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 Chapter One here.
Chapter Nine – Tulips
On her way to Gladys’ place, Eleanor saw the gardener walking down a path carrying a rake.
“Hello.” As she spoke, the young man jumped, almost comically, and turned towards her with wide eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” She suppressed a little chuckle. The young man had eyes like saucers, almost like a cartoon character whose eyes have popped out of their head on little stalks. He certainly was quite jumpy. “Look young man, my name is Eleanor. I just wanted to ask you a question, but perhaps you will be so kind as to tell me your name first? We seem to keep running into each other.”
“Oh, yes of course. My, ah, my name is Jor- Jordan,” he stuttered. Eleanor thought that the poor boy looked as though he was about to undergo torture at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition.
“Jordan. A lovely name, young man. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Now, I am on my way to visit a friend of mine who is sick. I know the residents here are not supposed to pick the flowers from the gardens, but I wondered if you might make an exception? She does love flowers, and I thought a bunch of tulips would cheer her up.”
“Oh.” He relaxed, just a little. “Ah, tulips?”
“Yes,” Eleanor chuckled. “You know, the yellow ones? They’re over by the gardener’s shed. You must walk past them a dozen times a day.”
“Oh yes, the tulips. Of course. Um, sure I guess. Take as many as you want.”
“Thank you. I’ll got and get some now.” Eleanor smiled at him, and started down the path.
“Oh, um, Mrs- Eleanor.” Eleanor turned. She felt a sudden wave of pity for the boy. He couldn’t be much older than Joe, she thought, and he always looked so anxious.
“Could you help me?” He spoke in a low voice. “Mrs. Willoughby said that the azaleas needed pruning, and I’m not really sure where…”
Eleanor tried hard to keep the amusement off her face. “Right here, Jordan. Just alongside this path, directly in front of your face.”
“And where do you think you’re going with such a lovely bunch of tulips?” Eleanor jumped as Judy apparently materialised from thin air and fell into step with her.
“They are lovely, aren’t they? I thought I’d visit Gladys. Would you like to come with me?”
“Yes, that sounds good, of course I will. Now, while we’re on our way, you need to tell me everything Eleanor.”
Eleanor was surprised. “Tell you everything? What about, Judy?”
“I’m rather hurt that I had to find out from Clara, who heard it from Jossie, who was talking about it with Susan in the Library.”
“What, Judy? I’m sure I have no idea at all what you’re talking about.”
“Roger, silly. Apparently you’ve been sneaking off to rendezvous with him in some secret little greasy spoon close to here. It certainly looks like you’ve been trying to keep it a secret from anyone around here. But why hide it from me? I thought we were best friends.” Judy looked so dramatically hurt that Eleanor couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh no, Judy, of course I’m not trying to keep it a secret. You know what it’s like at the coffee shop though. You can’t have a conversation without someone coming over and telling you all about their bunions or their grandchildren or their hip replacement. We just wanted to go somewhere we could have a quiet lunch.”
“Hmph. A likely excuse. So tell me, is romance in the air?” She quickly switched gears, dropping Eleanor a conspiratorial wink.
“Oh, no, Judy of course not. We’re just friends, just getting to know each other. That’s all.”
Judy was thoughtful for a moment. “Are you sure? There aren’t many eligible bachelors in this place, you know, and you have been single for, oh, about a decade.”
Eleanor laughed. “It’s been twelve years since my husband died, thank you very much. But I’m perfectly fine on my own, I don’t need to be finding a suitor.”
Judy raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure?” she said archly, “because I was thinking I’d send you to one of those TV shows, you know the ones where the ladies fight over the men. There’s roses for some reason.”
“Oh Judy. I’m far too old to be finding love on some preposterous television show. Come on now.”
“Well. Don’t rule it out just yet. Especially if you’re not willing to give Roger a chance. He does seem like a very lovely man.”
Eleanor resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Come on, are you going to come in and see Gladys or not?”
Gladys was paler and thinner than Eleanor remembered when she opened the door, but her eyes lit up when she saw the tulips. “Oh Eleanor, I love tulips. How did you know? I’ve been thinking of going for a walk to see them, but I haven’t really had the strength.”
Both ladies went in to Gladys’ gloomy house. “Will you have tea? I’m sorry it’s so dark in here, I haven’t even opened up all of the blinds yet today.”
“Yes, please. Only if you’re up for it, Gladys. We actually came to see if everything is going ok? You’ve been a bit unwell lately, we know.”
“Oh, yes, just a little under the weather-” Gladys began.
“Now, Gladys, please don’t give us that.” Eleanor fixed her with a firm stare. “We’ve known you for some time, you know, and we are really concerned for you. We really want to know what’s going on.”
