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.
Chapter 6 – Lady Slippers
Saturday morning started slowly at Eleanor’s house. She was the first up, of course, taking the opportunity to tidy the lounge and to enjoy a cup of tea in silence. It was not quite silence, of course. She could hear the quiet whistling snore that usually came from Timmy’s room, along with Joe’s louder bass snore. The magpies, too, were warbling to each other as they strutted across her little patch of lawn. Soon enough, the sounds of Daryl noisily clearing his throat and blowing his nose assailed her, like fingernails on a blackboard. He went for his run, and then headed off, bustling officiously out of the door. “You enjoy your Saturday, Ellie!” he called to her as he picked up his briefcase. “Although, what am I saying, every day is like the weekend for you around here, isn’t it?” He waved and stepped outside, leaving Eleanor staring daggers at the front door behind him. She wiped up the milk he had spilled on the table, put away the cornflakes, and washed up his dishes. Hmph. It certainly didn’t feel like the weekend.
Eleanor looked at the time on the clock in the kitchen. She looked at her bare wrist, feeling a stab of irritation that she still hadn’t found her watch. Zara should be here soon, she thought. The snoring duet was still coming from Timmy’s room, and Kathy wasn’t up yet either. Poor dear, she thought. She must need the extra sleep.
Zara tapped on her door right on time. Eleanor prized punctuality, so she was pleasantly surprised with Zara. Usually, in her experience, young people didn’t care at all about being on time. “Good morning,” Eleanor said, opening the door. Zara looked like a gothic pixie, she thought, with twinkling eyes and neat little features, but also a lot of dark makeup and piercings. She was wearing a black jumper with a hood, and black jeans with holes at the knees. Her hair was pulled back into two little bunches, both tied with pink ribbons. “Morning.” The girl walked past her carrying the mysterious brown box.
“Ah, would you like a cup of tea?” Eleanor asked, hesitantly. She didn’t know how to deal with young people who were not her own grandchildren. Did teenagers drink tea? She didn’t know.
“Do you have hot chocolate?” Zara looked hopeful.
“Oh. Yes, of course.” Eleanor filled the kettle, and showed Zara into the office. She looked around the tiny, neat room.
“So, do you want to give me some more details? Like, who are you spying on?”
Eleanor’s eyes widened. “Oh, well, my dear, perhaps it would be better if you don’t know…” The less people knew about her suspicious about Daryl, the better, she thought.
Zara shrugged. “Sure. You don’t have to tell me what’s going on. Just general details. It will help me set up the system, that’s why I’m asking. Like, if you’re trying to catch the hubby while he’s online gambling, or looking at naked ladies, we’ll point the camera at the computer. But if you suspect someone might break in, we’ll point the camera at the window. See what I mean?”
Eleanor was suddenly grateful that her late husband was a simple, steady man who never trusted the internet. He’d always left ‘computer work’ up to her. “Well, dear, my husband has passed away, but as it happens, I do suspect it might be someone in the house, perhaps using my computer or looking through my papers while I’m out.”
Zara looked around the room. “It’ll be difficult to point the camera at both the filing cabinet and the computer. Hm. Maybe we should have got two cameras?” She paused, and looked at Eleanor. “Have you checked the browser history on your computer? And changed your passwords?” Eleanor was taken aback. She hadn’t done either. Why didn’t she think of that herself?
Zara smiled. “Here, why don’t we do it now?” She slid neatly into Eleanor’s seat, behind the computer desk. “Now, let’s log in. I hope you’ve got a good password.”
“Well, it’s actually the date of my wedding anniversary. So I would remember it.” Zara rolled her eyes. She tapped a few keys. “Ok, so you need to choose a different one. Nothing personal, like a date of birth or anything. And you need to use at least one number or capital letter, something different.”
Eleanor thought for a minute. She couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t personal, that she would remember. Eventually, she tapped in ‘Murder Club 1’ and pressed enter. She repeated the password, then thought she should write it down somewhere, quickly, before she forgot.
