by Barry Ergang
The Mall Tea’s Fall Kin is an original mystery short story originally published by Mysterical-E in 2006.
When Delmer opened the door to his knock, Winston Grohner said, “Out of my way, punk,” and shouldered his way into the apartment’s vestibule.
Bebe Gunn saw the expression on his face and said: “Wince, what took you so long? Are you all right?”
“I got held up by the cops,” he told her.
She pressed herself against him and upturned her face for a kiss.
“No time for that, angel,” he said. “Where is he?”
“In…in the living room. What’s going on? What—”
His jaw set, Grohner marched past her into the living room. Tipton Lee’s skeletal frame seemed almost lost in an armchair. A teapot, cup and saucer rested on a table beside it. Lee’s eyes glittered impatiently as he glanced from the teapot to his wristwatch and back again. Wince Grohner planted himself squarely in front of Lee.
“You’ve returned, Mr. Grohner.”
“Yeah, and this time I want answers.”
Tipton Lee’s smile was a cadaverous display in his long, gaunt face. “Your memory is faulty, sir—a poor trait for a private detective. You’ve already received answers. Only last evening I told you the story of how the Pope dispatched the Knights of Salada on a mission—”
“Yeah, that Salada bull. Forget about it. We’re sitting on a powder keg. The cops are on my neck. They think I killed my partner and Lloyd Thurstee. Captain Pekoe of the La Aroma died in my office after he delivered your precious tea leaves. Either we hand the cops a fall guy or they’ll hang me for some real murders. You’ll be my first victim.”
Grohner looked over his shoulder. Bebe Gunn stood in the archway between the vestibule and the living room. Delmer stood behind her.
“Come on in, angel,” Grohner said. “You, punk—stay the hell out.”
He turned back to Lee, who once again consulted his wristwatch.
“Very well, sir,” Lee said. “I told you I like to talk to a man who likes to talk. I shall tell you all I know as soon as I’ve had my tea.”
“Your tea isn’t important right now. Tell me what I want to know and I’ll buy you a cup at the mall.”
Lee’s emaciated body shook with laughter, but the sound that emerged from his lips was a dry cackle. “Plainly, sir, you don’t understand. The tea is of the utmost importance. It’s derived from an herb that blooms on the mountainsides in Tibet every fifth autumn. As you have no doubt observed, I’m not in good health. In truth, I’m dying. The tea is legendary for its curative and rejuvenative powers. It’s not something you can obtain from a local mall.” Tipton lifted the lid off the teapot. “This is not a run-of-the-mill tea, Mr. Grohner, as you can see from its deep indigo color. It must brew for precisely ten minutes—no more, no less.” He replaced the lid. “In less than a minute, I shall partake of it and commence my restoration.”
“Trying to cheat Lucifer, eh?“ Grohner snatched up the teapot. “Not till I get some answers, you won’t.”
Grohner had his gun out before the punk came into the room. “Don’t try it, sonny.”
Delmer halted, hiked both hands away from his body.
“I’m begging you, sir,” Lee said, “let me drink the tea and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”
“You’ll tell me first,” Wince Grohner said, “because I’m the only thing standing between the devil and the steeped blue tea.”