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 Ten – Roger’s Secret Rendezvous
Eleanor strolled along the paths that snaked from her own house out through Tranquil Waters, enjoying the still, peaceful morning. A few other residents were out strolling through the grounds, and Eleanor nodded to them in greeting. The pond was a blue oval, reflecting the sky, only disturbed by the faintest of ripples. Eleanor was on her way to Gladys’ place, carefully instructed by Judy that she should visit on Monday morning, and take a sweet treat, something like biscuits or scones. Eleanor, happily disregarding Judy’s bossy instructions, had a novel tucked under her arm to give to her.
At Gladys’ house, she noticed that her front garden bed was looking quite neglected. She made a mental note to talk to the gardener about doing some weeding. Normally residents were responsible for their own garden beds, but if someone was sick or otherwise incapacitated, the gardener would look after it for them. Eleanor knocked on the door, and Gladys opened the door.
“Oh Gladys, how nice to see you. You have a bit more colour in your cheeks than last time I was here.” Eleanor followed Gladys into the house. The formerly drab room was brightened by a profusion of flowers that sat on the dining room table, everything from gladioli to delphiniums. On the counter was a collection of cheerful cards. “I believe that this is your doing, Eleanor.” Gladys smiled. “I must admit, it’s been nice to have some visitors.”
“Oh Gladys, I hope that you don’t mind us interfering too much. To be honest, it was mostly Judy. When she gets a bee in her bonnet about something… well, there’s not much you can do to stop her.”
“I don’t mind. Everyone has been very lovely so far. I just really didn’t want people to come around here to pity me and look at me like a sideshow attraction. But everyone has been very cheerful and very brief, which has also been nice.”
Eleanor smiled, remembering Judy’s strict instructions. Don’t stay too long, don’t be morbid or pitying, take something to cheer her up. So far, it seemed that everyone was following the brief.
“So if you don’t mind me asking, how is the prognosis going?”
Gladys frowned. “As good as can be, I suppose. The doctor has started me on chemotherapy, and it’s making me feel really awful. I can’t keep anything down. Which is ok really because everything tastes like sawdust anyway. But the doctor is hopeful that if the chemotherapy goes well, then I might be out of the woods. It’s still a guessing game for now though.”
Eleanor took Gladys’ thin, cold hand, and squeezed gently. “Oh, my dear. We’re all hoping and praying for the best, you know.”
“Oh, I know,” smiled Gladys. “Clara came around yesterday, and brought me her lucky horseshoe.” She pointed to the kitchen bench, where a horseshoe was propped against the wall. “I’m under strict instructions to keep it up that way, in a u shape, so that all of the luck doesn’t fall out.” She smiled again. “Rosie asked if I would mind if she said the rosary while she was here, and Maude brought me some of her ‘cure-all’ chicken soup. She said she didn’t know if it would cure cancer, but it couldn’t hurt. It tasted pretty good, too.”
Eleanor was touched. She marvelled at the way that a group of fractious, gossiping, quarrelling biddies could suddenly pull together so well when it came to helping out one of their own. You might not want to get on their bad side, but the residents of Tranquil Waters were certainly there to help if you needed them. She squeezed Gladys’ hand again. “Well now, Gladys, I must be going. Judy has mandated that we don’t stay for too long, so that we don’t tire you out too much. But you will let me know if you need anything, won’t you?”
Eleanor met Judy at the coffee house later on that day. “I don’t know if the treatment is working, or if it’s the visitors, but Gladys certainly seems to be in better spirits. Your roster seems to be working well so far.”
Judy looked affronted. “Well of course it is. I’ve hand picked everyone on this list, and given them all strict instructions. You can be sure that I’m not taking this lightly.” She airily lifted her nose into the air and waved a hand. “You may have noticed, but organising people is one of my talents.”
Eleanor laughed. The waitress came across, bringing a pot of tea and two generous slices of cake.
“Zara came to my house on the weekend.” She dropped a wink. “I think that perhaps I have been spending too much time with you, Judy, but she has hit it off very well with Joe. Perhaps I have it in me to be a matchmaker after all?” Judy nodded approvingly, and Eleanor went on to tell her about the shadowy footage that they had found on the hidden camera. “I’m sure I must have interrupted him when I got up in the night. Such a shame – a few seconds earlier, and I would have caught Daryl red handed in my office, going through my things.”
“Oh no, Eleanor, it’s not a shame at all, in fact, I think you were lucky that you didn’t catch him.” Judy looked alarmed. “Can you imagine all that Daryl has to loose? His family, his business, all of the money he intends to steal. Certainly he would realise that. If you caught him in the act, imagine what might happen. Well, the man might become dangerous. You could certainly be in harms’ way if he knows that you are onto his sneaky plots.”
