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. You can find the previous chapters here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4.
Chapter 5 – The Tea Appreciation Society
Eleanor was in her lounge room, enjoying a cup of tea and watching a rainbow lorikeet in the tree outside her window. She had got up early that morning, and dusted everything, tidying away Timmy’s games and dirty socks. She had taken Daryl’s carelessly discarded running shoes out into the laundry and dumped them in a pile by the door. There. That was better, now she could enjoy her tea in peace. Although she had been contemplating placing the shoes directly in the bin.
“Eleanor! You’re up early. Good, I was hoping to catch you before I head out for the day.”
Eleanor suppressed a groan. Daryl. Her peaceful morning cup of tea was spoilt. “Good morning, Daryl.” She glanced out the window and noticed that even the lorikeet had flown away.
“You know already how much we appreciate you letting us stay, Eleanor. But I really wanted to offer again to look over your finances. It’s what I do for a living, so I’m sure that I’ll be able to give you some pointers on how to invest your finances in the best possible way. Now I won’t take no for an answer, Ellie. Let’s set up a time and have a look.”
Eleanor searched her brain hard for an excuse. “Oh, thank you Daryl, but it’s really not necessary. I have a perfectly good accountant who has already looked over things for me. I don’t think-”
“Now, Eleanor, I insist. At very least I can have a look at what your accountant has done and make sure your investments are sound.”
“Oh, Daryl, he’s been my accountant for years, I trust him-”
“Eleanor, I won’t take no for an answer.”
Eleanor opened her mouth and then shut it again. Daryl was infuriating. She could tell he was scheming, but she couldn’t think of any other reasons to give.
“There, good girl. Now if you get everything together, I’ll take a look. Perhaps this weekend would be a good time.” He nodded firmly, before she could come up with another excuse. “Now. I’m off for a run.” He surveyed the room with a frown. “Have you seen my running shoes? I thought I left them in here.”
Eleanor and Judy arrived at the same time for bridge at Marjorie’s house. Unusually, Gladys was not there yet. Marjorie’s lounge was cosy, with fresh flowers in a vase on the mantelpiece, and sun streaming through the window. The ladies eyed off Marjorie’s sponge cake on the table, topped with cream and fresh strawberries. “Are you ok dear?” Marjorie asked Eleanor. “You look quite worn out.”
Eleanor sighed with frustration. She supposed it wouldn’t hurt to tell Marjorie about her doubts about Daryl. “Oh, I just had a stressful morning. Daryl wants to go through my investments and give me some financial advice. I’m just not sure that I need his help, and frankly, I don’t want his advice.”
”Oh, my dear. Of course, I can understand that.” Marjorie was wreathed in sympathetic concern. “My grandson is a financial planner, and he’s always wanting to give me advice. I just can’t really trust the advice of anyone whose nappies I have changed.”
Eleanor smiled. “Well it’s a little more complicated than that, but yes, I guess the gist of it is that I don’t really trust him.” She didn’t add that she was sure he was scheming to steal from her, and she was plotting his demise.
“So stall him, darling. These young folk, they give up really easily.” Marjorie waved a hand airily. “I’m sure you can think of an excuse. Then keep making excuses, and before you know it, they’ve given up.” She picked up the teapot and poured a perfect stream of tea into Eleanor’s cup.
Gladys arrived, apologetic. “I’ve been at the doctor.”
Marjorie smiled, and Eleanor could see that she had been saving up the gossip until they were all there. “Oh, darling, I hope nothing serious? Well, what a week. Did you hear that Clara and Joan are at it again. Both squabbling over whose turn it is to host the scrabble morning. If you ever what to see what lionesses look like fighting over an antelope carcass… Anyway, how was your dinner party at Catherine’s place?”
“It was lovely,” grinned Judy, with a sly look at Eleanor. “Blanche drank rather a lot, and Joan and Clara managed to be civil to each other. Eleanor acquired an admirer. You know Roger, he lives up near the library, usually keeps to himself?”
“Oh Judy! Don’t be ridiculous. He was just being friendly, I’m sure.”
Judy laughed. “Just friendly! Now, you’re too modest, Eleanor. He barely spoke a word to anyone else all evening. Stared moon eyed after you when you left….” She gave a dramatic imitation of a lovesick admirer.
