Tuesday Afternoon Murder Club is a fun project that I’m working on-a lighthearted story set in a retirement village. I’m going to publish the story as a serial on the blog, so stay tuned for further installments. Here is Chapter one.
Chapter One-Straggly Petunias
Eleanor had decided that she must kill her son in law. It was the only way, she thought, as she gazed around her beautiful sunroom. Everything was perfectly placed and pleasing to the eye. The twin armchairs, in a muted floral pattern, the delicate oak coffee table, the ornate sideboard. Everything was impeccable. Even the potted plant on the windowsill was dust free, and a perfect shade of green. And there, in the middle of the room, was a pair of Daryl’s running shoes, mud still caked on the sides. On her immaculate cream carpet, no less. Very carefully, Eleanor picked up the shoes between two fingers, and held them at an arms length from her body. She carried them to the laundry, and dropped them in a pile, wishing that she could simply throw them in the bin.
Brushing off her fingertips, Eleanor fought the urge to walk through the rest of the little house, checking for more of Daryl’s discarded belongings. She already knew what she would find. In the kitchen, rings of coffee on her mahogany dining table, where Daryl had somehow slopped his coffee while drinking it, mere centimeters away from the unused coasters. She was sure to crunch on some cornflakes, dropped between the table and the kitchen counter, and she already knew that on the counter would be the dirty bowl. Further on, Eleanor knew that her compact, gleaming white bathroom would be littered with Daryl’s discarded towel, and, more than likely, a selection of his dirty clothing. In the hallway, she already knew, were Daryl’s dirty socks. She had stepped over them first thing this morning, sleep still blurring her eyes. In her first spare room, her daughter Kathy still slept, doubtless kept awake half of the night by Daryl’s snoring. In the second spare room, usually her sewing room, slept her grandson Timmy, snuffling slightly in his sleep. He was the one bright spot in this whole deeply irritating arrangement. She would certainly put up with a lot in order to spend more time with Timmy, even as he grew into awkward, smelly adolescence. Eleanor’s own bedroom, and her small study, were the only rooms untouched by Daryl’s untidy presence. She would not have it. Her home was a beautiful oasis, her very own haven from the outside world. Daryl was threatening to ruin it, and so, he must die.
Eleanor checked her watch. Two hours until bridge at Marjorie’s house was due to start. She had time to visit Judy. She was conflicted. Daryl was likely to come home from the misadventure that he called ‘work’ at any uncertain hour, and she didn’t like to leave her little home unsupervised. He could barrel in and spill coffee on her carpets, perhaps, or drag heavy things along her polished timber floors. Who knew what a barbarian such as her son in law was likely to do? But on the other hand, now that she had decided her course of action, she needed to make a plan. And Judy was the best person to help her do that.
Eleanor slipped on her sensible walking shoes. At her age, one could not be too careful to avoid falls. Outside of her doorway was a perfectly flat, non-slip network of paths, connecting her little home with the other houses of Tranquil Waters. She looked around at the beautifully landscaped gardens, neat hedges and floral borders in delicate shades of lavender and pink. It always amused her that the only ‘waters’ in Tranquil Waters retirement village was a small pond in the middle of the garden, stocked with goldfish, but shallow enough that an elderly person-or indeed, a visiting grandchild-who might fall into the peaceful waters would be unharmed. And although it might seem unlikely, she knew of at least one gentleman who had lost his balance looking into the pond, and gotten himself rather wet. The goldfish, she thought, must have been very alarmed to have Mr. Withers joining them so unexpectedly in the pond.
Judy’s home, on the outside, was identical to Eleanor’s, and only a short stroll away. Eleanor admired the pretty gardens as she walked, manicured to perfection. Delightful. Judy’s house had a sign pronouncing ‘The house was clean yesterday, sorry you missed it,’ along with a profusion of potted plants by the doorstep. Eleanor rang the doorbell.
“Eleanor! Is it time for bridge already? I thought we still had some time. Oh Lord, am I confused?” Judy lived in perpetual fear of dementia setting in. She flapped her hands in distress, her collection of silver bracelets jangling.
“No, no, it’s not time for Bridge yet. Settle down. I’ve just come for a cup of tea.” Eleanor pushed past Judy, only to be met enthusiastically by Judy’s barrel shaped pug, Giles. “Yes, Giles, it’s lovely to see you too. Now let me in, would you both?” She always felt slightly claustrophobic in Judy’s hallway, with the extensive collection of family photographs staring down at her from the walls. In the lounge, it was a little better, but she still had to maneuver around potted plants, piles of books and magazines, odd bits of art deco furniture, and a number of ceramic figurines, vases, half finished craft projects, and other odds and ends. Eleanor moved a stack of books and a basket full of knitting along the brightly coloured lounge, before settling herself in next to Giles. “Now be a dear, Judy, and put on the kettle, will you?”
