two cups of tea

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“Come James, you call this tea?”

“I call this America John, but I didn’t call you in for criticism.”

When James heard his friend, part of a famous London detective team would be in LA, desperation compelled him to reach out. Now they were seated in the study of his 1920s mansion once owned by a silent movie star sipping a disappointing Darjeeling.

“My wife has been gone a month and the police are useless.”

“I see.” John noticed that James seemed distracted and kept glancing down. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“It’s the damned pounding. It won’t go away, John.”

“James, I know you and Mary hadn’t been getting along. Are you sure she just didn’t run off?”

“No, it was foul play. I’m sure of it. Only you can help me, John. Only you can discover…” He stopped talking, picked up his cup and set it down again. He kept staring down at the throw rug and tugging at his ear.

“I agree, James. I know where Mary went now. She never left. Why don’t you lift up the rug and show me how you buried her body under the floorboards.”

“Then you can hear her heartbeat too.”

I wrote this for the Weekend Writing Prompt #40 – Afternoon Tea challenge hosted by Sammi Cox. For prose work, the idea is to use the phrase “Afternoon Tea” to craft a mystery-themed story solved over afternoon tea that is no more than 200 words long. My word count is 200.

First of all, I cry foul, because it’s almost impossible to create a credible mystery including clues in a mere 200 words. But since that’s all I had to work with, I felt forced to “borrow” a pre-existing mystery, in this case Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. I remember having to study this story in Junior High and it totally freaked me out.

I also “borrowed” John Watson as played by actor Martin Freeman in the BBC television series Sherlock which I thoroughly enjoy.

Hopefully you got how my character James murdered his wife Mary and then deposited the corpse under the wooden floorboards of his study in his 1920s spanish mansion in Los Angeles (probably something that looks like this). However guilt makes him continually look back at that section of the floor and has him imagine he can still hear Mary’s heartbeat. John, being no slouch, quickly figures out that James wants John to solve the mystery (it had to be quickly since again…200 words).

This being America, we don’t tend to value our afternoon tea as they do in London.

2 thoughts on “Telltale

  1. A quite forgivable borrowing and homage, James. But I’m not sure you should allow your wife to read this one, as she might wonder about the impetus or the seed behind the thought. Wives can be kind’a funny that way. [:)]

    I did always wonder about Poe’s story, however, because ordinarily a dead body’s heart has already ceased beating. Consequently, the only way to begin hearing it within the framework of a guilty conscience is if one has been snuggled closely with the parturient victim whilst planning to dispose of her. Unless one is burying her alive, perhaps under the influence of some combination of sedative drugs and alcohol that will slowly and progressively depress the heart rate until it stops altogether, one would not hear a heartbeat that could be remembered, guiltily or no. Nor would the murderer have any reason at all to expect that the heart could still be beating, and thus “overheard” accusatorily. Hence the entire phenomenon of the hallucinated heartbeat could not be based on even the faintest memory or quasi-rational expectation, but must be an entirely-imaginary product of irrational guilt. (The psychological effects of the rational kind are another matter.) The murderer could just as likely hallucinate a bloodstain that no one else can see, or a ghost of the victim, or disembodied voices. One might expect the imagery to match the means of the murder in some symbolic manner, hence no imagining of bloodstains for a victim of poison (drugs) or strangulation; and no imagining of a heartbeat where it had already ceased. But perhaps that is entirely too rational an expectation for an irrational symbol-laden hallucination.


    • Poe was writing in the early/mid 19th century and the understanding of “madness” was different than it was today. One could go mad from guilt and terror and imagine that somehow the person buried alive had somehow survived and their heartbeat was audible. That’s what I was going for, though a scant few hundred words doesn’t allow me to flesh out the story much.


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