In London, Professor Quentin Rea, a ladies' man and former flirt of Lucy's, arrives to take over the tour--and she finds that while his hairline has receded, his amorous intentions have not. Lucy also begins to notice peculiar behavior among other members of the group. And when she discovers all of them have pasts connected to the late Professor Temple, she suspects his death was an elaborate act of revenge. Then another tour member dies, and Lucy is suddenly ensnared in a daring scheme that could lead her to a mastermind of murder--or make her the next victim. . .
"Leslie Meier writes with sparkle and warmth." –Chicago Sun Times
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ENGLISH TEA MURDERA Lucy Stone Mystery
By LESLIE MEIER
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Leslie Meier
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSomething was wrong. Very wrong.
Lucy Stone tapped the miniature TV screen fastened to the back of the seat in front of her, but it didn't even flicker. The tiny little image of an airplane that represented British Airways Flight 214 was still hugging the coast of the United States, and more than five hours of flight time remained before they would cross the blue patch representing the Atlantic Ocean to land on the dot symbolizing London, or more accurately Heathrow Airport.
Lucy nudged her seatmate, Sue Finch, who was flipping through a copy of British Vogue that she'd snagged while passing through the roomy first-class cabin, which was dotted with luxurious armchairs complete with footrests and privacy screens—a far cry from the cramped economy cabin where they were sitting.
"What is it, Lucy?"
"We're going to die."
"I don't think so." Sue turned the page and pointed to a photo with her perfectly polished fingernail. "What do you think of Katie Holmes's new haircut?"
"We're six miles up in the air and the temperature outside is MINUS one hundred and fifty degrees and all you can think about is Katie Holmes's haircut?"
Sue leaned over and peered at Lucy's screen. "Thirty-seven thousand feet, honey. That's not six miles."
"Yes, it is! Do the math! A mile is about five thousand feet."
Sue was now studying a photo of Victoria Beckham in minishorts. "Her legs are like sticks."
Lucy was busy recalling her multiplication tables. "Okay, I was wrong and you're right. SEVEN miles. That's absolutely crazy. And who even knew the thermometer goes down to one hundred and fifty degrees below zero. We live in Maine and the coldest it ever gets in Tinker's Cove is minus twenty or so." Lucy frowned. "And that's pretty darn cold."
"I don't know what you're so upset about. The temperature only goes up to ninety on a hot summer day, but the oven can go up to four hundred and fifty. I guess it's the same with cold."
"These planes are not as sturdy as you think," muttered Lucy darkly. "Remember the one that landed in the Hudson River? It was brought down by a goose."
"Well we're in luck, then, because it's way too cold up here for any geese." Sue indicated a photo of a top hat decorated with the Union Jack. "Look at this. There's a show of hats at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Maybe we can go."
"If we survive the flight."
"Oh, stop fussing." Sue tucked a wisp of glossy black hair behind her ear. "Flying is safer than driving. You might as well relax and enjoy the flight. That tinkling sound means the drinks trolley is coming."
Lucy might not be an experienced traveler, but she had done her homework. "You're not supposed to drink alcohol when you fly. It causes dehydration."
"Don't be ridiculous. If we're seven miles above the earth in freezing weather, we should drink every drop they'll give us."
Lucy was struggling to reach her carry-on bag, which she'd stowed beneath the seat in front of her. "How much do drinks cost?"
"They're included. And you'll get a nice dinner and breakfast, too."
Lucy fluffed her short mop of curls, which had gotten mussed when she reached for her wallet. "I had to pay for a Coke when Bill and I flew down to Florida for his uncle's funeral."
"That's on domestic flights. They take good care of you on these transatlantic flights. So relax. Watch a movie. This is supposed to be a vacation."
Sue was right, reflected Lucy as she pumped her heels up and down to avoid blood clots in her legs. This was her first trip out of the country, except for a few vacations in Canada, and she'd been looking forward to it for months. She'd always wanted to go to Europe, and now she finally had the chance. A few rows farther down the aisle, she could see her friend Pam Stillings's elbow, recognizable from the colorful sleeve of her tie-dyed shirt. It was due to Pam's job teaching yoga at Winchester College's night school that Lucy and Sue, as well as their friend Rachel Goodman, had learned about the trip. "Only two thousand dollars, and that includes airfare and hotel, admissions, everything except lunch and dinner, for nine whole days," Pam had exclaimed at one of their regular Thursday morning breakfasts at Jake's Donut Shack. "We should all go. This professor, George Temple—he's in my yoga class—is organizing the whole thing. All we have to do is sign up."
"Our kids are grown, and our husbands can manage by themselves for a week," said Sue. "Let's do it."
"I don't know if Ted will let me go for such a long time," said Lucy, who worked as a part-time reporter for the Tinker's Cove Pennysaver. Ted Stillings was the owner, publisher, editor, and chief reporter. He was also Pam's husband.
"I'll take care of Ted," promised Pam.
Rachel Goodman smiled sadly, running her finger around the thick rim of her white coffee mug; her big eyes were as dark as the black coffee. "I'd love to go, but I can't leave Miss T for a whole week." Rachel provided home care for the little town's oldest resident, Julia Ward Howe Tilley, and was very fond of her.
