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, or Chapter Two here.
Chapter Three – Hello, Judy!
On the next Tuesday afternoon, Eleanor was at Judy’s door at precisely 2 o’clock. Judy opened the door with a slightly odd look on her face, and unusually, Giles was not sniffing around her ankles.
“Hi Judy, how are you?” She said, cheerily, following Judy into the house. “I tripped over Daryl’s shoes in the hallway again this morning, and had to tidy up the kitchen after him. I’m well and truly ready to start planning how to get rid of the man…” She trailed off. Sitting in the lounge room, in the spot where Eleanor usually sat, was Maude. Giles sat next to her, staring up at her face with adoring eyes.
“Hello Eleanor. I hope you don’t mind me joining you for coffee this afternoon?” Maude was peering anxiously, hopefully, at her, through thick, wire rimmed glasses. Eleanor noticed, with a stab of irritation, that her cardigan was once again buttoned up wrongly.
“Oh, it’s lovely to see you, Maude. Judy, can I talk to you in the kitchen for a moment?” Eleanor spoke through gritted teeth.
In the kitchen, Judy looked guilty. She had dyed her hair a lovely shade of pink this week, and was wearing a voluminous multicolored shawl. The kitchen was bright and clean, although every spare space of shelf, wall or windowsill was filled with vibrant artwork, crafty bits and bobs, and little nicknacks. The windowsill was home to an assortment of colourful owl figurines, and a shelf above the stove held an assortment of teapots in the shape of different animals. A sign above the sink proclaimed ‘I’d stop eating chocolate, but I’m no quitter!’ Judy’s kitchen always gave Eleanor a strong urge to roll her eyes.
“Oh Eleanor, I’m sorry. But Maude guessed you were coming, and she asked me if she could join us for a cup of tea. She always seems so lonely, and so eager to join in, I just couldn’t turn her away.”
Eleanor sighed with irritation. “Well I guess she can join us. We can’t very well turn her away now, can we? I’d just hoped we could begin planning. I’m worried that every day we delay, Daryl gets closer to siphoning off my retirement funds.”
Judy filled the kettle, and picked out some tea cups. “Well, why don’t we plan anyway? Maude may be able to help us. And it will give her something to get involved in….”
”Judy! Are you crazy? It’s not like we’re planning a dinner party. We’re talking about….” She lowered her voice, and leaned towards Judy. “…murder.”
Judy was cheery. “Oh I know. But I don’t think she’ll mind. She’s just so eager to be a part of things, you know? I feel sorry for her.”
Eleanor pinched the bridge of her nose. She could feel a headache coming on. “I’m not worried that she’ll mind, Judy. I’m worried more that she’ll ring the police. I doubt the craft activities are quite as good in jail, you know.”
Judy made a pot of tea, and a coffee for Maude, in a mug that said ‘This mug could be full of RUM and you wouldn’t know it’.
“Oh Eleanor, I bet she’ll just be excited to be a part of something. But even if she did go to the police, do you really think they’d believe her? I mean, look at you.” Eleanor glanced down. She was wearing very sensible beige slacks, comfortable tan walking shoes, and a fawn coloured button up shirt. Her short cropped hair was neatly brushed, and her glasses in their tidy frames set of a grandmotherly face. She looked like the person you would be most likely to ask to watch your child while you went to the restroom. “I mean, I didn’t know there were so many shades of brown in the world….” Judy muttered nearly under her breath.
“Come on Judy. That still doesn’t mean we should trust her. This is serious business we’re talking about.”
Judy raised her eyebrows at her old friend. “Look at it this way, Eleanor. There’s two of us, right, and only one of her. If she spills the beans, all we need to do is tell the nurse our concerns about her, that she’s been ‘acting confused’, and can’t remember what day it is. We spread a couple of rumors, and suddenly the whole place will be talking about how she’s on a downhill slide. She’ll be carted off to the high care facility, and be getting spoon fed rice pudding before she knows what’s what.”
Eleanor took a sip of the tea that Judy handed her. Perfect, as always. Kittens wearing sunglasses were cavorting in a field of flowers on the front of her teacup. “Ok, Judy, I hope you’re right. I mean, you’d look great in a prison jumpsuit, but I really don’t think orange is my color. I guess the murder club has a new member!”
Maude looked at Judy and Eleanor wide eyed. “Oh I always thought that Daryl was too handsome for his own good. Always winking at the ladies when he jogs past us. Up to no good, for sure.” Giles was sleeping with his head on her leg, and Eleanor was sure he was drooling in his sleep.
Judy lowered her voice. “So you see why we have to do it, Maude. But you really mustn’t tell anyone.”