“I’m sure he was just being friendly, but…” Eleanor paused. “Well, he’s actually sent me an email, asking if I would have lunch with him.”
“Lunch! Why I told you he was interested…”
“An admirer! How exciting, Eleanor. Do you know how long it’s been since anyone has asked me to lunch?”
“An email! Who sends lunch invitations by email?”
“Ladies, ladies, please.” Eleanor laughed, holding out her hands, as all of the ladies talked at once. “It’s really not a big deal. I’m sure he’s just lonely and enjoys good conversation.”
Judy fixed her with a stern gaze. “Eleanor. You have said yes, haven’t you?”
Eleanor squirmed. “Well, not exactly. Truth be told, I haven’t replied yet. I was intending to refuse, but I can’t think of a good enough reason.”
“Eleanor! You must go.”
“Do you really think so?” Eleanor looked at her friends.
Eleanor laughed. “Very well. If you all think so, then I will go.”
Gladys dealt the cards, carefully, as Judy helped herself to another slice of cake. “Well, ladies, I also met with a gentleman today.” Judy smiled.
“Oh, do tell!” Marjorie poured more tea for Eleanor, looking like a child in a candy store with all of this new gossip which she was getting.
“Yes, the new gentleman, Vince Bianchi. It turns out that he is quite an orchid fancier. I got talking to him at the library today, as he was returning his books, and I asked him for some advice with my orchids. He was very knowledgeable, and he even invited me over to see his collection of orchids. It is extensive, he has some very beautiful flowers there.”
“Judy! You are rather a dark horse. I didn’t know you were an orchid fancier.”
Judy had the good grace to blush. “Well yes, it is a rather recent hobby of mine. I’m hoping to increase my collection.” She glanced at Eleanor, with a quick wink. “He was very interesting. I think we might have some mutual interests in the future.”
Eleanor hastily changed the subject, fearing that Judy might say too much. “How are your rehearsals for the dramatic production going, Judy?”
“Oh, don’t get me started!” Judy exclaimed. “Well! Jenny thinks that she can come along without learning her lines. Walter fell asleep, right in the middle of a scene, and started snoring gently. I was tempted to throw water on him, but he woke up just in time.” She rolled her eyes dramatically. “Nobody takes it as seriously as I do, of course. I mean, I know this isn’t Broadway, but we want to at least put on a good show. Why join the drama group if you’re not going to put in some effort to learn your lines and show up on time?”
“Surely they can’t all be bad?” asked Gladys, dealing another hand.
“Oh, of course not. Walter is usually quite good, of course, when he’s not sleeping. He’s playing my romantic interest. Lena is wonderful, as are some of the other actors. It’s going to be a fabulous success!”
Marjorie passed around the cake again, and Eleanor decided that life was too short to pass up Marjorie’s airy sponge. She took another slice.
“Oh, ladies. Well, you never will guess. I was talking to Mrs White at the library yesterday. She does see all of the goings on in there. We were talking about the gardener, he is so very strange, isn’t he?” Marjorie paused for dramatic effect, and lowered her voice to a near whisper. “You’ll never believe it. Mrs White said she’s sure that he’s selling drugs. Now isn’t that quite the scandal for our quiet little village?”
Eleanor walked home with Judy after Bridge. Her thoughts were full of trying to work out a way to stall Daryl from looking at her finances. “Did you notice that Gladys was very quiet today?” asked Judy.
“Hmm. Well yes, but she’s always on the quiet side. More interested in Bridge than gossip, which is more than I can say for some people.” Eleanor commented, with a sniff.
Judy looked thoughtful. “Well, yes, but she said even less than usual today. She looks quite pale and thin as well.”
“Oh, she’s always pale and thin. That’s just what she looks like…”
“And did you notice that she said she’d been at the doctors, and none of us asked if everything was ok? We were all itching to get into the gossip.”
Eleanor paused for a moment, and realised that Judy was probably right. And she hadn’t even noticed it. She mentally berated herself for being so preoccupied with her own problems that she had stopped caring about her friend. She promised herself that as soon as she had a chance, she’d go and visit Gladys and check up on how she was going.