“Yes,” interjected Judy. “Plus if you don’t tell us, I can assure you that we will invent some terribly interesting rumours about why you haven’t been around much. Every person in the place will be popping in on you to see if the rumours are true.” Judy fixed her with an ominous stare, and Gladys laughed.
“Oh, I’m afraid it’s very tedious and not very interesting. It’s cancer, you see. It’s in my stomach, and they’re doing tests to see if it has spread anywhere else. I didn’t want to burden anyone with it, as there’s nothing anyone can do.”
Eleanor was filled with an overwhelming urge to hug her, but she was worried about hurting her frail friend. “Oh Gladys, I wish you’d told us earlier. We’re your friends, it’s not a burden.”
“Now tell us,” chimed in Judy, “what can we do? Do you need meals? Someone to drive you to appointments? Someone to help with household chores? Just say the word my dear.”
Gladys’ eyes welled with tears. “Thank you both so much, but there’s not really much I need. Meals on Wheels has been bringing food for me, not that I can keep much of it down these days with the pills that they’ve got me on. I have someone who cleans once a week. The only thing is, I can’t get out much these days, I just don’t have the strength for it, so it would be nice to have someone drop in for a cup of tea every now and again. It does get rather lonely.”
“Consider it done.” Eleanor glanced at Judy in slight alarm. She could see the wheels turning in Judy’s head already, and she knew as soon as they left, Judy would be drawing up a roster system for visits. Poor Gladys wouldn’t have a moment’s peace. Eleanor made a mental note to have a quiet word with Judy about not going overboard.
“Oh, I wonder if I can also ask…. Please don’t tell too many people about my illness. I don’t want all of the stickybeaks here just to get a look at me, and I can’t abide people pitying me.”
“Oh, of course not!” Judy reassured her. “But perhaps we might just tell a couple of trusted individuals.”
“And now,” chimed in Eleanor. “Can we please take another look at your marvellous jungley sunroom with all of those beautiful orchids? I’ve been so eager for another look ever since we first saw it.”
Gladys’ face lit up. “Oh of course! My ‘Robert’s Delight’ is flowering at the moment, such a delicate, pretty flower. You really must come and see. And my Moth orchids are really looking rather lovely… just come through here.” She led them into the back verandah, and Eleanor was sure that for a few minutes at least, she would forget entirely about being sick.
Eleanor poked at the buttons on her computer in frustration. She could see the little display for the security camera. She could see herself displayed there, caught on camera at that very moment. She could not, however, work out how to rewind the camera so she could look at past footage. She pointed the cursor on the screen and clicked, exactly as Zara had showed her. Nothing happened. She sighed in frustration. She was sure that Daryl had been sneaking around in her office last night. She’d heard the floor creak, heard the light snap on. She had checked the time, and it was just past midnight, way too late for anyone to be up for any legitimate reason. She had peered into the hallway, and noticed a glimmer of light coming from underneath her office door. By the time she had pulled on her dressing gown and put in her dentures, all ready for a confrontation, there was another soft creak in the hallway, and then all was silent. Her office, along with the rest of the house, was in darkness. She sighed with frustration. This computer held the evidence that she needed. If only she knew how to make it work. Well, there was nothing for it. She would have to invite Zara over again to check it out. Eleanor thought for a moment. The next meeting of the ‘Tea Appreciation Society’ was tomorrow. No time to get the evidence before then. Joe was visiting this weekend. Perhaps she would invite Zara over on the weekend. They did seem to get along very well.
Eleanor arrived early at Judy’s house. As a rule, she never arrived before the time that the host had specified, but with this group, when she arrived on time, she was usually the last to arrive. At least this way she might get a good seat. Judy met her at the door, resplendent in a multi coloured caftan. She had even twisted a scarf around her head. “Judy. Well, you look even more vibrant than usual today.” She stopped to pat Giles, who was weaving around her ankles.
“Do you like it darling? This is my artistic outfit, of course! I’m working on some of the sets for the drama production.” She lead Eleanor into a lounge room that was even more cluttered than usual. Large cardboard cut outs of various shop displays and scenery stood around the walls, and the coffee table held a towering pile of magazines, a mug full of brownish water and paintbrushes, and an artists’ palette of paint.
“How is the drama production going?” Eleanor asked, a little apprehensively.