“Oh no, dear, of course I wouldn’t. Who’d believe me, anyway? How are you going to do it?”
Eleanor took a sip of her tea. “We’re not sure yet. That’s why I’m here – we need to think of a plan.”
Maude’s face lit up. “Oo, I know, push him down the stairs! I read about someone getting murdered like that in an Agatha Christie once.”
Eleanor curbed the strong urge that she felt once again to roll her eyes. “Maude, we live in a retirement village. I don’t think there is a single staircase in the whole of Tranquil Waters. They don’t want us breaking a hip, you know.”
Maude was not deterred. “Well how about hit him with a golf club? You have a set, don’t you?”
The urge to roll her eyes was almost irresistible now. “Maude, he’s a foot taller than me at least. And he runs and works out. Do you really think that is going to work?
Maude was nearly bouncing with enthusiasm, rousing Giles from whatever happy dream he was enjoying. “A pillow over his face in the night! Or a hitman!”
This time Eleanor gave in to the urge, with a long and satisfying eye roll. Letting Maude stay had been a terrible idea. She made a mental note to berate Judy about it later on. “Maude, the idea is that we think of something that’s not going to land us all in jail. Something a little less obvious, something we might be able to hide. You know, something like poison. Only we have no idea where we could get poison from.”
Maude was silent for a moment, frowning into her coffee. Then suddenly, she beamed. “Oh, I don’t know where you could get poison, but I know who might be able to help. You know the new gentleman who has moved in next to the Joneses? Just arrived this week?” Both Eleanor and Judy nodded. Nothing much ever happened at Tranquil Waters without every single resident knowing about it within an hour or two. “Well, did you know that he is a chemist?” Maude continued. “He worked for some kind of pharmaceutical company, testing medicines or something like that. Now he would certainly be the person to ask if you want to find out how to poison someone.” Eleanor’s eyes widened. Maybe inviting Maude to join them hadn’t been a bad idea after all.
Wednesday was lawn bowls day. Tranquil Waters had its own bowling green, and competition was always fierce among the residents. Eleanor always enjoyed getting dressed into her immaculate bowling whites, and she always considered herself to be quite a good bowler. Judy, on the other hand, rarely bowled, and went instead to drama club on a Wednesday.
As Eleanor walked to the bowling green, enjoying the spring sunshine, she noticed the gardener, crouching down near a hedge. He had something in front of him, a whipper snipper, from what Eleanor could tell, but he kept peering around to see if anyone was watching him. From the bowling green, he was fairly well hidden by the hedge. Eleanor thought that if someone wanted to spy on the bowlers unobserved, that was probably an ideal position. She eyed him suspiciously. He was fiddling with the whipper snipper cord, trying to thread it through the head of the machine, but succeeding only in tangling it around himself. Every now and again, the young man peered over the fence as though watching someone or something. As Eleanor got closer, she could tell that he clearly didn’t know how to thread up the whipper snipper. “Hello there, young man. Would you like some help?” His head whipped around at the sound of her voice, eyes bulging. Obviously hadn’t heard her approaching.
“Oh, um, I, um…..” he stuttered. Up close, he was very pale skinned, with blue eyes and a red cap pulled over his blond hair. He couldn’t be more than 20, surely?
“Here, let me.” Eleanor pulled the whipper snipper from his grasp, and deftly threaded the cord through the head. Her late husband had often left the gardening up to her, and she used to be very handy with garden tools. She handed the machine back to the boy, who was still gaping at her, bug eyed.
“Thank you… Ah, I’m not used to this model….” He picked up the rest of his tools, and hurried away from her, glancing back towards the bowling green again. He’s certainly up to something, thought Eleanor. I can’t imagine what it might be, but I’ll certainly have to keep an eye on him.
After bowls, Eleanor went back to the library. She browsed the shelves, under the watchful gaze of Mrs White, until Zara walked in. The girl was dressed in black jeans, so tight that Eleanor couldn’t imagine how she got them on, and a black jumper with a hood. Her hair was black, or maybe a very dark shade of brown, with streaks of pink through it. Eleanor noted with amusement that it was the same shade of pink that Judy’s hair currently was. When she saw Eleanor approach, her eyes widened. “You’re one of the ladies who was watching me the other day, weren’t you?” She hissed, keeping a careful eye on Mrs White. “Well I’m allowed to be here, ok. I’ve got permission.”
Eleanor smiled. “Yes, I’m very sorry about that my dear. Look, I was hoping to ask you a couple of questions, and I’m wondering if I could buy you a hot chocolate.” The girl’s eyes narrowed, and Eleanor thought for a moment she’d offended her. Hot chocolate! Why had she asked that? Of course, teenagers didn’t drink hot chocolate, that was for children. Then Zara smiled. Her face was very pretty when she smiled, Eleanor noted.