Eleanor was taken aback. She hadn’t thought of the possible danger to herself. “Do you know, Judy, I’ve been so caught up in the plot against Daryl-” she glanced quickly around to make sure that no one was in earshot, “-that I hadn’t given any thought to what he might do if I confronted him. You might be right. What’s more, Kathy might be in danger if she gets wind of his plot as well.”
Judy raised her eyebrows ominously. “That’s the problem with you, Eleanor. You don’t think about these things. Imagine if you had confronted him in the middle of the night! He could have just knocked you over and then claimed that he thought you were an intruder or something.”
Eleanor laughed. “It’s true. If I saw an intruder in my house wearing a long, white ruffled nightgown, with face cream on and no teeth in, I’d be very tempted to knock that intruder out as well.”
Judy made a face. “Do you really wear a long, white ruffled nightgown?”
Eleanor laughed. “Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.” She winked.
Amina made up the four for Bridge again at Marjorie’s house. As usual, the table was laden with Marjorie’s home cooking, and the gossip was flowing.
“Eleanor! Judy! I’m so glad to see you. How are you? Well, you’ll never guess what I heard this week.” Marjorie was multitasking, pouring tea, serving thick slices of jam roll, and talking at the same time. “You know Roger? Well, of course, you do Eleanor. Didn’t he ask you to go to lunch with him one time? Well, apparently he has been sneaking off to have secret rendezvous with a woman at a nearby cafe. Clara told me. She isn’t sure who the mystery woman is, but she thinks she’s not from Tranquil Waters. Perhaps it’s lucky you didn’t go to lunch with him after all, Eleanor.”
Eleanor and Judy exchanged glances. “Well yes, perhaps that is very lucky, isn’t it?” Judy hid her smile, taking a big bite of her jam roll.
“Well, what else is happening? Old Mr. Johnson got the wheel of his walker stuck in a grate on the footpath today. He had to be rescued by some council workers. He was very cross about it, you should have seen him. His moustache was quivering with rage.”
Amina laughed. “He does have a remarkably good moustache.”
Marjorie started dealing the cards, still in full gossip flight. “Oh, and of course, there are still lots of questions swirling around about our young gardener. I talked to Willoughby about him just yesterday, and she said that he’d graduated from a top horticulture college. He doesn’t seem to know his petunias from his peonies, though. Perhaps he’s using drugs as well as selling them?”
“Oh, I talked to Josie yesterday. She’s convinced that he took the job so that he could case houses around here for some kind of criminal gang. Maybe that’s how he’d got his qualification too – the criminal gangs strong armed the college?”
Judy raised her eyebrows. “Hmph! Well I think that he’s a peeping tom. The way that he creeps around sometimes. Always jumpy and looking over his shoulder….”
Eleanor stayed quiet. She wasn’t too sure about that young man. There was certainly something going on with him, but she wasn’t so sure that he was a drug dealer, a member of a criminal gang, or a peeping tom. He reminded her too much of her grandchildren. Still. It was certainly worth keeping an eye on him. Although in Tranquil waters, there were probably, at any given moment, dozens of eyes on him. She put the thoughts out of her mind, and played a card, winning the first hand.
On her way to meet Roger for lunch, Eleanor tied a scarf around her head and put on some dark glasses. She smiled to herself. If the gossips were determined to create scandal where there was none, she was happy to help. At the greasy spoon down the road, Roger was waiting for her at a table, reading a newspaper. He smiled when he saw her, and she thought that Judy was right, he was rather a handsome man. More important than that, though, he was a good conversationalist. Much more important than looks, Eleanor thought.
“Well, Roger, you’ll never guess what I’ve heard on the grapevine.” Eleanor recounted Marjorie’s gossip about Roger meeting a strange woman for lunch, with a twinkle in her eye. Roger laughed.
“It never ceases to amuse me the things that people will come up with if they’re bored. Why only last week, someone told me that Mrs Willoughby used to be in the armed forces before she became the manager of Tranquil Waters.”
“Oh, that one is true.” Eleanor smiled. “She was a soldier for some years, she showed us the photographs at one Christmas party after several sherries. She was also a security guard after that.”
Roger laughed again. “Well there you go. I guess sometimes the gossips do get it right. I guess I can see it from her demeanour.” Mrs Willoughby was a short, fairly stout lady who carried herself with upright, military dignity, and tolerated absolutely no nonsense.
The waitress came over, snapping her gum, and Roger and Eleanor ordered their meals. “And a pot of tea to share?” the waitress asked, with a wink. “You guys are becoming regulars.”