On Tuesday, Eleanor arrived at Judy’s house with a plate full of home made cookies that she’d managed to hide from Timmy. Maude was already ensconced on the couch, with Giles’ head in her lap. He was staring up at her adoringly. Eleanor felt a twinge of annoyance, but then noticed with satisfaction that Giles quickly switched his attention to the plate of cookies. “No cookies for you!” Judy told him firmly, but Eleanor was sure that as soon as she left the room, Maude would sneak him one.
“Well, darlings, how do you like my new look?” Judy was wearing a pink confection of a blouse, and an old fashioned hat. “I’m trying to get into character for ‘Hello, Dolly’.”
Eleanor laughed. “It’s not your usual style, Judy, but it suits you.” Judy handed her a cup of steaming tea, in a mug that said ‘A Cup of Love’ on the side.
Before she had even had a chance to enjoy the tea, Maude leant forward on the couch, with an eager expression. “Well, ladies. I’ve been thinking about code words all week. We can’t very well call this ‘Murder Club’, so how about we use ‘Tea Appreciation Society’ as our code for our meetings? Seeing as you both enjoy your tea so much.” She looked at her coffee thoughtfully. “I could even switch to drinking tea for the occasion if you think that would help? Also, how about we call Daryl the ‘mouse’? That way we can talk about getting rid of the mouse problem in your house, and nobody will notice that we’re planning, well, homicide.”
“Yes, but they will think I’ve got a rodent problem in my house.” Eleanor was indignant. She took a sip of her tea. She did have to admit that Maude had some good suggestions.
Judy looked thoughtful. “Not a bad suggestion, Maude. But what if people want to join the Tea Appreciation Society? There are plenty of people around here who also enjoy tea.”
Maude waved a hand dismissively. “Well, we’ll just stall them, or say that we’re not taking new members at the moment. Honestly though, with all of the activities on offer around here, why would anyone want to join a Tea Appreciation Society? I think we’d be pretty safe.”
It was a good point. Eleanor thought for a moment, but she couldn’t think of any reason why they shouldn’t use Maude’s code words. Annoyingly, she was right.
A sudden knock on the door made all of them jump. Giles looked very alarmed. “Judy, are you expecting anyone?” Eleanor asked.
“No, not at all.” Judy went to answer the door, and they could hear a voice drifting down the hallway.
“Am I on time? I thought Sally said that the group was meeting here.” Barry wandered into the lounge room, having pushed past Judy.
”Ah, no, Barry. I think you might be in the wrong place. There’s no Sally here.”
“Oh, but I’m sure she said that you were meeting here. Tuesday at 2 o’clock. Don’t say I’ve got the time wrong again.” Barry looked so crestfallen that Eleanor felt sorry for him. Then he caught sight of Maude. “Oh! Sally, you are here. Didn’t you tell me that your group was meeting today? Remember, we were talking on the bus recently? Or was it the train….”
Eleanor, Judy and Maude sat in shocked silence. Maude’s mouth was actually hanging open, Eleanor noted with detached amusement. She had thought that was only a cartoon cliche, but here it was in real life. Cautiously, Eleanor asked, “Ah, Barry, what did Maude tell you about the group?”
Barry smiled warmly. “Oh, just that you get together once a week for a game of, what’s it called? You know, Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Dagger? That board game.”
Eleanor sighed with relief. “Ah, yes, Cluedo. Well, it’s a similar game to that, only more…. made up. We’re kind of working out the rules as we go along. Isn’t that right Judy?” Judy nodded, still mute.
Barry beamed. “Oh, I’m so glad I got it right. Sometimes I get a bit confused, but I don’t think I’m quite loosing my marbles yet. And I do get rather bored sometimes. I don’t like crafts, or all those active things like bowls, so it’s nice to have a group I can join.”
Eleanor sighed once again, this time with frustration. But what could she do? Barry was looking at them all with such a hopeful expression on his face. “Tell me Barry,” she asked. “Do you like tea?”
“Oh yes, nothing better than a good cup of tea.”
“Well, we’ve decided that Judy will invite Vince to the next meeting of our, ah, Tea Appreciation Society, to discuss our, um, Cluedo Strategy. All agreed?”