Eleanor often thought that it was a true mark of friendship when one knew exactly how you took your tea. Judy always made the best cups of tea-the perfect shade of brown, fragrant and milky, and steaming hot. It was true that she preferred garish mugs, often with pictures of animals or cutesy slogans on the sides, rather than the bone china that Eleanor preferred, but this was a small failing. At least Judy knew her old friend’s tastes. Eleanor had heard Daryl ask Kathy-his own wife!-how she wanted her coffee. This, she thought, was inexcusable.
“Well, my dear, what is it? It’s not like you to be a whole two hours early!” Judy settled her rather large bottom into one of the overstuffed armchairs, putting her cup down on top of a precarious stack of papers on the coffee table. It made Eleanor so nervous that she had to look away.
She sighed. “It’s Daryl again.” She sipped at her tea. Giles sat beside her, snuffling gently, and peering up at her, wide eyed. He always seemed to have a shocked expression on his wrinkled face, Eleanor thought. Or perhaps that was pugs in general?
“Daryl again. Of course it is. What has the great lug done this time?” Judy pushed her red framed glasses up her nose. The two ladies were around the same height, but that was where the similarity stopped. Eleanor was slight, with short cropped grey hair, and a habit of wearing conservative clothing. Judy was much more flamboyant–today, her hair was an alarming shade of purple, and her clothing looked like it could double as a fortune teller’s tent.
“Oh, the usual. He keeps leaving his running shoes in the sun room, and not using a coaster for his coffee cup. But also, I think that he’s been snooping in my office.”
“Hmph. I don’t doubt it. He seems up to no good, that man. That layabout grandson of yours still spending all of his time playing video games?”
“Well yes.” Eleanor rolled her eyes. “But it’s really because Daryl has so badly undermined the poor boy’s confidence. He badgers him all of the time!” Beside her on the couch, Giles started to snore softly. “And that’s not really the point Judy. I think he’s trying to work out a way to get hold of some of my money.” Judy looked thoughtful. Giles let out a whimper, and paddled his stumpy little legs in his sleep.
“Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to ask them to leave? I told you, you know, that it was a bad idea, letting them move in with you.”
“Oh Judy. I can’t ask them to leave. I mean, I wouldn’t care at all about Daryl, he could live in a cardboard box for all I care. But Kathy and Timmy, and Joe when he’s on his Uni break-of course, I can’t leave them without a home.”
“Yes, yes, I know. ‘Just until his business takes off.’ Well, it’s not looking like it’s going to take off any time soon, is it?” Judy raised her eyebrows beneath her thick rimmed glasses. Eleanor suddenly thought that Judy could sometimes be an insufferable know it all.
“Well, I can’t ask them to leave. But Judy, I really must do something.” Eleanor lowered her voice, and leaned forwards. Giles stirred in his sleep. “Judy, have you ever thought about killing someone?” As though he understood, Giles suddenly woke up, and stared at Eleanor in alarm.
Bridge was always at Marjorie’s house. She insisted, and it was really ok with the other players, as Marjorie did always put on a good spread. Along with Eleanor and Judy, Gladys rounded out the four. Gladys was stooped and frail looking, and always wore a patterned dress and pink cardigan, whatever the weather. She was as sharp as a tack, though, and, Eleanor secretly admitted, probably the best player of the four of them. Gladys met them at the door, all arriving exactly on time.
“Well, ladies, ready to play?” Marjorie cooed, as she opened the door. Her home was neat and tidy, full of ruffled cushions, silk flowers arranged in crystal vases, and cabinets full of delicate china which was never used. Eleanor sometimes thought Marjorie must spend all of her spare time dusting. The table was already laid with freshly baked scones, and a teapot full of Marjorie’s rather insipid tea.
“Well, ladies, you’ll never guess what I’ve heard.” Marjorie started, as soon as they’d settled at the table. They were all aware that for Marjorie, the card game was secondary to catching up on the latest intrigues. “Old Mister Peters broke his ankle last week, and it looks like they’re going be hiring a new gardener in his place.” Eleanor thought that ‘old’ Mister Peters was probably younger than them all by at least a decade.
“Ah, so that’s why the petunias have been looking so straggly.” Judy chimed in. “I hope they hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Old Peters has done such a good job around here, I’d hate to see the gardens go downhill.”