“So what else has been happening?” Roger sipped his tea. Eleanor told him all about visiting Gladys, and the gossip that was going around about the gardener.
“Oh, I would like to visit Gladys as well, I’ve heard about her beautiful collection of plants. I shall ask Judy to put me on the roster. It does seem rather an efficient way to make sure someone is cheered up and looked after.”
“Well yes, I guess it does seem rather mechanical. But I assure you, we only want to make sure that Gladys has plenty of visitors and isn’t too overwhelmed all at once.”
“And what is your opinion of the young gardener?”
Eleanor frowned. “It’s funny that you ask. I am rather confused about him, actually. It certainly seems like something is not quite right. He is very jumpy, and often doesn’t seem to know very basic things about his job. He always seems to be slinking around like he’s up to no good, as well.” She paused, and took a bite of her salad. It was another concoction that the cook had whipped up on request, and it was really very good. “On the other hand, I do pride myself on being a fairly good judge of character, and the boy just doesn’t seem like a criminal to me. He seems very innocent, in fact.”
Roger looked thoughtful. “Well, you sound like you’ve already had a few small conversations with the boy. Why don’t you just ask him what’s going on.”
Eleanor smiled. Of course, it was really such a straightforward thing to do, but she hadn’t thought of it. “Well, maybe I will.”
The next morning, Judy and Eleanor had made an appointment to drive to the city to do some shopping. “Catherine’s dinner party is this weekend,” Judy had told Eleanor firmly, “and you really must have something nice to wear. No, now don’t give me that nonsense. You’ve had the same wardrobe for years now, Eleanor, and you could certainly do with a fresh new outfit.” She had sniffed, looking at Eleanor’s beige pants, sensible shoes, and white shirt. “Perhaps something with a little bit of colour in it wouldn’t hurt, as well.”
Eleanor picked Judy up in her little red car, Judy stuffing her voluminous outfit into the front seat as she got in. She was wearing a large red shawl over a blue shirt and blue pants, with a matching red hat perched at a jaunty angle on her head. The drive to the city took an hour, plenty of time for Judy to recount all of the latest goings on with the drama group while Eleanor drove. “Would you believe, the costume lady has been threatening to quit. Apparently I’m difficult to deal with, can you imagine that?” Judy’s face bore a wounded look. “All because I said that her outfits would be better suited to a belly dancer in b grade movie than to a society lady. Is it too much to ask to get a little bit more of an elegant look?” Judy sighed dramatically.
“How is Zara going?” Eleanor asked, hoping to deflect attention away from the poor costume lady.
“Oh, Zara, don’t get me started.” Judy threw up her hands. “Zara this, Zara that, it’s all I hear from people these days. She’s learned all of her lines already, and is now helping Brian to learn his. She’s painted some of the backdrops for Meryl, and is also helping Geoff with the sound and the music equipment….”
Eleanor smiled. “It sounds like she’s been quite useful.”
“Oh, right. Absolutely indispensable. We couldn’t have done things without her. It’s just, you know, does she have to be quite so wonderful at everything?” Judy sniffed.
Eleanor laughed. “Oh, Judy, don’t you worry. Everyone knows that you are the star of the show. She’s just a novelty, and that will wear off eventually, you’ll see.” They pulled up outside of a shopping centre. “Now let’s go, and you can help Cinderella here find the perfect thing to wear to the ball.” Browsing through the shops, Judy was in her element. Eleanor usually shopped at the same few shops, all selling sedate clothing in muted tones. Judy steered her towards shops that she would normally walk straight past. Inside these shops, Judy plucked things from the racks, sent her into the change rooms, and thrust bundles of clothes in for her to try on. After a few hours, Eleanor had bought some slim pants – cigarette pants, the sales assistant had called them – in both black and a lovely dusty pink colour. She had bought two shirts in soft cotton, both in a nice print that wasn’t too outrageous, but was certainly different to her usual style. And, most interestingly, she had bought a dress, a cocktail dress, as Judy called it. It came to just below her knee, and had sleeves that came to her elbows, in a muted, black and white print. “Perfect, that’s exactly what you must wear to Catherine’s dinner party,” Judy exclaimed when she saw Eleanor wearing the dress. “It’s elegant and subtle, it suits you perfectly.” Eleanor had breathed a sigh of relief. She liked the dress, certainly, but more than anything she wanted to stop shopping and sit down for a cup of tea. “Look, there is a cafe, let’s have a break before we head home. It looks like they sell some lovely cakes.” She was looking forward to getting home to a bit of peace and quiet before Timmy got home. She might even have time to put her feet up and read the new book that she had got out from the library.
