Death by Darjeeling

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When a man is poisoned by tea, Charleston shop owner Theodosia Browning must prove her innocence and track down the real killer…before someone else takes their last sip.

Meet Theodosia Browning, owner of Charleston’s beloved Indigo Tea Shop. Patrons love her blend of delicious tea tastings and Southern hospitality. And Theo enjoys the full-bodied flavor of a town steeped in history-and mystery.

It’s tea for two hundred or so at the annual historical homes garden party. Theodosia, as event caterer, is busy serving steaming teas and blackberry scones while guests sing her praises. But the sweet smell of success turns to suspense when an esteemed guest is found dead-his hand clutching an empty teacup. Trouble is brewing, and all eyes are on Theo….


Goose bumps rose on her arms, a shiver ran down her spine . . .
Bethany was within four feet of the man when a warning bell sounded in her head. Surely her eyes were playing tricks on her! But as she squinted into the darkness, the erratic candlelight hissed and flared, illuminating the man’s face.
The calm of the courtyard was shattered by Bethany’s shrill scream. The silver tray crashed to the bricks. Teacups broke into shards, and a half-filled pot of tea exploded on impact.
Theodosia slammed open the door and rushed outside and through the tangle of empty tables. “Bethany!” she called, urgency in her voice . . .
She saw immediately that the man slumped in his chair, his chin heavy on his chest. One hand dangled at his knees, and the other rested on the table, still clutching a teacup . . .
“Theodosia, what are you . . .” From across the way, Samantha’s voice rose sharply, then died.
Another strangled cry tore from Bethany’s mouth. She pointed toward Samantha, who had crumpled in a dead faint . . .
Theodosia’s brain shifted into overdrive. “Haley, call nine-one-one!”

Tea Shop Mysteries
by Laura Childs
Scrapbooking Mysteries
by Laura Childs
by Laura Childs

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / May 2001
Copyright © 2001 by The Berkley Publishing Group.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-09994-0
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
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are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

This book is dedicated to Peg Baskerville,
true friend and voracious reader.
May you rest in peace
and enjoy all the time heaven allows for reading.

