I turned to my counter and sighed in happiness. This morning I woke early, (nerves seriously had kicked in), and arrived at the tearoom at half six with an incredibly grumpy Chance in tow. He’d locked Leslie and me in, and Zoey and Duncan had arrived ten minutes ago. We’d forgone a uniform for the staff but asked they wore black slacks and a white blouse or shirt. Chance had forwarded everyone a budget to help provide the clothing we asked them to wear. Zoey being ornery had picked black skirts, but it was no skin off my nose.
Studying the counter for one last time, I smiled in joy at the shelves full of offerings. A large carrot cake cut into slices, two Victoria sponges, two red velvet and a walnut and coffee cake. There were vanilla, chocolate and orange and lemon cupcakes topped with lashings of flavoured icing butter. I’d baked chocolate, blueberry, strawberry and white chocolate muffins, sliced in half and filled with fresh whipped cream. There were trays of scones, butter, cherry, cheese and raisin ones and trays of doughnuts of all types. I’d made flapjacks, shortbread and millionaires shortcake. The counter looked amazing and smelt excellent.
Leslie walked out of the kitchen whistling and shucked her apron. Duncan was at the monster coffee machine and was twirling buttons and filling compartments and checking filters. Leslie was going to operate the sandwich and hot counter, and I was running the bakery counter. Anita was in the kitchen waiting on orders and bustling about, I watched as Leslie walked to the door dead on eight and unlocked it. People streamed in, and I found myself filling orders at once. We had two tills set behind the counter, which Leslie, Duncan and I were constantly at. Ten o’clock hit before we finally got a lull and glancing around Leslie appeared worn out, and Duncan was buzzing. Anita appeared from the kitchen doorway, shaking her head.
“I saved everyone a few bacon sandwiches, but you better get them quick,” Anita said, eyeing the door warily. I sent Duncan back and strolled to check Zoey in the tearoom, which was three quarters filled. Zoey sagged back against the wall out of everyone’s line of sight and stared at me in disbelief.
“I’ve never been so rushed off my feet,” she whispered.
“Neither have I, do you think this is first-day opening rush or did Leslie’s and Chance’s advertising pay off?” I whispered back.
“Think a little of both, an English tearoom is a novelty, and it’s linked to Hellfire. They’re popular around here, an old lady running a tearoom is something everyone wants to experience. Chance was right, the Hellfire name brought people in.” Zoey said and smiled. “Happy for you Clio, Chance is an amazing man and you two work well together.”
I can’t claim I’d been close to Zoey before, we’d been friendly but not friends. Even so, I reached out and hugged Zoey tightly and then sent her to eat her sandwich while I watched the tearoom. I took a few refills for cups of tea and coffee while Zoey had a break. Leslie must have wolfed her sandwich because she was back at the counters as a customer walked in.
We allowed everyone to have a half-hour break and then Leslie and I took ours. Anita was remaking several items and putting them fresh on the counters. I noted that the hot pastries, sausage rolls and hot sandwiches had sold out. Anita was placing trays of them into the ovens while I checked the stock levels of my cakes. I began mixing up a new batch of carrot cake and red velvet cake and making some more cupcakes which had flown out. At twelve it picked up again, and we were rushed off our feet as lunchtime customers came in and then people who’d heard about our English afternoon teas. At five o’clock, I sank wearily into a chair as Duncan locked the doors, and we all stared at each other in stunned shock.
“Wow,” Duncan finally gave voice to what I believe we all were thinking.
“Yeah,” Leslie muttered and jumped as someone knocked on the door. Zoey trotted over and opened it, and Staffey walked in. He held the biggest bunch of flowers in his hand, which he presented to Leslie with a flourish. Leslie’s eyes widened as Staffey grabbed her hand and lifted Leslie to her feet.
“Congratulations my dear Leslie, what an opening day! Congratulations Clio, what a success!” I grinned at Staffey’s exuberance. Wraith raised his head with a smirk, Chance had left us at nine when Wraith, one of Hellfire’s prospects came to guard us for the day. He’d been good at crowd control and helping seat people. Wraith was sat in the corner playing on his phone, waiting to take me across to Hellfire. All of Hellfire had come across to buy their lunches, and several female customer’s eyes had popped out of their heads.
“Thanks,” I said, smiling.
“Now woman, I’m going to take you for dinner and then take you home, run you a bubble bath. I’ll finish by giving you a massage and then put you to bed,” Staffey said winking at Leslie. Her mouth opened and closed for a few seconds, and then her hand slapped across his chest.
“If you think I’m sleeping with you…” Leslie said irately, and Staffey cut her off.
“Did I mention you could take me to bed!” Staffey exclaimed mock indignant.
“Samuel Staffey!” Leslie cried, going red and slapping his chest again. Staffey chuckled and before Leslie could say another word swept her out of the shop stuffing the flowers in her arms.
“Yes!” I hissed fist-pumping the air. Wraith chuckled from his corner, and Zoey giggled.
“You little matchmaker,” she hissed, and I gave Zoey a smug look before glancing between her and Wraith. Zoey blushed and then scuttled out. Duncan left soon after walking Anita to her car and chatting her ear off. Anita patted the young man on his arms several times, and they disappeared from view. After I checked everything had been put away and locked up, Wraith walked me to the door where Chance stood with his own enormous bouquet. I flung myself in his arms and began rabbiting about my day. Chance listened carefully as he walked me to his bike and climbing on, we roared out of Hellfire several minutes later.
Afew days later I was baking when there was a knock and Lio was escorted through by Leslie. In welcome, I smiled at the detective who shot a half-smile back before his expression settled into stern lines. This was an official meeting then, I put down my whisk and turned and washed my hands before turning around.
“Spit it out,” I said, guessing Lio had something to say.
“Got news, Clio, mostly good, some bad,” Lio said and reached for a coffee I hadn’t noticed him putting down on the counter.
“The video has been stopped in its tracks, completely gone, Nigel has crashed every computer or device that had it. There’ll be no more downloads. Unfortunately, the press has picked up the story and SPD now being inundated by requests for details, and they’re searching for your name.” I paled. My attack had been kept from the papers, despite the fact people in power were being swept up in the process of justice and charged. I hated the thought of my name out there for people to judge and point the finger.
“Is that the bad?” I asked, and Lio shook his head.
“We’ve still not found Sam despite SPD’s efforts, we think he’s still in Spearfish but can’t tell where. We’ve no lead, nothing, we know a bounty remains on you, and we’ve caught most of the men who watched. But three powerful assholes bounced their signal all over the globe, them we’re struggling to find.”
“I know you’re doing your best Lio, it means a lot,” I said my mood dipping to a low.
“We are Clio, and we won’t stop. The chief’s happy with the arrests we’ve made so far, and he’s not questioning how we stopped the video, he’s happy it’s gone. The chief wants the last four arrested but can’t keep throwing personnel at this. Through what happened to you, we cracked a porn ring, and Spearfish is grateful we did. One guy led SPD straight to it.”
“Happy for you,” I muttered distractedly. How hard was it to find Slimy Sam? Then again, the asshole was one man in a city of thousands, I suppose it was damn hard.