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, so stay tuned for more episodes. If you haven’t already read it, you can read Chapter One here.
Chapter Two – Walking with Blanche and Barry
Eleanor stood in her office, frowning at the filing cabinet where all of her paperwork was stored. Had she left the top drawer slightly ajar last time she had been in here? She didn’t think so, but she couldn’t be sure. Perhaps she had been in a hurry, and hadn’t closed the drawer all of the way? Or perhaps her wretched son in law had been snooping in here. Well, that’s what she suspected, but how could she prove it? Eleanor looked around her tiny little study, tucked into neat little room in between her spare rooms. There was really only room for a desk and her small filing cabinet. On the desk sat her lovely desktop computer, although only yesterday, Timmy had informed her that it was ‘a real dinosaur’. She frowned still more at the memory-what was it about young people that made them want to throw out perfectly good electronic devices just to get the latest model? She didn’t understand it. Her computer worked perfectly well.
Eleanor thought for a moment. How was she going to be able to tell if anyone had been in her office? The filing cabinet had a key, of course, but it had been lost for years, now. She had an idea, and took a ruler out of her desk drawer. She opened both filing cabinet drawers to exactly ten centimeters ajar. There, now if she came back in and the drawers were open any more or less than ten centimeters, she would be able to tell that someone had been snooping. Smiling with satisfaction, Eleanor slipped the ruler back into the desk drawer, and turned to leave the office. The faintest of creaks behind her made her turn, just in time to see the filing cabinet drawers roll slowly-one of them closing all of the way, and the other stopping just a few centimeters ajar. Hm, clearly that plan was not going to work. How else could she work out if the drawers had been opened?
Eleanor went into the bathroom, and found one of Kathy’s long blonde hair. Now, how to place it? She very carefully rubbed the hair onto her gluestick, and then stuck it to the side of the drawers, right at the front. It was fiddly business-she managed to get glue on her fingers, on the desk, on her new mauve shirt. But it worked! From a distance, the hair was barely noticeable. Perfect! Then a gust of wind came through the open window, catching the hair and sending it drifting onto the carpet. “Bugger,” muttered Eleanor under her breath-she almost never used profanity, and she mentally kicked herself for allowing the situation with Daryl to get under her skin. Then, a sudden thought. She got a pencil from her desk drawer, and placed it in the small groove where the filing cabinet drawer met the top of the cupboard. If anyone opened the drawer, the pencil would fall inside the drawer, or roll onto the floor. She carefully lined the tip of the pencil up with a tiny mark on the top of the cabinet, so that she would be able to tell if anyone had moved it. Eleanor stood back and smiled with satisfaction-there, that ought to do it. Sometimes the simplest solutions were the best.
“Hi Gran, what are you up to?” Timmy grinned at her from the study door. He looked sightly disheveled-no doubt he had just got out of bed.
“Oh, not much love. Just tidying my study. Would you like some breakfast, darling?” Eleanor glanced at her watch. He was going to be late to school, again.
“Yeah, thanks Gran. And I need a pencil, my teacher’s really on my back about my homework. Oh, that one will do.” Timmy picked up the pencil from the top of the filing cabinet, and sauntered from the room. Eleanor sighed, and bit back a few choice words.
Tuesday morning craft was run by a chirpy young man by the name of Patrick. He was probably in his twenties, although Eleanor couldn’t tell anymore, anyone under the age of forty looked like a teenager to her these days. He had clean cut good looks, twinkling blue eyes and wavy brown hair. Craft mornings were very well attended these days, particularly by the ladies. Some of them were shameless flirts, and Patrick, with his easygoing charm, did nothing to deter them. Eleanor didn’t actually think he was very good at crafts-this morning’s project was certainly an example of his sub-par abilities. But he was very good natured, and it was always a laugh to see Clara and Joan almost ready to throw punches in order to get a seat nearby him.