THEODOSIA BROWNING LEANED back from the clutter of her antique wooden desk, balanced a bone china cup and saucer on one knee, and took a much-needed sip of Lung Ching tea. Savoring the emerald green color and delicate sweetness, she absently pushed back a meandering lock of the naturally curly auburn hair that swirled about her head, creating a haloed visage somewhere between a Rafael painting and a friendly Medusa.
Calmly, calmly, she told herself.
On this fine October afternoon with the temperature in Charleston hovering in the midseventies and the back door propped open to catch the languid breezes wafting off the nearby Cooper River, the Indigo Tea Shop seemed to be the epicenter of several minicrises, with all the fallout landing squarely in Theodosia’s lap.
Her customs broker, usually so masterful at snipping red tape and shepherding shipments from far-flung continents, had just called with disastrous news. Three cases of silver tips from the Makaibari Tea Estate in India had been unceremoniously dumped on a dock in New Jersey and left to sit in pouring rain.
Then there was the issue of the Web site.
Theodosia directed her gaze to the colorful concept boards that lay scattered at her feet. Even with marketing and design expertise from Todd & Lambeau Design Group, one of Charleston’s topflight Web design firms, launching a virtual tea shop on the Internet was proving to be a major undertaking. Selling bags, boxes, and tins of exotic teas as well as tea accoutrement required more than just being cyber savvy; it was a long-term commitment in terms of time and money.
And wouldn’t you know it, Drayton Conneley, her assistant and right-hand man, had gotten a last-minute call to host a group tea tasting. Drayton was out front right now, charming and chatting up a half dozen ladies. That meant final preparations for tonight’s Lamplighter Tour still weren’t wrapped up.
Ordinarily, Theodosia reveled in the oasis of calm her little tea shop afforded. Tucked between Robillard Book-sellers and the Antiquarian Map Store in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina, the Indigo Tea Shop was one stitch in a romantic, pastel tapestry of Georgian, Federal, and Victorian homes, courtyard gardens, and quaint shops.
Inside this former carriage house and tiny treasure, copper teapots hissed and bubbled, fresh-baked pastries cooled on wooden racks, and patrons scrambled for a coveted seat at one of the creaking hickory tables. Leaded glass windows, a wavering scrim to temper the intense South Carolina sun, cast filtered light on pegged wooden floors, exposed beams, and brick walls.
Floor to ceiling, a warren of cubbyholes held jars brimming with black powders, crumpled leaves of nut brown and ochre, and shiny whole leaves that shimmered like Chinese celadon. And what a tantalizing spectrum of aromas! Piquant gunpowder green tea from south China, lightly fermented Ceylonese garden tea, delicate fruited Nilgiri tea from the Blue Mountains of India.
The ringing phone nudged Theodosia from her reflections.
“Delaine’s on two,” called Haley, popping around the corner from the kitchen to hover at Theodosia’s elbow.
Haley Parker, Theodosia’s young shop clerk and baker extraordinaire, worked days in the tea shop and attended college classes a few evenings a week. Although Haley currently listed her major as communications, she had, over the past three years, alternated between sociology, philosophy, and women’s studies.
Theodosia looked up hopefully. “Could you help her?”
“Delaine specifically asked for you,” said Haley, her brown eyes dancing with amusement.
“Lord, love us,” murmured Theodosia as she reached for the phone.
“Mercury’s in retrograde,” Haley added in a conspiratorial stage whisper. “Going to shake things up the next couple days.”
Theodosia exhaled a long breath. “Delaine, lovely you should call.”
Delaine Dish owned Cotton Duck, a women’s clothing boutique that featured casual yet elegant cottons, silks, and linens. Delaine was also the neighborhood gossip.
“Tell me you’re not unaware of this man, Hughes Barron,” came Delaine’s somewhat strident voice.
“I’m unaware, Delaine.” Theodosia stood and stretched a kink from her neck, preparing for a siege.
“Well, he’s made an offer on the Peregrine Building.”
The Peregrine Building was three buildings down from the Indigo Tea Shop on Church Street. It was an ornate, limestone edifice that had been an opera house at the turn of the century and now housed a handful of professional offices and shops on its lower two floors.
“My dear,” continued Delaine, “you are an astute businesswoman. You understand complex issues such as zoning and commercial use.”
“What are you really worked up about, Delaine?” asked Theodosia, unswayed by Delaine’s flattery.
“Architectural integrity, of course. God knows what sins a developer with Barron’s reputation might wreak on a building such as that.”