“Yes,” added Gladys, who was slightly hard of hearing, “I agree, the petunias have been looking marvelous.”
Marjorie continued. “And I guess you all know that the new resident is moving in to the empty house next to the Joneses next week. I’ve got a welcome basket ready to go for them already.”
“I heard it’s a man.” Judy was smug-finding things out before Marjorie did was rare. This was especially interesting news, as the men of Tranquil Waters were quite outnumbered.
“And how is your little home situation going, Eleanor?” Marjorie continued, pouring the tea.
Eleanor grimaced. “They’re still there. Daryl is as messy as ever.”
“I’ll never understand how you managed to convince the Battleaxe to let them stay with you.”
The manager of Tranquil Waters was the very formidable Mrs. Willoughby. She was a tall woman, with hair set into a frosted permawave that never seemed to move, not even in a stiff breeze, and a permanent frown. Behind her back, the residents referred to her as the Battleaxe.
“Well, that’s just it. When Kathy first asked me if they could stay, I told her that the bylaws clearly state that family members are only allowed to stay for two weeks at a time. Daryl went down to the office, and somehow managed to charm Willoughby into making an exception. I saw them talking, and Willoughby was smiling, almost batting her eyes at him. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.” The ladies laughed.
”He is a handsome man.” Judy added with a sigh. “It’s just a shame he’s such a messy, lazy…”
“-good for nothing person.” Eleanor beamed at her friends, grateful to have some support in her irrational dislike of her own son in law.
“Well, dear, what are you going to do about it?” This from Gladys, always sensible and non-nonsense. Eleanor met Judy’s eye. “I’m working on a plan.” The two smiled conspiratorially.
“Well, anyway,” said Marjorie, after a pause. “Did you hear that Clara and Joan had a fight last week after the craft morning? Clara swears that Joan took her walking stick-they have identical sticks, of course, and one of them is missing. Both of them are claiming the remaining stick is theirs. You should have heard it! I honestly thought I was going to have to step in before one of them slapped the other…And still no sign of the missing stick!” She was deftly dealing out the cards as she talked, and soon the card game was in full swing.
On the stroll back home, Eleanor noticed a young man wearing a Tranquil Waters staff uniform staring dismally at the garden. He was lanky, with greasy looking hair and a smattering of pimples across his cheeks. In one hand, he held a set of hedge trimmers. The new gardener, perhaps? He looked terribly young and perhaps a little out of his depth. Surely the Battleaxe wouldn’t have hired someone inexperienced? Maybe the young man would plant the wrong colour petunias, or prune the roses in the wrong season! She would keep an eye on him, she decided. She wouldn’t have anyone messing up their lovely gardens.
Back at home, Kathy was sitting in the kitchen, her coffee cup sitting neatly on a coaster, Eleanor noted. “Oh, mum. There you are! I haven’t seen you all day.” Kathy brushed her fringe back from her eyes, in a gesture that always reminded Eleanor of what she had been like as a little girl. Quite shy, with her nose always in a book, and always dreaming of some grand adventure she was going to have.
“Bridge, dear, and I went to Judy’s before that.” Timmy wandered into the room, still, apparently, in his pajamas. He ran his hand through his messy blond hair, and grinned disarmingly at Eleanor.
“Hi Gran.” Eleanor hugged him, and then ruffled his hair.
“Hi love. Have you been watching cartoons all day?”
“Gran! I’m fifteen already. I don’t watch cartoons anymore.” It was true, Eleanor thought. He didn’t seem to do much except play video games all day. “Anyway. What can I eat?”
Daryl burst through the doorway right on cue, just as Eleanor was finding snacks for the voracious teenager. “Ah, lovely! I could do with something to eat. Thanks Ellie!” He was the only person to call her Ellie since perhaps childhood, and it irritated Eleanor no end, perhaps even more than the messiness and the intrusion into her personal space. She smiled at him through gritted teeth, and passed over the plate of her homemade cookies. Daryl took two. “Lovely! So delicious!”
“Thanks Gran!” Timmy took his handful of cookies into the sunroom, probably leaving a trail of crumbs in his wake.
“How was work, Daryl?” Kathy gazed at him hopefully.
“Good, great! We’ve been working on getting some new clients. Looks like a lot of people are interested! Shouldn’t be long now, Ellie, and we’ll be able to get out of here, let things get back to normal for you.” Eleanor raised her eyebrows and nodded. “Oh, and that reminds me. I’ve been meaning to offer-you have some retirement funds invested, don’t you? I can go through them if you like, make some suggestions, see if I can get you a better deal. We can really make that money work for you, Ellie!” Eleanor felt her blood run cold-she didn’t want Daryl anywhere near her investments. But he was so enthusiastic, and Kathy was watching. She could see no way to politely decline, and so, she felt herself nodding acceptance.
