? Or had there been a secret enemy among the downstairs wedding guests? Someone who’d sneaked up the back stairs and dealt that deadly blow? Or was it someone else? Theodosia knew it could be someone from Granville’s not-so-distant past who wanted to settle a score. An angry, unhappy client perhaps, or someone involved with DG Stogies, his cigar store venture.

But cocaine was involved, Theodosia mused. So it must have started out as a druggie rendezvous. From the looks of things, Granville had sat down with someone for a chummy, prewedding toot of coke. Of course, the presence of cocaine seemed to add an extra element of danger. But who in Granville’s or Delaine’s inner circle might have been—or still was—a drug user? Or, worse yet, a drug dealer?

“Tell me about the cocaine,” said Haley, almost as if she’d been reading Theodosia’s mind.

“It was spilled on the table,” said Drayton. “And there was white powder under Granville’s nose.”

“Wow,” said Haley. “That’s crazy weird.” She thought for a moment. “That tells me Granville wasn’t straight at all. He was kind of out there. A doper.”

“Obviously,” said Drayton, rolling his eyes.

“Maybe he got the coke from his stepson,” said Haley. “What’s the guy’s name again?”

“Charles Horton,” said Theodosia.

“That’s awfully harsh, Haley,” said Drayton. “Considering you don’t even know Horton.”

“I met him,” said Haley. “And he seemed a little hinky.”

“You think everyone over the age of twenty-five is hinky,” said Drayton.

“Not quite,” said Haley. “You guys are okay. But if you ask me, Tidwell ought to put Horton on his suspect list.”

“Maybe,” said Theodosia. But on a scale of one to ten, Horton seemed more like a one. Or maybe a two.

Drayton lifted the lid off a Brown Betty teapot and peered in. “This Darjeeling is probably steeped by now.” He lifted the teapot and poured a stream of hot, steaming liquid into Theodosia’s cup. Then he filled a cup for Haley and for himself. “A first flush from the Kumai Tea Estate.”

“Tasty,” said Haley, taking a quick sip.

“What’s really excellent are these scones,” said Drayton. “This is a new recipe, correct?”

“Peach scones,” said Haley. “One of my granny’s secret receipts.”

“So the departed specter of the Parker clan still looms large in our midst,” smiled Drayton.

Which suddenly reminded Theodosia of Bill Glass’s final words to her. That Ravencrest Inn was haunted.

She thought of mentioning it to Drayton and Haley, then chased that thought clean out of her head. This wasn’t the time to bring up such things as ghosts and goblins. Even here in the Carolina low country where ghostly legends prevailed and graveyards were roundly held to be inhabited by restless spirits.

The three of them sat in quiet repose for a few more minutes, sipping tea, talking. Then, as if an unspoken signal had been given, they began to prepare for their morning guests.

Drayton lit tiny white tea candles and laid out crisp white napkins, while Theodosia placed a tapestry of mismatched teacups and saucers on all the tables. Sugar bowls were filled, tea cozies laid out. Their reassuring morning ritual.

This, of course, was what it was all about. This was what brought Theodosia true happiness and contentment. Never once did she regret leaving the chew-’em-up, spit-’em-out world of marketing to run her beautiful little Indigo Tea Shop. In fact, being a tea entrepreneur was her dream come true. Her floor-to-ceiling cupboards were filled with the world’s most exotic teas: delicately fruited Nilgiris, malty Assams, rich dark oolongs. Her tea shop itself, a former carriage house, sported pegged wood floors that had recently been given a red tea wash, as well as battered hickory tables, brick walls, leaded-glass windows, and a tiny fireplace. Of course, the place was crammed with items for sale, too. Vintage teapots lovingly scouted at local auctions, handmade tea cozies, tea towels, jars of Devonshire cream and DuBose Bees Honey, candles, wicker baskets, and cut-glass bowls all sat on shelves or were tucked into wooden cupboards. The walls were decorated with antique prints and grapevine wreaths she’d made and decorated.

When they were finally, perfectly ready, Drayton went to the front door and pulled back the white lace curtain. “Brace yourselves,” he announced as he unlatched the door. “We’ve got Monday-morning customers.”

But it wasn’t the usual assortment of shopkeepers and neighbors who tumbled in this morning, eager for their morning cuppa and fresh-baked scones. Instead, it was two young men in their late twenties, blond surfer types dressed in jeans, T-shirts, and tennis shoes, and toting a video camera and various other pieces of electronic equipment.