The word developer rolled off Delaine’s tongue with obvious distaste, as though she were discussing manure.
“Tell you what, Delaine . . .” Theodosia stifled a giggle. “I’ll speak to Drayton. He’s—”
“A muckity-muck with the Heritage Society!” interrupted Delaine. “Of course, dear Drayton. Who better to have a pipeline to all this!”
“I couldn’t have said it better.”
“Theo, you’re a gem.”
“Bye, Delaine.” Theodosia hung up the phone, and carried her cup and saucer into the small kitchen. The air was delightfully fragrant from baking, the room dominated by an oversized commercial stove.
“You wouldn’t have to be on the Internet if you just hired Delaine,” said Haley. She yanked open the oven door, took a quick peek, and closed it again.
“Delaine’s a character,” admitted Theodosia, “but she does add a certain delirious passion to the neighborhood.” Theodosia lifted the plastic cover on a tray of cranberry scones. “These look heavenly.”
“Thanks. Hope this’ll be enough for tonight. Oh . . . one more minute and you can take a fresh batch of butter cookies out to our guests.”
“How’s it going?” Theodosia nodded toward the front of the tea shop.
“Drayton is being his erudite self.”
“Your vocabulary continues to expand at a rapid pace, Haley.”
“Thank you, I’m taking a class called verbal integrity.”
“Outstanding,” said Theodosia. “And the credits hopefully lead one step closer to a degree?”
Haley slid the oven mitt onto her hand, and shifted her thin, lithe body from one ballet slipper to the other. “Actually, I’m thinking of taking a sabbatical from school so I can focus on more practical things.”
“Mm-hm.” Theodosia peered through a doorway hung with dark green velvet curtains that separated the front of the tea shop from the kitchen and her small office.
Six tasters were gathered around one of the large tables, listening eagerly as Drayton Conneley, professional tea blender and one of only ten master tea tasters in the United States, delivered a lively lesson in tea connoiseurship.
Formal as always in tweed jacket, starched white shirt, and bow tie, Drayton ladled four heaping teaspoons of jasmine pearl into a carefully warmed white ceramic teapot. This was followed by a gush of hot water heated to precisely 150 degrees Fahrenheit. As steaming water infused tea particles, a rich ginger color developed, followed by a sweet scent reminiscent of almonds.
“How do you know how long to allow tea to steep?” asked a white-haired woman who wrinkled her nose appreciatively.
“Green and white teas are best at between one and two minutes,” said Drayton. “A Darjeeling, which we all know is delicate and fruity, shouldn’t be infused longer than three minutes. And that is a hard and fast rule.” Drayton Conneley peered over tortoiseshell half glasses that were perpetually sliding down his long, aquiline nose, giving him a slightly owlish appearance.
“Even fifteen seconds too long, and a Darjeeling will go bitter. But a Formosan oolong, especially if the leaves are tightly rolled, is an entirely different matter. Have no fear in boldly pushing the steeping time to seven minutes,” advised Drayton in the carefully modulated tones his friends described as his basso contante voice.
Sixty-two years of age, the only child of missionary parents who originally hailed from Sullivan’s Island, across the Intracoastal Waterway from Charleston, Drayton had spent the first twenty years of his life in Canton, China. It was in south China that Drayton developed his taste for tea and his passion for it, spending weeks at a time on the Panyang Tea Plantation in the high steppes of the Hangzhou region while his parents ministered to Christian Chinese in far-flung provinces. Upon returning to Charleston, Drayton attended Johnson & Wales University, the area’s prestigious culinary institute, then spent several years in London working at Croft & Squire Tea Ltd. and commuting to Amsterdam where the major wholesale tea auctions of the world are conducted.
Today Drayton had arranged six different teapots on the lazy Susan that occupied center stage of the table. Each teapot was crafted in a unique motif, ranging from a colorful ceramic cabbage to a Chinese Yi-shing teapot of molded purple clay. Steeping inside each teapot was a different type of tea, and fanned out in front of each taster were six small cups for sampling. An ornate silver tray with a rapidly dwindling assortment of cookies seemed to be in constant rotation around the table.
“I’m never quite sure when the water is ready,” a woman in a yellow twin set drawled in the slow tones of a Savannah, Georgia, native as she eagerly reached for what proved to be the last butter cookie.
“Then, dear lady, I shall teach you a famous Japanese adage that is both edifying and rippingly depictive,” said Drayton. “Carp eyes coming, fish eyes going . . .”
“Soon will be the wind in the pines,” finished Theodosia as she bustled out from the back room.