“I don’t know Eleanor. I mean, you know I’ll support you with whatever you decide, but do you really think killing him is the best idea? I mean, why don’t you just convince Kathy to divorce the man?” Judy was settled deeply into her floral armchair, next to Giles, sitting like the Sphinx next to her. That is, if the Sphinx was wrinkled and looked vaguely like he needed to pass wind.
Eleanor sighed, and sipped her perfect tea out of a mug that said ‘beau-tea-ful’ on the side. “That’s just the thing. Kathy is stubbornly one eyed about that man. She still looks at him like she’s besotted, can you believe it? After all these years? Even though he is so pushy, always trying to get her do to things. She’s sensitive, you know, my Kathy is.”
Judy raised her eyebrows. “Hmph. Sensitive or not, there’s still nothing to stop her getting out there and getting a job. Surely that would help their finances.”
Eleanor ignored her. “And you should hear how he is with my darling little Timmy. Always nagging him, always badgering him and undermining his confidence. If you want a boy to grow up to be a confident young man, Judy,” here, Eleanor straightened her spine and spoke in a authoritative tone. “…you need to encourage him, build him up, make him realise that he’s special.”
Judy distinctly rolled her eyes, much to Eleanor’s annoyance. Giles, indeed, did need to pass wind, which he did so noisily, then looked with a shocked expression at his own behind.
Eleanor chuckled. “He has no manners, that dog. What is it they say about dogs resembling their owners?”
Judy sipped her tea. “Ok, so the man is messy, pushy, bossy. Does that really mean he needs to go? I mean, I know plenty of people who fit that bill around here, and we don’t usually bump them off.”
“Yes, but Judy, I think you’re missing the most important point. He’s making my daughter and grandson miserable, yes, but as well as that, the man is scheming to steal my money. I’m sure of it.”
“Ok. Well I admit that could be a problem. You don’t want to end up getting turfed out of here. Who knows where you might end up?” The two ladies paused for a moment, contemplating such a horrible possibility. “So how are we going to do it?”
Eleanor wrinkled her nose in thought. “Well, that’s the problem, I guess. He does go jogging every day. I had thought about hitting him in my car.”
Judy snorted with laughter, startling Giles, who had just drifted off into snuffly sleep. “In your car?” She dissolved once again into giggles. Eleanor had a elegant, well maintained, but decidedly compact Mini Cooper. “Who do you think would come off worse, Daryl or the car?”
Eleanor smiled. “Well, perhaps not my best idea. And even if I did manage to run him over, they’d take my license off me, probably. And I couldn’t have that.”
Judy looked thoughtful. “Hire a hitman?”
Eleanor frowned. “They don’t exactly advertise in the local paper, you know. Where does one find a hitman, exactly? Would I have to make discrete inquiries at a disreputable bar?”
Judy glanced at her friend. Eleanor was wearing beige trousers, a pale pink cardigan, sensible shoes, and a discreet strand of pearls. Her hair was in a neat pixie cut, and even her glasses were non-nonsense. She imagined Eleanor walking into some kind of biker bar, and once again hooted with laughter. “Maybe let’s just keep that idea in reserve for now. We can always come back to it.”
“Well, they say that poison is usually a woman’s murder weapon of choice. But where would I find poison? I don’t even know where to find out what things are poisonous!”
Both ladies lapsed into thoughtful silence for a moment. Giles snored.
“Well, I guess it’s a project. Let’s think about it and start planning.” This from Judy.
“That sounds good. Tomorrow?”
“Oh, no, Saturday is the day my family visits, that’s certainly out for me.” Judy had a lively and enthusiastic family, who visited strictly once a week.
“And Sunday is my poker afternoon. Church in the morning, of course.” Both ladies looked pious, despite neither having been to church for many months.
“Monday is my golf day. How about Wednesday?”
“Oh, no, we’re starting rehearsals for our dramatic production on Wednesdays. And don’t you usually play lawn bowls then?”
“Well, yes, true. Thursday is bridge at Marjorie’s house, of course, and Friday is very busy. Walking group in the morning, and then singing in the activities hall in the afternoon…”
“And I have painting in the mornings, and rehearsals again in the afternoon. How about Tuesdays?”
“Well, there is usually craft on in the activities hall on Tuesday mornings, but the afternoon is free. How about we get together then?”
Judy grinned. “It’s a date. Tuesday Afternoon Murder Club.”