“Righto, ladies, here are the mosaic tiles. No fighting, there’s plenty to go around. Now, you can stick them onto your flowerpots in whatever pattern you choose.” Patrick was holding up a flowerpot decorated with, frankly, the most ugly mosaic pattern Eleanor had ever seen. On one side of her, Walter Jones, one of the only men to come along to crafts, was grumbling something about, “…we’re not all ladies here, you know. And some of us are actually here for the crafts…”
To her other side, Judy was already reaching for the brightest tiles, picking out purples, pinks, and a very garish silver. Eleanor picked out some greens and blues, plus some shiny gold stones which she thought might go well around the rim of the pot. It was certain to be ugly. Perhaps she would give it to Mrs. Willoughby for Christmas.
“Are we still on for this afternoon?” Judy hissed at her, in a rather carrying whisper. Eleanor noticed that Maude, sitting across the table in a cardigan that was buttoned up wrong, was glancing in their direction. She looked at the cardigan again. It was bothering her now-she’d have to point it out to Maude some time. Didn’t the woman have a mirror? Eleanor gritted her teeth.
“Yes, Judy. I’ll come at 2 o’clock.” She tried to speak in a quiet, natural voice.
“What?” bellowed Walter, who was slightly hard of hearing. “What’s on at 2 o’clock?”
Eleanor glared at Judy, who was pretending not to notice, gluing her purple and silver tile pieces to her flowerpot in a pattern that already hurt Eleanor’s eyes. “Oh, nothing Walter. You must have misheard.” She noticed Maude was watching her across the table. Maude was, perhaps, a little lonely, and always very eager for a chat. Eleanor made a mental note to avoid her.
“Oooh, looking lovely ladies! Keep up the good work! I love the pattern, Clara. Great colours, Joan.” Patrick was smiling at the ladies, his perfect white teeth and his adorable dimples on display. Eleanor noticed Clara and Joan both trying to smile at Patrick while glaring at each other. The result was that Clara looked like she had a facial twitch, and Joan looked like she had severe indigestion. Judy was snorting softly with barely suppressed laughter, and Walter was muttering something under his breath about ‘…what kind of craft is this anyway? My granddaughter makes better things than this at her preschool…” Maude had managed to glue some of the tiles to her cardigan. Judy glanced at Patrick, and thought she caught him rolling his eyes, just slightly. No, surely not. She looked again, and he was all smiles. She must have imagined it.
At precisely ten minutes to two, Eleanor set off to Judy’s house. It only took a fraction of that time to walk there, but she suspected that Maude might be waiting for her, so she had decided to go the long way around. After all, it was a lovely afternoon, why not enjoy a stroll in the gardens? She wandered past the fish pond, and noticed that the new gardener had indeed trimmed the hedges. The formerly neat edges were now slightly lopsided, and every now and again, there was a chunk missing. Eleanor tsked with irritation. She had hoped the young man was better at gardening than he looked-but apparently not. Further along, she noticed that in the middle of a bed of mauve and blue petunias, there were, inexplicably, bright yellow marigolds. Of course, marigolds were cheerful, lovely flowers-but anyone with eyes could tell that they didn’t suit being in the middle of shades of blue and purple. Eleanor grimaced, and made up her mind that she would have to have a word with Mrs Willoughby. The gardens at Tranquil Waters had always been peaceful and soothing, not a mishmash of bright colours. With one more glance at the offending marigolds, Eleanor turned, and ran right into Maude.
“Oh! Maude, I didn’t see you there. I’m so sorry.”
Maude was still wearing the offending cardigan from the craft morning, buttons done up askew, although she had managed to remove the mosaic tiles. She was very thin, and slightly stooped, with thick glasses and flyaway grey hair, pinned up onto the top of her head. She had recovered her balance, but still held on to Eleanor’s arm. “Ah, that’s ok love. Are you going to Judy’s house?”
Eleanor was flustered. “Ah, yes I am. Just popping around for a cup of tea.” She felt close to panic. She needed some good brainstorming time with Judy, and she couldn’t possibly talk freely with Maude around.