“Great,” Zara took the keyboard back. “Now don’t you even think about writing it down anywhere.” She caught the look on Eleanor’s face. “Oh ok, write it down if you must, but make sure it’s not somewhere obvious, like in your diary. Or on a little slip of paper in your drawer or purse.” Eleanor sighed. Those were exactly the places that she’d thought of writing down the new password.
“Now, let me just check your browser history…” Zara tapped a few keys. “Oh, that’s strange. It looks like someone has recently deleted it. Was that you?” She looked at Eleanor quizzically.
“Me? I mean, I can use basic things, like Google, and my internet banking website. But that’s really it. I don’t know how to delete my — what did you call it? — browser history.”
Zara frowned. “Does anyone else use this computer?”
“No. My daughter and son in law live here with me, along with my two grandsons, but they all have their own laptops or those tablet things. They do use my wifi though,” she said, huffily.
Zara raised her eyebrows. “That’s a lot of people for such a small place. But anyway, someone’s recently deleted your browser history. That’s the list of all the places you’ve looked on the internet in the last few weeks. So unless that was you, then someone else has used your computer.”
Eleanor’s thoughts immediately went to Daryl. Who knew what he’d been looking for on her computer? The thought made her blood boil. Suddenly she needed a cup of tea.
When Eleanor returned to the office, with a steaming cup of tea for herself, and a hot chocolate for Zara, the girl had been busy. “Look at this.” She pointed to a book sitting on the shelf in the corner. Eleanor had to take a step closer before she noticed that there was something stuck in the pages of the book. It was the little camera, only noticeable if you knew what you were looking for.
“It’s not perfect, but from this angle, you can see the computer, and a little corner of the filling cabinet. You can’t see the whole thing, but you’d be able to tell if someone opened it. See.” She pointed to the computer, and Eleanor could see the room displayed on the screen. “It will record the video to a file on your computer, so you just have to click here…” She gave Eleanor a quick rundown. It was a simple, easy to use little system.
“Well, my dear, you’ve done a fantastic job. Thank you so much.”
Zara gave her a quizzical look. “You know, if you’re worried about someone getting into your paperwork or accessing your information on your computer, you should get a lock on your filing cabinet and change your passwords for other things as well, such as internet banking and your emails.” Eleanor smiled. Zara was a smart girl. She had certainly earned her money.
“Thank you dear, I will.” Eleanor could hear stirring in the other room. The boys must be awake.
She and Zara took their hot drinks through to the kitchen to finish up. Timmy was sitting at the table, still seemingly half asleep, with a bowl full of cereal in front of him.
“Timmy, this is Zara. Zara, my grandson Timmy.” Timmy said hello through a mouthful of cornflakes. Behind him, the bedroom door opened, and Joe came out, wearing a faded superman pyjama top that was a size or two too small for him, and a pair of tracksuit pants, with his hair pointing every which way. He took one look at Zara, and his eyes widened.
“Oh, Zara, this is my other grandson-” Eleanor broke off, as Joe had disappeared back into the bedroom. Less than a minute had elapsed before he reappeared, this time wearing a clean t-shirt, with his hair neatly combed, and a cloud of fragrant deodorant wafting behind him.
“Oh, hi,” he said, as though seeing Zara for the first time. “I’m Joe.” He held out a hand, and Zara shook it, her delicate hand with its black painted fingernails dwarfed by Joe’s big hand.
“Zara here has been helping me with my computer.” Eleanor watched Joe, eyes twinkling. She thought he might be interested in Zara, and her predictions appeared to be correct. Timmy rolled his eyes at them both, and headed off to the lounge room, empty cereal bowl abandoned on the table.
“Oh, are you interested in computers? So am I.” Eleanor smiled to herself. She’d never seen Joe using a computer in the time he’d been visiting her place.
Zara nodded. “Are you at university? Eleanor said one of her grandsons was studying.”
Joe beamed with pride. “Yeah. First year. I’m studying marine science.”