"Molly could fill in for you," said Lucy, referring to her daughter-in-law. "Patrick's almost a year old now. I think she'd enjoy getting out of the house, and I know Miss Tilley would enjoy seeing Patrick."
"Then I guess we're agreed," crowed Pam. "We have to put down a deposit of two hundred and fifty dollars to hold our places, so give me your checks as soon as you can."
It had seemed like a great idea at the time, but Lucy had no sooner written the check than she began to feel guilty. For one thing, unlike her friends, she wasn't an empty nester. Toby, the oldest, was married and settled on nearby Prudence Path with Molly and baby Patrick, and Elizabeth, next in line, was a senior at Chamberlain College in Boston. Sara, however, a high school sophomore, and Zoe, in middle school, were still at home. Bill, her restoration carpenter husband, would have his hands full managing his work and keeping an eye on the two girls. Even worse, she realized, she'd miss Patrick's first birthday on March 17.
"Don't be silly," Bill had argued when she voiced her concerns about leaving home for more than a week. "You've always wanted to go to England, and this is your chance—and you can find a terrific present for Patrick in London."
So Lucy had studied the itinerary and read the guidebooks and packed and repacked her suitcase several times. She'd even gone to the bank and changed five hundred American dollars into three hundred and fifty British pounds, which hadn't seemed like a very good deal at all.
"On the contrary," the bank manager had informed her. "The pound was trading at two dollars just a few months ago. You would have gotten only two hundred and fifty pounds if you bought back then."
"I hadn't realized," said Lucy, tucking the bills with Queen Elizabeth's face on them into her wallet.
"Have a good trip," said the manager, giving her a big smile.
Remembering the transaction, Lucy patted the little bulge her money belt made under her jeans, where she'd stowed her foreign money, emergency credit card, and a photocopy of her passport, just as the guidebook had advised. She checked the progress of the drinks trolley, which was making its slow way down the aisle, and glanced at George Temple, seated across the aisle from her. Temple, the tour leader, had suffered an asthma attack at the airport, and she hoped he was feeling better.
In contrast to the wheezing and coughing he'd exhibited in Terminal E at Logan, Temple now seemed quiet and withdrawn. He was sitting in an odd posture, hunched forward and completely ignoring his seatmates, two Winchester students who were also along on the tour. Pam had pointed them out to Lucy while they waited at the gate. The one next to Temple—a girl with spiky black hair; numerous piercings in her nose, lips, and ears; and a tattoo of a chain around her neck—was Autumn Mackie. "A wild child, a bit of a legend on campus," Pam had said. "But I can't figure out what she's doing with Jennifer Fain. She not only looks like an angel, but she also acts like one." Jennifer, who was seated by the window, had long blond hair and was wearing a loose, pink-flowered top that looked almost like a child's dress over her skinny gray jeans. It gave her a sweet, innocent air that contrasted sharply with Autumn's black Goth outfit.
The two made an odd pair, whispering together like the best of friends, but Temple wasn't noticing. He was sitting rigidly, leaning forward with his hands on his thighs, his shoulders rising and falling with each labored breath.
Lucy reached her hand across the aisle and tapped his arm. "Are you all right?"
"Asthma," he said, producing an inhaler. "This should help."
Lucy watched as he placed the inhaler between his lips and took a puff, sucking in the aerosol medication with a short, harsh gulp. When he exhaled, it took a long time and was accompanied by a wheezing sound that caught the attention of the two girls, who giggled. Temple ignored them and took another puff of medicine, and this time it seemed to go better, with less wheezing.
Reassured that he was gaining control of the attack, Lucy pulled the in-flight magazine out of the seat pocket and turned to the entertainment menu, choosing a film she hadn't seen: Doubt. The drinks trolley was closer now, and Jennifer was rummaging in her backpack, eventually producing a plastic ziplock bag that appeared to contain trail mix. She ripped it open and tossed it to Autumn, who caught it and began stirring the contents with her fingers, finally producing a raisin, which she popped into her mouth.
Temple's breathing seemed to worsen, but Lucy's view was blocked by a flight attendant, who asked if she'd like something to drink.
"White wine?" Lucy inquired.
"Of course. And would you like another, for your meal?"
Lucy looked at Sue, who nodded sharply.
"Thank you," said Lucy as two little wine bottles were placed on her tray table, along with a plastic glass and a tiny packet of pretzels. Sue opted for the same, but when the trolley moved on, Lucy saw that the girls had refused the refreshments and were sharing the bag of trail mix, passing it back and forth between them. Temple had accepted a glass of water, which was sitting on his tray, and his condition seemed to have improved. He was resting quietly now, leaning back in his seat, and the wheezing had stopped. Lucy felt she could relax, too, and poured herself a glass of white wine. On the tiny screen, Meryl Streep, costumed in the black bonnet and long-skirted habit of a nun in the 1960s, was terrorizing a schoolyard full of boisterous children. Lucy took a sip of wine, then another, and was soon absorbed in the movie.