Maude’s face lit up. “Oh, can I join you? I could do with a cuppa.”
“Oh, Maude, I’m sorry, I mean, you can’t…” Eleanor stuttered, grasping for a way to let Maude down lightly. “I’m afraid she’s asked me over to discuss a sensitive matter. Alone.”
Maude looked so disappointed that Eleanor made a mental note to invite her over for a cup of tea as soon as possible. “Is she ok? What’s going on?”
Again, Eleanor grasped for something to say. “Oh yes, of course, she just needs my advice. You know, wants a bit of a private chat. Truth be told, she’s got a bit of a problem with incontinence. But of course, she wouldn’t want everyone knowing, so don’t tell her I told you.”
Maude was once again smiling. “Of course, of course. I won’t tell a soul.” Eleanor frowned, thinking to herself that around these parts, ‘I won’t tell a soul’ was practically code for ‘I’m off to tell everyone right now.’
Judy answered the doorbell cautiously, peering around for Maude, or anyone else who might be hiding in the bushes. “Eleanor, love, come in!” Eleanor pushed past Giles, who sniffed at her ankles, and settled herself in the overstuffed couch. She noticed that Judy’s mosaic flowerpot, in an eye-watering purple and silver, already sat on a shelf. Judy flapped about for a few moments, bracelets jingling, before passing Eleanor a steaming mug that said ‘You are my cup of tea!’ on the side of it. She sipped the tea, with a sigh of relief. Just what she needed.
“Well now, love. How are things?” Judy settled into her armchair, with Giles beside her, both of them peering short sightedly at Eleanor.
“Oh, just the same. I ran into Maude on the way over there. Literally.”
Judy rolled her eyes. “It’s getting crowded around here, isn’t it. Can’t take a stroll in the gardens without tripping over some old biddy. Can’t plan a murder without someone wanting to join in….”
Eleanor smiled, and recounted the difficulties she’d had with trying to set up a way to see if anyone had been in her office.
Judy snorted with laughter, waking Giles, who had just been drifting off to sleep.
“Judy! It’s not funny, it’s really important. I need to know if Daryl has been going through my files, I’m sure he’s after my money, and I’m worried that I’m running out of time.”
“Oh Eleanor, darling. You really are living in the stone age. What you need is one of those security camera things. That way you can record all the comings and goings in your study.”
“Oh, but that’s just the problem. I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to set one of those things up, certainly not without Daryl noticing. It was Daryl who helped me to set up my computer in the first place, you-Oh!” Eleanor broke off suddenly. “Oh, he set up my computer! Which means he probably knows the password to get into all of my files. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Eleanor gave her a knowing look, eyebrows raised. “Ah, you see, that’s why you definitely need one of those camera thingys.” Giles gave her a look as well, although his was more of a look of confusion. “You know, I saw one on a TV show just recently… It was inside a teddy bear! That’s what you need–you can just pretend the teddy is from an admirer.”
Eleanor sighed. “I don’t suppose they showed you where to get a camera, on that TV show of yours? Or how to set it up?”
“And I can’t very well ask Daryl to help me choose and set up a video camera to spy on him, can I?”
“Well, no.” Judy looked deflated. Giles let out a little whimper, and rested his head on Judy’s knee.
“I guess we’re back at square one, then. Do you think I should keep trying to stick a hair across the opening to the drawers?”
Judy suddenly straightened in her chair. “I know! Why don’t you ask that girl, you know, Liza’s daughter? She’s always in the library, messing around on a laptop. And she’s young. Young people know about these kinds of things, I’m sure.”
Eleanor was nonplussed-she had no idea who either Liza or or daughter were. The confusion must have shown on her face. “Oh, you’re such a terrible person, Eleanor. Liza is the cleaner. You know, that wonderful lady who cleans up after all of us slovenly oldies? Brown, curly hair, usually tied up in a high pony tail. Denim apron, yellow gloves?”
“Oh, of course. I didn’t know that she had a daughter though.”