“The fish eyes are the first tiny bubbles,” Theodosia explained as she set a fresh plate of butter cookies on the table. “The carp eyes are the large bubbles that herald a good, rolling boil. And the wind in the pines is, of course, the beginning rush of the teapot’s whistle.”
These charming metaphors drew a quick spatter of applause from her delighted guests as Drayton looked on, pleased by the dramatic entrance of his beloved employer.
But then, most people were charmed by Theodosia Browning the moment they met her. She was all sparkling blue eyes and barely contained energy, with a broad, intelligent face, high cheekbones, and full, perfectly formed mouth that could pull into a pucker when she was feeling perplexed.
Theodosia retrieved an apron from behind the counter, and tied it around the waist of her Laura Ashley dress. Although not overweight, neither was Theodosia thin. She was solid, had been all her life. A size ten that occasionally veered toward a twelve, especially around Christmas and New Year’s when the tea shop overflowed with scones, benne wafers, cream breads, and sweet butter biscuits. And holiday parties up and down Church Street featured buffet tables groaning with she-crab soup, roast duckling, and spicy shrimp with tasso gravy.
Theodosia’s mother, a confirmed romantic and history buff, had named her only daughter after Theodosia Alston, wife of former South Carolina governor Joseph Alston and daughter of former vice president Aaron Burr.
In the early 1800s, when Theodosia Alston reigned as First Lady of the state, she had cut a colorful figure. But her notoriety was short-lived. In 1812 she was a passenger on a sailing ship that sank off the coast of North Carolina. When the bodies of the unfortunate souls washed up on shore, only the remains of Theodosia Alston were missing.
As a young child, Theodosia had sat with her mother in the garden swing and speculated on what had really become of the historical Theodosia. As they whiled away afternoons, listening to the gentle drone of bees, it was exciting to imagine any number of chilling scenarios.
Had she been kidnapped by her father’s enemies? Did the pirates who plied their sinister trade off the coastal waters capture poor Theodosia Alston and sell her into slavery? And years later, when the estate of an old North Carolina woman was sold, why did a portrait of the old woman, painted when she was young, look startlingly similar to the missing Theodosia?
But in Charleston, that fine city that began as Charles Town, when rice, indigo, and tobacco from the plantations were in demand throughout the world, legend and history blended into a rich patois.
And Theodosia Browning found running a tea shop to be a civilized melding of merchant and Southern hostess. Rather like throwing open one’s parlor and awaiting whatever surprise guests might drop in.
But Theodosia, now at the age of thirty-six, had not always been the owner of a tea shop.
Years ago (though she’d prefer not to count them) Theodosia had been a student at the prestigious University of Charleston. As an English literature major, she’d been swept up in the poetry and prose of Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Charlotte Brontë. Determined to compose her own romantic, lyrical poetry, Theodosia had adapted the bohemian style of wearing a flowing purple velvet cape, walked the grounds of the old Magnolia Cemetery for inspiration, and taken a part-time job at the Charleston Rare Book Company.
But a month before graduation, Theodosia’s father passed away and, with her mother long dead since she was eight, she had only a small inheritance on which to live. Knowing the life of a poet can be one precarious step down from that of starving artist, Theodosia took a job in an advertising agency.
Because she was blessed with a knack for creativity as well as a genius for business and marketing, she rose through the ranks swiftly. She began her career as a lowly media estimator, graduating to account coordinator, eventually becoming vice president of client services.
But fourteen years in a cutthroat, results-driven arena took its toll. Long hours, tight deadlines, nervous clients, and high-stakes creative decisions led to her gradual disenchantment. Theodosia searched for a way to step off the merry-go-round.
While serving on a pro bono marketing committee for Spoleto, Charleston’s annual arts festival, Theodosia stumbled upon a quirky opportunity. The artistic director for a participating theater organization was trying to unload a little tea shop on Church Street that his mother had run years ago. Intrigued, Theodosia took a hard look at the dusty, unoccupied little tea shop that was up for sale and thought, What if?
Mulling her decision for one long, sleepless night, Theodosia made the ultimate executive decision and used her small savings to put a down payment on the property.
