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 start at Chapter One, or read the previous chapter here.
Chapter Seven – Intrigues
Eleanor was flustered. She tied her green scarf jauntily around her neck, looked at her reflection, and then pulled it off again with a sigh. I should have had a hair cut, she thought. Her hair was too long, and not sitting in its usual neat pixie cut. Her scarf was the wrong colour. She didn’t even know what colour scarf she needed, but this was not it. She glanced at the mirror again, and ran an irritated hand through her hair. Neat beige slacks, sensible shoes. Her blue blouse, which usually brought the colour out in her eyes, today just accentuated the bags underneath her eyes. Well, it’s just going to have to do, she thought. It’s not like I’m trying to impress him.
“Golf today, mum?” Kathy asked, sitting at the kitchen table, still in her pyjamas. She looked pale, probably not sleeping well, Eleanor thought.
“No, dear. I’m going to lunch, actually. With, ah, a friend.” She suddenly thought that it would be nice to tell Kathy about Roger. It was the first time she’d had a date since her husband had passed. Not that this is a date. It’s just lunch.
Kathy smiled as she looked in the hallway mirror. It was a fairly pale smile, but Eleanor thought it was nice to see her smile for once anyway. “You look nice, mum. But what about some lipstick? I’ve got a nice subtle one.”
”Oh, lipstick! No, dear, I’d just get it on my teeth, or manage to smudge it into the wrinkles around my mouth. I’m not very good with lipstick.” But Kathy was already pulling a slim sliver tube from her handbag. It was a pale coral colour, and, Eleanor thought, actually quite pretty. She tried it on.
“Not too much?”
“No, mum, you look lovely.” Eleanor patted Kathy on the arm.
“Thank you dear.” The lipstick was something of an improvement-at least it attracted attention away from her eye bags.
Eleanor looked at her wrist, and again felt a stab of irritation that her watch was still missing. She had looked everywhere through the house, and the only explanation could be that someone had taken it. Daryl. What if he was having money problems with the business, and needed some quick cash? The watch would be easy to pawn. That had to be it. That man was a monster, and he had to go.
She pushed the thoughts aside, walking carefully down the pathway, past Judy’s house, past the pond. She was worried that she might run into someone who wanted to chat, and then she’d be late. She kept an eye out for Maude.
She and Roger had agreed to meet at the coffee shop for lunch. It was close enough to walk, and she thought it might sent the right casual mood. As soon as she walked through the door, she realised it was a mistake. Blanche was sitting at the table near the door, having coffee with Jean, and further into the room, she could see several other people she knew.
“Eleanor, how are you?” Blanche twittered brightly. “I thought you had golf today. Why, you look lovely! I can’t remember when I last saw you wearing lipstick.” She didn’t miss a single thing, thought Eleanor. At least she could see Roger, sitting quietly at a corner table. Punctual! That was good.
She weaved through the tables, saying hello here and there to people she knew. When she sat down opposite Roger, she noticed at least three ladies lean forward and start whispering to their companions.
“Oh, Eleanor. Why, you look nice. I’m so glad you could, I mean, it’s so lovely to, ah, well, I’m happy to see you is what I’m trying to say.” Roger wiped his brow with the back of his hand. He was quite handsome, Eleanor thought, with grey hair that was still quite thick, brown eyes and a strong jaw. She smiled, trying to put him at ease. “It’s nice to see you too, Roger.”
“So, what would you like to eat? Do you eat here often? I think the club sandwich is rather nice-”
Behind him, Eleanor could see Clara walking through the store, going the long way around to her table. She bumped Roger’s chair as she passed. “I’m so sorry. Oh, Roger, I didn’t realise it was you. Why, how are you?” She chattered for a moment, before Roger excused himself.
“Well, I’m sorry,” he said to Eleanor. “Where were we? What would you like to eat-”
“Oh, Roger!” Joan practically sang. “Why, fancy bumping into you here. Oh, and with Eleanor, I see….” It was another few minutes before Roger was able to extricate himself from that conversation, and then it was only because the waitress came to take their orders. When the third interruption came, this time from a lady called Susan, Eleanor smiled to herself. Susan simply had to come and talk to Roger, she hadn’t seen him in such a long time. By the time she finally left, Eleanor’s pumpkin soup and Roger’s club sandwich had arrived.
“I’m very sorry, Eleanor. I’m beginning to think maybe we should have chosen a different place for lunch.” Eleanor chuckled.
“I didn’t realise you were quite so popular.”