“Head home? Oh, Eleanor, not yet! We have a lot of shopping still to do. New shoes for you, for one. You can’t wear those beige orthopaedic horrors with such a lovely new dress. And I want to find a new shawl to wear as well. Oh, and I thought we could get our nails done while we were here. What do you think?”
Eleanor sighed. “What’s wrong with my beige sandals? They’re very practical, and very comfortable. Alright, alright, shoes, a shawl and fancy fingernails. But let’s stop for a cup of tea first.”
Eleanor arrived home later that afternoon, and went inside, quite ready to sit down and put her feet up. Kathy was sitting at the table, staring morosely at a cup of cold coffee. She seemed to be wearing the same thing as she had been wearing yesterday, Eleanor thought, and her hair could certainly use a comb. “Kathy love, how are you? Have you had a good day?”
Kathy looked up from her cup as though she was surprised to see anyone else at home. “Oh, mum. You’re home already. How was the shopping trip?”
“Oh good, love. Judy was a woman on a mission, I tell you. She marched me around that shopping center and whirled me in and out of change rooms like a dervish. Quite exhausting, but we got what we were after.”
Kathy looked at her blankly. “Oh. What was it that you were after?”
“A dress, dear, for the dinner party this weekend.” Kathy still looked blank. “I’m sure I told you about it. It’s at Catherine Worthington’s place, she always throws elaborate dinner parties.” Eleanor put the kettle on. “Now, shall I make you a fresh cup of coffee, love? How has your day been?”
Kathy looked at her cup of coffee in surprise. “Oh, good, I guess. I must have lost track of time, I was sure it was still the morning. Timmy isn’t home yet, is he?” Eleanor could hear the muted sounds of gunfire and explosions coming from the lounge room, sure signs that Timmy was indeed home, and riveted to his game. She worried about Kathy some times.
“Oh, Kathy I would say he has been home for some time now. Don’t you think he should go outside for a bit of fresh air? Maybe put down the video game for a while?”
Kathy blinked at Eleanor. “Oh, I guess so. I just don’t really like to tear him away from it, he loves it so much.”
Eleanor frowned. Kathy had always been soft hearted. The boy really did need a firm hand. Of course, Daryl was no good, indulging the boy and then disparaging him rather than building him up. She had half a mind to go in and turn the video game off herself. She didn’t want to make him sad, though, she thought. It must be hard for the boy, living here at the village. No one to play with, nothing to do. Eleanor sighed. She would let him play for now. If only there was a playground nearby, or someone else’s grandchildren around for him to play with. Well. She would have to keep an eye out.
At dinner time, Eleanor was tired, and everyone seemed out of sorts. Kathy was withdrawn, playing with her spaghetti rather than eating it. A shame, Eleanor thought – it was rather a nice bolognese sauce, even if she had whipped it up very quickly. Timmy ate fast, hoping to get back to his game. Only Daryl was cheery. His mood soured when Timmy asked for the tenth time if he could leave the table. “No, Timmy, I’ve told you. You can wait until everyone else is finished. That blasted game can wait. You spend enough time on it as it is.” Timmy scowled into his empty bowl, face as dark as a thundercloud.
“How has work been Daryl?” Eleanor asked, trying to deflect attention away from her grandson.
“Oh, good, good, great really. You know, just getting some new business. That’s what you have to do at this stage of setting up a business, you know. I’m still waiting to see your books one day soon, Ellie.” Daryl winked at her, his charming, good natured smile making her think that perhaps she had misjudged him entirely. He looked so open and honest, surely he couldn’t be the schemer she thought he was.
“I heard you have a few clients from here at Tranquil Waters?”
“Ah, yes. Some of these oldies have been with the same financial planner for years, not realising that they don’t know what they are doing, or haven’t been making the best choices for retirement and investment funds.” Eleanor thought briefly of her own financial planner, a man who her husband had been investing with for years. She had always just assumed he was doing a good job. “And some retirees don’t even have a financial planner or an investment strategy, would you believe? They might as well keep their money under their mattresses,” Daryl continued. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks around here do.” He paused, frowning slightly. “Strange thing though. Recently it seems like someone has been making folks around here afraid to trust me. There seems to be some kind of rumour going around that I’m going to swindle people out of their money.” His face has darkened now, all trace of the charming, honest smile gone. “It’s really not good for business. If I find out who has started the rumour, well, I can assure you that it won’t go well for them.” His words sounded so sinister. A chill ran down Eleanor’s spine.
You can read Chapter Eleven here.