“Why not? It’s not like I’ve got much else to do while I wait for my mum.”
Across the road from the library, and not technically on the grounds of Tranquil Waters, was a small cafe, called The Tea Leaf. It was almost exclusively patronised by Tranquil Waters residents, and it wasn’t unusual to see a row of walking frames parked beside the front door, lined up like Harleys outside a biker bar. Today was no exception. Inside, the cafe was cosy and brightly lit, with little booths, a few windows with a lovely view of the gardens outside, and elegant artwork on the walls. A fresh faced teenager behind the counter took their order. A pot of tea for Eleanor, and yes, a hot chocolate for Zara. “I don’t really like coffee”, she confessed, with a slightly sheepish smile. Eleanor sipped her tea, slightly disappointed that it wasn’t hotter. “So, my dear, I have a small problem that I’m hoping you might be able to help me with. It is slightly sensitive. I need to set up a security camera in my office.”
Zara raised her eyebrows. “Who are you planning on spying on? I thought the security was pretty good in this place. Cheating husband?”
Eleanor sipped her tea. “Well, no. My husband died twelve years ago, actually.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. A family member then?”
Eleanor was irritated. This had been a mistake. And her tea was certainly not hot enough. To think-it had cost four dollars, as well! “Well, yes, maybe a family member. But it’s not really any of your business.” Her tone was sharper than she had intended.
Zara raised her eyebrows again. She had some kind of dark eyeliner around her eyes that made them stand out. Eleanor couldn’t stop glancing at her nose ring. She couldn’t understand why young people felt the need to poke holes in themselves. Zara took a slow sip of her hot chocolate. “It kind of is my business, if I’m going to help you. But why me? Surely there is someone else who can help you?”
“Well, not really. I don’t even know what kind of shop might sell such things. There’s no one that I know who might be able to help, and I know you’re handy with computers. I thought you might be able to find such a thing. It’s just that it’s quite a sensitive matter, and I don’t really want to talk more about it…” She trailed off. While Eleanor was talking, Zara had taken out her mobile phone, and was gazing at the screen, tapping at it now and again. Now Eleanor was beyond irritated. She was fuming. Young people and their phones! How terribly rude. The girl couldn’t even give her a few moments of her attention before having to get her fix of her mobile device. She took another swallow of her tea, deciding that this had all been a waste of time, and it was back to the drawing board, yet again.
Then Zara thrust the mobile phone in her direction. There, on the screen, was a small black box, with Hidden Camera Motion Detector Long Battery Life written in bold across the rest of the screen. “Is this the kind of thing you’re after?” Zara grinned.
“Oh. Why yes.” Eleanor was taken aback. She peered at the little screen. “I guess that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”
Zara smiled. “Just took a quick google search. Easy. See, here’s the website, just click on it and you can order it. It’ll be delivered to your door.”
“Oh. Well, is there any way I can pick it up?” Eleanor thought of Daryl, bringing in the mail for her every day. Surely he would be suspicious about a package, maybe he’d ask questions, or even open it.
Zara shrugged. “Maybe. There might be a specialty shop around somewhere, but I don’t really know. You might have to go to the city I think. Most people buy this kind of stuff online these days.”
Eleanor narrowed her eyes at the teenager. The girl was shrewd, she could see that much, and certainly savvy with electronics. “How would you like a job, Zara? Just a little one. Let’s order the camera, and get it delivered to you, then you can help me to install it?” Zara narrowed her eyes right back at her, but before Eleanor had finished her tea, they had a deal.
When Judy and Eleanor arrived at Marjorie’s house for bridge, both the scones and the gossip were ready to go. “Oh, darlings! Did you hear that Jeffery Watkins broke his hip yesterday?” Marjorie chirruped brightly, ushering them into the lounge, where the table was set beautifully. Gladys was already waiting, in her usual dress and pink cardigan. “He’s going to be in the hospital for weeks, maybe even months. Poor man. And it brings our population of men down even further.” Judy sighed dramatically at this reminder. Eleanor eyed off the scones with appreciation. Marjorie certainly could cook. “Oh, and you remember how I told you that Clara and Joan were fighting over a missing walking stick at craft recently?” Marjorie was deftly pouring tea as she talked. Eleanor helped herself to a scone. “Well, the missing stick turned up! Patrick found it behind a curtain. Now of course both ladies are claiming that the missing stick is theirs. Almost got into fisticuffs again.”