Roger had the good grace to blush. “Ah, well, it’s not really hard to be popular in this place, as long as you have most of your hair and some of your own teeth still.” He smiled, and then ducked his head as Maude approached their table. Eleanor gritted her teeth and used all of her strength to keep from rolling her eyes dramatically and sighing loudly.
“Hello, Eleanor, Roger. How nice to see you both. Well, I didn’t know you two knew each other. How is your lunch going? Isn’t the soup nice…” As she chattered away happily, Eleanor caught Roger’s eye and smiled. By the time Maude left, they had both finished their lunch.
“Well, this was a lovely lunch, Eleanor, but I certainly had hoped to spend more time with you and less with… well, all of Tranquil Waters.”
Eleanor smiled. “Do you know, Roger, that there is a little cafe just down the road from here? I’ve been there before, and I must say, the food is terrible. It’s draughty, and the cutlery usually hasn’t been washed properly. They do know how to make a good cup of tea, as long as you don’t mind it served by a rather disinterested waitress in a stained apron. No one from Tranquil Waters goes there….”
“Ah,” Roger raised his eyebrows at her and winked. “It sounds like it might have a certain charm! How about we try lunch there next time?”
“That sounds lovely. I’ll look forward to it.”
When Eleanor arrived at Judy’s house on Tuesday afternoon, Giles didn’t appear at the door to greet her, and Judy shouted down the hallway for her to come in. In the lounge, Maude and Barry were sitting on the two seater couch, with Giles in between them, soaking up the attention with a puppyish grin on his wrinkled face. On one of the single seater chairs sat a man that she hadn’t met yet. He had craggy features, thick dark eyebrows, and salt and pepper hair.
”Hello, you must be Vince. I’m Eleanor.” He smiled, then, his face lighting up.
“Hello Eleanor. Judy’s told me all about you.”
Just then, Judy appeared, holding steaming mugs of tea. She handed Eleanor a cup that said ‘Keep calm and put the kettle on’ on the side. “Ah, there you are. Here, why don’t you sit on this chair, Eleanor. I’ll sit over here.” She handed around a plate of home made cookies. “I see you’ve already met Vince? He’s been very helpful with my orchids.” She dropped Eleanor a quick wink.
Maude grinned at her. “How was your lunch yesterday with Roger? You seemed very cosy.”
This time, Eleanor allowed herself the satisfaction of a long and dramatic eye roll. “Well, it would have been lovely, except that we were interrupted by at least half of the population of Tranquil Waters. We barely spoke more than a few sentences to each other.”
Judy laughed. “Well, dear, what else did you expect around here? Gossiping about people’s private lives is our most popular sport.”
“Well, who I choose to have lunch with is really no one’s business.” Eleanor said huffily. Judy laughed again.
“Not in Tranquil Waters, dear. Here, it’s first item in the gossip column this week.”
Eleanor glared crossly at Judy, then turned to Vince with a sweet smile. “Enough about me. Judy tells me you are an orchid fancier?”
Vince smiled. “Yes, I have quite a collection of orchids. They are beautiful flowers, but can be quite tricky to grow. I like a challenge.”
“Oh, did you hear,” Maude broke into the conversation. “Clara and Joan have been banned from crafts for the rest of the month. They got into such a fierce fight, arguing and waving their walking sticks at one another. Patrick was worried that someone would get hurt, and so he stepped in. He got caught right across the forehead with a walking stick. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Wiloughby had just stopped by to say hello. She caught the whole lot, and flipped her wig.”
They all laughed, startling Giles, who had just nodded off with his head on Maude’s knee.
“Word on the street is that Catherine is having another dinner party this weekend. Very exclusive. She has such remarkable taste in wine, that lady.”
Maude sighed. “Ah, I’d love to go to one of her dinner parties. But she has a certain few people that she invites, and it’s almost impossible to get onto the list. Which is a shame, because I’ve heard it’s always a very good evening.”
“I love a good dinner party. Sounds very interesting,” said Vince.
“Oh, I haven’t had dinner yet,” said Barry. “Did you say we’re going to a dinner party? Are you going, Sally?”
For a moment, everyone paused, looking at Barry. After a moment, he said, “Oh, I’ve misunderstood, haven’t I? We’re not going to a dinner party?” Maude smiled at him and patted his hand.
“Yes, well we are rather getting off topic aren’t we?” Judy turned to Eleanor. “So I’ve been trying to explain to Vince what we’re up to here, but I guess it might be easier if you tell him yourself, Eleanor.”