Judy raised her eyebrows. “Come on Eleanor. You need to pay more attention. Teenager, wears a lot of black, always hanging around in the library. She’s got some kind of ring in her nose. Always got a backpack and lap top computer with her. Not ringing any bells?”
“No, not really.” Eleanor made a mental note to pay more attention to her surroundings. “How do you think she feels about setting up a secret spy camera to get more information about someone that we’re going to, you know, eliminate?”
Judy laughed. “Well gee, I don’t know her that well! What do you say we go over to the library this afternoon and check her out? She should be there after school lets out.”
Tranquil Waters library was tucked into a little room next to the activity room. It had a surprisingly large collection, for such a small library, as well as a part time librarian and a couple of computers that were available for use. Of course, there was an extensive collection of romances, historical fiction, and family sagas, but there was also a good selection of fantasy, biography, crime, and thrillers, and a smattering of non-fiction titles. Eleanor was quite partial to a good ‘whodunit’, whereas Judy was an avid reader of fantasy and sci fi. They had each bought a book to return, as a cover.
The librarian, Mrs White, wore a long floral skirt, and had her hair up in a bun. Of course, she also wore the prerequisite glasses. Eleanor wondered if people who had a certain look naturally tended to become librarians, or if librarians grew into the look? Nature versus nurture, one of the eternal questions, she guessed. Mrs White was also softly spoken, but she would glare daggers at anyone who dared to raise their voices in her little domain.
Both ladies put their books in the pile of ‘returns’ on the counter, and looked around the room. There were rows of shelves, with a few cosy nooks that had armchairs or desks in them. No sign of any brooding teenagers, though.
“Well, what shall we do? Should we wait?” Eleanor whispered to Judy.
“Yes, I guess so. Let’s just browse, and try to look inconspicuous.” Just then, the door opened, and in walked a pretty girl, with dark eye makeup, an oversized black jumper on, and carrying a backpack. Both Eleanor and Judy started, and attempted to hurry off in different directions, succeeding instead in getting Judy’s walking stick caught on Eleanor’s handbag. Disentangling themselves, they rushed off to opposite corners of the room. Eleanor picked up a magazine from the closest stand, flicking through blindly while she caught her breath. After a minute she realised she was reading ‘Men’s Health’. She put it down as quickly as she could, picking up a crochet magazine instead. After a moment, she carefully peered over the top of the magazine. Bad timing-the girl was frowning in her direction. She quickly lifted up the magazine again, and thumbed through the patterns. Oh, it was a pity she was too busy to crochet much these days. There was an absolutely darling pattern for a cardigan in here. She put the magazine down, and walked between the shelves to the fiction section. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Judy peering around a book stand at the teenager, who was busy on her computer. She turned back to the books, then all of a sudden there was a crash from Judy, who had knocked several books off the stand. Mrs White ‘shhhed’ loudly in her direction. Eleanor closed her eyes. This was a disaster. After a brief, whispered conversation behind a stand full of cook books, Eleanor and Judy each chose a book to borrow, and left the library.
Judy was waiting for Eleanor on the path the next morning, one hand on her hip, and a frown on her usually cheery face. “Eleanor. Can you please tell tell me why Maude was on my doorstep this morning with a packet of incontinence aids and a rather knowing smile?”
Eleanor choked back a giggle, and widened her eyes in surprise. “Oh, I really have no idea. Are you ready to walk?”
Judy raised her eyebrows. “Two can play this game, Eleanor. Just remember that.” She was dressed in a bright green tracksuit, holding Giles on a sparkly pink lead. “Let’s walk.”
The walking group was run by Blanche and Barry, the most perky, cheerful residents of Tranquil Waters. They were wearing matching outfits-the teal stripe on Barry’s tracksuit pants matched Blanche’s workout tights, and her t shirt. Barry’s hair was somehow miraculously still brown and quite thick. A toupe, Eleanor thought, every time that she saw him. Blanche’s hair was blonde, and she wore it pushed back from her hair with a matching teal headband. “Hello Tranquil Waters Walkers!” she warbled. “Are you ready to walk? Let’s get those bootys moving!”