“That Patrick certainly is dreamy.” Gladys said. Eleanor laughed. Even serious Gladys was head over heals about the handsome craft teacher.
“I met Mr Bianchi, the new resident.” Marjorie continued. “Very polite and quite handsome, but standoffish. I told him all about the activities here. Not interested in sport, or craft, or singalongs.”
“How about drama?” Judy asked, hopefully.
“Oh, I didn’t ask him about that, to be honest. How did your first rehearsal go yesterday?” Eleanor had forgotten that Judy’s drama production started rehearsals yesterday. It was very much like Marjorie, though, to have her finger on the pulse of all of the activities happening around the place.
Judy groaned and dramatically rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s certainly going to be interesting, that’s for sure!”
“What production are you doing?” asked Gladys.
Judy laughed. “Well, that’s quite a story in itself. We should have started rehersals weeks ago, but it’s taken this long for us to decide on what show to do, and who to cast. At first, Lucy and Roger wanted to do Cats. Can you imagine me in Cats? In black spandex?” Eleanor laughed at the thought. “Plus, Giles would have never forgiven me, he hates cats. Although I do do a very good rendition of Memory if I do say so myself.”
“Isn’t there an awful lot of dancing in Cats?” Gladys asked, dealing out the cards.
Judy gave her a withering look. “Well, yes, do you think I’m not up for it?” Eleanor struggled to hold back a laugh. “Anyway, we’ve decided to go with another show. Lena wanted to do Fiddler on the Roof, but we all convinced her that someone would break a hip for sure. So now we’re doing Hello Dolly.” The card game was well and truly under way by now, all of the ladies very adept at playing and chatting at the same time. Eleanor was still trying to suppress a smile at the thought of Judy in a catsuit singing Memory, dancing with the help of her walking stick.
“Well, that sounds lovely. Who will you play?” Marjorie handed around the scones again.
Judy raised her eyebrows with a grin. “The main character, Dolly, is a flamboyant, meddling matchmaker. Now who does that remind you of?”
“Oh! So you’re playing the lead? Congratulations, Judy, that’s fantastic.” Eleanor was surprised but happy for her friend. The ladies all congratulated her warmly, the cards forgotten for a moment. Then Gladys cleared her throat, and the game was underway again.
“How is your home situation going, Eleanor?” Marjorie asked.
Eleanor frowned. “Just the same, Marjorie. Except that my oldest grandson Joe will be home for the weekend tomorrow. So the house will be even more crowded for a few days.” Just thinking about it gave Eleanor a sharp stab of anxiety.
Judy’s face brightened. “Oh, Joe! He’s a darling. Best one of the lot, I think. What’s he studying at Uni again?”
Eleanor grimaced. “Oh, I don’t know, some kind of science thing. Wants to work with animals of some sort.” She made a mental note to ask Kathy when she went home.
“Oh, Eleanor, will you still be able to make it to Catherine’s dinner party on Sunday night?” Judy looked concerned. Catherine Worthington kept to herself for the most part. She was, however, renowned for throwing the most fabulous, but very exclusive, dinner parties. This was the first time that Judy and Eleanor had been invited. Marjorie gaped in surprise.
“You’ve been invited to Catherine’s dinner party?” Eleanor almost felt sorry for her, she was so clearly envious. She made a mental note to suggest inviting Marjorie, if she ever got the chance.
“Yes.” Judy grinned. “It was a surprise to me, too.”
Eleanor patted Judy’s hand. “Yes love, I’ll be there, don’t worry.”
Marjorie sulked for a moment or two, then brightened again, as she suddenly remembered some more gossip. “Oh, have you heard the latest about the new gardener? You know, the young man that Willoughby inexplicably hired. Old Mrs Lacey caught him in the bushes outside of her bedroom window. Very strange, she was convinced that he was spying on her.”
Eleanor raised her eyebrows, and recounted what she’d seen outside of the bowls club the previous day. “Seems very strange. He also is quite an incompetent gardener, from what I’ve seen so far. We must all keep an eye on him.”
Judy grinned. “Well, I must admit that I haven’t noticed him doing anything strange. But yesterday, when I was taking Giles for a walk, I stopped to chat to him about thinning out the irises by the pond. They really look quite crowded at the moment. While I was talking to the poor young man, Giles was sniffing his boots, and before I noticed, he’d cocked his leg and…. Well, you know. All over his boots. I was quite ashamed.” Eleanor once again stifled a laugh at the thought of Giles piddling on the hapless gardener’s boots. She pulled herself together-all the amusing stories had thrown off her card game. Marjorie and Gladys romped to an easy victory, much to her great irritation.