Eleanor cleared her throat, and tried to quickly compose her thoughts. Barry and Maude, who had been chattering away, also turned to listen. “Well, I guess we’re working on a theoretical question here. It’s kind of like a puzzle, I guess. Here is the question: if someone is clearly a bad person, they are making their own family members suffer, but they are also plotting to steal money from their family, and they have everyone under such a spell that they don’t suspect him of anything: should this person be eliminated? And if so, how?”
There was a short silence in the room. Vince raised his eyebrows. Eleanor stopped breathing for a moment or two, not sure what his reaction would be.
“It’s like Cluedo. You know, Colonel Mustard in the library with the dagger?” Barry offered. He was leaning forward in his seat, speaking earnestly. “But, ah, no board. And no dice. And… well I guess it’s not really that similar.”
Vince frowned. “Well, if we’re speaking theoretically, then I guess the first question would be, do we have some proof that this is what is happening? We wouldn’t want to make a mistake.”
Judy smiled. “Well, in our scenario, we’re working on that. You know, video cameras, surveillance. Gathering evidence. Because of course, theoretically, we wouldn’t want to make a mistake. Not with such high stakes.”
Vince rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I guess, if you had all of the evidence, the next question would be, how do you do it?” He looked around the room. Everyone looked back at him expectantly, including Giles. “Well, I guess you’ve already ruled out making it look like an accident. Too hard. Firearms are too hard to get hold of. I guess the obvious answer in a place like this is poison… so many people with so many different types of medications.”
Maude nodded sagely. “Yes, poison is usually a woman’s weapon of choice.”
“Interestingly, I used to be chemist before I retired,” Vince continued. “So I guess I know a lot about medications and poisons. There are certainly a few different things that could be used to kill a person that are common enough medications. But the trick really would be doing it without being detected. Now that would take some work.” There was a pause, and then he asked, “So, can I know who this person is that you’re – theoretically – planning to bump off?”
All heads turned to look at Eleanor, who felt somewhat like a deer in the headlights. “Yes. Well of course you should know. It’s my son in law, Daryl. He is a remarkably lazy-”
“-and all round good for nothing man.” Eleanor smiled at Judy and Maude, who had both supported her strongly held opinion of Daryl. Barry raised his eyebrows.
“Oh! I always thought he was very nice. He always says hello to me on his run in the mornings.”
Eleanor sniffed. “Yes, well that’s what he wants everyone to think.”
“What are you doing out and about when Daryl’s out for his run? It’s very early, isn’t it?” asked Maude.
Barry looked sheepish. “Oh, well you see, I used to be a runner. These days my knees hurt too much to run, but I’m still in the habit of getting up early and getting out for a little, ah, shuffle. Sometimes I even get to see the sunrise. ”
“Ah,” said Maude, “I used to get up and see the sunrise from time to time. I haven’t done that for a long time. I should join you one day.”
“Oh, certainly, come any time you please.” Barry smiled at her. Judy and Eleanor glanced at each other, and Judy raised her eyebrows archly.
Later, after Barry and Maude had left, and Judy was cleaning up the tea cups, Vince turned to Eleanor. “I must be honest with you, Eleanor. I have some doubts about how hypothetical this scenario really is.”
Eleanor raised her eyebrows at him, trying to smooth her face into an emotionless mask. “Well, Vince, if you have any qualms about our little gathering here, then by all means, you needn’t be involved.” She gathered her thoughts, trying to be very delicate. “Only, we must assure you, if you try tell anyone outside of our little group, especially the, ah, authorities, what we are discussing – entirely theoretically! – then we will all deny everything. We may even cast some doubt upon your mental state, and, perhaps, some doubt upon your ability to continue caring for yourself.” She paused, and looked at him with innocent, wide eyes. “You know, I hear that the meals in the assisted care facility are all pureed.”
Vince laughed. “Ah, Eleanor. You don’t need to make threats, although you do it so charmingly. Were you a mob boss in a previous life? No, no, don’t you worry about me. But as you say, if one is to continue to be involved in such an undertaking, then one must be sure. One must believe that it is worth one’s while.” He put his hand on his chin, miming deep thought. “Do you know, Eleanor, I am very intrigued by the sound of Mrs Worthington’s dinner party. I’ll make you a deal. If you can get me an invitation to that dinner party, then I’ll help with this project. What do you call it? Plotters and schemers club?”
Eleanor smiled. “Well, actually we were calling it the Tea Appreciation Society, you know, as a bit of a cover. We wouldn’t want to call it the Tuesday Afternoon Murder Club.” Vince laughed. “But in response to your request, it certainly sounds reasonable, but I really should consult with Judy first.”