“Oh cool. I’m in year 12, so hoping I get into uni next year. I’d like to do something like marine science. If I can get the grades. Is it interesting?”
Eleanor listened to the two young people chatter away to each other, remembering the day she met her husband, all those years ago. While it wasn’t quite love at first sight, it was certainly mutual interest at first sight. She sighed. Some days she missed him quite a lot.
Later the same afternoon, after a frenzied burst of knocking, Judy burst through Eleanor’s front door.
“Eleanor! Thank God you’re home. I thought you might be out at one of your activities. I need an orchid.” She was wearing a voluminous shawl, beautifully patterned in blues and greens, over a pink blouse and green slacks. Her hair was neatly styled, and, for Judy, quite sedate. Only a few pink highlights. The green eyeshadow, Eleanor noted, was a new addition.
Eleanor laughed. “Slow down Judy. Why do you need an orchid? And do you think that I keep a large supply of exotic plants in my back yard just in case you need them?”
Judy sat down, puffing slightly with excitement. “Eleanor, would you be a darling and put the kettle on while I explain? I just happened to run into Vince, and he asked me how my orchids are going. I wanted to invite him to-” she glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one was at home, “-the Tea Appreciation Society. You know. But there were too many people around, and so I needed another pretext to see him again. And I panicked and asked if I could bring one of my orchids around because I there was something wrong with it, and I didn’t know what to do.”
Eleanor rolled her eyes. “So not only do you need an orchid, you need one that has something wrong with it….”
“Ah. Yes. That’s about right.”
“Shall we go to the nursery? Perhaps they’ll have an ailing orchid there.”
Judy threw up her hands in despair. “I’ve already been! They don’t have a single orchid in the place.”
Eleanor frowned in concentration. This was indeed a problem. Vince could be very valuable to them, and it wouldn’t do to have him thinking that Judy was a flake so early on. Although, she thought, with an internal chuckle, surely he’d find out that she was flaky on his own soon enough.
“Well now, let’s think about this. Who do we know here who might have orchids in their garden? It’s also important that they know how to keep their mouths shut.” Eleanor poured tea for them both, into cups that, to Judy’s unspoken disappointment, had neither cheesy slogan or kitschy pictures on them.
Judy wrung her hands together. “It’s no use. Everyone that I can think of around here grows normal, boring flowers, the kinds of things that you’d see in any cottage garden.”
Suddenly Eleanor had a stroke of inspiration. “Gladys! That’s who. I’ve heard her talking about her garden before, and I know she grows a lot of exotic plants. I’m sure she mentioned that she has a few orchids.”
Judy’s face lit up. “Of course! Now that you mention it, I think I’ve heard her talk about growing orchids as well. I wonder why she didn’t say anything when we were talking about orchids at Bridge?”
Eleanor raised her eyebrows. “I don’t think she had a chance to get a word in edgewise.”
Gladys, who answered the doorbell in pyjama pants and a warm jumper, appeared even more pale and weary than she had at bridge. “Oh, ladies. What a surprise. I hope you don’t mind my attire, I’m just feeling a little under the weather, so I was going to go to bed early.”
Eleanor glanced at the clock on the wall in Gladys’ neat little unit. It was just after 3 o’clock, she noted, with a worried glance at Gladys. “Is everything ok, Gladys? I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you’re not looking your normal self.”
Gladys waved a thin hand. “Oh, I’m fine. You know what it’s like at this age. Always something the matter.” She lapsed into silence. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“No, no, we’ve just had one. In fact, I’ve got a rather strange favor to ask you. Do you, by any chance, have orchids growing in your garden?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Would you like to have a look?” Gladys led the way through her lounge room, a very plain, ordered space, decorated in simple tones of white and grey. When they walked out of the back door, Eleanor gasped. The entire verandah was filled with beautiful and exotic plants. Climbing vines, fragrant flowers, lush greenery and delicate leaves made the area seem like a jungle.