“Oh darling! It’s an absolute nightmare. You wouldn’t believe it. Everyone in the production seems to be getting sick, one after another. And I’m sure some of the cast members who have the most lines to remember are getting Alzheimers disease. Oh, and don’t get me started on the costuming. Somehow, the costume department thinks they’re designing costumes for Fiddler on the Roof, not Hello Dolly. I look more like a gypsy than a fancy New York socialite at the turn of the century.” Judy took a breath. “Oh, but your Zara has certainly saved the day. She’s a natural little actress, and everyone fawns over her, of course. The costume department has her outfits all ready to go, and of course, hers are perfect. Oh, I don’t mean to sound snarky. She’s been a lifesaver, truly she has.” Judy paused dramatically. “Oh, listen to me rabbiting on instead of getting you a cup of tea! I’ll put the kettle on.” She bustled off dramatically, and in no time, Maude, Barry and Vince had all arrived.
Judy made the tea in record time, handing Eleanor a cup that said ‘Where there is tea there is hope’.
“Eleanor! How is everything going on the home front?” Maude asked with a big wink. “Is Daryl still causing trouble? Are you still going ahead with the plan?” she asked, hopefully.
“Oh, yes Maude. Nothing has changed of course. I am sure he’s been in my office again, but I’m having some difficulty with the system that Zara installed.” Eleanor recounted her suspicions that Daryl had been in the office the previous night, and her struggles with the computer system. “I’ll have to get Zara over to help me.”
“Oh, is this the Zara from the drama production? Everyone at bowls has been talking about her. It’s nice to have a bit of young energy around the place, isn’t it?”
Judy muttered something about the old energy that they had at the drama group being just fine, thank you very much, and Eleanor laughed. “Ah, Judy. Are you afraid she’s going to steal the limelight?”
Judy frowned and huffed in displeasure, but was mollified by Vince. “I wouldn’t worry about it, Judy. I believe acting is a skill that takes years of experience to hone.” She smiled at him graciously, all but batting her eyelids. Everyone, especially Giles, was further distracted by a container of home made cookies that Maude produced.
“Anyway,” Eleanor spoke, while everyone was preoccupied with the cookies, “how about we discuss some serious matters.”
“Certainly,” Vince spoke, taking another cookie. “I’ve done some research, and I believe that I have decided on the best substance to use. I can manufacture it, but it will require some ingredients. These are readily available, but it would be best if they were purchased separately, perhaps by different people, in order to prevent suspicion in the case that questions are raised about our villain’s death.” He took a bite of his cookie. “May I just say, Maude, that these are wonderful cookies.”
Eleanor frowned. “Go on.”
“Well, these are the things that I will need. It would be best if perhaps you three,” he pointed to Judy, Maude and Barry, “were to buy them. I’ll manufacture the product, and Eleanor can administer it. That way we’re spreading the risk between us all. Here is what we need.” He handed a slip of paper each to Judy, Maude, and Barry.
“Ooo, this is very cloak and dagger,” giggled Maude. “I guess we should memorise what we need to get and then eat the piece of paper?”
Vince smiled. “If we can time it right, and give him the substance just before he goes on one of his runs, then it will look like he’s had a sudden heart attack.”
Judy looked thoughtful. “It would be rather helpful if he was to experience some heart flutters beforehand, wouldn’t it? And perhaps go to the doctors? That would help to lay a case that he had a sudden heart attack.”
“Oh, are you suggesting what I think you are, Judy? Would rather a lot of caffeine do it, do you think?”
“Ah, yes, perhaps those little caffeine tablets that are supposed to keep people awake on long trips? They sell them in service stations some times.” Judy winked. “I’ll pop out and pick you up some later this afternoon.”
Eleanor was quiet for a moment. “Well, now that we really have a plan, it feels like perhaps this is too serious a thing to be thinking about,” she said sombrely. “What do you think? Am I perhaps overreacting?”
“Overreacting?” Barry turned to Maude. “What is she talking about, Sally?”
“Oh, she’s wondering if she should go ahead with her plans to kill her son in law. You know, Daryl. He’s been making plans to steal all her money, you know, and making all of his family miserable.”
“Oh, Daryl.” Barry smiled happily. “Isn’t he that young man who goes jogging in the mornings? Do you know, I heard he is a financial planner. Someone at bowls was telling me. Or perhaps it was at golf? I can’t remember… Anyway, who ever it was, Daryl was going to help them invest their money.”
“Oh, is he the one who has the new financial planning business? The one that’s opened up in town?” Maude chimed in. “Some of the ladies at the sewing group were talking about him. I think a few of them were planning to invest with him. Apparently he is very handsome and charming, and that’s what they’re looking for in a financial planner.” Eleanor looked at Maude’s face, searching for a trace of sarcasm, but her expression was entirely neutral.
“Now that you mention it,” Judy added, “some of the drama group were talking about a new finance guy as well. Do you think he’s recruiting from around here, Eleanor?”