Convinced that the congenial atmosphere of a tea shop would be far more satisfying for the soul than helping to market credit cards, computer peripherals, and pharmaceuticals, Theodosia threw herself wholeheartedly into her new venture.
She learned how to evaluate the twist, tip, and aroma of tea leaves and acquired a spectacular shop inventory of loose and boxed teas from notable wholesalers such as Freed, Teller, and Freed’s in San Francisco and Kent & Dinmore in England.
Serendipitously, America’s sole surviving tea plantation, the Charleston Tea Plantation, was located just twenty-five miles south of Charleston on the subtropical island of Wadmalaw. So Theodosia was able to acquaint herself with owners Mack Fleming and Bill Hall and their 127-acre plantation that grew nearly 300 varieties of tea.
From Fleming and Hall Theodosia was able to learn about the harvest process. How to select the newest, most tender leaves. The use of withering troughs to circulate air through the leaves. Techniques on macerating leaves to break down cell walls.
She went so far as to glean special tea recipes. A wonderful orange pekoe dessert soufflé from a chef at the Four Seasons in San Francisco, a recipe for tea-smoked chicken from the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong.
And Theodosia hired Drayton Conneley away from his role as hospitality director at Charleston’s famed Vendue Inn.
It wasn’t long before the newly energized Indigo Tea Shop, as tea salon, retail tea shop, and gift shop, became a profitable enterprise and a popular stop on Charleston’s many walking and carriage tours. Much to Theodosia’s delight, her tea shop also came to be regarded by her neighbors as the social and spiritual hub of the historic district.
The clip-clop of hooves on the pavement outside the Indigo Tea Shop signaled that the horse-drawn coach had arrived to carry their tea-tasting visitors back to their respective inns and hotels.
“I hope you have tickets for one of tonight’s Lamplighter Tours,” said Theodosia as final sips were taken, mouths carefully daubed, and linen napkins refolded. “Many of the historic homes on the tour are private residences that graciously open their doors only for this one special event. It’s really quite remarkable.”
Sponsored by the Heritage Society, the Lamplighter Tour was an annual tradition in Charleston, held during the last two weeks of October when the long-anticipated cooler nights had returned. These evening walking tours of notable avenues such as Montagu, Queen, and Church Streets afforded visitors a leisurely stroll down cobblestone lanes and a golden opportunity to step inside many of Charleston’s elegant, lofty-ceilinged grande dame homes and cloistered courtyard gardens.
“If I may impart my own personal recommendation,” said Drayton, pulling back chairs and offering his arm to the ladies, “I would heartily suggest our own Church Street walk. It begins at the Ravenel Home, a stunning example of Victorian excess, and concludes in the formal garden of the elegant Avis Melbourne Home where our gracious hostess and proprietor, Miss Theodosia Browning, has been engaged to serve a repertoire of fine teas, including a special Lamplighter Blend created just for this event.”
“Oh, my,” said one of the ladies. “How intriguing.”
“You have characterized it aptly,” said Drayton. “Our Lamplighter Blend is a lovely marriage of two traditional black teas with a hint of jasmine added for high notes.”
Theodosia glanced toward the counter and grinned at Haley, who had just emerged from the back room, her arms filled with gift baskets. Haley was always accusing Drayton that his role as Parliamentarian in the Charleston Heritage Society led to oratorical extravagance.
“Of course,” added Theodosia in a droll voice meant to be a casual counterpoint to Drayton’s, “we’ll also be serving blackberry scones with clotted cream.”
Pleasured groans emanated from around the table.
Catching the subtle exchange between Theodosia and Haley, Drayton snatched one of the baskets filled with small tins of tea and tied with white ribbon and held it up for all to see. “Be sure to take a quick perusal of our gift baskets before you leave. Miss Parker here has recently taken up the art of weaving traditional South Carolina sweetgrass baskets and has become quite an accomplished artisan.”
Haley’s face reddened at Drayton’s announcement. “Thank you,” she murmured.
And, of course, ladies being ladies, veteran shoppers, and enthusiastic tourists, at least three of the delightfully done gift baskets were carefully wrapped in Theodosia’s signature indigo blue tissue paper and tucked safely in the carriage as they departed.
“Did you bring Earl Grey down?” asked Theodosia after the door had swung shut and the shadows lengthened enough so she knew there wouldn’t be any more customers for afternoon tea.
Haley nodded.
“Earl, come on, fellow,” called Theodosia as she clapped her hands together.

On Sale
May 1, 2001
Page Count
256 pages