Judy’s voice came from the kitchen. “It will be tough to convince Catherine, Eleanor, easier to get blood from a stone – but I think that we can do it. Tell him yes.”
Vince laughed. “Well then, Eleanor – and Judy – you have a deal.”
At walking group on Friday, Blanche and Brian were in fine form. They were wearing matching active wear, in bright aqua and teal, with matching sweat bands around their heads. “Time for our stretches,” Blanche sang, leading the group in a quick warm up. Giles took the opportunity to sit down and scratch behind his ears.
“Ok folks, we’re off! Keep up the pace, don’t forget your arms!” Brian strutted out along the path that went past the pond, Blanche matching his pace perfectly. Clara fell into step beside Eleanor and Judy, her pink sneakers squeaking slightly on the pavement. Eleanor frowned with irritation, as she’d been hoping to talk to Judy alone. “Oh Eleanor,” puffed Clara. “I’ve been meaning to ask you. Are either of your grandsons any good with computers? I’ve got this little problem with my computer. Last time something like this happened, I couldn’t log on, I thought my password had somehow mysteriously changed. Anyway, I got the technician out to have a look, it’s a desktop computer, you see, and I can’t manage to take it in. Turns out I just had caps lock turned on. That didn’t stop them from charging me like a wounded bull.” She stopped talking for a moment to catch her breath. “Oh dear me, you ladies do set a cracking pace. Anyway, I was wondering if one of your grandsons could help me out? It might be a simple problem this time as well.”
Eleanor thought for a moment. Joe was always busy with university, and Timmy – well who knew if he knew anything about computers at all. He was always so busy with that confounded video game. “You know, Clara, I have someone even better than my grandsons. Her name is Zara, and her mum works here. You might have seen her around? She, er, wears a lot of black. You’d have to pay her a small fee, but I’m sure she could solve your problem for you. Would you like me to ask her for you?”
“Oh, that would be marvelous, thank you. And now, ladies, I’m afraid I must take a little breather.” Clara peeled off towards a bench seat, puffing heavily.
“Hmph,” said Judy. “That Clara’s always asking for things. Why can’t she find someone to fix her computer herself?”
Eleanor sniffed. “Well, I don’t mind. And it means I can do Zara a favor.”
“And that Zara. Why does she insist on dressing like that? All black? It’s depressing.” Judy was wearing at least four different colours in her outfit, an ensemble of active wear. Giles paused to sniff at a post, and she tugged firmly at his lead.
Eleanor looked at her friend. “You’re rather cranky today. What’s going on?”
“I’m not cranky.” Judy glared at her friend. Eleanor stared back. “Oh all right. Maybe a little bit grumpy. It’s just the drama production. We’re having a few little hiccups, and I’m a little worried.” She flapped her hands. “Nothing to worry about though. It will all be fine. It’s just that Riza, who plays one of the main characters, has been sick, so she’s missed a few rehearsal. And Bob keeps falling asleep during my long speeches. Granted, they can be boring when you’ve heard them so many times over, but it’s rather disconcerting to be talking to a man who’s snoring slightly.”
Eleanor laughed. “Oh, Judy, you always get like this. Remember last year? With Fiddler on the Roof? You were a nervous wreak, and yet it went off without a hitch. Everyone loved it.”
Judy brightened. “Yes, you’re right dear. And I think this year will be even better.”
“Now, can we talk about the other issue.” Eleanor looked around, but the walkers had all spread out. She and Judy were towards the front, just a little back from Blanche and Brian, who were setting the pace, and all of the rest of the walkers were in little clumps of two or three, spread back as far as Eleanor could see. “How are we going to get Vince an invitation to Catherine’s dinner party?”
“Yes, it’s a problem, isn’t it.” Judy looked as thoughtful as a person can while also puffing quite heavily, swinging her arms, and leading a waddling pug. “She always has exactly twelve at her parties, and they’re always the same people. I mean, we only got invited because a couple of people moved out of the village.”
“You don’t think she’d go for thirteen?”
Judy rolled her eyes. “No, she’s very superstitious. And she’s only got twelve seats at her dining table.”
“So, for Vince to be able to come, someone else would have to be absent?”
Judy widened her eyes in alarm. “Now, Eleanor, if you’re thinking of getting rid of someone else just so that Vince can come to the dinner party, I think this whole idea is going to your head.”
Eleanor laughed. “No, Judy. That’s not what I was thinking. But you must admit, this is quite a problem. We’ll both have to think on it.” Ahead, Blanche and Brian were slowing as they reached the end of the walking group’s circuit. “We’re both smart, I’m sure we can come up with something.”