Meryl Streep wasn't much liking Philip Seymour Hoffman—that was clear from her pursed lips and disapproving expression—when Lucy felt a tap on her upper arm. She turned toward George Temple and was shocked by his appearance. His face was grayish, his lips blue, and he was trying to tell her something but couldn't get the words out.
"Stay calm," she told him, pushing the button with the graphic of a flight attendant. "I'm ringing for help."
The two girls, she saw, were completely oblivious to his condition, listening to their iPods with earbuds and bouncing along to the music.
Temple nodded slowly and again raised his inhaler to his mouth, but before he could take a puff, Autumn Mackie gave an extra big bounce and flung out her hands, knocking the inhaler into the untouched glass of water. Horrified, Lucy watched as Temple turned slowly toward her and passed out.
The flight attendant, not at all the glamorous stereotype but a sturdy, middle-aged woman with thick English legs and a blouse that billowed out of her waistband, took one look and hurried back to the compartment containing medical supplies. As she returned with a small oxygen tank and mask, an announcement came over the PA system.
"We have a medical emergency. If there is a doctor or nurse aboard, please make yourself known to a crew member."
"Gramps!" It was Jennifer, her face pale, rising up by pulling against the back of the seat in front of her. "My grandfather is a doctor!"
An older gentleman, gray-haired in a tweed jacket and bow tie, was already hurrying down the aisle, a small leather case in his hand. He quickly examined Temple, checking his pupils and his pulse. "Anaphylactic shock," he told the flight attendant.
"I'll get the EpiPen." She whirled around, ready to dash down the aisle.
"I have one," said the doctor, producing a small plastic cylinder. Opening it, he extracted a syringe and snapped the cap off, revealing a short needle that he jabbed into Temple's thigh, right through his trousers. He then massaged the site of the injection, watching for signs of recovery.
Lucy couldn't see Temple—her view was blocked by the doctor and the flight attendant—but she could hear sobbing from one of the girls. The plane was quiet, everyone aware that something serious was happening. The drinks trolley was stalled, its return to the galley blocked by the caregivers in the aisle.
"A second shot?" whispered the flight attendant.
There was movement as the doctor felt Temple's pulse, then closed his eyelids. "I'm afraid it's too late."
The attendant quickly crossed herself, then asked Autumn for her blanket.
Autumn drew her dark brows together and scowled. "Blanket? The one that was on my seat?"
"Right. I'll get you another, but I need to cover this gentleman."
"Jennifer, give her your blanket," said the doctor.
"Okay." Jennifer obediently handed over the neatly folded square of blue acrylic, wrapped in plastic, and watched as the flight attendant ripped it open and carefully spread it over Temple's body.
"What are you doing?" Autumn's face was hard, her tone challenging. "You can't leave him here!"
"I'm afraid we have no alternative." A male flight attendant had joined the little group. "The plane is full. There are no empty seats."
"So you're just going to leave him here?" Jennifer had turned paler than ever. The black mascara she was wearing stood out like two rows of exclamation points, dramatizing her huge blue eyes.
Lucy turned and looked at Sue, grabbing her hand. They clung together, stunned by the enormity of the scene they had just witnessed.
"I know this is terribly upsetting and unfortunate, but there's really nothing we can do," said the steward, rubbing his hands together briskly. "So, who'd like another drink before dinner?"
Chapter Two"Are you crazy?" Autumn Mackie's face had gained some color; red blotches were appearing on her pallid cheeks and tattooed neck. "You can't expect me to sit next to a stinking corpse all the way to London!"
The steward's expression was quite stern. "Miss, please lower your voice."
"I will not lower my voice. This is outrageous! It's probably illegal! There's a health issue here!"
"Once again, I must ask you to lower your voice. I do not wish to have to restrain you, but I am empowered to do so."
The little hoops in Autumn's eyebrows trembled. "Restrain me? For what? What am I doing?"
The steward's expression was impassive. "You are disturbing the other passengers and interfering with the crew's performance of its duty." The scent of cooked food was filling the cabin, and there were sounds from the galley of trolleys being shifted and loaded. Lucy was ashamed of herself but felt quite hungry. It was almost eleven o'clock, hours later than her usual dinnertime.
"I am not the crazy one here," declared Autumn, stabbing at her chest. "This is a dead body. It's unsanitary. I don't want to have anything to do with it. Get it?"
"I understand, miss. This is an unfortunate situation, but we must make the best of it."
"I have a solution," said the doctor before the steward could reply. "I will change seats with the young lady."
"Is that agreeable?" inquired the steward.
"Yes. Anything to get away from this ... this corpse."
The steward turned to the doctor. "Thank you very much indeed."
"It's nothing, really. I would actually prefer to sit with my granddaughter." He smiled at Jennifer. "I will go and fetch my things."
"All right, miss. If you will just climb over ..." The steward was holding out his hand to Autumn, offering support so she could clamber over Temple's body.
Excerpted from ENGLISH TEA MURDER by LESLIE MEIER Copyright © 2011 by Leslie Meier. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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