Eleanor spoke through gritted teeth. “I certainly hope not. Can you imagine, taking advantage of living here in order to prey on the residents of Tranquil Waters? Taking advantage of weak and naive elderly people! No offence to anyone present, of course. How dare he! He thinks this is his way to get rich quick, at the expense of all of my friends here in the village. That scoundrel.” Eleanor suddenly felt very protective towards the residents of Tranquil Waters. “That decides it. The plan must go ahead. I cannot allow that man to ruin the futures and the finances of my friends here. Daryl must die.”
She looked around the group. Judy was nodding in agreement, and Maude smiled encouragingly at her. Vince looked thoughtful, while Barry was smiling beatifically. Giles, squeezed in between Maude and Barry on the couch, stirred in his sleep and passed wind noisily.
“Well, Eleanor, it sounds like your mind is made up. We’ll start to make preparations, but you should continue to gather evidence in the meantime. Let us know what you find.” Vince rose to leave. “And now, I must away. I have a busy afternoon. No one warned me when I moved in here that the social schedule would be quite so demanding.” He smiled and winked.
“I guess I’d better go as well, Sally.” Barry smiled at Maude. He was holding the slip of paper that Vince had given him in his hand. “Now what is it that I’m supposed to do with this?”
Eleanor suppressed an eye roll. Some time soon, she really would have to take Barry aside and tell him that Maude’s name was not Sally.
Joe was visiting for the weekend. Even though the house felt so much more crowded with her tall, broad shouldered grandson sprawled out all over the furniture, Eleanor loved having him there. She had asked Zara if she would come over to look at the hidden camera. Eleanor told herself that it was a coincidence that this was happening when Joe was there, but if she was honest, she was perhaps trying to be a matchmaker. She mentally scolded herself. That was Judy’s domain, not hers.
Zara arrived on Saturday morning, her bright smile at odds with her black hooded sweatshirt, black jeans and even black nail polish.
“Zara my dear. How are you? I hear you’ve been quite a hit with the drama group.”
“Yeah, it’s been fun actually, even though I’m already getting nervous about the performance. They’re all really funny. I’m glad you asked me if I’d do it.”
Zara sat at the kitchen table while Eleanor put the kettle on. Joe wafted into the room in a cloud of deodorant, his hair neatly slicked back. This time, Eleanor had remembered to let him know that Zara would be coming. The two young people eyed each other nervously, before cautiously launching into a conversation.
”How is Uni going?”
“Oh yeah, pretty good actually. The lecturers are pretty casual, and there’s always something interesting happening on campus. How’s school?”
“Ugh. Everyone’s getting ready for exams, so it just feels like one big pressure cooker at the moment….”
Eleanor listened to them chatter away, carefully pouring her own tea, and making two mugs of hot chocolate. She did make a good hot chocolate, she thought, watching Zara and Joe slurping happily at their mugs. It didn’t take them long to discover that they had mutual interests; some television program that Eleanor had never heard of, and a comic book series. It was odd, Eleanor had always thought comic books were for children.
“Now, Joe, I’m afraid I must drag Zara away. We have a small project to attend to, and then you can return to discussing… ah, well, whatever it is that you’re discussing.”
Eleanor carefully shut the door of her office, leaving Joe looking wistful in the kitchen. “Now, dear, I’m wondering if you can help me to get the information off the camera. I tried, really I did, but I couldn’t see any of the footage.”
Zara sat down at the keyboard, and tapped at the keys in a way that filled Eleanor with admiration and slight resentment. “It’s easy, look. This rewinds the tape, then you can watch at high speed. Here’s the date and time, so you can go forward or backwards if you need to.”
“Could you try Sunday night? Perhaps around midnight?”
Zara tapped at the keys again, and Eleanor could see on the screen her office in near darkness. The only light came from the small lights on the front of the computer, and the room looked shadowy and sinister. The time and date stamp showed that it was Sunday night, midnight – right around when she’d heard someone walking down the hallway. They watched for a few moments, then onscreen, the door to the office opened. The light from the hallway provided a little more light, but the figure that entered the room was a shadowy silhouette. Eleanor noticed that she was holding her breath. The figure came into the room, then opened the filing cabinet. After a brief moment, the figure then went to Eleanor’s desk, and the screen flashed to life. The figure pressed some keys on the keyboard, obviously trying to enter the password. After a couple of attempts, the figure paused, as though listening. Perhaps this was when Eleanor opened her door. The figure turned off the computer monitor, and slipped quietly from the room, closing the door.
“Huh. Not enough light in here to film at night. I should have thought of that. Maybe you could put a little lamp or something in here?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea,” nodded Eleanor. “Even so, though, I’m sure this is the evidence I needed. Thank you Zara.”
You can read Chapter Ten here.