”Don’t forget to start slowly! We need to warm up.” Barry was marching on the spot. “Don’t forget, it doesn’t matter how fast you go, it just matters that you walk!” The two of them strutted off down the path.
“Ugh, just what I need.” Judy muttered, as they started to walk. “A live infomercial fitness instructor. Come on GIles. Let’s start out slow.” Giles whined, and walked off with Judy, his behind wiggling.
Eleanor sometimes felt like she was a drab pea hen in a sea of peacocks. Her walking outfit was plain, but still comfortable, grey tracksuit pants, sturdy shoes, a white long sleeve shirt. She kept pace with Judy, in the middle of the group of walkers. Blanche and Barry were striding out in front, just far enough ahead to assert themselves as the leaders of the group. Already, some of the slower walkers were falling behind. Up ahead, Eleanor could see a familiar figure approaching. The figure was all in black, jogging with a bouncing stride, handsome and well built. Daryl. He jogged most mornings, but it seemed to Eleanor that on Walking Group mornings, he timed his jog a little later so that he could greet them. “Good morning!” Daryl slowed his pace, calling in a cheery voice. “Ladies, gentlemen! You’re setting a cracking pace this morning.” He grinned as he started to pass the walkers. “Blanche and Barry, you’re looking wonderful as usual.” Blanche and Barry waved and strutted as they walked past him. Daryl greeted a few more of the walkers, and then spotted Eleanor. “Oh Ellie! Looking fabulous as always. Keep up the good work!” Grinning and waving, he jogged past, and off into the distance.
“Well, he’s a delight really. Eleanor, do you really think you’ve judged him correctly?” Judy was puffing a little with the effort of walking. “Maybe you’re just misunderstanding him. Overreacting perhaps.” Giles was waddling by her side, panting with exertion.
“Judy! In all the years that you’ve known me, have you ever known me to overreact?” Eleanor pumped her arms as she walked. Judy raised her eyebrows. “This is just what he wants you to think.” She spoke quietly, but firmly. “He wants you to think he’s this amazing, friendly guy. But I’m telling you, he’s not. He’s undermining my grandson’s confidence, making my daughter unhappy, manipulating them all into thinking they are the problem, and I’m very sure he’s scheming to rob me of my very last penny. And you’re taken in by a cheery greeting.” She was starting to feel very annoyed.
Judy was quiet for a moment, except for some strenuous puffing as she kept pace with Eleanor. “Well, love, I can understand how you feel. Of course, I don’t know the man, and I trust your judgement of him. But do you really think it’s the best way to deal with him? And even if it is, then do you really think we can pull it off? We couldn’t even talk to a teenager in the library, let alone, you know…. dispensing with someone.”
Eleanor was vaguely aware that as her irritation grew, she was walking faster and faster. Judy was struggling to keep up, and chubby little Giles was panting hard, his short legs almost a blur. She took a deep breath, and tried to compose her whirling thoughts. “Look, Judy, at our age, everyone seems to think that we’re incapable of doing anything useful. They want to shut us away, and keep us occupied with inconsequential things. They barely think we can look after ourselves, let alone look after our families anymore. Sometimes I start to think those things about myself too.” She was trying very hard to keep her voice low. Judy was only just managing to keep up with her. “But you know what, this is my family, my daughter, and my future that’s at risk. And I’m not going to let that oily man ruin things for me anymore. I am going to do whatever it takes to eliminate the problem.” With a start, she realised that she and Judy had somehow overtaken half of the walkers, and were pulling even with Blanche and Barry. She noticed that the pair were wide eyed and panting, legs and arms pumping to maintain their lead. Giles looked as though he was about to have a coronary.
Judy grinned at her, cheeks flushed. “Well, my dear, that certainly was a rousing speech. Of course I believe that you can do it, especially with my help. Now slow down, for God’s sake. You’ll give us all heart attacks.”