”Oh Gladys,” Judy breathed. “This is better than the Botanic Gardens.”
Gladys smiled. “Well, it’s a small passion of mine. I do love my plants.” She gestured to a plant in a terracotta pot, with dark green leaves and a cascade of pretty white flowers. “That is a Dendrobium Orchid. One of my favorites.”
Judy beamed. “Oh! That’s the one that I have. I can never remember the name of it though. I just got it from the local hardware store…” she trailed off.
Gladys pointed to another plant, trailing pretty yellow flowers that were unusually shaped. “This orchid is called Oncidium, or ‘Dancing Lady’.” Eleanor looked closer, and the flowers did actually look like small, dancing ladies with long flowing skirts. “And here is another one. Cymbidium. Lovely, isn’t it?” The orchid she was pointing to had slender green leaves with variegated, red and orange flowers.
“Gladys, this might be a very strange request, but I’m wondering if we might be able to borrow one or two of your orchids.” Eleanor paused, glancing at Judy. They had decided that honesty was the best policy. Even if they weren’t giving Gladys all of the information. “Ah, it’s a little bit of a sensitive matter. You might remember that Judy met the new man who has moved in. Vince Bianchi, his name is. Well, she was trying to impress him-”
“Well, I wouldn’t say impress, necessarily-” Judy folded her arms across her chest, defensively.
“Trying to get to know him? Is that better? Anyway, she went a little too far, she told him that she has an orchid she wants him to look at, thinking that she would be able to pick up another one from the local department store, but it turns out that they’ve sold out.”
Gladys looked at Judy, a faint smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Don’t you think it would be best to tell him the truth?”
Judy had the good grace to blush. “Well, yes. It probably would be best. But I thought I might try this first…”
Gladys laughed. “You certainly do like to live on the wild side, Judy, don’t you? Here, let me have a look…” She pulled a pot from a shelf. “This is a Lady’s Slipper orchid. I have two of them, both the same colour, so you can keep this one.” The plant had speckled leaves, and a delicate white flower, tinged with pink. “In fact, I also have another Dancing Lady that you can have. Who knows, you might really become interested in orchids.” She winked at Judy, and handed her two plants.
When Joe was staying, Eleanor made a point of trying to get the whole family together for dinner. Of course, she wouldn’t personally mind if Daryl wasn’t there, but she thought that the boys should get every opportunity to spend time with their mother, and to eat a nutritious dinner. Although, she had found, that often meant it was up to her to cook the dinner. Tonight, as she dished up the roast chicken and vegetables, she noticed that Kathy still didn’t look herself. She seemed sad, distracted. Things with Daryl must be worse than she realised, Eleanor thought. Kathy would be a little sad to loose him, she thought, but ultimately, she would be so relieved. She must continue on with her plan. Kathy’s happiness depended on it.
“Lovely dinner, Eleanor!” Daryl boomed. He slid into the seat next to Kathy, squeezing her hand that lay on the table. Kathy didn’t even look at him. “Come on TImmy! We’re waiting for you.” Timmy slouched into the room and slumped into his chair next to Joe, who was staring at his mobile phone. “Sit up straight Tim. Phone away at the dinner table, Joe!” Daryl scolded. Hypocrite, thought Eleanor. She’d seen Daryl use his telephone at the table plenty of times. She did her best to smooth the irritated expression off her face. She couldn’t let Daryl suspect her true feelings towards him.
“How is everything with the business, Daryl?” Eleanor asked, sweetly. “Everything coming along well?”
Daryl spoke through a mouthful of chicken and potatoes. “Ah, you know. Not too bad.” Eleanor suppressed a shudder. The man had terrible table manners.
Kathy looked up. “It’s going well though, isn’t it Daryl? You’re getting enough clients?” She looked hopeful.
Daryl once again shoveled a spoonful of food into his mouth before replying. “Ah, yeah, pretty good. You know what it’s like, in this business it sometimes takes a while to build up a solid reputation. But things are going well, of course, of course.”