Barry looked puzzled. “Who is Vince again?”
“Vince Bianchi, the new man who has moved in not too long ago. He’s a chemist, so he’s going to, um, help Eleanor with her mouse problem. We hope.” Judy smiled. Eleanor suppressed a laugh. If poor Barry wasn’t confused before, he certainly would be now.
Barry winked broadly. “Yep, got it.”
“And in the meantime, you’re going to check with Zara and see if the surveillance gear has arrived, right?” Judy asked. “For the, um, mouse?”
Eleanor laughed. This was getting beyond a joke. “Yes, I will. And I guess that is all of the business we need to discuss, so meeting adjourned.”
After a bit of small talk, Barry said goodbye, gratefully. “Especially to you, Sally. Thanks for inviting me, this has been fun.” He nodded at all of the group, and left, Giles following him politely to the door.
Eleanor looked at Maude. “Somehow, despite all of that, you didn’t tell him that your name is Maude?”
Maude had the good grace to blush. “Oh, I’m so sorry about that. But he’s nice, right? And yes, he still thinks my name is Sally. I was too taken aback to correct him.”
Eleanor rolled her eyes.
The next afternoon, after lawn bowls, Eleanor went to the library. She had a book to return, but she made sure to time her visit when she knew Zara would be finished school. Sure enough, the girl was sitting behind a computer when she arrived. “Oh hi. Guess what has arrived?” Zara quietly pointed to a brown paper wrapped box that was sitting beside her feet.
Eleanor slipped into the seat next to her, feeling very much like a spy. She tried to avoid looking at Zara, and instead looked at the computer screen in front of her. “Thank you dear. Ah, do you suppose you could come to my house and install it some time?” Eleanor was quite proficient with the basic functions of her computer, but she didn’t think she could manage setting up a camera. She would just have to think of a time that Daryl would most likely be out of the house, which was difficult because he often seemed to work whatever hours suited him. He was often out of the house on Saturday morning, though. She had a sudden thought. Joe would be visiting again this coming weekend, and perhaps he would like to meet the very pretty Zara. “How about this Saturday morning? I can talk to your mother about it if you’d like?”
Zara grinned. “That will work ok as long as it’s not too early. And nah, I’ll talk to my mum. She won’t mind as long as I’m here. She thinks this is the best place for me to keep out of trouble.” Zara widened her eyes in mock innocence. Eleanor thought that there were certainly plenty of opportunities at Tranquil Waters for her to get into trouble, but she kept that opinion to herself. “Mum’s been at me to get a part time job after school, so she’ll be stoked if I get a chance to earn a little bit of money.”
By the time Eleanor got home, she felt quite tired. It had been a long, draining day. She was just contemplating sitting down with a cup of tea and a book when she noticed Kathy, sitting in the corner of the dining area. She had a tissue pressed to her eyes, and a tear stained face. From the look of her puffy, red eyes, she’d been having a good cry. From the lounge came the loud, aggressive sounds of Timmy’s video game.
“Oh Kathy darling! Whatever is the matter?”
Kathy tried to quickly wipe away her tears, but she was still sniffling. “Oh nothing mum. I’m ok. Just having a bit of a down day.” She smiled weakly.
“Is it Daryl? What has he done? What has he said?”
Kathy looked up. “No, mum, it’s not Daryl. He hasn’t done anything. Why, did he say something?” Her eyes were narrowed in suspicion. Eleanor noticed that she was wearing the same clothes as she had on yesterday, and her hair was quite disheveled. She had a stab of anxiety on behalf of her daughter. Something was wrong, perhaps even worse than she had suspected. “Oh, darling, you don’t need to protect him on my behalf. I want to help you.” She placed her hand on Kathy’s shoulder. Kathy brushed it off angrily.
“It’s not Daryl, mum. I told you that. Can’t I be sad without having to have a reason all of the time? Or having to do something about it? Just leave it, please.” She stormed angrily out of the room, and Eleanor had a flashback to Kathy as a teenager, heavily made up, wearing a short skirt. She had stormed angrily out of many a room in her teens. Eleanor’s husband had always been able to calm her, but she had usually resisted any of Eleanor’s attempts to reach out. It would seem some things never changed.