“Gentlemen,” said Drayton, looking a little nonplussed. “Table for two?”

The young man with the camera glanced around, noticed Theodosia standing next to a highboy, and came charging through the shop, dodging tables left and right. “You’re Theodosia Browning?” he asked. “Right?”

Theodosia gave a slight nod. “Yes. May I help you?”

The man touched a hand to his chest and said, “I’m Jed Beckman, and this is my brother, Tim. We’re ghost hunters!”

*   *   *

“We can’t help
you,” Drayton snapped. “There are no ghosts here. But if you’d care to look at our take-out menu . . .” He grabbed a menu from the counter and thrust it toward them. “We can package up anything you like, especially since you fellows seem to be in a rush.”

Eyes fixed firmly on Theodosia, Jed Beckman unfurled the front page of the
Charleston Post and Courier
and held it up for her to see. “Begging your pardon, ma’am, but it says here that you were the one who discovered the body of Mr. Douglas Granville in a room at the Ravencrest Inn?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Theodosia. “But that’s old news and completely out of my hands. The police have already launched an investigation.”

“Because there was obviously foul play,” Drayton added. “Now about your take-out order . . .” He disapproved of the two men’s casual dress, and he disapproved of their questions. Basically, Drayton just disapproved.

“I don’t know if you’ve paid much attention to the rumors,” said Jed. “But Ravencrest Inn is supposed to be haunted.”

“I really don’t know anything about that,” said Theodosia, stumbling over her words a little. “Perhaps you’re thinking of the Unitarian Church Graveyard or the Old City Jail? I know there are nightly ghost tours to those particular sites.”

“Really,
historic
tours,” cut in Drayton, as four women pushed their way into the tea shop and gazed at him expectantly.

“Maybe you two should sit down so we can talk privately,” Theodosia suggested to Jed and Tim. Lord knows, she didn’t need her customers to overhear any talk about ghosts. This was a tea shop, after all. A genteel oasis of calm. Not the fortune-telling room at Madame Viola’s Voodoo Emporium.

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Tim, as he and Jed settled at a nearby table. “And we’d like some tea if you’ve got it.”

“We have an entire repertoire,” said Theodosia. “What would you prefer? A nice English breakfast tea? Or perhaps an Earl Grey or Nilgiri?”

“I’ve only ever had tea bags,” said Jed. “And Chinese restaurant tea. So anything you choose will probably be great.”

“And perhaps a scone to go along with your tea?” asked Theodosia.

Both boys nodded, so Theodosia scurried off.

“What are you
doing
?” Drayton hissed to her at the counter. “You’re encouraging them in their folly.”

Theodosia grabbed two floral teacups with matching saucers and placed them on a silver tray. “I didn’t tell you about this before because I thought it was just a silly story. But after everyone left on Saturday, after the police strung up the crime-scene tape and everything, Bill Glass told me that Ravencrest Inn was haunted.”

“He was pulling your leg,” said Drayton.

“Actually, he seemed rather serious. And you know Glass; he’s
never
serious.”

“There are no ghosts,” said Drayton, as he measured out scoops of jasmine tea into a blue-and-white Chinese teapot. “They simply don’t exist.”

“Oh, really,” said Theodosia. “What about the glowing orbs you encountered a couple of years back? The ones you saw hovering along Gateway Walk?”

Drayton pursed his lips. “That was different. That incident took place in a very ancient cemetery. On land where our forebears fought and died.”

“So you’re telling me those were legitimate ghosts while the ones at Ravencrest Inn are just posers?” For some reason, the notion amused her.

Drayton waved an index finger back and forth. “Trust me, entertaining a troupe of amateur ghost hunters can come to no good. It can only turn into a circus and cause more pain for Delaine.”

But would it really? Theodosia wondered. Because, of all the people she knew, of all the people who
believed
, Delaine was strangely amenable to ghosts and spirits from the great beyond.

*   *   *

They were unbelievably
busy then for the next twenty minutes. Theodosia greeted and seated guests while Drayton worked the front counter, brewing multiple pots of tea. Finally, when things settled down a bit, Theodosia turned her attention back to the ghost hunters.

“Is this a nonprofit venture on your part?” Theodosia asked. “A hobby?”

“It started out that way,” said Jed. “But now our goal is to produce a reality show called
Southern Hauntings
.”

“Aren’t there enough paranormal shows on TV already?” asked Theodosia. You could barely channel-surf without seeing a gaggle of ghost hunters pawing their way through some old prison or rundown mansion.

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