Eleanor’s curiosity was piqued. It was unlike Daryl to be so evasive. Normally he would take any opportunity to tell everyone how well his business was going. “That’s interesting, Daryl. I guess it can always take a little while for a new business to get going. And they do say that many new businesses do fail in the first year. Although I’m sure yours won’t. I’m sure there are many people out there who need a financial planner.”
Daryl waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, yes, I’m not worried. I’ve got some things in the pipeline, I’m sure. Lots of balls in the air. Don’t you worry about me!” Eleanor looked around the table. The boys didn’t seem to be paying much attention, but Kathy certainly had a worried expression on her face.
On Sunday afternoon, Eleanor took a little stroll to Judy’s place. She was greeted enthusiastically by Giles. “How did things go with Vince?” she asked, trying to squeeze down the hallway past a stack of books, several potplants, and a wiggling pug.
“Oh, fantastic!” Judy spoke even more enthusiastically than usual. “He loved the orchids that I took to show him, and he gave me some good advice on how to keep them healthy. He even gave me another orchid, one that he had propagated.” She paused, looking thoughtfully at her plants. “I might start keeping orchids for real, I think.”
Eleanor laughed. “In all the time I’ve known you, you’ve never shown an interest in gardening.”
Judy tilted her chin haughtily. “A lady can change. Anyway, he’s agreed to come along on Tuesday afternoon. I didn’t tell him much, just that we had a little conundrum that he might be able to help us with.”
Eleanor felt a little tingle of excitement. “Wonderful, well done Judy.”
Judy beamed. “Ah, it was nothing. All in a day’s work.” She paused, one hand on her chin. “I must admit, I have enjoyed spending time with Vince. He is quite handsome, you know.” She pulled a wide eyed, sweetly innocent face, and Eleanor laughed.
On the way back home, Eleanor spotted the gardener. He was standing in a garden bed, next to a rose bush, a pair of hedge trimmers in his hand and a confused expression on his face. Eleanor slowed her pace, watching him. He looked up as she approached, and started nervously.
“Hello. Are you pruning them?” Eleanor asked.
“Oh, yes.” The young man spoke nervously. “Uh, I was just about to start. Just about to. Start.” His eyes darted around as he spoke. “Uh, you’re the lady who helped me with the whipper snipper, right?”
Eleanor smiled. “Yes, that’s right. Do you need some help?” She felt a sudden wash of pity for the poor nervous boy. He certainly looked guilty of something.
The gardener took one last look around, making sure that no one else was around. Then he seemed to make the decision to trust her. “Yes. Yes please. I just… Well, these rose bushes are different to the ones I’m used to….”
Eleanor laughed. “All rose bushes are pretty much the same, young man. Look, you just need to trim off the dead wood, just to about here. Now cut at an angle… Yes, that’s it.” She gave the young man a few more pointers. “Not really that hard, is it? Not when you know what you’re doing.”
“Thank you.” He seemed to be flooded with relief. “Thank you, Mrs, uh…”
“You can call me Eleanor, young man.”
Back at her house, Eleanor found Joe loading up his little car. “I’m off gran. Thanks for having me, as always.” He threw his overnight bag and pillow into the back seat of the car and slammed the door.
Eleanor gave him a hug, thinking that the one good thing about having Daryl and Kathy stay at her house was that she got to see more of her grandsons. She paused for a moment, then asked, “Joe, can I ask you a question? You remember the new gardener that you saw last time you were here? Very young. You made a comment that you thought he might have been smoking marijuana?”
Joe nodded. “Yeah sure do. Why’s that?”
“Some of the ladies were talking recently about a rumor that’s been going around. Apparently they think he might be up to no good. Such as selling drugs.” She spoke in a low voice, standing close to Joe. “What do you think? Do you think he looks like the type?”
Joe laughed. “I don’t know, Gran, it’s always hard to tell something like that. But yeah, if I was going to guess, I’d say he certainly looks like the type.”