Today's Reading

Today was supposed to be a special day at the Regency Grand. Today was the day that world-renowned, bestselling, and awardwinning author J. D. Grimthorpe, master of mystery with over twenty novels to his name, was set to make a big important announcement in our recently restored Grand Tearoom.

Everything was going splendidly early this morning. Mr. Snow had put me in charge of the tea, and while that's mostly because he has yet to hire special-event staff to handle tearoom functions, I knew how proud it would make Gran to see me acquiring new professional responsibilities, though of course Gran can't actually see me, because she is dead.

Today, I arrived early for my shift and neatly arranged the elegant new room, setting the tea service for fifty-five guests (give or take none), who were bestowed VIP entry passes. The VIPs included numerous LAMBS—Ladies Auxiliary Mystery Book Society members—who had booked rooms on the fourth floor of the hotel days ahead of the event. For weeks, the whispers and conjecture echoed throughout the hotel: Why would J. D. Grimthorpe, a reclusive and fiercely private writer, suddenly want to make a public announcement? Was it just to publicize a new book? Or was he about to announce he'd written his last?

As it turns out, he most definitely has written his last, though I believe this fact was as much a surprise to him as it was to everyone who watched him collapse on the herringbone-patterned floor of the tearoom forty-seven minutes ago.

Moments before he walked onstage, the VIP mystery fans, literary pundits, and reporters were abuzz with anticipation. The room was a cacophonous din of chatter and the high-pitched tinkle of silver cutlery as guests refilled their teacups and popped the last of their finger sandwiches into their mouths. The second J. D. Grimthorpe entered, silence fell. The author stood at the podium, a spindly but imposing figure, cue cards in hand. All eyes watched him as he cleared his throat a couple of times.

"Tea," he said into the microphone, gesturing for a cup, and thank goodness I'd been informed of his teetotaling ways and had asked the kitchen to prepare a cart to his precise specifications-with honey, not sugar. Lily, my Maid-in-Training, who I'd put in charge of all of Mr. Grimthorpe's tea carts during his stay, jumped into action posthaste. With shaking hands, she poured the famous author a cup and raced it to the stage.

"That won't do," he said as he took the cup from her, stepped down from the stage, and went to the tea cart himself. He removed the silver lid of the honey pot, spooned in two enormous globs of glowing yellow honey, then stirred the whole cup with the honey pot spoon, which made a dull clank as it grazed the cup's edges.

Lily, who had rushed forward with the intent to serve him, was at a loss as to what to do next.

The whole room watched as Mr. Grimthorpe held his cup forth, took a long sip, then swallowed and sighed. "A bitter man requires extra honey," he explained, which elicited muffled laughter from the crowd.

Mr. Grimthorpe's irritability has long been a hallmark of his fame, and ironically, the worse he behaves, the more books he seems to sell. Who can forget that infamous moment, which went viral on YouTube a few years ago, when a rabid fan (a recently retired heart surgeon), approached the author and said, "I want to try my hand at a novel. Can you help me?"

"I can," Mr. Grimthorpe replied. "Right after you lend me your scalpel. I want to try my hand at heart surgery."

I thought of that video this morning as Mr. Grimthorpe smiled his serpentine smile, then sauntered back onto the stage, where he gulped a few more deep drafts from his sweetened teacup, then placed it on the podium in front of him and looked out at his adoring crowd. He picked up his cue cards, drew a labored breath, and at last began to speak as he teetered from side to side ever so slightly.

"I'm sure you're all wondering why I've called you here today," he said. "As you know, I prefer to pen words rather than speak them. My privacy has long been my refuge, my personal history a source of mystery. But I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to make certain revelations to you, my fans and followers, at this critical juncture in my long and storied career—pun intended."

He stopped for a moment, expecting laughter, which followed on cue. I shivered as his piercing eyes surveyed the room, looking for what or for whom, I do not know.

"You see," he continued, "I've been keeping a secret, one that will no doubt surprise you."

He stopped abruptly. He put one long-fingered hand to his collar in a futile attempt to loosen it. "What I'm trying to say is . . ." he croaked, but no other words would leave his throat. His mouth opened and closed, and he suddenly seemed very unsteady, swaying more dramatically from side to side in front of the podium. All I could think about was a goldfish I'd once seen jump from its bowl and lie gaping and apoplectic on a pet store floor.

Mr. Grimthorpe clutched his teacup once again and sipped. Then before anyone could prevent it, he suddenly toppled over, plummeting off the stage and into the crowd, where he fell directly on top of Lily, my most unlucky Maid-in-Training. Together, they landed with a dramatic crash on the floor as the porcelain teacup broke into innumerable razor-edged shards and the spoon on the saucer clattered flatly against the herringbone-patterned floor.


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